During February 1524 there was a conjunction of all the planets in the water sign of Pisces. One Johann Stoeffler of Justingen noted in his 1522 almanac that this was nothing to look forward to, for 'in the month of February will occur twenty conjunctions, small, mean and great, of which sixteen will occupy a watery sign, signifying to well-nigh the whole world, climates, kingdoms, provinces, estates, signitories, brutes, beasts of the sea, and to all dwellers on earth indubitable mutation, variation and alteration such as we have scarce perceived for many centuries from historigraphers and our elders.'
If Stoeffler was the first astrologer to warn of this coming planetary activity, others were not slow to follow; over fifty of them published more than a hundred books and pamphlets worrying the fact over, many prophesying the second Flood, although some took a more moderate view. Agostino Nifo, for instance, suggested that while there was certainly likely to be more rain than usual, Jupiter's predominance over Saturn strongly suggested that this would be beneficial rather than destructive; there certainly might be flooding, however, and a watch should be kept. On the whole, the more serious-minded astrologers agreed with him, leaving prophesies of deluge and disaster (often linked with war and bloodshed) to sensation mongers, of whom there were plenty.
February 1524 passed in fair weather. The astrologers of Bologna, where the university supported a strong astrological faculty, were distinctly surprised. However, their mistake seemed to be one of timing, or perhaps it was simply that the effects of the conjunction were slow to be felt, for on 19 March there was heavy rain in the city, and from 12 May prayers were said continuously for three days in an attempt to stop the torrent. On 21 May, the citizens rang the bells in the steeples of Bologna in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the storms; four days later they were rung twice in one day, and on 12 June rung again. That night there was an hour-long storm of such ferocity that the citizens were terrified. On 30 June the bells once more fought the wind, and on 14 July the clergy struggled through a thunderstorm to ring them again. On 20, 22 and 23 July, they were rung in an attempt to break up a storm during which hailstones as big as hens' eggs pelted the streets.
At the end of August houses had to be abandoned because of the floods, which drowned much farm stock. There were prayers against rain in September, during October and November streams and rivers overflowed and dowsed the countryside, and it was not until December that the rains finally subsided. Far from announcing that they had told the people so, the astrologers began to quarrel among themselves as to why they had not been able to predict more accurately the course of the storms.
During the 16th century astrology more than ever commanded the attention of the Popes. Just after the turn of the century, Julius II was receiving predictions from Antonio Campanazzo. Leo X (1513-21, the son of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent) relied greatly on his personal astrologer, Franciscus Priulus, who wrote a whole book about his patron's birth chart, and had apparently been able to tell the Pope many facts about his childhood which only he had known. Leo always claimed that Priulus was able to make predictions accurate to the very day; and all in all it must have been a considerable shock when the astrologer killed himself - an act in the commission of which he showed great determination, for failing to drown himself, jump into a fire, cut his throat with a scythe and jump out of a window, he finally starved himself to death. Leo then turned for advice to Pellegrino Prisciano of Ferrara, Thomas Philologus, Castaneolus, Nifo and Bernard Portinarius.
Leo's successors, Adrian VI and Clement VII, at the least allowed astrological almanacs to be dedicated to them. Paul 111(1534-49) positively encouraged astrologers to come to Rome and work under his protection, and on assuming the pontificate installed as unofficial astrologer to the papacy the well-known practitioner Luca Gaurico, who he made a bishop. Gaurico engaged in various minor controversies about the life of Jesus (the date of the crucifixion, the number of hours between it and the resurrection, and so on), but was used by the Pope in the main for such practical matters as electing the precise time at which the cornerstone of new buildings in the neighbourhood of St Peter's should be laid (the astrologer turned up in great pomp, with a splendidly robed assistant, Vincentius Campanatius of Bologna, to cry out in a loud voice when the moment had arrived, when a cardinal laid the marble slab).
It must be admitted that Pope Paul III's personality was not such that his devotion to astrology can be claimed as contributing to its respectability, for he claimed the efficiency in amorous affairs of a unicorn's horn purchased for 12,000 gold pieces, was extremely superstitious, and addicted to chiromancy. He also had the ill grace to die twelve years earlier than the year elected for that event by his last astrologer, Marius Alterius. Alterius' prediction that he would live to be a hearty 93 was no doubt part of a general scheme to keep the old man happy - how else to explain the prediction that a Pope in his 83rd year would experience in 1548 a year of success with women, who would bring him erotic diversions 'which will overwhelm your spirit with singular pleasure'?
