Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Adam Foulweather A wonderfull, strange and miraculous astrologicall prognostication 1591

A Wonderfull … Astrologicall Prognostication (1591) is a pamphlet by “Adam Fouleweather Student in Asse-tronomy” which has been attributed to Thomas Nashe (“unconvincingly” according to DNB). It was one of a trio of mock prognostications, the others by ‘Francis Fairweather’ and ‘Simon Smellknave’ do not survive. It ridicules the popular prognostications that were published with almanacs. It claimed it was “Discovering such wonders to happen this yeere, as neuer chaunced since Noes floud. Wherein if there be found one lye, the author will lose his credit for ever.”


“But here by the way gentle Reader, note that this Eclipse sheweth, that this year shall be some strange births of children produced in some monstrous form, to the grief of the parents, and fearful spectacle of the beholders . . . Others shall have their fingers of the nature of lime twigs, to get most part of their living with five and a reach: some shall be born with feet like unto hares, that they shall run so swift, that they shall never tarry with master, but trudge from post to pillar, till they take up beggars’ bush for their lodging: Others shall have noses like swine, that there shall not be a feast within a mile, but they shall smell it out.”


“Hares” were young men who do not see out apprenticeships, usually seven years, and therefore end up in poverty. They are placed with hangers on who will smell out any feast, and pickpockets. Lime was a sticky mixture used to catch birds. “Five and a reach” was pick-pocketing.

The usage of Beggars Bush is literary and typical. He is not suggesting that they would go to a particular place but would end in a particular state, and through their own fault. Notably later in the same pamphlet the author refers to beggars and their lodgings, which are not bushes:
“The third parte of an English yeere called Summer, taketh his beginning . . . when the wether waxeth so hot that beggers scorne barnes and lie in the field for heate”.


Almanacs were, with the Bible, the most widely printed and distributed books of the sixteenth century. They were issued annually from 1540, with kalendars added. Prognostications, based upon astrological analysis, were issued with them, but as seperate publications. Prognostications were aimed at a more popular audience, and often in pamphlet form. From 1583 the printers Richard Watkins and James Roberts had a patent for almanacs, kalendars and prognostications, but released the restriction on pamphlets. These were sold for 1d. or 2d., and had regional editions. See Poor Robin for a later example.

Thomas Nashe (c.1567-1601)

Thomas Nashe was a writer who turned his hand to most types of writing. He was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Nashe claimed he was of a family with ‘larger petigrees than patrimonies’. In 1582 Nashe matriculated as a sizar (supported student) at St John’s College, Cambridge. He graduated BA in March 1586, and was still attending philosophy lectures in 1588. He left without taking his MA, possibly following involvement with a play called Terminus & non terminus, for which another scholar was expelled.

His education enabled him to display classical scholarship within his populist prose. He was one of the ‘University Wits’, including Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe, who were his contemporaries at Cambridge.

Nashe, with Greene, was widely believed to have been engaged in the Martin Marprelate controversy as the author of anti-Martinist pamphlets, but there is no consensus as to which. He is also linked with An Almond for a Parrat (1590) under the alias Cutbert Curry-knave, dedicated to the comic actor Will Kemp.
For much of the rest of his career Nashe was involved in a battle of pamphlets with Gabriel Harvey. Nashe was associated with Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, whose theatre company performed at The Rose, for whom he wrote mildly obscene verses, known as The Choise of Valentines or Nash his Dildo described by his nemesis Gabriel Harvey in 1593 as “thy unprinted packet of bawdye and filthy rimes“. Nashe wrote elsewhere of “prostituting” his pen “in hope of gaine”. He dined with Robert Greene at the “fatall banquet” excess at which caused Greene’s final illness. Rumours that Nashe had written Greenes Groatsworth of Wit (1592) were sufficient for him to deny responsibility for what he called the “scald, trivial, lying pamphlet”. Nashe’s most popular work was Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Divell (1592), a brashly witty survey of contemporary London types, and the story of an impecunious writer who having “tost his imagination like a dogge in a blanket” resolves to seek the Devil’s patronage.

Nashe seems to have been involved in printing, including lodging with John Danter who published early editions of Shakespeare, and contributed to lost plays. In 1597 The Isle of Dogs by Nashe and Ben Jonson was denounced by the Privy Council as “lewd … seditious and sclanderous”. While Jonson was imprisoned Nashe fled to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Later that year Archbishop Whitgift, who had previously entertained Nashe in his household and promoted the anti-Martinist pamphlets, decreed in his capacity as chief censor that “all Nasshes bookes and Dr Harveyes bookes be taken wheresoever they maye be founde, and that none of theire books bee ever printed hereafter”.

Nashe seems to have had a youthful appearance and, unusually for the time, no beard. His friend Henry Chettle called him “boy” and his enemy Harvey variously called him “puppy”, “baby” & “brat”. Nashe himself uses the word a “stripling” of himself when he was about 30. A character in the play The Returne from Parnassus generally supposed to be based on Nashe is likened to a “schole-boy giving the world a bloudy nose”, and that would be a good summary of his reputation.
Nashe died about 1601. Ben Jonson’s elegy describes him as a “deare freind”, and a “greate spirite”. He influenced Jonson, Middleton and Dekker, but is best remembered for his pamphlets. DNB says “their irrepressible humour stands out sharply against the backdrop of circumstances—poverty, censorship, imprisonment—in which they were written.”


Nashe was also widely connected in the literary scene. He would have encountered the literary phrase in Martin Marprelate’s tract The Epistle, and was connected to or wrote with Robert Greene, and Ben Jonson, who both used it, and Henry Chettle, who may have.

We know he was educated at Cambridge, and that in February 1593 he stayed at Conington in Huntingdonshire, home of the antiquary and bibliophile Robert Cotton, and that in 1595 he visited Lincolnshire. It is therefore more than likely that he encountered Saxton’s Five Counties map, and passed the Huntingdon Beggars Bush near Godmanchester.


Adam Foulweather A wonderfull, strange and miraculous astrologicall prognostication
Adam Foulweather A wonderfull, strange and miraculous astrologicall prognostication
(a convenient website for texts, not just for those who believe that Nashe wrote Foulweather but Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, wrote Nashe, Shakespeare, Greene and the Marprelate Tracts)


Bosanquet, E.F., English printed almanacks and prognostications; a bibliograpnical history to the year 1600, London (1917)

Posted: March 27th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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