The Great Comet Star of 1680

The Great Comet over Rotterdam, 1680.

The Great Comet of 1680 was observed by the Reverend Robert Law in Scotland:

‘December 10, being Fryday, 1680, after sun-sett, there appeared in the west a comet, having a large broad and great streamer coming from it, the lyke was never seen or read of, and continued till the 16th or 17th day of January, growing smaller and smaller to it’s end;’

For Law, the Great Comet of 1680

‘was certainly prodigious of sad things to us, as all these ordinarly are, such as that comet seen above Jerusalem in shape of a sword, before her ruin and their division. Joseph[us]. Hist, de Bella Judaico.’

The comet of 1619

‘And that comet that was seen when King James the Sixth was in England, enjoying that crown, an[no]. 1619, in the east [later known as Kepler’s Comet], betokened the great warrs in Germany [i.e., the Thirty Years’ War] that followed, and the great plague of London, in his days; and the civill warrs in Britain and Ireland [between 1638 and 1651] that followed in his son’s tyme, which he himself, when he saw it, foretold that the effects of it would light on Germany, and the dregs of it on his kingdoms.’

Law’s latter pointed remark about the ‘dregs’ of his kingdoms probably indicate his hostility to the participation of the “lower sort”, like the Society people, in politics.

The comet of 1664

‘And that comet that was seen 1664, and the beginning of 65, towards the south, betokened the great warrs that were betwixt the English and Dutch fleets, and the great plague of London, an[no]. [16]66, and the great fyre of London. Then the great warrs the French had with the States of Holland, with Spain, and with the Emperor and the Princes of Germany, which, within a few yeirs, soon followed [i.e., the Franco-Dutch War of 1672 to 1678].

Law then described the appearance of the Great Comet over Glasgow:

This comet, seen in December 1680, was seen on Friday [10 December], … and was perspicuously seen on Tuesday the 14th day [of December]; … the night being clear and frosty, between 5 at night and 7, it sett in the west, and was seen in the south-east in the morning of the following days. This above-mentioned comet had a great blazing fra the root of it, was pointed as it came from the star, and then spread itself; was of a broad and large ascent up to the heavens, so that when it was sett in the west, and out of our sight, yet did the stream of it amount near to our zenith, and it keeped the course of the moon, setting in the west, and rysing in the east a little before day; the stream of it all the night over is seen, and when day-light came, and the sun arisen, was not seen till the sun-setting, and had its recess from the west every night by degrees, … and being every night more elevat by degrees in its first appearance after day-light was gone, then the stream of it amounted to our zenith, and beyond it, very terribly and wonderfully.’

The comet of 1680

‘No history ever made mention of the lyke comet, and it is doubted if ever the lyke was seen since the creation, and is certainly prodigious of great alterations, and of great judgements on these lands and nations for our sins; for never was the Lord more provoked by a people than by us in these lands, and that by persons of all ranks.’

The moderate-presbyterian Law’s remark about the God being provoked by ‘persons of all ranks’ is a possible reference to what he saw as the extremity of the Society people, which he fancifully believed was a Jesuit plot. He also linked the Great Comet to the Popish Plot:

‘In the years 1678, 79, and 1680, was discovered a dangerous plott of the Papists in England, with the Papists abroad, in France, Spain, and Italie, the Pope then having chief hand in it, with the King of France, his confessor, and others abroad of note, by Doctor Oatts, ane Englishman, who was Papist, but, upon remorse of conscience, converted from that way. He made the plot known to the King of Britain, and his councell at England, which was to overturn our Protestant religion, and introduce poperie in these lands, and to bring these kingdoms in obedience to the see of Rome, and to kill the king first, and others of eminencie that stood for the protestant religion and faith; and this was reckon’d to have been the hundered and second plott since Queen Elizabeth her days. This plott was carrying on all these former years, even in our late troubles, always changing their methods ever as they saw occasion, and as they saw most expedient for the carrying on of it; so that when one shift failled, they betook themselves to another, untill at length the Lord detected and discovered it.’ (Law, Memorialls, 169-71.)

The Great Comet of 1680, known to science as C/1680 V1, was an isolated long-period sungrazing comet. It has recently been observed still heading away from the sun and will not return for at least the greater part of a millennia.

The Great Comet in Rotterdam
Law was not the only Scottish minister to observe the Great Comet, in Rotterdam in the United Provinces, the ailing Robert MacWard, the exiled ideologue of the Society people, and his secretary, Alexander Shields, who would later lead the United Societies, watched the ‘comet star’:

‘That blazing Star that appeared for many Nights together, after [the] Bothwel[l] [Rising], 1679, which was commonly called the Comet Star; which was long and bright like a Rainbow, clearly seen through all Europe, for ought I know: When Mr. Mackward, who then was a dying, heard of it, he desired Mr. Shields, and other Friends, to carry him out, that he might see it; when he saw it, he blest the Lord that was now about to close his Eyes, and was -not to see the woful Days that were coming upon Britain and Ireland, especially upon sinful Scotland’. (Walker, BP, I, xxxi-xxxii.)

Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Are Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on August 19, 2011.

9 Responses to “The Great Comet Star of 1680”

  1. […] the grass much withered universally, the brooks and streams dryed up, (some effects, as appears, of the great comet the winter before;)’ (Law, Memorialls, […]

  2. […] clashing in the air, a shower of blood, the sword of the Lord, the Great Comet and a ‘thing like a great sow’ in Glasgow… The early 1680s saw many strange […]

  3. […] the Great Comet and strange signs lit up the night sky, something novel, dangerous and dreadful arose in […]

  4. […] The Great Comet Star of 1680 LINK […]

  5. […] See also the Great Comet of 1680. […]

  6. […] Leading Presbyterian dissenters who observed the Great Comet in Glasgow and in Rotterdam also thought the comet signified that ‘woful …. […]

  7. […] Today, we know the comet as Halley’s Comet, but in 1682, the motions of comets were not known or understood. The minister of Easter Kilpatrick was very interested in comets, astrology and strange portents and wonders. He also observed, the Great Comet of 1680. […]

  8. […] great alterations in Europe. And from England ther came some observations on the late comets, [and comet of 1680 here] which promised a furder treatise called Catastrophe Mundi;… all which helped to fright […]

  9. […] 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 […]

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