Who was Arthur Gauntlet?

The Grimoire of Arthur Gauntlet is a fascinating example of a Cunning-man’s book of practice, but who was Arthur Gauntlet? The only known published literary reference to Arthur Gauntlet was by the famous astrologer William Lilly (1602-1681) in his autobiography, written around 1668.[1] The quote from Lilly provides some significant peripheral information which can help us create at least a sketchy picture of Arthur Gauntlet.

“I was very familiar with one Sarah Skelhorn, who had been Speculatrix unto one Arthur Gauntlet about Gray’s Inn Lane,[2] a very lewd fellow, professing physick. This Sarah had a perfect sight, and indeed the best eyes for that purpose I ever yet did see. Gauntlet’s books, after he was dead, were sold, after I had perused them, to my scholar Humphreys: there were rare notions in them. This Sarah lived a long time, even until her death, with one Mrs. Stockman in the Isle of Purbeck, and died about fifteen years since.”[3]

It seems curious that Lilly should describe Sarah Skelhorn (called Sarah Shelborne in the introduction) so positively as such a good seer, and yet be negative about Arthur Gauntlet.  Lilly’s single reference to him as a ‘lewd fellow’ stands out and labels Gauntlet without allowing any opportunity for defence of his character or further consideration. However it is clear from Lilly’s writings that he was quick to denigrate anybody who he felt was not a respectable practitioner of astrology or the magical arts by his standards. I suggest that the fact that Arthur Gauntlet should have such a good speculatrix or seer combined with the heavily angelic and moral nature of Gauntlet’s manuscript may mitigate Lilly’s unqualified negative remark about his character.

We can deduce something more about Arthur Gauntlet through another mention of his name, in MS Laud Misc 19.  This manuscript contains an early ownership inscription of Arthur Gauntlet, and was in William Laud’s possession in 1636.  This manuscript includes a “Treatise, based on and including extracts from Hilton‘s Scale, describing the way of meditation and the mystical experience”.[4]

Considering the nature of Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection offers some revealing insights.  Hilton (c.1343-1396) discusses such topics as the form of spiritual visions and how to induce contemplation through meditation, prayer and Scripture.  The Scale of Perfection was written as an instructional guide for women who had taken vows or committed to a religious life, and as such may have been of interest to, for example, a female skryer such as Sarah Skelhorn.

If we make the tentative assumption that MS Laud Misc 19 passed directly from Arthur Gauntlet’s hands, being sold on after his death, and that it went directly into William Laud’s possession from Gauntlet, then it suggests a date of death around 1636.  That a book containing spiritual material belonging to Arthur Gauntlet should end up in the hands of William Laud (1573-1645) is very interesting.  William Laud was the Bishop of London from 1628-33, and it may be possible that he and Arthur Gauntlet met or even knew each other.  This would provide a possible explanation for why Laud should end up with one of Gauntlet’s books, particularly considering the religious nature of its contents.

There are some clues in the text which suggest that Arthur Gauntlet was a very capable practitioner, who did not just rely on material from earlier sources, or had access to someone else who was.  The magic circles found in this work have some very interesting features which are not seen in other grimoires, and which would seem to be the result of experience being applied.  Thus we see the circles having a larger and more spacious diameter of fourteen foot, not the standard nine foot found in many grimoires drawing on the Heptameron.

It is also significant that in light of his conjurations being largely of angels; Gauntlet uses a second smaller circle for the crystal to be positioned in, and for angelic manifestation.  The shape of this is in contrast to the constraining triangle used with demons found in the Goetia, or the pentagram used with faeries found in Sloane MS 3824.  However a circle would make sense for angels as a perfect shape representing the divine and not seeking to dominate them as one would need to do for demons.

Another interesting feature of this manuscript is that the one magical tool emphasised is the wand.  There is a consecration of a wand given, as well as charms which require the use of a wand.  Considering the emphasis on the sword in many grimoires, this suggests a more practical and simplified approach with a more transportable and inconspicuous tool.

[1] “Wrote by himself in the 66th year of his Age”, The Life of William Lilly, Davies:1774:1.
[2] This street is now called Gray’s Inn Road.
[3] The Life of William Lilly, Davies, 1774:149.
[4] The Index of Middle English Prose Handlist XVI, Ogilvie-Thomson, 2000:1.

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