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Meteors, prodigies, and signs: the interpretation of the unusual in sixteenth-century England.

   With that, an hideous storme of winde arose,
   With dreadfull thunder and lightning atwixt,
   And an earthquake, as if it streight would lose
   The worlds foundations from his centre fixt:
   A direful stench of smoke and sulphure mixt
   Ensewd, whose noyaunce fild the fearefull sted
   From the fourth howre of night until the sixt;
   Yet the bold Britonesse was nought ydred,
   Though much emmov'd, but stedfast still persevered. (1)


On the evening of 6 April 1580, three days after Easter, an earthquake occurred in England. Seismic vibrations caused the clock bell at the palace of Westminster to toll, while buildings across the southeast suffered damage. In London, diners at the Temple and patrons in the theatres rushed outside in confusion. (2) To the west, the quake struck Oxford, where 'All people being amazed, left their houses and ran into the open places', while birds fled and cattle 'were much affrightened'. (3) To the east, the writer of the Norwich Roll recorded hearing 'a violent Noise like the running of many Carriages', which made the timber of the Council Chamber 'crack and shake'. (4) The earthquake appeared to have been most severe along the southern coast, where it struck 'greate feare [in] all the people'. (5) In Kent, Roger Twysden recorded the further 'small shaking' of two aftershocks later that night. (6) The temblor also affected northern France and was felt as far away as York and Cologne. (7)

The earthquake of 1580 provides an instance of a rare natural occurrence that allows us to examine the treatment of strange phenomena, or prodigies, in early modern England. This article focuses on the class of physical prodigies contemporarily known as meteors, which included comets and earthquakes, and their interpretation by a Protestant society that could not easily attribute such unusual events to miracles. The sixteenth century was a prodigious age, framed within the context of the Reformation and its accompanying struggles. Religious and political interpretations of prodigies were common in this period, where such events could easily become part of the contemporary polemic. (8) Competing factions used a providential construal of prodigies to assail their rivals by arguing that such events indicated divine favour towards one side or the other. (9) Such readings have sometimes been viewed as a process of adding partisan interpretations to fundamentally natural events, a procedure reversed in the early modern period by 'transform[ing] prodigies from signs into nonsignifying facts' to become neutral objects of scientific study rather than evidence of divine judgement for partisan exploitation. (10)

This article challenges the claim that prodigies were viewed in such stark terms in the sixteenth century and that extraordinary events underwent a process of naturalization during this period. While they might see God as the final cause behind all phenomena, contemporaries often conflated concepts of 'natural' or 'supernatural' within events without preferring either category. Prodigies could be seen as positive signs just as readily as negative ones and variously interpreted depending on the viewpoint and purpose of the observer. (11) No position was objective; even the concept of 'natural' carried a significance viewed as biased by some who feared that a naturally regulated world would not allow for direct divine intervention. (12) As a result, prodigies were not naturalized in order to neutralize their providential potential because the concept of 'natural' explanations could be just as much a partisan interpretation of events in this period.

Historians have employed different explanations to account for the way people in the sixteenth century viewed both the causes of prodigies and their analysis. Keith Thomas explains that 'contemporaries attached moral importance to such natural occurrences' as comets and earthquakes during this period. (13) Alexandra Walsham argues that prodigies could be seen as providential tokens of misfortune presaging the divine will, while Robin Barnes connects the sixteenth-century fascination with prodigies to Protestant apocalypticism since Luther and other reformers pointed to signs and wonders as prophetic. (14) Rudolf Schenda agrees that prodigies (Wunderzeichen) were seen as divine warning signs (Warnsignale) foretelling the apocalypse. (15) Alternatively, since some prodigies had no obvious divine cause, they could be attributed to the work of demons. (16) The sixteenth century witnessed a growing interest in magic, witchcraft, and devils. (17) Stuart Clark suggests that as part of the natural world, demons could control natural phenomena, thus preternatural events became analogous to demonic activity and were evidence of spiritual powers at work. (18)

The early modern period also saw a change in the way people viewed strange phenomena, as natural historians began to question the special significance traditionally attached to objects. William Ashworth describes the replacement of a Renaissance 'emblematic world view' in which objects had 'myriad hidden messages' with a natural taxonomy by the seventeenth century. (19) Similarly, Lorraine Daston sees a process of prodigy naturalization beginning during the late sixteenth century, as ominous prodigies were stripped of their spiritual significance to become merely harmless, inert facts. As a result, they lost their ability to be used as arguments for political or religious dissent. Daston remarks that, 'First, preternatural phenomena were demonized and thereby incidentally naturalized; then the demons were deleted, leaving only the natural causes'. (20) This new explanation of prodigies took on a form of 'militant naturalism' as opposed to a traditional belief in the spiritual or immaterial origins of unusual phenomena. (21) Several problems remain with this succinct view of prodigy naturalization though. Despite theological claims, demonic activity was rarely the primary origin for prodigies cited by contemporaries. (22) For example, Thomas Churchyard denied that 'all the Divels in hell, nor all the Angels in heaven' even had the power to cause earthquakes. (23) In Protestant countries, direct divine action could still be seen behind prodigies. Many witnesses, for instance, had viewed the nova of 1572 as a supernatural occurrence. (24)

The existence of portentous prodigies did not necessarily preclude them from being treated as natural events in the early modern period. Thomas has argued that the 'disposition to see prodigies, omens and portents, sprang from a coherent view of the world as a moral order reflecting God's purposes and physically sensitive to the moral conduct of human beings'. This tendency was not inherently unscientific; rather 'the belief that natural events had moral import was quite consistent with some awareness of the laws governing meteorological phenomena'. (25) Even in the seventeenth century unusual events like comets would still be seen as both natural phenomena and warning signs. (26) Contrary to the claim that philosophers had to naturalize unusual events to study them scientifically, Sara Schechner has argued that the traditional view of comets as divine signs--found alike in folk beliefs and theological texts--was not overturned by Newton and Halley's astronomical discoveries'. (27) Thomas concurs that 'Comets did not cease to be seen as divine warnings when in the later seventeenth century it came to be appreciated that they had natural causes and could be predicted'. (28) According to Schechner, 'The learned questioned how comets acted, but not what they signified ... astronomical reforms did not undermine astrology [or] strip comets of their portentous powers'. (29) Thus at the end of the sixteenth century, prodigies were largely still viewed as preternatural events rather than naturalized as scientific facts.

By examining Protestant pamphlet views on the phenomena of prodigies in general and the earthquake of 1580 in particular, it will become apparent that there was no consensus of naturalizing meteors like comets and earthquakes and sixteenth-century observers were just as likely to regard the event as natural as they were to see it as portentous. Different intellectual factions (Aristotelian, Stoic, and Christian) explained unusual events using their own worldviews. An attempt to naturalize meteors would have been seen as an interpretation in itself since they could not be made natural without threatening existing religious views of the world. Consequently, naturalization was seen not as a way of neutralizing prodigies but rather as a partisan, religious judgement.

I. Sixteenth-Century Views on Prodigies

By the time of the Reformation, an unusual event in the physical world had generally become known as a prodigy. (30) Contemporaries identified the 1580 quake as an example of 'such prodigies' that from time to time occurred. (31) These extraordinary incidents could include 'strange eclipses of the sun & moon, terrible blazing stars, glittering comets, dreadful conjunctions of planets ... fearful trembling & quaking of the earth, horrible tempests, vehement winds ... loathsome monsters & other prodigious sights, contrary to the course of nature'. (32) It was, above all else, 'the sudden rarenesse of the thing' that made a phenomenon prodigious. (33) Collectively, all were considered preternatural, lying outside of the ordinary without explicitly violating natural law. (34) Although many saw these as signs from God, others suggested that demons also had the power to cause prodigies. (35) For those Protestants who denied the continuation of miracles in the world, preternatural events served as a compromise between the mundane and the miraculous. (36)

The Renaissance witnessed a revival in the classical interest in portents and prodigies. (37) Just as the Romans had seen comets and earthquakes as heralding the fall of emperors such as Tiberius, Nero, and Galba, so sixteenth-century counterparts attached great significance to such unusual phenomena, seeing them as omens or signs. (38) They were 'objects of fascination, packed with hidden meanings, which popular prophets and almanac makers promised to clarify'. (39) Sixteenth-century authors compiled chronicles of examples purporting to demonstrate a connection between prodigies and later events such as battles, famines, or the deaths of princes. (40) English translations of the prodigy books of Johann Carion and Conrad Wolffhart (Lykosthenes) by Gwalter Lynne and Stephen Batman brought these popular continental works to a Tudor audience. (41)

