IS ‘THREE SUNNES’ JOHN EVERARD’S TAKE ON THE PARHELIC EVENT AT TREGONY IN CORNWALL IN 1621?

 

Tregony is an isolated market town in Cornwall – actually quite some way from Falmouth although not immediately adjacent to any town likely to have been known outside the local area. On the 22nd December, in the skies above Tregony the sun appeared to split onto three. In fact such happenings are not especially rare. However, that is not how fringe-Protestant contemporaries saw it. This is the phenomenon of the ‘parhelion’ and its associated ‘parhelic circles’. There are now hundreds of examples but they continue to be seen as omens. They are caused by the refraction of light from ice crystals embedded with cirrus cloud types, especially during relatively cold weather. It is therefore unlikely to be any co-incidence that the Tregony event occurred slam in the middle of the Cornish winter.

The name comes from Greek, implying ‘besides the sun’, but American English tends to refer to them more colloquially as ‘sundogs’. The actual details of events vary but the following would be typical:

  • Two additional suns appear at the same height in the sky as the real sun but separated from it by twenty two degrees either side. Of course, it is quite possible for one of these to be obscured, giving the impression of only two suns.
  • The ‘suns’ are linked together by a ring of light. This can be either a bright, white circle or else a series of refracted colours. When these circles are partly obscured, they can give the impression of actually being multiple rainbows – hence the fact that a series of rainbows is historically often reported to accompany the phenomenon.

A mysterious text can be found in the British Library Rare Books section. It has a cumbersome official title…

Somewhat: written by occasion of three sunnes seene at Tregnie in Cornewall, the 22. of December last. With other memorable occurrents in other places.

but I call it simply, ‘Three Sunnes’.

The text can be dated very accurately, even more tightly than the official publication date. For, although the landing of the Eggesford meteorite in January 1621/22 had taken place, it would seem to be an oversight had the author omitted the three suns over Heidelberg in 1622. In fact across Central Europe there were a series of parhelia and ‘bloody signs’ throughout 1622 – see H. Berg – ‘Military occupation under the eyes of the Lord: studies in Erfurt during the Thirty Years War’ (2010).

However, dating it is one thing; ascribing it an author another. The British Library, however, has done just that.

There seem to be a number of copies of the text internationally and the text is even supposed to be available via Amazon (although there are currently no copies). They all seem to be ascribed to Everard but this may all be down to the British Library’s decision. Whoever wrote it was not keen to be named:

“You are saluted by (I thinke) you know not whom…”, (actually very much in the manner of T.L. although the approach was far from uncommon).

Whoever it was followed a particular methodology for the calculation of the Creation. The ‘Three Sunnes’ document is very clear in identifying 41 B.C. (an unidentifiable occurrence of parhelic phenomena in Rome) with the year 3,923 after Creation. Adjusting by forty one years brings us to the same date of creation arrived at by Melanchthon in the previous century (i.e. 3964 B.C.). Luther had arrived at a similar, but nonetheless different, date of 3961 B.C. Kepler too arrived at a relatively close dating of 3,993 years. All these were about one thousand to 1,500 years out from those who followed a methodology based upon the Septuagint. Luther, Kepler and Melanchthon were all essentially following the example set by Bede in Northumbria who had broken away from the standard Septuagint assumptions and all three follow the Masoretic methodology, based on the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible following the Daniel Bomberg / Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah’s Cenice collation of 1524 – 1525.

This is far from the only distinctive citation of his beliefs. The author claims that the times were such that the AntiChrist might “carrie away that Glorius (sic) woman cloathed with the Sunne, crowned with the Starres, and treading upon the Moone…”

Revelation 12: 1-2 (KJV):
‘And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered!’

The focus is not conclusive – but it is unusual for the time. The particular interpretation is broadly outlined in both John Eaton’s ‘Honeycombe’ and the ‘Dead Faith’ as well as being revealed by the Puritan, Giles Firmin, about his stay with his obviously Eatonist relative in Ipswich whilst attending grammar school there – see G. Firmin – ‘A Brief Review of Mr Davis’s Vindication: Giving no Satisfaction’ (1693) and Como.

In 1631 Henry Firmin and his fellow Ipswich laymen went before the High Commission (a case which seems to have commenced that November). Both Firmin and one Henry Mudd were still being forced to appear before the High Commission some three years later. They recanted fully but the evidence from Giles Firmin’s visit to the family shortly afterwards suggests that not only was this recantation not genuine but that their ‘antinomianism’ had become markedly radicalised and come to include aspects not known to have been amongst Eaton’s own teachings. These included both God being the author of sin and outright mortalism. Como assumes that Mudd must have been directly responsible for the injection of such ideas into Firmin’s theology but he fails to provide substantive evidence in ‘Blown by the Spirit’.

In many respects the attribution of ‘Three Sunnes’ to Everard by the BL is extraordinary. In time he would become known as the translator of the ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ (or ‘The Divine Pymander’) but very little is now known about Everard’s background or early years – a fact that is not helped by his name sometimes having been written Everett. ‘Traditionally’, up until 1623 he has been taken to be a standard Puritan even if much riled by the Spanish Match’s prospect, the proposed marriage between the future King Charles and the Spanish Infanta, Maria Anna, daughter of Philip III. The dowry was a potential major source of income for James I.

Como dates Everard’s transformation to sometime between 1623 and 1626. Indeed, by 1626 there are clear indications that he has experienced some sort of ‘conversion’ which can be broken down into three key areas:

  • The perfectist overtones of one of his St. Martin’s lectures;
  • His search for the alchemical text, ‘The Way to Blisse’ – which was certainly around long before Elias Ashmole;
  • And the fact that he was evidently in a close friendship with the alchemical philosopher, Robert Fludd, by this time. Robert Fludd (1573/74 – 1637) was a prominent physician in the style of Paracelsus, born in Bearsted in Kent, the son of a high ranking Elizabethan official, Sir Thomas Fludd of Milgate. Fludd was a defender of Rosicrucianism as well as an ardent opponent of natural philosophers such as Marin Mersenne and of Kepler. He and his wife, Isabella, were amongst those listed as being in trouble for non-attendance at church in 1638.

How Everard might have arrived at this stage is difficult to ascertain. Somewhere around 1623 – and probably as a response to his treatment in opposition to the Spanish Match – Everard developed a disdain for the established Church in spite of the fact that he was a minister within it. This appears to be little more than the simple fact that he had become too Protestant for it. However, by 1626, he does appear to have changed. He seems to have left St. Martin’s for Kensington around 1627/28. This was almost certainly secured for him by Henry Rich, the Earl of Holland (1590 – 1649, executed) – a former favourite of James I but not much in favour with Charles. Around 1628 he also assumed the living of Fairstead in Essex but there is no evidence that he ever went to reside there. In fact, from some point in the 1620s he seems to have been living consistently in Fulham.

1621/22 would therefore have been critical in Everard’s development.

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