Mother Shipton is England’s most oldest and famous Tourist attraction.
It’s important to mention before I go on that nobody really knows if Mother Shipton really existed or exactly who she was but…….
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 17th, 18th and19th centuries.
Known famously to us as Mother Shipton but many believed her real name was Ursula Sontheil. Very little is known about Ursula’s parents but local legend says she was born during a violent thunderstorm in a cave on the banks of the River Nidd in Knaresborough in the UK. Her mother, Agatha, was just fifteen years old when she gave birth, and despite being dragged before the local magistrate, she would not reveal who the father was. Agatha raised Ursula by herself in a cave on her own for two years.
It’s said that, Abbott of Beverley took pity on them and a local family took Ursula in. Agatha was taken to a nunnery far away, where she died some years later and she never saw her daughter again.
Ursula appeared different from most of the other children growing up in Knaresborough at the time. It was said that her nose was large and crooked, her back bent and her legs twisted and because of her appearance, she was often tensed. Over the years, after much abuse from the locals, Ursula learnt that the best company to surround herself with was nature and just herself. She spent most of her days around the cave where she was born and studied the forest, the flowers and herbs and made remedies and potions with them.
When she was 24, it is said she met a man by the name of Tobias Shipton. He was a carpenter from the city of York. After only a few years of being together, Tobias died but Ursula always kept his second name. The mother nickname came as Ursula got older. Ursula lived a very long life and died in 1553, aged 73 years.
Mother Shipton’s prophecies, didn’t appear documented anywhere until 1641, 80 years after her reported death.
It was said she predicted the great fire of London, the plague and the end of the world! It was a common occurrence for those in politics to use prophecies to predict future events and its said Old Mother Shipton ability was used to predict such things especially among uprisers against Henry VII.
Many of her written predictions were confirmed as forgeries, created to sell greater numbers of chapbooks and almanacs. Her 1684 “biographer” spun spooky details of her birth and existence; the 1881 end-of-the-world prophecy was debunked when the Victorian editor Charles Hindley publicly confessed to concocting the verses himself.
However, there is some evidence to back up the legend in the 1500s written by Henry VII. He speaks of a lady nicknamed ‘The York Witch’. Henry VIII, who wanted action taken against the rebels, dictated the following letter to Norfolk in response:
“We approve of your proceedings in the displaying of our banner, which being now spread, till it is closed again the course of our laws must give place to martial law; and before you close it up again, you must cause such dreadful execution upon a good number of inhabitants, hanging them on trees, quartering them, and setting their heads and quarters in every town, as shall be a fearful warning, whereby shall ensue the preservation of a great multitude… You shall send up to us the traitors Bigod, the friar of Knareborough, Leche, if he may be taken, the vicar of Penrith and Towneley, late chancellor to the bishop of Carlise, who has been a great promoter of these rebellions, the witch of York and one Dr. Pykering, a canon. You are to see to the lands and goods of such as shall now be attainted, that we may have them in safety, to be given, if we be so disposed, to those who have truly served us…”
Was Henry VII referring to some women who acted as a witch or was he making reference to Old Mother Shipton?
I believe that such stories normally have some truth behind them and I think that maybe there was a lady in the area of Knaresborough that probably did exist and probably did make predictions. Maybe, over the years, the story and prophecies that have been told in regards to what this lady may have been may have been lied about and extended on to suit a person’s own needs.
If Mother Shipton did exist, she would have been hidden from history and documented texts. Remember such a thing would have been branded as witchcraft and such a person would have been killed and those associated to that person, so it would make sense to why there is very little documented evidence of this lady.
Whether or not you believe she existed or not the attraction is very much worth a visit. Below are some pictures I took from the location.