Repository logo

Stars in the Hand: The Manuscript and Intellectual Contexts of British Latin Medieval Chiromancy and its Scholastic and Astrological Influences



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title






Degree Level



This thesis aims to demonstrate the impact that other intellectual traditions had upon British Latin chiromantic manuals from the art’s first extant emergence from popular culture into European written culture in 1160 CE until the end of the medieval period (c.1500 CE) when the art had already begun to return to the popular level, bringing with it scholastic and astrological accretions it gained while transmitted and embellished by the learned elite. In this survey of the 27 extant manuscripts containing British Latin chiromantic texts from this period I have determined the specific intellectual contexts in which chiromantic texts circulated through careful analysis of the manuscript context in which they were transmitted. This allows me to expand and confirm many observations made by other scholars as well as to identify how the specific intellectual streams in which chiromancy circulated influenced the art’s development. I engage with the debate as to whether Latin chiromancy originated as a Greek, Arabic, or oral British tradition. Despite most branches of medieval European magic originating in the Greek or Arabic worlds before being translated into Latin following the twelfth-century Renaissance, the findings of this study support the theory, proposed by Charles Burnett, that Latin chiromancy (which holds no clear links to other chiromantic traditions) was recorded in a rudimentary form from oral sources. Once it entered into the learned environment it was shaped both in reaction to authoritative condemnations and the scholastic natural philosophy with which it was associated and bound. Scribal authors and transmitters deliberately anchored the art in accepted cosmographical theories to demonstrate that it was in fact a valid science. I then propose that the learned transmitters then brought this newly processed chiromancy with them out of the learned context, facilitating popular interest in the material which stimulated the production of the many fifteenth-century vernacular translations of chiromantic manuals. These accretions made chiromancy readily integrated with other contemporary branches of magic.



Chiromancy, Astrology, Medieval, Magic, Divination, Science, Religion, Philosophy, Medicine, Theology, Manuscript, Natural philosophy, Ideas, Occult, Esoteric, Scholasticism, Britain, Quadrivium



Master of Arts (M.A.)






Part Of