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The Mysterious Prophecies of the English Witch Mother Shipton

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16th Century English soothsayer, Prophetess, and witch Mother Shipton is said to have made several uncannily accurate predictions like the Great Plague of London, the American Civil War, the Great Fire of London, and even the COVID-19 epidemic.

16th Century English soothsayer, Prophetess, and witch Mother Shipton is said to have made several uncannily accurate predictions like the Great Plague of London, the American Civil War, the Great Fire of London, and even the COVID-19 epidemic.

The English Nostradamus

Whenever we talk about uncanny prophecies, some names immediately strike us, like Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, Baba Vanga, or even the famous Paul the Octopus, whose predictions in the 2010 world cup soccer made it world famous.

But do you know there was also a prophetess from 16th century England whose predictions were so chilling that families across England fled from their homes and slept in the open, fearing an apocalypse as foretold by her,

“The world to an end shall come; in eighteen hundred and eighty-one.”

Of course, the world did not end in 1881, and a nation sighed in relief as people began to sleep in their homes once again. But this was not the first time a crone-like Yorkshire prophetess had held an entire country at ransom, and it would not be the last.

Her name was Mother Shipton, also known as Ursula Shipton. And besides being a soothsayer and Prophetess, she was also considered a witch, which added to her fearsome reputation. Mother Shipton is said to have made several uncannily accurate predictions, like the Great Plague of London, the American Civil War, the Great Fire of London, and even the COVID-19 epidemic.

Her cryptic verses were first published in 1569, eight years after she died, and the most noted work, by Richard Head, the Irish author, and bookseller, came out in 1684. Her prophecies were published over 20 times between 1641 and 1700.

Mother Shipton's Cave (or "Old Mother Shipton's Cave") is at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England, near to the River Nidd.

Mother Shipton's Cave (or "Old Mother Shipton's Cave") is at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England, near to the River Nidd.

The Story of Mother Shipton

Mother Shipton was born in Knaresborough as Ursula Sontheil in 1488, during the reign of Henry VII. According to the local accounts, she was born grotesquely deformed, with a large head and a complete set of teeth that protruded like a boar.

Her mother, Agatha, was just fifteen years old when she gave birth and did not reveal her father's name despite being pressured by the local populace. The locals later fabricated this mystery of Ursula’s father in fanciful stories and started calling her the child of the Devil itself.

With no family or friends to support her, Agatha raised Ursula alone in a cave near the town. Unfortunately, Agatha died within two years, and later a local family took Ursula in.Much later she would take the name Shipton from a capenter she briefly married in 1512.

However, Ursula’s reputation as a witch did not die. Fanciful stories started emerging about her “ability” to move furniture around with her fingers, fling plates by staring and making food disappear before the eyes of astonished guests. She was also constantly ridiculed for her ugly appearance. Another incident of that time talks about a parish meeting being disrupted when Ursula played tricks on the local men who had been teasing her.

However, Ursula kept quiet despite this ridicule and started spending most of her time in the cave where she spent her early years. While roaming in the town's forests, she learned to use various herbs and make medicinal potions for multiple ailments. Soon Ursula’s abilities as an herbalist grew far and wide, and she started offering treatments for various diseases.

But her real fame came through her powers of clairvoyance and her uncanny predictions. Initially, her predictions started with the local people and events as people began to travel far-off distances to consult her for property disputes, hostilities, and even foretelling their children's futures.

Soon her prophecies became more terrifying. She began to predict wars, rebellions, and natural disasters in cryptic verses. Ursula became famous, and soon she was known as Knaresborough’s Prophetess. The King sent messengers from London to hear her prophecies as she made her living telling the future and warning people of disasters that were to come.

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Feared and revered in equal measure, Mother Shipton soon established herself firmly within the annals of English folklore and legend.

Feared and revered in equal measure, Mother Shipton soon established herself firmly within the annals of English folklore and legend.

Feared and revered in equal measure, Mother Shipton soon established herself firmly within the annals of English folklore and legend.

Her Mysterious Prophecies

Mother Shipton is said to have prophesied about numerous things, all subject to multiple interpretations. Let us look at some of these startling predictions,

Mobiles and telecommunications

“Around the world men's thoughts will fly, Quick as the twinkling of an eye. And water shall great wonders do, How strange, and yet it shall come true.”

Hitler’s Rise and World War II

"In nineteen hundred and twenty-six Build houses light of straw and sticks. For then shall mighty wars be planned And fire and swords shall sweep the land."

The French Revolution

“Three times shall lovely sunny France Be led to play a bloody dance. Before the people shall be free Three tyrant rulers shall she see.”

Submarines and Aircraft

“When pictures seem alive with movements free, When boats like fishes swim beneath the sea. When men like birds shall scour the sky. Then half the world, deep drenched in blood shall die.”

The creation of Israel

“And England shall admit a Jew, Do you think this strange? But it is true! The Jew that once was led in scorn, Shall of a Christian then be born."

COVID-19

“And physics find no remedy; For this is worse than leprosy. Oh many signs for all to see; The truth of this true prophecy.”

Today a thriving tourist attraction called Mother Shipton’s Cave, at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, features the cave where she was born and the petrifying well where objects can turn to stone. There’s also a shop selling mugs, tea towels, and knobs

Today a thriving tourist attraction called Mother Shipton’s Cave, at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, features the cave where she was born and the petrifying well where objects can turn to stone. There’s also a shop selling mugs, tea towels, and knobs

Did She Really Exist?

There are no written records talking about Mother Shipton in the 1500s. Her name itself appeared in 1641. Many of her prophecies have been debunked as later forgeries attributed to her name. In fact, the “end of the world” forgery was committed by Victorian editor Charles Hindley who later accepted his guilt. Today most historians believe that Mother Shipton never existed.

However, others believe that she was a real person who has been glorified over the ages to supernatural status through myths and stories. They claim her existence through a letter written by King Henry VIII himself to Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, who was fighting the rebels of the King. The letter makes a mysterious mention of the “The witch of York,”

“We approve of your proceedings in the displaying of our banner, which being now spread, till it is closed again the course of our laws must give place to martial law; and before you close it up again, you must cause such dreadful execution upon a good number of inhabitants, hanging them on trees, quartering them, and setting their heads and quarters in every town, as shall be a fearful warning, whereby shall ensue the preservation of a great multitude… You shall send up to us the traitors Bigod, the friar of Knareborough, Leche, if he may be taken, the vicar of Penrith and Towneley, late chancellor to the bishop of Carlise, who has been a great promoter of these rebellions, the witch of York and one Dr. Pykering, a canon. You are to see to the lands and goods of such as shall now be attainted, that we may have them in safety, to be given, if we be so disposed, to those who have truly served us…”

Could the “The witch of York” be mother Shipton? Was she really an important figure? Like Robin Hood or King Arthur, the real story of mother Shipton remains shrouded within myriad layers of fantasy concocted over the centuries.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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