During the Reformation, both confessions were adept at interpreting unusual events to attack the other. As early as 1523, Luther and Melanchthon had utilized the appearance of monstrous animals to criticize the papacy. (42) They cited examples of monsters such as the 'monk-calf' (a cow with a cowl) and the 'pope-ass' as signs of the imminent downfall of the Catholic Church. (43) Not to be outdone, a later Catholic work connected the appearance of the same monstrous 'monk-calf' with the beginning of the ministry of Luther, himself a former Augustinian monk. (44) Likewise, in his 1569 broadsheet Ecclesia Militans, Johann Nas marshalled accounts of recent monsters to attack prominent Protestants, 'aggressively appropriating and reconceptualizing Lutheran texts and images' for the counter-Reformation. (45)

By the mid-sixteenth century, England had been drawn into the religious conflicts of the continent as Catholic and Protestant partisans struggled for supremacy. The religious situation in England allowed ample opportunity for opposing factions to interpret prodigies as a way of attacking one another. As monarchs came and went between 1547 and 1558, Protestant and Catholic regimes alternatively rose and fell. Each utilized prodigies as weapons in their propaganda war against the other, especially to criticize the reigning monarch when their own faction was out of power. In the 1550s, Protestant expatriates like John Ponet, the former Bishop of Winchester, attacked England's return to Catholicism under Queen Mary: 'There was never great[er] misery, destruction, plague or visitation of God', he wrote from exile in Strasbourg, 'that came on any nation, city or country ... sent of God for Sin'. (46) Ponet particularly cited two events, the birth of a two-headed child at Oxford in 1552 and the comet of 1556, attaching political interpretations to these prodigies. According to Ponet, the two-headed child had been an omen of the future, a prediction that the two-headed monstrosity of Philip and Mary would replace the 'one sweet head, King Edward'. (47) 'The horrible Comet and blazing star' of 1556 also foretold ill for England: war, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes. (48) Following the ascension of Elizabeth and the return of Protestantism, Catholics found themselves on the outside and employed similar techniques to criticize the new Queen. (49)

There would seem to have been a benefit to naturalizing these phenomena in order to neutralize any possible threat from them to the established powers. Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park argue that the goal of naturalization was 'removing mirabilia [wonders] from the realm of the demonic and the supernatural, where they had been placed by the ignorant and the vulgar' as a way of combating 'the disturbing lay tendency to invoke God or demons, both as an explanation of preternatural phenomena and as a means of political manipulation'. (50) David Cressy concurs, suggesting 'At times of crisis they [prodigies] assumed political dimensions ... It should come as no surprise, then, to find government attempting to control or neutralize such reports'. (51) Apparently natural events could indeed be made ominous for mischievous purposes. Bishop Jewel considered himself fortunate to have arrived at his diocese in 1560 a few days after lightning had struck the steeple of Salisbury cathedral. He feared that had he arrived before the event 'so foolish and superstitious are men's minds, that all this mischief would have been ascribed to my coming'. (52) Similarly, in late Tudor England, Protestants accused Catholics of using prodigies to stoke fear among the credulous. (53) John Foxe maintained that Catholics 'have their prodigious visions', while William Bullein claimed 'it was a pleasaunt practise of papistrie, to bring the people to new wonders'. (54) Thomas Twyne complained of 'vyle, ungodly, and wickedly disposed persons' who used the occurrence of prodigies 'to set any mischiefe abroache ... & attempt most horrible enterprises' such as rebellion and treason. (55)

Not everyone saw prodigies as essentially portentous, however. Renaissance translations of Roman and Greek works which gave natural origins for these phenomena were widely available by the sixteenth century. (56) Philosophers schooled in Aristotelian logic described comets as gases burning in the atmosphere and multiple suns as merely optical illusions. In the second half of the sixteenth century, numerous textbooks appeared that gave this official scholastic line. In 1569, Edward Fenton published an English translation of French humanist Pierre Boaistuau's Histoires Prodigieuses, which urged its readers to 'search in nature the cause and beings of these things, and stay no more at these fripperies, deceiptes, and dreams'. (57) William Fulke, Thomas Hill, Sebastian Verro, and Pierre de la Primaudaye also relied heavily upon Aristotle in their works. These scholars followed the path of earlier philosophers such as Albertus Magnus and Henry of Hesse in trying to find primarily natural causes behind all phenomena. (58) Echoing Aristotle's dictum that there were to be no 'accidents' in his system, scholastics concentrated only upon the regular and ordinary, not the rare exceptions. (59) As such, their natural philosophy relied solely upon secondary causes, not divine intervention.

Like the writings of Aristotle, translations of Stoic works also circulated in the sixteenth century. (60) Although primarily known for its moral viewpoint, Stoicism also influenced natural philosophy in this period. (61) The Stoic world was one of purpose and reason, infused by a universal living soul equated with God. This unified cosmos featured a mutual sympathy between its various parts. (62) Fate caused all things to happen according to a divine plan. Consequently, no phenomenon could be truly unnatural, since its very occurrence made it a part of nature. (63) Prodigies were signs that occurred within the natural world or omens that acted as divine messages, allowing humans to perceive the greater purpose behind the cosmos. (64) These signs, however, were neither the cause nor the effect of unusual phenomena. Their appearance was coincidental, occurring as part of a predetermined plan. John Hooper made a Stoic argument that the sign was not the same as the cause when it came to comets: 'the comete or blasyng starre, may be called a signe of godes ire or anger, though the starre of its nature is not to be feryd.' (65)

Those who had received a university education might be better equipped to provide natural explanations for phenomena, but there existed a certain tendency among the general populace too to see natural causation. We should not assume that opinions divided on a strict line, pitting an 'educated elite' against the 'illiterate masses'. (66) Both groups could see natural rather than spiritual causes behind apparently unusual events. As a result, some contemporaries complained of the inclination of the 'vulgar' to see only normal, rather than didactic, reasons for prodigies. Addressing the skepticism that followed reports of celestial apparitions in Germany and Italy, Francis Shakelton claimed that 'In these days it will not sink into the heads of many that there may any such strange sight appear in the air, because we can not render a natural reason thereof'. (67) 'We straight, in nature, can discern the cause | And so ascribe each thing unto her laws', lamented Arthur Gurney. (68)

All of these explanations invoked ordinary causes for extraordinary phenomena. Rather than seeing prodigies as spiritual, observers placed them into an existing natural order. Such views were not an attempt to naturalize prodigies or neutralize the ability to use them in political and religious arguments since a tendency to analyse prodigies in natural terms could itself be seen as polemical. The claim that natural causation lay behind events was not a neutral viewpoint, but was rather enmeshed in contemporary religious beliefs. While Protestants might declaim against miracles, they were unwilling to deny any spiritual activity in the world for fear of supplanting the creator by the creation. (69) A strictly material cosmos operating on regular laws was one that did not allow divine activity: 'If natures law and reasons rule', claimed Thomas Churchyard, 'No place were left for God'. (70)

In the eyes of many, a natural interpretation carried a political or religious significance. It was no more an impartial explanation of the event than attributing its happening to demonic or divine activity. A completely natural order, be it Aristotelian or Stoic, challenged the position of God in the world. Shakelton rejected the views of Aristotle and the schoolmen, who 'doe agree, that blazing Stars do spring of natural causes', instead arguing that they were 'an immediate messenger, and minister of [God's] will'. (71) To see phenomena merely as part of a regulated system potentially restricted the work of God. 'Now if for all things that sodenly happen, a reason may be made', argued Churchyard, 'then though thousands of wonders happened in a day, not one among ten thousand would thinke that God doth any thing at all, but as natural causes do fall out'. (72) Similarly, many Protestants were hostile to Stoic fatalism, perhaps because it was so similar to their idea of providence. The likeness was disquieting enough for Jean Calvin to go to great lengths to distance his teachings on predestination from those of the ancients. (73) In refusing to identify God with fate, he claimed, 'we do not as the Stoics do'. Instead, Calvin recognized that God in 'his wisdom has even from the furthest end of eternity decreed what he would do'. (74) For others, Stoicism was uncomfortably close to pantheism. Gurney feared such a view threatened to deify nature, leading humans to see 'Nature, as our God | one and daily nod'. (75)

Additionally, natural conceptions of the world undermined significant Christian beliefs. If earthquakes, comets, and other marvels 'rise on a natural cause', suggested Churchyard, then the star of Bethlehem and the earthquake at the crucifixion became meaningless, merely curiosities rather than divine signals. (76) Shakelton subordinated the natural to the divine, holding that God was 'the creator, and governour of Nature itself, and of all Naturall causes'. (77) Likewise, in the early seventeenth century, George Herbert criticized peasants who 'think that all things come by a kind of natural course; and that if they sow and soil their grounds, they must have corn; if they keep and fodder well their cattle, they must have milk'. It was the duty of their parson to help them 'to see God's hand in all things, and to believe, that things are not set in such an inevitable order, but that God often changes it according as he sees fit'. (78) For many, prodigy naturalization was a threat to divine power; they preferred to see such events in more significant terms.