Paul's favourite, Gaurico, had a notable school of astrology at Ferrara, where he tutored many of the century's best-known astrologers. Astrology was taught not only at private schools but at the universities; perhaps the best example of this in the 16th century was to be seen at Bologna, whence the professors sent forth many annual volumes of predictions. Between 1501 and 1528 Jacobus Benatius lectured on astrology daily, together with a colleague, lacobus Petramellarius, a doctor in arts and medicine who had taught astrology there since 1496.
No one at Bologna would have thought of wasting time arguing for the intellectual respectability of astrology. This was now taken for granted, and at most there was an occasional sarcastic thrust at 'those who persuade themselves that a most noble body such as the sky effects nothing in these inferiors but produced merely light, and through light, heat.' Elsewhere there was a similar attitude. At the University of Paris astrology was so thoroughly embedded in the curriculum that in 1512 Gaurico was seriously thinking of leaving Italy and going to Paris to work, on the grounds that the university there was more thoroughly committed to it. Indeed there was a lengthy tradition, and in 1437 the university had decreed that all physicians and surgeons must possess a copy of the current almanac for use as a medical textbook. Jean Avis produced annual almanacs for the medical faculty for forty years. Yet historians have claimed that the theological faculty at Paris was opposed to the teaching of astrology, which was never the case.
Many monarchs of Europe competed for the services of Regiomontanus (1436-76), an immensely distinguished astronomer and astrologer, and in France Nostradamus (1503-66), whose fame rested and still rests on gnomic pronouncements of future doom couched in symbols so obscure that any interpretation can be placed on them, led a group of astrologers which much influenced Henry II's widow, Catherine de' Medici. Henry IV ensured that an astrologer was present at the birth of his son, the future Louis XIII, who in turn ordered Jean Baptiste Morin (1583-1656) to attend at the birth of his son, the future Louis XIV. Later, Morin hid behind the curtains of the royal bedroom to observe the precise moment at which the young Louis XIV and his bride consummated their marriage, so that he could work out the conception horoscope of any future Dauphin who might be born as a result of the coupling.
In Spain, an astrologer advised Philip II against a planned visit to Mary Tudor in England, on the grounds that his charts showed a deep plot against Philip. (In England, as we shall see, Mary had her own astrological adviser.) Rudolf II, the Hapsburg Emperor, was patron of several astrologers. And in England, the tradition started by the Conqueror continued, for most monarchs had an interest in the planets and their auguries. Henry VI consulted a Master Welch about the time of his coronation, and later engaged Richard de Vinderose, an Englishman trained in France, as his court astrologer. Edward IV favoured a Master Eustache, and Henry VII and Edward VI relied on two Italians, William Parron and the famous Jerome Cardan (1501-76), mathematician and physician as well as astrologer, the first man to suggest teaching the blind to read by touch, who for some time attended Archbishop John Hamilton at St Andrews. In the 1520s, John Robyns, a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford (and later chaplain to Henry VIII and canon of Christchurch and Windsor) addressed his king on the matter of comets, and even went to Woodstock and Buckingham to continue discussion of the matter with Henry, himself no mean mathematician, and so able to follow the astronomical calculations. The king was far from unsympathetic to astrology, positively precluding his bishops from preaching against it, and accepting advice from a visiting German astrologer, Nicholas Kratzer, as well as from Robyns. Whether or not Cardinal Wolsey actually set up Henry's chart in order the better to curry favour with him is not proven, but rumour certainly had it so, and Wolsey took astrological advice in other matters.
After Henry's death, Cardan came to England expressly to calculate the chart of Edward VI (and incidentally that of his tutor John Cheke); the Secretary of State, Sir William Paget, received the dedication of a book by Bonatus, and Sir Thomas Smith, who was to become Secretaryof State, was so taken by astrology that he could 'scarce sleep at night from thinking of it'.
