Hope and Fear in 17th Century England: Richard Saunders’ Chiromantic Textbook

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The seventeenth-century was depicted by historians as a `century of general crisis.` How much indeed were the daily lives of ordinary people influenced by the crisis, however? Even, have they ever recognized the presence of unusual phenomena in demographic, economic, political, and intellectual spheres? This study explores the perception of `the crisis` in personal level in seventeenth-century England examining Richard Saunders` chiromantic textbook, Physiognomie, and Chiromancie, Metoposcopie(1653). Chiromancy, a sub-branch of physiognomy, was a science which interprets the lines in a man`s hand to discover his fortune and his life. Chiromantic writers found an authoritative religious basis for their pseudo-science in the Bible during the Middle Ages, and the character analysis by means of palmistry was closely correlated with judicial astrology. Astrology underwent a boom after the Reformation and in the seventeenth century the English astrologers were to popularize the doctrines of their science in a vernacular literature. Saunders` chiromantic text reveals that the narrative of fortune-telling proved adaptable to the needs of the social environment. While the text maintains the central features of traditional human misfortune such as death, disease, and sudden disasters in life, it denotes the growing awareness of new type of insecurity: the crisis of social relations. Alienation and distrust of one`s fellow man were the predominant features of this period and chiromancy was utilized to teach a man to choose his friends and to recognize his enemies. The text also demonstrates that people tended to blame other people for their misfortune rather than blaming themselves. The narrative of fortune-telling in Saunders` text also poses new questions and suggests some revisions on various historical subjects in early modern England; the pattern of patriarchy in family relations, the locus of new individual identity, the ambiguity of parenting, the popular attitude toward woman, the power-distribution between husband and wife at the house, and the meaning of religion to the mess of the population who lived in the alleged period of religious turmoil. (Yonsei University)
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages39
Publication statusPublished - 2010
EventInternational Congress of Historical Science - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 2010 Aug 222010 Aug 28
Conference number: 21st


ConferenceInternational Congress of Historical Science
Abbreviated titleICHS
Internet address

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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