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What’s in this edition

In creating a digital archive of the astrologers’ paper archive, we have followed their categories and conventions while adding an apparatus that allows cases to be situated according to date, within the volumes, and in relation to one another through people, topics and other groupings. This information is represented in blocks of facets, located along the left of the browse view, that can be used to limit a selection of cases. This page explains the features of this edition, including the information represented by the facets. It also contains numerous editorial insights about the astrologers’ records and the complexity of working with this material.


The question

Our edition, accessible through browse and search pages, transcribes the formulaic preamble, what we call the ‘question’, of each case in full. This typically includes the name, age and other details about the patient, his or her relation to the querent where the question was asked by a third party, the question, and the moment it was asked.

We also note whether a case includes an astrological chart, judgment, treatment, payment, or other information. The full text of these classes of information, with a few exceptions, is not included in our edition, but the presence of this content is represented by facets and can be searched. Readers can access the untranscribed content of the casebooks through the manuscripts. Each edited case links to an image of the relevant manuscript page.

Beware that the casebooks have not been transcribed in full and browsing and searching is limited to the data and metadata produced by the Casebooks Project.


A menu at the top of the browse and search results pages allows readers to choose whether to display this text in ‘diplomatic’ mode (as it was written), ‘normalised’ (symbols, abbreviations, archaic letter forms lightly regularised) or ‘normalised and translated’ (lightly regularised and with Latin, or occasionally another language, translated).

Our glossary lists archaic and technical terms, especially strange spellings, and the Latin words and phrases that recur most frequently in the casebooks.

Symbols for days, metals, planets

Astrological/alchemical notation included seven symbols for the then-known ‘planets’. Although it was widely, though by no means universally, accepted by the educated that the sun and moon are not in fact planets, they were still treated as such for astrological purposes. These symbols were also used for seven metals and the seven days of the week, each of which was believed to be under the influence of a corresponding ‘planet’, as follows:


In the question sections of the casebooks (i.e. the sections transcribed in this edition), these symbols are almost always used to mean days of the week, though in other sections they are generally used to designate the ‘planets’. The symbol is sometimes accompanied by the word ‘day’ (or ‘dies’, the Latin for ‘day’), e.g. ‘ dai’ (‘Sunday’) or ‘die ’ (‘die Solis’, i.e. ‘on Sunday’).

In the ‘normalised’ view of the texts, these glyphs are explicated (e.g. ‘’ is presented as ‘Sunday’, ‘Sun’ or ‘gold’ as appropriate), but in the ‘diplomatic’ view they are displayed as they appear in the original.

Forman’s Latin

Like most educated Europeans of their time, the astrologers switched easily between their native language and Latin, often changing language in mid-sentence. However, while Napier and his associates were virtually bilingual, Forman’s Latin was, to put it kindly, idiosyncratic. It is clear from the number of Latin sources he consulted that he understood the language well, but his own use of it frequently flies in the face of all generally accepted rules of grammar and employs vocabulary that is not to be found in any dictionary of either Classical or medieval Latin (or at least not in the sense in which he uses it). This frequently causes considerable difficulty in discerning and translating Forman’s meaning (for instance, it is often unclear what is the subject and what the object of a given clause, and even if it is clear which verb he is using it is often not at all clear which tense he intends). Our transcriptions do not attempt to ‘correct’ Forman’s Latin but present it as he wrote it: readers competent in Latin should be aware that apparent ‘mistakes’ are Forman’s, and not (or at least not normally) transcription errors.


Like almost all writers of their period, the astrologers did not follow formalised rules of punctuation. Questions are sometimes but by no means always terminated by a question mark. Full stops frequently appear in the middle of sentences; conversely, sentences frequently end without full stops. Forman and Napier make frequent use of the ‘slash’, a slightly wavy forward-sloping line (technically known as a ‘virgule’) which appears to function, in modern terms, either as a comma, a semi-colon or a full stop. Quite often, however, it appears directly before or after a full stop and may sometimes be purely decorative. Our transcriptions do not attempt to modernise or standardise the original punctuation but present it as it appears, with the ‘virgule’ character rendered as ‘/’.

Deleted text

Deleted text is displayed in strikethrough or with a shaded background to indicate heavier deletion or erasure, and textual insertions are clearly distinguished as such.

