Sunday, 9 July 2017

Harley MS 2269 f. 86v

Incipit: these ar the precepts that must be observyd or kept in the asking of every question of any person.


This manuscript is from the first half of the sixteenth century and was written on paper and parchment; there is no known author according to the British Library. It is written in English and Latin. Most, if not all of this manuscript will have been copied from other sources, but only one is mentioned, that of Roger Bacon. The copying of books was a common method of dissemination long before the advent of photocopiers and scanners, thus it would be unsafe to assume that anything found in these is original to the author. What is of interest is what they chose to copy and emphasize. Of course, astrology’s most important purpose in the middle ages was medicine, but throughout this manuscript other applications for astrology are addressed including horary – interrogations. The folio that I have transcribed relates to, what we refer to as, the considerations before judgement. Although, traditional astrologers will be familiar with the principles the scribe brings to the reader’s attention, it is interesting that he emphasizes these in particular. Of course, it is possible that he was unaware of any others, still he goes to some length to make his point.

Editorial interventions

I have expanded all abbreviations and contractions, but have maintained the spelling and punctuation in the transcription. In the more modern form that follows it, I have modernized the spelling, inserted a little punctuation, and made some light adjustments for ease of reading. A brief comparison will make any changes obvious.

these ar the precepts that must be observyd or kept in the asking of every question of any person.

note prepare every man in the asking of his question of the astronomer whether it be of thyngs present, past, or els to come, always he must desire almighty god of whom al godenes takyth hys begynyng and with a contrite harte praying hym that he may come to the truthe of the thing that he intendyth to aske for and then he shal go with thys intent of the truthe and with no fabyll to the astronomer for to demonde his question of hym or interrogation of the which he hath kept in his mynd a day or a night at the leste or more and not demondyst by enny light moving of his owne mynde as many ignorant and unlernyd persons dothe and he that askyth or interrogat of any thing he must demonde but of one thing onely, for if he interrogat for more thyngs than one at one tyme than the astronomer his responsion shalbe untrue and to none affects. Therefore if any person demonde of the more thyngs then of one thing at one tyme only than you shal take the first and the chefe matter that he come for and the which he hath kept longyst in hys mynde and the resydou to demonde at a nother tyme convenient and after thys manner hyt must be done in anny interrogacon or question and know thou the longer the matter is kept in a manys mynde or he aske his question the better it is and soner he shall fende the significator of the question therefore this aforesaid oft to be observyd and kept except hit happyn from sodden chounce the which causyd a hastier question and a responsion the which may have no deliberacon and that the name of almighty god must be the begynyng thereof and by cause from dothe otherwise many tymes they dystreyst them selfes, and the astronomer also, and cause hym to juge wrong and dyffame hym where he is not worthy and it is thorou the folyshnys of hym that askyth the question therefore when thou makyst interrogacon it must be when the son dothe shyne and thereby to know the clock truly, and at an evyn houre and the 2 may not be lettyd that is to say at the # nor / for this she is infortunat for the infortune of the 2 lettyth anny thing in questions and journyes and in that part that she is lettyd thys is the true experiens that hath byn truly prechyd and provyd the 17 chapiter of the 6 house

These are the precepts that must be observed or kept in the asking of every question of any person

Note: prepare every man in the asking if his question of the astronomer, whether it be of things present, past, or else to come, always he must desire Almighty God, of whom all goodness, takes his beginning and with a contrite heart praying to him that he may come to the truth of the thing that he intends to ask for, and then he shall go with this intent of the truth and with no fable to the astronomer to demand his question of him, or interrogation, which he has kept in his mind for a day or a night at the least or more, and not demand through any light moving of his own mind, as many ignorant and unlearned persons do. And he that asks or interrogates about anything, he must demand for one thing only, because he he interrogates for more things than one at one time, then the astronomer’s response shall be untrue and to no effect. Therefore, if any person demand of the more things than of one thing at one time only, then you shall take the first and chief matter that he came for and that which he has kept longest in his mind, and the residue to be demanded at another convenient time. And after this manner it must be done in any interrogation or question, and know that the longer the matter is kept in a man’s mind before he asks his question, the better it is and the sooner he shall find the significator of the question. Therefore, this aforesaid is to be observed and kept often, except when it happens suddenly and caused a hastier question and a response may have no deliberation, and that the name of Almighty God must be the beginning thereof because by doing otherwise many times they destroy themselves, and the astronomer also and cause him to judge wrongly and defame him where he is not worthy [it is not his fault], and it is through the foolishness of him that asks the question. Therefore, when you make an interrogation it must be when the Sun shines and thereby you may know the clock truly, and at an even hour. And the Moon must not be letted [hindered], that is to say at the conjunction or opposition [of the Sun]. for this she is unfortunate, for the infortune of the Moon lets [hinders] anything in questions and journeys, and in that part that she is letted [hindered]. This is the true experience that has been truly preached and proved [in?] the seventeenth chapter of the sixth house.



  1. Dear Sue

    Thank you very much for sharing this fascinating incipit with us!
    I found it highly interesting that the author refers to the person who is in charge of the astrological judgment as ‘astronomer’ rather than astrologer.

    We know that, in some cases, astrology and astronomy were used interchangeably. For example, the editor of a 1493 edition of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos describes astrology as “judicial astronomy”.

    In his excellent book The Copernican Question, Robert Westman discusses the classification of early astrology and astronomy in great detail. He writes:

    “ ] in sum, from the time of Campanus of Novara [c1220 – 1296], the ground was laid for the science of the stars to be constructed as a three-cell matrix. Following Campanus, astronomy, but not astrology, was subdivided into theoretical and practical parts.” (p60)

    A four–cell classification, dividing both astronomy and astrology into practical and theoretical parts, was devised at a later time. According to this classification, predictions of particular times and effects belonged to practical astrology.
    Therefore it came as a surprise to me that the author(s) of this MS refer to an astrologer who deals with interrogations (predictive astrologer), as ‘astronomer’.


  2. Thank you, Peter. I'm not as well versed in this period as the later one, so points such as the one you raise still stand out to me. I haven't yet come across the use of 'astrologer' in this manuscript.



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