August 14, 2009

The Friday Record - Omens That Changed History

For this week's The Friday Record, I'm turning once again to Michael Powell's book CURIOUS EVENTS IN HISTORY. I spoke about this book a couple of weeks ago (see See Draco and Draconian Law). It's a fascinating little book with dozens of interesting historical facts. On page 36, Powell has an chapter on Edward IV's Magic Vision.

Now here's my disclaimer....I don't know much of the War of the Roses, but here's a brief history to set things up:

Edward's father, Richard, Third Duke of York. and his brother, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, had been killed in the Battle of Wakefield, leaving Edward as the head of the House of York and fighting for the throne of England in the War of the Roses. Margaret of Anjou was the wife of Henry VI and mother to the man who would be king (unfortunately, the son died in the battle of Twekesbury at some point in the war). Owen Tudor, Earl of Pembroke was the leader of the Lancastrians.

Margaret was advancing from the North with her army and Pembroke was advancing from South Wales with his army. They planned to meet up and advance together on Edward. Edward turned toward Pembroke, meeting up with him at Moritmer's Cross, before Pembroke could join forces with Margaret.

The day of the battle, Edward and his men witnessed a parhelion: “It occurs when sunlight is refracted through microscopic ice crystals, usually when wispy cirrus clouds high in the sky cover the sun, causing two ghost images to appear on either side of it,” Powell explains. In other words, the army witnessed what it thought were three suns raising in the sky, which then joined into one sun before their eyes. Now, this is 1461......the army was terrified and took it as an bad omen that they should turn tail and run. Edward, at the ripe old age of eighteen, saw it as a positive sign. He rallied his men with a speech quoted in Davies Chronicle (and Powell's book): “Beeth of good comfort and dreadeth not! This is a good sign, for these three suns betokeneth the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and therefore let us have a good heart, and in the name of Almighty God go we against our enemies!” (37)
With his army believing God was on their side, they went forth into one of the bloodiest battles of the War of the Roses. They did, however, come out the victors and two weeks later, Edward was crowned of England.

Powell goes on tell of two other “natural phenomena that altered the course of history.” (38) During the two-year siege of Syracuse on the island of Sicily by the Athenians during the 5th century B.C., an eclipse represented a bad omen to the Athenians. About to abandon the siege and return home, they decided the eclipse was telling them that was a bad idea. So they stayed. It was a major mistake. The Syracusans were able to slip through the blockades and “destroy the Athenian fleet and Army.” (38) This was the beginning of the end of the Greek empire.
Christopher Columbus used an eclipse to his advantage as well. Marooned on the island of Jamaica in 1504, he demanded food for his starving men. The Jamaicans told Chris where to get off and refused to give him any. Consulting his almanac, he discovered that an eclipse was predicted in just a few days. He told the natives that if they didn't give his men food, God would blacken the sky as punishment. Well, they scoffed, but after the eclipse, they supplied Chris and his crew with supplies aplenty until they were rescued several months later.
We know that omens, tea readings, bone readings and such have been around for ions. Which one in particular has caught your attention? Would you use it in a story? Leave a comment and a lucky winner will win a copy of Emma Lai's debut story HIS SHIP, HER FANTASY, which just came out on Wednesday and already has a 4 heart review from Night Owl Romance.

Anna Kathryn Lanier


Emma Lai said...

I guess I'm not eligible, but I wanted to say thanks for the support! I love superstitions and omens and all things that go bump in the night!

Judy said...

I seem to be following Emma (and her book) around today! I'm not sure which portent/omen I'd choose to use in a book if I wrote about such things, but the reflection off the ice crystals was amazing! So I've learned something new and have food for thought!

Mary Ricksen said...

That was totally cool! I love to learn this stuff and I had never heard of that!
I have Emma's fantastic story and recommend it highly. I fell in love too.

Kytaira said...

That is so cool about the ice crystals. I had already heard about the eclipse.

The biggest one - The Star of Bethlehem. And don't forget the Plagues of Egypt and Moses.

There were a couple with comets. Especially Haley's Commet. One with William the Conqueror and another with Mark Twain.

And the guy that opened King Tut's tomb, there something about a power outage when he died. That was seen as a bad omen. Didn't exactly change history though

Jennifer Ross said...

I adore this type of stuff. I don't have one that hasn't been mentioned, but I often wonder how many shooting stars convinced a man the time was right for his proposal--or convinced his lady love to say yes?

Skhye said...

Superstitions are incredibly powerful cross-culturally! I use them all the time in my work. Heck, my free read is titled... VOW OF SUPERSTITION: DRAGON'S BLOOD. They just make for great mountain overs. ;) I'm always amazed at how often I find places in historicals where superstitions could have magnified the conflict but were never utilized.

Skhye said...

Mountain movers. I hate Vista. It always decides not to type letters on me. Now, we should write about Vista taking over the world and enslaving the human population!!!

orcalover said...

I don't know if omens or superstitions were involved but ths reminded me of when the British burned the capital and a rare tornado touched down, driving them off while the rain put the fire out.

Katie Hines said...

I'm not usually into historical facts and all, but these were fascinating. I loved the part about the three suns rising - I've never heard of that phenomenon before.

Mona Risk said...

What an interesting post. I love the stories of King Edward and C. Columbus. I already have Emma Lai's book and plan to enjoy it this weekend.

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Anna! I'd never heard those stories either. Very interesting.
No need to enter me in the contest, I intend to buy Emma's ebook. :)

liana laverentz said...

I'd love to have a tea reading sometime :)

And Skhye's free read is an excellent read if anyone is looking for a recommendation!

Kathryn Albright said...

Enjoyed this so much, Anna!
I always have been drawn to these type of stories. They just fascinate me.