Clarissa Johal: #FolkloreThursday - Ursula Sontheil (Mother Shipton)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

#FolkloreThursday - Ursula Sontheil (Mother Shipton)

Public domain photo
Mother Shipton was said to have been an English soothsayer and prophetess from the 15th-16th century. The story goes like this:

Ursula Sontheil (1488 - 1561) was born in a cave beside the river Nidd in North Yorkshire, England. Some reports say that her mother gave her up to live in a convent, while others say the woman died in childbirth. Ursula's father was unknown.

The child exhibited prophetic and psychic abilities from an early age. Fostered by woman who lived on the outskirts of town, many stories were told of her odd childhood. In one, Ursula and her crib went missing from the house. When the villagers were called upon to look for her, they were attacked by supernatural forces. Ursula was eventually discovered in her crib half-way up the chimney, unharmed.

At 24 years old, she married a local carpenter and became a village prophetess and healer. To avoid persecution for the crime of witchcraft, she wrote her prophecies in rhyme and verse. Her fame soon spread and she became known as Mother Shipton. In 1559 she wrote an epic poem that would become famous down through the ages.
Many of her visions came true within her own lifetime and in subsequent centuries, including these:

The dissolution of the Catholic Church under Henry VIII
The fall of Cardinal Wolsey
The untimely death of Henry’s son Edward VI
The reign of “Bloody” Mary I
The ascent of Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England
The Great Fire of London in 1666
The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588
The advent of modern technology.
Her own death in 1561.

Many of her prophecies were composed by others after her death. The most famous version was published by Richard Head in 1641. Head later admitted to inventing almost all Shipton's biographical details. Since 1641 there have been more than 50 different published editions of her poems.

Gleaning the real from myth and folklore in this case is difficult. Her original poetry is difficult to find and supposedly kept from being viewed by the public. With the passage of time and lack of historical evidence, there is debate as to whether she existed at all. Village wise-women certainly existed and were called upon for simple cures and herbal remedies. It's not a stretch of the imagination that there may have been one who was famed in her local area for having exceptional powers. Regardless, the real truth about Mother Shipton will probably never be known. 


Debi said...

I adore herstorical stories! Thank you ! Women have always been " so much more" and some without notice!
Good Wednesday !! xoDebi

Clarissa Johal said...

She seemed like a very interesting person. Thanks for stopping by, Debi. :)

books4me said...

Holy're talking about a relative of mine! My grandpa was a Shipton and we grew up hearing about Mother Shipton! When we were in New York I found out they have Mother Shipton's ORIGINAL diary but there was along process of getting it so if we return, I'll be sure to see it!

Clarissa Johal said...

Well, that's interesting! I'd be interested in hearing more about that.