In the sixteenth century, there was no overall trend towards naturalizing prodigies. Such a process would have disconcerted many who saw them as reassuring indications of divine handiwork. When prodigies were described in natural terms, it was commonly seen as a subjective explanation, not as a return to objective fact. Indeed, contemporaries recognized that a natural interpretation could be removed from a prodigy just as easily as added to one. Thus a natural phenomenon could be denaturalized and become an omen, as Shakespeare had King John bemoan the ability to take any 'natural exhalation in the sky' or 'common wind' and 'pluck away his natural cause | And call them meteors, prodigies and signs'. (79) There was no tendency towards seeing events as fundamentally ordinary. Natural and supernatural were equally interpretations; neither state was privileged. The sixteenth-century treatment of meteors provides an example of how these prodigies could be viewed.

II. Meteoron

Signs in the heavens were understandably often attributed to divine influence and interpreted as warnings from above. The Lutheran David Chytraeus had argued that comets preceded calamities and ill fortune. (80) 'Whensoever any great eclipse chances in the sun or moon, some marvelous impression, or change, or mortality follows upon the earth', argued Bishop Jewel, while Heinrich Bullinger wrote of 'signs and wonders ... in the sun, the moon and the stars, which do forewarn men of destruction and calamities to come'. (81) Christian authors had to avoid the suggestion that such celestial events directly influenced human life, lest they give the stars power equal to God: 'Those things that are above us, pertain nothing to us', declared William Fulke. (82) 'They foretell of Comets, Earthquakes, Famines and plagues etc. but they do it as the blind man which casts his staff he knows not where', agreed William Perkins. (83)

Astronomical events, however, were not all the same. Some invoked wonder by their sudden appearance, while others were less surprising. By the sixteenth century, astrologers could accurately predict both solar and lunar eclipses, making them seem more customary than signal. (84) 'Nothing else is the Eclipse of the Sun, but the direct putting the body of the Moon between the Sun and the earth, or between our sight and the Sun', explained Leonard Digges in 1574. (85) Because of this regularity, some writers such as Job Fincel denied that eclipses were prodigies. (86) There were also less anticipated, and hence apparently less regular, phenomena such as comets or 'blazing stars'. Thomas Twyne called these 'the hardest to foretell' in the heavens, 'wherein some that have attempted the same, have seen how they have been deceived with shame'. (87)

In the sixteenth century, the Aristotelian definition of a meteor (from the Greek [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) was still common. Meteors were terrestrial phenomena in the airy or fiery spheres of the world, rather than genuinely celestial events. Although Aristotle's Meteorologia did not appear in English in the sixteenth century, its influence was apparent in writings of the period. (88) William Fulke's Goodly Gallery (1563), an early textbook on meteors, relied heavily on Aristotle as well as Seneca and Pliny. A Puritan theologian, Fulke had attended Cambridge and found patronage under Leicester in the 1570s, becoming master of Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1578. Following a neo-Aristotelian view, he defined meteors as 'a body compound without life natural' and divided them into two varieties: vapours (moist) and exhalations (dry). (89) The heat of the sun drew these materials up out of the ground, lifting 'them up very high from the earth, into the air, where they are turned into diverse kinds of meteors'. (90) Alternatively, Stoic ideas influenced others to see comets as celestial bodies illuminated by the light of the sun. (91) This optical theory explained the anti-solar nature of comets' tails and allowed them to exist above the fiery sphere, out among the planets. (92)

Comets, 'the most renown of meteors', were difficult to predict and drew a great deal of attention in the early modern period. (93) In the Aristotelian conception, comets were the result of dry, oily exhalations from the earth catching fire in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The length of a comet's appearance depended upon the amount of matter drawn up to serve as fuel. (94) Because of their rarity and eye-catching nature, observers often saw comets as omens presaging events. Thomas Cranmer reported a comet and other signs to Henry VIII in 1532, exclaiming 'What strange things these tokens do signify to come hereafter, God knows; for they do not lightly appear, but against some great mutation'. (95) Fulke suggested that 'after the appearing of Comets, most commonly followed, great and notable calamities. Beside this, they betoken (say some) wars, seditions, changes of commonwealths and the death of Princes and noble men'. (96)

There were several major comets in the sixteenth century. Those of 1531, 1556, and 1577 were especially noteworthy because of their prominence in the heavens. The comet of 1531 was often connected to the Turkish invasion of Hungary and the recent siege of Vienna. (97) Paracelsus saw it as a sign of turmoil that anticipated the death of Zwingli at Kappel. (98) Later named for Halley, this comet also inspired Friedrich Nausea's often-reprinted work on comets. (99) The comet of 1556 was noted both in Britain and on the continent, 'to [the] great [wonder] and marvel to the people'. (100) Ponet had used this comet to attack the reign of Mary Tudor while Stephen Batman later connected it to a hot and pestilent summer. (101) The comet of 1577 was the most studied, earning a place in the history of science as the one Tycho Brahe used to measure cometary parallax and determine their extraterrestrial origin. (102) Coming on the sixtieth anniversary of the Reformation, it also inspired religious interpretations. (103) This brilliant sight was the subject of numerous works. (104)

Events commonly associated with comets, such as famine or drought, might be explained naturally as the consequence of the same causes as the comet itself. (105) Thomas Hill recounted the Aristotelian position on these and other meteors: 'A comet is an earthly exhalation, hot and dry, fat and clammy, with the parts thick gathered, by virtue of the stars, and drawn from the bowels of the earth ... unto the upper reaches of the air', and set alight. (106) Hill accepted that comets could accompany other phenomena, which were caused by this same process. The heat that drew up the exhalation also served to dry out the earth, thus creating drought and famine. (107) Similarly, comets could foretell the death of kings and nobles because 'these lead a more dainty life, and feed on finer meats continually, through which they sooner be infected'. (108) Thus the comet and its attendant misfortunes had a common, natural cause.

Others believed that God was the cause of comets. (109) Tycho Brahe saw the comet of 1577 as an 'unnatural wonder of God, by which He means to proclaim something other than what the natural courses might signify'. (110) Francis Shakelton also saw comets as a clear sign of God's providence. Sharing the apocalyptic views of many Protestants, Shakelton believed that the world was falling apart and would soon come to an end. During these last days, 'monstrous monsters of Nature' had appeared, that could be seen as signs 'in all the host of Heaven', warning humanity of 'universal dissolution, and destruction'. (111) These omens included false prophets, wars, famine, plague, earthquake, and heresy. (112) There was a clear purpose in these wonders: 'It pleases almighty God, by such monsters of Nature, to admonish us of our duties, and obedience, which we owe unto his divine Majesty.' (113) A comet was 'a blazing star (or burning beacon) set on fire by God's providence to warn the whole world, of dreadful wars, between God and those, that do go on still in wickedness'. (114) Such prodigies were the 'presages of his heavy displeasure ... which he sends daiely amongst us'. (115)

