Author: Honor Rush
Sub-editor: Pamela Piechowicz
Editor: Julia Richards
As far back as the Babylonians, humans have looked to the stars to predict future outcomes. Yet, the conversation on whether the stars can determine an individual’s identity and purpose has remained contentious. For most, inferences between the planets and stars in zodiacal quadrants are a jumble of cosmic nonsense. However, astrology becomes more intelligible when the celestial configurations within a horoscope are defined. Astrology is described as a language of pattern synthesis that reflects worldly events but does not cause them. In this article, I wish to unpack the language of astrology to provide another perspective from which to explore the historical figure, Queen Elizabeth I. I will first trace the origins of astrology from its Babylonian conception to the Elizabethan period. Then, I will explain the fundamental concepts when reading a horoscope chart to compare Queen Elizabeth I’s natal chart to the horoscope chart on the day of her coronation. I intend to describe how she became one of the most formidable English monarchs based on the celestial alignments at the time of her birth and the fifteenth of January 1559. Although astrology is not a scientific discipline nor an art form, it can perhaps be a valid phenomenon in of itself. Its central premise is to analyse correlations to arrive at justifiable conclusions that explain why events unfolded the way they had. Thus, using astrology to examine historical figures can support the validity of historical facts.
During the third millennium B.C, ancient Mesopotamian astrologers looked to the stars to predict the occurrence of mundane events such as the weather and river tides. They had inferred signs from celestial bodies as a way for their deities to communicate with them. Omens were thus an integral part of ancient Mesopotamian understandings of the celestial realm, and they deduced these messages as direct warnings from their deities. In essence, the Babylonians perceived constellations as both the Gods’ domicile and a conduit to communicate with them. The Greeks would later modify this conception into their branch of astrology during the Hellenistic period (323–31 B.C.), unsurprisingly known as Hellenistic astrology. The Greeks’ form of astrology was antithetical to the Babylonian’s because they had instead believed that the interactions between zodiacal constellations and celestial bodies produced tangible outcomes on Earth. Aristotle’s work was also influential on Hellenistic astrology. He combined his theory of celestial influence with mathematical representations of the heavens to gain insight into the past, present, and future. These diagrams were called horoscopes. Once astrology had disseminated well throughout the Mediterranean, the Greeks would rename the twelve Babylonian zodiacs after their Gods but with Latin terms. These zodiac names are what most are familiar with when referring to astrology. They are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. However, the Greeks were not the only people redefining astrology according to their beliefs. Almost every ancient culture practised astrology, including the Egyptians, Chinese, Hindus, Muslims, Persians, and the Mayans. Thus, astrology has evolved into various forms that continue to be practised to this day.
Although astrology differs in complexity across cultures, unpacking its fundamental components makes its central premise more comprehensible. In modern western astrology, the twelve zodiac signs are superimposed onto the celestial sphere surrounding the Earth, also known as the ecliptic. Each zodiac sign contributes 30 degrees to the ecliptic circle known as a ‘house’, and each house follows each other in a counter clockwise order — as conventionally viewed from the north pole. Within the ecliptic are the seven traditional planets. They are the Sun and Moon, the two luminaries: Mercury, Venus, and Mars, the three faster-moving planets and Jupiter and Saturn, the two slower-moving planets. These seven traditional planets orbiting within the ecliptic invoke their deific archetype according to which house they are within at a specific moment. For example, if Venus is in Taurus, this can indicate an individual indulges in luxurious objects and sensual surroundings. If situated in the fourth house, the area that encompasses the home and family, this individual could have had a wealthy upbringing or a nurturing family life. Thus, reading a historical figure’s natal chart can provide deeper insight into their character, motivations, and desires based on the archetypal qualities symbolic of each planet within the elliptic. For Queen Elizabeth I, her cosmic storyline was markedly intricate.
During the Elizabethan period, when scientists and mathematicians were exploring the natural and secular world, they held astrology in high esteem. They questioned traditional evangelical beliefs and were less concerned about whether this conflicted with Christianity because they instead believed that probing the mysteries of the universe magnified the glory of God. Queen Elizabeth I was a believer in astrology and had summoned the astronomer and mathematician, John Dee to calculate the most auspicious day for her coronation. Dee drew up the Queen’s horoscope chart and deduced that it should be on January the fifteenth, 1559 at midday. Given the circumstances in which Elizabeth ascended the throne: when England was at war with France and the country was divided by the Catholic and Protestant faith, she took all the necessary precautions to ensure her safety and fidelity to the throne. Elizabeth had known Dee from her captivity at Woodstock when he had allayed her fears of execution with his sage astrological prophecies. Recalling his service during her darkest hours, Elizabeth called upon Dee to predict the best day for her coronation. From that day forth, Dee would continue to console Elizabeth on his predictions throughout her reign.
