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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.