Predicting the future is an important enterprise in many traditional societies. Whether it be through tossing bones, reading the entrails of pigeons, contemplating clouds, seeing visions from drug-induced trances, or applying numerological techniques to holy words, those individuals capable of “divining” the future can influence their peers, especially during difficult times such as during a civil war. Despite post-Enlightenment rationalism, astrology, numerology, fortune-telling, and dream analysis remain popular methods of predicting the future. Certainly for the medieval mind, there were no doubts about the veracity or value of prophetic prediction or of more general forms of prognostication.1


Henry VIII Contemporary Event Ancient Writing Dream Analysis Prophetic Tradition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Prophecy, astrology, and the apocalyptic tradition are vast interrelated subjects with immense bibliographies. Yet each is different; this chapter will concentrate only upon prophecies. More than its cousin astrology, prophecy captured the common Englishman’s imagination and provided the revolution with a set of powerful images to justify Parliament’s rule. The following should prove helpful in coping with the more narrow field of medieval prophecy: Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); Reeves, Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future (London: SPCK, 1976); Reeves, “History and Prophecy in Medieval Thought,” Mediaevalia et Humanistica 5 (1974): 51–75; John J. I. von Döllinger, Prophecies and the Prophetic Spirit in the Christian Era (London: Rivingtons, 1873, reprinted 1980); Michael Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Dietrich Kurze, “Prophecy and History,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtould Institutes 21 (1958): 63–85; Robert E. Lerner, “Medieval Prophecy and Religious Dissent,” Past and Present 72 (1976): 3–24; Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power: Astrology in Early Modern Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The best source for Reformation-age prophecy is George Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962). For Servetus, see Jerome Friedman, Michael Servetus: A Case Study in Total Heresy (Geneva: Droz Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On Merlin, see Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1917-) 13: 285–288. Also, see the following: E. Anwyl, “Merlin,” in J. Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1908–1926), vol. 8 and pages 565–70; W. E. Mead, “Introduction,” in M. B. Wheatly, ed., Merlin, or the Early History of King Arthur (London: EETS, 1899); John S. P. Tatlock, The Legendary History of Britain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950, reprinted New York: Gordin Press, 1974). Concerning Geoffrey of Momouth, see Ernest Jones, Geoffrey of Monmouth, 1648–1800 (Berkeley: University Of California Press, 1944; reprinted Folcroft, PA: Folcroft Library, 1974; Norwood, PA: Norwood Press, 1977); Laura M. Keeler, Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Late Latin Chroniclers, 1300–1500 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946; reprinted Milwood, NY: Kraus Reprints, 1976); Paul Zumthor, Merlin le Prophète (Lausanne: Imprimerie Reunies, 1943; reprinted Geneva: Slatlin Reprints, 1973).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A good introduction to English prophecy is Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971), pp. 389–432. For more complete discussion see Rupert Taylor, The Political Prophecy in England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1911; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1967). For the civil war period, see Harry Rusche, “Prophecy and Propaganda, 1641 to 1651,” English Historical Review 84 (1969): 752–70; Rusche, “Merlini Anglici: Astrology and Propaganda from 1641 to 1651,” English Historical Review 80 (1965): 322–33. Also, M. H. Dodds, “Political Prophecies in the Reign of Henry VIII,” Modern Language Review 11 (1916); W. C. Previté-Orton, “An Elizabethan Prophecy,” History 11 (1918). See also Carroll Camden, “Elizabethan Almanacs and Prognostication,” Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 2nd ser., 17 (London, 1932). See also C. A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich, eds., The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Folke Dahl, “King Charles Gustavus and the Astrologers William Lilly and John Gadbury,” Lyenos (1937): 161–186.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See Dictionary of National Biography 18:119–20. Also, Richard Head, The Life and Death of Mother Shipton (London: W. Onley for J. Back, 1697; reprinted London, 1871). For the impact of her prophecies in later centuries, see William H. Harrison, Mother Shipton Investigated (London: Wm. Harrison, 1881; reprinted Norwood, PA: Norwood Press, 1976 and 1978). Citations in the text are taken from Twelve Strange Prophecies (1642) but the Shipton text is identical in all publications.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Dictionary of National Biography 11:1137–41. Also, Bernard S. Capp, English Almanacs 1500–1800: Astrology and the Popular Press (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 44, 48–9, 57–8, 73–86; F. S. Siebert, Freedom of the Press in England, 1474–1776 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1952), pp. 179–302; Derek Parker, Familiar to All: William Lillly and Astrology in the Seventeenth Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975); Patrick Curry, Prophecy and Power. Lilly wrote, among other works, Merlinus Anglicus Junior (1644); Prophecie of the White King (1644); England’s Prophetical Merline (1644); Collection of Prophecies (1645); Anglicus (1646); The World’s Catastrophe (1647); A Peculiar Prognostication (1649); English Ephemeris for 1650 (1650); Monarchy or No Monarchy (1651); and Annus Tennebrosus (1652). He also wrote an autobiography entitled William Lilly’s History of His Life and Times from the Year 1602. It was written in 1648, when Lilly was forty-six, but remained unpublished until 1715, when it was printed by J. Roberts. It was reprinted in London by C. Baldwin in 1822 and again in 1829 by Whittacher, Trucker, and Arnot.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Peter Helwyn, Cyprianus Anglicis: Life of William, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (London, 1671) p. 138, cited in Rusche, “Prophecies and Propaganda,” p. 757.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    According to Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, pp. 344–47, both Anglican and Presbyterian authorities remained dubious of astrological forecasting, and both regularly censored almanacs. See also Capp, English Almanacs; D.C. Allen, The Star-Crossed Renaissance. The Quarrel About Astrology and Its Influence in England (Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1941); and T. O. Wedel, The Medieval Attitude Towards Astrology, Particularly in England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920).Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    David Underdown, Prides Purge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 183.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Nostradamus remains popular and in print. See Edgar Leoni, Nostradamus: Life and Literature (New York: Esposition Press, 1961); Henry Robert, ed., The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus (Great Neck, NY: Nostradamus Press, 1973).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jerome Friedman 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jerome Friedman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations