An Earthquake: England. Dover Straits. 1382.

By Robert Chambers, with additions by Amos Staff.

May 21, 1382, ‘There was a great earthquake in England, at nine of the clock, fearing the hearts of many; but in Kent it was most vehement, where it sunk some churches and throw them down to the earth.’ —Stow’s Chronicles.

A song written at the time upon this earth-quake has been preserved, and must be considered as something of a curiosity. It treats the matter as a great warning to an over-careless people.

‘And also when this earth quoke, 
    Was none so proud he n’as aghast, 
And all his jollity forsook,
    And thought on God while that it last;
And as soon as it was over-past,
    Men wox as evil as they dead are; 
Each man in his heart may cast,
    This was a warning to beware.

Forsooth, this was a lord to dread,
    So suddenly made men aghast,
Of gold and silver they took none heed,
    But out of their houses full soon they passed;
Chambers, chimneys, all tobrest [burst],
    Churches and castles foul ‘gan fare; 
Pinnacles, steeples to ground it cast,
    And all for warning to beware.’

*      *      *       *       *

Sickerly I dare well say,
    In such a plight this world is in, 
Mony for winning would betray
    Father and mother and all his kin. 
Now [it] were high time to begin
    To amend our lives and well to fare; 
Our bag hangeth on a slipper pin,
    But we of this warning beware.’

The effect of an earthquake in producing serious feelings must of course depend on the strength of the shock. We may presume that the particular course which reformation is to take will depend. in great measure on the kinds of profligacy and folly which happen to be reigning at the time. A New England news-paper of 1727 announces that ‘a considerable town in this province has been so awakened by the awful providence in the earthquake, that the women have generally laid aside their hoop-petticoats.’ Many amongst us would probably be glad to stand a shock of not immoderate violence, if any such reformation could be expected from it.

There were significant aftershocks on May 23 and 24.

Original damage from the May 21 earthquake was reported as far away as Ypres, Bruges, Liège, Ghent.

See Also:

1382 Dover Straits Earthquake (Wikipedia)

Fun Fact: The “Earthquake Synod” was a religious gathering held in the Blackfriars area of London on May 21, 1382. It discussed Lollardy, transubstantiation, and friars. Called “the earthquake synod” because, um, earthquake that day. (Wikipedia) The synod found ten of Wycliffe’s propositions to be heretical, another six to be erroneous. The synod opened the door to the persecution and execution of the Lollards in England.

From William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury: “This earthquake portends the purging of the kingdom from heresies. For as there are shut up in the bowels of the earth many noxious spirits, which are expelled in an earthquake, and so the earth is cleansed, but not without great violence: so there are many heresies shut up in the hearts of reprobate men, but by the condemnation of them the kingdom is to be cleansed, but not without irksomeness and great commotion.”

Other Events of 1382:

January: Anne of Bohemia marries Richard II of England.

May: Joanna of Naples executed.

Winchester College (Hampshire, England) is founded. (Pro Tip: Not a post-graduate college; independent boarding school for boys.

The original entry for the May 21 earthquake is found in Chambers’ Book of Days. A hyperlinked and searchable version of this work can be found here.


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