Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joan Quigley, where are you?

I've been reading Derek Wilson's In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition, and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIII. Dense and smart. Not focussed , as usual, on the six wives, but on the six Thomases -- Wolsey, More, Cromwell, Cranmer, Howard and Wriothesley. Very political.

But here on page 199 Wilson says:
Incipient revolt was something sixteenth-century governments always took seriously -- and never more so than in 1525. This was a crisis time and had long been prophesied as such. Astrologers pointed out that, in the autumn of 1524, all the planets would be aligned in Pisces and that this could only be a portent of great disaster. Right on cue in the closing weeks of the year the first rumblings of what would become the Peasants' War were heard.
Hmm, I thought, that can't be right. In autumn, the Sun is in the opposite part of the sky from Pisces, and Venus and Mercury are never far from the Sun. So off I go to the Starry Night software on my computer, to see just what was going on in the sky in 1524. Jupiter and Saturn were indeed dawdling in Pisces in the autumn, but the other three naked-eye planets were gallivanting in other parts of the sky. Run the calendar back to February of that same year, however, and -- wow! -- a really tight gathering of all five planets in Pisces. This is clearly what the astrologers had in mind. Not only that, had they only known, Neptune joined the crowd.

Alas, this spectacular alignment -- within 15 degrees -- would not have provided a visual spectacle since the Sun was smack dab in the middle of the gathering and the planets would be smothered in its light.

Poor Henry. Not only did he have to contend with the not always consistent advice of his six Thomases, the various contradictory urgings from Pope and royal allies, and his earnestly felt responsibilities to an inscrutable God, he had also to worry about the hithers and yons of the planets whose comings and goings exerted their terrestrial influence -- agitating an already fraught disquiet of peasants. Mr. Obama at least can put the stars out of mind. My Starry Night software confirms nicely that nothing terrestrial disturbs the planets' wanderings -- and presumably vice versa.