Kinship relations

Caution is advisable when interpreting early modern usage of terms such as mother, father, brother, sister, son and daughter. Though normally used in their modern sense, these could also mean ‘mother-in-law’, ‘brother-in-law’ etc., or ‘stepmother’, ‘stepbrother’ etc. ‘Mother’, ‘father’, ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ could also be used to refer to godparents or godchildren. There are also instances of ‘Mother’ being used as a respectful term of address for an elderly woman of relatively low social status. ‘Cousin’ was used extremely loosely. Terms denoting marital status, such as ‘bachelor’, ‘maid’ (unmarried woman), ‘widow’ etc., are sometimes used by both Forman and Napier to refer to the status someone had when he or she married her or his current spouse (whence some apparent anomalies such as a ‘bachelor’ being married to a ‘widow’). In other cases, they refer to the person’s current status. It is not always clear which usage has been adopted in a given case.

Page references

A reference below the text, and below any editorial notes, records where the entry can be found: the shelfmark of the volume in which the record is contained (see Editorial information below), the page number(s), and a broad indication of whereabouts on the page or pages the entry appears. (Most entries occupy only part of one page, but a significant minority cross page breaks.) Generally speaking, entries can be specified as occupying one of up to nine ‘zones’ of a given page: upper left, middle left, bottom left, upper centre, middle centre, bottom centre, upper right, middle right, bottom right. Three-column layouts are relatively unusual, so ‘upper centre’, ‘middle centre’ and ‘bottom centre’ are only invoked where they do occur. Where more than one case appears in a given zone, they are both or all given the same designation. Where a case occupies more than one zone, this is passed over in silence if the sequence is logical and within a single column (e.g. from upper left to bottom left) but spelled out if it is counter-intuitive (e.g. from centre right to bottom left, or from one zone of one page to some zone of another).

In page references such as ‘f. 1r’, ‘f.’ stands for ‘folio’, meaning a single sheet of manuscript paper, and ‘r’ and ‘v’ stand for ’recto’ (front) and ‘verso’ (back). If a volume is opened between its third and fourth folios, the page on the left is f. 3v and the page on the right f. 4r.

Editorial numbers

Case number

Each case has been assigned a unique, permanent number (e.g. CASE796). The sequence is arbitrary.

Identified entities: person and organisation numbers

Each person in the casebooks has been assigned a unique, permanent number (e.g. PERSON12708). The sequence is arbitrary. A person is an ‘identified entity’. Other identified entities include organisations and ships, both of which carry unique, permanent organisation numbers (e.g. ORG42).

Every identified entity has a page on which information is drawn together from all the entries in which that person, ship or organisation appears. Each person’s page begins with that person’s sex, date of birth (either recorded or estimated), date of death (if specified in an entry), the identities of any spouse(s) recorded in the casebooks, occupations noted and places of residence. (None of these apply to organisations or ships.) Below that on the person page, and at the top of an organisation page, is a table giving the details of cases in which the person or organisation (or ship) is involved — cases which can also be browsed through the usual search interface, or downloaded as Excel or CSV files. Next is a list of entries in which the person, organisation or ship is mentioned but not apparently involved. Last is the ‘Social Relationship Network’: if any of the person’s, organisation’s or ship’s entries mention connections to other people or organisations, then a diagram will appear here displaying that social network.

Note number

Each note has been assigned a unique, permanent number. The sequence is arbitrary.

Types of document

Most of what the casebooks contain are cases. A case is defined as a record of a consultation, even when the astrologer was himself the subject of his own query. Cases are subdivided into entries (the majority) and examples (where an astrologer has used a case to illustrate a text). The astrologers also recorded personal and professional ‘notes’ on these pages.

Types of note

  • Astrological working
  • Diary
  • Financial
  • Inscription
  • Memorandum
  • Patient update
  • Practitioner
  • Prayer
  • Prescription
  • Report
  • Treatise
  • Treatment
  • Weather report

Types of entry

Forman and Napier deployed a range of techniques for reading the heavens. Following the astrologers’ practices, we have grouped their techniques under the following headings. The list of displayed cases can be limited by entry type as follows.

Decumbiture: This is a question cast for the time at which the patient fell ill or took to her or his bed. The casebooks include 782 decumbitures.

Diary: records of events in the practitioner’s personal life, or events he has witnessed, accompanied by an astrological chart and/or analysis presumably intended to determine the cause, significance or outcome of such events. Diary notes do not include charts. The casebooks include 513 diary entries.

Election: a question cast for a time in the future, to determine whether or not this would be propitious for a given undertaking. The casebooks include 245 elections.

Geomantic consultation: a question answered by means of geomancy rather than by means of astrology. Geomancy used random dots placed on a page rather than the position of the stars. The casebooks include 84 geomantic entries.

