LILLY, William.

PREDICTS THE GREAT FIRE

LILLY, William. Monarchy or No Monarchy in England.

London, Hunfrey Blunden, 1651

£5,750.00

FIRST EDITION. 4to. Pp. (viii) 120, followed by 19 full page woodcuts. Roman letter. Ornamental head and tail pieces and floriated initials. The full page woodcuts illustrate his prophecies, two within text show astrological calculations of his predictions. Fox Pointe bookplate to pastedown. Age browning, small burn hole in one leaf, just touching text, tear to upper outer corner of p. 23/4 with loss of page no, two leaves of woodcuts repaired at fore edge without loss. A perfectly acceptable copy of this intensely read work, in modern calf, spine gilt.

First edition of this remarkable astrological work which claims to predict the death of Charles II, the Great Fire of London and the Great Plague, as well as significant events of the English Civil War. The woodcut images in a popular, vigorous, but naïve style represent the varied concerns of contemporary readership. They include a handsome rendering of the King brandishing a peace giving sword, as well as a gruesome prediction of civilians attempting to quench flames with the embracing twins of Gemini above, the astrological symbol Lilly attributes to the City of London. The seven people in the woodcut represent each known planet, and together the image provides an accurate horoscope of the time of the Great Fire. Other woodcuts depict drowned bodies drifting downriver and the dead wrapped in shrouds, falling crowns, pulpits and a sinking ship. William Lilly (1602-1681), known as the ‘English merlin’, rose from a modest farmer’s son to one of the most prominent and trusted astrologers to English aristocracy and royalty, his yearly almanacs being phenomenal bestsellers. For his prediction of a fire consuming the City of London, a full page woodcut showing a vivid image of the River Thames with the city in flames, Lilly was brought before the Commons Committee on the 26th October 1666 and questioned for his suspected involvement in the actual fire, though he was acquitted of any charges.

Lilly first found employment as a secretary and general servant to his father’s attorney, and having served him for a number of years, he earned the trust and good favour of the family. Upon his master’s death in 1627, his widow, Ellen Whitehaire, proposed to Lilly, and they went on to have a happy marriage. Upon her death, Ellen left the young Lilly a considerable fortune which allowed him to study astrology at his leisure. He strove to perfect his art and published works included his renowned ‘Christian Astrology’ from 1647 which showed his attempts at predicting future events using horary charts. The present work was published at a time where Lilly’s fame was considerable. He was seen as a prophet, and utilises hieroglyphic drawings which he calls the ‘secret Key of Astrology, or Propheticall Astrology’. In this work Lilly claims he foretold the execution of King Charles I, which had occurred two years prior. He uses these ‘hieroglyphic’ images in order to avoid writing dangerously detailed descriptions and incurring unwelcome attention or punishment. The ambiguity of his astrological diagrams allowed him some leeway if his predictions were not entirely accurate. Lilly also makes predictions about the Thirty Years War and its key players, and more vague events like ‘A star shall arise in Europe over the Iberions, towards the great House of the North; whose beams shall unexpectedly enlighten the Whole World’.

ESTC R492101; Cantamessa 4551; Graesse IV 211-212; Lowndes Vol 4 1362; Houzeau & Lancaster Vol I 5194; Thorndike p. 331.