Open main menu

BOMELIUS, ELISEUS or LICIUS (d. 1574?), physician and astrologer, was the son of Henry Bomelius, a native of Bommel in Holland, who was from 1540 to 1559 Lutheran preacher at Wesel in Westphalia; was the author of several religious and historical books of wide repute, and died in 1570 at Duisburg. The Dutch original of ‘the summe of the holy Scripture and ordinarye of Christian teaching,’ published in London in 1548, is attributed to Henry Bomelius in the British Museum Catalogue. Henry Bomelius was a friend of Bishop Bale, who lived for some time at Wesel, and he contributed Latin verses in the author's praise to Bale's ‘Illustrium Maioris Britanniæ … Summarium’ (Wesel, 1548), and to his ‘Scriptorum … Catalogus’ (1557). Young Bomelius was said by his contemporaries to be a native of Wesel. Owing probably to Bale's advice, he was educated at Cambridge, where he proceeded to the degree of doctor of medicine. He was well received by the English reformers and contributed an ‘epigramma’ in Latin elegiacs to an edition of Thomas Becon's early works published in 1560. Henry Bennet, of Calais [q.v.] , in dedicating his ‘Life of Œcolampadius’ to James Blount, sixth Baron Mountjoy (30 Nov. 1561), praises Mountjoy for entertaining with ‘zealous affection Heliseus Bomelius, a German, who readeth unto your honour the liberal sciences, and whom Phillip Melancthon hath in familiar letters praysed highly for erudicion and godlynes.’ At a little later date Bomelius is said to have lived in the house of Lord Lumley. As a physician and astrologer Bomelius rapidly made a high reputation in London. ‘People,’ writes Strype (Life of Parker, ii. 1), ‘resorted to him to be cured of their sicknesses, having a wonderful confidence in him and in his magic.’ Sir William Cecil is said to have consulted Bomelius as to the queen's length of life, during one of the early negotiations for her marriage. ‘An almanacke and pronostication of master Elis Bomelius for ye yere of our lorde god 1567 autorysshed by my lorde of London [Edmund Grindal],’ is entered on the Stationers' register for 1566–7 (Arber's Transcript, i. 335). No copy of this book, which, according to Tanner, was published in 12mo, and dealt with the effects of two eclipses, is now known to be extant.

In 1567 Bomelius was arrested at the instance of Dr. Thomas Francis, president of the College of Physicians, for practising medicine without license of the college. He was lodged in the King's Bench prison. On 27 May 1567 he wrote to Cecil praying for an opportunity to expose Dr. Francis's ignorance of astronomy and Latin, and in succeeding letters to the lord treasurer he petitioned for his release. and for pecuniary assistance. On 3 May 1568 he supplicated at Oxford for incorporation as a doctor of medicine of Cambridge (Oxf. Register, Oxf. Hist. Soc. i. 270). Early in 1569 Bomelius's wife stated before the council of the College of Physicians that her husband had given due satisfaction for his offence to the queen and the lord treasurer, and petitioned for the council's consent to his liberation. The council demanded payment of a 20l. fine and 15l. costs, which Bomelius's poverty did not allow him to pay. On 2 June 1569 the council appears to have offered Bomelius his release on condition of his giving a bond of 100l. to abstain henceforth from the practice of medicine, but early in 1570 he would seem to have been still a prisoner, and his wife was in frequent communication with Archbishop Parker as to the conditions of his release. Before Easter 1570 he was ‘an open prisoner’ of the king's bench, and in April 1570 Parker ‘was minded to have taken bond of Bomelius shortly to have departed the realm,’ but Bomelius temporarily frustrated this purpose by announcing in a letter to Parker that he had knowledge of a terrible danger hanging over England. The archbishop sent the letter to Cecil and urged him to examine Bomelius in the privy council. But Cecil entered into private correspondence with the doctor in the expectation of discovering a conspiracy. All, however, that Bomelius communicated to Cecil was a statement as to the queen's nativity and a portion of a book ‘De Utilitate Astrologiæ,’ in which he tried to prove that great revolutions take place every 500 years, and that as rather more than 500 years had elapsed since the Norman conquest, England must be in imminent peril. Cecil treated Bomelius's announcements with deserved contempt, and Bomelius therefore resolved to quit the country. An ambassador from Russia named Ssavin, who was in London at the time, offered to take him to Russia, and with that offer Bomelius closed. The English government did not hinder his departure, and late in 1570 Bomelius, who had promised to supply Cecil with political information and to send him small presents yearly, was settled in Russia. When Sir Jerome Horsey began his travels in that country (1572), he frequently met Bomelius at Moscow, and he writes that Bomelius was then living in great pomp at the court of Ivan (Vassilovitch) IV, was in high favour with the czar as a magician, and was holding an official position in the household of the czar's son. He is said by Horsey to have amassed great wealth, which he transmitted by way of England to his native town of Wesel, and to have encouraged the czar, by his astrological calculations, to persist in an absurd project of marrying Queen Elizabeth. But he habitually behaved (according to Horsey) as ‘an enymie to our nation,’ and falsely represented that Elizabeth was a young girl. After a few years of prosperity, Bomelius was charged (about 1574) with intriguing with the kings of Poland and Sweden against the czar. He was arrested with others and cruelly racked, but he refused to incriminate himself. He was subsequently subjected to diabolical tortures and died in a loathsome dungeon. Horsey, who gives a full description of his death, characterises him as ‘a skilful mathematician, a wicked man, and practiser of much mischief.’ In 1583 Bomelius's widow returned to England with Sir Jerome Bowes. No books of Bomelius are now known, but Henry Bennet of Calais, when speaking of his ‘erudicion and godlynes’ in his ‘Life of Œcolampadius,’ adds: ‘Albeit hys learned workes published geve due testimony thereof.’ The prescriptions in Gervase Markham's ‘English Housewife’ (1631) are taken (see p. 5) from a manuscript by Bomelius and Dr. Burket.

[Tanner's Biblioth. Brit.; Horsey's Travels in Russia (ed. E. A. Bond for the Hakluyt Soc.), xxxii, 187; Cal. State Papers, 1547–80; Strype's Life of Parker, ii. 1–5, iii. 176; Parker's Correspondence (Parker Soc.), 363–4; Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. 227a; Hamel's Russia and England (transl. by J. S. Leigh), pp. 202–6.]

S. L. L.