The Great Fire in Edinburgh of 1676

•August 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment


‘January 13, 1676, there was a great fire in Edinburgh; it began at the heid of the Kirk Hoich, in a stationer’s shop, he loutting down with a candle among louse papers, fyred them so as he could not quench it, and burnt all that syd as ye go in to the Parliament House, on the left hand, and on the foregate down near to the [Mercat] Cross. The Lord Advocat Sir John Nisbit’s house was burnt, and several other considerable houses.’ (Law, Memorialls, 85.)

Over a year later, Glasgow also suffered a great fire, which was blamed on God’s wrath.

For other strange events of the 1670s and 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The ‘Majestick-Like’ Colossus of Fife in 1674

•August 5, 2015 • 2 Comments

Colossus Fife

The curious report of a colossus standing astride the Lomond Hills in Fife is recorded in the manuscript memoirs of John Blackadder, an outlawed field preacher. He refers to the appearance of a tall, majestic figure in his account of a field conventicle in 1674:

‘There was a meeting on Lomond hills, where Mr John Wallwood, a young man, but grave and pious, and of a good understanding, preached to the meeting;’

The preaching of John Welwood (d.1679) was held in high esteem by the Society people. The location of his preaching ‘on Lomond hills’ may have been on East or West Lomond, or somewhere in the surrounding hills. In 1681, a field preaching by Donald Cargill was said to have been held at Lomond Hills, however Cargill’s preaching actually took place on Devon Common, which lies to the east of East Lomond.

Map of Devon Common

Blackadder continues:

‘there came a party of the life-guards, commanded, as I heard, by Adam Masterton of Grange, younger;’

John Drysdale, a weaver and one of the Society people from Bo’ness, would later attempt to assassinate Masterson of Grange as ‘an enemy of God and His people’ in December, 1680.

‘the meeting was on the hill; the troopers essayed to ride up to them, I suppose between sermons; the people stood on the face of the brae, and the soldiers shot bullets among the people, with carabins and pistells, and, as I heard, charged five or six several times; but though the ball lighted among men, women, and children, and went through some of their hair, and brake upon stones beside them, yet hurt none, which was observed as a wonder to all present;’

The miraculous passing of musket balls through hair is also reported in the cases of James Nisbet and Patrick Foreman.

The attacks by the soldiers were met with resistance. Negotiations followed:

‘the soldiers seeing the people stand still, and not stir, were forced to retire, (some of them had their horses hurt with the stones cast down from the hill), and sent to call some of the people to capitulate with, desiring them to dismiss. The people answered, they were not to stay any longer than the public worship was ended; they told them also, they could not leave the hill till they had security to get no harm from them, which they did promise, but this was kept as many other of that sort; for, after the bulk of the people were gone, the troopers fell on the hindermost, plundering and stripping them, and apprehended about 18 prisoners.’

Female Prophetesses

It is at this point that the reports of a vision of a majestic colossus protecting the field preaching appear in Blackadder’s narrative:

‘It was affirmed by some women who stayed at home, that they clearly perceived as the form of a tall man, majestick like, stand in the air, in stately posture, with the one leg as it were advanced before the other, standing above the people all the time of the soldiers’ shooting.’ (Law, Memorialls, 96n.)

The involvement of several women in a collective vision probably indicates that the ‘majestick-like’ colossus appeared to those women in an ecstatic prayer session. Similar incidents involving female prophetesses took place at Paisley and near Crossford. The Sweet Singers, or Gibbites, of Bo’ness also produced female prophetic visions.

For other ‘wonders’ of the 1670s and 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Scottish Hurricane of 1675

•August 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The Track of the Hurricane MacWhirter

The summer of 1675 was unseasonably long and hot in Scotland, especially in comparison to the cold year before it and the years that followed. In the Autumn, something unexpected took place:

‘This yeir, 1675, had a very hott summer, and a good harvest, except two windy dayes in September, whereby much corn was shaken; the victuall remaining dear [in price] notwithstanding, becaus all the old victuall was spent. The end of November, and beginning of December of this year was very warm, many people fall sick and die; the astma, or coch, or cold, with a feavor, turns the epidemick disease in toun and country, whereof many dyes, and of feavors mo[r]e dye than was observed in other yeirs before.’ (Law, Memorialls, 84.)