There was little opposition: astrology was still occasionally a matter for satire or blunt humour, but the greatest minds of the time were at least open on the subject. Sir Thomas More made a few weak jokes (about the astrologer who could not predict his wife's infidelity, for instance, and such childishness) but went no further. Erasmus, on the other hand, always eager to attack superstition, not only consulted astrologers but even himself invoked the planets (as, for instance, the cause of certain intellectual disputes at the University of Louvain in 1519).
And what of the great astronomers? - for we are, after all, in the century of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and Galileo. They regarded astrology as part of their discipline; they could set up and interpret astrological charts, and to some extent used astrology either to gain knowledge (as they saw it) or to make money.
The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), whose De revolutionibus orbium coelestium put forward in 1543 the theory (far from a new one, of course) that the Sun was at the centre of the planetary system, had astrological works in his library, and well-thumbed ones at that. De revolutionibus is entirely astronomical, with not a word of astrology in it, and critics have made much of this; but after all, there is not a word of astrology in Ptolemy's Almagest, which did not inhibit him as author of the Tetrabiblos.
The appearance of a bright new star in the skies in November 1572 provoked Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) to spend a great deal of time in astronomical and astrological speculation. He wrote several pages on its astrological significance, which he thought would be greater than that of any previously experienced conjunction of planets. He thought it probably signalled considerable political upheaval, and perhaps religious changes. His considerable interest in astrology seems to have been sharpened by the new star. Lecturing on mathematics to the University of Copenhagen two years later, he spent much of his time defending astrology, and arguing that while it was not a science which could be compared for certainty of effect with those of geometry or astronomy, it was none the less one it would be foolish to discount. As the years went on, his interest continued, and even increased. He drew up birth charts for members of the Danish royal family, making his own astronomical observations on which to base them, rather than relying on existing ephemerides. He had some doubts about the dubious practice of assigning zodiacal influences to cities or countries, but apparently none about the human significance of the planets' positions at birth.
The German astrologer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was always fascinated by astrology: his own 'horoscope book', which he kept religiously as a student, has given us most of our information about his early years. At Graz, in 1594, he took up the post of the teacher of mathematics and astronomy, and there produced four almanacs - for which he was paid 20 florins a time, a useful addition to an annual salary of only 150 florins. He was either a very good astrologer or a very fortunate man, for in his first almanac he phophesied very cold weather and an invasion by the Turks. Both duly occurred: it was so cold (he assured a correspondent) that people died of it; when they blew their noses, those noses fell off. At the same time, promptly on I January, the Turks marched in, destroying much of the country between Vienna and Neustadt.
For the rest of his life, whether he liked it or not (and though he occasionally protested, there is no real evidence that he was seriously concerned) he was to some extent a professional astrologer. Some of his apparently anti-astrological gibes are well-known: the one about astrology being the stepdaughter of astronomy, or about his being forced by economic necessity to put a foot into a dirty puddle. But these seem born of impatience rather than anything else, and there is no doubt that he took the subject seriously. In the introduction to Tertius interveniens he warns readers that while justly rejecting the stargazers' superstitions, they should not throw out the baby with the bathwater, for nothing exists nor happens in the visible sky that is not sensed in some hidden manner by the faculties of Earth and Nature, [so that] these faculties of the spirit here on earth are as much affected as the sky itself.
Kepler puzzled over the nature of the planetary effect on man for the rest of his life, never ceasing to inveigh against the quacks, but never for a moment doubting that within what he saw as a very debased science, a grain of truth resided - and more than a grain: his attitude in general was that the planets gave a general shape to man's character,
in the manner of loops which a peasant ties at random around pumpkins in a field; they do not cause the pumpkin to grow, but they determine its shape. The same applies to the sky: it does not endow a man with his habits, history, happiness, children, riches or a wife, but it moulds his condition ...
In England, the only man whose mind could be compared with that of Kepler or Brahe was that astonishing Elizabethan John Dee (1527-1608). Had he resisted a fascination with magic, his reputation would stand higher than it does; even so, no one doubts his accomplishments as a navigator, a mathematician and a philosopher, even if in the end his adventures into the occult led him into the hands of the master-quack Edward Kelley, and the barren fields of alchemy and angel-raising.
