[BANFI HUNYADES, Johannes]. Astrological notebook.

Manuscript on paper, England (probably London), c.1630-40.


4to. 149 ll. Manuscript on paper. Watermark: sun wheel with clovers and others, unclear. Cursive hand, in Hungarian (mostly), Latin and English, in black-brown ink, occasional red or green ink, approx. 32 lines per full-page, couple of astrological diagrams; two slightly earlier English secretary hands (handful of ll. only), black-brown ink, in English and Latin. Light age browning, occasional slight mainly marginal soiling, long clean tear to handful of ll., not affecting reading, small ink burn to fol.5, affecting one number. A very good copy in modern blind-tooled calf, C18 eps preserved inside (watermark: COMP 1759, English, Heawood 3288), armorial bookplate of William (1796–1862), 6th Baron Monson.

An important discovery – a substantial composite manuscript for the first time identified as the holograph astrological notebook, written in London in Hungarian, Latin and English, of the famous Transylvanian alchemist, goldsmith and mineralogist Johannes Banfi Hunyades (János Bánfihunyadi, 1576-1646). ‘Banfi Hunyades never published any alchemical or scientific texts, nor did he leave behind a substantial correspondence. Some notes of experiments, a few inscriptions engraved on portraits of him, two handwritten dedications and several letters form the total of his work’ (Rady, p.140). The present appears to be the only known substantial witness to his scholarly work.

After spending time in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, Hunyades emigrated to London in 1608, where he was part of alchemical and scholarly circles imbued with Rosicrucian ideas, as testified by his dedications on two ‘alba amicorum’. In 1617, he donated a Hungarian bible to the Bodleian, with a dedication in his native language (the handwriting identical to that of our ms). By 1633 he was a regular guest lecturer in chemistry and metallurgy at Gresham College, ‘the main centre of scientific activity in early C17 London and the forerunner and first home of the Royal Society’ (Rady, p.145). Among his acquaintances and collaborators were the occultist Arthur Dee, son of John, for whom he fetched antimony from Hungary; the astrologer William Lilly, Sir Kenelm Digby, whom he assisted in his experiments on plants; Sir Elias Ashmole; and the mathematician William Oughtred, who worked with Henry Briggs, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. Hunyades’ interest in astronomy and astrology is confirmed by Ashmole’s statement ‘that a certain astronomic manuscript of Allen’s [Thomas, the famous mathematician] was copied by two hands and that William Lilly (who dedicated his ‘Anglicus’ to Hunyades) got his copy from “John Hunniades the great chymist”’ (Gömöri, p.35). Lilly stated that ‘in this last Age, no man hath attained more, hardly any have paralleled the learned Huniades’ (Sherwood, 1953, p.47). Hunyades died suddenly in Amsterdam in 1646; his family is buried at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.

This composite astrological ms notebook, written for private use, provides unique information on Hunyades’ life and family, and testifies to his deep knowledge of astrology and its ties with alchemy. Hunyades created horoscope diagrams and prognostications for his children – Elizabeth and Johannes (this last not present but cited in the final index) – and made a horoscope for his wife, Dorothy Colton, daughter of Sir Francis Colton of Kent. He wrote down prognostications for London, Frankfurt, his native Rivuli Dominorum (i.e., Baia Mare), which he calls Rivuli Minerariae as it was a major mining site, and Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca, both now in Romania). This last continues the ‘family legend’, always maintained by his son, that the Hunyades were descendants of the royal Hunyades (i.e., Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary), who came from Klausenburg, where the Banfi family also had possessions (see Sherwood-Taylor, 1953, p.52). Hunyades’ astrological calculations also confirm when he was in London and using the city’s longitude, e.g., in 1610 and 1624.

The focus of the notebook is on nativities and how to calculate them, and appears to consist of unpublished notes, summaries and first Hungarian loose translations extracted from Latin and English works. The initial section comprises a dozen ll. on profections (to identify the focal astrological points for a given year) and the houses of the planets, in Hunyades’ hand annotating an earlier, unidentified English hand (one leaf dated 1598) in Latin and English. There follow a dozen ll. in Latin, in Hunyades’ hand, gathering material from Rantzovius. The Hungarian text, which continues for the remainder, begins with ‘Modus Erigendi Coeleste Thema per Tabulas Domorum’. (A ms of that title, attributed to John Killingworth, is at the Bodleian, and Hunyades visited Oxford. See Houzeau-Lancaster I, 4586.) It continues with calculations, found on a ms, derived from Claudie Dariot (d.1594) via ‘Anglicus Autor’ (William Lilly), which includes the horoscope for Hunyades’ wife, Dorothy (b.1592); some calculations of the ‘almuten’ (the strongest planet) for the year 1634, with an unidentified horoscope; calculations of the lunar syzygy (the alignment of the moon and other planets), with ephemerides for the years 1633-34; a horoscope for the birth of his daughter Elizabeth; and calculations of the zodiac and equinoxes, among many others. The final ll. comprise calculations for the year 1638. A detailed index indicates that the ms was originally c.150 pages longer, with further calculations for the years 1633-34, and the horoscope for his son Johannes Junior. A unique ms shedding new light on Hunyades’ work and scholarly interests, which awaits much further research.

William Monson (1796–1862), 6th Baron Monson of Burton, Lincolnshire, was an antiquary and traveller.

G. Gömöri, ‘Hungarian Students and Visitors in 16th and 17th-century England’, Hungarian Studies, 1 (1985), pp.31- 50, ‘New Information on Janos Banfihunyadi\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s Life’, Ambix, 24:3, 170-74, ‘English Letter by János Bánfihunyadi (aka Hans Hunniades)’, N&Q, 64 (2017), p. 481-83, and ‘János Bánfihunyadi: Goldsmith, Alchemist, Chemist’, Modern Filológiai Közlemények, 6 (2004), pp.92-6; M. Rady, ‘A Transylvanian Alchemist in C17 London’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 72 (1994), pp.140-51; F. Sherwood Taylor and C.H. Josten, ‘Johannes Banfi Hunyades. A supplementary note’, Ambix, 3 (1956), p.115, and ‘Johannes Banfi Hunyades 1576–1650’, Ambix, 5 (1953), pp.44- 52; J.H. Appleby, ‘Arthur Dee and Johannes Bánfi Hunyades’, Ambix, 24 (1977), pp. 96-109. We would like to thank György Gömöri for kindly discussing this manuscript with us.