For Emperor Maximilian I (1493-1519) astrology was a powerful political instrument that allowed him to use knowledge about the natural world (what we would call science) as guide and justification for political action. Plus ça change.
The Polish astrologer Martin Bylica spent 30 years as the chief counselor and aide to the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus. Bylica placed his astrological expertise in the service of the king, an expertise grounded in his ability to offer expert interpretations of the natural world.
In the 1460s Europe’s most eminent astrologers—Johannes Regiomontanus and Martin Bylica—moved to Hungary teach at the fledging University of Pozsony. Full of optimism, they cast a horoscope for the founding of the institution. Despite their confidence, the university closed just a few years later.
Astrology was a core subject in the medieval university. By drawing on published and unpublished lecture notes, we glimpse in-class demonstrations using paper astrological instruments, lectures on pragmatic astrology, and university masters coordinating undergraduate courses and advanced study in medicine.
Astrology occupied an important place Matthias Corvinus’s political program, from his library and collection of instruments to the horoscopes that decorated his palaces at Buda and Visegrád. One of his chief advisors was the Polish astrologer Martin Bylica, who offered political and military advice throughout the king’s reign.
In the early sixteenth century Turkish armies seemed poised to conquer Europe. Imperial counselors at the Holy Roman Court used used the science of astrology to shape public opinion about the looming Ottoman armies and communicated their knowledge to all registers of society through cheap printed pamphlets and posters.
In 1496 the German scholar Joseph Grünpeck used astrology to explain the causes, spread, and symptoms of the French Disease. He timed his publications to coincide with the emperor’s visit to Augsburg, which helped him gain a position at the imperial court.