Medieval Meterology in Context


Project Team:

Principal Investigator:

Dr Anne Lawrence-Mathers, University of Reading

Award Information:

The research for this Fellowship will form the major part of the first systematic study of medieval meteorology and its place in English medieval culture. Medieval meteorology has received very little previous attention, partly because many of the key texts, such as the relevant Anglo-Saxon ‘prognostics’, have been considered as part of the history of magic. For instance, the first systematic attempt at collection of these texts was in Cockayne’s ‘Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England’ (Rolls Series, 3 vols, 1864-6). Their identification as a group or genre of texts, and their presentation as very much the product of ‘monastic superstition’ have both persisted until relatively recently; and even the studies of Chardonnens (2007) and Liuzza (2011), which take the texts far more seriously, give relatively little consideration to the meteorological aspects. The latter remain overshadowed by the more prominent fields of medicine and divination; and a further problem is that there has been a tendency to assume that weather-prediction would fall foul of the Church’s ban on auguries and divinations.

As a new approach to this problem, this Fellowship will explore the evidence that forecasting the weather in medieval England was not an activity undertaken by either superstitious monks or illicit practitioners of divination. Instead, it rested upon natural-philosophical concepts (both inherited from antiquity and recently translated from Arabic) and theological analyses of the structure of the created universe. Research will cover the period from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, when exploration of the rules governing the operations of the universe benefited from expanding expertise in fields such as mathematics and astronomy. Cosmology, meteorology and astrology were intricately related, as the links between the motions of the planets, aerial transmission of planetary influences, and the patterns of times, tides and seasons were investigated. The focus of this Fellowship will be on the much less recognised field of weather-forecasting, and will investigate how the concepts and techniques involved related to broader contemporary ideas on climate, air, atmosphere and the influence of the planets.

Further Information:

Project dates: October 2013- September 2014