An eclipse of the Sun
the concluding months of the diary's record, changes began to
occur on a national scale which puritans saw as a divine response
to their prayers. In the diarist's eyes, these events began
with the commencement of the so-called short parliament on 13
this night Robert Woodforde observed a strange light in the sky.
Despite his frequent condemnation of superstitious beliefs and
practices, he regarded this light as an expression of divine
intention, though in almost 600 pages of writing, this entry is
the only example of such a belief:
In the eveninge about 9, of the clock there
was a strange streame of light came out of the Northwest closse by
the moone as then it was & came quite over, which I have called
diverse to see it, oh Lord thou shewest synes & wonders in heaven &
in the earth beneath & yet we remayne hardned still.
nature and cause of this event, it was not an eclipse. A true eclipse
was witnessed in England on 22 May 1639 and recognised as such by the
diarist on that day:
This day there was an eclipse of the sunne about 4
or 5 a clock in the afternoone. Oh Lord suffer not thy glorious
gospell so to be eclipsed, but that it may breake forth againe in
beauty & excellently for the Lord's sake.
The diarist is able to make dramatic metaphorical use of
this event, particularly the return of the sun's rays after the eclipse,
conquering the darkness, as if in triumph. Robert makes frequent use of
such biblical metaphor when in prayer and when expressing his religious
faith. Hence the image of the Antichrist located in Rome, and of English
bishops as being `limbs', members of the one sinful organism which must
be cut off and cut down. Writing at a time when there was much suffering
caused by repeated outbreaks of the plague, smallpox, measles and other
infectious diseases, he frequently likens the puritan community to the
Children of Israel, with the bishops and their hierarchy of
administrators and commissioners as the enslaving Egyptians.
in London in the autumn of 1639 the diarist embarked upon the
seemingly dangerous practice of meeting clandestinely with other
young puritan thinkers. On 6 November 1639 he had cause to visit
his cousin and his father-in-law's family and later lodged at
Clement's Inn with Mr Harvey, his
It is on
the following morning that the diarist reported that Harvey had made
contact with a group of like-minded men, noting " my Chamberfellowe hath found out a society of honest younge men in
o(u)r house." The association continued and on 9 November the
society, apparently in its infancy, convened again and was
joined by the diarist, meeting in "Mr Ratcliffs Chamber."
The group met next at St Clement's Inn on 16 November and again on
23 and 24 November. On 11 December 1639, (in the old calendar)
recognised by the diarist as the shortest day of the year, he
expressed his belief in personal salvation:
Ah Lord my time in this world is like a short winter
day, cloudy ... & soone ended give me in this my day to worke out my
Perhaps the diarist's most emphatic statement of his puritanical
belief is given as part of a long diary entry for 6 March 1638 after
hearing rumours of probable wars with Scotland:
Oh good Lord looke uppon us. What will these things come to ?
Thou alone knowest, for thou hast the orderinge and
dispersinge of all things. Oh let thy gospell breake forth
like the glorious sunne from under a Cloud that the eyes of
the adversaryes may be enlightened, or they may be so ashamed
that they may hide them selves in obscurity. Let thy truth be
so manifested & effectually declared that all iniquity may
Why should p(ro)phanenesse be established or continued by a
law ? Why should the haters of truth be increased & flourish
? Why should the p(re)cepts of men be taught for doctrines?
Why should carnall ordinances & an earthly sanctuary still
remayne & the worship in spirit & in truth be yet refused ?
Why should the whore of Rome, the mother of fornicacon & all
the abominnacons that are in the earth remayne under these
heavens & breath in thy agre? Why should not Babilon fall & be
cast rather into the botome of the sea like a milstone ???