Horary consultation: an investigation of the stars at the time the question was asked (or, if it was not asked in person, the time at which the astrologer received it). The overwhelming majority of Forman’s and Napier’s records — 76,113 cases — fall into this category.

Horary/geomantic combined consultation: entries combining horary and geomantic techniques. The casebooks include 90 cases of this type.

Interrogation: a chart cast retrospectively to determine the future outcome, or the cause, of a past event. The casebooks include 752 interrogations.

Nativity: a specialised form of ‘interrogation’ in which a chart is cast for the date and time of the subject’s birth, usually with a view to foretelling her or his life to come but sometimes for more specific questions (especially concerning marriage prospects or medical problems). The casebooks include 1212 nativities.

Practice: ‘dry run’ horary entries cast for moments in the past and consultations that did not take place. Napier wrote five practice entries while he was learning astrology.

Prescription: an entry whose focus is the treatment prescribed for a patient (as distinct from the more typical entries to which notes about treatment are appended). They usually begin ‘for ...’, never have judgments, and often have dates. In these entries, we list the consultant as the querent. The casebooks include 39 cases of this type.

Revolutions: enquiries relating to the supposed revolutions of the heavens about the earth and consequently cyclical pattern of worldly affairs, generally used by the astrologers in drawing up prognostications for themselves. The casebooks include 35 revolutions.

Practitioner details


in the vast majority of cases, Forman oversaw his own practice in London and Napier oversaw his in Buckinghamshire. There are, however, cases of one of them standing in for the other, or of the two working together in one or other practice. Napier sometimes left his curate or another assistant in charge of his practice or collaborated with them on a given consultation. There are also instances of Napier’s copying entries from Forman’s practice into his own notebooks, presumably as part of his training (such entries are almost all from very early on his career).


The person or people conducting the consultation. This will usually, but not always, be the same as the person or people in whose hand the entry is written.

Patient details

The patient is defined as the person undergoing investigation. This is usually, but by no means always, the same person as the querent, the person who asked the question. It is important to bear in mind that ‘patient’ in this sense does not necessarily mean medical patient. If, for instance, a woman asks about her husband’s prospects of preferment, her husband is the ‘patient’. At times this can be counter-intuitive: when Forman asks the stars whether or not he should offer medical treatment to a given person, Forman himself is considered the ‘patient’ since the question is being asked in his own interests. This occasionally leads to the inclusion of non-human ‘patients’ when, for instance, a ship-owner asks about the wellbeing of one of his ships. In Forman’s entries, the first person mentioned in the case is normally the patient, whether or not this is the same person as the querent. Napier’s records are less consistently structured.

A given case may feature more than one querent and/or patient.


The ages ascribed by Forman and Napier to their clients should be treated with scepticism. They are generally guesses or approximations; in some cases they may be mistakes or outright lies on the client’s part. Napier records over ten different dates for his own birth. A given patient will, according to the records, frequently gain or lose two or three years between consultations only a week apart, and where a patient’s date of birth is specified it frequently conflicts with the age ascribed to the patient in the same entry. In general, the older a patient is said to be, the less likely it is that the stated age is accurate.

Furthermore, both practitioners are inconsistent in their recording of ages. Both Forman and Napier sometimes use ‘44’, say, to mean ‘44’ in the modern sense (somewhere between the 44th and 45th birthday), but sometimes to mean ‘in her or his 44th year’, i.e. 43 in modern terms. Thus, even assuming that the given figure is correct, someone described as being 44 in an entry dated 2 June 1600 may have been born at any time between 3 June 1555 (he or she will be 45 tomorrow) and 1 June 1557 (the patient is in her or his 44th year).

The exception to this rule is children less than two years old. While the description of a child as ‘of 2 years’ may (and sometimes demonstrably does) mean ‘in her/his second year’, ‘a year old’ almost certainly does mean ‘one year old’ in the modern sense. In any case, the ages of under-twos are more often than not given in days, weeks, months or fractions of years, and can be taken as both more precise and more reliable than ages ascribed to anyone older.

The birth dates presented on this site are based on the best available data. Where a precise birth date is specified in the records, this is taken to be more reliable than a date extrapolated from the patient’s stated age at a given time. Where an age is given but no precise date of birth is specified, a date range is calculated taking into account the vagaries described above. This in turn is used to calculate the lowest plausible age a person might be in other entries in which her or his age is unspecified. Such ages are followed by ‘(est.)’ (‘estimated’). Ages not followed by ‘(est.)’ are taken from the entry in question.

