It took awhile to get around to it, but at exactly 11a.m. on September 15, 2003, a commemorative plaque was unveiled in the City of Westminster in central London honoring one of England’s luminaries- the astrologer William Lilly (1602-1681).
According to the Westminster City Council, the plaques draw attention to heritage buildings in the community and to people associated with them who made lasting contributions to society. Recipients are regarded as eminent by most members of their profession or calling, and have made important contributions to British history.
The first person to be celebrated in this way was Winston Churchill in 1991. Lilly was the 53rd recipient of a Westminster plaque but the first and only astrologer says scholar, author and astrologer, Catherine Blackledge, PhD.
Dr. Blackledge wrote The Man Who Saw the Future: A biography of William Lilly. She says this traditional astrologer clearly satisfies the contribution to history requirement set for those honored in this way.
Lilly Charming and Wily
According to Blackledge, Lilly was charming, intelligent and wily. “The key to his extraordinary success and astonishing life was his talent as a predictive astrologer,” she said.
“From humble farming beginnings he arose to become a publishing sensation,” she said. “His best-selling booklets contained the spot-on forecasts that thrust him into national prominence.”
During Lilly’s lifetime traditional royal and religious authorities were under attack and the country was divided in civil war. Lilly found himself involved in many of the critical episodes of this era, Blackledge says.
The English Civil War, waged between 1642 and 1651, unfolded as a series of armed conflicts and political disagreements between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers).
“During the conflict Lilly was consulted by leaders at the highest level. His astrological intelligence for Parliament on the timing of critical battles changed the course of the war,” she said.
For example, the critical battle of Naseby in June 1645 was won due to his stellar insight, she claims.
Blackledge says the lead-up to Naseby has puzzled modern historians who have no knowledge of astrology. Why, she asks, when Parliament’s New Model Army was at full strength and ready to fight at the end of April 1645,did they wait until the end of June to engage King Charles I’s forces?
“The answer,” she says, “is because Lilly exploited his illegal knowledge of the monarch’s birth horoscope and advised the New Model Army to wait until a more astrologically auspicious time to strike (one month later) when planets aligned against the King. The New Model Army’s victory over Charles I and his men marked the beginning of the end for the monarch.”
Predicts King’s Death
In 1644, in his pamphlet England’s Prophetical Merlin, Lilly predicted that King Charles l would die a violent death in January 1649. As predicted, the king was beheaded on January 30, 1649.
In England, Blackledge says Lilly’s influence became so great that his warning about a solar eclipse on March 29, 1652 brought the country to a standstill. On what became known as “Black Monday” no one worked, and the nation cowered behind locked doors.
“But it was Lilly’s success in forecasting that a great plague and fire would strike London in 1665 and 1666 that made him infamous,” she said.
The Great Plague of 1665 was the last major outbreak of bubonic plague (the Black Death) in Britain and hit London hardest, killing about one in six residents. The Great Fire began on September 2, 1666 and reduced five-sixths of the city to smoking rubble while claiming countless lives.
“Looking for someone to blame and execute, Charles II and his Restoration government accused Lilly of starting the horrific blaze. The astrologer barely escaped with his life,” Blackledge said.
“In the minds of the ruling elite, predictive astrology became inextricably linked with civil unrest and political turmoil. In 1685, a threatened government outlawed predictions of a political and controversial nature, and this was later broadened to make all aspects of foretelling the future a felony.
“Working as a predictive astrologer remained a criminal act in the UK until 1989,” she said.
Blackledge’s book, The Man Who Saw the Future: A Biography of William Lilly, was published in 2015 by Watkins Publishing and can be purchased online at Amazon.com.