17th-C. Tory and Quaker Astrologers

In Special Collections here we have a copy of John Gadbury’s[1] Ephemerides of the Celestial Motions for XX Years (London, 1709).

The title page from Gadbury’s Ephemerides, with two previous owners’ signatures, Benjamin Eastburn’s and Jacob P. Jone’s.
The title page from Gadbury’s Ephemerides, with two previous owners’ signatures, Benjamin Eastburn’s and Jacob P. Jone’s.

Gadbury was a prolific astrologer throughout the latter half of the 17th-century. By 1655 he was publishing almanacs and ephemerides. Over the next fifty years he published numerous single-year almanacs, some multi-year almanacs, and some occasional astrological tracts. He began his career a supporter of other well-known English astrologers, notably William Lilly[2]. By the end of the 1650s Gadbury’s politics had changed considerably. By the Restoration of Charles II he had become a staunch supporter of the monarchy. He came to reject Lilly’s political radicalism and attacked him in his The Novice-Astrologer (1659). Two years later he wrote an optimistic prediction for Charles II’s reign based on a horoscope for the moment Parliament declared the monarchy restored:

Gadbury’s horoscope for the Restoration of Charles II, from Gadbury’s Britain’s Royal Star (1661).
Gadbury’s horoscope for the Restoration of Charles II, from Gadbury’s Britain’s Royal Star (1661).

Gadbury apparently tried to reform astrology to make it more Baconian and experimental—Gadbury’s approach took the form of compiling careful histories through the detailed analysis of individual nativities comparing them with the major events in that person’s life.[3]

It seems odd that Gadbury was not as interested in precision when it came to the positions of of the planets. In his preface, he chastised the “minute-mongers” who concentrated on precision at the expense of interpretative skills. At one point he claimed that these “minute-mongers” hid behind their precision to disguise their interpretive inabilities and errors. Good astrologers, he repeats, could make accurate predictions knowing the positions of the planets to only the degree.

Part of Gadbury’s argument against the “minute-monger” astrologers who wrongly celebrated precision over interpretive skills.
Part of Gadbury’s argument against the “minute-monger” astrologers who wrongly celebrated precision over interpretive skills.

Neither am I destitute of Authentick Warrant, for this my setting down the Planets Places to single degrees. For, in Elder Times, the greatest Astrologers deem’d it sufficient, not only for Meterological, Nautical, Agricultural, but also for Genethlical Uses, if they obtain’d a Scheme of the Signs on the Horoscope and the remaining Angles, and even in the Planets Places. In those Days there was no need of Minute-mongers in Astrologie. They neglected Degrees as Trifles, and much more did undervalue Minutes and Seconds. As any Man may know, if but meanly versed in the Writings of the Antients; Particularly, in the lasting Labours of the Noble Julius Firmicus; wherein may be found Printed several Noted Birth-Figures, viz.—Of Plato, Pindar, Homer, Archimedes, Demosthenes, Thyrsites, &c. after that manner only.

He also points to modern astrologers such as Nostradamus, John Goad, John Napier, Simon Forman,[4] Elias Ashmole, Johannes Schöner, and Girolamo Cardano, who used planetary positions recorded only to the degree. The best astrologers both ancient and contemporary, were not “minute-mongers.”

In the tables, Gadbury listed the positions of the sun and moon to degrees and minutes, but for the rest of the planets he listed only the degrees.

A table from Gadbury’s Ephemerides showing Benjamin Eastburn’s annotations and corrections.
A table from Gadbury’s Ephemerides showing Benjamin Eastburn’s annotations and corrections.

Gadbury died in 1704, five yeas before his Ephemerides of the Celestial Motions for XX Years was published. George Parker[5] decided to publish Gadbury’s Ephemerides. Gadbury was a Quaker astrologer with close connections to a handful of late–17th-century astronomers, including Edmond Halley and John Flamsteed. In 1690 he started publishing his annual almanac, Mercurius Anglicus. Despite his Quaker upbringing, he seems to have become a tory and Anglican. Like Gadbury, Parker opposed the more radical, populist astrologers, including John Partridge. And like Gadbury, Parker remained committed to a reformed astrology that conformed to emerging scientific methods.

This particular copy of Gadbury’s Ephemerides was owned by a Benjamin Eastburn who claimed to have purchased the book in 1721 from a Jacob Linnox for £0/5/0.

The last page of Gadbury’s Ephemerides where Benjamin Eastburn signed his name and noted how much he paid Jacob Linnox for the book.
The last page of Gadbury’s Ephemerides where Benjamin Eastburn signed his name and noted how much he paid Jacob Linnox for the book.

In addition to noting when he purchased it, Eastburn corrected data in the tables, added notes about eclipses, and wrote his name all over the title page (see the pictures above).

Gadbury’s Ephemerides listed nineteen solar or lunar eclipses between 1709 and 1728. Each of the different types of eclipse—lunar or solar, and full or partial—was illustrated by a little woodcut of the sun or moon with a face, often with a stern look.

Some of the many eclipse woodcuts in Gadbury’s Ephemerides.
Some of the many eclipse woodcuts in Gadbury’s Ephemerides.

  1. Patrick Curry wrote the excellent entry on Gadbury in the Dictionary of National Biography, which is the basis for much of my information on him. Unfortunately, the DNB entry is behind a paywall.  ↩

  2. Patrick Curry also wrote the DNB entry on Lilly, which is also behind a paywall.  ↩

  3. Gadbury’s approach was not particularly new. A century earlier Girolamo Cardano and Luca Guarico published collections of genitures. And a century before that the Polish astrologer, Martin Bylica compiled genitures that he returned to as needed (see my essay in Osiris). 20th-century astrologers still compile horoscopes for historical figures and, apparently, compare them to the events that transpired. See, for example, A Modern Astrologer’s Intellectual Breadcrumbs  ↩

  4. On Forman, see the excellent Casebooks Project out of the HPS program at Cambridge.  ↩

  5. Bernard Capp wrote the entry DNB entry on Parker, again behind a paywall.  ↩