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History of Astrology in the Renaissance
Christopher Warnock, Esq.
History of Astrology in the Renaissance


History of Astrology in the Renaissance
Series Introduction
Revival of Ptolemaic Astrology
Growing Popularity & Attacks
Height & Decline of Astrology
Agrippa Biography
Ficino Biography
Lilly Biography
Paracelsus Biography
Ramesey Biography
Bruno Biography

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The Rising

Popularity of



Increased Attacks

These articles on the history of astrology in the Renaissance were originally published in the Mountain Astrologer. You can start the series at the Astrology in the Renaissance Main Page.

Growing Popularity


Catherine de Medici
By the early sixteenth century, astrology had reached the heights of its popularity. Popes such as Julius II, Leo X, Adrian IV and Paul III viewed astrology favorably. Even a certain mistrust of astrology, as exhibited by Pope Gregory XIII, did not prevent the casting of his natal chart, now preserved in the Vatican Library. Catherine de Medici, regent and ruler of France, was said to have been unwilling to take a step without first consulting her astrologers, who included the famous Michel de Nostradamus.
Nostradamus and the Italian astrologer Luca Gaurico were responsible for one of the most famous Renaissance astrological predictions, the death of King Henri II of France in a tournament in 1559. In the final joust the king's opponent's lance shattered and the splinters penetrated his face and head causing a painful death. Nostradamus in his Centuries had written, "The young lion will overcome the older one, in a field of combat in single fight: he will pierce his eyes in their golden cage; two wounds in one, then he dies a cruel death." Century I, Quatrain 35.
Elizabeth Coronation Chart by Solar Fire 5
Another notable example of astrology's eminence during this period was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The time of the ceremony, noon on January 15, 1559, had been carefully elected by the astrologer John Dee.
In this chart, 4 degrees of Gemini rises and so Mercury is the ruler of the ascendant. Mercury is dignified by triplicity as the day ruler of the airy triplicity because he is in Aquarius. He is also strengthened and appropriately placed in the 10th house of kings and authority.
The Moon, while peregrine (without essential dignity) and in the 12th house, is in a partile (exact to the degree) sextile of Jupiter, the Greater Benefic and a partile trine of the Part of Fortune. The fact that several negative factors are present in the chart, for example, Mercury is combust and afflicted by Saturn and Mars, illustrates a truism of electional astrology: A perfect election is rarely possible, particularly if you have a powerful client with a deadline!
While the use of astrology was already widespread among its traditional clients - kings, nobles and the wealthy, its popularity gained a tremendous boost with the invention of printing. Inexpensive almanacs flooded from the printing presses of Europe. Almanacs typically contained a calendar, showing the months and days of the week, astronomical events like eclipses, and planetary aspects as well as astrological predictions.
William Lilly
In the mid-seventeenth century, the famous English astrologer William Lilly issued an annual almanac, entitled Merlinus Anglicus (the English Merlin) with an estimated annual circulation reaching 30,000 copies. The total number of almanacs printed in England in this period exceeded the number of Bibles, and it is estimated that one third of all English households had astrological almanacs.
William Lilly also found his almanacs to be a potent advertising tool. Lilly was seeing nearly 2,000 clients each year at the height of his popularity in the mid 1600's. While still attracting the rich and titled, Lilly also served less affluent clients. Over a third of the querents in his workbooks, preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, are listed as ancilla (female servant). Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1971), p. 319.
As would be expected, querents frequently inquired about their romantic prospects, or about their financial and business outlooks. But as can be seen in his magnum opus, Christian Astrology, Lilly used the techniques of horary astrology to deal with a broad range of questions relating to all twelve houses of the horoscope, including health, the truth or falsity of rumors, buried treasure, the sex and number of children, illnesses, marriage, wealth & finances, which spouse would die first, dreams, career & position, friends and witchcraft.

Growing Attacks on Astrology


Yet as the popularity of astrology grew, so did criticism against it. The Catholic Church became uncomfortable with the spiritual, magical nature of astrology to the extent that it might contravene established doctrine. More specifically, the Church voiced concern over the perceived implication that, if in fact the stars absolutely determined all actions, then astrology denied man's free will.
Pico della Mirandola
One of the most famous works condemning astrology was Pico della Mirandolla's Disputations against Divinatory Astrology published in 1496, which detailed problems with astrological theory and technique and condemned the denial of free will that Mirandella saw in current astrological practice. Interestingly enough, the date of Mirandolla's death was predicted accurately by a Renaissance astrologer. Anthony Grafton, Cardano's Cosmos (Harvard, 1999) page 51.
As this antagonism gathered force, astrologers had to contend with direct persecution by church authorities. In 1586, Pope Sixtus V issued a papal bull condemning magic and all forms of divination, including horary, electional and natal astrology. The Italian astrologer Jerome Cardan was arrested and held under house arrest by the Inquisition under suspicion of violating Sixtus' bull. In England, a Protestant country, astrologers were periodically hauled before church courts, although astrologers in London, like William Lilly, appear largely to have escaped prosecution.

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Specializing in Horary Astrology, Electional Astrology Astrological Magic and Astrological Talismans.

Copyright 2002, Christopher Warnock, All Rights Reserved.