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. Invoking
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."
Central Connecticut State University
Bernal, J. D. The Extension of Man: A
History of Physics before the Quantum. Cambridge: MIT Press,
Geneva, Ann. Astrology and the Seventeenth
Century Mind. Manchester, NY: Manchester University Press,
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.