We should resist the temptation, however, to see the sixteenth-century response to meteorological activity in strictly dichotomous terms. Some authors, such as Thomas Twyne, accepted that comets could be omens of good or evil. A physician who studied at Oxford and Cambridge, Twyne was interested in astrology like his friend John Dee. Although he did not deny that comets were 'tokens sent from God in mercy, to put us in mind of penitence', Twyne did not see them as necessarily malevolent. (116) 'It has been thought, and written by many of the learned, that Comets bring always one mischief or another with them', he affirmed, 'But by the godly, surely they are to be received as tokens from the living Lord, of mercy to his people and terror to his enemies'. (117) For England, Twyne believed that the comet of 1577 foretold benevolence: 'Let us look into the state of other countries our near neighbours, and let us compare our plenty with their scarcity, our abundance, with their need, our peace, with their war.' (118) Thus comets could be seen in either a positive or negative light. Twyne suggested that the comet could portend disease and drought or the impending marriage of Elizabeth I depending on the viewer. (119) 'The sight whereof, as it drew unto it the eyes of many to behold it', wrote Twyne, 'so gave it occasion to the minds of diverse to imagine of it: some good, some bad, as every man fancied the events in his own judgment'. (120) A few years later, John Bainbridge would also hold that comets could be positive or negative signs. (121)

Equally, a comet could be perceived as natural or supernatural in origin. In 1577, Friedrich Nausea's Latin work on comets appeared in an English translation by Abraham Fleming. Nausea, a Catholic bishop who had also been tempted by Protestant thought, was equally torn between the natural and supernatural aspects of these meteors. With his fellow divines, he accepted that 'Blazing Stars come of no other cause, than from the holy Council and Providence of God'. On the issue of natural causation, Nausea held that 'it is a Christian duty, to ascribe more to God's providence, than to the force of Nature'. Given these caveats, he was still troubled by the apparently natural elements of comets. Nausea was forced to concede that he could
   not utterly deny, that they are natural [Non aut esse naturales,
   omnium negaverim], for so much as I am not (or at least ought not
   to be) ignorant, that Nature causes blazing stars; albeit so, that
   God is the Original and principle worker of such wonders, and that
   their ground and causes are natural, and not so secret and
   doubtful, but that otherwise the capacity and reason of man may
   conceive and compass them. (122)


Thus Nausea could neither reject the natural nor supernatural character of comets, holding 'that a blazing star may be supernatural, and also natural'. (123) Some comets might be products of the natural world, while others represented divine signs to humanity: 'Because all blazing stars are not alike, neither have their generation from one and the self same cause, but some of them are natural, other supernatural, and preceding from God.' (124)

Nausea also accepted that comets could be omens, but like Twyne challenged the traditional notion that they were always negative. (125) Nausea admitted that the customary interpretation of comets was ominous, marking the approach of 'some pernicious and mischievous thing'. As he held that comets could have differing origins, though, Nausea also argued that their varying natures extended to their significance for the future. 'As Blazing Stars are diverse', he wrote, 'so are their effect[s].' (126) Indeed, it was possible that comets could presage good fortune as well as ill, regardless of their natural or supernatural origins. As supernatural bodies they were signs from God to 'his beloved servants (whom no doubt he hath fore-elected to salvation) as well as joyful news'. (127) 'So far as Blazing Stars are natural, it is not to be doubted', wrote Nausea, 'but that the appearing of them may portend, and foreshow some good.' (128)

These reactions to comets provide examples of the different ways that strange sights could be explained in the sixteenth century. It is evident that different interpretations were common. Comets could be seen as natural or supernatural, malevolent or benevolent, depending upon the individual witness. These interpretations were subjective and recognized as such; there was no general preference. In fact, some authors explicitly addressed the possibility of multiple views. Explaining why the comet of 1577 had burned out after a few months, Twyne first gave an Aristotelian account: the comet would burn 'untill such time as the matter be quite consumed'. Yet 'to enterprete more like a Christian', he suggested that the comet had lasted 'upon the pleasure of God onely'. (129) The existence of such multiple interpretations argues against a desire to remove extraordinary causes from the world, rather representing recognition that meteors were complex phenomena. These prodigies could not be dismissed so easily.

III. The Earthquake of 1580

Earthquakes were also included along with comets within the overall category of meteors. (130) Some authors explicitly linked the two phenomena. In Aristotelian terms, the same exhalation that ignited in the atmosphere to produce a comet could also be responsible for an earthquake. (131) In the sixteenth century, chronicles recorded comets that accompanied quakes in Naples (1523), Basel (1537), and Constantinople (1556). (132) In the British Isles, comets and earthquakes had coincided in 1077 and 1222. (133) At least one author connected the 1580 earthquake back to the comet of 1577. (134) Others noted a new comet that appeared six months after the 1580 quake. (135)

Despite the arresting nature of such a rare phenomenon, this English earthquake had a limited physical impact. (136) Its duration was only about a minute or 'not above the time as we commonlie call it of a paternoster'. (137) Overall the damage was slight and there were only two reported fatalities, both struck by falling stones while attending a service at Christ's Church in London. (138) Nevertheless, the social and religious effects of the earthquake were dramatic. Within twenty-four hours, a printer had already registered 'a godly new ballad, moving us to repent of the Earthquake' with the London Stationers' Company. Over a dozen additional titles had appeared by the end of June. (139) Most initial reactions held that the earthquake was a warning from God against human sin. On 12 April, the Lord Mayor of London called for the closing of theatres, believing that they were 'a great hinderaunce of the service of God, who hath with his mighty hand so lately admonished us of oure earnest repentance'. (140) In response to the earthquake, the crown ordered fasting and prayers held twice a week. (141) Later, claiming that the earthquake was an 'extraordinary admonition to England, to act with true Christian compassion towards the calamity of the afflicted', it also used the event to appeal for donations to aid Protestants suffering from the religious wars in France. (142) The Church of England issued an order of prayer 'to avert and turn away God's wrath from us, threatened by the late terrible earthquake'. (143) The quake earned an enduring place in public culture and in people's memories. In addition to Spenser 's mention of it in The Faerie Queene, Shakespeare alluded to it in Romeo and Juliet while other references continued well into the seventeenth century. (144)

An earlier London earthquake in 1551 (145) and a minor tremor in the north and west of England in 1574/5 have left few accounts. (146) By contrast, the earthquake of 1580 was well documented by contemporaries. No fewer than eighteen works concerning the earthquake appeared in the London Stationers' register between April and June, although many of these have since been lost. (147) In June, Abraham Fleming listed eight other authors he knew who had already written works describing the earthquake. Of these, only the works of four (Richard Tarlton, Thomas Churchyard, Thomas Twyne, and Arthur Golding) are extant in addition to Fleming's. To these must be added accounts by Anthony Munday and Gabriel Harvey (in a letter to Edmund Spenser) that have survived but were not noted by Fleming. The remaining four earthquake works by John Phillips, Francis Shakelton, John Grafton, and Robert Gittins no longer exist. (148) There are also records of ballads about the earthquake by John Carpenter and William Elderton that have failed to survive. (149) Despite these lacunae, the existing material still allows us to examine the way this particular occurrence was viewed in the sixteenth century.

As with other unusual events, the earthquake was open to partisan interpretation. Donna Hamilton argues that the initial published responses were part of a Catholic polemic coinciding with the arrival of Jesuits in England. These tracts, mostly written by men connected to the conservative Sussex/Oxford/Howard faction at court (Churchyard, Tarlton, Twyne, and Munday) emphasized the damage done to official state and church buildings, suggesting divine criticism of the Elizabethan establishment. Protestant reinterpretations of the event by Golding, Fleming, and Harvey then followed. (150) Because so many works have been lost, however, it is difficult to say whether such a distinct Catholic/Protestant divide in the timing of the responses really existed. (151) What is clear is that those who had reached the higher levels of university education, regardless of their religious persuasion, tended to be more sympathetic to natural views of the earthquake. Like Fulke (MA, Cambridge) a generation earlier, Harvey (BA, Cambridge) and Twyne (MA, Oxford; MD, Cambridge) constructed natural explanations of the earthquake based on Ramist or Aristotelian concepts. By contrast, men who had attended university but taken no degree (Phillips, Fleming, Golding) and those who had received no university education (Munday, Tarlton, and Churchyard) viewed the earthquake as portentous, even apocalyptic. Religious confession seemed to be a secondary factor in influencing views of the earthquake. Fleming might have shared some of the Puritan impulses of Fulke (he referred to the theatre as 'the Whoreater' in his 1587 edition of Holinshed) but not his neo-Aristotelian view of nature. (152)

