Comets, those heavenly bodies with their dragon’s tail flowing and glowing behind…a sign from God,a natural occurrence, an ominous warning of things to come?
To put this in perspective, in 1651, Charles II was crowned King, the last coronation on Scottish soil.
Lawless highwaymen were running wild in areas of the Highlands. In April 1664, Charles II stationed military forces in Argyleshire, Stirlingshire, Dumbartonshire, and Strathspey, under the name ‘Watch’. They evolved into the ‘Black Watch’.
The Reformation was in full swing, with the Anglicans fighting the Presbyterians in the Lowlands and the Catholics standing fast in the Highlands.
In 1659, The Psalms of David 1 to 50 were first published in the Gaelic language. This was only the third Gaelic book ever printed The complete Psalms were printed in 1694.
Daniel DeFoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, was born in 1660.
Cattle reiving became an important avenue to survival, with the reivers being considered the best light calvarymen in the world.
At an earlier date, Oliver Cromwell had taken the historical records of Scotland to London. They were being returned on the ship, Elizabeth of Burntisland, when she sank off the coast of England, destroying all the records on board.
In February of 1664, the Great Fire of London burned over 13,000 buildings. Going back to Daniel Defor, his family home was only one of three le The following year, The Great Plague killed 70,000 in London, with 1/6th of the population dying.
In September another early, excellent harvest was secured in Scotland.
November of 1664 found the herring running strong on the Forth and fish of all kinds abounded. Some warned this was an ominous sign.
Thought to be a moving star, in 1664 this one appeared several times. Many, through religious superstition, warned this would herald in 'The Apocalypse of Pestilence & War', putting an end to hedonism.
In February of 1665 the ‘star’ reappeared and was so bright it could be seen at noontime. At night it was a blazing fire. It almost appeared to be alive, growing and shrinking.
Sometimes it had a great ‘brugh’, or halo like the moon, surronded the star. Brugh appears to be associated with fairy dwellings ~ round, mystical, and not for human knowledge.
In March, back it came again. This time it was visible from all parts of Europe. Turkey invaded Austria and the Dutch threatened invasion of Scotland. All were fearful of war. King Charles used this ominous sign as a pretext to begin the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which he lost.
In December the ‘star’ was back, appearing nightly with a fiery tail that grew some nights and shrank others. It was a horrible sight to all beholders. Sometimes it appeared 3 a.m., other times in the early evening. Records state it was dimmer than seen earlier and looked ‘bluish’, like a candle dying out.
Samuel Pepys, a renowned diarist, relates how the king and queen sat up on the night of December 17th to watch this heavenly body.
A Mr. Hooke lectured at Gresham College and stated this comet had appeared in 1618 and would likely appear again.
In reality, the was Halley’s Comet and it was seen periodically over Europe from 1086 until the 1660’s, and which we’ve seen again in 1835, 1910, and 1986.
It’s small wonder that a comet would begin to appear as a charge on heraldic arms. These had an estoile, or star, of either six or four points.
Cartwright image courtesy James Parker
The charge above belonged to the Cartwrights of Scotland. A Hurston family also had a comet on their arms. In 1702, Coldwell, the Pregendary of Ely, England, created his arms. This included a lion rampant with two blazing comets in the base.