Comet Ison and the Great Comet of 1680: History and Comets

Great Comet 1680 Comet Ison

Comet Ison has encouraged hopes that it will be as spectacular as the Great Comet of 1680. We will find out on 1 December if that takes place. So what did the Great Comet of 1680 look like?

In Edinburgh, the Great Comet of 1680 was recorded by Lord Fountainhall:

‘About the 12, 14 of December, and for sundry dayes therafter, a formidable comet appeared at Edinburgh, and was seen in many other places. It arose in the west from a small star appearing a litle after day light was gone. and moved northward, and sent out a prodigious long taill, greater then any that had been observed for thesse many 100 years. Some doubted if it was a comet, (it was a reall comet) but called it that meteor which goes under the name of Trab[e]s or Columna [Latin terms for comets]; however it was re[a]d, and interpreted by every on according to ther severall jealousies and interests. Generally comets are thought to portend war, desolation, blood, ruine, conversions of states, catastrophes of kingdomes, deaths of great men, sterilities, famines , plagues, &c.; and in respect of the present fears of commotions and disorders [in Scotland], each applyed it as he pleased. Some [Presbyterians] said, you banish, confine, and imprison our preachers, but ther is a preacher sent from Heaven, who is without the reach of malice.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 13-14.)

Leading Presbyterian dissenters who observed the Great Comet in Glasgow and in Rotterdam also thought the comet signified that ‘woful Days that were coming upon Britain and Ireland, especially upon sinful Scotland’.

Great Comet 1680 Rotterdam

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.

For other ‘wonders’ like the Great Frost of 1683 to 1684 or even the first elephant observed in Scotland, see here.

Images The Great Comet of 1680 in Germany and in the Netherlands

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on November 28, 2013.

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