Mother Shipton – the ugliest and most famous English prophetess

 
Mother Shipton
 
 
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Although it is not clear what she exactly said or predicted, Mother Shipton is the most famous English prophetess and one of the most notable English characters, with many pubs named after her across the country, and even a moth ‘Callistege mi’, carries her name. She has been described as being grotesquely ugly, with the pattern on the moth bears’ wings said to resemble her facial profile.

The lack of information about Mother Shipton gives freedom to attribute her to all kinds magic and predictions the world over. She was born Ursula Southeil in 1488, in Knaresborough, Yorkshire.

Mother Shipton moth. Photo credit
Mother Shipton moth. Photo credit

One of the most notable editions of her prophecies, published in 1684, states that she was born in a cave near Knaresborough, which is named Mother Shipton’s Cave. It is open for visitors, along with the Petrifying Well and associated parkland.

Mother Shipton's cave. Photo credit
Mother Shipton’s cave. Photo credit

The first book about Mother Shipton and her prophecies was published in 1641 and contained mostly regional predictions. She didn’t master the Nostradamus level of predicting the world’s end or the third World War, but apparently, she told fortunes throughout all her life. According to the 1684 edition of the book, in 1512, Mother Shipton married Toby Shipton, a local carpenter, and continued with her “career” as a prophetess.

The book with her prophecies contains over a hundred prophetic rhymed couplets, in a style not very typical for the 16th-century language. In the book, two of the most famous lines attributed to Mother Shipton can be found:

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

Statue of Ursula Southeil in the Mother Shipton Cave. Photo credit
Statue of Ursula Southeil in the Mother Shipton Cave. Photo credit

 

 

Old engraving of Mother Shipton
Old engraving of Mother Shipton

 

However, soon after it was published, it was revealed that the prophecy was invented by its actual author, Charles Hindley. Even though he admitted inventing it, the prediction appeared as Mother Shipton’s one and was printed in various publications throughout the years. As the world’s end didn’t come in 1881, in the 1920 booklet “The Life and Prophecies of Ursula Sontheil, better known as Mother Shipton” stated the year 1991 instead of 1881.

Among other well-known lines from Hindley’s fake version (often quoted as if they were originally from Mother Shipton) are:

A Carriage without a horse shall go;
Disaster fills the world with woe…
In water iron then shall float,
As easy as a wooden boat.

Mother Shipton's house
Mother Shipton’s house

 

It is also speculated that Mother Shipton predicted the Great Fire of London. And even though nothing real about her life is known with certainty, her name has been linked with all kinds of strange or tragic events between the 17th and 19th century. And not only in the UK but also in Australia and North America.

Read another story from us: Nongqawuse – The teenage Prophetess of Doom

There is even a fundraising campaign, which began in 2013, to raise £35,000 to erect a statue of Mother Shipton in Knaresborough.