Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery
WILLIAM LILLY, a famous English astrologer of yeoman ancestry, was born
at Diseworth, an obscure village in northwestern Leicestershire, May 1,
1602. In his autobiography he described his native place as a "town of
great rudeness, wherein it is not remembered that any of the farmers
thereof, excepting my grandfather, did ever educate any of their sons to
learning." His mother was Alice, daughter of Edward Barham, of Fiskerton
Mills in Nottinghamshire.
When eleven years of age, he was placed in the care of one John Brinsley
at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, not far from Diseworth. Here he received
instruction in the classics. In April, 1620, he went to London to seek
his fortune, and obtained employment as foot-boy and general factotum in
the family of one Gilbert Wright, of the parish of St. Clement Danes, a
man of property, but without education.
Not long after his master's death in 1627, Lilly married the widow, and
being then in comfortable circumstances, devoted considerable time to
the pursuit of angling, and became fond of listening to Puritan
sermons. Having abundant leisure, he was enabled to humor the
natural bent of his mind, and to begin the study of astrology, which he
continued with zeal, devoting special attention to the magical circle
and to the invocation of spirits. Keenly alive to the popular credulity,
he claimed the possession of supernatural powers as a fortune-teller and
soothsayer, largely as a result of the study of the works of noted
astrologers, including the "Ars Notoria" of Cornelius Agrippa.
Becoming a prey to melancholy and hypochondria, he lived in retirement
for five years at Hersham in Surrey, and then returned to London in
1641. At this time, wrote Lilly in his autobiography, "I took careful
notice of every grand action between king and parliament, and did first
then incline to believe that, as all sublunary affairs depend on
superior causes, so there was a possibility of discovering them by the
configuration of the heavens."
In 1644 he published his first almanac, under the title, "Merlinus
Angelicus Junior, the English Merlin Revived, or a Mathematical
Prediction of the English Commonwealth." This publication was issued
annually for nearly forty years, and found a ready sale, being shrewdly
adapted to the popular taste. Lilly was said to have acquired
considerable influence over the credulous monarch, Charles I, who was
wont to consult him regarding political affairs. He was an adept in the
wily arts of the charlatan, achieving notoriety by unscrupulous methods.
Not a few of his exploits, wrote one of his biographers, indicate rather
the quality of a clever police detective, than that of a profound
After the Restoration, Lilly fell into disrepute, and again retired to
his estate at Hersham, where he began the study of Medicine, receiving a
license to practise in the year 1670, when sixty-eight years of age.
Thenceforth he combined the professions of physic and astrology. His
death occurred June 9, 1681.
Among his publications are the following: "Mr. Lillie's Prediction
concerning the many lamentable Fires which have lately happened, with a
full account of Fires at Home and Abroad." 1676. "Strange news from the
East, or a sober account of the Comet or blazing star that has been seen
several Mornings of late." 1677.