The Mystery Of Mother Shipton & Her Link To My Recent Find

Favourite Finds


Welcome to this week's instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'.

In North Yorkshire, nestled just outside of the lovely town of Knaresborough, you'll find the birthplace of Ursula Southeil, or as she's more famously known, Mother Shipton.  Born in 1488, Mother Shipton is England's most famous prophetess.  During her lifetime she made several premonitions about some of the most significant historical events to take place in England, including the Great Fire of London and the Spanish Armada.  This week's post is about the life of Mother Shipton and how a rather fascinating recent find of mine links in with her story. 

So, as always, get that kettle on and get your crystal balls out as we take a look at the story behind my recent find and its link to Yorkshire's own, Mother Shipton... 


Image:  my 19th century Mother Shipton souvenir find


I should probably begin by telling you a little bit about the fascinating piece that I found which has been the basis of my research into the Mother Shipton story.  This piece dates from the 19th century and is carved from bone.  You'll see that the carving is a figure of a woman and that woman is, Mother Shipton.


Image:  my 19th century Mother Shipton souvenir find


Mother Shipton is remembered as such an important local phenomenon in her hometown of Knaresborough, that the remains of the cave in which she lived, situated close to the Petrifying Well, can still be visited today.  It is in fact the oldest tourist attraction to charge a fee in England, and has been operated since 1630.  And, it will have been during a visit to this tourist attraction in the 19th century that someone will have decided to buy a souvenir to remember their visit.  But, this was no ordinary souvenir, this was a good luck charm and a rare survivor today!


Image:  Mother Shipton


Mother Shipton began her life in a cave in a Knaresborough woodland in 1488. Her mother, a 15-year-old Agatha Soothtale, gave birth to her during a violent thunderstorm.  Sources suggest she was born deformed and ugly with a hunchback and bulging eyes.  They also described her as having a cackle rather than a cry when she was born.


Image:  Mother Shipton's Cave 


Agatha was a destitute young mother and was unable to support her daughter, Ursula.  Rumours began circulating the town and both Agatha and Ursula became ostracised from the local community.  Some believed that Ursula's conception was the work of the Devil, with many accusing Agatha of being a witch.


Image:  Mother Shipton's Cave


Both Agatha and Ursula were forced into the forest of Knaresborough as pariahs.  Young Agatha, alone and without any means to support herself or her child, raised Ursula in a cave on the banks of the River Nidd.  The cave in which they sheltered just so happened to contain a pool which was well known to locals for being shaped like a skull, which only added fuel to the scare-mongering fire.


Image:  Mother Shipton 


Two years later, the Abbott of Beverley became aware of the situation and offered assistance.  Urusla was subsequently handed to a local family who looked after her, whilst Agatha was taken away to a distant nunnery in Nottinghamshire, never to be seen again. 


Image:  Mother Shipton's house


Ursula remained in the local area, however, her appearance and behaviour was said to have been strange and attracted much ridicule from others in the town.  Rumours had begun of strange and unexplained phenomenon’s occurring in retaliation to those who dared to ridicule or demonise her.


 Image:  Mother Shipton


Ursula again began visiting the woodland and the cave where she had been born.  It was here that she learnt to devise potions, remedies and concoctions made from the local flora.  Her abilities and knowledge as a herbalist began to quickly grow within the community and she soon became a very called-upon resource for those wishing for her to cure their ailments.


 Image:  Mother Shipton


Then, aged twenty-four, Ursula married a carpenter from York named Tobias Shipton, thus becoming Mrs Shipton.  Many were surprised that Tobias would want to her, with some claiming she must have put a spell on him.

However, her marriage was short lived when her life was struck by personal tragedy once more.  Just two years after marrying Tobias, he passed away.  Rumours began circulating around the circumstances of Tobias' death and Ursula became a social outcast once more.


Image:  Mother Shipton making her premonitions 


She fled in fear to her safe place in the woods.  She continued her practise of creating herbal remedies and it was here that her premonitions began.  She started with small occurrences that would happen locally, before moving onto larger predictions with greater ramifications.  One such local prediction involved a prophecy that water would come over Ouse Bridge and reach a windmill that would be set on a tower.


Image:  Ouse Bridge, York


Another of Mother Shipton’s local prophecies included the destruction of Trinity Church which would “fall in the night, till the highest stone in the church be the lowest stone of the bridge”.  Not long after this statement, a terrible storm fell upon Yorkshire, destroying the steeple of the Church and causing it to land upon the bridge.



These prophecies increased her public profile, to the extent that even King Henry VIII referenced Mother Shipton in a letter to the Duke of Norfolk.  Even the famous diarist Samuel Pepys' account of the Great Fire of London included details of hearing the Royal Family discuss Mother Shipton’s predictions of such an event.  As her reputation grew, so too did belief in her abilities, enabling her to make a living out of her prophecies.



Her abilities proved unnerving for some, however, high-profile cases such as predicting Cardinal Wolsey’s fate, or the ensuing dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, her status reached great new heights.  However, despite this, she remained an elusive figure that continued to mystify and intrigue those who came into contact with her.


Image:  statue of Mother Shipton in Knaresborough


Mother Shipton died in 1561, aged 73.  However, her abilities had placed her firmly within the pages of English folklore and legend.  In fact, an account of her life and prophecies was published in 1641, eighty years after her death.


Image:  my 19th century Mother Shipton souvenir find


You'll be pleased to hear that my rare 19th Century caved bovine Mother Shipton souvenir piece is currently available to buy HERE



Well, that's it for this week folks.  I Hope you've enjoyed this little look into the very sad but fascinating world of Mother Shipton.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




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  • Liina on

    Loved this 😍

  • Liina on

    Loved this 😍

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