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A day with the astrologers

On Monday 26 February 1599 the astrologers were busy. Forman, in his house in London, conducted eleven consultations. In the parsonage in Great Linford, Buckinghamshire, Napier considered fourteen cases. This was an ordinary day in the lives of the astrologers and their clients. The weather in London seems to have been chilly, with snow the previous December and a long cold, dry period through the spring and into midsummer, punctuated by a terrific rainstorm at Whitsun. In Buckinghamshire, Napier was, characteristically, more preoccupied with recording showers. Other clouds were gathering: England in 1599 was a country beset by problems political, social, economic, and natural, from inflation and high taxes to bad harvest and disease. The previous August an ageing Queen Elizabeth had suffered two blows: the death of her most trusted advisor Lord Burghley, then the defeat of an English army in County Armagh at the hands of the Irish rebel Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. Preparations were now underway for a military campaign to deal with the rebellious earl, and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, would be made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in mid-March 1599. In London, the 26 February was the day on which William Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, signed a contract with a builder to begin work constructing the Globe theatre in Southwark; around this time Shakespeare himself was writing The Life of Henry the Fifth and The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, the latter recorded as being performed at the Globe on 21 September. A few minutes’ walk north-east across the Thames, at his home in the parish of St Andrew Hubbard, Billingsgate, Forman was receiving clients. Napier was working at his house in Great Linford; he had started a new notebook the previous morning. The following narrative sets out the contents of their casebooks for this day.

Unusual terms are defined in our general glossary, our glossary of treatments, and dates and holy days.

Richard Napier, in Great Linford, Buckinghamshire

7:19amSara Cage, 18 years old at Easter, lives at Newport Pagnell with Thomas Ashpole, a shoemaker, whose servant she has been since Michaelmas. She ‘bleedeth mutch & is troubled in her head’. Napier casts an astrological chart for that moment; his judgment of the case is that ‘that which should goe downeward goeth out voydeth out of her nose thrice a week’. The problem ‘hath made her very feeble & faynt’, and her ‘hed gyddy’. She is ‘a very well favoured mead’ (i.e. maid) but is ‘hoven’ (swollen) with it and ‘short winded’. He adds: ‘shee never had her courses. fearefull & hath taken greefe’. Napier gives her a decoction of electuary of roses and confection of Hamech and charges her 2s.

8:16amAlice Harrison, about 51, a widow from Newport Pagnell: ‘not well this fortnight’. Napier draws up a chart but records: ‘I gave nothing’.

8:50amMr Andrews is sending to know whether his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Ratcliffe of Hitchin, ‘be leekly to live or noe’. He has sent without her consent. Napier draws up a chart but records no judgment nor indicates any treatment. Nonetheless, later he writes inside the chart: ‘shee recovered’.

9:15amAgnes Astill otherwise Miller, 40 years old, of Newport Pagnell, sends to Napier, ‘miserablely handled in her lims & ded poer & lowe brought’; she ‘burneth & is full of blisters & itches.’ Napier casts a chart and notes in the margin ‘water white & thin’. He says in his judgment: ‘back hart hed shee hath not her courses the whites & running of the reanes a marvelous itche’. He supplies a decoction of confection of Hamech, electuary of roses, and diacarthamum, and notes that, presumably on the grounds of her poverty, he has given her the ‘phisick gratis’.

10:09amWhite Ellis, ‘about 46’, married for six years, visits Napier. He is ‘a softly witted man’ whose problem is ‘his guts & belly buste’. Napier casts a chart and notes that he has ‘a very good yellow water’, but decides that it is ‘to[o] yellowe’. Inside the chart Napier writes: ‘a bruise with a lifting taken 5 or 6 yeres. bottome of his belly & guts.’ He prescribes a mixture of spermaceti and stone pitch (also known as black pitch, the dry residue left after boiling tar) ‘in daysy & comfry water’. Ellis will consult Napier twice more in the coming days, at 1:00pm on 3 March and at 11:26am on 9 March.


Napier’s 7:19am case (on the right), MS Ashmole 228, f. 86v. Copyright Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2018.

11:15amJohn Evans, of the parish of Bletchley, consults Napier on behalf of his mother Ellen Evans, aged 60, who has been ‘ever sinc miklemas sick’. Napier’s judgment says: ‘the payne nowe lyeth in her legs which be mutch swollen it was first in her hed & then went to her neck. her chest & so ariseth to her harte of her shoulders. but most of the ach & swelling of her legs. shee hath had very shroud cough.’ Napier records that her urine is ‘reasonable good’, and adds a note that she has ‘burning in her legs’ in the margin. He gives her cassia and manna.

