‘Armies Battle in the Air’: Winter Signs & Wonders

Armies 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 signs.

‘December 1680, … was seen, over Gargunnock parish, by Baquahan [i.e., William Cunningham, Laird of Boquhan], and another man with him, two armies in the aire, the one from the south, the other from the north, fighting; the south armie disappearing first.’ (Law, Memorialls, 179; Erskine, Journal, 1.)

William Cunningham was a moderate presbyterian laird known to John Erskine of Carnock and Robert Law. His tower at Boquhan has now disappeared.

Bing OS Map of Auldhouse Boquhan

In the same month, Law recorded that:

‘there was seen at Hamburg a great fyre in the heaven, to the length of two or three pikes; as also there was a great earthquake at Summerseat-House, which had shaken the prison and other places there; and in Somerseatshire there was an apparition of two men fighting in the air, who were seen to fall, and a great fyre following them; sicklyke the appearance of two ships were seen fighting in the aire.’ (Law, Memorialls, 179.)

Somerset House was the residence of Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s Catholic wife. It was widely believed that the household had played a key role in murder of Edmund Berry Godfrey in the alleged Popish Plot against Charles II.

The strange apparitions continued at Hamilton, Haddington and in Ireland in January:

‘Also in Ireland, upon the 8th or 9th of January 1681, appeared a vision of men fighting in the air, and thereafter a showr that turned to lapered blood.’ (Law, Memorialls, 179.)

‘January 1681, there was seen at Hamilton in the air, and also at Hadingtoun, fightings in the air. A man surnamed Zooll [i.e., Yuill] going from it late at nyght to his home, he in the road hears a voice not far distant from him, crying, The sword of the Lord, five times, at which the man was much affrighted and troubled.’ (Law, Memorialls, 175.)

The following year similar mysterious cries were heard in Glasgow:

‘February 1682, there were strange apparitions seen in and about Glasgow, and strange voices, and wild schrieks and cries; particularly one night about the Dean syde-well, was heard a cry, Help! Help! The souldiers on the guard, supposing it had been some fallen in that well, went to see, and the voice went before them, which they followed some way off, which took its way into the city, and up to the Windhead; the centries about the Windhead declared they saw a thing like a great sow, and heard a voice, which they that followed did also see; two of the centrie men were so affrighted, that they fell unwell with it. Another night, a gentlewoman living below the Grammar School, coming home late with her servant-woman, saw a woman cloathed in white passing before them with a wild schriech, whereat they were affraid, and taking into a closs, disappeared.’ (Law, Memorialls, 218-19.)

Additonal Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on September 2, 2011.

4 Responses to “‘Armies Battle in the Air’: Winter Signs & Wonders”

  1. Your weblog is very interesting. I am preparing a phD in Dutch on Scottish piety in relationship to Dutch Further Reformation.

    I have your phD on the United Societies and like also to have your paper on the Radicals in the Northern United provinces 1682-84 (in vol. 29 of Dutch Crossing. Do you know how I can obtain this? I mailed the Accociation for Low Countries Studies but have not received an answer.

    Thank you for your help!

    Kind regards,

    Leen J. van Valen

  2. […] the Great Comet and strange signs lit up the night sky, something novel, dangerous and dreadful arose in Bo’ness. They were […]

  3. […] Their interest in portents made some Presbyterian dissenters of the 1680s keen observers of the skies and it is from them that we learn about other spectacular events like the Great Scottish Meteor of 1685 or armies battling in the air a month after the Great Comet. […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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