Is there any evidence in documents not written by astrologers, astronomers, natural philosophers, indicating the average person from northwest Europe in the 17th century would know what someone was talking about if they said "solar eclipse" in their native tongue.


1 Answer 1


Hard to be sure for the first half of the century (see bottom) - but for the second half: absolutely.

Two total solar eclipses, just 28 months apart in April 1652 and August 1654, were visible across virtually all of Europe with paths of totality crossing Great Britain. I find it inconceivable that such events were not retold endlessly, until all who had seen them passed from this Earth sometime in the early 18th century.

In the maps below, blue marks the path of totality and the illuminated area enclosed in green visibility for a partial eclipse.

  • April 1652:
    enter image description here

  • August 1654:
    enter image description here

I didn't look up all 247 solar eclipses of the 17th Century - but below is a partial map for the century. The Eclipse in Southern France was on 12 October 1605, and also total, but did not include a map. It also was near 3 minutes long, so probably had a similar effect over most of the first half of the 17th century. enter image description here

List of Solar Eclipses in the 17th Century

Map of Solar Eclipses in the 17th Century

  • 2
    It should be noted that a partial eclipse could get unnoticed unless you look directly to the sun - which is usually not advisable.
    – Pere
    Jun 6, 2021 at 8:09
  • 3
    During my lifetime, I was several times close enough to the totality area of an eclipse so I was sure I could notice just anything of it. I tried, but I could not spot anything, because it was too cloudy, as usually is in the North West Europe. So I guess if had not learned in school that eclipses can happen, I would dismiss any talk of it as a silly witchtale. And so it could be for an average European in the mid 17th century.
    – jmster
    Jun 6, 2021 at 11:18
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    Presumably in a largely agrarian society, people would be more focused on the sun/moon? When folk wisdom said was best for planting/harvesting crops, when was best for hunting or poaching. So possibly people were more aware, even if they didn't understand what was happening - the end of the world?
    – TheHonRose
    Jun 6, 2021 at 11:25
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    @Pere: I assure you that an eclipse becomes very noticeable at about 50% of totality - impossible to miss at that point, looking at the sun or not. To someone who has spent their entire life working a farm under the sun and moon, I cannot imagine even 25% of totality going unmissed except under quite cloudy conditions. Jun 6, 2021 at 13:57
  • 2
    @Pere I remember a partial solar eclipse where I looked at the shadows of trees on the ground and noticed that the little spocts of light on the ground where sunlight passed between tree leaves were all crescent shaped, shaped like the partially eclipsed sun. I think that anyone outside in the shade during an eclipse would probably notice that.
    – MAGolding
    Jun 6, 2021 at 17:40

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