Certainly some authors saw the earthquake in religious terms and attached their own interpretations to the prodigy, seeing it in a moral or apocalyptic manner. One of the earliest works about the earthquake was a compilation by Thomas Churchyard and Richard Tarlton. (153) Churchyard saw the quake as a message from God, 'A loving rodde of threatening wrath, sent sure to warn us all'. (154) Tarlton held that this was but the latest in a series of portents that had included monsters, comets, and floods. 'Our health of soules must hang in great suspense', he wrote, 'When earth and Sea doo quake for our offence'. (155) Churchyard's view on the May aftershock in Kent continued this didactic theme while inverting the expected causation. In his subsequent work, he attributed that quake to 'a pretie naturall cause ... the naturall diseases of man, and the naughtie filthinesse of the flesh' that had caused God to send the earthquake 'for the correction of Natures inclination'. (156) Here 'natural' had a religious connotation rather than a scientific one, demonstrating how the concept was seen as an interpretation by men such as Churchyard. Although the relevant works by Shakelton and Phillips have been lost, their views on the event are clear from later writings. Shakelton listed the earthquake as one of the signs of the imminent apocalypse while Phillips encouraged his readers to give thanks that God's judgement had passed over them. (157) Fleming also took an apocalyptic view of the phenomena, suggesting that the increasing occurrence of such prodigies was evidence 'that the ende of this world is at hand'. (158)

Nevertheless, it was also possible to find natural explanations of the quake by writers who interpreted it in a more ordinary fashion. Thomas Twyne used Aristotelian terms to describe the phenomenon. Its efficient cause was 'a spirite or breath included within the bowelles of the earth' while its material cause was an exhalation, 'drawne out of the earth, which of nature is hot and drie'. (159) Writing to Edmund Spenser, a fellow student from his Cambridge days, Gabriel Harvey related a 'Meteorologicall Conference' he had held shortly after the earthquake. (160) On the evening of 6 April, Harvey had been playing cards with two gentlewomen. They and a gentleman of the house had asked him to give them the 'Gospell, that commeth from you Doctors of Cambridge' about earthquakes and to explain whether 'there not be some sensible Naturall cause therof'. (161) Curiously, Harvey gave separate responses to the two genders. To the women, he related a Stoic explanation of the event, describing the world as if it were a living creature: the 'Earth having taken in too much drinke ... now staggereth, & reeleth, & tottereth, this way and that way, up & down like a drunken man, or woman'. (162) Having amused the women with this example of 'Universitie Cunning', he addressed the gentleman of the house. (163) To this audience, Harvey presented an Aristotelian view. Now he described the earthquake in terms of vapours and exhalations, as the wet and dry elements within the earth sought out their natural place. There was an
   aboundance of wynde ... fast shut up, & as a man would saye,
   emprysoned in the Caves and Dungeons of the earth which winde, or
   vapors, seeking to be set at libertie, and to get them home to
   their Naturall lodgings, in a great fume, violently rush out, and
   as it were, breake prison, which forcible Eruption, and strong
   breath, causeth an Earthquake. (164)


These diverging views about the cause of the quake also caused some tension between those who saw it in spiritual terms and those who preferred natural explanations. Fleming denounced the way 'vaine Philosophers fansie descanting upon matters of great importance, and therby pull from God the cause of his justly conceived indignation against the wickedness of the world'. (165) By contrast Harvey, wished that 'some learned, and well advised Universitie man, woulde undertake' a scholarly explication of the event. He asked Spenser in jest to send him a 'fresh paulting threehalfpennie Pamphlet' from London for news of the earthquake ('in Ryme, and without Reason') so that he could see 'the right miserable, and most woefull estate of the wicked, most damnable world at these perillous dayes, after the devisers best manner: or whatsoever else shall first take some of your brave London Eldertons in the Head'. (166)

Thus the same phenomenon could be interpreted in completely dissimilar ways by different individuals and used to further their own arguments. Churchyard admitted that this was the case: 'Some fine headed fellowes will wrest (by naturall arguments) Gods doing and works, to a worldly or earthly operation ... Yet those who feare God ... will take the earthquake to be of another kind of Nature.' (167) Similarly, Arthur Golding contended that some would not hesitate 'to deface the apparent working of God, by ascribing this miracle to some ordinarie causes in nature'. (168) For these writers, a purely natural prodigy threatened the position of God in the world. On the other side, although Harvey was willing to concede that two of the Aristotelian causes of the quake (the efficient and final) were of supernatural origin, he was still suspicious of those who would use a prodigy to advocate an apocalyptic view. (169) As to the possibility of ominous forecasts provided by such prodigies, both sides were undecided. Despite his Aristotelian training, Harvey agreed that earthquakes 'are terrible signes' which have 'seemed to Prognosticate' plague, death, and war. (170) Fleming accepted that earthquakes had 'in them a hidden meaning and secret reason', but was noncommittal on whether such signs were positive or negative. (171)

In the end, a number of authors took a more nuanced approach that accepted the possibility that earthquakes, like comets, could be seen as natural or supernatural. Having split the causes of earthquakes equally between the two, Harvey concluded that 'the selfe same Operation in Genere, or in specie, may at one tyme, proceeding of one Cause, and referred to one End, be preternaturall, or supernaturall: at another tyme, proceeding of another, or the same Cause, and referred to another End, but Ordinarie, and Naturall'. (172) Thus 'an earthquake might as well be supposed a Naturall Motion of the Earth, as a preternaturall, or supernaturall ominous worke of God'. As a result, he questioned whether it was even possible 'for any man, either by Philosophie, or Divnitie, evermore to determine flatly the very certaintie either way'. (173)

Several authors did try to resolve this problem. Twyne and Golding, while holding that the earthquake of 1580 was a supernatural occurrence, still accepted the possibility of wholly natural earthquakes. After listing the causes of natural earthquakes, Twyne denied that the 1580 quake met the criteria. While the weather had been hot the week before Easter (conducive to drawing out exhalations from the earth) there were no caves or hollows near London from which they might have escaped. Additionally, there was no noise preceding the earthquake to signal the release of the exhalation, as there should have been. (174) Twyne also claimed that the earthquake had been too widespread to attribute it to a natural cause and had lasted only for a minute, far shorter than other recorded quakes. (175) As a result the damage had been minimal, indicating that this event had been a warning from God, not a natural phenomenon.

Golding also allowed that natural earthquakes were possible in general, although he held this specific quake to be of supernatural origin. He accepted that earthquakes were caused by the release of exhalations from within the earth at one place, but like Twyne maintained that 'If this Earthquake had risen of such causes, it coulde not have been so universall'. (176) Golding also argued that naturally occurring earthquakes should be preceded by signs such as a tempestuous sea or 'terrible sounds in the earth, like the noise of gronings and thunderings', which had been absent in this case. (177) 'And therefore we may well conclude', Golding asserted, 'that this miracle preceded not of the course of any naturall causes, but of Gods only determined purpose'. (178)

Looking at these accounts of the earthquake of 1580, several points stand out which make it difficult to support the theory that this period naturalized prodigies. First, none of the authors ever attributed the quake to demonic or preternatural activity. Indeed, several explicitly referred to the event as 'supernatural' or even as a 'miracle', removing it from the natural realm altogether. Thus the quake could not have been naturalized by seeing it as a preternatural event and removing the demonic causation. Second, there was no general trend towards naturalizing this extraordinary event by its commentators. Instead, several authors complained that people were already far too likely to see the quake as natural, and as a result their interpretations of the event tried to point out its ominous characteristics. In effect, they were engaged in a process of denaturalization, adding a religious gloss to the prodigy in order to make their own argument for repentance rather than neutralizing its significance. Finally, it is clear that not only did different people interpret the quake in diverse ways, but also they recognized

that they were doing so. It was entirely possible for an individual to see earthquakes (or other prodigies) deliberately in both natural and supernatural terms. Even Fleming, who had condemned the propensity of philosophers to look only for natural causes, admitted that 'many wonders have their cause and originall even of nature'. (179) Prodigies did not have to be naturalized; it was already accepted that they could have completely natural causes. Naturalization, when it occurred, was simply another way of interpreting these events, one that still allowed them to be polemical.

