Death comes to the Archbishop: An analysis of Lilly’s Canterbury chart

“What manner of Death CANTERBURY should dye?” (CA 419-420)

Lilly’s chart is dated December 3, 1644 (December 13, 1644 new calendar). The “Canterbury” of Lilly’s question (CA 419-20) was William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645. For over three and a half years, Laud been imprisoned on suspicion of high treason by order of Parliament, a critical episode in the Civil War that pitted Parliamentarians against loyal subjects of King Charles I.

Laud was the most important Archbishop to serve under Charles. He was also the one most identified with the King’s traditional, anti-populist policies, which tolerated only a moderate Calvinism and positively embraced the divine right of kings, the rule of bishops, and uniform worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. For Lilly’s purposes, this role in the country’s religion means that, notwithstanding his sway in matters of state, Laud is still essentially a “man of the Church.” His identity and destiny must be sought from the 9th house, here in Capricorn, ruled by Saturn fittingly in a state of grave affliction. Due to his “eminency… in our Commonwealth,” mundane signification can be invoked as well. Thus Laud is also represented by Jupiter, natural ruler of prelates, whose conjunction with fixed stars of Mars and Moon nature signifies “vulgar Clamours” – i.e., public outcry against his agenda.

Lilly was thoroughly a Parliament man, and his choice of words throughout the judgement confirms his loyalties. He prefers the language of the commons to that of realm or kingdom. He implies that the consent of the common folk matters in government. He is no respecter of persons; despite Laud’s “eminency,” he appears in the first sentence of Lilly’s judgement only as “the old man” symbolized by Saturn. Finally, Lilly insists, since Laud would die by the sentence of Parliament, he could not be accounted a martyr. For Lilly, the “greatest Court of England” held a stronger claim to spiritual legitimacy than the Church of England itself, which the Archbishop represented and ruled.

King Charles I had chosen Laud for this high office in part for his exceptional learning, which was undisputed, as well as for a uncompromising high churchmanship that aligned with the king’s absolutism. Lilly damns him with faint praise on this account: “He was a liberall Maecenas (i.e., patron) to Oxford, and produced as good Manuscripts as any were in Europe to that University, whereby the Learned must acknowledge his bounty.”

So, for Lilly, a social progressive, Laud was to be commended for supporting the universities, and for little else. The rest of his legacy Lilly assigns to the man’s “imperfections” which should be “buried in silence” – Mortuus est, et de mortuus nil nisi bonum, by which, of course, he means that there was plenty bad to be said.

At the time of Laud’s appointment, the king was already embroiled in a bitter, losing power struggle with the Parliament of England and revolutionary Puritanism, which looked to Geneva as inspiration for church and state. He correctly realized that their strong Calvinism, with its doctrine of government by the spiritually elect, posed a threat to royal prerogative. He also understood the utility – even for a Protestant kingdom – of a hierarchically ordered church with uniform, royally sanctioned forms of worship. A meticulous executive, Laud appeared the ideal man to reign in unruly ecclesiastics and restore ceremonial order to the Church of England.

Things did not work out as planned. Laud lacked the ability to see himself as others did and failed grandly as a result. Whereas he professed a love for “the beauty of holiness” – and, to be fair, he did restore many churches that had fallen into disrepair – detractors saw a pompous regard for externals that veered too close to Roman Catholicism. More damaging yet, Laud severely prosecuted the King’s conformist programme however he could, in the name of a thorough devotion to the ancient order of the realm. His enemies had good reason to regard Laud as an uncompromising enforcer more than ready to punish dissidents with torture, imprisonment and death. “A violent spirit, turbulent and envious, a man involved in troubles,” says Lilly.

The heavy-handed approach eventually landed Laud in hot water. At a time when religious and political institutions were much intertwined, his shortcomings attracted Laud powerful enemies from reformers on all sides. Puritans – who, it must be admitted, were easily provoked –  took great offense at his entire religious programme and saw him as an embodiment of clerical vice: grasping, ambitious, ostentatious, a whited sepulcher. For Parliament men, like Lilly, he was a tyrant bent on crushing parliamentary sovereignty and a man congenitally incapable of using the soft touch.

Laud’s demand for religious conformity even from subjects abroad led to disastrous riots in Scotland, resulting in a push-back against all interference in Scottish affairs. Apart from altars and naves, Laud tended to leave things worse off than he found them. It was only a matter of time – March 1, 1641 to be exact – before he would find himself in the Tower of London, where he would remain for the nearly four years until his execution on January 10, 1645.

By the time Lilly asked his question, the House of Commons had already sentenced Laud to death. Even though the House of Lords had not yet assented to the decree, the die had been cast. Lilly’s chart is radical, so it is not surprising that the fact of of Laud’s imminent demise should be shown: the Moon translates light, by opposition, from Laud’s significator Saturn to the Sun on the 8th house cusp. Yet, for Lilly, it was not really a question of if Laud would die but how. Would the method of execution be noble or not? When would it take place?

Surprisingly, his analysis does not end with the Moon’s opposition to the Sun, even though it is this aspect that promises death; except in exceptional cases, Lilly is generally interested only in the Moon’s next application. Here, though, the chart has yet more to say. The Sun, in a fire sign, applies to an opposition of Saturn’s dispositor Mars, in Gemini, an airy and humane sign. From this, he ascertains that the aged bishop would die more nobly. He would not be hanged but beheaded, in six or seven weeks, for the Moon proceeds to a conjunction with Mars, wanting seven degrees for perfection.

