“Monster of Ingratitude” – The Relationship between William Lilly and John Gadbury

Sue Ward and I have just completed a paper entitled “Monster of Ingratitude” which will be published in the forthcoming edition of “The Tradition” journal (due to be released in September).

Scholarship into the history of astrology has improved over the last ten or fifteen years and has brought us a huge amount of information regarding astrology’s development from many perspectives. However, biographical information about those who practiced astrology in centuries past is not of such a high standard. There are several reasons for this, not least an apparent lack of autobiographical material. It was from this point of view that Sue and I examined the relationship between William Lilly and John Gadbury.

This rather large piece of research has taken several months to complete, but still leaves many questions unanswered. However, what we did discover was that those few biographies of William Lilly are markedly flawed. Most researchers rely upon Derek Parker’s “Familiar to All” which, whilst it presents one of the earliest biographical texts about Lilly and which hasn’t been bettered, presents very few sources as grounds for the author’s opinions. Nonetheless, it is those opinions that we find most frequently in subsequent biographies of the astrologers of 17th century England, particularly those of Lilly and Gadbury. Indeed, much of the personal detail regarding Lilly’s life found in Parker, can be found nowhere else. It may be that Parker had access to material unknown to us, but there are no references with which to follow this up. (It may be that a full and detailed review of “Familiar to All” is required in order to test the assertions made there against known sources.)

We have attempted to address these, largely unsubstantiated, opinions and present source material which leads to alternative, and often very different, conclusions. As an example, the main theme of our paper is the infamous contention between Lilly and Gadbury and our research shows that it has been misconstrued by historians throughout. This study has brought to light a number of other doubtful areas relating to Lilly’s contemporaries, too, but our remit precluded going very far with that; we had already far exceeded our original intentions.

The paper contains:

  • brief biographies of the two men;
  • the beginning of their acqaintance and how it came about;
  • how the enmity began, developed and ended;
  • the rather one-sided pamphlet war;
  • others involved in the contention;
  • a study of the published material;
  • all sources of information;
  • alternative conclusions based on the above.

We hope to draw the attention of astrologers to an area which requires far closer attention than it has attracted hitherto, and perhaps encourage others to proceed in this research. Furthermore, we hope to demonstrate that Gadbury’s work is far from reliable and could easily be replaced by that of a better qualified author of the period, such as John Partridge. That is, if astrologers want to investigate the art as it stood post-Lilly and as it collided with the new science.

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