There has been a small earthquake in
and this reminded me of Gabriel Harvey’s rather witty account of his experience of the 1580 earthquake, which he wrote about to his friend Edmund Spenser.
… But behold, all on the sudden there cometh stumbling into the Parlour, the Gentleman of the house, somewhat strangely affrighted, and in a manner all aghast, and telleth us, as well as his Head and Tongue would give him leave, what a wondrous violent motion, and shaking there was of all things in his Hall.”
Harvey, showing off incorrigibly, now argues that “an Earthquake might as well be supposed a Natural Motion of the Earth, as a preternatural, or supernatural ominous work of God”, taking the not entirely impossible line that the heavy rains in England since Michaelmas have caused the earth to be full like the stomach of a drunk, and it is now (essentially) vomiting. He asks Spenser to send him a copy of the inevitable “threehalfepennie Pamphlet for news” or “Tragicall Ballet in Ryme” about the earthquake, but in his superior vein, wishes “some learned, and well advised University man, would undertake the matter, and bestow some pains in deed upon so famous and material an argument. The general Nature of Earthquakes by definition, and the special diversity of them by division, being perfectly known…”
I took myself off to read one of the “threehalfepennie Pamphlets” about the 1580 earthquake, that by Thomas Churchyard, which amid its pious exhortations, gives the facts, and some vivid detail:
“On Wednesday in the Easter week, being the sixth day of April. 1580. between the hours of five and six in the evening, happened generally through all the City of London, & the Suburbs of the same (as it were in a moment and upon the sudden) a wonderful motion and trembling of the earth, in so much, as Churches, Palaces, Houses, and other buildings did so quiver and shake, that such as were then present in the same were tossed too and fro as they stood, and others, as they sate on seats, driven off from their places: some leaning backwards, were ready to fall: and many besides so shaken standing, that it brought such terror to those that were in the same houses, that the most part feared, their houses would come down upon them, and thereupon ran out of their doors in great perplexity, to see whether their houses were still standing in their wonted place or no. And some houses did so crackle, that the tables and stools, with other furniture, as Brass and Pewter, so tottered, that it was thought they would have fallen to the ground, and the houses rest insunder.”
The quake brought down the top of a pinnacle of Westminster Abbey, bells tolled of their own accord in steeples, it was felt in the great chamber at
For Churchyard, this is all a matter of God's wrath, and he runs through a list of those whose sins draw such correction upon God's people, among which 'fulkers' feature:
"You greedy graceless Fulkers lewd, that lets out gold for gain,
Take heed, lest from the heavens high, hot fire and Brimstone rain."
I had never seen this word before, as you see it means moneylender. A pity it didn't last, but one can see reasons why it wouldn't. (Try "I am a fulker at Lloyds Bank".)
The impious fared rather better than the pious. Plays were being performed at the theatres to the north of the City:
These events were frightening enough to prompt publication of a special order of prayer:
The order of prayer, and other exercises, vpon Wednesdays and Frydayes, to auert and turne Gods wrath from vs, threatned by the late terrible earthquake: to be vsed in all parish churches and housholdes throughout the realme, / by order giuen from the Queenes Maiesties most honourable priuie counsel (1580)
As you see from the title, it recommended fasting two days a week, gave suitable extracts from Isaiah, and the Book of Joel, even a psalm complete with musical notation (xlvi, ‘The Lord is our defence and aid’). The book has ‘A prayer to be used of all householders, with their whole family, every evening before they go to bed, that would please God to turn away his wrath from us, threatened in the last terrible earthquake”. The prayer includes
“We most heartily and humbly beseech thy Fatherly goodness, to look down from thy throne of thy mercy seat upon us most miserable, and sinful slaves of Sathan, which with feareful and trembling hearts doe quake, and shake at the strange & terrible token of thy wrath and indignation appearing most evidently unto us, by thy shaking, and moving of the earth.”
but no special apology for those odious fulkers.