Plate 2 from Nova Reperta
by Johannes Stradanus

Partisan Almanacs


The invention of the telescope, the new models of the cosmos, and the increasing authority of personal observation did not diminish the popular zeal for astrology. In England, the publication of almanacs rose steadily from the end of the sixteenth century and they remained extremely popular throughout the following century. After bibles and printed sermons, almanacs were the most commonly published books in seventeenth-century England. They were also heavily used. Never far from hand, they were consulted frequently for personal guidance, planting schedules, and daily information of every sort.

There is little variation in the astrological information found in seventeenth-century almanacs. Most of the charts laying out the position of stars and planets in these books are uniform, drawn from standard compendia of astrological data known as ephemeredes. What distinguished particular publications were the various essays and prognostications that accompanied the charts. Gradually, these readings of the past, present, and future became far more significant than the data, and they remain fascinating reflections of social and political positions. Writers of almanacs became particularly strident during the English Civil War. The celebrated protestant astrologer William Lilly (1602-1681) scored some notable successes—and prominence—in foretelling Parliamentarian victories.

John Booker secured his own reputation with his predictions of the deaths of Gustavus Adolphus and the elector palatine. Parliament appointed him licenser of mathematical (or astrological) books. His Bloody Irish Almanack, 1646, is less an actual almanac than a prognostication written in response to the 1641 rebellion in Ireland against the new English planters and in contestation of an earlier polemical reading of the stars that had been published in Ireland. Click Here for a Larger ViewInvoking the authority of the stars, Booker foretells the doom of the rebellious and Royalist Irish. He dismisses the Irish almanac's celebration of the rule of "glorious King Charles" over Britain and Ireland and its denigration of the treasonous Roundheads. Booker offers his own chronology of the world, beginning at the creation, which reveals the eventual triumph of the Protestant cause. He associates England with the sign of Mars, Ireland with Taurus, and shows that the imminent movement of Saturn and Mars into the house of Taurus naturally indicates that God will pour out his "overflowing cuppe of wrath and vengeance" upon the Irish "insurrection."

Eric Leonidas
Central Connecticut State University

Suggested Reading

Bernal, J. D. The Extension of Man: A History of Physics before the Quantum. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972.

Geneva, Ann. Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind. Manchester, NY: Manchester University Press, 1995.

Kelly, John T. Practical Astronomy during the Seventeenth-Century: Almanac-Makers in American and England. New York: Garland, 1991.

Lilly, William. An Introduction to Astrology. Hollywood: New Castle Publishing Company, 1972.