How & where did it take place

The ‘querent’ is the person asking the question. In the majority of cases, the querent is also the patient. In a significant minority of cases, the querent and the patient are different people. In a small number of cases, the querent asks about him or herself and another person. Details about the querent are listed under ‘person asking the question’.

The astrologers invested the will of the person asking the question with significance, and hence they sometimes specified whether a consultation took place with or without a patient’s knowledge and whether or not he or she had consented to it.

Most consultations seem to have taken place in the astrologers’ studies, whether in person or by message, while only in select cases did the astrologer visit the patient. However, only in a fraction of cases did the astrologers explicitly note that a consultation took place in person.

When did it take place?

The date and time of each case have normally been taken from the entry in question, but if the relevant information is either missing or obviously incorrect, it has (where possible) been supplied or corrected by the editors.


Forman, Napier and their associates used the Julian calendar. Unlike many of their contemporaries who regarded the year as beginning on 25 March, they began the year on 1 January. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted the so-called Gregorian calendar to replace the Julian calendar that had been used throughout Europe since the time of Julius Caesar. The difference between the two was that the Gregorian calendar observed slightly fewer leap years, with the result that Gregorian dates were, by 1582, ten days ahead of Julian dates, i.e. 1 January 1582 by the Julian calendar was 11 January by the Gregorian. The new calendar (which is now the international standard) was adopted at a range of different dates in different countries. Protestant countries in particular tended to resist what was seen as a ‘Popish’ innovation, even though all serious scholars accepted that it was in fact far more accurate. Britain finally caught up with the rest of Western Europe on 3/14 September 1752, by which time the discrepancy had risen to eleven days. With a very few exceptions, dates given in the casebooks are, therefore, according to the Julian calendar.


In addition to the still current ‘ante meridiem’ (am, before noon) and ‘post meridiem’ (pm, after noon), which the astrologers usually abbreviated as ‘An m’, ‘ant m’ or ‘p m’, they often used ‘in meridie’ (‘in m’): literally ‘at noon’ but used by Forman to mean any time between 11am and 1pm. However, he was typically inconsistent about this and sometimes used ‘An m’ and ‘p m’ for times within this range too. Napier almost always used ‘in m’ to mean ‘at noon’ precisely.

There are also occasional examples in both sets of records of ‘nocte’ (‘at night’, i.e. between sunset and sunrise).

Consultation details

See What questions did they ask? for the questions of the consultations. Cases also contained details about:

Angelic consultations

From April 1611, Napier took to occasionally consulting various archangels about his medical cases and recording their pronouncements, in most cases with a coded indication of which archangel had provided the advice. For instance, Raphael is often represented with symbol, which can lead to confusion about whether this is a remedy. It is not entirely clear how Napier communicated (or believed he communicated) with these beings. These cases, more than a thousand in number, are clearly of special interest for an understanding of Napier’s thought and practice. This facet indicates the presence of archangelic advice in an entry and, if available, the identity of the archangel in question.

Astrological chart

This facet indicates whether an entry has an astrological chart. The astrologers often used the chart for an adjacent case with the result that there are charts for just over half the consultations. As well as noting whether a chart is present, here we also note whether it is blank, deleted or partial. The casebooks include one ‘fugitive sphere’, a


A number of entries include prayers and blessings by Napier, in English or Latin, from the more complex and specific (that his prescribed treatment will prove effective, or that the patient will recover) to the simpler and more general (‘deus benedicat’, ‘may God bless [him/her]’.


In two cases, the querent supplied Napier with a sample of blood, which Napier noted and described in the question.


From around 1614 to 1620, and especially in 1618 to 1619, Napier was in the habit of using the throw of the dice as a form of divination alongside his horary judgments. Several dozen cases include this information.


In some entries, information about when a person was born or died was given obliquely, by specifying the date on which someone was baptised, christened or buried. This facet indicates that one of these events has been recorded in a case.

Geomantic chart

This facet indicates whether an entry has a geomantic chart.

Mentions other practitioners

Around a thousand cases, the majority Napier’s, mention other medical practitioners. Some of them are named dozens of times, others only once. They include apothecaries, barbers, bone setters, cunning folk, midwives, physicians and surgeons. Most were situated in the midlands and the southeast of England. In many cases Napier’s relationship was collaborative or indifferent. In a fraction it was competitive or even outright antagonistic.