Dee was born at Mortlake, the son of a minor servant at the court of Henry VIII. He showed an early mathematical bent, and after a primary education at school in Chelmsford went up to St John's, Cambridge, and there studied intensively - and also laid the foundations of his reputation as a magician by devising a flying machine for a college production of Aristophanes' Pax so real that the audience suspected witchcraft.
His major interests were mathematics and navigation, and he went on to study them at the University of Louvain. The study of navigation obviously required dexterity in mathematics, and in astronomy, and Dee claims that by the time he left Cambridge for Louvain he had already 'taken thousands of observations of the heavenly influences and operations in this elemental portion of the world'. But at Louvain his reputation was as a logician; many distinguished men were soon travelling to the university to hear him lecture. Back in England - via Paris and Rheims, where he also lectured with enormous success, students perching halfway up the walls of the college to hear him - he accepted a pension of a hundred crowns a year from Edward VI, and achieved the patronage of the Duchess of Northumberland, whose husband was Chancellor of Cambridge University.
It was at this time, in the 1550s, that we first hear of Dee as a caster of horoscopes; he may have begun to use them as part of a general interest in medicine. At all events, his diaries begin to be full of charts and notes upon them, some amusing:
Mrs Brigit Cook, born about seven of the clock on St David's Day, which is the first day of March, being Wednesday, but I cannot yet learn whether it was before noon or after. But she thinketh herself to be but 27 years old ... but it cannot be so.
Dee's view of astrology was very much that of Kepler: it was
an art mathematical, which reasonably demonstrateth the operations and effects of the natural beams of light, and secret influences of the stars and planets, in every element and elemental body at all times in any horizon assigned ...
Man's body, and indeed all terrestrial bodies, he believed, were
altered, disposed, ordered, pleasured and displeasured by the influential working of the Sun, Moon and other stars and planets.
His interest in the subject was to be almost as much the cause of history's neglect of him as a scholar, as his interest in alchemy and the occult in general. It was also to lead him into considerable trouble at the beginning of his career. True, Mary Tudor showed some sympathetic interest in him, and announcing that she would be his patron, invited him to draw up her horoscope and that of her prospective husband, Philip of Spain, and compare the two (a work of synastry, as astrologers call chart comparison of this sort).
But Dee was not drawn to Mary, whether because his charts warned him off, or because of the execution of Northumberland, the husband of his patroness, and her persecution of the Protestants. For whatever reason, he was soon exchanging secret messages with her sister, Princess Elizabeth, then in virtual captivity at Woodstock. Dee was a cousin of Elizabeth's nurse, Blanch Parry, still her maid and with Parry's help he sent and received messages from Woodstock.
The dangers inherent in the situation hardly need emphasis, and Dee went on to an even more dangerous course: that of sending Elizabeth the horoscope of the Queen, and pointing out contrasting elements in the two charts. Roman astrologers had been executed for less, and when rumours of Dee's tactlessness got out, it is not surprising that informers accused him of involvement in a plot to murder the Queen. In the spring of 1555, various members of the Princess's household were arrested and accused of witchcraft, 'for that they did calculate the King's, the Queen's and my Lady Elizabeth's horoscopes'. Dee was taken, his rooms searched, his papers read; he was charged with treason and worse - that he had a familiar spirit which had attacked both of the children of one of his accusers, Ferrys, striking one blind and the other dead.
Even in those superstitious times, the second charge seems to have been thought a little much, for the Star Chamber acquitted Dee, releasing him into the custody of Bishop Bonner of London, who was commanded to examine him on his faith. He spent some time sharing a small cell with a heretic, Barthlet Green, who was taken out and burned at the stake. Bonner seems to have been unable to shake Dee, however, for he was eventually released. Unsurprisingly, he failed to find favour again with the Queen. Incautiously, he even renewed contact with Elizabeth, and seems to have encouraged her, during Mary's last illness, to expect the succession. When Mary died in 1558 and Elizabeth indeed became Queen, one of her first acts was to commission Lord Robert Dudley, later the Earl of Leicester, to go privately to Dee and ask him to propose an auspicious date for her coronation. She accepted his proposal of Sunday, 15 January without question; and if the chart for that day promised well for her reign, it did not lie.
