Shipton, Mother
Legendary British prophetess, supposed to have been born
in the reign of King Henry VII and to have predicted the
deaths of Cardinal Wolsey and Lord Percy, as well as other
events. Her prophecies had a clarity quite unlike the cryptic
verses of Nostradamus. Shipton was also credited with even
more remarkable prescience in the following rhymed couplets
‘‘Carriages without horses shall go,
And accidents fill the world with woe.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye.
The world upside down shall be
And gold be found at the root of a tree.
Through hills man shall ride,
And no horse be at his side.
Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk.
In the air men shall be seen,
In white, in black, in green;
Iron in the water shall float,
As easily as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found and shown
In a land that’s now not known.
Fire and water shall wonders do,
England shall at last admit a foe.
The world to an end shall come,
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.
These alleged prophecies occurred in a chapbook pamphlet
published in 1862 by the bookseller Charles Hindley, who
claimed that they were reprinted from an earlier chapbook by
Richard Head titled The Life and Death of Mother Shipton, first
published in 1684.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Shipton, Mother
1401
The final couplet about the end of the world caused a great
deal of panic in country districts of Britain during 1881, with
people leaving their houses and spending the night in the open
fields or praying in churches and chapels.
Meanwhile Hindley had already confessed that these lines
were a fabrication in 1873, but by then they had passed into
folk tradition, and ordinary country folk did not read learned
antiquarian journals. Even in modern times, these spurious
prophecies of Hindley, which seem to predict automobiles,
steamships, submarines, the telegraph, radio, and aircraft, are
still often quoted as Shipton’s. (For details of Charles Hindley’s
confession of having invented Shipton prophecies, see Notes
and Queries, 4th series, vol. 9.)
Richard Head’s chapbook of 1684 contains an undoubtedly
imaginary account of the birth of Shipton from a union between
her mother Agatha and the Devil in Yorkshire, England.
That account appears to be an embellished version of an earlier
pamphlet of 1641 titled The Prophesie of Mother Shipton, In the
Raigne of King Henry the Eighth. Fortelling the death of Cardinall
Wolsey, the Lord Percy and others, as also what should happen in ensuing
times.
Four years later, the famous astrologer William Lilly published
A Collection of Ancient and Moderne Prophesies that included
what he called ‘‘Shipton’s Prophecy, after the most exact
Copy.’’ This gave 20 prophecies attributed to Shipton, most of
which were said to have been fulfilled.
There is no validation that these prophecies were actually
made or that Shipton was even a real person, but she rapidly
became a folk heroine and even the subject of stage comedies.
In The Life of Mother Shipton A New Comedy (1660), the heroine
and prophetess is named Agatha Shipton, daughter of Solomon
Shipton. In a later work titled Mother Shipton and Nixon’s
Prophecies (1797), she is stated to have been born in July 1488
and to have been baptized Ursula Sonthiel. This account
added ‘‘Her stature was larger than common, her body crooked,
her face frightful; but her understanding extraordinary.’’
Early chapbook portraits of Shipton represent her as an ugly
woman with the characteristic hooked nose, chin, and humped
back associated with Punch in the traditional Punch and Judy
puppet show. Shipton is probably wholly legendary, and many
prophecies attributed to her are spurious inventions.
Sources
Harrison, William H. Mother Shipton Investigated. Reprint,
London The Author, 1881.
Hindley, Charles. Curiosities of Street Literature. 1871. London
The Broadsheet King, 1966.