LILLY (William)

, a noted English astrologer, born in Leicestershire in 1602. His father was not able to give him farther education than common reading and writing; but young Lilly being of a forward temper, and endued with shrewd wit, he resolved to push his fortune in London; where he arrived in 1620, and, for a present support, articled himself as a servant to a mantua-maker in the parish of St. Clement Danes. But in 1624 he moved a step higher, by entering into the service of Mr. Wright in the Strand, master of the Salters company, who not being able to write, Lilly among other offices kept his books. On the death of his master, in 1627, Lilly paid his addresses to the widow, whom he married with a fortune of 1000l. Being now his own master, he followed the bent of his inclinations, which led him to follow the puritanical preachers. Afterwards, turning his mind to judicial astrology, in 1632 he became pupil, in that art, to one Evans, a| profligate Welsh parson; and the next year gave the public a specimen of his skill, by an intimation that the king had chosen an unlucky horoscope for the coronation in Scotland. In 1634, getting a manuscript copy of the Ars Noticia of Cornelius Agrippa, with alterations, he drank in the doctrine of the magic circle, and the invocation of spirits, with great eagerness, and practised it for some time; after which he treated the mystery of recovering stolen goods, &c, with great contempt, claiming a supernatural sight, and the g<*>ft of prophetical predictions; all which he well knew how to turn to good advantage.

Mean while, he had buried his first wife, purchased a moiety of 13 houses in the Strand, and married a second wife, who, joining to an extravagant temper a termagant spirit, which he could not lay, made him unhappy, and greatly reduced his circumstances. With this uncomfortable yokemate he removed, in 1636, to Hersham in Surrey, where he staid till 1641; when, seeing a prospect of fishing in troubled waters, he returned to London. Here having purchased several curious books in this art, which were found on pulling down the house of another astrologer, he studied them incessantly, finding out secrets contained in them, which were written in an imperfect Greek character; and, in 1644, published his Merlinus Anglicus, an almanac, which he continued annually till his death, and several other astrological works; devoting his pen, and other labours, sometimes to the king's party, and sometimes to that of the parliament, but mostly to the latter, raising his fortune by favourable predictions to both parties, sometimes by presents, and sometimes by pensions: thus, in 1648, the council of state gave him in money 50l. and a pension of 100l. per annum, which he received for two years, and then resigned it on some disgust. By his advice and contrivance, the king attempted several times to make his escape from his consinement: he procured and sent the aqua-fortis and files to cut the iron bars of his prison windows at Carisbrook castle; but still advising and writing for the other party at the same time. Mean while he read public lectures on astrology, in 1648 and 1649, for the improvement of young students in that art; and in short, plied his business so well, that in 1651 and 1652 he laid out near 2000l. for lands and a house at Hersham.

During the siege of Colchester, he and Booker were sent for thither, to encourage the soldiers; which they did by assuring them that the town would soon be taken; which proved true in the event.—Having, in 1650, written publicly that the parliament should not continue, but a new government arise; agreeably to which, in his almanac for 1653, he asserted that the parliament stood upon a ticklish foundation, and that the commonalty and soldiery would join together against them. Upon which he was summoned before the committee of plundered ministers; but, receiving notice of it before the arrival of the messenger, he applied to his friend Lenthal the speaker, who pointed out the offensive passages. He immediately altered them; attended the committee next morning, with 6 copies printed, which six alone he acknowledged to be his; and by that means came off with only 13 days custody by the serjeant at arms. This year he was engaged in a dispute with Mr. Thomas Gataker.—In 1665 he was indicted at Hicks's-hall, for giving judgment upon stolen goods; but was acquitted. And in 1659, he received, from the king of Sweden, a present of a gold chain and medal, worth about 50l. on account of his having mentioned that monarch with great respect in his almanacs of 1657 and 1658.—After the Restoration, in 1660, being taken into custody, and examined by a committee of the house of commons, touching the execution of Charles the 1st, he declared, that Robert Spavin, then Secretary to Cromwell, dining with him soon after the fact, assured him it was done by cornet Joyce. The same year he sued out his pardon under the broad seal of England; and afterwards continued in London till 1665; when, upon the raging of the plague there, he retired to his estate at Hersham. Here he applied himself to the study of physic, having, by means of his friend Elias Ashmole, procured from archbishop Sheldon a licence to practise it, which he did, a<*> well as astrology, from thence till the time of his death. —In October 1666 he was examined before a committee of the house of commons concerning the sire of London, which happened in September that year. A little before his death, he adopted for his son, by the name of Merlin junior, one Henry Coley, a taylor by trade; and at the same time gave him the impression of his almanac, which had been printed for 36 years successively. This Coley became afterwards a celebrated astrologer, publishing in his own name, almanacs, and books of astrology, particularly one intitled A Key to Astrology.

Lilly died of a palsy 1681, at 79 years of age; and his friend Mr. Ashmole placed a monument over his grave in the church of Walton upon Thames.

Lilly was author of many works. His Observations on the Life and Death of Charles late King of England, if we overlook the astrological nonsense, may be read with as much satisfaction as more celebrated histories; Lilly being not only very well informed, but strictly impartial. This work, with the Lives of Lilly and Ashmole, written by themselves, were published in one volume, 8vo, in 1774, by Mr. Burman. His other works were principally as follow:

1. Merlinus Anglicus junior.—2. Supernatural Sight. —3. The White King's Prophecy.—4. England's Prophetical Merlin: all printed in 1644.—5. The Starry Messenger, 1645.—6. Collection of Prophecies, 1646.—7. A Comment on the White King's Prophecy, 1646.—8. The Nativities of Archbishop Laud and Thomas earl of Strafford, 1646.—9. Christian Astrology, 1647: upon this piece he read his lectures in 1648, mentioned above.—10. The third book of Nativities, 1647.—11. The World's Catastrophe, 1647.— 12. The Prophecies of Ambrose Merlin, with a Key, 1647.—13. Trithemius, or the Government of the World by Presiding Angels, 1647.—14. A treatise of the Three Suns seen in the winter of 1647, printed in 1648.—15. Monarchy or no Monarchy, 1651.— 16. Observations on the Life and Death of Charles, late king of England, 1651; and again in 1651, with the title of Mr. William Lilly's True History of king James and king Charles the 1st, &c.—17. Annus Tenebrosus; or, the Black Year. This drew him into the dispute with Gataker, which Lilly carried on in his Almanac in 1654.|

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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