IV. Conclusions

Rather than removing their spiritual interpretations in order to defuse the potential abuse of prodigies as evidence for a partisan argument, many authors were engaged in just such activities in the sixteenth century. It is evident that contemporaries saw prodigies like the 1580 quake as an example of a type of phenomenon that could be interpreted in different ways. There was no existing privileged, objective state to which to add an interpretation, either natural or portentous. Seeing a natural cause behind any event could potentially deny the action of God in the world or attribute too much autonomy to the creation. To see the earthquake of 1580 as a sign from God was just as much an interpretation of the phenomenon as to see it as the result of exhalations escaping from the interior of the earth. Such a meteor could be a prodigy and a sign, a prediction or an admonition. The end effect was to create an epistemological debate over the ability to know whether a prodigy was natural or not, as opposed to an ontological debate about its actual status. In the end, prodigies might indeed be naturalized, but the process of making them natural removed neither their significance nor their polemical value.

(1) Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (New York: Appleton, 1857), p. 400.

(2) Thomas Churchyard, A warningfor the wise (London, 1580), sigs A4v-B2r.

(3) Anthony Wood, The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford in Two Books, trans. John Gutch (Oxford, 1792-96), pp. 198-99.

(4) Francis Blomefield, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, 11 vols (London: William Miller, 1805), III, 355.

(5) William Boys, Collections for an History of Sandwich in Kent, 2 vols (Canterbury: Simmons, Kirkby & Jones, 1792), II, 696.

(6) London, British Library, Additional MS 34177, fol. 18v. Another earthquake occurred in Kent during early May: John Stow, The Chronicles of England (London, 1580), p. 1210.

(7) Anthony Munday, AViewof Sundry Examples (London, 1580), sig. D4r; G. Neilson, R. Musson, and P. Burton, 'The "London" Earthquake of 1580, April 6', Engineering Geology, 20 (1984), 113-141.

(8) Lorraine Daston, 'Marvelous Facts and Miraculous Evidence in Early Modern Europe', Critical Inquiry, 18 (1991), 93-124 (pp. 102-3). For a similar analysis of prodigies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, see William Burns, An Age of Wonders: Prodigies, Politics and Providence in England 1657-1727 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002).

(9) Krista Kesselring, The Northern Rebellion of 1569 (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007), p. 14.

(10) Daston, 'Marvelous Facts', pp. 94-95.

(11) Jennifer Spinks, 'Wondrous Monsters: Representing Conjoined Twins in Early Sixteenth Century German Broadsheets', Parergon, 22.2 (2005), 77-112 (p. 81).

(12) Sara Schechner, Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 221.

(13) Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribner, 1971), p. 89.

(14) Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 167, 169; Robin Bruce Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis: Apocalypticism in the Wake of the Lutheran Reformation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 73, 87-88, 91. Similarly, some Catholics viewed the rise of Protestantism as apocalyptic: Robert Knecht, The French CivilWars (Harlow: Longman, 2000), p. 75.

(15) Rudolf Schenda, ' Wunder-Zeichen: Die alten Prodigien in neuen Gewandern', Fabul, 38.1-2 (1997), 14-32 (pp. 15-16).

(16) Stuart Clark, 'The Scientific Status of Demonology', in Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance, ed. Brian Vickers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 351-74 (p. 354).

(17) H. C. Erik Midelfort, 'The Devil and the German People', in Religion and Culture in Renaissance and Reformation, ed. Steven Ozment (Kirksville: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1989), pp. 99-119 (p. 101).

(18) Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 167-68.

(19) William Ashworth, 'Natural History and the Emblematic World View', in Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, eds David Lindberg and Robert Westman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 303-32 (p. 312).

(20) Daston, 'Marvelous Facts', p. 107.

(21) Lorraine Daston, 'What can be a Scientific Object? Reflections on Monsters and Meteors', Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 52.2 (1998), 35--50 (p. 43).

(22) Goldwurm's compilation had a separate section for 'devilish' (teufelisch) prodigies as opposed to celestial or elemental ones: Caspar Goldwurm, Wunderzeichen (Frankfurt, 1567), fol. 125r. Pierre Bayle later argued that it was demons that caused people to view natural events as prodigies in the first place: Schechner, Comets, Popular Culture, p. 116. Even the birth of monsters was rarely attributed to demons or witchcraft: David Cressy, Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 44.

(23) Thomas Churchyard, The wonders of the Ayre, the Trembling of the Earth (London, 1602), sig. C1r.

(24) Tabita van Nouhuys, The Age of Two-Faced Janus (Leiden: Brill, 1998), p. 127. James Sanford held that it had 'miraculously appeared' (Lodovico Guicciardini, Hours of recreation, trans. James Sanford (London, 1576), sig. A5v) while Francis Shakelton wrote that this new star 'was no comet, but mere supernatural, directly apposite to the Star, which appeared at the Nativity': Shakelton, A blazing Star or burning Beacon (London, 1580), sig. D3v.

(25) Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 91.

(26) For the study of prodigies in seventeenth-century England, see Christopher Carter '"A Constant Prodigy?": Empirical Views of an Unordinary Nature', Seventeenth Century, 23 (2008), 265-89.

(27) Schechner, Comets, Popular Culture, p. 4.

(28) Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 91 .

(29) Schechner, pp. 113-14.

(30) Clark, Thinking with Demons, p. 366. Biological aberrations such as conjoined twins tended to fall more specifically under the rubric of monsters. See Alan Bates, Emblematic Monsters: Unnatural Conceptions and Deformed Births in Early Modern Europe (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005); Jennifer Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Germany (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009).

(31) Samuel Gardiner, Doomes-day booke (London, 1606), p. 28.

(32) Leonard Wright, A summonsfor sleepers (London, 1589), sig. E4r.

(33) James Yates, The castell of courtesie (London, 1582), sig. G3v.

(34) Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998), p. 121.

(35) Caspar Peucer, Commentarius de praecipuis divinationum generibus (Frankfurt, 1593), pp. 41-42.

(36) Clark, Thinking with Demons, p. 262.

(37) Ottavia Niccoli, Prophecy and People in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia Cochrane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. xiii.

(38) Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, trans. Robert Graves (New York: Penguin, 1975), pp. 151, 234, 242, 256.

(39) William Eamon, 'Markets, Piazzas and Villages', in Cambridge History of Science: Early Modern Science, eds Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 206-23 (p. 215).

(40) Johann Carion, Prognosticatio und Erklerung der grossen Wesserung (Leipzig, 1522); Job Fincel, Wunderzeichen (Nuremberg, 1556); Konrad Lykosthenes (Conrad Wolffhart), Wunderwerck Oder Gottes unergrundtliches vorbilden (Basel, 1557); Pierre Boaistuau, Histoires Prodigieuses (Paris, 1560); Goldwurm, Wunderzeichen.

(41) Johann Carion, The Three Books of Chronicles, trans. Gwalter Lynne (London, 1550); Stephen Batman, The doome warning all men to the iudgemente (London, 1581). This work is a loose translation of Wolffhart's with additional material supplied by Batman himself.

(42) Daston and Park, Wonders, pp. 187-88.

(43) Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston, 'Unnatural Conceptions: The Study of Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England', Past and Present, 92 (1981), 20-54 (p. 26).

(44) Friedricus Staphylus, The apologie of Friedricus Staphylus (Antwerp, 1562), sig. G1r.

(45) Jennifer Spinks, 'Monstrous Births and Counter-Reformation Visual Polemics', Sixteenth Century Journal, 40 (2009), 335-63 (p. 339). Intra-confessional criticism was also possible. Following a 1570 earthquake in Ferrara, Duke Alfonso d'Este encouraged naturalized views of the quake to combat charges levelled against him by Pope Pius V that the quake was God's judgement on the Duke: Craig Martin, Renaissance Meteorology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), p. 61.

(46) John Ponet, A short treatise of political power (Strasbourg, 1556), sig. K2v.

(47) Ponet, sig. K4v.

(48) Ponet, sig. K5v.

(49) See Thomas Stapleton, A counterblast to M. Holmes vain blast against M. Fekenham (Lovani, 1567); Job Throckmorton, M. Some laid open in his coulers (La Rochelle: Waldegrave, 1589); and Robert Parsons, An advertisement written to a secretary of my Lord Treasurers of England (Antwerp, 1592).

(50) Daston and Park, Wonders, pp. 130-31.

(51) Cressy, Travesties and Transgressions, p. 22.

(52) Jewel to Martyr, 22 May 1560: The Works of John Jewel, ed. John Ayre, 4 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845-50), IV (1850), p. 1234.