Occupations mentioned

More than six thousand cases mention someone’s occupation. We have grouped these under church employee; education and learning; finance; food, drink, drugs, lodgings; household staff; law, justice, state; maritime; medical practitioners; military; and other trades and services. Almost half were household staff ranging from servants to secretaries.


In more than five thousand cases, the astrologers noted the outcome of the case, e.g. she was delivered of a boy.

Patient’s death recorded

More specifically, in around a thousand cases the astrologers recorded that the patient died.


More than five thousand cases include a note about payment, whether specifying sums of money, indicating what has been paid or is owed, or recording the receipt of gifts in kind. Notes such as the simple ‘gratis’, indicating that nothing was charged, are included.

Previous consultation(s)

In around 1800 cases, a previous consultation with one of the astrologers is mentioned. This does not include the occasional references to consultations with or treatments by other practitioners.


In more than a quarter of the cases, the patient’s urine is described. In many, but by no means all of them, the astrologers made it explicit that they had received the urine. The distinction between the description of the urine and whether it had been brought or sent was important to the practitioners themselves. Forman states explicitly in his guide to astrology that he did not regard urine analysis as being of any diagnostic value, but nonetheless encouraged his clients to provide samples as a token of their will to be healed by him. Napier, however, clearly did use urine analysis as a diagnostic tool and seems to have been less paranoid than his mentor about his clients’ intentions. Hence, explicit statements by him that urine was sent or brought have implications for understanding how far he followed or deviated from Forman’s methodology.

Case contains judgment

Roughly two thirds of the cases include a judgment. This records the practitioner’s understanding of the case: the nature of the problem, its origins, its history, and sometimes its likely outcome. Non-medical judgments often include recommended courses of action (in medical entries that would be recorded as treatment notes: see below). The material for the judgment is often drawn (as far as it is possible to tell) from a range of sources: information provided by the querent and/or messenger, including descriptions of symptoms and advice given by other practitioners; an interpretation of the astrological chart, or, less commonly, a geomantic chart; an examination of the patient’s urine (see above); and the consultation of angels or divining by throwing dice. The particular combination of these depended to a large extent on the practitioner: Forman eschewed uroscopy and may have taken most or all of his information from the astrological charts; Napier seems to have taken extensive detail from his querents, but almost never attempted geomancy.

Case includes treatment information

More than half include treatment information, such as a variant of the phrase ‘prepare three days and purge’ or a detailed step-by-step account of the procedures, substances and quantities to be used.

Case contains recipe

A fraction of cases — fewer than five hundred — include recipes.

Person asking the question

In the majority of cases that we know are vicarious, the querent is identified and we are thus able to provide his or her sex and age, following the same principles as for the sexes and ages of patients. In around ten per cent of the known vicarious cases, the querent is unidentified in the casebooks.

Editorial information

Shelfmark: The numbers of the volumes in the Ashmole collection of manuscripts (of which Forman’s and Napier’s casebooks constitute only a relatively small part) appear to have been assigned randomly. These are the canonical numbers (or ‘call numbers’) under which they are listed in the Bodleian Library catalogue and by which they are normally referred to in academic citations.

Volume name: for our purposes, it makes more sense to refer to Forman volumes 1–6 and Napier volumes 1–54. This sequence reflects, so far as possible, the chronological order in which each body of manuscripts was written, though in both cases there are inconsistencies, overlaps and hiccups. The correlation between Ashmole volume numbers and Casebooks volume numbers is set out in the Manuscripts list.

Case deleted: a few cases are entirely deleted, often for reasons unknown.

Case text damaged: pages in some volumes have been torn, and a few have been water-damaged; this facet indicates whether the transcribed portion of the entry has been affected by damage to the volume.

Hands: this specifically concerns the handwriting in which the transcribed parts of entries are written. In the cases, the hand in which a passage of text is written is indicated by the person’s initials, or, in the case of unidentified scribes, by the letter U followed in square brackets by the years in which that scribe was active.

Language: this concerns the languages in which the transcribed parts of entries are written. If too little of the question survives to be able to tell what language it is in, the language is given as ‘Undetermined’.

Extent of transcription: most entries have been partially transcribed; a few are transcribed in their entirety, either because of a deliberate decision to include the rest of the entry, or because nothing other than a question was ever written.

Top ten lists

In order to help readers identify threads through the casebooks, the concluding set of facets displays the ‘top ten’ most frequent patients and querents within a selected browse or search criteria.

Cite this as: Lauren Kassell, Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley, and John Young, ‘What’s in this edition’, A Critical Introduction to the Casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634,'s-in-this-edition, accessed 16 October 2018.