Guides to astrology

The title page of Forman’s guides to astrology, ‘The astrologicalle Judgmentes of phisick and other Questions’ (MS Ashmole 389).

The title page of one of Forman’s guides to astrology, ‘The astrologicalle judgmentes of phisick…’ (MS Ashmole 389). Reproduced by permission of the Bodleian Libraries

Forman wrote a series of books to instruct novice astrologers in his methods. These guides to astrology, and the related guides to geomancy, are a perfect source for historians to understand the ways in which the casebooks were constructed. They were never printed. Copies survive along with the rest of Forman’s manuscripts, and there is some evidence that they circulated in this format. The most substantial of these guides is ‘The astrologicalle judgmentes of phisick and other questions’, for which Napier drafted a preface, ‘A treatise touching the Defenc of Astrologie’, one (incomplete) version of which is already available on this site. Work is in progress to include further edited material from these manuscripts.

Forman was building on a long tradition of astrological manuals, some devoted in part or in full to astrological medicine. Most of these were large Latin treatises, circulating in printed editions. A handful of English books was printed in Elizabethan London, more often translations from the French than freshly authored texts. Forman’s astrological guides were the most substantial English manuals of this sort until William Lilly’s Christian Astrology was published in 1647.

Simon Forman’s manuals of astrological physic

‘The grounds of arte gathered out of diverse authors’, 1594–5, Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Ashmole 1495 ‘Liber juditiorum morborum’ (‘Book of the judgments of diseases’), 1600, MS Ashmole 355; an exact copy by Thomas Robson, MS Ashmole 1411 ‘The astrologicalle judgmentes of phisick and other questions’Version one, c. 1596–1601, copied by Richard Napier, Gerence James, and two unidentified associates of Napier’s, MS Ashmole 403 Version two, 1600 with later additions, copied by Sir Richard Napier and Thomas Robson?, MS Ashmole 363 Version three, 1606 with later additions, Forman’s hand, MS Ashmole 389 Partial copy of version two, British Library, London, MS Sloane 99. A complete edition of The astrologicalle judgmentes has been collated from these sources and transcribed by Casebooks editor Robert Ralley, who has also provided an introduction and an explanation of the witnesses and dating. New discovery! ‘Of the 12 Signs what partes of man’s body they have and what dyseazes they cause’, c. 1598–1603, MS Ashmole 395. This work was identified as Forman’s by Lauren Kassell in 2007. It has not featured in studies of Forman to date.

Richard Napier’s preface to Forman’s ‘Astrologicalle judgmentes’

This preface, written to accompany one of Forman’s guides to astrology and entitled ‘A treatise touching the Defenc of Astrologie’, exists in two copies: an autograph draft covered in additions and deletions, which has since been divided between two manuscripts in the Ashmole collection and lacks some pages; and a neat transcription in two hands that ends midway through. It is uncertain whether Napier ever completed the work, and neither it, nor the work by Forman which it was to accompany, was ever published. (See Lauren Kassell, Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London (2005), pp. 60–65 and 68–70, on Napier’s treatise and its relation to Forman’s guide.) Even using both of these versions of the text it is impossible to reconstruct the entire preface. The neat copy is currently available; Napier’s draft will appear here in due course.

‘A treatise touching the Defenc of Astrologie’, Napier’s draft, MS Ashmole 204, ff. 50–63; cont. 240, ff. 137–8 ‘A treatise touching the Defence of Astrology’, incomplete transcription, MS Ashmole 242, ff. 187–96

Simon Forman’s guides to geomancy

‘De arte geomantica’ (‘Of the geomantic art’), 1589, MS Ashmole 354 Another treatise on geomancy, c. 1590, revised c. 1611, MS Ashmole 392

Document last modified: 2 February 2016

Cite this as: Casebooks Project (Guides to astrology),, accessed 2018-08-17.