Monday, 29 August 2011
Mother Shipton (born Ursula Southeil) was England's most famous soothsayer and prophetess. She lived some 500 years ago during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. She was said to have been born in a cave by the River Nidd in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, during a violent thunderstorm. Reputed to be very ugly (the archetypal hag or crone) she nevertheless married Toby Shipton, a carpenter. The first book of her prophecies did not appear until 80 years after her death, and most of what is written is believed to have been invented after she died. Neverthless, the legends about her probably have some basis in truth. She is said to have prophesised the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and Samuel Pepys's Diary records that she forewarned of the Great Fire of London (1666).
The cave and well associated with her are now preserved within an area of parkland, which was landscaped in the 18th century. There is an attractive walk by the riverside, through an avenue of ancient beech trees.