MOTHER Shipton is England’s most famous prophetess.

She lived some 500 years ago during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, and many of her prophetic visions became known and feared throughout England.

But was she just a myth?

The Mother Shipton legend is one of several challenged by a Huddersfield academic in a new book.

Prof Tim Thornton suggests that ancient prophets like Shipton may never have existed.

They were part of a myth perpetuated by the political leaders of the time.

Prof Thornton, dean of the School of Music, Humanities and Media, has brought out Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England, which explores the influences of the ancient prophets.

Yorkshire’s Mother Shipton has spawned a tourist industry.

Thousands flock to the Cave at Knaresborough, where her legendary birthplace is near to the famous geological phenomenon the Petrifying Well. The limestone-rich waters there turn items into stone, something that locals have exploited since 1630.

Prof Thornton said: “Prophets like Shipton were influential in a whole range of ways.

“Many of their alleged prophecies had direct political implications. Their words appeared to show that things would happen in the politics of the future, which people felt great excitement and fear about, and importantly, genuinely believed.

“Many historians, even if they consider it, tend to underestimate ancient prophecy, perhaps because it appears so irrational to us in the 21st century.

“These so-called ‘irrational’ prophetic characters and their interpreters among the wider population exerted such an influence on those in power.

“The issue here is not whether prophets like Mother Shipton existed or not, but the reality of the power of the traditions associated with their names.”