Fig. 1. Henry Gillard Glindoni, John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I, 1852-1913, Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.
A comparison between Elizabeth’s coronation and natal chart can explain why John Dee believed the fifteenth was the most favourable time. As previously stated, an astrology chart is a snapshot of the planets surrounding Earth at one specific moment. So when Dee was calculating the astrological pathway in the sky, he determined that Regulus and Fortuna, the stars that symbolise fame and glory, would be in a harmonious aspect with Elizabeth’s natal moon in her third house of Taurus. The third house concerns communication, while Taurus archetypally embodies grace and logic by virtue of being ruled by Venus. These placements imply that Elizabeth was a good communicator in both speeches, and writing, utilising emotive language to captivate and inspire her audiences. Elizabeth’s skills with language is evident by her Tilbury Speech that she delivered to her troops in 1588 before their victory against the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth had nobly claimed she would ” live and die amongst [her people]; to lay down for [her] God, and for [her] kingdom…[despite having] the body of a weak and feeble woman, [she has] the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too.” The Queen was undeterred from ruling the country independently, and her people lauded her for her courage and diplomacy. Her coronation chart reflects her popularity, evident by the sun in Aquarius, overlapping the midheaven point, the highest point in a horoscope chart, representing a person’s public life and career. These placements meant that Elizabeth would be a revolutionary leader, resilient to any misfortunes on her coronation day and forthcoming. It isn’t surprising then that Elizabeth’s most prominent modality is cardinal, indicating that she was impulsive, driven, assertive, and individualistic. Indeed, Elizabeth was known to have prioritised her country and responsibilities over personal matters, especially marriage. Not only did her dedication to the monarchy lead England to victory over the Spanish, but she also reconciled the warring Catholic and Protestant faiths. Furthermore, Elizabeth remains documented as the ‘Virgin Queen’, which was highly controversial for the Tudor line because it would cease after her death if she produced no heir. Elizabeth defended her choice to remain unmarried by most famously proclaiming to have “already [been] bound unto a husband… the Kingdom of England”. This noble declaration conveys why Queen Elizabeth I is considered one of the most successful and capricious monarchs in English history, having remained an unmarried ruler until she died in 1603.
Further analysis of Queen Elizabeth I’s natal chart can elucidate the historical events that unfolded throughout her life. For instance, examining her natal 7th house — the house which represents relationships and partnerships, and its aspects to other planets in her natal chart, can further illuminate why she chose to remain a sole monarch. Following this, a comparison to the known historical facts about her life can verify these planetary correlations. Ultimately, interpreting the natal charts of other historical figures can offer a different perspective on their character and their correlations to historical events. Although astrology is not considered a science, its credence should be re-evaluated for its ability to reflect history and validate historical claims, like it did for Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I’s Coronation Chart Queen Elizabeth I’s Natal Chart
Capp, Bernard Stuart. Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs 1500 – 1800. London: Faber and Faber. 1979.
Carey, Hilary M. “Henry VII’s Book of Astrology and the Tudor Renaissance.” Renaissance Quarterly 65, No. 3 (2012): 661-710. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668299.
Glindoni, Gillard Henry. John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I. Oil on canvas. 152 x 244.4 cm. Wellcome Collection. https://artuk.org.
Hodges, Horace Jeffrey. “Gnostic Liberation from Astrological Determinism: Hipparchan “Trepidation” and the Breaking of Fate.” Brill 51, No.4 (1997): 359-373. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1583867.
Nicholas, C. “Astrology: The Celestial Mirror.” In Astrology and Cosmology in the Worlds of Religion. New York City: NYU Press, 11-23. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg5q5.
Rochberg-Halton, Francesca. “Elements of the Babylonian Contribution to Hellenistic.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 108, No. 1 (1988): 51-62. https://www.jstor.org/stable/603245.
The Editors of the British Library. “Elizabeth I’s ‘Tilbury speech.” British Library. Accessed July 11, 2022. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/elizabeth-i-tilbury-speech.
Trattner, Walter. “God and Expansion in Elizabethan England: John Dee, 1527- 1583.” Journal of the History of Ideas 25, no. 1 (1964): Pg 17-34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2708083.