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Shakespeare mentions a “weather-cock” in his plays Merry Wives of Windsor, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, which is a kind of weather vane used for measuring wind direction. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, astronomers Tycho Brahe and David Fabricus kept daily weather diaries noting details like the rain, snow, and temperature for their respective parts of Europe. But these two astronomers were far from the only people watching the weather in the late 16th and early 17th century. Other diarists including Haller Wolfagang, and Ralph Josselin, would keep similar diaries. From these notes we learn a description of the weather on specific days as well as exactly when and where major weather events like floods or even solar eclipses would have occurred. Since keeping data about the weather in the 16th century was happening before instruments like weather radar were in existence, it’s fascinating to look back and discover how the study of weather and even weather predictions were happening for Shakespeare’s lifetime. Here this week to share with us the details of meteorology for turn of the 17th century is our guest and expert historian on weather, Martin Rowley.  

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Martin Rowley is a meteorologist, formerly with the British Meteorological Office (UK state weather service). As part of his professional work advising both the British public & media outlets, and subsequently in retirement, Martin researched and recorded a database of historic British & Irish historic weather events. This data is now archived with the British Library / Web Archive service. Martin joins us today to share with us some of the history about life in turn of the 17th century England we can glean from the details found inside his research.  

I’ll be asking Martin Rowley about:

  • Who was it during Shakespeare’s lifetime that kept weather diaries?  
  • Shakespeare mentions a “weather-cock” in his plays Merry Wives of Windsor, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. This reference, I believe, is to a type of weather vane, shaped like a rooster, that could tell you wind direction. Was the weather vane one of the instruments being used to monitor the weather in the diaries you studied and what other kinds of instruments would have been useful for collecting weather data in the 16-17th century?
  • What about weather predictions? Was there a weatherman giving a 10 day forecast for Shakespeare’s lifetime? Would weather data have been published publicly?
  • …and more!

But he answered, and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, Fair weather,
for the sky is red.

Matthew 16:2, Geneva Bible, written

16th century woodcut demonstrating a flood. Moser, Hans, Flugblatt: Hochwasser der Schelde in Antwerpen am 1.11.1570, 1570, Flugblatt, Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Graphische Sammlung, HB 811. Public Domain. Source
Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs, detail | Public Domain | Source
John Gadbury, unknown artist. © National Portrait Gallery, London. line engraving, published 1663. Public Domain. Source

John Gadbury (pictured above) was someone in the 17th century that was hired by merchants and shipowners to predict whether the weather was going to be favorable for their voyages. (Source)

Resources I thought you’d find useful related to this topic:

English Weather: The Seventeenth-Century Diary of Ralph Josselin

English Weather: The Seventeenth-Century Diary of Ralph Josselin

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