Shake, Shake, Shake!

On 6 April 1580 the good people of England, Flanders, and Northern France had their dinners interrupted when the largest earthquake in the recorded history of those three nations struck at around 6 o’clock in the evening. This being the era of some of the greatest writers in the history of the English language, the event was pretty well recorded (including at least one parody that mocked the academic methods of accounting for the tremors, authored by Gabriel Harvey in a letter to Edmund Spenser. According to Thomas Churchyard, who wrote a contemporary account of the event that was published in pamphlet form two days later, ‘a wonderful motion and trembling of the earth shook London and Churches, Pallaces [sic], houses, and other buildings did so quiver and shake, that such as were then present in teh same were toosed too and fro as they stoode, and others, as they sate on seates, driven off their places.’

Damage ranged from furniture moving around to teh belfry of Notre Dame de Lorette and several buildings at Lille collapsing. Chimneys fell in Ghent, where peasants noticed the ground in the fields rolling in waves, and sections of wall fell in Dover, where a landslip added a nice new place to the White Cliffs.  Saltwood Castle in Kent—where the plot to assassinate Thomas a Becket was hatched back in 1170—was rendered uninhabitable until the 19th century. A pinnacle on Westminster Abbey in London fell, and two children were killed by stones falling from the roof of Christ’s Church Hospital. Never ones to miss an opportunity, the Puritans blamed the emerging theatre scene in London for the quake, because apparently good drama wakes up the Devil. As it came during Easter week, a time traditionally considered to be full of omens, people were a bit concerned, especially since aftershocks continued through the night and were felt in east Kent as late as May.

It’s estimated the magnitude of the quake was between 5.7-5.8, but it’s uncertain where the epicentre was located.



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