Date of Award

1-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Mack, Pamela

Committee Member

Grubb , Alan

Committee Member

Taylor-Shockley , Megan

Committee Member

Dunn , Carolina

Abstract

The traditional historiography of science from the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries has broadly claimed that the Copernican revolution in astronomy irrevocably damaged the practice of judicial astrology. However, evidence to the contrary suggests that judicial astrology not only continued but actually expanded during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. During this time period, judicial astrologers accomplished this by appropriating contemporary science and mathematics. Copernicus's De revolutionibus, in particular, provided better mathematics for determining the positions of the planets than the prevailing Ptolemaic system and reformist astrologers interested in making astrology a precise, mathematical science embraced this new astronomy.
This study evaluates the impact that Copernicus's heliocentric theory of the cosmos had on the practice of judicial astrology, particularly within the English court patronage system between the publication of Copernicus's De revolutionibus in 1543 and the Restoration of the monarchy and founding of the Royal Society in 1660. In England, while noble patrons defined the value of science in terms of its practical utility, many English judicial astrologers successfully argued for scientific legitimacy based on their ability to precisely predict planetary locations. Contrary to their European counterparts on the Continent, English patrons typically required tangible, practical results to justify their support of client-scientists. The heliocentric theory received a largely positive reaction in England, and many astrologers readily employed its mathematics to make more precise predictions of planetary locations, which would presumably lead to better prognostications of human events. As long as scientists and patrons defined science in these exclusively mathematical terms, astrology could comfortably exist within these scientific boundaries.

However, throughout the mid-sixteenth century, multiple processes occurred that changed astrology from a science into a popular belief in England. Patrons began to lose interest in astrology and thus financed fewer astrologers, and with the instability of the Civil War, fewer patrons were in positions of power to provide this sort of support. Furthermore, as astrology enjoyed increased popularity among the lower and merchant classes of England through almanac and pamphlet publications, scientists saw it in their best professional interest to consciously distance themselves from astrology and redefine and re-categorize it beyond the reasonable margins of proper scientific practice. In short, while astrology declined as a scientific activity during the latter half of the seventeenth century, it found success as a popular activity beyond the confines of conventional science.

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