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Signs of the Times: Portents, Prodigies, and Other Indications of God’s Unhappiness with England

  • Jerome Friedman

Abstract

When God wished to demonstrate his displeasure with Egypt’s pharaoh, he sent Moses to curse Egypt with ten plagues, each of which was worse than the former. It was reasonable, therefore, that God would express his dissatisfaction with England through similar signs. However fanciful belief in omens, portents, and prodigies may seem today, it was primarily through these images that earlier Englishmen perceived the conflict engulfing them.

Keywords

True Relation Human Event Great Cloud Divine Punishment Unnatural Accident 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    The literature on the subject of apparitions is quite extensive. Interested readers might refer to the following for a discussion of apparitions and monsters during the medieval period and then during the Reformation, when the appearance of these phenomena was again important: Jacques LeGoff, “The Marvelous in the Medieval West,” The Medieval Imagination, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1988); Claude Kappler, Monstres, demons, et merveilles a la fin du Moyen Age (Paris: Payot, 1980); Michel Meslin, ed. Le Merveilleux: L’imaginaire et les croyances en Occident (Paris: Bordas, 1984); Daniel Poiron, Le Merveilleux dans la litterature francaise du Moyen Age (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1982); Rudolf Schenda, “Die protestantisch-katholische Legendpolemik,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 52 (1970); Schenda, “Hieronymus Rauscher und die protestantisch-katholische Legendpolemik,” in Wolfgang BrHckner, ed., Volkerz hlung und Reformation (Berlin, E. Schmidt, 1971); Philip M. Soergal, “From Legends to Lies: Protestant Attacks on Catholic Miracles in Late Reformation Germany,” Fides et Historia 21, no. 2 (June 1989): 21–29. For seventeenth-century England, in addition to Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971), the reader will find the following useful: Chris Durston, “Signs and Wonders and the English Civil War,” History Today 38 (October 1987); Norman R. Smith, “Portent Lore and Medieval Popular Culture,” Journal of Popular Culture 14 (Summer 1980); Rudolf Wittkower, Allegory and the Migration of Symbols (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977); Llewellyn H. Buell, “Elizabethan Portents: Superstition or Doctrine?” Essays Critical and Historical Dedicated to Lily B. Campbell (Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1950), pp. 25–41. Other than the publications mentioned in the text, the interested reader might also read Thomas Bromhall’s A Treatise of Specters, or, An History of Apparitions, Oracles, Prophecies and Predictions (1658). The 367-page text was originally written in French but was translated into English by T. B. for this publication.Google Scholar

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© Jerome Friedman 1993

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  • Jerome Friedman

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