12:00pmAlice Church, aged 34, from Yardley Gobion, visits Napier for his counsel. (She also visited two days before, at 8:30am on 24 February.) She has been married a dozen years and has five children. She has been ‘sick ever sinc midsomer last’. Napier’s judgment runs: ‘complayneth most of hart & back & before this of her hed & somewhat arising in her stomack ready to stop her winde.’ Napier gives her a decoction consisting of confection of Hamech and diacarthamum and charges her 2s. She will visit again on 15 October, in an entry whose judgment specifies similar symptoms, and will return to Napier with a further problem towards the end of 1602.

12:45pmElizabeth Allen, aged 24, of Potterspury Park, Mrs Barker’s servant, visits Napier ‘for her greeping of her harte’. Napier casts a chart. He notes that her urine is ‘a yellow watrish water’, and ‘thin’, ‘ful of black scales & motes’. His brief judgment below the chart, reads: ‘very short winded & stopt at the harte sick this fortnight. shee hath not her courses well & orderly but fewe.’ He prescribes confection of Hamech. Inside the chart, in Latin and Greek, Napier expresses his belief that she has slept with a man.

1:00pmHarry Reade, aged 29 and married, has ‘a payne in his chest & stomacke burning very hot’. Napier gives him a decoction of confection of Hamech, diacarthamum and antimony.

1:00pmLucy Warren, aged 40, of Potterspury, has been ‘sick sinc miklemas’. Napier records no further details here, but Warren visits two days later, at 1:22pm on 28 February, and in this later entry Napier records symptoms and treatment at great length.

1:15pmGoodman Spenser, aged 50, of Cosgrave, ‘sick yesterday’. Napier casts a chart and writes in his judgment: ‘hart & stomack & greefe touching a child of yere & halfe old drowned about maudlingtide in a mucklepit. following the duckes & touching his wife some he stroke with his fist against his will’.

1:30pmJoan Spenser, aged 30, married four years last Michelmas, has been ‘sick this 3 quarters’. She may be a relation of Gooodman Spenser’s. Napier casts a chart and records in his judgment: ‘hart burnt stomack hath not had her courses sinc her last child which was a twelf night. a light head / ready to sownd a stitch under her side’. He also writes in the margin: ‘water reasonable good.’

2:30pmRichard Travell, aged 22, of Little Linford, William Martin’s servant, is unwell: it ‘took him in the wast. loynes & huckbone. & lims. that he is very lame. & back’. Napier casts a chart and writes that his urine is ‘reasonable good yellowe’; then he records giving Travell a decoction made of equal quantities of confection of Hamech, diacarthamum and electuary of roses. Lastly Napier notes that he did not charge Travell the full amount: ‘I gave him thother 12d.’

4:00pmYoung Goody Robinson visits Napier ‘to knowe her disease & wheather shee be with Child’. Napier records no further details here, but Robinson visits again at 5:00pm on 28 February as ‘Mary West Robinson’, ‘payned at the harte & voydeth mutch water at the mouth’; she asks again ‘wheather [she is] with child’. This time Napier casts a chart and records a judgment that reads: ‘her courses stopt ever since christide her stomack watereth. a rising at her hart ready to stop her winde, a wind cholick. a payne in her hed. shee is with child a greefe touching her mother in lawe. shee quivereth & tremblethe was delivered of two children at a birthe’. She continues to consult Napier over the next few years.

Simon Forman, in Billingsgate, London


Forman’s 9:00am and 10:00am cases, MS Ashmole 219, f. 11v. Copyright Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2018.

9:00amAlexander Bradshowe, 24 years old, a disease consultation. Forman casts a chart and decides that the disease is ‘of moch flem with the blod/ overflowing of the gall pain stomak Reins syd too fites lyk a fever // full of wind’. He notes his proposed treatment: ‘prepare 3 Dais & purg then let blod/.’

9:15amRichard Web, 19 years old. The consultation covers two topics: first, his disease; and second, whether it is ‘best to goe into Ireland’. Forman’s judgment leaves us no clue to his answer to the second question, but he records that the disease is ‘of moch collor & water with the blod & he swells in his handes’. Forman’s treatment is: ‘purg collor & flem / & let blod’.

