C. John Sommerville argues in The Secularization of Early Modern England that early modern Protestantism inadvertently allowed for a greater secularization of English culture by making religion more a matter of internal belief than of actions located in space and time. As a result, places and physical acts that had once been invested with holy meaning no longer held the same spiritual significance. Sommerville thus defines early modern secularization not primarily as a decline in or absence of religion, but rather as a "change in religion's placement." (1) He opens his book with a chapter entitled "The Secularization of Space" and follows it with one entitled "The Secularization of Time and Play," and these chapters foreground the idea that the religious changes occurring in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England were tied to new understandings of two fundamental axes of human experience. He argues that Protestantism, broadly conceived, produced a different understanding of space, one in which specific locations--church altars, shrines, monasteries, and so on--were no longer seen as qualitatively holy in their own right. The experience of time also changed as the ecclesiastical calendar was revised and as saints' days lost much of their earlier significance. We might usefully think of the medieval--as well as the early modern Catholic--sense of time and space as intrinsically more sacred than others. Undoubtedly post-Reformation religious culture retained much of this sacred understanding--the Book of Common Prayer, for example, did not abolish all holy days, and Protestant bishops continued to consecrate their churches as holy places--but by the end of the seventeenth century, English Protestant culture as a whole was characterized by a smoother and more homogenized understanding of space and time than that predominating two centuries before. (2)
At the risk of grossly oversimplifying two centuries of complex cultural, social, and religious change, I rehearse these broad shifts as the necessary background to my primary subject: the rise of the astrological almanac and the consequent expansion of an astrologically informed awareness of the significance of time and space. Perhaps because astrology is regarded today as intellectually bankrupt, it has been marginalized in discussions of the early modern period. (3) However, by failing to take early modern astrology seriously, we create an imbalanced view of the past. Although challenged by the rise of both empirical science and Calvinist theology, astrology had remarkable currency and credibility in the early modern period. (4) Belief in some degree of celestial influence was nearly ubiquitous in early modern England, and only a minority regarded astrology as a disreputable form of the occult, embraced only by the less-educated or the credulous. Nor was it seen as irreconcilable with Christianity. Furthermore, the development of the almanac--fueled by advances in print technology and by a consequent increase in both literacy and reader demand--allowed astrology to be widely disseminated in a printed form beginning around the middle of the sixteenth century. (5) Astrological almanacs enjoyed a remarkable rise in sales over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and were arguably the most popular books of the early modern period: for example, well over one million copies were printed in England just between 1664 and 1666. (6) This level of demand made printing and selling almanacs highly lucrative, and so almanac compilers constantly modified their texts to adjust to changing market needs: adding one feature, dropping another, expanding a section, and so on. (7) The almanacs' flexibility and their near ubiquity in English society make them useful textual barometers for early modern assumptions and reading practices.
Although almanacs as a genre are far too diverse to be summed up in a single article, one broad textual trend is discernible in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century almanacs and serves as my central focus here: the tendency of these texts to provide complicated and precise descriptions of both place and time. Early modern almanacs were often printed for a specific city in England, and the astrological data in the almanac was accordingly calculated for that exact latitude and longitude. This spatial pinpointing, along with the presence of other kinds of local geographical information, suggests the almanac makers' keen awareness of the significance of place. Similarly, over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the calendars found in the majority of almanacs became more crowded with data, and most almanacs also provided other kinds of temporal descriptions as well: such as listings of the year's law terms, dates of the moveable feasts, chronologies of past historical events, and dates of monarchical reigns. (8) As a conceptual system, astrology was based on the assumption that time and place mattered in a larger celestial sense, and so the spread of the astrological almanac beginning roughly around the middle of the sixteenth century runs counter to the general drift of early modern Protestant thinking: where Protestantism tended to foreground the idea that earthly time and place were irrelevant to the divine Heaven--God was equally available at all places and all times--astrology was premised on the idea that specific places and units of time matter very much vis-a-vis the physical heavens. The very popularity of astrological almanacs, purchased by every segment of the English population and crammed with temporal and geographical descriptions, suggests that ordinary men and women wanted time and place to mean something, and almanacs thus may have kept the older view of space and time alive well after its diminishment in mainstream religious culture.