The preceding two years had been hard to the point that no surplus crop remained and prices had risen. Famine had been evaded in 1674, but in 1675, a possibly weakened and economically-stressed population may have been more susceptible to epidemics as winter approached.

Scottish Ship

The summer had brought a welcome bounty, but then the storm of the ‘two windy days’ struck:

‘At this tyme doth Lord Neil Campbell, brother to the Earle of Argile, set into Mull to take it in possession for his brother, with his ships and birlins, on the 20th and 21st of September 1675. But there arose so great a storm these two days, that the ships and birlins, wherein he took his men, were forced back, and sorely dismantled, the great mast of the ship broken, the fall whereof broke the forship, and the birlings exceedingly shattered, that they were rendered useless till repaired again; all the men were preserved alive very providentially.’

Law also recorded the impact of the storm to the south in Dunbartonshire, where he was a minister:

‘That storm was so great that it was over all the land, and, indeed, it was a hurricane; for great oaks were blown up by the roots, and laid over at Rosedoe [i.e., Rossdhu Castle by Loch Lomond] by twos and threes; great old trees of 200 years standing broken in the midst there; some lesser trees broken in the midst, and the tops caryed a great way off with the force of the wind, where they fell, to great admiration which I did see. The corns up and down the land not cut down were so shacken, that the people gott little more than straw to cut down.’

The Old Tower of Rossdhu. Copyright here.

The old castle at Rossdhu is now a ruin in Loch Lomond Golf Course.

Map of Rossdhu

Witchcraft was the suspected cause of the hurricane:

‘A rumor went that there was a witch-wife named Muddock had promised to the M’Lains, that, so long as she lived, the Earle of Argile should not enter Mull; and, indeed, many of the people imputed the rise of that great storme unto her paction with the devil, how true I cannot assert.’ (Law, Memorialls, 82-3.)

On occasion, Cape Verde-type hurricanes track so far north that they curve round to Ireland or Western Scotland. The ‘hurricane’ in Scotland took place 13 days after the powerful New England Hurricane of 7 September, 1675.

For other ‘wonders’ of the 1670s and 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

A Great Fire in the Heavens and a Sword seen over Paisley in 1676

•August 1, 2015 • 1 Comment

Comet in 1680

In June, 1676, a vision was seen in the heart of the burgh of Paisley…

‘June 1676, at Pa[i]sley, betwixt 11 and 12 at night, was seen by one man and four women a great fire from the heavens, and after that a sword in the air over above the tolbooth, moving here and there, which did much amase the beholders. They being examined by the minister and one of the bailies of that town, did depone upon oath that they saw it.’ (Law, Memorialls, 94.)

The Paisley vision was possibly “witnessed” at an ecstatic prayer meeting. Those meetings often involved women and occasionally female prophetesses. Law notes the presence of four women and one man at the vision.

Later in the year, Paisley would again be the site of strange signs. The ‘dumb’ Laird of Duntreath gave a sign of a drowning at Paisley and in the following February he made signs of ‘some of great troubles and fightings to be in this land in a few months’.

In 1681, Paisley would see an outbreak of militant dissent, again involving women, against moderate presbyterian preachers at a communion.

The sword, presumably a sign of God’s judgement, moved ‘here and there’ above Paisley Tolbooth. The tolbooth was a symbol of both local and royal justice, which Presbyterians believed were repressive. In 1685, two Covenanters, James Algie and John Park, were held in the tolbooth and executed outside of it.

For other wonders of the 1670s and 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Devil Appears in a Ship at Newcastle in 1672

•July 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Devil Ship

In 1672, the Devil appeared on a ship at Newcastle:

‘Apryle 1672, there was a ship lying at Newcastle, bound for London, called the Good Hope of London, wherein the divill appeared in bodily shape, in the habit of a seaman, with a blew gravatt about his neck, and desired the master of the ship to remove out of her, which he did not obey, till sic time as she began to sink in the ocean. Then he, with his company, took his cog-boat, who were saved by another ship coming by, and that ship fyred and sank. This was testified by the oaths of them that were in her. They could never get the ruther stir’d, nor the use of the pump, an ominous presage. (Law, Memorialls, 46.)

