Back in the seventeenth century, it wouldn’t have seemed silly or superstitious to see signs of the hand of God in ordinary events. When war broke out, people were even more eager to look for omens, consult the stars, or seek portents of God’s will. After all, the world they knew had gone frighteningly mad. They wanted to know what would happen to them, and whether they were fighting on the right side…
If you were going into battle, wouldn’t you want to know if you’d come back alive?
Even before war broke out, there were whispers of dark omens. In the winter of 1639 one gentleman described clouds that looked like two battalions of armed men, from which came loud noises, flashes of light and “streaks like smoke”.
After war was declared and armies were on the march, the heavens became downright tetchy. Strange fire was seen falling from the sky near the village of Bibury. In the south of England, many saw a huge cloud shaped like a sword-point, shining as brightly as the moon.
Other strange happenings were taken as good omens. According to one story, on the night after the battle of Edge Hill, injured Royalists saw their wounds glowing eerily, and found that they were much better by morning. They took this as a sign that God was on their side.
The royal astrologer, William Lilly, was besieged with questions from Royalists and Parliamentarians alike. Who will win the war? Will my plan work? Is my loved one safe?
No wonder people were willing to listen to those who claimed they were prophets sent by God.
Lady Eleanor Davies wasn’t an easy person to get on with. She was arrogant, ill-tempered and didn’t pay her debts. She was convinced that she was a great prophet, and insisted on writing long, pompous tracts about her visions, and forcing them on people. She’d be a comedy figure, if her predictions hadn’t kept coming true.
Lady Eleanor correctly predicted the deaths of the Duke of Buckingham, a little baby, and her own husband. She also foretold the downfall of the king. (He wasn’t very impressed by that, and had her locked up in a madhouse for a bit.)
Fortunately she was wrong about Judgement Day happening in her lifetime…