There has been much speculation as to the amount of work Dee did for Elizabeth, not only as astrologer but (as some biographers have proposed) as secret agent; amusingly, he signed his reports to her with a symbol that was meant to represent a pair of eyes, but looks suspiciously like 007. There is no doubt of the value of his work as a navigator, advising Elizabethan adventurers and explorers. And there is plenty of evidence that he taught astrology, among other things (chemistry, for instance). Among his pupils was Sir Philip Sidney, whose attitude to the subject comes out in one of his sonnets:
Though dusty wits dare scorn astrology,
And fools can think those lamps of purest light
Whose numbers, ways, greatness, eternity,
Promising wonders, wonder do invite
To have for no cause birthright in the sky
But for to spangle the black weeds of night;
Or for some brawl, which in that chamber hie,
They should still dance to please a gazer's sight;
For me, I do Nature unidle know,
And know great causes, great effects procure:
And know those bodies high reign on the low ...
Dee's analysis of Sidney's character through his horoscope (drawn up when Sidney was 16 or so) is interesting, underlining great promise in rhetoric, dialectic, natural philosophy, grammar and ethics, and describing him as a promising young man 'intended by nature for the study of the mathematicals, and by birth for learning celestial philosophy'.
Several things about Dee's life-style and career seem to support the theory that he was more than an astrologer to Elizabeth - that he provided her with political information gleaned during his European travels. She did consult him about various astronomical phenomena which appeared during her reign, and occasionally dropped in at his house at Mortlake to look at some new book (he had the finest library in the country, and one of the best in Europe) or to examine some new toy: there is a strange description in his diary of her visiting him within four hours of his first wife's death, and of the company being convulsed with laughter at the effects of his new 'magic glass' - probably a concave mirror. But she also must have given him considerable sums of money, for he lived in great state - the Mortlake house was a large one, he bought many expensive books, and built no less than three laboratories for his chemical and alchemical experiments. The poverty that always dogged him was due to his living determinedly above his means, rather than to lack of funds.
Even the Queen's protection failed to prevent Dee's being attacked; the odour of witchcraft clung to him. Not long after Elizabeth's accession, Bishop Jewell publicly sermonized against him, and John Foxe, in his 1563 Acts and Monuments, referred to him as 'Dr Dee the great Conjurer', a 'caller of devils'. Foxe was forced to strike the libellous reference out of later editions, but the damage was done; and Dee was to make matters worse by devoting much of the rest of his life to alchemy and conversations with angels, held in the company of his new associate Kelley, a disreputable scoundrel who among other things relayed to the reluctant Dee instructions from one angel that their wives should be held in common - a proposal that failed to appeal to Mrs Dee.
Dee's interest in astrology lasted his lifetime - in 1603 and 1604 he was casting the horoscopes of his grandchildren, and predicting for his eldest son great fortune won at the hands of a foreign prince (which turned out to be entirely true, for the boy was to become the personal physician of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov). But sadly, the unfavourable reputation he acquired during the last twenty years of his life outweighed the value of his work for the state, to say nothing of his serious interest in astrology; and finally, he probably contributed to the atmosphere which was to encourage the approaching desuetude of astrology.
It is frequently suggested that Dee was the original of Shakespeare' s Prospero, which may or may not have been the case; it is reasonable to assume that Shakespeare would have encountered Dee in the small world of 16th-century London, and he may have given him some information about Bermuda, the isle of The Tempest. Shakespeare was as interested in astrology as any other Elizabethan; indeed anyone who wants to know just how the average citizen felt about the subject can do far worse than go to the plays.
During the reign of Elizabeth astrology became more firmly a part of the intellectual structure of England than at any other time in its history. Scarcely any intelligent man spoke out against it except in its most superstitious aspects, and most regarded it as a manifestation of the means by which God regulated earthly matters. The naturalness and pervasiveness of this belief comes out in many areas of the literature of the time - succinctly in Walter Raleigh's History of the World:
And if we cannot deny but that God hath given virtue to spring and fountain, to cold earth, to plants and stones, minerals, and to the excremental parts of the basest living creatures, why should we rob the beautiful stars of their working powers? For, seeing they are many in number and of eminent beauty and magnitude, we may not think that in the treasury of His wisdom which is infinite, there can be wanting, even for every star, a peculiar value, virtue and operation; as every herb plant and flower adorning the face of the earth hath the like. For as these were not created to beautify the earth alone and to cover and shadow her dusty face but otherwise for the use of man and beast to feed them and cure them; so were not those unaccountable glorious bodies set in the firmament to no other end than to adorn it but for instruments and organs of His divine providence, so far as it hath pleased His just will to determine?
