Dover Straits earthquake of 1580
Though severe earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

s in the north of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 are rare, the Dover Straits earthquake of 6 April 1580 appears to have been one of the largest in the recorded history of England, Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

 or northern France. It occurred about 6 o'clock in the evening.

Location and magnitude

A study undertaken during the design of the Channel Tunnel
Channel Tunnel
The Channel Tunnel is a undersea rail tunnel linking Folkestone, Kent in the United Kingdom with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais near Calais in northern France beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. At its lowest point, it is deep...

 estimated the magnitude
Richter magnitude scale
The expression Richter magnitude scale refers to a number of ways to assign a single number to quantify the energy contained in an earthquake....

 of the 1580 quake at 5.3–5.9ML and its focal depth
The hypocenter refers to the site of an earthquake or a nuclear explosion...

 at 20–30 km, in the lower crust
Crust (geology)
In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet or natural satellite, which is chemically distinct from the underlying mantle...

. Being relatively deep, the quake was felt over a large area and it is not certain where the epicentre was located. The Channel Tunnel study proposed three possible locations, two south of Calais and one offshore. The barycentre of the isoseismals
Isoseismal map
In seismology an isoseismal map is used to show lines of equal felt seismic intensity, generally measured on the Modified Mercalli scale. Such maps help to identify earthquake epicenters, particularly where no instrumental records exist, such as for historical earthquakes...

 with intensities IV to VII lies in the Boulonnais
Boulonnais (land area)
The Boulonnais is a coastal area of northern France, around Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. It has a curved belt of chalk downs which run into the sea at both ends, and geologically is the east end of the Weald-Artois Anticline.- Administration :...

, 10 km east of Desvres
Desvres is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. It is a market town, known for its pottery.In 1999 its population was 5,260 inhabitants for the commune and 14,164 inhabitants for the canton.-External links:* *...

, the barycentre of the VII isoseismal lies about 1 km northeast of Ardres
Ardres is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France.Population : 4,198 inhabitants for the commune and 17,610 inhabitants for the canton.-Geography:...

, and the barycentre of the only pleistoseismal zone lies in the English Channel.

The British Geological Survey
British Geological Survey
The British Geological Survey is a partly publicly funded body which aims to advance geoscientific knowledge of the United Kingdom landmass and its continental shelf by means of systematic surveying, monitoring and research. The BGS headquarters are in Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, but other centres...

 estimates the magnitude to be 5.7–5.8 ML.


The earthquake is well recorded in contemporary documents, including the "earthquake letter" from Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, though his reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe...

 to Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

, mocking popular and academic methods of accounting for the tremors. It fell during Easter week
Holy Week
Holy Week in Christianity is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter...

, an omen
An omen is a phenomenon that is believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change...

-filled connection that was not lost on the servant-poet James Yates, who wrote ten stanzas on the topic:
Oh sudden motion, and shaking of the earth,
No blustering blastes, the weather calme and milde:
Good Lord the sudden rarenesse of the thing
A sudden feare did bring, to man and childe,
They verely thought, as well in field as Towne,
The earth should sinke, and the houses all fall downe.

Well let vs print this present in our heartes,
And call to God, for neuer neede we more:
Crauing of him mercy for our misdeedes,
Our sinfull liues from heart for to deplore,
For let vs thinke this token doth portend,
If scourge nere hand, if we do still offend.

Yates' poem was printed in 1582 in The Castell of Courtesy.

English writer Thomas Churchyard
Thomas Churchyard
Thomas Churchyard , English author, was born at Shrewsbury, the son of a farmer.-Life:Churchyard received a good education, and, having speedily dissipated at court the money with which his father provided him, he entered the household of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey...

, then aged 60, was in London when the quake struck and he drafted an immediate account which was published two days later, notwithstanding that it was Good Friday. In his 2007 biography of Richard Hakluyt, historian Peter C. Mancall provides extensive extracts from Churchyard's 8 April 1580 pamphlet, A Warning to the Wyse, a Feare to the Fond, a Bridle to the Lewde, and a Glasse to the Good; written of the late Earthquake chanced in London and other places, the 6th of April, 1580, for the Glory of God and benefit of men, that warely can walk, and wisely judge. Set forth in verse and prose, by Thomas Churchyard, gentleman. Mancall notes that Churchyard's pamphlet provides a sense of immediacy so often lacking in retrospective writing. According to Churchyard, the quake could be felt across the city and well into the suburbs, as a wonderful motion and trembling of the earth shook London and Churches, Pallaces, houses, and other buildings did so quiver and shake, that such as were then present in the same were toosed too and fro as they stoode, and others, as they sate on seates, driven off their places.

The English public was so eager to read about the quake that a few months later, Abraham Fleming was able to publish a collection of reports of the Easter Earthquake, including those written by Thomas Churchyard, Richard Tarlton (described as the writing clown of Shakespeare’s day), Francis Schackleton, Arthur Golding, Thomas Twine, John Philippes, Robert Gittins, and John Grafton, as well as Fleming’s own account. Published by Henry Denham on 27 June 1580, Fleming's pamphlet was titled: A Bright Burning Beacon, forewarning all wise Virgins to trim their lampes against the coming of the Bridegroome. Conteining A generall doctrine of sundrie signes and wonders, specially Earthquakes both particular and generall: A discourse of the end of this world: A commemoration of our late Earthquake, the 6 of April, about 6 of the clocke in the evening 1580. And a praier for the appeasing of Gods wrath and indignation. Newly translated and collected by Abraham Fleming.


