For some the name Old Mother Shipton means nothing and Britain’s most famous prophetess is a well-kept secret.
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Old Mother Shipton - Mythology and Folklore - The White Goddess

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Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Old Mother Shipton

Old Mother Shipton.

For some the name Old Mother Shipton means nothing and Britain’s most famous prophetess is a well-kept secret. Yet for others she is as well known as Nostrodamus and whose prophecies foretold many of the things we take for granted in the 21st century. She foretold the coming of the car, aeroplanes, mechanised farm machinery, submarines, iron hulled ships and the telephone.

Through the North Yorkshire town of Knaresborough runs the River Nidd. On the banks of the river is the famous cave and petrifying well, known for its mystical powers. The minerals within the water that cascade over the well can turn everyday items to stone, when exposed over a period of time.

It was here that Ursula Southeil (Mother Shipton) is said to have been born, in the cave adjacent to the Dropping Well around 1488. Ursula's mother is said to have been an orphan girl called Agatha, while her parentage has never been proven, at two years old Ursula was given to a foster mother and Agatha was never heard of again. Whilst growing up she was taunted and teased about the way she looked, as she was probably hunched with a twisted spine. Rumours and gossip spread about how the child was able to reap revenge on those who taunted her.

At the age of 24 she married a Toby Shipton, in 1512. It was said that she must have used a love potion to acquire a husband because of the way she looked. They did not have any children together but appeared to have a happy married life. Not long after her marriage, a neighbour asked for help concerning some clothing that had been stolen; in those days clothes were very expensive. Mother Shipton assured her neighbour that she knew whom it was and would make her confess. The next market day, as arranged, the neighbour waited at a chosen spot; when a woman came up to her dancing and singing and confessing to be a thief, with a curtsey she handed the clothing back and left.

Whether Mother Shipton had used mystical powers or simply knew the woman and her reputation, as a witch had been enough to frighten her into a confession, we will probably never know. But the incident added further fuel to rumours of her magical powers.

The Prophecies of Mother Shipton

The earliest publication of her prophecies was printed in York in 1641 and in 1684 Richard Head published The Life and Death of Mother Shipton. In 1862 a garbled version was published and included some additional prophecies, however the author Charles Hindley owned up to the concoction of these later additions in 1873.

Mother Shipton foretold many prophecies; many of her visions came true within her own lifetime. One of her prophecies was the victory of Henry VIII, in 1513, at the Battle of Spurs that runs:

”When the English Lion shall set his paw on the Gallic shore, then shall the Lilies begin to droop in fear, there shall be much weeping and wailing amongst the ladies of that country, because the Princely Eagle shall join with the Lion to tread down all that oppose them. And though many Sagitaries shall appear in defence of the Lilies, yet shall they not prevail, because the dull Animal of the North, shall put them to confusion.”

(Henry was the Lion, the Lilies the emblem of France; the word Sagitaries means French Cavalry. The dull animal of the North refers to the English soldiers who were made to fight.)

She also foretold the dissolution of the monasteries to the Abbot of Beverley. Most famous of her prophecies was the prediction of her own death in 1561 aged 73. Such was the renown of Mother Shipton throughout the land that she even has a moth named after her.

Mother Shipton (Callistege mi) is a day-flying moth. Named because of a resemblance to a portrait of Old Mother Shipton on each of the forewings and is found in meadows, downland, open woodlands and hedgebanks. Its larvae feed on clover and the pupa is a cocoon spun within a twisted grass blade. When disturbed it flies fast and low close to the ground and once settled is difficult to see. It is not attracted to flowers, as the adult does not feed. 

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