10:00amThomas Atkinson, 16 years old, a disease consultation. (It is Atkinson’s second entry this month; his first was at 9:00am on 5 February.) Forman casts a chart and records a judgment specifying ‘stomak hed Reins & syd full of water & will have a dropsy & pines’. After this he adds a note that Atkinson has ‘the pox or measells’. Forman’s prescribed treatment is ‘purg & vomit’.

10:00amJohn Goddard, aged 5, is subject of a disease consultation by his mother. Forman notes: ‘he swells in his body pained & stuffed in the stomak head / leges. moch griping in the belly in perill of his lif a coghe & pines & will have the pox’. Forman’s treatment note reads: ‘give him somthing to purg’.

10:30amMr (Nicholas) Leate, a London merchant and regular client, consults Forman about one of his ships: ‘the Angell ... quando venit et ubi est’ (when it is coming and where it is). Forman casts a chart but does not record his judgment. Leate has already asked after this ship at 10:30am on 14 February, and will ask again at 8:00am on 2 March, grumbling there: ‘what is becom’ of her that she comms not’. At 7:40am on 6 March he asks after the Angel a fourth and final time. There Forman’s judgment reads: ‘This ship seames to have had som great mishape & to fall into the handes of her enimes & in Danger of shipwrak or bursting of somthing but now she is set out homward Again/’.

11:00amJohn King, 48 years old, a disease consultation. He has consulted before about the same illness, and Forman notes that this is a follow-up and cross-references the earlier entry: ‘2a questo loke the 9 feb.’ The earlier consultation records that King is from East Smithfield, and includes a judgment by Forman that ‘he hath A great scouring that hath Contynued 5 wickes on him moch pain in his head stomak belly very hote and burn[in]g his blod is enflamed and a gret coghe Redy to stop his wind’. Here, in contrast, Forman writes simply: ‘In perill of his lif’.

12:10pmFrances Harwood, 20 years old, of Lothbury, a disease consultation. Forman casts a chart and records a judgment that runs: ‘She hath not her course moch pain in the back belly stomak & Head ... of moch cold water / a gret coghe moch red sand in the backe/’. She consulted Forman on 28 September 1598, at which time Forman adjudged the problem to be along similar lines.

12:30pmAlice Barnard asks Forman if it is ‘best to conducere [marry] Jhon whit’. Forman casts no chart in the casebook and records no judgment. A few days earlier, on 20 February, Forman wrote down a question concerning Alice Barnard and George Bowgen, but afterwards cancelled crucial words in the question and judgment to make the consultation unintelligible.

12:45pmGrace Powell, 45 years old, a disease consultation. Forman casts a chart and writes in his judgment: ‘A gret cogh and pain & stuffing in the stomake pain hed & belly ... moch wind & water / & will Di of this Dizeas erly long sick’. She is ‘moch stuffed in the longes that she wheeseth & vomiteth up all she eateth & hath byne so longe’. Forman decides that the treatment should be to ‘prepar 3 dais & purge/’.

1:00pm — As he records elsewhere, Forman is visited by ‘mr Bruare & the constable’ to collect his contribution to the tax being raised ‘for Souldiars’. This is Forman’s third tax payment of the year. After being approached on 2 January for the first sum, of 3s 4d, he conducted a self-consultation to know whether it was ‘best to pai yt or noe’, leaving a space clearly intended for an astrological chart, though in this instance he seems never to have completed it.

3:45pmMargaret Edwards is asking ‘pro mari goodridg’. Forman casts a chart but records no judgment there. Edwards consulted first about Mary Goodridge on Thursday 22 February, where Edwards’s address is given as Bishopsgate Street and Goodridge’s age as 21 years; there it says she ‘fecit inquisisionem pro [made the question for] Marya Richardson alias goodridge ... qui abscurit a marito [who ran away from her husband]’. Forman’s judgment there advises that ‘on dai [i.e. Monday] next 45 post i she shall met her at towar hill. go forth at on/’. Since this is now 2 hours 45 minutes after that time, Edwards may well be asking what has happened to Goodridge.

5:00pm — the day ends with a cryptic entry. Forman writes ‘utrum sit thezaurum in’ (whether there is treasure in ...) then breaks off. This part-question, and its accompanying chart, are written onto the page upside-down. There is no judgment nor any other notes to clarify matters.

Cite this as: Lauren Kassell, Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley, and John Young, ‘A day with the astrologers’, A Critical Introduction to the Casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634,, accessed 26 February 2024.