340 years ago today, the Great Fire of London burned down two-thirds of that great city. (Details and anecdotes of the fire itself can be found at this fantastic site.) The renowned Renaissance astrologer William Lilly had predicted this fire fourteen years before in a series of drawings that were part of a book called Monarchy or No Monarchy. He was later suspected of having set the fire himself in order to prove his predictions correct and in order to depose the monarchy. (For more information on Lilly’s predictions see Maurice McCann’s definitive article on the subject.)
Lilly was not the only one to predict that London would be destroyed by fire: many believed that in 1666 tragedy would befall the city as the result of the year being the number of the beast in Revelations. The city was just recovering from the Great Plague and for many it seemed as though the end of the world had come.
The square within a square on the left side of the drawing represents the format for the blank horoscope used in medieval and renaissance times. This was a secret clue for Lilly’s fellow astrologers, or “sons of arte,” that the drawing was a horoscope in disguise.
The two babies suspended above the fire represent Gemini, traditionally associated with London. McCann writes, “by suspending the two babies upside down Lilly showed that the drawing, or rightly the horoscope, should be inverted, which would time it for the early hours of the morning. By inverting the horoscope the 14th degree of Gemini appears at the all important Midheaven. We may therefore infer that Lilly predicted that the time of the blaze would be about 5.26 am on the 2nd September 1666.”
Without having access to the chart of the City of London at that time, which I was not able to locate, I don’t see in this planetary configuration any strong indicators for fire (stressful Mars aspects or prevalence of fire signs), and Lilly left no clue as to how he deduced that the Great Fire would occur on September 2, 1666. However, I did notice that Saturn was conjunct Neptune in Capricorn (although Lilly would have no way of knowing this since Neptune wasn’t discovered yet). Capricorn of course rules the structures upon which society is based such as governmental and business entities, and the Saturn/Neptune conjunction in Capricorn would alternatively build (Saturn) and collapse (Neptune) those structures. Saturn and Neptune danced within a couple degrees of each other throughout 1965- 1666, witnessing the battle between the Dutch and the English over commecial interests (Capricorn) as well as the Great Plague of London that killed up to a fifth of London’s population (Neptune in Capricorn, dissolving our perception of material reality). The Fire eventually led to a rebuilding of the City (Saturn in Capricorn – building the structures that sustain us) by King Charles II and a change in the building codes to eliminate thatched roofs and other building practices that were conducive to the spread of fire.
One English writer, John Dryden, wrote that the year 1666 was an “annus miribilis” or “miraculous year,” because London would arise from the fire with even greater majesty than before. One could say that this prophecy came true as well.