— Gwen Seabourne (@gcseabourne) December 19, 2020
Tonight, I finally found a good place to go and look at the night sky event of 2020, the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Semi-confined as we still are, here in Bristol (now Tier 2 rather than Tier 3, but, apart from it still not being OK to lick doorknobs, or indeed people, I have lost track of what that means…) it took a bit of thought to come up with a decent lookout spot, and it started to … persist … down with rain just as I was setting off, but the view from the Downs was not bad at all.
Of course, apart from just enjoying the phenomenon, with my birdwatching binoculars (I am a strictly part-time stargazer) my mind could not help but run over various DEEPER MEANINGS: about things appearing to be touching, but in fact being spectacularly distant, about human longing to see and feel connections – life, the universe and everything. (Never quite left the angsty sixth form phase).
And then, equally ‘of course’, off my thoughts went to LEGAL HISTORY – because one of the reasons this celestial event is so cool is that it comes around very infrequently. What, I asked myself, was going on in the world of history/legal history at other points when this conjunction could be seen? Which historical heroes and villains might have seen it? Well, my old chum Edward Coke (ruffs, bad temper, casual relationship with the truth …) was around the last time the internet says it happened (in 1623) but would not have been able to see it, since on that occasion, it was too close to the sun. We are told that the last time it would have been possible to see the event was much further back, on 4th March 1226. The resonance which this has for me, and where I am now, is that, at this date, Eleanor of Brittany, unfortunate Angevin noblewoman and subject of an article I wrote long ago (Gwen, Eleanor of Brittany and her Treatment by King John and Henry III https://ssrn.com/abstract=3609270) as well as cropping up in other works, was involuntarily resident in Bristol, confined in the castle, and, not that she knew it, never again to be allowed her liberty. No doubt other interesting things were going on at the time (Carpenter’s Henry III Part I is earmarked for reading when I get a bit of spare time over the holiday, so I will be better informed shortly) but that rather self-centred connection is the one which suggests itself this evening.
Anyway, it seems appropriate, somehow, that 2020 should be rounded off by a celestial marvel, the ‘purblind Doomsters’ putting piffling humans in our rightful place good and proper. Here’s hoping that 2021 becomes calmer and less interesting for historians of the future.