Chiromancy in England in the C16th and C17th

Despite the early precedence of chiromantic texts in England, notably the Eadwine Psalter from the late-twelfth century and the Metham manuscripts and the Digby Roll IV from the early part of the fifteenth century, the assiduous study of both astrology and chiromancy amongst the intellectual class in England took a much longer time to develop than on the continent. For although some works on chiromancy and physiognomy were published in England in the latter half of the sixteenth century, it was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that chiromancy attained much widespread acceptance within England. However, by this time, England was very much the centre for the study of all things hermetic, especially during the years from 1640 to 1700 as we shall see.

There is no doubt that chiromancy was widely known in England for the many references in contemporary sixteenth century literature clearly show that the practice was a common-place enough activity. Ben Jonson gives a verse of chiromantic lore in 'The Alchemist' and we find one of Shakespeare's characters boasting of the line formations in his own hands in The Merchant of Venice. A collection of such literary references can be found in Caroll Camden's article on Elizabethan chiromancy.

However, some of these references show more of a disdainful attitude towards the art and from these we can see that the late development of the study of chiromancy in England during the post-Renaissance period can, at least partly, be attributed to the fact that handreading had become associated with the uneducated masses in general and the gipsies in particular.

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