(53) Cressy, p. 23.

(54) William Bullein, A Dialogue (London, 1573), p. 107.

(55) Thomas Twyne, AView of certain wonderful effects (London, 1578), sig. C2v.

(56) Simeon K. Heninger, A Handbook of Renaissance Meteorology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1960), pp. 16-20.

(57) Pierre Boaistuau, Certaine secrete wonders of nature, trans. Edward Fenton (London, 1569), sig. P4r.

(58) Schechner, Comets, Popular Culture, pp. 91-96.

(59) Daston and Park, Wonders, p. 120. Indeed, by seeing truly unusual events as preternatural --beyond the normal course of nature--the Aristotelian system could be saved, since it only dealt with the ordinary, not the extraordinary.

(60) Gilles Monsarrat, Light from the Porch: Stoicism and English Renaissance Literature (Paris: Didier-Erudition, 1984), p. 45.

(61) See Peter Barker, 'Stoic Contributions to Early Modern Science', in Atoms, Pneuma, and Tranquility: Epicurean and Stoic Themes in European Thought, ed. Margaret Osler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 135-54.

(62) Van Nouhuys, Two-Faced Janus, p. 100.

(63) Epictetus's Manual, republished in English in 1567, argued that all things were natural and should be acknowledged as such. Because there was a purpose behind events, all things happened for the best. As a result, humans could only accept them: Epictetus, The manual of Epictetus, trans. James Sanford (London, 1567), sigs D2r, C4r.

(64) Van Nouhuys, Two-Faced Janus, pp. 55-56.

(65) John Hooper, An answer unto my lord of Wynthesters book (London, 1547), sig. P3v. This point may have been influenced by the Calvinist view on the Eucharist. Just as the bread and wine were merely symbolic of God, so a prodigy was just a symbol of God's work in the world.

(66) Walsham, Providence, p. 222.

(67) Shakelton, A blazing Star, sig. C8r.

(68) Arthur Gurney, A doleful discourse and ruthful report (London, 1581), sig. C3v.

(69) Julie Crawford, Marvelous Protestantism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), p. 12.

(70) Churchyard, The wonders of the Ayre, sig. A3v.

(71) Shakelton, A blazing Star, sig. C5r.

(72) Churchyard, A warning for the wise, sig. A3v.

(73) It is interesting, though, that Calvin's first publication was an edition of the Stoic Seneca's De Clementia in 1532: Knecht, French CivilWars, p. 47.

(74) Quoted in Monsarrat, Lightfrom the Porch, p. 71.

(75) Gurney, A doleful discourse, sig. B3v.

(76) Churchyard, The wonders of the Ayre, sig. B4v.

(77) Shakelton, A blazing Star, sigs C5v--C6r.

(78) George Herbert, A Priest to the Temple (London, 1652), p. 123. Although only a later seventeenth-century copy of this work has survived, the original must have been composed before the author's death in 1632/3.

(79) William Shakespeare, King John, III. 4. 153-57, in G. B. Harrison, ed., Shakespeare: The CompleteWorks (NewYork: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1952), p. 564.

(80) Clarisse Doris Hellman, The Comet of 1577: Its Place in the History of Astronomy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), pp. 253-57.

(81) John Jewel, 'On Haggai', in The Works of John Jewel, ed. Ayre, II (1847), p. 993; Heinrich Bullinger, Decades, ed. Thomas Harding, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1852), IV, 231.

(82) William Fulke, Antiprognosticon (London, 1560), sig. A5r.

(83) William Perkins, Foure great lyers (London, 1585), sig. E4v.

(84) See, for example, the prediction of a solar eclipse on 2 November 1556 in Leonard Digges, Almanac & prognostication (London, 1556).

(85) Leonard Digges, A prognostication everlasting of right good effect (London, 1574), sig. D2r.

(86) Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis, p. 92.

(87) Twyne, View, sig. C2r.

(88) Simeon K. Heninger, 'Tudor Literature of the Physical Sciences', Huntington Library Quarterly, 32 (1969), 249-70 (p. 251).

(89) William Fulke, A Goodly Gallery (London, 1563), sigs A1r, A2r.

(90) Fulke, Goodly Gallery, sig. A4r.

(91) Van Nouhuys, Two-FacedJanus, p. 115.

(92) See Peter Barker, 'The Optical Theory of Comets from Apian to Kepler', Physis, 30 (1993), 1-25.

(93) Sebastian Verro, Physicorum libri X (London, 1581), p. 90.

(94) Fulke, Goodly Gallery, sigs B6v-B7r.

(95) Cranmer to Henry VIII, 20 October 1532: Works of Thomas Cranmer, ed. John Cox, 2 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1846), II, 235.

(96) Fulke, Goodly Gallery, sig. B8r.

(97) Batman, The doome warning, p. 544; Goldwurm, Wunderzeichen, fol. 67r.

(98) Charles Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 26. Although Zwingli died in 1531, Johannes Stumpf connected his death to the occurrence of a comet on the same day in 1527: Schenda, ' Wunder-Zeichen', p. 14.

(99) Friedrich Nausea, Ad Sacratissimum Caesarem Ferdinandum Rhomanonurum (Vienna, 1531).

(100) Henry Machyn, Diary (London: Camden Society, 1848), p. 101; See also the woodcut pamphlet, 'Verzeichnus des Cometen so im Anfang des markens erscheinen ist MDLvi' (Nurnberg, 1556).

(101) Batman, The doome warning, p. 376.

(102) See J. R. Christianson, 'Tycho Brahe's German Treatise on the Comet of 1577', Isis, 70 (1979), 110-40.

(103) Hellman, The Comet of 1577, p. 258.

(104) See, for example, woodcuts, 'Verzaichnus des Cometen so im Novem[ber] in desen 77 jar zum ersten mal gesehen worden' (Nuremberg, 1577); 'Von einen Schrecklichen und Wunderbarlichen Cometen so sich den Dienstage nach Martini dieses lauffenden MDLxxvii Jahres am Himmel erzeiget hat' (Prague, 1577); and 'Newe Zeitung von dem Cometen so jetzt im November dieses 1577 Jars erscheinen und beschreibung der bedeutung desselbigen' (Augsburg, 1577).

(105) Schechner, Comets, Popular Culture, p. 20.

(106) Thomas Hill, A contemplation of mysteries (London, 1574), p. 1.

(107) Hill, p. 4.

(108) Hill, p. 5.

(109) I. R., A most straunge, and true discourse (London, 1600), p. 1.

(110) Quoted in Christianson, 'Tycho Brahe's German Treatise', p. 137.

(111) Shakelton, A blazing Star, sigs B2v-B3r.

(112) Shakelton, sigs B5r--B8v. Shakelton specifically mentioned the 'damnable heresies' of the Family of Love, a Catholic sect that had established itself in Elizabethan England. See Christopher Carter, 'The Family of Love and its Enemies', Sixteenth Century Journal, 37 (2006), 651-72.

(113) Shakelton, sig. B2r.

(114) Shakelton, sig. C4r.

(115) Shakelton, sig. D7r.

(116) Twyne, View, sig. C4r.

(117) Twyne, sig. C2r.

(118) Twyne, sig. B3r.

(119) Twyne, sigs B2r, B3r.

(120) Twyne, sig. B1r.

(121) John Bainbridge, An Astronomical Description of the Late Comet (London, 1619), p. 31.

(122) Friedrich Nausea, Of all Blasing starrs in General, as well Supernaturall as Naturall, trans. Abraham Fleming (London, 1577), sig. B3r. I have used Fleming's 1577 English translation but have provided the original Latin text from Nausea, Ad Sacratissimum for important passages.

(123) '... quendam esse posse supernaturalem, quendam vero naturalem': Nausea, Ad Sacratissimum, sig. B6r.

(124) Nausea, Of all Blasing starrs, sig. D6r.

(125) Nausea, Of all Blasing starrs, sig. C4r.

(126) Nausea, Of all Blasing starrs, sig. C6r.

(127) Nausea, Of all Blasing starrs, sig. D4v.

(128) 'Quoad naturales etiam Cometas dubitari nequit quin boni quicque aliquoties significare possent': Nausea, Ad Sacratissimum, sig. D5r.

(129) Twyne, View, sig. B2r.

