From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Ursula Southeil (c. 1488–1561) (possibly Ursula Southill or Ursula Soothtell), better known as Mother Shipton, was an English soothsayer and prophetess. The first publication of her prophecies, which did not appear until 1641, eighty years after her death, contained a number of mainly regional predictions, but only two prophetic verses – neither of which foretold the End of the World, despite widespread assumptions to that effect.
One of the most notable editions of her prophecies was published in 1684. It states that she was born in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, in a cave now known as Mother Shipton's Cave, and was reputed to be hideously ugly. The book also claims that she married Toby Shipton, a local carpenter, near York in 1512 and told fortunes and made predictions throughout her life.
It is recorded in the diaries of Samuel Pepys that whilst surveying the damage to London caused by the Great Fire in the company of the Royal Family they were heard to discuss Mother Shipton's prophecy of the event.
The most famous claimed edition of Mother Shipton's prophecies supposedly foretells many modern events and phenomena. Widely quoted today as if it were the original, it contains over a hundred prophetic rhymed couplets in notably non-sixteenth-century language and includes the now-famous lines:
- The world to an end shall come
- In eighteen hundred and eighty one.
This supposed prophecy has appeared over the years with different dates and in (or about) several countries. However, this version did not appear in print until 1862, and its true author, one Charles Hindley, subsequently admitted in print that he had invented it.
This version appeared in Notes and Queries, December 7th, 1872, but various others were widely circulated.
<poem> ANCIENT PREDICTION,
"(Entitled by Popular tradition 'Mother Shipton's Prophecy,')
Published in 1448, republished in 1641.
Carriages without horses shall go, And accidents fill the world with woe. Around the world thoughts shall fly In the twinkling of an eye. The world upside down shall be And gold be found at the root of a tree. Through hills man shall ride, And no horse be at his side. Under water men shall walk, Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk. In the air men shall be seen, In white, in black, in green; Iron in the water shall float, As easily as a wooden boat. Gold shall be found and shown In a land that's now not known. Fire and water shall wonders do, England shall at last admit a foe. The world to an end shall come, In eighteen hundred and eighty one."</poem>
Quite who Mother Shipton was or what exactly she said is not definitively known. What is certain is that her name became linked with many tragic events and strange goings on recorded all over the UK, Australia and North America throughout the 17/18/19th centuries. Many fortune tellers used her effigy and statue, presumably for purposes of association marketing. Many pubs were named after her. Only two survive, one near her birthplace in Knaresborough and the other in Portsmouth where there is a lifesize statue above the door.
A caricature of Mother Shipton was used in early pantomime and is believed by historians to be the forerunner of the Panto dame.
There is a small moth native to Yorkshire named after her. It seemingly bears a profile of a hag's head on each wing.