How does Lilly know that there is so much more to the story? Answering this is made a bit more difficult in that Lilly bottom-lines the planetary dynamics and leaves it to the reader to work out the details. But if Lilly’s line of reasoning seems elusive, it is only because we have failed to think it through in light of historical realities.

In fact, the chart in Lilly’s hands beautifully mirrors the actual course of events. The Moon’s separation from her sextile of Saturn signifies the death sentence issued by the House of Commons. For the Moon, natural signifier of the common people, rules the Archbishop’s derived 8th house: the Commons becomes his demise. The Moon will next translate Saturn’s light to the Sun on the 8th house cusp, the Sun being a natural significator of noble persons. In this, Lilly must surely have seen an image of the House of Lords, who would next pass sentence against Laud. The Sun will then oppose Mars in Gemini, through which the judgement is conveyed to the executioner, whom Laud will finally meet when the Moon herself – now acting as the bishop’s co-significator – comes to the conjunction of Mars.

It is a most exact – and, for a traditional astrologer, quite thrilling – symbolism. We see the old bishop plain as day. All the other elements of the drama are there – Commons, Lords, executioner, the timing – located exactly where they should be and then clothed in an impeccable planetary symbolism. The fact that Lilly chooses to leave specific pivotal details unsaid throughout this judgement – to let the student bring the whole story to light – makes this horary all the more delightful. For the student is now being led as an initiate, so to speak, into Lilly’s mind. If we do not merely skim, but dive in, we now the privilege of thinking with the master, no longer merely after him.

It is one of those horaries that can inspire utter conviction. Lilly says as much, and a bit more:

“It may appear to all indifferent minded men, the verity & worth of Astrologie by this Question, for there is not any amongst the wisest of men in this world could better have represented the person and condition of this old man, his present state and condition, and the manner of his death, than this present Figure of heaven doth.” (CA 419)

This is not the longest of Lilly’s horaries and not even the most boldly prophetic. That would have to be “If Presbytery shall stand” (CA 439). Nevertheless, Lilly offers only this horary as a sort of apologia for his Christian Astrology. Why is this? 

At the end of this horary, Lilly makes a point of insisting that he could not, “as one Asse did”, account Laud a martyr: “for by the Sentence of the greatest Court of England, viz. the Parliament, he was brought to his end.” (CA 420) Lilly is effectively claiming that the old doctrine of the two kingdoms – the sacred and the secular – with their two laws – canon law and civil law – no longer held sway in England. The senior prelate of England’s ancient church had been worthily judged by representatives of a new Christian order.

This is indeed a revolutionary position to take. But it isn’t half so bold as what Lilly implies by the very fact of making this horary public. For it must be remembered that even before Parliament “the greatest Court of England” had made Laud guily, his hard fate had already been decreed by the stars and judged aforehand by Lilly himself. Lilly’s Christian astrology had already done prospectively what Parliament would finally do in fact. And the undeniable verity of the horary figure proved, as if by the hand of God himself, that Parliament had judged aright.

It was therefore, I think, Lilly’s hope that in this new Christian age a new priesthood might emerge, and along with it a new school for prophets as had not been seen in the land of Israel since the days of Elisha – one trained up and equipped by the Christian Astrology of Master William Lilly himself.

Here is the full text of Lilly’s judgement:

It may appear to all indifferent minded men, the verity & worth of Astrologie by this Question, for there is not any amongst the wisest of men in this world could better have represented the person and condition of this old man his present state and condition, and the manner of his death, then this present Figure of heaven doth.

Being a man of the Church, his ascendant is Capricorn, the cusp of the 9th house; Saturn is Lord of the Signe, now in Aries his fall; a long time Retrograde, and now posited in the 12th of the Figure, or 4th from his ascendant; so that the heavens represent him in condition of mind, of a violent spirit, turbulent and envious, a man involved in troubles, imprisioned, &c. Jupiter a generall Significator of Church-men, doth somewhat also represent his condition, being if that eminency he was of in our Commonwealth: Jupiter, as you see, is Retrograde, and with many fixed Starres of the nature of Mars and Moon; an argument he was deep laden with misfortunes, and vulgar Clamours at this present.

The Moon is Lady of the 4th in the Figure, but of the 8th as to his ascendant; she separates from Saturn, and applies to the Opposition of the Sun neer the cusp of the 8th house; Sun in a fiery Signe, applying to an Opposition of Mars, the Dispositor of the aged Bishop; Mars being in an Ayery Signe and humane, from hence I judged that he should not be hanged, but suffer a more noble kind of death, and that within the space of 6 or 7 weeks, or thereabouts; because the Moon wanted 7 degrees of the body of Mars. He was beheaded about the 10th of January following.

I write not these things as that I rejoyced at his death; no, I doe not; for I ever honoured the man, and naturally loved him, though I never had speech or acquaintance with him: nor doe I write these lines without teares, considering the great incertainty of humane affaires: He was a liberall Moecenas to Oxford, and produced as good Manuscripts as any were in Europe to that University, whereby the Learned must acknowledge his bounty: let his imperfections be buried in silence, Mortuus est, & de mortuus nil nisi bonum. Yet I account him not a Martyr, as one Asse did; For by the Sentence of the greatest Court of England, viz. the Parliament, he was brought to his end.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Calderone August 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Also of note is the fact that Jupiter, which is one of his significators and lord of the radical 8th and 12th, is on the star Algol, which is associated with beheading.

Dr. Christopher Magnus August 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Yes, Lilly does specifically mention that Jupiter is with fixed stars of Mars/Moon nature (CA 419).

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