Old Mother Shipton's doleful premonition


Ursula was not a pretty child. She was born at Knaresborough in Yorkshire on a very stormy night in 1488, and it is recorded that "the tempest could not affright the women more than the prodigious physiognomy of the child; the body was long but very big-boned; she had great gobbling eyes, very sharp and fiery, a nose of unproportionable length having in it many crooks and turnings adorned with great pimples, which like vapours of brimstone gave such a lustre in the night that her nurses needed no other candle to dress her by". It is said that Ursula's arrival in this world came about as a result of her teenage mother having dallied with the Prince of Darkness on another stormy night.

Be that as it may, the girl grew up to be a strange, unworldly creature, a talented prophetess who recorded her visions of the future in iambic verse.

In 1512 she married a carpenter of York called Toby Shipton, a decent sort of man by all accounts and one devoted to his strange eccentric spouse, but he has contributed nothing more to history than to provide his wife with the name by which we know her now.

Old Mother Shipton survived well into her 80s and was remarkably percipient about the future of technology, particularly when one recalls that she was writing in the 16th century.

She has proved to be equally accurate, for example, on such widely diverse topics as women's fashions, mechanised farming, aviation, the cinema, and submarines:

For in those wondrous far off days,

The women shall adopt a craze

To dress like men, and trousers wear,

And to cut off their locks of hair;

And roaring monsters, with men atop,

Shall seem to eat the verdant crop.

And men shall fly as birds do now,

And give away the horse and plough.

Pictures shall come alive with movements free,

And boats, like fishes, swim beneath the sea.

So perhaps we ought to take heed when Old Mother Shipton gives us what might appear to be a doleful premonition of a greenhouse world:

The tides will rise beyond their ken

To bite away the shores, and then,

The flooding waters rushing in,

Will flood the lands with such a din

That mankind cowers in muddy fen

And snarls about his fellow men.

Not every land on earth will sink;

Those that do not will stench and stink

Of rotting bodies of beast and man,

And vegetation crisped on land.