2. EARLY MODERN ASTROLOGY
Understanding the broad changes I am tracing requires some familiarity with the role that astrology played in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century culture and belief. Writing in 1654, John Webster (1611-82)--a schoolmaster and noted polemicist, not the playwright--discussed what he called the contemporary "resuscitation" of astrology, yet this resuscitation occurred despite early modern attacks on astrology's coherence as an intellectual system. (9) Developments in empirical science--and especially the growing commitment to a heliocentric view of the cosmos--weakened astrology, which rested on the premise that the earth lay at the center of all astral and planetary influences. (10) Similarly, the rise of Calvinism, with its insistence on God's total providential control, undermined the idea that the stars and planets exercised sway on earth, and it prompted a fresh surge in anti-astrological writings. (11) Following the example of figures like Calvin (1509-64) and Theodore Beza (1519-1605), sixteenth-century English writers such as Miles Coverdale (ca. 1488-1568), John Hooper (ca. 1495-1555), Roger Hutchinson (d. 1555), and William Perkins (1558-1602) all argued that astrology was antithetical to Protestant doctrine. This sixteenth-century attack on astrology was continued in the seventeenth century by nonconformist writers, who, as Keith Thomas notes, were especially "sensitive to any apparent threat to the notion of God's omnipotence, and intolerant of any attempt to penetrate his mysteries." (12) But while in theory the fissure between astrology and English Protestantism was a wide one, in practice this crack was often ignored or even argued away. John Booker (1602-67), for example, was a Puritan preacher, a professional astrologer, and the annual compiler of one of the most popular almanacs of the later seventeenth century. Samuel Jeake (1652-99) was also a Puritan preacher in Rye during the seventeenth century and a dedicated amateur astrologer who kept an extensive astrological diary. (13) The leading generals of the New Model Army consulted astrological predictions for the most propitious times for their attacks, and there is ample evidence for a widespread Puritan interest in astrology during the Civil War. (14) It was clear from the star that led the Magi that God could use the stars to signal historic events on earth, and those nonconformists expecting the Apocalypse were especially apt to study the heavens.
For the majority of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century men and women, astrology was not incompatible with revealed religion. (15) Booker expressed conventional wisdom when he wrote that "The stars are letters and the Heaven's God's book / which day and night we may at pleasure look, / and thereby learn uprightly how to live." (16) In 1667, Jonathan Dove made a similarly traditional argument for astrology when he called it a form of "Natural Theologie," asserting that there are "none of the humane sciences that draw us so near to God." (17) Astrology explained one of the ways in which God's divine will was enacted on earth, and for an early modern world in which the moon demonstrably influenced the tides and somatic rhythms like menstruation and the phases of lunacy, it was still largely commonsensical that the celestial bodies--placed by God in the skies--also exercised sway over some aspects of human experience. Early modern astrologers and almanac makers argued that their work explored the cosmic harmonies God had established between different levels of his creation. So when early modern readers purchased almanacs, read prognostications, and even consulted professional astrologers, they were arguably not turning to some form of the occult so much as seeking to understand God's providence.
We see this close conjunction of astrology and seventeenth-century Protestantism in John Milton's (1608-74) Paradise Regain'd (1671). In Book 4, Satan looks to the stars to see Jesus' future, and he accurately predicts to Jesus, "Sorrow, and labours, opposition, hate, / attends thee, scorns, reproaches, injuries, / violence and stripes, and lastly cruel death." He sees that Jesus will have a kingdom, but he cannot read its date in the stars nor know if this realm is "Real or Allegoric." (18) Satan's astrological knowledge here does not indicate that astrology is damnable. Instead, Milton's point is that astrology simply has limitations. The stars predict the matters that God has set under their influence, but the eternal, spiritual significance of Christ's kingdom lies outside their sovereignty. This scene in Paradise Regain'd accords with Milton's general interest in astrology. He had his own horoscope taken, and in On Christian Doctrine (1658-60?) he writes that the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem proves that "there is some astrology which is neither useless nor unlawful." (19) Milton's cautious double negative here is illustrative. On the one hand, the stars were created by God and so presumably could be read in the same way that believers might read the book of nature to understand their creator. On the other hand, astrology--if pursued with unguarded zeal--could interfere with a proper understanding of God's total control over all earthly events.
One of the most salient developments in astrological almanacs over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was their tendency to be calculated, or cast, for a precise geographical location. For example, the writer Walter Gray specifies on the title page of his 1589 almanac that it is referred to "the altitude and meridian of Dorchester, seruing most aptly for the west partes, and generally for all England." (20) Similarly, Arthur Hopton's (1580-1614) An Almanack and Prognostication for 1606 proclaims its usefulness "for the latitude and meridian of the famous towne of Shrewsbury, serving most aptly neighbouring townes lying neare or under the same Meridian, and not much altering the eleuation as Chester, Ludlow or Heriford etc. with all towns Eastwards, as Worcester, Stafford, etc. or Westways to the Seaside, and generally for the South parts of Great Brittaine." (21) Numerous other almanac makers similarly cast their almanacs for specific places: to give just a few examples, Jeffrey Neve made almanacs for Yarmouth, Gabriel Frende for Canterbury, and Lewes Vaughan for Gloucester.
In the words of Hopton's title page, these almanacs "serv[e] most aptly"--or are most precise--right at the geographical radix of …