For other wonders of the 1670s and 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Supernova of 1667: Cassiopeia A was observed in Scotland

•July 29, 2015 • 1 Comment


Supernova Cassiopeia A SN 1667? Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

The discovery of the only recorded probable sighting of the supernova of 1667, one of the more unusual celestial events in the span of human history, may resolve an enduring mystery in the history of Astronomy, SN 1667?.

According to scientific measurements, the light from the supernova of Cassiopeia A would have reached Earth in 1667. That is why the supernova is sometimes designated as SN 1667? or SN 1667. Cassiopeia A is the second youngest supernova known to have exploded in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Other Supernovae from the galaxy were observed in 1572 (Tycho’s Supernova) and 1604 (Kepler’s Supernova), but since then only supernovae from outside of our galaxy have been observed with any certainty, e.g. SN 1987A. Recently, the remnants of a supernova in the heart of our galaxy have been observed. The light from G1.9+0.3 would have reached Earth in c.1868, but it was obscured by the galactic centre.

Remarkably, the appearance of the Cassiopeia A supernova is said not to have been recorded in the historical or astronomical sources of the period, even though it was visible on Earth and took place at a time when astronomy was flourishing.

Because SN 1667? was not recorded in the time frame that it took place, other possible “new stars” have been suggested to be the 1667 event.

The first possible recorded sighting of the remnants of the supernova came thirteen years later, when John Flamsteed identified a new star, 3 Cassiopeiae, in August 1680. As a result, SN 1667? is sometimes known as SN 1680?. However, other believe that Flamsteed made a mistake, as his new star does not quite tally with the location of SN 1667?.

It has also been suggested that the ‘noon day star’ that allegedly heralded the birth of Charles II in 1630 was the 1667 event.

Given the evidence that the event almost certainly took place in 1667, or c.1667, neither the 1680, nor 1630 dates are particularly satisfying.

The apparent failure of the historical sources to report a sighting of the supernova may have influenced theories that have been advanced that the light from SN 1667? was cloaked by the star ejecting its outer layers before it exploded.

Now, the new evidence discussed in this post indicates that the light from the initial explosion of SN 1667? was observed in Scotland. The light from the supernova had taken about 11,000 years to reach Earth and at 2pm on a summer afternoon in 1667 it was spotted in Edinburgh.

Nor Loch Edinburgh 1690
Seventeenth-Century Edinburgh

The first record of the supernova is found in Robert Law’s Memorialls: or, The Memorable Things that Fell Our in My Time in the Island of Brittain. Law, the former presbyterian minister of Easter Kilpatrick parish, mainly recorded the passing political events of the Late Restoration period, but he was also a keen observer of natural and celestial phenomena. Among the many things he recorded were the great comets of 1680 and 1682, a tornado on the River Clyde and the first elephant in Scotland. He was also interested in providential signs and warnings, strange visions and apparitions, as one would expect of a seventeenth-century minister. In his Memorialls, he seems to have viewed all of those phenomena as part of the science of God’s world in which both comets and visions were potentially connected to “real-world” events. Although modern astronomers may be sceptical of his interpretation of some of the events that he discussed, it was his interest in unusual events that led him to record SN 1667?.

Law probably wrote his Memorialls in the years up to 1684, as the manuscript abruptly ends in the April of that year.

Under his entry for 9 July, 1676, he records the following:

‘July 9th —76, a star was seen at 12 hours of the day by a great companie of people met for sermon on Gargunnock hills the Sabbath-day, and that when the sun was bright shining. The lyke was seen in summer 1667, at 2 hours post m[eridian]., the sun shining clear at Edinburgh.’ (Law, Memorialls, 95-6.)

It is clear that the star observed in the summer 1667 was very bright, as it appeared at two in the afternoon when the Sun was ‘shining clear at Edinburgh’. How long it remained bright enough to be seen from Earth is not clear, as Law does not give any further details.

Law did not record the event in his entries for 1667, but he clearly recalled specific details about that earlier event when he wrote about the appearance of the daytime star of 1676.

The second, 1676, event came from reports on an illegal field preaching in Stirlingshire. Whether the new daytime star was a vision obtained in ecstatic prayer or a real astronomical event is not clear. A second report that he wrote about an event in the same parish in 1680 has a similar ambiguity over the nature of what was witnessed. The people at the field preaching may have seen a star in the sky at midday in 1676, or they may not. What is clear is that Law was not present at the field preaching in 1676.

