A Great Wonder in Heaven, shewing the late Apparitions and Prodigious Noyses of War and Battels
23rd January 1642

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Below is the complete text of "A Great Wonder in Heaven", as published in January 1642.

Like many writings from earlier times, many of the allusions (and indeed the very formatting) of the piece are probably lost on most of us today.

Many pamphlets documenting supernatural events circulated at this time in the broadsheet ballads tradition - most of which were allegorical or metaphorical and designed to impart a moral lesson on the reader. In such pamphlets, names of real people were often given alongside proclamations that the stories within were true. It is interesting to note that the text makes an approving mention of James I's Daemonologie - which itself was partly born of the fear of revolt against the natural order of kingship. Thus, it possible to read the text as either a true account of actual events, a plea for peace or perhaps as a warning for those who would support the Parliamentarian cause.

On the basis of this text, the Edgehill ghosts are often presented as "..the only apparitions to be officially recognised by the Public Record Office."

For those quick to take the text as a reliable source report of something objectively real, it is worth remembering that across Europe, clashes of phantom armies in the skies were a common trope in reports of visions or portents. For example, the Swedish 'proto-Fortean' Joan Petri Klint reproduced an account of a battle fought in the skies above an unknown town in Germany in 1580. While presented as a factual account, it sits alongside a fantastical array of heavenly visions including rains of fire, dragons, Biblical tableaux (including a vision of Christ on the cross, seen above Prenzlau in Germany on September 1st 1554) and a bewildering collection of astronomical phenomena.

For Klint - as perhaps for many such collectors of wonders who lived in the late Middle Ages - such signs were clear portents of events to come, or reflections of God's judgements on events that had already occurred. Seen in this light, it is worth noting that the closing paragraph of the text of this pamphlet includes the lines: "What this does portend God only knoweth, and time perhaps will discover ; but doubtlessly it is a signe of his wrath against this Land."

We present the text below without further commentary for you to interpret as you will.

A Great Wonder in Heaven, shewing the late Apparitions and 
Prodigious Noyses of War and Battels, seen on Edge-Hill, 
neere Keinton in Northamptonshire. Certified under the 
Hands of WILLIAM WOOD, Esquire, and Justice for the Peace 
in the said Countie, SAMUEL MARSHALL, Preacher of GODS 
Word in Keinton, and other Persons of Qualitie. London ; 
Printed for Thomas Jackson, Jan. 23, Anno Dona. 1642. 

THAT there hath beene, and ever will be, Laruse, Spectra, and such 
like apparitions, namely, Ghosts and Goblins, hath beene the 
opinion of all the famousest Divines of the Primitive Church, and 
is, (though oppugned by some,) the received Doctrine of divers 
learned men at this day ; their opinion being, indeed, ratified and 
confirmed by divers Texts of Scripture, as the Divells possessing 
the Swine, and the men possessed with Divells, in the Acts of the 
Apostles, that came out of them, and beat the Exorcists, by which 
it is evidently confirmed that those legions of erring angels that 
fell with their great Master Lucifer, are not all confined to the 
locall Hell, but live scattered, here and there, dispersed in the 
empty regions of the ayre, as thicke as motes in the Sunne ; and 
those are the things which our too superstitious ancestors called 
Elves, and Goblins, Furies, and the like, such as were those who 
appeared to Macbeth, the after King of Scotland, and foretold him 
of his fortunes both in life and death. It is evident, besides, that 
the Divell can condense the ayre into any shape he pleaseth, as hee 
is a subtill spirit, thin and open, and rancke himselfe into any forme 
or likenesse, as Saint Augustin, Prudentius, Hieronimus, Cyril, 
Saint Basil the Great, and none better than our late Soveraigne 
King James, of ever-living memory, in his Treatise de Demonologia, 
hath sufficiently proved. But, to omit circumstance and preamble ; 
no man that thinkes hee hath a soule, but will verily and con- 
fidently believe that there are divells ; and so, consequently, such 
divells as appeare either in premonstrance of Gods Judgements, or 
as fatall Embassadours to declare the message of mortality and 
destruction to offending nations, and hath, in Germany and other 
places, afflicted afterwards with the horror of a civill and forraigne 
warres, notoriously manifested. 

