Comets and Wondrous Signs in the Sky

Comets and Wondrous Signs in the Sky: Natural History and Religious Polemic in Early Modern France and Germany

Jennifer Spinks

My project takes as a starting point the well-known comet of 1556, often called the Charles V comet after Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who abdicated in the same year. I will examine how French Catholic authors of books, pamphlets and broadsheets reported wondrous and disastrous events happening in German-speaking Protestant lands in the context of the sixteenth-century Wars of Religion in France. Authors in France looked nervously to the turbulent religious upheaval that had fractured Germany over the preceding decades, and I would assess how authors including Gabriel Simeoni and Jean de Marconville, writing about “heavenly signs” seen in German lands in 1556, sought to balance polemical discourse about religious change with knowledge of classical literature and the need to record and circulate information about natural phenomena. In turn, my project will examine how such events were reported by German-speaking authors including Joachim Camerarius, Job Fincel, Konrad Lycosthenes, Caspar Goltwurm, Andreas Engel and Paul Fabricus. More broadly, I would aim to compare the flurry of publications from the mid- sixteenth century with French and German publications on comets and marvelous signs in the sky from across the early modern period, in order to gauge how religious and social upheaval affected interpretations of the disordered natural world.