Astronomy in Leicestershire title image


Sundogs, or parhelia, are atmospheric phenomena which occur either side of the Sun. They are caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals and appear 22° away from the Sun.

Bosworth Battlefield.

An example of an historical observation of parhelia. In this case, they were not seen in Leicestershire, but there is a connection with the county.

The Battle of Mortimer's Cross, part of the Wars of The Roses, took place on 2 February 1461 in Herefordshire. At dawn before the battle, bright parhelia or sundogs were seen. These inspired Edward VI, who used the symbol, the "sun in splendour" as his emblem. His brother, Richard III also used the it. At the end of his battle standard, flying at the Bosworth Battlefield Centre, is a white rose on top of an image of the sun.

Richard III's standard, Bosworth Battlefield Centre.
Richard III's standard at Bosworth Battlefield Centre

The parhelia are mentioned by Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 3, Act Two Scene One:

Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
Not separated with the racking clouds,
But sever'd in a pale clear-shining sky.
See, see! they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,
As if they vow'd some league inviolable:
Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.
In this the heaven figures some event.

On the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth in 2009, there were sundogs and a circumzenith arc in the skies overhead.

Sundog, Bosworth, 22 August, 2009
Sundog to the right of the Sun
Sundog, Bosworth, 22 August, 2009
Sundog to the left of the Sun
Circumzenith arc, Bosworth, 22 August, 2009
Circumzenith arc

Farmer's Book, 1774

Three suns seen in 1774

In his account book (now in the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland), a farmer made a note of sun dogs he saw on August 29, 1774. The name is not clear on the spine. It may be Robert Hinkman.


Last updated 8th August, 2013.

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