But to our purpose. Edge-Hill, in the very confines of Warwick - 
shire, neere unto Keynton in Northamptonshire, a place, as 
appeares by the sequele, destined for civill warres and battells ; 
as where King John fought a battell with his Barons, and where, 
in defence of the Kingdomes lawes and libertie, was fought a 
bloody conflict between his Majesties and the Parliaments forces ; 
at this Edge-Hill, in the very place where the battell was struckeu, 
have since, and doth appeare, strange and portentuous Apparitions 
of two jarring and contrary Armies, as I shall in order deliver, it 
being certified by the men of most credit in those parts, as William 
Wood, Esquire, Samuel Marshall, Minister, and others, on Saturday, 
which was in Christmas time, as if the Saviour of the world, who 
died to redeem mankinde, had beene angry that so much Christian 
blood was there spilt, and so had permitted these infernall Armies 
to appeare where the corporeall Armies had shed so much blood ; 
between twelve and one of the clock in the morning was heard 
by some sheepherds, and other countrey-men, and travellers, first 
the sound of drummes afar off, and the noyse of soulders, as it were, 
giving out their last groanes ; at which they were much amazed, and 
amazed stood still, till it seemed, by the neerenesse of the noyse, to 
approach them ; at which too much affrighted, they sought to 
withdraw as fast as possibly they could ; but then, on the sudden, 
whilest they were in these cogitations, appeared in the ayre the 
same incorporeall souldiers that made those clamours, and imme- 
diately, with Ensignes display'd, Drummes beating, Musquets 
going off, Cannons discharged, Horses neyghing, which also to these 
men were visible, the alarum or entrance to this game of death 
was strucke up, one Army, which gave the first charge, having the 
Kings colours, and the other the Parliaments, in their head or 
front of the battells, and so pell mell to it they went ; the battell 
that appeared to the Kings forces seeming at first to have the best, 
but afterwards to be put into apparent rout ; but till two or three 
in the morning in equall scale continued this dreadful fight, the 
clattering of Armes, noyse of Cannons, cries of souldiers, so amazing 
and terrifying the poore men, that they could not believe they were 
mortall, or give credit to their eares and eyes ; runne away they 
durst not, for feare of being made a prey to these infernall souldiers, 
and so they, with much feare and affright, stayed to behold the 
successe of the busiuesse, which at last suited to this effect : after 
some three houres fight, that Army which carryed the Kings 
colours withdrew, or rather appeared to flie ; the other remaining. 
as it were, masters of the field, stayed a good space triumphing, and 
expressing all the signes of joy and conquest, and then, with all 
their Drummes, Trumpets, Ordnance, and Souldiers, vanished ; the 
poore men glad they were gone, that had so long staid them there 
against their wils, made with all haste to Keinton, and there
knocking up Mr. Wood, a Justice of Peace, who called up his 
neighbour, Mr. Marshall, the Minister, they gave them an account 
of the whole passage, and averred it upon their oaths to be true. 
At which affirmation of theirs, being much amazed, they should 
hardly have given credit to it, but would have conjectured the 
men to have been either mad or drunk, had they not knowne some 
of them to have been of approved integritie : and so, suspending 
their judgments till the next night about the same houre, they, with 
the same men, and all the substantiall Inhabitants of that and the 
neighbouring parishes, drew thither ; where, about halfe an houre 
after their arrivall, on Sunday, being Christmas night, appeared in 
the same tumultuous warlike manner, the same two adverse Armies, 
fighting with as much spite and spleen as formerly : and so departed 
the Gentlemen and all the spectatours, much terrified with these 
visions of horrour, withdrew themselves to their houses, beseeching 
God to defend them from those hellish and prodigious enemies. 
The next night they appeared not, nor all that week, so that the 
dwellers thereabout were in good hope they had for ever departed ; 
but on the ensuing Saturday night, in the same. place, and at the 
same houre, they were again scene with far greater tumult, fighting 
in the manner afore-mentioned for foure houres, or verie neere, and 
then vanished, appearing againe on Sunday night, and performing 
the same actions of hostilitie and bloudshed ; so that both Mr. 
Wood and others, whose faith, it should seeme, was not strong 
enough to carrie them out against these delusions, forsook their 
habitations thereabout, and retired themselves to other more secure 
dwellings ; but Mr, Marshall stayed, and some other ; and so 
successively the next Saturday and Sunday the same tumults and 
prodigious sights and actions were put in the state and condition 
they were formerly. The rumour whereof comming to his 
Majestic at Oxford, he immediately dispatched thither Colonell 
Lewis Kirke, Captaine Dudley, Captaine "Wainmau, and three 
other Gentlemen of credit, to take the full view and notice of the 
said businesse, who, first hearing the true attestation and relation 
of Mr. Marshall and others, staid there till Saturday night follow- 
ing, wherein they heard and saw the fore-mentioned prodigies, and 
so on Sunday, distinctly knowing divers of the apparitions or 
incorporeall substances by their faces, as that of Sir Edmund 
Varney, and others that were there slaine ; of which upon oath 
they made testimony to his Majestic. What this does portend 
God only knoweth, and time perhaps will discover ; but doubtlessly 
it is a signe of his wrath against this Land, for these civill wars, 
which He in his good time finish, and send a sudden peace between 
his Majestic and Parliament. FINIS,

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 9th May 2013 | © Weird Island 2010-2019
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