That Shakespeare shared this view is a reasonable assumption, even remembering the danger of assuming that he put his own views into the mouths of his characters. It is difficult for instance not to believe that we are hearing his voice through that of Ulysses in the great speech on degree in Troilus and Cressida:
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre,
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order:
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthron'd and spher'd
Amidst the other; whose med'cinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans check, to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture, to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!
What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!
Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixture!
Shakespeare's audience would have followed that speech with an instant grasp even of the technicalities. Most members of a modern audience need a footnote to explain what 'ill aspects' are, for instance; Shakespeare knew that his audience would understand, just as they would understand the other technical references in the plays, which often convey jokes missed by 20th-century audiences. Elizabethan playgoers also instantly understood what the playwright was doing when he put all the attacks on astrology made in the plays (not that there are many of these) into the mouths of fools like Launcelot Gobbo or villains like Edmund, in Lear. Modern critics quote Edmund's speech near the beginning of the play as Shakespeare's denigration of astrology, mocking 'the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the Sun, Moon and stars', and going on to claim that he, Edmund, 'should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardising.' What they miss, but the Elizabethans would have grasped, is that Shakespeare uses this very speech as a shorthand signal of Edmund's villainy.
Not that Shakespeare is not happy to make fun of the astrological quack (as when Antipholus of Ephesus describes Dr Pinch, in The Comedy of Errors, as 'a mere anatomy, a mountebank/A threadbare juggler, and a fortune-teller') and in another passage, often misunderstood - Cassius' famous lines from Julius Caesar, in which he tells Brutus that
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
That is, men must take the right moment (which any competent astrologer would propose) at which to grasp their fate; if they do not, it is their fault rather than that of the stars. Free will is not simply conceded, but stressed - in All's Well that Ends Well, for instance:
Our remedies oft in themselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven. The fated sky
Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.
And finally, if there are still doubts, Shakespeare surely reveals his own feelings on the subject in the fourteenth sonnet:
Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy;
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find ...
That is, astrology is to be used sensibly and realistically.
Some people, of course, were more credulous, among them Shakespeare's landlady Mrs Mountjoy, who went off from the house in Silver Street at least twice to consult an astrologer far inferior to John Dee, but more successful in his own line: Simon Forman (1552-1611).
Forman was, like so many astrologers of his time, a self-educated man who had picked up a knowledge of the subject with his knowledge of medicine - and throughout his life he was to be plagued by the Privy Council and the Royal College of Physicians for his unlicensed activities as an amateur doctor. Nevertheless (partly due to his courage in remaining in London to treat the sick during the plague) he built up a trustful clientele, and made a good living as a physician-astrologer.
His diaries and casebooks (detailed in A. L. Rowse's Simon Forman, 1974) reveal a cross-section of Elizabethan life, from the servant classes (though there are few of the poor, who could not afford his fees) to the famous, to wealthy merchants, politicians and the gentry - among them Frances Howard, Countess of Essex and Somerset. Among other things, his diaries are a record of his voracious love-life - he seems to have seduced most of his female clients, although the ease with which they fell to him is surprising to anyone who looks at the single surviving portrait.
The varied nature of the problems brought to Forman show the use ordinary people made of astrology: merchants asked about the prospects for coming voyages, while ship insurers asked about the possible perils into which the ships might run. Men came to enquire whether other men were their enemies or friends; women whether their love would be returned, whether they would become pregnant, whether they would ever marry. There were enquiries about missing pets, stolen goods; who had taken this piece of silver or that purse, and where was it hidden? There is truly no area of human life about which any kind of question might be asked, on which Forman was not consulted; in him, and in his successor William Lilly, astrology reaches its nadir of absurdity, in some senses - the silliest questions were deemed matters susceptible to the effects of the planets.