(130) Nausea had written on both comets and earthquakes, as had Johann Rasch: Hellman, The Comet of'1577, p. 275.

(131) Hill, A contemplation of mysteries, pp. 71, 75.

(132) Batman, The doome warning, pp. 303, 329, 375-76; Anon. woodcut, 'Ein erschroklich wunderzeichen von zwenen Erdbidemen welche geschehen seind zu Rossanna und Constantinopel im MDLVI Jar' (Nuremberg, 1556).

(133) Fleming, A bright and burning beacon (London, 1580), sigs N1v, N4v. Although this work is purportedly a translation of Nausea's De praecipuo huius anni post Christum natum MDXXVII apud Moguntiam terrae motu responsum (Mainz, 1531), much of its content appears to have actually been penned by Fleming himself. The commentary on the 1580 earthquake and the chronology of other English quakes was certainly not the work of Nausea, an Austrian bishop who had died in 1552. Compare Fleming's translation with Nausea, De Terrae Motu apud Moguntiam Responsum, in Rerum Germanicarum Scriptores, eds Marquard Freher and Burkhard Struve, 3 vols (Strasbourg, 1717), III, 308-12.

(134) F. K., Of the crinitall star (London, 1580), sig. A3r.

(135) Shakelton, A blazing Star, sig. C3v. John Dee recorded that he could see the comet until November: Dee, Private Diary of John Dee (London: Camden Society, 1842), p. 10.

(136) A modern estimate puts it at 5.6 [+ or -] 0.3 on the Richter scale: Paul Varley, 'Seismic risk assessment and analysis', in Engineering Geology of the Channel Tunnel, eds C. Harris, M. Hart, P. Varley, and C. Warren (London: Thomas Telford, 1996), pp. 194-216 (p. 194).

(137) Boys, History of Sandwich, II, 696; Hugh Broughton, Moriemini (London, 1593), p. 9. John Dee recorded a 'horrible earthquake at six in the evening lasting for two minutes' in his diary while according to Batman, the quake 'lasted not the full of halfe a minute': Deborah Harkness, John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 69; Batman, The doome warning, p. 409.

(138) Munday, A View of Sundry Examples, sig. D3v. By comparison, the 1590 earthquake that struck Vienna left at least nine dead while toppling most of the city's church steeples and leaving many houses uninhabitable: Georg Lang, 'Warhasstige und Erschroeckliche newe Zeitung aus Wien' (woodcut) (Nurnberg, 1590).

(139) Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (London, 1875), fols 167r-170r.

(140) Sir Nicholas Woodrofe to Sir Thomas Bromley, 12 April 1580, reprinted in E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), IV, 279.

(141) Acts of the Privy Council of England (London: HMSO, 1890-1946), 22 April 1580; John Strype, Annals of the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1824), p. 396.

(142) Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1547-1580 (Nedeln: Liechtenstein Kraus, 1967), p. 658.

(143) London, British Library, Lansdowne MS 30 no. 49; Church of England, The order of prayer, and other exercises (London, 1580).

(144) Juliet's nurse recalls "Tis since the earthquake now eleven years': Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, I. 3. 23, in Harrison, p. 479; Walsham, Providence, pp. 130-35.

(145) Machyn, Diary, p. 6; John Gough Nichols, ed., Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London (London: Camden Society, 1852), p. 69.

(146) Batman, The doome warning, p. 393; Grindal wrote the quake 'was not very great; for in York it shaked not down so much as a tile': Grindal to Parker, 4 March 1574/5, reprinted in The Remains of Grindal, ed. William Nicholson (Cambridge, 1843), p. 354.

(147) The earthquake also has the dubious distinction of being the subject of one of Collier's forged ballads.

(148) Phillips's work may have been called Quedam de Terre Motu although none of his surviving works is in Latin. Charles Cooper and Thompson Cooper, Athenae Cantabrigienses, 2 vols (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., 1861), II, 99. The only extant work by Shakelton concerns the October comet. This cannot have been the work to which Fleming referred, since it was not registered until four months later, suggesting that Shakelton wrote an earlier tract: Arber, Registers of the Company of Stationers, fols 169v, 173r.

(149) Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, 2 vols (London: Rivington, 1813-20), II (1820), 287-88; Arber, fol. 168r.

(150) Donna Hamilton, Anthony Munday and the Catholics (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), pp. 11, 13. Golding, however, was the brother-in-law of the Earl of Oxford and his brother may have been elected to Parliament due to the Earl's patronage.

(151) By contrast, Neilson, Musson, and Burton suggest that some English writers may have downplayed the effect of the earthquake as not to imply divine displeasure: Neilson and others, 'The "London" Earthquake', p. 114.

(152) Rafael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, 6 vols (London, 1587), VI, 1311. Flemings religious views have been the object of some debate, with David Wooten even arguing that he belonged to the Family of Love. David Wooten, 'Reginald Scot/Abraham Fleming/The Family of Love', in Languages of Witchcraft: Narrative, Ideology and Meaning in Early Modern Culture, ed. Stuart Clark (New York: St Martin's Press, 2001), pp. 119-38.

(153) Churchyard mentions only a single fatality caused by the earthquake, Thomas Gray, who was killed during the event. A second victim, Mabel Everet, died of her injuries four days later. Since Churchyard had not yet heard of her death, his work must have been composed in the days immediately following the quake: Churchyard, A warning for the wise, sigs B1v-B2r; Munday, AView of Sundry Examples, sigs D3v-D4r.

(154) Churchyard, A warning for the wise, sig. B2v.

(155) Churchyard, A warningfor the wise, sig. D2r. Tarlton's work was appended to Churchyard s. See Lily Campbell, 'Richard Tarlton and the Earthquake of 1580', Huntington Library Quarterly, 4 (1941), 293-301.

(156) This work by Churchyard has been lost, but Fleming quotes from it in his edition of Holinshed: Holinshed, VI, 1313.

(157) Shakelton, A blazing Star, sig. B6v; John Phillips, The wonderful work of God (London, 1581), sig. B1r.

(158) Fleming, A bright and burning beacon, sig. H3v.

(159) Thomas Twyne, A short and pithy discourse (London, 1580), sig. A1v.

(160) Edmund Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters (London, 1580), sig. C4r; Jon Quitslund, Spenser's Supreme Fiction: Platonic Natural Philosophy and the Faerie Queene (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 45-51.

(161) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sigs B3r, B2r.

(162) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sig. B3v. Fleming also described the quake in organic terms, suggesting that it was a sign of the earth's mortal illness: Fleming, A bright and burning beacon, sig. I4v.

(163) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sig. B2v.

(164) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sigs B4v-C1r.

(165) Fleming, A bright and burning beacon, sig. B4v.

(166) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sig. C4r. The Company of London Stationers' register does suggest that William Elderton wrote a ballad on the earthquake which was registered 25 April: Arber, Registers of the Company of Stationers, fol. 168r.

(167) Churchyard, A warningfor the wise, sig. A3r.

(168) Arthur Golding, A discourse upon the earthquake (London, 1580), sig. B1r. Goldings work was also incorporated into the official order of prayer issued by the Church of England: Llewellyn Buell, 'Arthur Golding and the Earthquake of 1580', Philological Quarterly, 24 (1945), 227-32.

(169) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sig. C1r.

(170) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sigs C1v-C2r.

(171) Fleming, A bright and burning beacon, sig. D4v.

(172) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sig. C2r.

(173) Spenser, Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters, sig. C3r. See also Kendrick Prewitt, 'Gabriel Harvey and the Practice of Method', Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 39 (1999), 19-39.

(174) Twyne, Discourse, sig. A4v; Fulke, Goodly Gallery, sigs C6r-C7r.

(175) Twyne, Discourse, sigs B2r-B2v.

(176) Golding, A discourse upon the earthquake, sig. B1 v. Shakelton agreed that the apparently universal scope of the earthquake made it 'miraculous, and wonderfull': Shakelton, A blazing Star, sigs B6r-B6v.

(177) Golding, sig. B2r. Tarlton confirmed that there had been no warning before the quake. 'This wunder came so unlooked for, that they forsooke their houses in feare & with such things as they had in their hands': Churchyard, A warning for the wise, sig. C4r.

(178) Golding, sig. B2v.

(179) Fleming, A bright and burning beacon, sig. G3v.

Christopher Carter

Guilford College
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