» Home > In the News

The Royals and Electricity in the atmosphere

11 October 2013

In 1251 lightning is said to have destroyed the bedchamber of the queen at Windsor and shook the whole house. In the nearby Windsor Forest thirty five trees were split asunder (Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum). Lightning struck this year too, striking houses and setting them abaze (Weather Eye, The Times). For example, in Wakefield lightning hit a chimney, passed into the loft and then travelled through the central heating system and set the house on fire.

In 1288 Edward I, while in Gascony in France, was on a couch talking to his wife when lightning entered the open window and killed two attendants standing nearby (Chronicle of Lanercost). In 1888, 600 years later, the Prince of Wales was at a viewing platform on the summit of a mountain (again, in France) looking at the scenery, when taking off his hat, his hair was seen to stand on end (Manual of Meteorology, 1930). He lifted up his arms above his head and there was a discharge of electricity – and when he lifted up his walking stick, high in the air, thee was a crackling sound emitted at the end of the stick. This has been interpreted as a case of St Elmo's fire, one of those subjects more commonly wrote about in the likes of Fortean Times, and this is a small electrical discharge that can flow from the extremities of the body and is often a sign of lightning about to strike. In this case – it didn't as he later became king (Edward VIII).

In most of history the house at Wakefield would perhaps not have rated recording, especially if it had been the abode of a peasant. Perhaps. It is a fact that history is largely the record of events of the nobility and the crown, and the great and the good, largely lived in prominent houses, or castles, very often on hills. They were perhaps prone to be hit by lightning. However, records of lightning in the last 160 years can be actually accessed online at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk and presumably there is an equivalent in the US, Australia, and on mainland Europe.

Accessing older chronicles is also fairly easy on the Internet and the Matthew Paris Historia Anglorum can be purchased for as little as £10 online (and likewise from your local bookshop if you are prepared to wait a few days). It provides a window on the medieval world that is quite fascinating – written down as the events occurred (and were reported as he was himself a monk at St Albans Abbey). Unusual weather and phenomena were a feature of the period 1235 to 1270 and smack in the middle of this we have the sulphite spike at 1258.

Skip to content