In the rest of Europe during the second half of the 16th century, there was a continued effort - especially in Germany - to put it on a serious scientific footing by collecting and collating notes on planetary positions and their apparent significance. John Garcaeus (1530-75) published four hundred birth charts of important contemporaries, a quarter of them prominent men of learning, so that they could be compared and discussed.
As usual, there are some dramatic stories. Valentin Nabod, Professor of Mathematics at Cologne, for instance, produced an interesting commentary on Ptolemy, but looking at his own birth chart believed himself to be in danger from a sword. He rented a house in Padua, whence he had travelled, and locked himself in it with a supply of food. The landlord, unable to collect the rent, had the door broken down after a while - and found the body of Nabod, stabbed to death.
That kind of story, quickly circulated by other astrologers, may have done something to convince the ignorant of the efficiency of astrological prediction. A more serious attempt was made in 1580, when Henry Ranzovius published his Catalogue of Emperors, Kings and Princes who have loved, adorned and practised the art of astrology. This contains many accounts of astrologers' successes by Manilius Antonius, chamber-lain to Popes Sixtus IV and Julius II, Dethlevus Reventlovius, who worked for Charles V and successfully predicted the outcome of his war against the Elector of Saxony, Matthaeus Delius, who predicted to Philip II of Spain the diminution of his power after his succession. There were also, however, many apparently successful predictions included which were demonstrably inventions, which gave welcome ammunition to those who were beginning to claim that astrologers were given to cooking the books.
In England, popular and to some extent scientific interest in astrology was to continue to flourish throughout most of the 17th century; but by the close of the 16th century in the rest of Europe long shadows were closing in, not only over the quacks but over the genuine practitioners. The reasons for the gradual diminution of serious interest in astrology are various. Certainly the changing nature of man's understanding of the universe played its part. The almost universal realization that the Sun rather than the Earth was at the centre of the solar system seemed somehow to devalue the whole idea of astrology (although Newton was among those who realized that, since astrological influences - if they existed - were to be measured by noting the relationships between the planets, it was entirely possible to continue to respect the idea whatever body was at the centre of the system).
More important, probably, was the fact that the vast distance between the planets (to say nothing of the stars) was now recognized; it seemed extremely unlikely that any 'influence' (of whatever sort) could make itself felt at such a vast remove. Then there was the growing feeling that any 'scientific' idea should be capable of technical explanation; it was no longer enough to make the pronouncement 'This is so'. And finally, the temperament of scientists was on the change; the Age of Enlightenment was to reject, quite understandably, a 'science' which had gathered around it encrustations of magical and patently loony ideas such as that a birth chart could reveal the marital prospects of its subject's brother; that another could detail a previous incarnation; that a reliable answer to any question could be given by drawing up a chart for the moment of time when the question was asked.
The tide began to turn as early as the 1560s, when after a succession of Popes who were on the whole rather sympathetic to the occult there suddenly came a number who were both temperamentally and politically averse to it. Julius II and Adrian VI, during the first half of the 16th century, encouraged the Inquisition to act against 'magicians' - though at the same time Julius ordered an astrologer to elect an auspicious time at which the foundation stone of the Castle of Galliera should be laid, and his own statue erected at Bologna. Pius IV, in a papal bull of 1562, authorized action against various kinds of heretic, including those who pretended to be able to foretell the future by sortilege (casting lots). Gregory XIII, in 1581, ordered the Inquisition to act against those Jews who invoked the aid of demons for the same purpose.
Astrology was not mentioned specifically in any of these orders or exhortations, although Cardinal Francesco Albizzi spoke of it in 1566 as 'the most frequent means of divination', and therefore one for which the practitioners should be made to do penance, and exiled.
In 1586 things took a positive turn for the worse, when Sixtus V, elected to the papal chair on the death of Gregory XIII (not unsympathetic to astrology), enacted a bull against those practising judicial astrology, or even possessing books on the subject. God alone, the bull states, knows the future, and not even demons can foresee it - though to foretell the weather, natural disasters, the success or failure of crops, of voyages, or to use astrology in medicine, is entirely proper. The casting of horoscopes, however, is not, and indeed God has seen to it that every separate soul has an angel whose duty is to protect it against the influence of the stars (so Sixtus obviously believed that the stars had some powers).
