The story of


Mother Shipton was a Yorkshire witch who prophesied about future events in the form of poems.

Her prophecies predicted the fates of several rulers within and just after her lifetime - the invention of iron ships, Great Fire of London in 1666, the defeat of the Spanish Armada... and even the end of the world!


  • On a summer night in 1488, a young girl gave birth to an illegitimate child in a cave in North Yorkshire. This child was to grow into a woman, whose name still carries the mysterious power of prophecy. Why? What was it that made Ursula Sontheil, later the wife of ordinary carpenter, Toby Shipton, so feared and respected, not only in her home town of Knaresborough, but throughout the land and for centuries to come?
  • No one knows for certain the circumstances surrounding the birth of the child in a cave beside the River Nidd. However, one thing is for sure - the birthplace and the magical Petrifying Well has been attracting people ever since!

  • Since 1641 there have been more than fifty different editions of books about Mother Shipton and her prophecies, some purporting to tell her life story in considerable detail. One of the earliest accounts was said to have recorded the sayings of Mother Shipton, as told to one Joanne Waller, who died soon afterwards at the great age of ninety-four. That would mean Joanne, as a young girl, had listened to the old lady not long before her death in 1561.

Her Prophecies

  • She is said to have prophesied many things during her lifetime, including the Civil War, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada!
  • One of her famous prophecies involved Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The Cardinal was having problems with the king of the time, Henry VIII. The prophecy was that he would never set foot in the city of York - despite being its archbishop. It must have made him very uneasy.
  • The Cardinal dispatched three lords to see Mother Shipton and, with luck, to silence her. They warned her that, when he got to York, he would see her burnt at the stake for witchcraft. She laughed and repeated her prophecy that the Cardinal would never reach York.
  • The news of Mother Shipton's insolence angered the Cardinal and he rushed towards York, determined to prove her wrong and to orchestrate her demise.
  • Travelling up, he was at his penultimate destination, Cawood Tower, only ten miles to the south of the city.
  • The night before he climbed the tower to try and see York, but just before he could he was arrested to face a charge of high treason!
  • Such foreknowledge sealed Mother Shipton's reputation. During the years that followed, her name became synonymous with dark warnings of the future. And the immediate future was more turbulent than ever, especially in Yorkshire.

  • Charles Hindley, a Victorian writer, used Mother Shipton's reputation to fool the Victorian public. Though these prophecies were fake, they served to increase Mother Shipton's status as a prophetess:
  • A house of glass shall come to pass
  • In England, but alas!
  • War will follow with the work
  • In the land of the pagan and the Turk
  • Mother Shipton's popularity was captalised upon by companies and she even appeared on some early Victorian adverts!

  • What must be certain is that some 500 years ago a woman called Mistress Shipton lived here in Knaresborough and that when she spoke people believed her and passed her words on.
  • Did she live somewhere near the Petrifying Well, where the strange little stream with its powers to turn to stone ran down into the River Nidd? Perhaps she walked here, along what is now called the Long Walk, gathering herbs for her potions and healing remedies.
  • The prophecies may not be all historically correct and the stories may have been embellished slightly over the centuries, but she remains one of those legendary figures of romance and folklore entwined in the imagination and environment.

The End

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