Further from the coast, furniture danced on the floors and wine casks rolled off their stands. The belfry
Bell tower
A bell tower is a tower which contains one or more bells, or which is designed to hold bells, even if it has none. In the European tradition, such a tower most commonly serves as part of a church and contains church bells. When attached to a city hall or other civic building, especially in...

 of Notre Dame de Lorette
Notre Dame de Lorette
Notre Dame de Lorette is the name of a ridge, basilica, and French national cemetery northwest of Arras at the village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire...

 and several buildings at Lille
Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

 collapsed. Stones fell from buildings in Arras
Arras is the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. The historic centre of the Artois region, its local speech is characterized as a Picard dialect...

, Douai
-Main sights:Douai's ornate Gothic style belfry was begun in 1380, on the site of an earlier tower. The 80 m high structure includes an impressive carillon, consisting of 62 bells spanning 5 octaves. The originals, some dating from 1391 were removed in 1917 during World War I by the occupying...

, Béthune
Béthune is a city in northern France, sub-prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department.-Geography:Béthune is located in the former province of Artois. It is situated South-East of Calais, West of Lille, and North of Paris.-Landmarks:...

 and Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

. Windows cracked in the cathedral of Notre Dame at Pontoise
Pontoise is a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, France. It is located from the centre of Paris, in the "new town" of Cergy-Pontoise.-Administration:...

, and blocks of stone dropped ominously from the vaulting. At Beauvais
Beauvais is a city approximately by highway north of central Paris, in the northern French region of Picardie. It currently has a population of over 60,000 inhabitants.- History :...

 the bells rang as though sounding the tocsin.

In Flanders chimneys fell and cracks opened in the walls of Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

 and Oudenarde. Peasants in the fields reported a low rumble and saw the ground roll in waves.

On the English coast, sections of wall fell in Dover
Dover is a town and major ferry port in the home county of Kent, in South East England. It faces France across the narrowest part of the English Channel, and lies south-east of Canterbury; east of Kent's administrative capital Maidstone; and north-east along the coastline from Dungeness and Hastings...

 and a landslip opened a raw new piece of the White Cliffs
White cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover are cliffs which form part of the British coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliffs are part of the North Downs formation. The cliff face, which reaches up to , owes its striking façade to its composition of chalk accentuated by streaks of black flint...

. At Sandwich
Sandwich, Kent
Sandwich is a historic town and civil parish on the River Stour in the Non-metropolitan district of Dover, within the ceremonial county of Kent, south-east England. It has a population of 6,800....

 a loud noise emanated from the Channel, as church arches cracked and the gable end of a transept
For the periodical go to The Transept.A transept is a transverse section, of any building, which lies across the main body of the building. In Christian churches, a transept is an area set crosswise to the nave in a cruciform building in Romanesque and Gothic Christian church architecture...

 fell at St Peter's Church. In Hythe, Kent, Saltwood Castle
Saltwood Castle
Saltwood Castle is a castle in Saltwood village—which derives its name from the castle—1 mile north of Hythe, Kent, England.The castle is known as the site where the plot was hatched to assassinate Thomas Becket...

 — made famous as the site where the plot was hatched in December 1170 to assassinate Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion...

 — was rendered uninhabitable until it was repaired in the nineteenth century.

In London, half a dozen chimney stacks came down and a pinnacle on Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

; two children were killed by stones falling from the roof of Christ's Church Hospital. Indeed the many Puritans blamed the emerging theatre scene of the time in London, which was seen as the work of the devil, as a cause of the quake. There was damage far inland, in Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire is a county in England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the northeast, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west...

; stones fell from the Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral is the principal church of the Diocese of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, England, and is the seat of the Bishop of Ely and a suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Huntingdon...

. Part of Stratford Castle in Essex collapsed.

In Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, local report of the quake disturbed the adolescent James VI
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

, who was informed that it was the work of the Devil.

There were aftershocks. Before dawn the next morning, between 4 and 5 o'clock further houses collapsed near Dover due to aftershocks, and spate of further aftershocks were noticed in east Kent on 1-2 May.

Other earthquakes in the Dover Straits

Two later quakes in the Dover Strait, in 1776 and 1950, both thought to be around magnitude 4, were noted in the 1984 compilation by R.M.W. Musson, G. Neilson and P.W. Burton, none in the study occurring before 1727, but the same team devoted an article to the 1580 earthquake that year, the classic study. Some scientists have suggested that the 1580, 1776 and 1950 quakes are all linked to periodic tectonic activity that results in a tremor occurring in the Dover Straits approximately every 200 years.

The 2007 Kent earthquake
2007 Kent earthquake
The 2007 Kent earthquake was an earthquake that registered 4.3 on the Richter scale and struck south east Kent, England on 28 April 2007 at 07:18:12 UTC , at a shallow depth of 5.3 km....

 was initially thought to have occurred in the Dover Straits, but later analysis showed it to have occurred directly under the town of Folkestone
Folkestone is the principal town in the Shepway District of Kent, England. Its original site was in a valley in the sea cliffs and it developed through fishing and its closeness to the Continent as a landing place and trading port. The coming of the railways, the building of a ferry port, and its...

 in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...


See also

Further reading

  • The Varley reference above has a good summary of the authoritative Channel Tunnel study

External links

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