Astrologers were little daunted, unless they lived right under the eye of the Pope. Annual almanacs predicting the weather, and giving favourable days for bleeding or for planting seeds or whatever, continued to be published, and though astrology now ceased to be taught at the University of Bologna, it was to continue in the lecture rooms of other universities for many years. Salamanca is a good example: Gabriel Serrano taught astrology there between 1592 and 1598; Bartolome' de Valle was professor of astrology from 1612 until 1615, Francesco Reales (a priest) from 1615 to 1624, Nunez de Zamora from 1624 until 1640, Sanchez de Mendoza from 1647 to 1673, and but for a short break between 1706 and 1726 the chair was occupied continually until 1770.
This indicates that the Spanish Inquisition was not specially concerned to act against astrology, whatever the Pope said. And in fact astrology did not entirely vanish even from the Vatican, for in 1618 an astrologer addressed one of the resident cardinals, and Sixtus himself accepted the dedication of a series of books by lonnes Paulus Gallicius of Salo on the nature and qualities of the planets, the radiation by which they exerted their influences from certain positions in the zodiac, arguing that in medicine it was absolutely necessary to use a chart in order properly to treat the patient. However, the publication of the more speculative almanacs certainly fell off in Italy, though elsewhere in Europe it continued unabated - sometimes as the result of Italian astrologers sending copy surreptitiously to printers in other countries; Rizza Casa, for instance, published predictions for the years 1586-90 at Lyons, in French.
From now on the Popes remained broadly unsympathetic, at least in public and at least to astrologers who claimed to be able to predict the future. In 1631 Urban VIII reaffirmed Sixtus' bull, threatening confiscation of property and even death to anyone who ignored it. He particularly disapproved of forecasts in politics and religion, and was just as antipathetic to the prediction of events in the lives of Popes and their relations as certain Roman Emperors had been to forecasts of their own downfall.
Astrologers did their best to fight back. Petrus Antonius de Magistris Galathei (1614-75) published a treatise arguing that the bull of Sixtus V had actually been directed only against superstitious astrologers, and that there were certainly areas of astrology that should be permitted to flourish. This was so; but a combination of the temper of the time and serious reconsideration of the basis of astrology made it more difficult for young students to accept old ideas, and even sometimes forced those formerly devoted to astrology to reassess their position.
Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) is a case in point. This considerable Renaissance philosopher repeatedly asserted his acceptance of astrology, and even went so far, during his long imprisonment for plotting to free Naples from Spanish tyranny, as to write to Pope Paul V asserting that he was prejudiced against him for astrological reasons! Many other astrological allusions, arguments and predictions issued from his prison cell. He wrote six or seven books on astrology, asserting that the influences of the planets were physical, and that astrology was therefore a proper subject for the most religious scientific man to study.
He also, rather rashly, disputed the bulls of Sixtus and Urban, arguing that religion should not prohibit proper scientific experiment and discussion, that certainly astrologers should not be treated more harshly than heretics, and that it was quite improper to prohibit not merely forecasts of future events but even suggestions that this or that might happen - proper conjecture, in other words. However, in the end Campanella agreed that a papal bull, as such, was a papal bull, and should be obeyed, and even went so far as to agree that astrology was not in any real sense a science - though none the less susceptible of scientific study.
Such publications as the Apologia in which Campanella recanted his former opinions did nothing to bolster astrology's reputation against the mounting opposition. This was chiefly directed against the fiercer idiocies of the subject; still, no one denied that the Sun, Moon and planets had an effect on terrestrial matters, and even on men's lives and characters. But more and more it was disputed that there could be any prediction on the basis of planetary positions and movements. Some of the polemics directed against astrologers were not only intensely argued but argued at length. Alexander de Angelis, of Spoleto, head of the Jesuit College at Rome, published in 1615 no fewer than five books against astrology. It cannot be said that new astronomical knowledge actually added a great deal to the force of his arguments, which on the whole were yet again rehashings of old ones; the added force came from a new temperamental attitude rather than anything else - an attitude affecting scholars and scientists rather than the man in the street.