Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wharton, George
WHARTON, Sir GEORGE (1617–1681), first baronet, astrologer and royalist, born at Strickland, near Kendal in Westmorland, on 4 April 1617, was son of George Wharton, a blacksmith of Kendal, who left his son an estate of about 50l. a year. His arms (sable, a maunch argent) suggest that he was descended from the Whartons of Kirkby Thore (Whartons of Wharton Hall, p. 66). His father died during George's infancy, and he was brought up by his uncles William and Cuthbert Wharton. After 1633 he spent some time at Oxford, where he chiefly studied astronomy and mathematics. Retiring to Westmorland, he issued under the anagram of George Naworth an almanac for 1641. William Milbourne, curate of Brancepeth, near Durham, gave him some assistance. The little volume proved the first of a series of almanacs which Wharton published year by year under various titles until 1666 excepting only 1646.
On the outbreak of the civil war in 1642, Wharton sold his land in the north and raised a troop of horse for the royalists. He was defeated by parliamentary troops at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire in 1643, and next year joined the king's headquarters at Oxford. He was soon appointed paymaster to the magazine and artillery, and on 8 Oct. 1645 a captain of horse (Ashmole, Life, p. 299). He pursued his astrological studies at Oxford with much industry. ‘He was esteemed a member of the Queens Coll. being entred among the students there, and might, with other officers, have had the degree of master of arts confer'd on him by the members of the Ven. Convocation, but he neglected it’ (Wood). On 22 March 1644–1645 he made, at Oxford, the acquaintance of Elias Ashmole, whom he first instructed in alchemy and astrology. Ashmole and Wharton remained friends for life.
Meanwhile Wharton involved himself in embittered controversy with rival astrologers who were politically opposed to him. He attacked with especial rancour William Lilly, John Partridge, and John Booker, and for many years he maintained against them a war of vituperation. Wharton's almanac for 1644, which he printed at Oxford under the name of Naworth, ‘with His Maiesties command,’ was severely assailed by Booker in his pamphlet entitled ‘Mercurius Cœlius.’ Wharton retorted in ‘Mercurio-Cœlicio-Mastix; or, an Anti-caveat to all such, as have (heretofore) had the misfortune to be Cheated and Deluded by that Grand and Traiterous Impostor of this Rebellious Age, John Booker … Printed Anno Dom. 1644.’ In Wharton's almanac for next year he first supplied his own name on the title-page and described himself as student in ‘the Mathematicks.’ In the preface he denounced Booker as ‘that clubfisted fellow,’ and Booker's friend Partridge as ‘that blood hound.’ Under each month of the calendar he catalogued the chief events of the war then in progress, and interspersed his work with scurrilous rhymes. ‘An Astrologicall Judgement upon his Majesties Present March: Begun from Oxford May 7, 1645. … By George Wharton,’ was published at Oxford by H. Hall in the same year. At the same time Lilly, in his ‘Starry Messenger,’ denounced Wharton as a man of ‘no worth’ (a pun on Naworth), and charged him with plagiarism.
After the surrender of Oxford in 1646, Wharton ‘was put to his shifts and lived as opportunity served.’ He was in Yorkshire in September 1646, when he wrote ‘Bellum Hybernicale: or Irelands Warre. Astrologically demonstrated, from the late Celestiall congresse of the two Malevolent planets Saturne and Mars in Taurus, the Ascendent of that Kingdome’ (1646–7, 4to). Shortly afterwards he renewed his attack on Lilly in ‘Merlini Anglici Errata.’ Subsequently he removed to his native place in Westmorland. In August 1647 he was ill of the plague. On his recovery he took part in publishing a quarto sheet week by week in London under the title ‘Mercurius Elenchicus.’ There he venomously satirised the proceedings of the parliament. On 12 March 1648–9 he was arrested and sent to Newgate by order of the parliament. On 26 Aug. he escaped from the prison, and remained in concealment until 21 Nov. 1649, when he was recaptured and committed to the Gatehouse, Westminster. In the autumn of 1650 Ashmole, who befriended him throughout his troubles, learned that John Bradshaw, the president of the council of state, had resolved to have him hanged. Ashmole appealed to Lilly to use his interest with his patron, Bulstrode Whitelocke, so as to procure Wharton's release. In the result Wharton was discharged from prison after engaging to write nothing thenceforth ‘against the parliament or state.’ On regaining his liberty he was quite destitute, and Ashmole generously invited him and his family to occupy his house at Bradfield in Berkshire. For a time Wharton acted as Ashmole's agent on the estate, but he chiefly occupied himself with his almanacs. In 1657 and three following years he gave them the new title of ‘Calendarium Ecclesiasticum,’ and added under the title of ‘Gesta Britannorum’ a useful chronological table of the leading events in English history from 1600. In 1652 he brought out a translation of a Latin treatise on palmistry or chiromancy, called ‘The Art of Divining, by the Lines and Signatures engraven in the hand of man, written by John Rothman, M.D.’
After the Restoration Wharton settled in London, and was appointed treasurer and paymaster to the office of the royal ordnance. He retained the post till his death, and had an official residence in the Tower of London. He continued to publish his almanac until 1666, giving it from 1661 onwards the new title of ‘Calendarium Carolinum.’ The last entry in his ‘Gesta’ is 23 Nov. 1665. In 1661 he collected the various verses with which he had enlivened his calendars in a volume called ‘Select and Choice Poems collected out of the Labours of George Wharton, Esquire. Composed upon severall occasions, during the late unnaturall Wars between the King and the Rump Parliament,’ London, 1661, 8vo. He was created a baronet, in consideration of his services to the royalist cause, on 31 Dec. 1677. He died at his house at Enfield on 12 Aug. 1681, aged 64, and was buried on the 25th of that month in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the Tower of London. Wood calls him ‘a constant and thoroughpaced royalist, a good companion, a witty droll, and a waggish poet.’
By his wife, Anne Butler, Wharton had four sons and three daughters. His eldest surviving son, Polycarpus, succeeded to the baronetcy; Sir Polycarpus married Theophila, daughter of Justinian Sherburne, second brother of Sir Edward Sherburne, knt., but died without issue before 1741, and the baronetcy became extinct. He is stated to have lost 24,000l. in the powder works at Chilworth, near Guildford.
After his death Wharton's writings were collected under the title of ‘The Works of that most excellent Philosopher and Astronomer, Sir George Wharton, bart., collected into one entire volume. By John Gadbury, Student in Physic and Astrology,’ London, 1683, 8vo. Gadbury supplied a preface. From the chronological tables, entitled ‘Gesta Britannorum,’ which appeared in Wharton's almanacs from 1657 to 1666, W. Crook compiled the greater part of his ‘Historian's Guide from 1600 until the year 1679’ (London, 1679, 12mo). Some of Wharton's astrological papers and his letters to Ashmole are in the Ashmolean Library at Oxford (cf. Black, Cat. Ashmolean MSS.) A portrait of Wharton, assigned to Faithorne, was prefixed to his ‘Works.’ Another portrait of Wharton, at the age of forty-six, was engraved ‘ad vivum’ by D. Loggan in 1663.
[Wood's Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, iv. 5; Lives of Ashmole and William Lilly, 1774; Lysons's Environs of London, ii. 320; Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. Clark, ii. 295; Wharton's publications.]