However, when Law wrote of the daytime star of 1676, he connected it to ‘the lyke’ star that had been seen in 1667. Law’s placement of the new daytime star of 1667 in Edinburgh is a crucial piece of evidence. It is almost certain that the reports of it did not come from a field preaching. Edinburgh, Scotland’s largest burgh, was not a location where illegal field preachings took place. As the centre of the Scottish state, it was an extremely hostile environment for them. They were also very rare at that time. Less than a year earlier, the Presbyterians that held them were crushed in the Pentland Rising. It appears that Law’s daytime star of 1667 was a genuine event witnessed in Edinburgh, rather than the result of a Presbyterian vision.

Historians are probably more at ease with the nature of Law’s Memorialls as a source than astronomers are. It may not meet exacting scientific standards, but its record of a bright star appearing at 2pm on a sunny, summer afternoon in Edinburgh in 1667 is the only historical source that corroborates the scientific evidence for the appearance of the supernova SN 1667?.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The ‘Thirteen Drifty Days’ and the ‘Vehement Frost’ of 1674

•July 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Thirteen Drifty Days

For over a month in early 1674, ‘a vehement frost’ descended on Scotland. In the upland parishes of the south and the Highlands, families froze to death and cattle, sheep and wild animals died in great numbers. The bad weather began a month before:

‘January 1674. The beginning of it there was great storms, and snow; the wind fra the east, and great loss at sea, to the number of 20 saill (in 24 hours tyme) of ships cast away ‘twixt Newcastle and the Bass in Scotland.’ (Law, Memorialls, 60.)

The violent storm off the east coast of Scotland was followed by the ‘vehement frost’ in the next month:

‘February 20,1674, fell on a great storm of snow and a vehement frost, which continued till the 29th day of March; all fresh waters was frozin as if in the midst of winter; all plowing and delving the ground was marr’d till the foresaid day; much loss of sheep by the snow, and of whole families in the moor country and hy lands; much loss of cowes every where, also of weild beasts, as do and roe.’ (Law, Memorialls, 63.)

‘The Thirteen Drifty Days’
Its impact may have been similar to that of James Hogg’s ‘Thirteen Drifty Days’, a seventeenth-century snowstorm that was remembered well over a century later:

‘The most dismal of all those on record is the thirteen drifty days. This extraordinary storm, as near as I have been able to trace, must have occurred in the year 1620. The traditionary stories and pictures of desolation that remain of it, are the most dire imaginable; and the mentioning of the thirteen drifty days to an old shepherd, in a stormy winter night, never fails to impress his mind with a sort of religious awe, and often sets him on his knees before that Being who alone can avert such another calamity. —It is said, that for thirteen days and nights the snow-drift never once abated— the ground was covered with frozen snow when it commenced, and during all that time the sheep never broke their fast. The cold was intense to a degree never before remembered; and about the fifth and sixth days of the storm, the young sheep began to fall into a sleepy and torpid state, and all that were so affected in the evening died over night. The intensity of the frost wind often cut them off when in that state quite instantaneously. About the ninth and tenth days, the shepherds began to build up huge semicircular walls of their dead, in order to afford some shelter for the remainder of the living; but they availed but little, for about the same time they were frequently seen tearing at one another’s wool with their teeth. —When the storm abated, on the fourteenth day from its commencement, there was on many a high-lying farm not a living sheep to be seen. Large mishapen walls of dead, surrounding a small prostrate flock likewise all dead, and frozen stiff in their lairs, were all that remained to cheer the forlorn shepherd and his master; and though on low-lying farms, where the snow was not so hard before, numbers of sheep weathered the storm, yet their constitutions received such a shock, that the greater part of them perished afterwards; and the final consequence was, that about nine-tenths of all the sheep in the South of Scotland were destroyed. — In the extensive pastoral district of Eskdale-moor, which maintains upwards of 20,000 sheep, it is said none were left alive, but forty young wedders on one farm, and five old ewes on another.’ (James Hogg in Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. XC, Part 2.)

For other wonders of the 1670s and 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine