(Yes, this is recycled information – Historical tales are often like that!)
Matthew Hopkins’s has gone down in history as the notorious ‘Witchfinder General’; a title, by the way, thought to have been given to Hopkin’s – by himself! It is also believed that he was responsible for the executions of around 200-300 women and men between 1644 and 1647. Whilst this score might seem small compared to those in Europe, it constituted around 60% of the combined total number of executions in England during 160 years prior to 1647. The gruesome spree of executions for witchcraft in Europe (then the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Lorraine, Austria including Czech lands – Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia) were estimated to have reached around 30,000.
Matthew Hopkins was born in 1620 and in truth, very little is known of him before 1644 when his witch trials began, and there are no surviving contemporary documents concerning him or his family. We know, of course, that he was born in Great Wenham, Suffolk and was the fourth son of six children. His father, James Hopkins, was a Puritan clergyman and vicar of St John’s of Great Wenham, in Suffolk. In the early 1640’s Hopkins moved to Manningtree, Essex, a town on the River Stour, about 10 miles (16 km) from Wenham. According to tradition Hopkins used his recently acquired inheritance of a hundred marks to establish himself as a gentleman and to buy the Thorn Inn in Mistley. From the way that he presented evidence in trials, Hopkins is commonly thought to have been trained as a lawyer, but there is scant evidence to suggest this was the case – he probably had a gift for ‘oratory’.
According to his book ‘The Discovery of Witches’, Hopkins began his career as a witch-finder after he overheard various women discussing their meetings with the Devil in March 1644 in Manningtree; it is not know if this led to any accusations of the women concerned. What is fact, is that the first accusations which did lead to a trial were made by John Stearne – and it was Matthew Hopkins who was appointed to assist him in the investigations. The trial itself was held in Chelmsford, Essex in 1645, where twenty-three women were accused of witchcraft and tried by Justices of the Peace, presided over by the Earl of Warwick. Four of these died in prison and nineteen were convicted and hanged. The Chelmsford witch trial established Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne as Witchfinders, and it was from this point that they went on to claim that they had received an official commission from Parliament to further uncover and prosecute witches. On the back of this claim the two, full of enthusiasm and accompanied by assistants, were to travel from town to village in the Eastern region to execute their commission.
In 1644, Matthew Hopkins was 24 years of age when he joined forces with a John Stearne; and together, the pair certainly proved to be prolific. But it was Hopkins who stood out as the man who possessed the firmest belief in what he was doing – numbers indicate his zeal cannot simply be explained away by the generous rewards he was given by those grateful for his services. This zeal may well have found its roots in Hopkins’ childhood and adolescence, but, frustratingly for those interested in his motives and his mind-set, there is very little known about his background, other than a few parish records; these throw little light on the influences that made Hopkins the man he was.
Matthew Hopkins, together with his associate, John Stearne, is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 women between the years 1644 and 1646. It has been estimated that all of the English witch trials between the early 15th and late 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions for witchcraft. Therefore, presuming the number executed as a result of “investigations” by Hopkins and his colleague is at the lower end of the various estimates, their efforts accounted for about 60 per cent of the total. In their short crusade Hopkins and Stearne sent to the gallows more people than all the other witch-hunters in England of the previous 160 years.
Following the Lancaster Witch Trial of 1634, William Harvey, physician to King Charles I of England, had been ordered to examine four women accused of witchcraft at a time when belief in witches was nearly universal and to deny their existence was heresy-worthy and punishable. To his credit he considered scientific principles and the women were found innocent. However, from this trial there came a requirement to have material proof of being a witch. Matthew Hopkins’s thinking here was not necessarily to prove any of the accused had committed acts of “maleficium”,- magical acts intended to cause harm or death to persons or property, – but the fact they had made a covenant with the Devil. This is the difference between Hopkin’s approach and that of the Justice of the Peace who investigated the Pendle Witches in 1612. By making covenant with the Devil, witches became heretics to Christianity, which became the greatest of their crimes and sins. Within continental and Roman Law witchcraft was ‘crimen exceptum’: a crime so foul that all normal legal procedures were superseded. Because the Devil was not going to “confess”, it was necessary to gain a confession from the human involved.
Methods of investigation:
Matthew Hopkins’ methods of investigating witchcraft drew inspiration from the ‘Daemonologie of King James’ which was directly cited in Hopkins’ pamphlet, ‘The Discovery of Witches.’ He also took note of the best selling legal handbook of the day, Dalton’s ‘Counterey Justice’, in which Magistrates were advised “not alwaies to expect direct evidence [from witches], seeing all their works are the works of darknesse” Further, torture was actually illegal in England at the time of Hopkins and, surprisingly perhaps, depriving someone of sleep for days on end was not considered to be torturing them! Hopkins was careful to stay within the law – and fortunately for him this still enabled him to utilise many methods that would fill most people with horror. Often the accused would be “watched” for days on end to see if ‘imps’ or ‘familiars’ would appear and suckle on the suspect’s blood. It seems to be a common thread that when someone had been “watched” for a few days they were very much more willing to confess. Also, the reports of the watchers’ findings often spoke of the “Witches Teat” being found in, on or around the private parts of the accused. For such pure souls, the Puritans seemed to be rather obsessed with private parts! Then, on occasion, the accused would be “walked”, forcibly exercised to the point of exhaustion to encourage confession.
Another of Hopkin’s methods was the infamous “swimming” test, based on the idea that as witches had renounced their baptism, water would reject them. Hopkins was, in fact, warned against using this method without receiving the permission of the accused first. The problem with ordeal by water was that the test was regarded as a superstition: by law it was an assault to swim a witch – and if he or she drowned it was murder. However from the early to mid 17th century the object of the witch trial changed from proving maleficium to that of proving a pact with the Devil; this resulted in the swimming test becoming more widespread. It involved tying the hapless suspect, usually right thumb to left toe, and left thumb to right toe and lowering into water. All those who “swam” (floated) were considered to be witches. Those who sank and drowned were innocent!
Hopkins and his assistants also looked for the Devil’s mark. This was a mark that all witches or sorcerers were supposed to possess that was said to be dead to all feeling and would not bleed – although in reality it was usually a mole, birthmark or an extra nipple or breast. If the suspected witch had no such visible marks, invisible ones could be discovered by pricking, the witch finder therefore employed “witch prickers” to prick the accused with knives and special needles, looking for such marks, and places where the accused would feel no pain, normally after the suspect had been shaved of all body hair. It has been claimed that Hopkins had a trick up his sleeve when it came to this one. It was thought that a witch would have areas on her body that would not bleed – either because they were the place where the devil had kissed her to seal their pact, or because this was the spot from which she suckled her ‘familiars’. The woman would be pricked with a needle, and if the skin did not bleed, then this was proof of her guilt. Hopkins may well have had a special pin made with a retractable blade – the point retracting into the handle when it met resistance. This way, he could quickly establish a suspect’s guilt.
It was also believed that the witch’s ‘familiar’, an animal such as a cat or dog, or mole or insect or even a child, would drink the witch’s blood from a “witches teat”, as a baby drinks milk from the nipple. Local women would be employed to search the accused female witches. One belief was that’ familiars’ suckled the witch to remind him or her of their ‘fealty’ to the devil, a dark parallel to holy communion. Sometimes the ‘familiar’ would suckle blood and in exchange would perform acts of harm, for example killing off livestock belonging to those the witch bore a grudge to.
The confessions of those accused of witchcraft were strikingly similar. Often the ladies are seduced by the devil and repeatedly took him into their beds. They will have ‘familiars’ [spirit animals] which will do their bidding which is invariably to the ill of their neighbours. The ‘familiars’ will kill livestock or neighbours children or the neighbours themselves or make people ill. Never is it recorded that the familiars better the circumstances of the witch only worsen the circumstances of his or her ‘enemies’. Such are the similarities between the many confessions that it is tempting to think that the words were put into the mouths of the accused by the inquisitor.
Hopkins’s first victim is thought to have been 80-year-old Elizabeth Clarke. This poor woman was ripe for suspicion – she was old, poor, and was missing a leg. She was kept awake for three days, and under this extreme stress, understandably broke down – admitting to having had carnal relations with the devil. It seems ridiculous to us now – but all those years ago this would have been believed. Poor Elizabeth implicated others, and was hanged – the first of many.
The Social, Political and Religious Background:
The witch-fever that gripped East Anglia for around 14 months between 1645 & 1646 happened at a historic & tumultuous time in English history. England was in the midst of a bloody civil war between the forces of King Charles I and the forces of Parliament. The country was in chaos, the normal workings of the state were not functioning. Circuit courts were not running normally and justice was being administered in a disjointed way at a local level. Before the war had started the eastern counties were solidly Puritan, rabidly anti-Catholic and ever vigilant for heresies. As the war progressed and times grew harder fear and suspicion of neighbours mounted and scores were settled by accusations of witchcraft. Matthew Hopkins and his associates were adept at turning local gossip and innuendo into formal accusations of witchcraft.
The towns and villages of the Eastern Counties had lost most of their able men who were off fighting in the war. The farms were not being worked; crops were rotting in the fields without sufficient folk to harvest them. The weather was unseasonably bad. The poor were dirt poor and the folk whom they normally relied upon for charity and alms were stretched by the straightened circumstances of the war and not able to give. Resentments grew. Many of those accused of witchcraft were from the beggar class or were old widows who took alms from the parishes but did not give alms. Add to this the widespread Calvinist belief in the elect, the idea that it is a predestined choice of God who will go to heaven and who is damned to hell. It was the idea that some folk are born to sin and some are born to be pure. Some folk are born to be heretics and some are born to be doctrinally pure. Some folk are born to be witches and some folk are born to be witch finders. It was a time of real fanaticism. Ignorance and dogmatic belief in the scripture went hand in hand with genuine belief in the supernatural.
Many folk genuinely believed that it was the end times: signs and portents and omens were widely reported in pamphlets:
“Have there not been strange Comets seen in the air, prodigies, sights on the seas, marvellous tempests and storms on the land? Have not nature altered her course so much that woman framed of pure flesh and blood bringeth forth ugly and deformed monsters?”
On the 21st May 1646 a meteorite fell in a cornfield in Swaffham, Norfolk, setting it ablaze. Hailstones the size of pigeons eggs fell from the sky. Hysterics said it was judgement day. On the same day in Newmarket, Suffolk, a vision of three men fighting in the sky was seen suggesting war in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland & Ireland. The war between the Puritan Roundheads and the Royalists was interpreted widely as a war between Christ and the Devil. The civil war was punishment for the Nation’s sins.
The witch-hunts undertaken by Hopkins and aided by Stearne mainly took place in the Counties of Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and also beyond East Anglia in the counties of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. This is a large area of England. A lot of ground was covered. At times Hopkins and Stearne worked together, at other times they worked independently. They hunted for witches throughout the area of strongest Puritan and Parliamentarian influences which formed the powerful and influential Eastern Counties from 1644 to 1647.
In times of peace witch trials would take place at County Assizes, the accused would be tried by juries of strangers directed by professional judges. At this time of the Civil War the assize system in East Anglia collapsed. It was this judicial vacuum that Matthew Hopkins filled with a massive witch hunt. To undertake this and at such a scale, both Hopkins and Stearne would have required some form of letters of safe conduct to be able to travel throughout the counties. In fact, they were often invited to towns & villages to do their witchhunt.
Hopkins and Stearne, accompanied by the women who performed the pricking, watching and searching techniques were soon travelling over Eastern England, in demand from the puritan townsfolk eager to root out evil in their midst. Together with their female assistants, they were well paid for their work, and it is quite possible that the money itself was a motivating factor, although Hopkins states in his pamphlet ‘A Discovery Of Witchcraft’ that “his fees were to maintain his company with three horses”, and that he took “twenty shillings a town”. The records at Stowmarket show their costs to the town to have been £28 and three-pence, plus his travelling expenses – the usual daily wage at the time was sixpence. He used his apparent commission from Parliament to persuade the local community to levy a special tax.
In Suffolk, Hopkins discovered that the church minister of Brandeston, John Lowes an old man of seventy ‘was naught but a foul witch’. It appears that Lowes had been a quarrelsome old man and was sorely disliked by many in his parish. At first he stoutly denied his guilt, but a confession was gained when he was subjected to Hopkins’s most approved method of using his watchers who,
“kept him awake several nights together while running him backwards and forwards about his cell until out of breath. After a brief rest, they then ran him again. And thus they did for several days and nights together, till he was weary of his life and scarce sensible of what he said or did”. It was in this state of mind that Lowes finally confessed, “he had covenanted with the devil, suckled ‘familiars’, being Tom, Flo, Bess and Mary, for five years, and had bewitched cattle. He had also caused a ship to sink off Harwich with the loss of fourteen lives”.
As well documented as this infamous trial at Bury St. Edmond was, it is also perhaps, the best illustration of just how the prejudice and hysteria against witches during those times, affected even the High Court’s and justices of the land. No record or suggestion was ever made to check whether a ship had floundered off Harwich.
A later pamphlet by Stearne stated that Lowes “was joyfull to see what power his imps had”. Lowes later retracted his confession, but this didn’t save him, and since he was not allowed a clergyman to read the burial service for him, he recited it himself on his way to the scaffold at Bury St Edmunds on the 27th August 1645.
After the Bury St. Edmond witch trials, people began to question the alleged commission from Parliament. The Moderate Intelligencer, a parliamentary paper published during the English Civil War expressed, in an editorial of 11th September 1645, unease with the affairs in Bury. A special judicial commission was formed, the “Commission of Oyer and Terminer”. Its task was to deal specifically with the backlog of witchcraft trials in eastern England, and Hopkins was ordered to stop his Swimming activities. This apart, witch trials now began in earnest and such was the state of witchcraft hysteria in the Eastern Counties, another 18 were tried in quick succession and hanged. No sooner had these sessions began, than they were quickly abandoned because the Royalist forces of the rebellion were approaching Bedford and Cambridge. When, however, they eventually restarted, another fifty witches were executed.
With his career as the Witch-Finder General firmly established, Hopkins and his faithful band of assistants, travelled at break-neck speed throughout the Region to urge on these trials with fatal rapidity. By the 26th of July 1646 he was in Norfolk where another twenty witches met their fate. In September he was in Yarmouth by special demand of the authorities, and was recalled there again in December – it is not known how many died there as a result of Hopkins’s two visits. He also visited Ipswich and shortly after Aldeburgh before moving on to Stowmarket. Along the way he also stopped at King’s Lynn and many other small towns and villages, but wherever they went fear and apprehension followed.
However, time was running out for Hopkins, as he overextended himself with his zeal and possible greed. Toward the end of 1946, the tide began to turn against him. At a time when most people feared him, criticism was launched against him by the courageous efforts of an old country parson, “John Gaule” the Vicar of Great Staughton in Huntingdonshire. Hearing that Hopkins was preparing to visit his part of the country, Gaule preached openly against him from the pulpit and started collecting evidence of his excessive methods and use of torture. Gaule published his findings and his condemnation of Hopkins in a book called “Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft” (London, 1646). The book was well written and convincing, and public opinion was aroused against the abuses it exposed:
“Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a robber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull cap on her head, a spindle in her hand & a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch”
By the end of 1646 Hopkins’s credibility and activities were petering out. In Norfolk, Hopkins was questioned by Justices of the Assizes, about the torturing and fees. Hopkins was asked if methods of investigation did not make the finders themselves witches, and if with all his knowledge did he not also have a secret, or had used “unlawful courses of torture”. It was rumoured that Matthew Hopkins had ‘The Devils Book’, a directory of all the witches in England. Then, in early 1647, Matthew Hopkins parted company with his faithful assistants and retired back to Manningtree where his infamous career had started. There, he published his book “The Discovery Of Witches” in May of that year, which was a rebuttal of the enquiries he had been subjected to in Norfolk.
Matthew Hopkins died on August 11th 1647 from suspected Tuberculosis. Histories which say that he was lynched or swum are likely to be wide of the mark as far as accuracy is concerned. In life, he brought fear, suffering, pain and death to many, and it can only be hoped that when he faced his own inevitable end, he felt at least some small remorse for what he had done – However, was it maybe the case that his religious mania comforted him as he passed away in his own comfortable bed; a comfort and place that was denied to his poor victims.
Just about 355 years ago, between the 10th and 13th March 1664, a trial took place at Bury St Edmunds Assizes, Suffolk. Two elderly women from Lowestoft, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender who were both widows, were tried before Magistrates on a charge of witchcraft. Thirteen indictments were brought against them, alleging that they had bewitched several people, including children, following quarrels. The trial lasted two days, during which time and apart from pleading ‘Not Guily’, the accused made no attempt to deny the charges made against them. On the afternoon of Thursday, 13th Match, the verdict of Guilty being returned, followed by the Judge Sir Matthew Hale, Kt, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, sentencing the two women to be hanged. The executions took place on Monday, 17th March 1664, with neither of the women confessing their guilt. This moment ended one of the most controversial of East Anglian witch trials.
Unfortunately, all that is known about this Trial is contained in a 60-page pamphlet entitled ‘A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes held at Bury St. Edmunds for the County of Suffolk; on the Tenth day of March 1664’ and published in London in 1682. It was written by a supposedly anonymous spectator; nevertheless, this pamphlet is the sole primary source of information for this particular ‘witch trial’. The written account does, apart from the subject of witchcraft, make for an interesting case, being free from political coercion, religious rivalries, and the ‘wicked’ schemes of some other trials of the time.
Though the trial occurred at Bury St. Edmunds, the events leading up to it occurred in Lowestoft, an isolated fishing town with a population of about fifteen hundred inhabitants, 112 miles northeast of London and 50 miles east of Bury St. Edmunds. At the time of this trial, Lowestoft town was involved with a lawsuit against the larger fishing town of Great Yarmouth over fishing rights. Interestingly, this lawsuit involved two principal members of the Lowestoft witches trial, namely Samuel Pacy and Sir Matthew Hale.
The person responsible for bringing Amy Denny and Rose Cullender to trial was one Samuel Pacy, a wealthy fish merchant and property owner in Lowestoft, who had denied a request from a poorer member of that same community, namely a Amy Denny. Samuel Pacy had rejected several requests from this Amy Denny for him to sell her some fish. As way of further information and possibly relevant to the eventual witch’s trial, Amy Denny was not only a widow but also had a reputation as being a witch. According to Samuel Pacy, immediately after he had turned down Amy Denny’s request for a third time, his daughter, Deborah:
“…was taken with most violent fits, feeling most extreme pain in her Stomach, like the pricking of Pins, and Shreeking out in a most dreadful manner like unto a Whelp, and not like unto a sensible Creature.”
Believing his two daughters bewitched his suspicions fell first upon Amy Denny and requested that she be placed in the Stocks in the hope that this may break the spell; this took place on the previous October 28th. Apparently, this did not ease the condition of his children and their symptoms continued for another three weeks before Pacy asked a neighbour, Dr. Feavor, for his opinion. Feavor could not diagnose a natural cause of the illness. Then Pacy consulted a doctor but, it appears, the he did not seek the help of the clergy, which usually presented a unique absence from demonic trials. Neither, during the trial, did Pacy’s deposition mention him employing any religious methods of dispossession. Samuel Pacy’s deposition did, however, state that his daughter, Deborah Pacy:
“… in her fits would cry out of Amy Duny as the cause of her Malady, and that she did affright her with Apparitions of her Person.”
Two days later, on the 30th October,
“the eldest Daughter Elizabeth, fell into extream fits, insomuch, that they could not open her Mouth to give her breath, to preserve her Life without the help of a Tap which they were enforced to use…”
Apparently, for the next two months, the two sisters suffered other symptoms, including lameness and soreness, loss of their sense of speech, sight, and hearing, sometimes for days. Fits ensued upon hearing the words “Lord,” “Jesus” and “Christ.” They also claimed that a Rose Cullender, another reputed witch, along with Amy Denny, would appear
“ before them, holding their Fists at them, threatening, that if they related either what they saw or heard, that they would Torment them Ten times more than ever they did before.” …….…the sisters also coughed up pins, “………and one time a Two-penny Nail with a very broad head, which Pins (amounting to Forty or more) together with the Two-penny Nail were produced in Court, with the affirmation of the said Deponent, that he was present when the said Nail was Vomited up, and also most of the Pins.” Allotriophagy, the vomiting of extraordinary objects, would provide an observable proof of possession.
Once arrested, the suspects were searched for ‘Witch’s’ or ‘Devil’s Marks’ by a team of six matrons. These marks, any spot or blemish of an uncommon sort, were believed to be either a brand made by the devil at the signing of the pact, or a spot which an evil spirit in animal form, had sucked blood. Such marks were found on Rose Cullender and this information was considered evidence of being a witch and would be presented to a court. After an oral examination, the two women were committed for trial and duly appeared before the Circuit Judge, Sir Matthew Hale, at the next Bury St Edmunds Assizes.
The legal system of the 17th century was far removed from that of today; no laws of evidence existed and testimony was therefore accepted from all, even children. Also at this time, there existed no provision for a Council for the Defence, in consequence, those brought to trial were largely unrepresented. It was in this situation that Amy Denny and Rose Cullender found themselves when they were brought into the crowded courtroom.
The trial itself started on 10th March 1664. By then, the afflictions of Samuel Pacy’s daughters had spread to three other girls, neighbours of the Pacy’s. They were Ann Durrant (probably between the age of 16-21), Jane Bocking (14 years old), and Susan Chandler (18 years old). Deborah Pacy and Jane Bocking were too ill to attend the trial. Though Elizabeth, Ann, and Susan did not testify (family members spoke for them), they were present and affected the courtroom atmosphere. The three arrived…
“…..in reasonable good condition: But that Morning they came into the Hall to give Instructions for the drawing of their Bills of Indictments, the Three Persons fell into strange and violent fits, screeking out in a most sad manner, so that they could not in any wise give any Instructions in the Court who were the Cause of their Distemper. And although they did after some certain space recover out of their fits, yet they were every one of them struck Dumb, so that none of them could speak, neither at that time, nor during the Assizes until the Conviction of the supposed Witches.”
The trial opened with the deposition of Dorothy Durrant. Her statement chronicled old and improvable events. Durrant did not explain why she had waited several years to accuse Denny. She alleged Amy Denny of bewitching and eventually murdering her ten-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, four years earlier. She also testified that although her infant son, William, suffered similar afflictions, Dr. Jacobs, a physician from Yarmouth, rescued him by recommending the use of counter-magic. Dr. Jacobs told Dorothy to hang William’s blanket over the fireplace and to burn anything found in it. When she took it down at night, a large toad fell out, which a boy in the house quickly caught. As he held it over the fire with tongs, the toad exploded with a flash of light.
Durrant also testified that the next day, a relative of Amy Denny told her that Denny had recently suffered serious burns all over her body. According to Durrant’s deposition, when she visited Denny, the burned woman cursed her and predicted that Durrant would outlive some of her children and be forced to live on crutches.
Her predictions soon proved accurate. Durrant’s daughter, Elizabeth, soon fell seriously ill, and after seeing Amy Denny’s spectre, died. After Elizabeth’s death, Dorothy Durrant became crippled in both her legs. Judge Hale, attempting to find a natural explanation for the affliction, asked her if the lameness was due to “… the Custom of Women.” Durrant rejected this possibility. Forced to use a crutches for over three years, she threw these away, supposedly cured, when she heard Denny and Cullender were pronounced guilty!
The most dramatic evidence at the trial was the presence and actions of the children. Elizabeth Pacy, in particular, created quite a scene, as she:
“…..could not speak one Word all the time, and for the most part she remained as one wholly senseless as one in a deep Sleep, and could move no part of her body, and all the Motion of Life that appeared in her was, that as she lay upon Cushions in the Court upon her back, her stomach and belly by the drawing of her breath, would arise to a great height: and after the said Elizabeth had lain a long time on the Table in the Court, she came a little to her self and sate up, but could neither see nor speak…, by the direction of the Judge, Amy Duny was privately brought to Elizabeth Pacy, and she touched her hand; whereupon the Child without so much as seeing her, for her Eyes were closed all the while, suddenly leaped up, and catched Amy Duny by the hand, and afterwards by the face; and with her nails scratched her till blood came, and would by no means leave her till she was taken from her, and afterwards the Child would still be pressing towards her, and making signs of anger conceived against her.”
After these dramatic events, parents of afflicted children outside the Pacy home testified. They were Edmund Durrant, father of Ann, apparently no relation to Dorothy; Diane Bocking, mother of Jane; and Robert and Mary Chandler, parents of Susan. They swore that their children suffered afflictions similar as to those of the Pacy children, specifically, fit, seeing spectral images, and vomiting crooked pins. They brought to the court several pins as evidence. In a deposition strikingly similar to that of Samuel Pacy, Edmund Durrant, about who nothing is known other than his deposition, described the afflictions of his daughter, Ann:
“……That he also lived in the said, Town of Leystoff, and that the said Rose Cullender, about the latter end of November last, came into this Deponents House to buy some Herrings of his Wife, but being denied by her, the said Rose returned in a discontented manner; and upon the first of December after, his Daughter Ann Durrant was very sorely Afflicted in her Stomach, and felt great pain, like the pricking of Pins, and then fell into swooning fitts, and after the Recovery from her Fits, she declared, That she had seen the Apparition of the said Rose, who threatened to Torment her. In this manner she continued from the first of December, until this present time of Tryal; having likewise vomited up divers Pins (produced here in Court). This Maid was present in Court, but could not speak to declare her knowledge, but fell into most violent fits when she was brought before Rose Cullender.”
The evidence presented so far would be considered ludicrous by today’s standards and indeed was not accepted unquestionable at that time. Indeed, a Mr Sargeant Keeling protested to this effect and was privately asked by the Judge, together with Lord Cornwallis and Sir Edmund Bacon, to repeat the experiments outside the courtroom using other people. The result was to suggest that the charges so far made were groundless and, as a result, the court proceedings were stopped for a considerable time whilst a course of action was decided upon. Eventually, it was agreed to seek the advice of an impartial observer, one Doctor Brown, a knowledgeable physician of Norwich.
Dr. Thomas Browne, a respected physician, was brought forward to testify. He affirmed that witchcraft did exist, specifically mentioning similar events that had occurred in Denmark. Despite mentioning possible medical explanations for the girls’ afflictions, namely “the mother,” Browne noted that the Devil could intensify symptoms. Though he believed that the girls were bewitched, he did not specifically state that Denny and Cullender had afflicted them. Browne testified:
“….. That the Devil in such cases did work upon the bodies of men and women, upon a natural foundation, [that is] to stir up and excite such humors, super-abounding in their Bodies to a great excess, whereby he did in an extraordinary manner afflict them with such distempers as their bodies were most subject to, as particularly appeared in these children; for he conceived, that these swooning fits were natural, and nothing else but that they call the Mother, but only heightened to a great excess by the subtlety of the devil, cooperating with the malice of these which we term witches, at whose instance he doth these villanies.”
After Browne’s testimony, the court did carry out several experiments to test the accused witches and their accusers. In contrast to the Mary Glover case, no burning occurred to test the hands for insensibility. Here, the fists of the girls, while afflicted, remained tightly closed,
“…as yet the strongest Man in the Court could not force them open; yet by the least touch of one of the supposed Witches, Rose Cullender by Name, they would suddenly shriek out opening their hands, which accident would not happen by the touch of any other person.”
The three respected members of the aristocracy present in court were Lord Charles Cornwallis, a member of Parliament, Sir Edmund Bacon, a justice of the peace for the county, and Sir John Keeling (who became Chief Justice of the King’s Bench three years after the trial); they tested Elizabeth next. While they looked on, a blindfolded Elizabeth Pacy touched Amy Denny and another woman. When Elizabeth “reacted similarly to both women,“…the three Gentlemen openly protested, that “they did believe the whole transaction of this business was a mere Imposture.” Samuel Pacy replied “…That possibly the Maid might be deceived by a suspicion that the Witch touched her when she did not.” Though Pacy’s explanation for the test result helped convince the jury of Denny’s guilt, other factors also played a role. As the author of “A Tryal of Witches” acknowledged, many people believed that these girls were not capable of “counterfeiting”:
It is not possible that any should counterfeit such Distempers, being accompanied with such various Circumstances, much less Children; and for so long time, and yet undiscovered by their Parents and Relations: For no man can suppose that they should all Conspire together, (being out of several families, and as they Affirm, no way related one to the other, and scarce of familiar acquaintance) to do an Act of this nature whereby no benefit or advantage could redound to any of the Parties, but a guilty Conscience for Perjuring themselves in taking the Lives of two poor simple Women away, and there appears no Malice in the Case. For the Prisoners did scarce so much as Object it.
Depositions by John Soam, a Lowestoft Yeoman, Robert Sherringham and Nicholas Pacy (Samuel’s father or brother), followed. Significantly, all had civil suits against a John Denny during the 1640’s and 1650’s. By the time of the trial, Ann Denny’s husband, John, was deceased. As there were two John Dennys in Lowestoft at this time, with dozens of civil cases against one or both men, it is impossible to prove that this was the same John Denny.
John Soam accused Rose Cullender of bewitching his three carts, making them unusable for a day. Robert Sherringham blamed her for the loss of four horses and several cows and pigs, as well as his lameness and his suffering a “…great Number of Lice of extraordinary bigness.” Following their testimony, the wife of Amy Denny’s landlord, Ann Sandeswell, deposed that Denny complained that her chimney might collapse, which it did a short time later. Additional testimony by Ann concerning the loss of geese and fish ended the depositions.
After these witnesses spoke, Hale had the opportunity to verbally review the evidence for the jury, which he had done in past cases. He did not recapitulate in this case, “… least by so doing he should wrong the Evidence on the one side or on the other.” Instead, according to the writer of ‘A Tryal of Witches’, Hale instructed the jury: ……”That they had Two things to enquire after. First, Whether or no these Children were Bewitched? Secondly, Whether the Prisoners at the Bar were Guilty of it?” That there were such Creatures as Witches he made no doubt at all; for First the scriptures had affirmed so much. Secondly, the wisdom of all Nations had provided Laws against such Persons, which is an Argument of their confidence of such a Crime……For to condemn the innocent and to let the guilty go were both an abomination to the Lord.
The jury took half an hour to convict both women. The spectacle of a tormented eleven-year-old girl fiercely scratching a stereotypical witch, coupled with a great deal of circumstantial evidence, appears to have convinced the jury. The men of the jury, none of whose identity is known, condemned the women to their deaths. The following morning, the previously possessed children and their parents visited Hale. The children appeared cured, “And Mr. Pacy did Affirm, that within less than half an hour after the Witches were Convicted, they were all of them Restored, and slept well that Night, feeling no pain; only Susan Chandler felt a pain like pricking of Pins in her Stomach.” Denny and Cullender “were urged to confess, but would not.” The two hanged on March 17, 1662.
From the evidence of the trial it would seem as though Amy Denny and Rose Cullender were the victims of superstition and parochial vindictiveness. Much of the evidence brought against them was due to coincidence, for example, a farmer who hit a house with his cart seems likely to be an incompetent driver and it is not really surprising to hear that it turned over or get stuck in a gateway! Equally, one does not have a witch to say that a chimney in an obviously bad state of repair is likely to fall if left unattended. Much of the rest could be a fabrication. The accused did seem to have something of a bad reputation in Lowestoft, and Pacy’s attitude in not selling them fish was obviously unfriendly. This, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender died having committed no crime save that they were unpopular, at a time when a scolding tongue and witchcraft so often went hand in hand.
FOOTNOTE (1): What is particularly interesting and significant about the 1662 trial at Bury St. Edmunds is the supposed personal integrity, obvious intellectual acumen, and the clear professional achievements of some of the main participants running the show.
At the top was Sir Matthew Hale, (1 November 1609 – 25 December 1676), Chief Baron of the Exchequer who was an influential English barrister, judge and lawyer. He presided over the trial;. Then there was Dr. Thomas Browne, (19 October 1605 – 19 October 1682), knighted 1671, a celebrated author and physician, who testified at the trial. Both were known at the time for their incorruptibility and tolerance, qualities that undoubtedly helped them to not only survive, but also to prosper during those turbulent and uncertain times in English history.
At the time of the Lowestoft Witches Trial Browne was a resident of Norwich in Norfolk and at the height of his career. He was the author of a half dozen major works, his interests ranging from his candid personal views on religion as a physician (Religio Medici, 1643), to natural history (Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646) to ancient funeral rites (Hydriotaphia, 1658). Quite a mixture! He was, at times, sceptical, anti-dogmatic, mystical, erudite, witty, moderate, and curious, but his works had many admirers. Though he dabbled with some scientific experimentation (both he and Hale wrote about magnetism, for instance), Browne, like Hale, also firmly believed in Satan and witchcraft which should not go unnoticed with respect to this trial. Brown, for instance, believed evil was a part of God’s universe, and to doubt the existence of witchcraft opened the door to atheism. Two decades before the trial, in probably his greatest work, Religio Medici (1643), Browne had written:
“It is a riddle to me, how this story of oracles hath not wormed out of the world that doubtful conceit of spirits and witches; how so many learned heads should so far forget their metaphysics, and destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to question the existence of spirits. For my part, I have ever believed, and do now know, that there are witches: they that doubt of these, do not only deny them, but spirits; and are obliquely, and upon consequence a sort not of infidels, but atheists.”
Dr. Thomas Browne of Norwich appears in only one paragraph of the ‘A Tryal of Witches’, pamphlet about the Witchs’ trial at the Bury St. Edmonds Assizes. Unfortunately, neither Browne nor Hale was alive at the time of the pamphlet’s publication to review and possibly refute its content. Also, since neither man mentioned the experience at Bury St. Edmunds in any of their subsequent works or personal correspondence, it is impossible to know what their views were towards that event.
Sir Matthew Hale, was four years Browne’s junior, but also wrote prodigiously. Unlike Browne though, Hale chiefly wrote for his own enjoyment and, presumably, to satisfy his desire to grow intellectually. Although he published only a few works, his posthumous ‘History of the Common Law of England (1713)’ and ‘Histroia placitorum coronae (1726)’ were highly regarded for centuries. Principally interested in religion and the law, Hale, like Browne, commented on natural history and the relationship between Christianity and reason. Both men seemed to be examples of the typical Oxford-educated, successful, well read, and well-respected Englishman at the top of his chosen profession.
Sir Matthew Hale and Sir Thomas Browne were clearly highly intelligent people, at the top of their respected professions, who sincerely believed in witchcraft. It is understood that Hale presided over at least one other witchcraft case – and that ended with an execution! In England, however, the era in which it was possible to prosecute and execute witches was coming to an end. Educated justices found executing poor, elderly, and “outcast” women based on the testimony of children problematical. As the belief in witches slowly died out, the ability to prosecute them died out even more quickly.
The real grievance against both Hale and Browne is that they were to be judged by later legal, medical, and scientific standards, not those of their own era. Edmund Gosse, a biographer of Browne, characterized his participation in the trial, “..…the most culpable and the most stupid action of this life..…Among the most appalling stories of witch-trials, none was more shocking, none more inexcusable than that which resulted in the hanging of Amy Denny and Rose Cullender.” Hale’s biographer, Edmund Heward, found the omitting the summary of evidence at the end of the trial a “sign of weakness” and alleged that Hale’s behaviour “……indicates the credulity and superstition which mingled with his religious beliefs.”
FOOTNOTE (2): Another consequence of the Lowestoft Witches Trial was its influence upon the events at Salem, Massachusetts, USA. Several features of the Lowestoft Witches Trial bear a remarkable resemblance to the Salem trials three decades later. The crisis originated with the afflictions of Deborah and Elizabeth Pacy, whose ages, nine and eleven, were identical to those of two girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, who played a key role in the Salem witchcraft trials. The symptoms of the girls and reports of witches’ spectres were similar in Bury St. Edmunds and Salem. In both cases, the afflictions spread to other girls, and adults contributed testimony about previous confrontations with the accused. Finally, the conclusion was the same- hangings.
In 1693, when Reverend Cotton Mather published his ‘Wonders of the Invisible World’, he enclosed a chapter entitled “A Modern Instance of Witches: Discovered and Condemned in a Trial Before That Celebrated Judge, Sir Mathew Hale.” Mather begins, “It may cast some Light upon the Dark things now in America, if we just give a glance upon the like things happening in Europe. We may see the Witchcrafts here most exactly resemble the Witchcrafts there.” After stating that the trial was “……much considered by the Judges of New England,” Mather summarized Lowestoft’s ‘A Tryal of Witches’ in the next nine pages of his book.
Cotton Mather, like Browne in his testimony at Bury St. Edmunds, believed that the Devil could “stir up and excite humours,” especially in children and females. Describing the afflictions of Mercy Short, whose possession occurred within a year after the Salem trials, Cotton Mather wrote ‘Another Brand Plucked Out of the Burning’. Emulating Browne’s testimony, Cotton Mather wrote:
“That the Evil Angels do often take Advantage from Natural Distempers in the Children of Men to annoy them with such further Mischiefs as we call preternatural. The Malignant Vapours and Humours of our Diseased Bodies may be used by Devils, there into insinuating as engine of the Execution of their Malice upon those Bodies; and perhaps for this reason one Sex may suffer more Troubles of the kinds from the Invisible World than the other, as well as for that reason for which the Old Serpent made where he did his first Address.”
Unfortunately, in terms of what soon would unfold at Salem, Hale’s judgment and Browne’s opinions continued to influence events even after their deaths. Though witchcraft beliefs were dying out, the impact of Bury St. Edmunds remained. As historian James Sharpe has written:
“The Bury St Edmunds trial of 1664 demonstrated how, even in the face of a court willing to entertain the possibility of deception, and anxious to subject a witchcraft accusation to as many of the known tests and methods of proving witchcraft as possible, the accepted standards of proofs in witchcraft trials were still difficult to reject.”
The ‘Norwich: History & Guide’ makes reference to the 25th February 1643 when the Conesford Gate in the City was blocked, as were the St Giles, Pockthorpe and St Agustine’s Gates. It was simply a precaution.
Norwich’s role during the English Civil War, (22 August 1642 to 3 September 1651), was principally to supply troops and money to the Parliamentary forces operating elsewhere in the Eastern Region. However, discussions were held about constructing several bastions against the river. The intention was probably to create a star-shaped defence on the contemporary Dutch model. There was no direct threat to the City but 150 Dragoons (mounted musketeers) were raised for Oliver Cromwell at Cambridge. The horses were at least partly seized from the properties of Royalist sympathisers in the City.
During March, more volunteers were raised for Parliament and the young men and girls of Norwich raised £240 to equip the ‘Maiden Troop’ of Cromwell’s cavalry under Captain Robert Swallow, who became the eleventh troop of Ironsides. He served in that capacity down to the absorption of the troop into Edward Whalley’s regiment of horse in the New Model Army in spring 1645, when he initially became a captain in Fairfax’s regiment of horse, but in summer 1645 he moved as captain to Whalley’s New Model regiment of horse, becoming its Major by the end of 1646. In 1659-60 Swallow briefly commanded the regiment but was removed at the Restoration.
By July all threats seemed to be lessening and the Gates were re-opened. Norwich was by no means united in its opposition to Charles I and at the end of 1643 a list was made of 432 Royalists suspects amongst the principal citizens because the City feared a subsequent attack by loyal Royalist gentry.
The Model Regiment:
Cromwell first mustered a troop of cavalry (then referred to as “horse”) at Huntingdon in Huntingdonshire, on 29 August 1642, early in the Civil War. John Desborough was quartermaster. The troop was late in being organised, and arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Edgehill, the first pitched-battle of the war. Cromwell however did witness the defeat of the Parliamentarian horse at the battle and wrote to fellow Parliamentarian leader John Hampden,
“Your troopers are most of them old decayed servingmen and tapsters; and their [the Royalists’] troopers are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons and persons of quality; do you think that the spirits of such base and mean fellows [as ours] will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have honour and courage and resolution in them?”
It is evident that Cromwell’s answer to his own question lay in religious conviction. Early in 1643, he was given a commission as colonel and expanded his troop into a full regiment in the newly formed Army of the Eastern Association, under the command of Lord Grey of Warke and then the Earl of Manchester. By 11 September that year, he referred to them in a letter to his cousin Oliver St. John as a “lovely company”. A champion of the “godly”, Cromwell became notorious for appointing men of comparatively humble origins but stoutly-held v Puritan beliefs as officers, who would then attract men of similar background and leanings to the regiment. He wrote to the Earl of Manchester, who disagreed with this policy,
“I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed.”
On 28 July 1643, the regiment took part in the Battle of Gainsborough, where Royalist cavalry were defeated. One of the troop captains, James Berry, is stated to have killed the Royalist commander, Sir Charles Cavendish, a relation of the Marquess of Newcastle (Commander-in-Chief of the Royalist forces in the North). By April, 1644, after two years of war, Cromwell’s unit had grown into a “double” regiment of no less than 14 troops. (A regiment normally had only 6 troops). Cromwell by this time was Lieutenant General of the Horse in the Parliamentarian Army of the Eastern Association, and the regiment would be routinely commanded by its Lieutenant Colonel, Cromwell’s cousin Edward Whalley. The regiment played a major part in the victory over the Royalists at the Battle of Marston Moor, where the discipline of Cromwell’s wing of horse was decisive. Where a victorious wing of Royalist cavalry scattered in search of plunder, Cromwell’s men rallied after defeating their immediate opponents, and then swept the disordered Royalist armies from the field. Captain Valentine Walton, Cromwell’s nephew, died of wounds after a cannon shot smashed his leg during the battle.
It was a different story by the time of the Second Battle of Newbury later that year. The Parliamentarian high command of Sir William Waller, the Earl of Manchester, Sir William Balfour and Cromwell decided to split their large force into two. Cromwell, the Eastern and London Association Cavalry and the Southern Association headed across the river and toward Donnington Castle in the West. The regiment was part of the first attack on the King’s western forces under Goring and Astley, but was beaten back and had to be relieved by Cromwell’s fellow commander, Sir William Balfour, and his London horse.
Template for the New Model Army: Cromwell’s double regiment was later split into two regiments, Sir Thomas Fairfax’s and Edward Whalley’s, which became the nucleus of the New Model Army‘s cavalry. Shortly before the Battle of Naseby, Cromwell was reappointed Lieutenant General of Horse in the army, and later became its commander. “Ironsides” seems to have become the term for all cavalry in the army, regardless of their origin.
Two “divisions” i.e. half-regiments of three troops each, one from each of Fairfax’s and Whalley’s regiments, under Major Christopher Bethel and Major John Desborough, mounted a remarkable charge at the Battle of Langport, where they galloped up a narrow lane and attacked the Royalist Army of Lord Goring in front, putting the entire army to flight.
Although the phrase “Ironside” suggests heavily armoured men, Cromwell’s troops were equipped in the common cavalry style of the day, termed the harquebusier, with armour limited to back- and breastplate and “pot” helmet. It does seem that they presented a uniform appearance which contrasted with that of the Cavalier horse, which became increasingly individual during the war through shortage of equipment or personal choice.
As Puritans, the Ironsides often attributed their glory in battle to God. Their religious beliefs extended to the field where they adhered to strict ethical codes. In quarters, they did not drink or gamble. They did not partake in the traditional spoils of war and did not rape, or pillage defeated opponents (although their religious zeal sometimes led them to be merciless to Catholic enemies).
Dating back to the late 15th century, the first Monday after Epiphany marks the start of ploughing for spring sown crops and was once the traditional day of agricultural workers returning after the Christmas period. Historic documents however, tell of plough candles being lit in churches during January in the 13th century.
Customs of the day varied nationwide, but the most common feature was a plough (blessed in church the previous day) to be hauled from house to house in rural communities. As the continued, an army of villagers collected money for the parish during a passing street procession. Apart from dancers and musicians, an old woman called “the Bessy” or a boy dressed as such and a man in the role of the ‘Plough Fool’ often headed of the procession. Some participants paraded a Straw Bear and not surprisingly, the event also attracted much drinking, merriment and mirth throughout the day. In Eastern England, ploughs were taken around by Plough Monday mummers and Molly Dancers and were sometimes even used as a threat. If householders refused to donate to the money collectors, their front paths would be ploughed up!
A festive Plough Pudding was also eaten on the day. Originating and also ‘invented’ in Norfolk, this was a suet pastry-topped boiled pudding filled with pork sausage meat, chopped bacon and onions with sage and sugar added. It could be eaten alone, or served with boiled potatoes, vegetables and gravy. One recipe suggested a Cooking time of 3 hrs 30 minutes, but today’s microwaves would reduce that!! A similar item is still sold today by major supermarkets.
At its height, Plough Monday was most commonly celebrated in the East Midlands and East Anglia, until the English Reformation caused its slow decline. In 1538, Henry VIII forbade “plough lights” to be lit in churches, before Edward VI condemned the “conjuring of ploughs”. Ceremonies revived during the reign of Mary only to decline again during Elizabeth I’s reign. Some processions survived into the 19th century and in 1810, a farmer took his case to Derby Assizes, claiming that refusal to donate money, those pulling the plough, immediately ploughed up his drive, his lawn and a bench, causing twenty pounds worth of damage. Plough Monday customs continued to decline but were revived in some towns in the 20th, with remaining events mainly involving Molly Dancers. Some Plough Monday events were still recorded in the 1930’s before a “folk revival” in the ’60s and ’70s partly returned it to some communities.
This year however, being 2019, Plough Monday falls on the 7th January – which means, for this year at least, it clashes with St. Distaff’s Day!!
Before factory-made cloth was invented, spinning was considered one of the most demanding female chores as before the Spinning Wheel arrived, this activity was slowly and tediously done on a Drop Spindle. One pound of woollen yarn might take a week to spin and a pound of heavy cotton yarn, several weeks. Women of all ages spun threads and when normal activities resumed, they would also spin at home in the evenings, after daytime working in the factory. Spinning was the only way to turn raw wool, cotton or flax, into thread, before it became cloth.
Several times recently, readers have enjoyed descriptions of certain dates connected with historic events, famous people and more. We’ve just had New Year’s Day and next month, comes St Valentine’s Day. But there are other “named” days relating to unusual, forgotten or bygone customs and the following is one example:-
In England, as well as other European countries the days from Christmas through Twelfth Night were once considered a time of rest from the labours of spinning. The maidens returned to their work on St. Distaff’s Day, January 7th. This day was also known as Rock Day, which is derived from the German word rocken, which means both distaff and woman’s. Robert Herrick’s poem about St Distaff’s Day comes from the anthology, Hesperides, and was published in 1647:
St. Distaff’s day, or the morrow after Twelfth-Day
(from Hesperides by Rober Herrick)
Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaffs day:
From the Plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.
Bring in pailes of water then,
Let the Maides bewash the men.
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation.
The general suggestion of the poem seems to be that men and women should go back to work after the Christmas break but should do so lightly and with some playfulness thrown in before settling in for the long haul. The command ”Partly worke and partly play/ Ye must on S. Distaffs day” is probably a fair observation on the actual state of affairs, given that Plough Monday games (on the Monday after Epiphany) are well attested in many rural areas, especially East Anglia. Little it seemed was therefore taken too seriously on the first day back at work; it became a joke holiday and they called it St. Distaff’s Day. Of course, there never was a real St. Distaff, the “distaff” was, in fact, a principal spinning tool – a rod on to which flax was tied and from which, thread was pulled.
Although women resumed work on January 7th, men still stayed free until Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany (6th Jan). If that fell on a Tuesday, they wouldn’t return until Monday, 12th January! As it was, the Plough Monday celebrations were a great deal more popular in the days leading up to the 19th century when England still had a sizable rural, agricultural population. A large number of rural customs that flourished in England in the mid-19th century were dying or dead by the beginning of the 20th as people migrated from the country to cities and lost their ties to rural life. Antiquarians and, later, folklorists and anthropologists took to the task of recording the remains of these customs, as well as hunting down snippets of information from archives. As for the plough-boys when the festival was at its height, well they used this discrepancy to no good by playing pranks on the busy spinners. The most popular of these pranks was to set fire to the tow and flax which was awaiting processing. The spinners in turn would quench the fire with buckets of water, drenching both fire and firebug.
Large and small St Distaff’s Day gatherings of the fibre-based community were held nationwide on 7th January, with little work being done that day. Records suggest that in England, St. Distaff’s Day was only ‘celebrated’ between the 13th and 17th centuries.
Rebecca Nurse was the oldest child of William and Joanna Blessing Towne from Great Yarmouth and one of three sisters who, in time, would be accused of witchcraft at the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Out of these three sisters Rebecca would be the second of them to be hanged.
Her father, William Towne was baptised on 18 Mar 1598/99 in St. Nicholas Parish Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England and his parents were said to be John TOWNE and Elizabeth CLARKE – although, others say that his parents were Richard TOWNE and Ann DENTON. Her mother, Joanna Blessing was born in 1594 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England but there again, others have said that she was born in 1595 in Somerleyton, Suffolk, England to John BLYSSYNGE and Joan PREASTE .
Whatever the true antecedents of these two, William Towne married Joanna BLESSING on 25 Apr 1620 in St. Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth England. He and his wife remained at Yarmouth long enough to have six children before emigrating to America aboard the ‘Rose of Yarmouth’ with 32 other parishioners; this was sometime around 1640. Among Rebecca’s siblings were Mary Easty (or Eastey, to be arrested 21 April 1692 and hanged on 22 September 1692) and Sarah Cloyce (or Cloyse) to be arrested on 4 April 1692 but the case was dismissed January 1693). The Towne family finally settled in America around 1640 to live on a farm in Salem where two more children were born to William and Joanna Blessing.
Four years later, Rebecca met nineteen year old Francis Nurse who was a “tray maker” by trade but more than likely also made many other wooden household items. Due to the rarity of such household goods, artisans of that medium would have been highly regarded. Rebecca married Francis Nurse on 24 August 1644, after which they went on to live for the next 30 years in the more thickly settled part of Salem, “near Skerry’s” not far from where the bridge crosses to Beverley. During this time they had four sons and four daughters, all but one of them married by the fateful year of 1692. As for Rebecca, she had “acquired a reputation for exemplary piety that was virtually unchallenged in the community” and became a long standing member of the Salem church; but she was also known for occasionally losing her temper. In 1672, Francis served as Salem’s Constable and was regularly asked to act as unofficial judge to help settle disputes in the village.
Rebecca and the Salem Witch Trials
The public accusations of witchcraft in Salem Village began on February 29, 1692. The first accusations were levelled against three women who were not considered very respectable: the Indian slave Tituba, a homeless mother Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne who had a somewhat scandalous history.Then on March 12, Martha Corey was accused, and on March 19, Rebecca Nurse found herself accused, despite both being church members and respected community members.
A warrant was issued on March 23 by John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin for the arrest of Rebecca Nurse. In the warrant were complaints of attacks on Ann Putnam Sr., Ann Putnam Jr., Abigail Williams and others. Rebecca Nurse was arrested and examined the next day. She was accused by Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis and Elizabeth Hubbard as well as by Ann Putnam Sr., who “cried out” during the proceedings to accuse Nurse of trying to get her to “tempt God and dye.” When she held her head to one side, those claiming afflictions moved their heads to the side as well “set in that posture.” Rebecca Nurse was then indicted for witchcraft. “I am innocent as the child unborn, but surely what sin hath God found out in me unrepentant of, that he should lay such an affliction on me in my old age,” she said.
That Sunday was Easter Sunday, which was no particular special Sunday in the Puritan calendar, but with Rebecca Nurse in prison, as were Tituba, Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good and Martha Corey, the Reverend Parris preached on witchcraft. He emphasised that the devil could not take the form of anyone innocent. During the sermon, Sarah Cloyce, Rebecca’s sister, left the meetinghouse and slammed the door.
The sequence of events thereafter was that on April 3, Rebecca’s younger sister, Sarah Cloyce, came to Rebecca’s defence…..but was then accused and arrested on April 8. Then on April 21, another of her sisters, Mary Easty, was arrested after defending Rebecca’s innocence. John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin then ordered the Boston jail to take custody of Rebecca Nurse and others for acts of witchcraft committed on Ann Putnam Jr., Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard – and others.
In a deposition, written by Thomas Putnam and signed on May 31, he detailed accusations of torment of his wife, Ann Putnam by the spectres of Rebecca Nurse and Martha. Another deposition detailed accusations of afflictions inflicted by Rebecca Nurse’s spectre.
A Mary Warren testified on June 1, that when she was in prison, George Burroughs, Rebecca Nurse, Elizabeth Proctor, and several others said they were going to a feast at the Parris house, and that when she refused to eat some bread and wine with them, they “dreadfully afflicted her” — and that Rebecca Nurse “appeared in the roome” during the taking of the deposition and afflicted Mary, Deliverance and Abigail Hobbs, and that Philip English appeared and injured Mary’s hand with a pin.
On June 2, at 10 in the morning, the Court of Oyer and Terminer convened in its first session. Rebecca Nurse, Bridget Bishop, Elizabeth Proctor, Alice Parker, Susannah Martin and Sarah Good were forced to undergo a physical examination of their bodies by a doctor with a number of women present. A “preternatural excrescence of flesh” was reported on the first three. Nine women signed the document attesting to the examination. A second exam that day at 4 in the afternoon stated that several of the physical abnormalities they saw in the morning had changed; they attested that on Rebecca Nurse, the “excrescence …… appears only as a dry skin without sense” at this second examination. Again, nine women’s marks are on the document. A grand jury indicted Rebecca Nurse for witchcraft on June 3.
On July 3, the Salem church excommunicated Rebecca Nurse.
Rebecca’s trial started on June 30 1692. Banned from having a lawyer, she represented herself and 39 villagers appeared on her behalf as character witnesses; her accusers broke into fits as they spoke about their claims and the so-called “spectral evidence” was deemed to be relevant. Regardless of this, Rebecca was found not guilty and there was an immediate outcry – the girls fell into prolonged fits and spasms, the public bayed for blood and the judges asked the jury to reconsider. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the verdict was changed and Nurse was sentenced to death on July 19 1692. However, another twist came into play; in light of urgent pleas from Rebecca’s family and abundant evidence of her good character, Sir William Phips, the Governor of Massachusetts granted Nurse a reprieve – then he withdrew it despite Rebecca filing a petition protesting the verdict, pointing out she was “something hard of hearing, and full of grief.”! On July 12, William Stoughton signed the death warrant for Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth How and Sarah Wilds and they were all hanged on July 19, followed by her sister who was tried and hanged on September 22 1692. Sarah Good cursed the presiding clergyman, Nicholas Noyes, from the gallows, saying “if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink.” – Years later, Noyes died unexpectedly, haemorrhaging from the mouth!
By October, with 20 people executed and 150 more men, women and children accused, the hysteria began to die down and the tide of public opinion turned against the trials. Sarah was released and later given nine gold sovereigns in compensation for her imprisonment and her sisters’ deaths.
Francis Nurse was to die on 22 November 1695, after the witch trials had been ended (in 1693) but before Rev. Parris finally left Salem Village and before the 1711 reversal of attainder bill that also gave some compensation to Rebecca Nurse’s heirs. In 1697, 12 members of the jury made a public apology, admitting they had been “sadly deluded and mistaken”. On August 25, 1706, Ann Putnam Jr., in formally joining the Salem Village church, publicly apologized “for the accusing of several persons of a grievous crime, whereby their lives were taken away from them, whom, now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons…” She named Rebecca Nurse specifically and publicly confessed her contrition for her part in the trials. Her excuse – That Satan made her do it! In 1712, Salem church reversed its excommunication of Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey.
“If there is one character in “The Crucible” that everyone can love and sympathise with, it is Rebecca Nurse. She could be anyone’s grandmother, the woman you would never speak foul of or intend to hurt in any way. And yet, in Arthur Miller‘s tragic play, sweet Rebecca Nurse is one of the last victims of the Salem Witch Trials.
Nurse’s unfortunate end coincides with the curtain that closes this play, even though we never see it happen. The scene in which she and John Proctor head to the gallows is heartbreaking. It is the punctuation mark on Miller’s commentary on ‘witch hunts’ whether they be in 1690s Salem or the 1960s round up of alleged communists in America which prompted his writing this play.
Rebecca Nurse puts a face to the accusations and it is one that you cannot ignore. Can you imagine your grandmother being called out as a witch or a communist? If John Proctor is the tragic hero, Rebecca Nurse is the tragic victim of “The Crucible.” She is the saintly character of the play. Whereas John Proctor has many flaws, Rebecca seems angelic. She is a nurturing soul, as seen when she tries to comfort the sick and the fearful in Act One. She is a grandmother who exhibits compassion throughout the play.
Wife of Francis Nurse.
A sensible and pious older woman held in the highest regard in Salem.
Self-confident and compassionate and as the last act demonstrates, the humblest of all the characters.
When convicted of witchcraft, a humble Rebecca Nurse refuses to bear false witness against herself and others. She would rather hang than lie. She comforts John Proctor as they are both led to the gallows. “Let you fear nothing! Another judgment waits us all!”
Nurse also utters one of the more subtle and realistic lines of the play. As the prisoners are led to the gallows, Rebecca stumbles. This provides a dramatically tender moment when John Proctor catches her and helps her to her feet. She is a bit embarrassed and says, “I’ve had no breakfast.” This line is so unlike any of the turbulent speeches of the male characters, or the vehement replies of the younger female characters.
Rebecca Nurse has much she could complain about. Anyone else in her situation would be consumed with fear, sorrow, confusion, and rage against the evils of society. Yet, Rebecca Nurse merely blames her faltering on a lack of breakfast. Even at the brink of execution, she exhibits not a trace of bitterness, but only the sincerest humility. Of all the characters from “The Crucible,” Rebecca Nurse is the most benevolent. Her death increases the tragedy of the play.
Just off the B1149, Norwich to Holt Road at Cawston, Norfolk stands a stone urn. It marks the scene of the last duel fought in Norfolk.
Early on a Saturday morning in August 1698 Sir Henry Hobart of Blickling Hall, 4th Baronet and former MP for Kings Lynn, met at with Sir Oliver Le Neve, a lawyer from Great Witchingham, at Cawston Heath. In a time when a gentleman’s honour was a matter of life or death, they fought a duel that proved fatal. Behind this Tale lies a sub-plot of Norfolk politics, plus an unlikely victory for a left-handed underdog!
Henry Hobart owned Blickling Hall and its Estate; his ancestor the 1st baronet, having made his fortune through the law, spent a fortune building his magnificent mansion near Aylsham. Despite the family of Old Commonwealth Hobarts being stubborn and supporters of republicanism, it continue to thrive over the generations. Young Henry, 4th baronet and the other half of this said Duel, had been knighted by Charles II in 1671 aged just 13. In adulthood he became a politician after serving as William of Oranges Gentleman of Horse at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland; he also represented the borough of Kings Lynn in Parliament. As a member of the Whig party, he prospered in the political climate of the 1690s.
Oliver Le Neve, by contrast, was of more humble station. He was Tory-supporting lawyer, a country sportsman, fisherman and well-known local drinking man – every inch the Tory king and country squire. Oliver was, to his credit, also easy going and better-liked, an attribute that was eventually to stand him in good stead. His personality was in striking contrast to that of Henry Hobart, the court sophisticate, renowned as a swordsman but also argumentative, dictatorial and headstrong, with a record of disputes with his neighbours.
So what was the argument?
In 1698 a bitter political battle broke out in Norfolk. Hobart had splashed out heavily on an election campaign spending enough to increase his family’s already impressive debts but had been defeated. He attributed his failure to rumours circulating about his conduct in Ireland during the 1690 Boyne campaign. It seems accusations that Hobart had been a coward were circulating and Hobart blamed Le Neve. Hobart issued a challenge by letter and in person, but Le Neve denied being the author of the rumours. He wrote to Hobart:
“I am ready and desirous to meet you when and where you please to assign… for the matter shall not rest as it is though it cost the life of your servant, Oliver Neve”.
Former soldier, renowned swordsman, versus fisherman lawyer – but left-handed! – what betting man of the time would have noticed this for they had their money on Hobart. However, neither man had engaged Seconds and the only witness was apparently a servant girl hiding in the bushes. Nevertheless, the Duel went ahead and, according to rumour, Hobart wounded his opponent in the arm but, unfortunate for him, his sword got caught up in Le Neve’s coat. Le Neve took advantage with a quick reply, thrusting his sword into Hobarts stomach. This was to prove a mortal wound, after the baronet had been carried back in agony to Blickling. He died the next day, leaving a widow, heiress Elizabeth Maynard, and a five year old son. The widow’s anger was less intense and possibly satisfied when she later remarried; her son inherited, the family regained its fortune and her son eventually become Ambassador to Russia.
What happened next?
Because no Seconds were involved, the Duel was deemed illegal and Le Neve fled to Holland, fearing that the Hobart’s powerful and vengeful family would secure a murder conviction for him. There he stayed until the heat had died down then, having lived under a series of assumed names, he returned to stand trial. Oliver was duly acquitted at the Thetford assizes in April, 1700, a verdict that maybe had much to do to a favourable jury and his good reputation with his neighbours, all of which came to his aid at the right moment – Who knows?
Le Neve, settled back into his country squire life and, apart from fishing, horse-racing and gardening, his main occupation was his prized pack of hunting beagles – supposedly the best in England. He also maintained his positions of Justice of the Peace and a captain in the militia. Tragedy though marred his final years. His second wife Jane, who he married just a few weeks before the duel, died in 1703 and he remarried a few years later, again for money. He chose a London heiress, but she died soon after the marriage.
Oliver Le Neve died of apoplex on 23 November 1711 at West Harling, shortly after the death of his only surviving son, Jack. As for Oliver Le Neve, he was buried with his first wife Anne Gawdy at Great Witchingham. Because his sons had predeceased him, his Estate passed to his elder brother Peter who in his Will intended the Estate to pass back to his three nieces, Oliver Le Neve’s daughters—Isabella, Anne and Henrietta. However, after legal battles, with accusations by the Le Neves of conflict of interest, the state was taken through reversion of the Will by the trustees of a John Norris, whose grandfather, a Norwich lawyer of the same name, had acted as trustee for the young Oliver Le Neve. The three daughters of Le Neve were ejected from the estate. These three surviving daughters by Anne Gawdy inherited the Gawdy Estate at West Harling instead. They, in turn, erected a chancel marble wall monument to their parents in St Mary’s Church at Great Witchingham.
The monument inscription reads:
“Under the earth near this stone lyeth the dust of Oliver le Neve Esq late of this parish one of the Justices of the Peace and Captain of a Foot Company of the Militia of this County Second son of Frances le Neve gentleman Citizen and Draper of London and of Avice his wife daughter of Peter Wright and sister and heir of Peter Wright of London Merchant he died on the 23rd day of November Anno Domino 1711 and was buried on the 26th of the same month leaving behind him by his first wife Anne only ye daughter of Sir John Gaudy of West Herling in this County Baronet (who lyeth by his side) three daughters and co-heirs Isabella Anne and Henrietta Le Neve who caused this Memorial to be set up As also what remains of Elizabeth his second wife daughter and co-heir expectant of Robert Sheffield of Kensington in Middlesex Esq grandson of Edmund Earl of Mulgrave long since deceased she died suddenly on the 8th day of November 1707 without child and was buried here on the 12th day of the same month.
Tam Math quam Mercurio [As much a man of war as commerce]”
How did duelling work and how long was it in fashion?
The practice grew out of the medieval legal tradition of trial by combat. As long as the rules were followed, the courts usually took a lenient view. Participants were meant to issue formal letters to one another and appoint seconds to make sure fair play ensured. It was considered a disgrace if a man did not answer a challenge, so Le Neve had little option but to fight if he wanted to retain his reputation. Sometimes when opponents met an apology was offered and both parties went away with honour and life intact.
Gradually, society’s attitude to violence changed. By the mid 19th century it had gone out of fashion but that did not stop the Duke of Wellington, when Prime Minister, fighting a duel in 1829 with Lord Winchilsea. On that occasion both men deliberately fired wide, and Winchilsea grudgingly apologised. Honour was satisfied. By the Victorian era courts took a less lenient attitude to duels, and the practice died out.
POSTSCRIPT: A stone urn marking the Norfolk Duel was later put up in the garden of the Woodrow Inn which, in time, became the present Woodrows petrol station – the monument itself became known as the Cawston Heath Duel Stone and, having been previously moved, is now maintained by the National Trust. You can find the stone urn just yards from the Woodrow garage. Henry Hobarts home at Blickling is also owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.
During the first half 17th century the coastal town of Lowestoft in Suffolk, England, witnessed many upheavals – plague, fire, civil strife and a rapid decline in the local fishing industry. It did not end there for the town was involved with an expensive law-suit with the neighbouring town of Great Yarmouth. All this left their mark on this small community of under 2,000 inhabitants.
Then, in the year 1660 another “menace” appeared in their midst, that of the ugly spectre of “witchcraft”. Two elderly widows, Rose Cullender and Amy Denny, were suspected of being “witches”. Within months they were arrested, accused and tried at the Lent Assizes held at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk on March 13th 1662. Both were found guilty and hanged.
The details of their Trial and the accusations against them were recorded at the time and twenty years later they were published in a small booklet entitled “A Tryal of Witches” – the text of which is as follows:
The Links in the dialogue will take you to details of the characters, events, background, etc . . . . Pictures herein were not in the Report but included here to support the text…….
A TRYAL OF WITCHES
This trial of witches hath lain a long time in a private gentleman’s hands in the country, it being given to him by the person that took it at the court for his own satisfaction; but it came lately to my hands, and having perused it, I found it a very remarkable thing, and fit to be published; especially in these times, wherein things of this nature are much controverted, and that by persons of much learning on both sides. I thought that so exact a relation of this trial would probably give more satisfaction to a great many persons, by reason that it is pure matter of fact, and that evidently demonstrated; than the arguments and reasons of other very learned men, that probably may not be so intelligble to all Readers; especially this being held before a Judge, whom for his integrity, Learning, and Law, hardly any Age, either before or since could parallel; who not only took a great deal of paines, and spent much time in this Tryal himself; but had the Assistance and Opinion of several other very Eminent and Learned Persons: So that this being the most perfect Narrative of any thing of this Nature hitherto extant, made me unwillingly to deprive the World of the Benefit of it; which is the sole Motive that induced me to Publish it.
At the Assizes and General Gaol delivery, held at Bury St. Edmonds for the County of Suffolk, the Tenth day of March, in the Sixteenth Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King Charles II, before Matthew Hale, Knight, Lord Chief Baron of His Majesties Court of Exchequer; Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, Widows, both of Leystoff in the County aforesaid, were severally indicted for Bewitching Elizabeth and Ann Durent, Jane Bocking, Susan Chandler, William Durent, Elizabeth and Deborah Pacey: And the said Cullender and Duny, being arraigned upon the said Indictments, pleaded Not Guilty: And afterwards, upon a long Evidence, were found Guilty, and thereupon had Judgement to dye for the same.
The Evidence whereupon these Persons were convicted of Witchcraft, stands upon divers particular circumstances.
I. Three of the Parties above-named, viz. Anne Durent, Susan Chandler, and Elizabeth Pacy were brought to Bury to the Assizes and were in reasonable good condition: But that Morning they came into the Hall to give Instructions for the drawing of their Bills of Indictments, the Three Persons fell into strange and violent fits, screeking out in a most sad manner, so that they could not in any wise give any Instructions in the Court who were the cause of their Distemper. And although they did after some certain space recover out of their fits, yet they were every one of them struck Dumb, so that none of them could speak neither at that time, nor during the Assizes until the Conviction of the supposed Witches.
As concerning William Durent, being an Infant, his mother Dorothy Durent sworn and examined deposed in open Court, That about the Tenth of March, Nono Caroli Secundi, she having a special occasion to go from home, and having none in the House to take care of her said Child (it then sucking) desired Amy Duny her Neighbour, to look to her child during her absence, for which she promised her to give her a Penny: but the said Dorothy Durent desired the said Amy not to Suckle her Child, and laid a great charge upon her not to do it. Upon which it was asked by the Court, why she did give that direction, she being an old Woman and not capable of giving Suck? It was answered by the said Dorothy Durent, that she very well knew that she did not give suck, but that for some years before, she had gone under the reputation of a Witch, which was one cause made her give the caution: Another was, that it was customary with old Women, that if they did look after a sucking Child, and nothing would please it but the Breast, they did use to please the Child, but it sucked nothing but Wind, which did the child hurt.
Nevertheless after the departure of this deponent, the said Amy did Suckle the Child: And after the return of the said Dorothy, the said Amy did acquaint her, That she had given Suck to the Child contrary to her command. Whereupon the Deponent was very angry with the said Amy for the same; at which the said Amy was much discontented, and used many high Expressions and Threatening Speeches towards her: telling her, That she had as good to have done otherwise than to have found fault with her, and so departed out of her house: And that very Night her Son fell into strange fits of swounding, and was held in such terrible manner, that she was much affrighted therewith, and so continued for divers weeks. And the said Examinant farther said, that she being exceedingly troubled at her Childs Distemper, did go to a certain Person named Doctor Jacob, who lived at Yarmouth, who had the reputation in the Country, to help children that were Bewitch’d; who advis’d her to hang up the Childs Blanket in the Chimney-corner all day, and at night when she put the Child to Bed, to put it into the said blanket, and if she found any thing in it, she should not be afraid, but to throw it into the fire. And this Deponent did according to his direction; and at night when she took down the Blanket with an intent to put her Child therein, there fell out of the same a great Toad, which ran up and down the hearth, and she having a young youth only with her in the House, desired him to catch the Toad, and throw it into the Fire, which the youth did accordingly, and held it there with the Tongs; and as soon as it was in the Fire it made a great and horrible Noise, and after a space there was a flashing in the Fire like Gun-powder, making the noise like the discharge of a Pistol, and thereupon the Toad was no more seen nor heard. It was asked by the Court, if that after the noise and the flashing, there was not the Substance of the Toad to be seen to consume in the fire? And it was answered by the said Dorothy Durent, That after the flashing and the noise, there was no more seen than if there had been none there.
The next day there came a young Woman a Kinswoman of the said Amy, and a neighbour of this Deponent, and told this Deponent, that her Aunt (meaning the said Amy) was in a most lamentable condition having her face all scorched with fire, and that she was sitting alone in her House, in her Smock without any fire. And thereupon this Deponent went into the House of the said Amy Duny to see her, and found her in the same condition as was related to her; for her face, her Leggs, and Thighs, which this Deponent saw, seemed very much scorched and burnt with Fire, at which this Deponent seemed much to wonder. And asked the said Amy how she came into that sad condition? and the said Amy replied, she might thank her for it, for that she this Deponent was the cause thereof, but that she should live to see some of her Children dead, and she upon crutches. And this Deponent farther saith, that after the burning of the said Toad, her child recover’d, and was well again, and was living at the time of the Assizes. And this Deponent farther saith, That about the 6th of March, 11 Car. 2. her daughter Elizabeth Durent, being about the age of Ten Years, was taken in a like manner as her first Child was, and in her fits complained much of Amy Duny, and said, That she did appear to her, and Afflict her in such manner as the former. And she this said Deponent going to the Apothecaries for some thing for her said Child, when she did return to her own House, she found the said Amy Duny there, and asked her what she did do there? and her answer was, That she came to see her Child, and to give her some water. But she this Deponent was very angry with her, and thrust her forth of her doors, and when she was out of doors, she said, You need not be so angry, for your Child will not live long: and this was on a Saturday, and the Child dyed on the Monday following. The cause of whose Death this Deponent verily believeth was occasion’d by the Witchcraft of the said Amy Duny: for that the said Amy hath been long reputed to be a Witch, and a person of very evil behaviour, whose Kindred and Relations have been many of them accused for Witchcraft, and some of them have been condemned.
The said Deponent further saith, that not long after the death of her Daughter Elizabeth Durent, she this Deponent was taken with a Lameness in both her Leggs, from the knees downwards, that she was fain to go upon Cruches, and that she had no other use of them but only to bear a little upon them till she did remove her crutches, and so continued till the time of the Assizes, that the Witch came to be Tryed, and was there upon her Crutches, the Court asked her, That at the time she was taken with this Lameness, if it were with her according to the Custom of Women? Her Answer was, that it was so, and that she never had any stoppages of those things, but when she was with Child.
This is the Substance of her Evidence to this Indictment.
There was some thing very remarkable, that after she had gone upon Crutches for upwards of Three Years, and went upon them at the time of the Assizes in the Court when she gave her Evidence, and upon the Juries bringing in their Verdict, by which the said Amy Duny was found Guilty, to the great admiration of all Persons, the said Dorothy Durent was restored to the use of her Limbs, and went home without making use of her Crutches.
II. As concerning Elizabeth and Deborah Pacy, the first of the Age of Eleven Years, the other of the age of Nine Years or thereabouts: as to the Elder, She was brought into the Court at the time of the Instructions given to draw up the Indictments, and afterwards at the time of Tryal of the said Prisoners, but could not speak one Word all the time, and for the most part she remained as one wholly senseless as one in a deep Sleep, and could move no part of her body, and all the Motion of Life that appeared in her was, that as she lay upon Cushions in the Court upon her back, her stomack and belly by the drawing of her breath, would arise to a great height: and after the said Elizabeth had lain a long time on the Table in the Court, she came a little to her self and sate up, but could neither see nor speak, but was sensible of what was said to her, and after a while she laid her Head on the Bar of the Court with a Cushion under it, and her hand and her Apron upon that, and there she lay a good space of time: and by the direction of the Judg, Amy Duny was privately brought to Elizabeth Pacy, and she touched her hand; whereupon the child without so much as seeing her, for her Eyes were closed all the while, suddenly leaped up, and catched Amy Duny by the hand, and afterwards by the face; till Blood came, and would by no means leave her till she was taken from her, and afterwards the Child would still be pressing towards her, and making signs of Anger conceived against her.
Deborah the younger Daughter was held in such extream manner, that her Parents wholly despaired of her life, and therefore could not bring her to the Assizes.
The Evidence which was given concerning these Two Children was to this Effect.
Samuel Pacya Merchant of Leystoff (Lowestoft) aforesaid, (a man who carried himself with much soberness during the Tryal, from whom proceeded no words either of Passion or Malice, though his Children were so greatly Afflicted,) Sworn and Examined, Deposeth, That his younger Daughter Deborah, upon Thursday the Tenth of October last, was suddenly taken with a Lameness in her Leggs, so that she could not stand, neither had she any strength in her Limbs to support her, and so she continued until the Seventeenth day of the same Month, which day being fair and sunshiny, the Child desired to be carryed on the East part of the House, to be set upon the Bank which looketh upon the Sea; and whil’st she was sitting there, Amy Duny came to this Deponents House to buy some Herrings, but being denyed she went away discontented, and presently returned again, and was denyed, and likewise the third time and was denyed as at first; and at her last going away, she went away grumbling; but what she said was not perfectly understood. But at the very same instant of time, the said Child was taken with most violent fits, feeling most extream pain in her Stomach, like the pricking of Pins, and Shreeking out in a Most dreadful manner like unto a Whelp, and not like unto a sensible Creature. And in this extremity the Child continued to the great grief of the Parents until the Thirtieth of the Same Month. During this time this Deponent sent for one Dr. Feavor, a Doctor of Physick, to take his advice concerning his Childs Distemper; the Doctor being come, he saw the child in those firs, but could not conjecture (as he then told this Deponent, and afterwards affirmed in open Court, at this Tryal) what might be the cause of the Childs Affliction. And the Deponent farther saith, That by reason of the circumstances aforesaid, and in regard Amy Duny is a Woman of an ill Fame, & commonly reported to be a Witch & Sorceress, and for that the said Child in her fits would cry out of Amy Duny as the cause of her Malady, and that she did affright her with Apparitions of her Person (as the child in the intervals of her fits related) he this deponent did suspect the said Amy Duny for a Witch, and charged her with the injury and wrong to his child, and caused her to be set in the Stocks on the Twenty eighth of the same October: and during the time of continuance there, one Alice Letteridge and Jane Buxton demanding of her ( as they also affirmed in court upon their Oathes) what should be the reason of Mr. Pacy’s Childs Distemper? telling her, That she was suspected to be the cause thereof; she replyed, Mr. Pacy keeps a great stir about his child, but let him stay until he hath done as much by his children, as I have done by mine. And being further examined, what she had done to her Children? She answered, That she had been fain to open her Child’s Mouth with a Tap to give it Victuals.
And the said Deponent further desposeth, That within two days after speaking of the said words being the Thirtieth of October, the eldest Daughter Elizabeth, fell into extream fits, insomuch, that they could not open her Mouth to give her breath, to preserve her Life without the help of a Tap which they were enforced to use; and the younger Child was in the like manner Afflicted, so that they used the same also for her Relief.
And further the said Children being grievously afflicted would severally complain in their extremity, and also in the intervals, That Amy Duny (together with one other Woman whose person and Cloathes they described) did thus Afflict them, their Apparitions appearing before them, to their great terrour and affrightment: And sometimes they would cry out, saying, There stands Amy Duny, and there Rose Cullender; the other Person troubling them.
Their fits were various, sometimes they would be lame on one side of their Bodies, sometimes on the other: sometimes a soreness over their whole Bodies, so as they could endure none to touch them: at other times they would be restored to the perfect use of their Limbs, and deprived of the Hearing; at other times of their sight, at other times of their Speech; sometimes by the space of one day, sometimes for two; and once they were wholly deprived of their Speech for Eight days together, and then restored to their Speech again. At other times they would fall into Swounings, and upon the recovery to their Speech they would Cough extreamly, and bring up much Flegme, and with the same crooked Pins, and one time a Two-penny Nail with a very broad head, which Pins (amounting to Forth or more) together with the Two-penny Nail were produced in Court, with the affirmation of the said Deponent, that he was present when the said Nail was Vomited up, and also most of the Pins. Commonly at the end of every fit they would cast up a Pin, and sometimes they would have four or five fits in one day.
In this manner the said Children continued with this Deponent for the space of two Months, during which time in their Intervals this Deponent would cause them to Read some Chapters in the New Testament. Whereupon this Deponent several times observed, that they would read till they came to the Name of Lord, or Jesus, or Christ; and then before they could pronounce either of the said Words they would suddenly fall into their fits. But when they came to the Name of Satan, or Devil, they would clap their Fingers upon the Book, crying out, This bites, but makes me speak right well.
At such time as they be recovered out of their fits (occasion’d as this deponent conceives upon their naming of Lord, or Jesus, or Christ,) this Deponent hath demanded of them, what is the cause they cannot pronounce those words, They reply and say, That Amy Duny saith, I must not use that name.
And farther, the said Children after their fits were past, would tell, how that Amy Duny, and Rose Cullender would appear before them, holding their Fists at them, threatning, That if they related either what they saw or heard, that they would Torment them ten times more than ever they did before.
In their fits they would cry out, There stands Amy Duny, or Rose Cullender; and sometimes in one place and sometimes in another, running with great violence to the place where they fancied them to stand, striking at them as if they were present; they would appear to them sometimes spinning, and sometimes reeling, or in other postures, deriding or threatning them.
And this Deponent farther faith, That his Children being thus Tormented by all the space aforesaid, and finding no hopes of amendment, he sent them to his Sisters House, one Margaret Arnold, who lived at Yarmouth, to make tryal, whether the change of the Air might do them any good. Any how, and in what manner they were afterwards held, he this Deponent refers himself to the Testimony of his said Sister.
Margaret Arnold, Sworn and Examined, saith, That the said Elizabeth and Deborah Pacy came to her House about the Thirtieth of November last, her Brother acquainted her, that he thought they were Bewitch’d, for that they vomited Pins; and farther Informed her of the several passages which occurred at his own House. This Deponent said, that she gave no credit to that which was related to her, conceiving possibly the Children might use some deceit in putting Pins in their mouths themselves. Wherefore this Deponent unpinned all their Cloathes, and left not so much as one Pin upon them, bur sewed all the Clothes they wore, instead of pinning of them. But this Deponent saith, that notwithstanding all this care and circumspection of hers, the children afterwards raised at several times at least Thirty Pins in her presence, and had most fierce and violent Fitts upon them.
The Children would in their Fitts cry out against Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, affirming that they saw them; and they threatned to Torment them Ten times more, if they complained of them. At some times the Children (only) would see things run up and down the House in the appearance of Mice; and one of them suddainly snapt one with the Tongs, and threw it into the fire, and it screeched out like a Rat.
At another time, the younger Child being out of her Fitts went out of Doors to take a little fresh Air, and presently a little thing like a Bee flew upon her Face, and would have gone into her Mouth, whereupon the Child ran in all haste to the door to get into the House again, screeking out in a most terrible manner; whereupon this Deponent made haste to come to her, but before she could get to her, the Child fell into her swooning Fitt, and at last with much pain straining herself, she vomited up a Two-penny Nail with a broad Head; and after that the Child had raised up the Nail she came to her understanding; and being demanded by this Deponent, how she came by this Nail? she answered, That the Bee brought this Nail and forced it into her Mouth.
At another time, the Elder Child declared unto this Deponent, that during the time of her Fitts, she saw Flies come unto her, and bring with them in their Mouthes crooked Pins; and after the Child had thus declared the same, she fell again into violent Fits, and afterwards raised several Pins.
At another time, the said Elder Child declared unto this deponent, and sitting by the Fire suddenly started up and said, she saw a Mouse, and she crept under the Table looking after it, and at length, she put something in her Apron, saying, she had caught it; and immediately she ran to the Fire and threw it in, and there did appear upon it to this Deponent, like the flashing of Gunpowder, though she confessed she saw nothing in the Childs hand.
At another time the said Child being speechless, but otherwise of perfect understanding, ran about the House holding her Apron, crying, hush, hush, as if there had been some Poultrey in the House; but this Deponent could perceive nothing: but at last she saw the Child stoop as if she had catch’d at something, and put it into her Apron, and afterwards made as if she had thrown it into the Fire: but this Deponent could not discover anything: but the Child afterwards being restored to her speech, she this Deponent demanded of her what she saw at the time she used such a posture? who answered, That she saw a Duck.
At another time, the Younger daughter being recovered out of her Fitts, declared, That Amy Duny had been with her, and that she tempted her to Drown her self, and to cut her Throat, or otherwise to Destroy her self.
At another time in their Fitts they both of them cryed out upon Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, complaining against them; Why do not you come your selves, but send your Imps to Torment us?
These several passages as most remarkable, the said Deponent did particularly set down as they daily happen’d, and for the reasons aforesaid, she doth verily believe in her conscience, that the Children were bewitched, and by the said Amy Duny, and Rose Cullender; though at first she could hardly be induced to believe it.
As concerning Ann Durent one other of the Parties, supposed to be bewitched, present in Court. Edmund Durent her Father Sworn and Examined; said That he also lived in the said, Town of Leystoff, and that the said Rose Cullender, about the latter end of November last, came into this Deponents House to buy some Herrings of his Wife, but being denyed by her, the said Rose returned in a discontented manner; and upon the first of December after, his Daughter Ann Durent was very sorely Afflicted in her Stomach, and felt great pain, like the pricking of pins, and then fell into swooning fitts, and after the Recovery from her Fitts, she declared, That she had seen the Apparition of the said Rose, who threatned to Torment her. In this manner she continued from the first of December, until this present time of Tryal; having likewise vomited up divers Pins (produced here in Court). This Maid was present in Court, but could not speak to declare her knowledge, but fell into most violent fits when she was brought before Rose Cullender.
Ann BaldwinSworn and Examined, Deposeth the same thing as touching the Bewitching of the said Ann Durent.
As concerning Jane Bocking who was so weak, she could not be brought to the Assizes. Diana Bocking Sworn and Examined, Deposed, That she lived in the same Town of Leystoff, and that he said Daughter having been formerly Afflicted with swooning fitts recovered well of them, and so continued for a certain time; and upon the First of February last, she was taken also with great pain in her Stomach, like pricking with Pins; and afterwards fell into swooning fitts and so continued till the Deponents coming to the Assizes, having during the same time taken little or no food, but daily vomited crooked Pins; and upon Sunday last raised Several Pins. And whilst her fits were upon her she would spread forth her Arms with hands open, and use postures as if she catched at something, and would instantly close her hands again; which being immediately forced open, they found several Pins diversly crooked, but could neither see nor perceive how or in what manner they were conveyed thither. At another time, the same Jane being in another of her fitts, talked as if she were discoursing with some persons in the Room, (though she would give no answer nor seem to take notice of any person then present) and would in like manner cast abroad her Arms, saying, I will not have it, I will not have it; and at last she said, Then I will have it, and so waving her Arm with her hand open, she would presently close the same, which instantly forced open, they found in it a Lath-Nail. In her fitts she would frequently complain of Rose Cullender and Amy Duny, saying, That now she saw Rose Cullender standing at the Beds feet, and another time at the Beds-head, and so in other places. At last she was stricken Dumb and could not speak one Word, though her fitts were not upon her, and so she continued for some days, and at last her speech came to her again, and she desired her Mother to get her some Meat; and being demanded the reason why she could not speak in so long time? She answered, That Amy Duny would not suffer her to speak. This Lath-Nail, and divers of the Pins were produced in Court.
As concerning Susan Chandler, one other of the Parties supposed to be Bewitched and present in Court.
Mary Chandler Mother of the said Susan, Sworn and Examined, Deposed and said, That about the beginning of February last past, the said Rose Cullender and Amy Duny were Charged by Mr. Samuel Pacy for Bewitching of his Daughters. And a Warrant being granted at the request of the said Mr. Pacy, by Sir Edmund Bacon Baronet, one of the Justices of the Peace for the County of Suffolk to bring them before him, and they being brought before him were Examined, and Confessed nothing. He gave order that they should be searched; whereupon this Deponent with five others were appointed to do the same: and coming to the House of Rose Cullender, they did acquaint her with what they were come about, and asked whether she was contented that they should search her? she did not oppose it, whereupon they began at her Head, and so stript her naked, and in the lower part of her Belly they found a thing like a Teat of an Inch long, they questioned her about it, and she said, That she had got a strain by carrying of water which caused that Excrescence. But upon narrower search, they found in her Privy Parts three more Excrescencies or Teats, but smaller than the former: This Deponent farther saith, That in the long Teat at the end thereof there was a little hole, and it appeared unto them as if it had been lately sucked, and upon the straining of it there issued out white milkie Matter.
And this Deponent farther saith, That her said Daughter (being of the Age of Eighteen Years) was then in Service in the said Town of Leystoff, and rising up early the next Morning to Wash, this Rose Cullender appeared to her, and took her by the hand, whereat she was much affrighted, and went forthwith to her Mother, (being in the same town) and acquainted her with what she had seen; but being extreamly terrified, she feel extream sick, much grieved at her Stomach; and that Night after being in Bed with another young Woman, she suddenly scrieked out, and fell into such extream fits as if she were distracted, crying against Rose Cullender; saying she would come to bed to her. She continued in this manner beating and wearing her self, insomuch, that this Deponent was glad to get help to attend her. In her Intervals she would declare, That some time she saw Rose Cullender, at another time with a great Dog with her: She also vomited up divers crooked Pins; and sometimes she was stricken with blindness, and at another time she was Dumb, and so she appeared to be in Court when the Tryal of the Prisoners was; for she was not able to speak her knowledge; but being brought into the Court at the Tryal, she suddenly fell into her fits, and being carryed out of the Court again, within the space of half an hour she came to herself and recovered her speech, and thereupon was immediately brought into the Court, and asked by the Court, whether she was in condition to take an Oath, and to give Evidence, she said she could. But when she was Sworn, and asked what she could say against either of the Prisoners? before she could make any answer, she fell into her fits, screeking out in a miserable manner, crying Burn her, burn her, which were all the words she could speak.
Robert Chandler father of the said Susan gave in the same Evidence, that his wife Mary Chandler had given, only as to the searching of Rose Cullender as aforesaid.
This was the sum and Substance of the Evidence which was given against the Prisoners concerning the Bewitching of the Children before mentioned. At the hearing this Evidence there were divers known persons, as Mr. Serjeant Keeling, Mr. Serjeant Earl, and Mr. Serjeant Barnard, present. Mr Serjeant Keeling seemed much unsatisfied with it, and thought it not sufficient to Convict the Prisoners: for admitting that the children were in Truth Bewitched, yet said he, it can never be applyed to the Prisoners, upon the Imagination only of the Parties Afflicted; For if that might be allowed, no person whatsoever can be in safety, for perhaps they might fancy another person, who might altogether be innocent in such matters. There was also Dr. Brown of Norwich, a Person of great knowledge; who after this Evidence given, and upon view of the three persons in Court, was desired to give his Opinion, what he did conceive of them: and he was clearly of Opinion, that the persons were Bewitched; and said, That in Denmark there had been lately a great Discovery of Witches, who used the very same way of Afflicting Persons, by conveying Pins into them, and crooked as these Pins were, with Needles and Nails. And his Opinion was, That the Devil in such cases did work upon the Bodies of Men and Women, upon a Natural Foundation, (that is) to stir up, and excite such humours super-abounding in their Bodies to a great excess, whereby he did in an extraordinary manner Afflict them with such Distempers as their Bodies were most subject to, as particularly appeared in these Children; for he conceived, that these swounding Fits were Natural, and nothing else but that they call the Mother, but only heightned to a great excess by the subtilty of the Devil, co-operating with the Malice of these which we term Witches, at whose Instance he doth these Villanies.
Besides the particulars above-mention’d touching the said persons Bewitched, there were many other things Objected against them for a further proof and manifestation that the said children were Bewitched.
As First, during the time of the Tryal, there were some experiments made with the Persons Afflicted, by bringing the Persons to touch them; and it was observed, that when they were in the midst of their Fitts, to all Mens apprehension wholly deprived of all sense and understanding, closing their Fists in such manner, as that the strongest Man in the court could not force them open; yet by the least touch of one of these supposed Witches, Rose Cullender by Name, they would suddenly shriek out opening their hands, which accident would not happen by the touch of any other person, And least they might privatly see when they were touched, by the said Rose Cullender, they were blinded with their own Aprons, and the touching took the same Effect as before.
There was an ingenious person that objected, there might be a great fallacy in this experiment, and there ought not to be any stress put upon this to Convict the Parties, for the Children might counterfeit this their Distemper, and perceiving what was done to them, they might in such manner suddenly alter the motion and gesture of their Bodies, on purpose to induce persons to believe that they were not natural, but wrought strangely by the touch of the Prisoners.
Wherefore to avoid this scruple it was privatly desired by the Judge, that the Lord Cornwallis,Sir Edmund Bacon, and Mr. Serjeant Keeling, and some other Gentlemen there in Court, would attend one of the Distempered persons in the farther part of the Hall, whilst she was in her fits, and then to send for one of the Witches, to try what would then happen, which they did accordingly: and Amy Duny was conveyed from the Bar and brought to the Maid: they put an Apron before her Eyes, and then one other person touched her hand, which produced the same effect as the touch of the Witch did in the court. Whereupon the Gentlemen returned, openly protesting, that they did believe the whole transaction of this business was a meer Imposture.
This put the Court and all persons into a stand. But at length Mr. Pacy did declare, That possibly the Maid might be deceived by a suspition that the Witch touched her when she did not. For he had observed divers times, that although they could not speak, but were deprived of the use of their Tongues and Limbs, that their understandings were perfect, for that they have related divers things which have been when they were in their fits, after they were recovered out of them. This saying of Mr. Pacy was found to be true afterwards, when his Daughter was fully recovered (as she afterwards was) as shall in due time be related: For she was asked, whither she did hear and understand any thing that was dine and acted in the Court, during the time that she lay as one deprived of her understanding? and she said, she did: and by the Opinions of some, this experiment, (which others would have a Fallacy) was rather a confirmation that the Parties were really Bewitched, than otherwise: for say they, it is not possible that any should counterfeit such Distempers, being accompanied with various Circumstances, much less Children; and for so long time, and yet undiscovered by their Parents and Relations : For no man can suppose that they should all Conspire together, (being out of several families, and, as they Affirm, no way related one to the other, and scarce of familiar acquaintance) to do an Act of this nature whereby no benefit or advantage could redound to any of the Parties, but a guilty Conscience for Perjuring themselves in taking the Lives of two poor simple Women away, and there appears no Malice in the Case. For the Prisoners themselves did scarce so much as Object it. Wherefore, say they, it is very evident that the Parties were Bewitched, and that when they apprehend or understand by any means, that the persons who have done them this wrong are near, or touch them; then their spirits being more than ordinarily moved with rage and anger at them being present, they do use more violent gestures of their Bodies, and extend forth their hands, as desirous to lay hold upon them; which at other times not having the same occasion, the instance there falls not out the same.
OneJohn Soamof Leystoff aforesaid, Yeoman, a sufficient Person, Deposeth, That not long since, in harvest time he had three Carts which brought home his Harvest, and as they were going into the field to load, one of the Carts wrenched the Window of Rose Cullenders House, whereupon she came out in a great rage and threatned this Deponent for doing that wrong, and so they passed along into the Fields and loaded all the Three Carts, the other two Carts returned safe home, and back again, twice loaded that day afterwards; but as to this Cart which touched Rose Cullenders House, after it was loaded it again the second or third time, as they brought it through the Gate which leadeth out of the Field into the Town, the Cart stuck so fast in the Gates-head, that they could not possibly get it through, but were inforced to cut down the Post of the Gate to make the Cart pass through, although they could not perceive that the Cart did of either side touch the Gate-posts. And this Deponent further saith, That after they had got it through the Gate-way, they did with much difficulty get it home into the Yard; but for all that they could do, they could not get the Cart near unto the place where they should unload the Corn, but were fain to unload it at a great distance from the place, and when they began to unload they found much difficulty therein, it being so hand a labour that they were tired that first came; and when others came to assist them, their Noses burst forth a bleeding: so they were fain to desist and leave it until the next Morning; and then they unloaded it without any difficulty at all.
Robert Sherringhamalso Deposeth against Rose Cullender, That about Two Years since, passing along the Street with his Cart and Horses, the Axletree of his Cart touched her House, and broke down some part of it, at which, she was very much displeased, threatning him, that his Horses should suffer for it; and so it happen’d, for all those Horses, being Four in Number, died within a short time after: since that time he hath had great Losses by the suddain dying of his other cattle; so soon as his Sows pigged, the Pigs would leap and caper, and immediately fall down and dye. Also, not long after, he was taken with a Lameness in his Limbs that he could neither go nor stand for some days. After all this, he was very much vexed with great Number of Lice of an extraordinary bigness, and although he many times shifted himself, yet he was not anything the better, but would swarm again with them; so that in the Conclusion he was forc’d to burn all his Clothes, being two suits of Apparel, and then was clean from them.
As concerning Amy Duny, oneRichard SpencerDeposeth, That about the first of September last, he heard her say at his House, That the Devil would not let her rest until she were Revenged on one Cornelius Sandeswell’s Wife.
Ann SandeswelWife unto the above-said Cornelius, Deposed, That about Seven or Eight Years since, she having bought a certain number of Geese, meeting with Amy Duny, she told her, If she did not fetch her Geese home they would all be Destroyed: which in a few days after came to pass.
Afterwards the said Amy became Tenant to this Deponents Husband for a House, who told her, That if she looked not well to such a Chimney in her House, that the same would fall: Whereupon this Deponent replyed, That it was a new one; but not minding much her Words, at that time they parted. But in a short time the Chimney fell down according as the said Amy had said.
Also this Deponent farther saith, That her Brother being a Fisherman, and using to go into the Northern Seas, she desired him to send her a Firkin of Fish, which he did accordingly; and she having notice that the said Firkin was brought into Leystoff-Road, she desired a Boatman to bring it ashore with the other Goods they were to bring; and she going down to meet the Boat-man to receive her Fish, desired the said Amy to go along with her to help her home with it; Amy Replyed, She would go when she had it. And thereupon this Deponent went to the Shoar without her, and demanded of the Boat-man the Firkin, they told her, That they could not keep it in the Boat from falling into the Sea, and they thought it was gone to the Divel, for they never saw the like before. And being demanded by this Deponent, whether any other Goods in the Boat were likewise lost as well as hers? They answered, Not any.
This was the substance of the whole Evidence given against the Prisoners at the Bar; who being demanded, what they had to say for themselves? They replyed, Nothing material to any thing that was proved against them. Whereupon, the Judge in giving his direction to the Jury, told them, That he would not repeat the Evidence unto them, least by so doing he should wrong the Evidence on the one side or on the other. Only this acquainted them, That they had Two things to enquire after. First, Whether or no these Children were Bewitched? Secondly, Whether the Prisoners at the Bar were Guilty of it?
That there were such creatures as Witches he made no doubt at all; For First, the Scriptures had affirmed so much. Secondly, The wisdom of all Nations had provided Laws against such Persons, which is an Argument of their confidence of such a crime. And such hath been the judgment of this Kingdom, as appears by thatAct of Parliamentwhich hath provided Punishments proportionable to the quality of the Offence. And desired them, strictly to observe their Evidence; and desired the great God of Heaven to direct their Hearts in this weighty thing they had in hand: For to Condemn the Innocent, and to let the Guilty go free, were both an Abomination to the Lord.
With this short Direction the Jury departed from the Bar, and within the space of half an hour returned, and brought them in both Guilty upon theseveral Indictments, which were Thirteen in Number, whereupon they stood Indicted.
This was upon Thursday in the Afternoon, March 13. 1662.
The next Morning, the Three Children with their Parents came to the Lord Chief Baron Hale’s Lodging, who all of them spake perfectly, and were as in good Health as ever they were; only Susan Chandler, by reason of her very much Affliction, did look very thin and wan. And their friends were asked, At what time they were restored thus to their Speech and Health? And Mr. Pacy did Affirm, That within less than half an hour after the Witches were Convicted, they were all of them Restored, and slept well that Night, feeling no pain; only Susan Chandler felt a pain like pricking of Pins in her Stomach.
After, they were all of them brought down to the Court, but Ann Durent was so fearful to behold them, that she desired she might not see them. The other Two continued in the Court, and they Affirmed in the face of the Country, and before the Witches themselves, what before hath been deposed by their Friends and Relations; the Prisoners not much contradicting them. In Conclusion, the Judge and all the Court were fully satisfied with the Verdict, and thereupon gave Judgment against the Witches that they should be Hanged.
They were much urged to confess, but would not.
That Morning we departed for Cambridge, but no Reprieve was granted: And they wereExecuted on Monday, the Seventeenth of March following, but they confessed nothing.
The crime that has attracted the attention of historians more than any other in early modern England is witchcraft. It is a complex subject, not least because early modern beliefs regarding witchcraft and magic were obviously very different from those of today. However, it is not my intention to carry out an extensive investigation into early modern witchcraft beliefs here; that area has already received much coverage elsewhere. My interest here is to look at what the records reveal about those charged with witchcraft in the seventeenth-century Norfolk courts and how these findings compare with current theories. In particular, I look at how complaints arose and developed, and the involvement of the neighbours of the accused in that process.
Prior to the mid-sixteenth century witchcraft cases were normally tried in ecclesiastical courts. Punishments were rarely severe and some form of public penance was the most likely sentence. Witchcraft became a secular crime in England for the first time with the passing of a short-lived act of 1542. Elizabethan legislation in 1563 resurrected the crime and provided for the death penalty when “any p[er]son shall happen to be killed or destroyed”. However, this was repealed in 1604 and replaced by “An Acte against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealinge with evill and wicked Spirits”. This provided for even harsher punishments, extending the list of offences to which the death penalty applied to wasting, consuming or laming persons as well as causing their death. Where the “goods of any p[er]son shall be destroyed” the sentence was a year in prison for a first offence and death for a second offence. However, the major difference between this and the earlier Acts was that it also made it an offence to “consult covenant with entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or purpose”. For the first time a hint appears in the legislation of the fear of a diabolical compact, which was a major element in European legislation where practitioners of witchcraft were thought of as being members of an organised heretical sect.
The activities that witches were accused of were a clear inversion both of community norms and gender roles. However, Keith Thomas has argued that “the idea that witch-prosecutions reflected a war between the sexes must be discounted, not least because the victims and witnesses were themselves as likely to be women as men”. Whilst it has been well established that the majority of people charged with witchcraft in England were women, and the Norfolk records support this, the situation regarding witnesses is more contentious.Based on his findings from Yorkshire witchcraft depositions, James Sharpe has concluded that “the whole business of deciding if an individual was a witch or if an individual act constituted witchcraft, of how witchcraft should be coped with, of how suspicions should be handled, was seen as being fundamentally in the female sphere”. He argued that witchcraft accusations were frequently one of the ways in which disputes between women were resolved. This view has however, been disputed by Clive Holmes. He argued that whilst the gossip and suspicions of women may have been instrumental in bringing the accused to more general notice, it was men who were responsible for organising the process that took the case from suspicion to formal accusation. Holmes claimed that, despite their numerical involvement, women played a largely passive role in the legal process against witches. He noted that in Home Circuit indictments between 1596 and 1642 men acted alone as witnesses in 27.7 per cent of cases and together with women in a further 67.7 per cent. In contrast, in only 4.6 per cent of cases did women testify against an accused witch alone.
Feminist historians such as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English have seen witch trials as “a ruling class campaign of terror directed against the female peasant population”. Their argument is partly based on the premise that old women, often known as ‘cunning women’, who dispensed folk healing were deliberately eradicated when a male-dominated medical profession came into existence. It is also known that some of these cunning women kept small animals such as cats and toads for use in their medical work and this is one explanation for the appearance of familiars in English witchcraft. Other feminists have seen witchcraft prosecutions as symptomatic of a misogynist social structure. Marianne Hester contends that the witch-hunts provided a “means of controlling women socially within a male supremacist society” and were “an instance of male sexual violence against women”. She claimed that men gained from the linking of women with witchcraft as “it provided them with a greater moral and social status than women”.
Sharpe has argued that the involvement of women in witchcraft prosecutions allowed them to carve out a role for themselves in the male dominated legal world. Not only did they appear as witnesses, they were also involved in the search for what was often a crucial piece of evidence in proving guilt – witch’s marks on the body. The large number of references in the records to women searching for marks suggests that this practice was widely used. Sometimes teams of up to twelve women were appointed to search the accused, a midwife often included in the number. Clearly women did have a vital involvement in the witch trials, not least because, as has already been stated, it was women who were most likely to be charged. Some contemporary commentators recognised the disproportionate number of women accused, the well-quoted sceptic John Gaule complaining that every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furr[owe]d brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue, having a ragged coat on her back, a skull-cap on her head, a spindle in her hand, and a dog or cat by her side; is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch.
As can be seen from this description, witches were not only seen as women, but often as old women. One of the main reasons put forward for witches being elderly is that often they were only eventually prosecuted after suspicion of them had grown over the years. It has also been suggested that older, vulnerable women, unable to defend themselves in any other way, were forced to rely on their alleged occult powers.
The witch stereotype established by Alan Macfarlane’s Essex findings presents the accused as an economically marginal, elderly female, rarely living with a husband. He argued that, between 1560 and 1680, social and economic pressures led to increasing tensions within communities and to a lessening emphasis on the bonds of neighbourliness. One way in which these pressures manifested themselves was in villagers withholding alms that they had traditionally given to the poor. The fear of counter actions from those refused alms and the guilt produced by the abdication of responsibility then led to accusations of witchcraft, usually after the party withholding charity had suffered some sort of misfortune. However, as Cynthia Herrup found in Sussex, this stereotype was not always matched. Although she found only few examples of the crime they stood out “because of the prominence of male defendants and because of the economic and social parity of the accused and the accuser”. Here there appeared to be no gap in social status and conflict is seen as reflecting ongoing competition rather than guilt produced by a failure to provide alms.
The earliest known references to witches being condemned in Norfolk under the 1563 act date from 1583, when Mother Gabley was probably hanged at King’s Lynn, and 1584, when Elizabeth Butcher and Joan Lingwood were condemned to be hanged at Great Yarmouth. The forty years that followed the 1604 act saw an increase in the number of witchcraft trials in many areas of England, yet during this period there were very few in Norfolk, the only trial of note being that of Mary Smith, hanged in King’s Lynn in 1616. However, after being notable for having so few trials in the first part of the century, the county suddenly saw an eruption of cases in 1645 and 1646, especially in Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn – towns visited by the self-proclaimed
Nearly half of all seventeenth-century Norfolk witchcraft trials for which records have survived were prosecuted in the 1640s; prior to that there were under five per annum on average and, in common with other parts of the country, by the end of the century there were hardly any at all. A combination of reasons explains the circumstances under which such an increase in numbers of cases could take place. Firstly, England was in the middle of a civil war, and whilst it cannot be said that East Anglia was in the midst of the fighting, as it was a parliamentary stronghold, there were still threats of Royalist uprisings. Secondly, it has been claimed that, mainly because of the upheaval created by the war, there was a breakdown of authority during this period. The uncertainty created by the civil war and a less effective than usual local government permitted the witch-hunting activities of Matthew Hopkins and his associate John Stearne, who operated among the towns and villages of East Anglia for over two years from 1645. There has been some debate about the typicality of the cases resulting from these activities and I will return to this later.
Of the sixty-nine people charged, fifty-nine or 85.5 per cent were women, so from a simple mathematical point of view the Norfolk evidence supports the view that the crime was gendered. This picture is strengthened by an analysis of the outcome of the trials. Ten cases resulted in the guilty party being sentenced to be hanged and there were four other guilty verdicts for which the sentences were not recorded. All fourteen of those known to have been found guilty were women. (Of the other accused, forty-two were found not guilty, verdicts are not known in twelve cases, and one was found to be non compos mentis.)
Of the women whose marital status is detailed in the court records, thirty-two per cent were described as ‘spinsters’, the same proportion were married and thirty-six per cent were widows. It is possible, of course, that some of those described as spinsters were not, although there is no clue as to this in the records. As ages were not recorded it is impossible to be precise, however, this profile does not seem to suggest that most were elderly women, as often popularly described. Whilst it is difficult to deduce from this whether women on their own were more vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, the fact that only one of those found guilty was married suggests that they were possibly not in such a good position to defend themselves without the protection of a man.
Bewitching people 26 37.7 %
Bewitching animals 3 4.3 %
Bewitching property 3 4.3 %
Entertaining the devil 14 20.3 %
Consulting with spirits 11 15.9 %
Using witchcraft to find property 5 7.2 %
Non-specific witchcraft 7 10.1 %
Table 1. Norfolk witchcraft cases by category
Table 1 shows, in general terms, just what these people were being accused of. By far the biggest category is the bewitching of people and over half of these cases claimed to involve the death of an infant or child. Whilst two other categories combined, entertaining the devil and consulting with spirits, account for an almost equal proportion, these charges, traditionally not associated with the majority of English witchcraft cases, were all brought in trials that Matthew Hopkins and his associates were involved in. A surprisingly small percentage of cases involved bewitching animals or property, acts of maleficium normally found in English witchcraft cases.
Analysing the surviving records for some of these cases allows us to examine the circumstances that led to these charges and how that compares with interpretations developed from other studies. In Norfolk the best surviving sources for background information are the witness statements gathered by the local justices to whom the complaints were made. It is clear from the numbers of witnesses in some of these cases and the stories that they tell, that neighbours must have talked together about their allegations or suspicions. Often there was one recent complaint that started the process off and others then added their stories from the past, sometimes the distant past. Allegations were frequently founded on the reputation that the accused had in the locality.
Thomas Cutting of Runhall, Norfolk, complained in 1679 that Anne Diver of the same town had made his cow sick and bewitched him so that he fell over a stile and broke his leg. He also recalled that on a previous occasion, after he had refused to give her some herbs from his garden, his wife and daughter fell ill and they also suspected that Diver had bewitched them. The collection of back-up stories then followed. John Calfe told how, when he fell ill over a year before, a cunning man showed him the face of Anne Diver in a glass. Seven years previously, Elizabeth Pitts bought a goose from Diver and fell ill for four months after eating it. Ten years earlier, Frances Beales refused to give Diver some beer on a hot day, but when she drank some herself she was ill for three weeks. Susan Major claimed that as much as twenty years before, Diver went to the house of her master to beg some meat for her father, but left before receiving any, saying that she was too proud to accept it. A week later she fell ill, losing her speech and sight and suffering strange fits.
According to Holmes, when women became involved in the accusation process they often retailed older grievances that had not previously been brought to the attention of the authorities, leaving the lead to men, and this case supports that view. However, it is the only one that does. In all other Norfolk cases for which witness information survives women took the lead in making the complaint. On occasions men also voiced older suspicions, but many accusations came from women alone, providing a very different picture from that Holmes found in the Home Circuit indictments. This is much closer to Sharpe’s position that “the background to a witchcraft accusation was something to which women were thought to have privileged access”. Of the surviving witness statements relating to Norfolk witchcraft accusations, exactly fifty per cent were made by female witnesses, a larger proportion than has been reported elsewhere. Of course, we cannot know the extent to which women may have been encouraged to make their statements by men. It is also difficult to assess the extent to which depositions were the product of leading questions from a justice or a clerk’s written interpretation of verbal answers. Care must therefore be taken in the use of these documents.
One aspect of the accusations involving Anne Diver that does conform to the stereotype developed by Macfarlane is the refusal of alms or charity from neighbours; Thomas Cutting had refused herbs from his garden and Frances Beales refused beer on a hot day. Furthermore, John Calfe informed
that when “John Castleton … haveing the disposall of some money given to the poore of the … parish yearely gave to the said Anne Diver a lesse p[ro]portion then had bene given her in former yeares”, she said that he should “take heed lest some mischeife came to him or his”. Other cases also contained this element, for example, Elizabeth Scandell informed that her daughter was bewitched after Elizabeth Blade threatened her when she refused to let her have a chicken. Both Cutting and Scandell made the point themselves that their misfortunes came about because they had refused requests for charity, indicating that there was a popular belief in a connection between refusal of alms and acts of witchcraft.
Some of the depositions give the impression that someone who had suffered misfortune was looking for something to blame it on. Sometimes they made an accusation against a neighbour who had not even uttered any curse or threat, but who was simply “taken for a witch” or had maybe fallen out with them recently. When William Tasborowe suffered a series of misfortunes, including the death of his son and a fire at his house, he remembered an argument with widow Betteris. After he made a complaint to the justices other neighbours suddenly remembered similar arguments. “When the s[ai]d Betteris did fall out wth the wif of John Dennys … his child did sicken & dyed wthin three dayes”. “At another tyme after the s[ai]d Betteris had fallen out wth Edmund White the next day was the s[ai]d Edmund taken lame”. Anthony Leland of Saxlingham, Norfolk, did not even mention having seen William Chestney’s wife when, in 1614, he blamed her for the death of a cow and a calf. He could only testify that when he had moved to the area four or five years earlier, “he heard amongst his neighbors that shee was taken for a witch” and so was “persuaded in his conscience” that it must have been her doing.
Witness statements also provide evidence of other early modern popular beliefs about witchcraft and magic. Whilst these informers were ready to complain about their neighbours for their use of supernatural powers, they were also prepared to use such powers themselves as counteractions. In 1670 Margaret Kempe of Great Yarmouth complained that when she had been ill fourteen years previously her friends suspected Margaret Ward of bewitching her. Their response was to make a heart with a piece of red cloth and to put it into a bottle together with some nails and pins. This was then put on the fire for two hours. Within a fortnight she was well again. When Thomas Cutting believed that Anne Diver had bewitched one of his master’s cows he threw a horseshoe with seven nail holes into the fire. Elizabeth Pitts made an almost instant recovery from her bewitchment when she threw thatch from above the door of Anne Diver’s house into the fire. Thomas Burke of Northwold, Norfolk, also recovered from his extreme leg pains when he burned thatch from the house of Alice Lyster. Another remedy often described was that of ‘scratching’ the witch to destroy their power. When Elizabeth Scandell’s child saw Elizabeth Blade, who she believed had bewitched her, she “flew at her & desired to scratch her but was hindered by her mother”. Mary Crispe later testified that the child told her that “if she had scratched … Blade … she should not have had so much power over her”.
Daniel Jecks, another of Diver’s ‘victims’, chose another popular measure and went to a cunning man to seek help. Cunning men and women were believed to have powers to discover who had bewitched someone, to provide folk medicine cures, and to discover the whereabouts of lost property. On occasions they would find themselves prosecuted under the witchcraft legislation for using their supposed magic powers in these ways. Christopher Hall of Harpley found himself before Norfolk quarter sessions after Goodwife Smithbourne of neighbouring Hillington consulted him regarding a lump in her breast. Hall, who admitted to the local justices in his examination that he practiced as a cunning man, told Smithbourne that a Hillington witch had caused her harm. He gave her some powder and wrote out a charm, which, he claimed, would help her.
Another possible source for a cure was the accused him or herself. Some of those who believed that they or members of their family had been bewitched by a neighbour still allowed the accused to have access to them or their property after the event, probably believing that whoever imposed the curse also had the power to lift it. This is evident from the information of Margaret Kemp of Great Yarmouth who, in 1670, believed herself bewitched by Margaret Ward. Not only did she still allow Ward access to her house, but also to her infant son. When Kemp believed that Ward had also bewitched her son causing him to have fits, her husband “forced the said Margarett Ward to take the child into her armes and hold it some tym” in an attempt to stop the condition.
In virtually all of these instances the person accused had been suspected of being a witch over a period of time, sometimes over a very long period. Often the events that led to the accusation were also part of a long-running disagreement and in some cases the charge of witchcraft appears to have been a tactic in such a dispute. A typical example of such a long-term dispute between neighbours, which involved accusations of witchcraft, is found in the Norfolk quarter sessions order books. In 1652 Mary Childerhouse petitioned that a group of her neighbours “plotted her ruin and the destruction of her body by witchcraft”. This was, however, only one of a series of complaints she made against her neighbours, with whom she was clearly unpopular. “Idle boys and rude people disturbed her in her trading”, and a “lusty young woman dressed as a man beat down her windows and threatened her”. When she complained, “they imprisoned her unjustly and took her goods”. Two local justices were requested to look into the matter, but no further action appears to have been taken at the time.
Two years later, in 1654, Mary Childerhouse was again petitioning the court regarding further disputes. Here the order book described her as “impoverished … aged and unable to prosecute law”. It is interesting to reflect on whether the response to the complaints would have been the same if it had been a group accusing the aged Childerhouse of witchcraft rather than the other way round. Clearly in this case the complaints of one aged woman against a number of neighbours brought no action, as three years later, in January 1657, Childerhouse was still complaining that six of her neighbours “endeavoured her destruction by poison, and to spoil her estate by witchcraft, fire and knives”. However, it is interesting to note that Childerhouse, a woman so poor that she was “unable to prosecute law”, was still able to take her complaint before the justices. She was another example of someone from the poorest social class who was able to take advantage of the flexible nature of the early modern judicial system to ensure that her complaint was heard, even if she did not get the result she wanted.
The episode that resulted in more witchcraft accusations in East Anglia than at any other time was of course that involving Matthew Hopkins and his associates. However, an interpretation of the Norfolk cases involved is problematic, not least because a lack of surviving documents does not allow for any in-depth analysis. For cases heard at Bury St. Edmunds, in neighbouring Suffolk, there is at least some material that details what those brought to trial were accused of and what they were purported to have confessed to. In Norfolk, however, all we have are the indictments recorded in the quarter sessions books. These are characteristically formulaic and in many cases state only that the accused consulted with spirits, or fed and entertained the devil. Occasionally more specific allegations were made. Maria Vervy of Great Yarmouth was said to have been responsible for the deaths of three children, but was found not guilty; Elizabeth Bradwell, also of Great Yarmouth, was accused of the death of another child, found guilty and hanged. There is no detail that might allow us to know why one was found guilty and the other not. Five others were found guilty at Great Yarmouth, but we are only told that they practiced witchcraft and consulted and compacted with the devil. At King’s Lynn there is even less detail, the sessions books recording only that nine people were charged with consulting with the devil. Again there is nothing to tell us why six were found not guilty, two guilty and one found to be non compus mentis.
Sharpe has claimed that although the context in which the Hopkins and Stearne cases took place was unusual – a country in the midst of a civil war, the involvement of witch-hunters and the interrogation techniques used – the charges against the accused were not – most were women, most were about cases of harm typical of other prosecutions, and the harm followed some kind of falling out. Unfortunately, the lack of surviving documents means that little can be added from Norfolk to that debate. Eighty-four per cent of those charged were women, typical of the English pattern, and, where the charge is given, it is for harm against children, not uncommon in witchcraft cases.
I would, however, point out an additional unusual circumstance. Hopkins was invited to find witches and was paid for that activity. An entry in the Great Yarmouth assembly book dated 15 August 1645 states that “it is agreed that the gentleman Mr. Hopkins imployed in the countie for discovering & finding out of witches shall be sent for hither to come to Towne; to make search for such wicked p[er]sons if any be here”. The following May the King’s Lynn hall book records that “Aldr Revitt be requested to sende for Mr. Hopkins the witch discoverer to come to Lynne and his charges & Recompence to be borne by the Towne”.
However, whilst Hopkins’ appointment may have been a catalyst for the formal accusations, it was still the neighbours of the accused that brought the complaints. Although the law and the teachings of the church may have provided a framework within which accusations of witchcraft could be made, as other historians of the subject also acknowledge, this was not simply a process being imposed from above – accusers, witnesses and accused all normally lived in the same village, town or district and had often known each other over long periods.
Given the high proportion of women involved in making accusations, neither does the Norfolk evidence support the view that this was some means of imposing patriarchal authority; although this does not rule out the possibility that women accusers and accused were not playing out some sort of power battle within a patriarchal society. In many ways the Norfolk evidence supports the stereotype of an early modern English witchcraft prosecution, if not the stereotypical English witch. Nearly all cases arose from disagreement between neighbours and a good proportion of these involving a refusal of charity.
Apart from some aspects of the Hopkins cases there is little to support the view proposed by Robin Briggs that English witchcraft was not very unlike its European counterpart, as has been traditionally maintained. In Europe witches were part of a circle that attended sabbats. In contrast, virtually all of the Norfolk examples concerned accusations against individuals. Although Briggs points out that in English cases the familiars performed the role of the devil, in only two examinations in Norfolk trials is there any mention of a familiar; in most cases words, in the form of threats, seem to have been the medium by which the maleficium was carried out. The European stereotype also emphasises the demonic pact, yet again, outside of Hopkins, there is little mention of this. Even in the Norfolk cases involving the Witchfinder there seems to be an obvious reason why the association with spirits and the devil should be cited, particularly in such formulaic indictments. It was important for the process of law that the indictment was worded correctly and made clear that the act under which the charge had been brought had been breached, and the 1604 act made it an offence to “consult covenant with entertaine employ feed or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or purpose”.
Ideas about witchcraft would have entered early modern popular culture in a number of ways. It is certainly likely that people would have heard about the evils of the devil in church sermons and they would also have been brought up learning about a range of popular beliefs concerning witchcraft and magic. Even those who had no direct access to pamphlet accounts of trials are likely to have heard about them in alehouses, particularly the more sensational trials. The most sensational local case to have been written about in early seventeenth-century Norfolk was that of Mary Smith, who was hanged in King’s Lynn in 1616.
Details of the Mary Smith case appeared in a pamphlet published in 1616 by a King’s Lynn clergyman, Alexander Roberts, entitled A Treatise of Witchcraft. After “sundry propositions … plainely discovering the wickedness of that damnable Art”, in which he considers theoretical points, Roberts moves on to describe Mary Smith’s “contract vocally made [with] the Devill … by whose meanes she hurt sundry persons whom she envied”. The devil is said to have “appeared unto her … in the shape of a blacke man”. This is an interesting early appearance of the devil in this form in one of these narratives. According to Macfarlane the devil never appeared as a man in Essex before 1645, so this may well be an example of a pamphlet that influenced later stories, particularly those that emerged during interrogations by Hopkins and Stearne. The devil is said to have taken advantage of the fact that Mary Smith was “possessed with a wrathful indignation against some of her neighbours, in regard that they made gaine of their buying and selling cheese, which she (using the same trade) could not do, or they better (at the least in her opinion) then she did”.
Roberts goes on to describe the “wicked practise” of Smith against each of her enemies. “The first who tasted the gall of her bitternes was John Orkton a Sailer”, who had hit her son after he had committed some misdemeanours. She “came foorth into the streete, cursing … and wished in a most earnest and bitter manner, that his fingers might rotte off”. Of course when he grew ill “his fingers did corrupt, and were cut off; as his toes putrified & consumed in a very strange and admirable manner”. Another argument, this time over an accusation of stealing hens, led to Smith wishing the pox to light upon Elizabeth Hancocke. Within three or four hours of the curse being made “she felt a sodaine weaknesse in all the parts of her body”. The illness went on for several weeks, during which, one night “the bed upon which she lay, was so tossed, and lifted up and downe, both in her owne feeling, and in the sight of others”. Eventually Hancocke’s father consulted a cunning man who, after showing him Mary Smith’s face in a mirror, gave him a recipe for a ‘witch cake’, which cured her. However, unfortunately for her, her husband became annoyed with Mary Smith’s cat and “thrust it twice through with his sword … and stroke it with all his force upon the head with a great pike staffe”. Not surprisingly, his wife’s condition returned.
The stories continued: she picked a quarrel with Cicely Balye, a neighbouring servant, and the next night a cat sat upon Balye’s breast so that she could not breathe properly and she “fell sicke, languished, and grew exceeding leane”. The illness continued for six months until she moved away, then she recovered. Edmund Newton, who was also a cheese seller, was able to do a better deal than Mary Smith when buying cheese. However, every time he bought cheese he became grievously afflicted. When he lay suffering in bed Smith appeared to him “and whisked about his face … a wet cloath of very loathsome savour”, after which someone with a “little bush beard” appeared telling him that he had come to heal his sore leg, which by now had cloven feet. Later, imps appeared in the form of a toad and some crabs and crawled about the house until one of the servants caught the toad and put it on the fire, which caused Mary Smith to endure “tortured pains testified by her outcries”. However, Newton’s illness continued, despite his attempts to break the curse by scratching the witch, as whenever he tried “his nailes turned like feathers”.
These narratives are interesting for several reasons. Not only do they tell us something about early modern popular beliefs regarding witchcraft, but it is also likely that ideas from them were passed on to others at the time, for several of the features of earlier pamphlets such as this recur in later trials. As I have already mentioned the devil in the form of a black man reappears in the 1645 Hopkins trials at Bury St. Edmunds. So do the imps or familiars that Edmund Newton claims appeared to him. Throwing a toad or frog into the fire to cause distress to the witch is another feature that reappears in seventeenth century Norfolk cases. When Amea Winter of Grimston was accused of bewitching Alexander Turner in 1627 “two thinges like unto a frogg & a toade”, presumably Winter’s familiars, appeared, but one was caught by John Piper who “held it in the fire untill such tyme as it was burnt”, causing Amea Winter to become lame. Witch cakes provided by cunning men and scratching the witches face to counter their power both also commonly recur.
However, these narratives leave many more questions to be asked than they answer. The behaviour of Mary Smith is again similar to that which might have seen her charged with scolding – if it hadn’t been for the illnesses that were claimed to have followed. So what was the truth about these claimed illnesses? Presumably at least some of the facts could be checked when complaints were made to the justices. If John Orkton’s fingers had really rotted and been cut off then this would have been apparent. Did Mary Smith perhaps know that he already had a problem with his fingers and made a nasty comment about it that eventually came true, or was Orkton just lying and she never even made such a curse? Elizabeth Hancocke’s bed couldn’t lift up and down on its own, so clearly she and the claimed witnesses to it were lying. And what are we to make of Edmund Newton’s claims that his feet had become cloven? We can, of course, never really know the truth; the main thing was that the justices believed them and the courts believed them. But how much did they question the evidence? The complaints against Mary Smith must have been over a period of time – so why didn’t they complain earlier, or if they did then why wasn’t she charged earlier? Unfortunately the assize records haven’t survived that might have provided some of the answers.
Whilst there has been debate about the usefulness of witchcraft pamphlets as a reflection of what actually happened up to and during the trial, there is no doubt that they are a useful source regarding early modern popular beliefs. They are also interesting because in some ways they stand between elite and popular attitudes towards witchcraft, in that they would have had an educated authorship, often members of the clergy or legal profession who usually had some agenda in writing them, but would have also had to appeal to the tastes of a popular readership. This reflects to an extent the “complex series of transactions between various elite and popular elements” that Clive Holmes has claimed brought about witchcraft prosecutions.
Witchcraft pamphlets would, of course, only have continued to be written whilst there were still witchcraft trials to write about. Towards the end of the seventeenth century there were fewer trials as the authorities became more and more sceptical about the whole issue of witchcraft and courts became much less likely to convict. Although this meant the death of the witchcraft pamphlet it didn’t mean the sudden death of a popular belief in witchcraft. Even in the later seventeenth century people were still making accusations that their misfortunes were the result of witchcraft, and some of the accused still believed that they had the power to carry out the acts. When Mary Neale of Wissenset, Norfolk, confessed in 1678 that she was the cause of the deaths of three local people she also told that two other women were involved with her. Both of these, however, denied the charge. But Neale was only too ready to admit to her witchcraft, signing a confession and crying out, “O wicked wretch that I am, I have destroyed two poore soules”. She was one of the few accused in Norfolk for whom evidence survives who admitted to using familiars in her craft. She claimed to have “sent a mouse” to Alice Atkins “wch did soone dispatch her in five dayes”. She also said that one of her accused accomplices “did send a Duck to John Willis … who soon died”. She also claimed to keep two imps, John and Robert, though did not expand on what form they took. Popular beliefs clearly did not change overnight.
In many respects this analysis of seventeenth-century Norfolk trials supports the models already developed around early modern witchcraft. The gender breakdown of those accused – about eighty-five per cent female, fifteen per cent male – is similar to that found in other English counties. The pattern of prosecutions was obviously affected by the outbreak of cases in the 1640s brought about by the influence of Matthew Hopkins and his associates, but apart from that aberration we see the decline in prosecutions towards the end of the century that was experienced elsewhere. Even the context in which many of the disputes took place fits the stereotype developed by Alan Macfarlane; many cases involved refusal of charity and acts of maleficium occurring after a falling out.
There is little to support the radical feminist view that witchcraft accusations were used as some sort of patriarchal technique to keep women under control. In fact, the main aspect of the Norfolk cases that seems to be somewhat out of line with other studies is that women were in the majority in making the lead, or most recent, complaint; in Norfolk it was often men who backed this up with older stories. As I have already mentioned, one of the main conclusions to come from the surviving evidence, and this agrees with what Macfarlane found in Essex, is that people were accused of witchcraft by their neighbours. Most historians now accept the view that witchcraft accusations were not simply imposed ‘from above’, but that a complex set of relationships existed between local elites and the poor that provided a framework within which these accusations could be made and pursued through to their legal conclusion.
We can now only speculate as to why neighbours made these complaints. Given the contemporary belief in the powers of witches, it is perhaps not surprising that when they needed an explanation for why things had gone inexplicably wrong they should blame someone they thought capable of witchcraft. This might well lead us to ask the question, originally posed by Robin Briggs, why were there not even more prosecutions than there were? Some of the Norfolk depositions give the impression that there may also have been strategic accusations, either to gain some sort of revenge for a past wrong or to enable the accusers to rid themselves of someone who they did not like or with whom they had been involved in some sort of interpersonal dispute. The very fact that witches were often only accused after a long period of suspicion means that there had been time for disagreements to develop and fester until an opportunity to solve it once and for all presented itself.
 Over the last thirty years or so witchcraft has been the subject of an enormous amount of research and a wealth of literature has been produced. Amongst the most accessible works on witchcraft in early modern England are James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness. Witchcraft in England 1550 – 1750 (London, 1996) and Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England. Jonathan Barry, Marianne Hester and Gareth Roberts, eds., Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. Studies in Culture and Belief (Cambridge, 1996) and Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbours. The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (London, 1996) draw on both the English and continental European experience.
 33 Henry VIII, cap. 8.
 5 Eliz I, cap. 16.
 1 James I, cap. 12.
 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 568.
 J.A. Sharpe, “Witchcraft and women in seventeenth-century England: some Northern evidence”, Continuity and Change volume 6, no. 2 (1991), p. 192.
 Clive Holmes, “Women: Witnesses and Witches”, Past and Present 140 (1993), pp. 56 – 8.
 B. Ehrenreich and D. English, Witches, Midwives and Healers: A History of Women Healers (London, 1974), p. 6.
 Hester, Lewd Women and Wicked Witches, pp. 108, 199.
 Marianne Hester, “Patriarchal reconstruction and witch hunting”, in Barry, Hester and Roberts, Witchcraft in early modern Europe, p. 296.
 J.A. Sharpe, “Women, Witchcraft and the Legal Process”, in Kermode and Walker, Women, Crime and the Courts, p. 120.
 John Gaule, Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcrafts (London, 1646), pp. 4 – 5.
 B.P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (London, 1987), p. 143.
 Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, p. 161.
 Herrup, Common Peace, p. 33.
 Norfolk Record Office. Wells Parish Register. PD 679/1, fol. 43, records the burials of four men “whose deaths were brought to pass by the detestable working of an Excerable Witch of King’s Lynn whose name was Mother Gabley, by the Boiling or rather labouring of Certain Eggs in a pail full of cold water. Afterwards approv’d sufficiently at the arraignment of the said witch”; Palmer, History of Great Yarmouth, volume 1, p. 273.
 Due to the lack of surviving assize records for this period, the most detailed account of the alleged activities and the trial of Mary Smith is a pamphlet written by Alexander Roberts entitled A Treatise of Witchcraft (London, 1616).
 See especially Underdown Revel, Riot and Rebellion, chapter 2.
 For a discussion of the circumstances surrounding these cases, see J.A. Sharpe, “The devil in East Anglia: the Matthew Hopkins trials reconsidered”, in Barry, Hester and Roberts, Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, pp. 237 – 254.
 This compares with ninety-two per cent in the 1645 Essex trials. Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, p. 160.
 This compares with Kent assizes where widows accounted for twenty-six per cent of prosecuted witches between 1565 and 1635 and thirty-seven per cent during the Interregnum. Gaskill, Crime and Mentalities, p. 49.
 Sharpe has claimed that “English witches … were rarely accused of … consorting with evil spirits”. J.A. Sharpe, Witchcraft in Early Modern England (Harlow, 2001), p. 40. Whilst it is true that the depositions do not contain this allegation, the formulaic Norfolk indictments often do.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, information of Thomas Cutting, John Calfe, Elizabeth Pitts, Frances Beales, Susan Major, 22.5.1679.
 Holmes, “Women: Witnesses and Witches”, pp. 54 – 5.
 Sharpe, “Witchcraft and women”, p. 191 – 2.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, information of John Calfe, 22.5.1679.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, information of Elizabeth Scandell, February 1678.
 NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions rolls, C/S3/15 part 1, articles against [blank] Betteris, undated.
 NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions rolls, C/S3/19, examination of Anthony Leland, 28.5.1614.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/21/3, information of Margaret Kempe, 30.9.1670.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, information of Thomas Cutting; information of Elizabeth Pitts, 22.5.1679.
 NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions rolls, C/S3/13a, information of Thomas Burke, 2.3.1602.
 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 634; Sharpe, Witchcraft in Early Modern England, p. 53.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, information of Elizabeth Scandell, Mary Crispe, February 1678.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, information of Daniel Jecks, 22.5.1679.
 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, chapter 8; Briggs, Witches and Neighbours, chapter 5.
 NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions rolls, C/S3/41a, examination of Christopher Hall, 26.8.1654. See also NRO, Great Yarmouth quarter sessions, Y/S1/3, fol. 122: Thomas Wolterton prosecuted for using enchantments and charms to find lost property; Y/S1/2, fol. 196: Marcus Prynne prosecuted for using witchcraft to discover the whereabouts of lost money.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/21/3, information of Margaret Kempe 30.9.1670.
 See Annabel Gregory, “Witchcraft, Politics and ‘Good Neighbourhood’ in Early Seventeenth-Century Rye”, Past and Present 133 (1991), pp. 31 – 66, regarding the argument that some witchcraft accusations may have been strategic.
 NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions order book, C/S2/1, petitions of Mary Childerhouse 13.1.1652, 10.1.1654, 13.1.1657.
 British Library, Add. MSS. 27402, fols. 104 – 21.
 NRO, Great Yarmouth assembly book 1642 – 1662, Y/C19/7, fol. 71v.
 NRO, King’s Lynn hall book 8, 1637 – 1658, KL/C7/10, fol. 187.
 For this view see Anne Llewellyn Barstow, Witchcraze. A New History of the European Witch Hunts (San Francisco, 1994) and Hester, Lewd women and wicked witches.
 Willis, Malevolent Nurture.
 Briggs, Witches and Neighbours, pp. 28 – 53.
 Although, as I have pointed out, there are a large number of cases where details of events leading up to a trial have not survived.
 1 James I, cap. 12.
 Interestingly, John Stearne claimed that sermons drawing attention to the power of the devil and his ability to torment the wicked had actually attracted some people to him. See John Stearne, A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft (London, 1648), p. 59.
 Roberts, Treatise of Witchcraft, p. 46.
 Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, p. 189. Although this may be an early reference to the devil appearing in this form, the fact that witchcraft was carried out in the devil’s name was popularly believed in early modern England. According to William Perkins “a witch is a magician, who either by open or secret league, wittingly and willingly, consenteth to use the aide and assistance of the Devil, in the working of Wonders”. William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608), p. 3. The devil appeared in other forms in other early witchcraft pamphlets. The Apprehension and Confession of three notorious Witches, concerning the trial and execution of three women condemned at Chelmsford, Essex, in 1589, tells that Joan Cunny, one of the three, learned her art from one “Mother Humphrey … who told her that she must kneel down on her knees, and make a circle on the ground, and pray unto Satan the chief of the devils”. One of the other accused, Joan Prentiss, told that “the Devil appeared unto her … in the shape and proportion of a dunnish-colored ferret” who then carried out her evil work. The other two also admitted to having familiars to do their work, two black frogs, a mole and two toads. Reprinted in Joseph H. Marshburn and Alan R. Velie, Blood and Knavery. A Collection of English Renaissance Pamphlets and Ballads of Crime and Sin (Cranbury, NJ, 1973), pp. 80 – 8.
 Roberts, Treatise of Witchcraft, p. 45.
 Roberts, Treatise of Witchcraft, p. 48.
 Roberts, Treatise of Witchcraft, pp. 50 – 4.
 Roberts, Treatise of Witchcraft, pp. 55 – 6.
 Roberts, Treatise of Witchcraft, pp. 57 – 8.
 The devil appeared in this form to Mary Bush of Bacton, Suffolk. He promised her that she would never want and “us’d to have the use of her body two or three times a weeke”. Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery, p. 29.
 NRO, Norfolk quarter sessions, C/S3/26, articles against Amea Winter, dated 23.5 1627.
 Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, p. 85; Walker, “Demons in female form”, p.124.
 Clive Holmes “Popular Culture? Witches, Magistrates, and Divines in Early Modern England”, in S.L. Kaplan, ed., Understanding Popular Culture. Europe from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (Berlin, 1984), p. 87. See also Dolan, Dangerous Familiars, p. 179.
 Freely given confessions such as Neale’s illustrate that accused witches were not always the victims of malicious prosecution. See also Gaskill, Crime and Mentalities, p. 71.
 PRO, Norfolk assizes, ASSI 16/32/3, Information of Mary Neale, 25.2.1678.
 For a case of a mentally disturbed woman who confessed that she had the power to use imps to carry out acts of maleficium, see Malcolm Gaskill, “Witchcraft and power in early modern England: the case of Margaret Moore”, in Kermode and Walker, Women, Crime and the Courts.
 Robin Briggs, Communities of Belief: Cultural and Social Tensions in Early Modern France (Oxford, 1989), p. 22.
The best ghost stories are often discovered by chance. So it was with a certain anonymous Catholic priest in Yorkshire who, in early 2014, happened to come across an old journal. In that journal was a reprint of a story, dated 1736 and titled ‘A Strange Occurrence’. That story, later retold in the book ‘Recollections of Norwich 50 Years Ago’, was written by a Frederick Higbane who, in 1736, had visited Norwich from London and had encountered a ‘ghost’ of a martyred priest at Norwich Cathedral’s mighty Erpingham Gate. It is indeed a curious tale and begins:
“Business chanced to take me many years ago to the ancient city of Norwich where I stayed at a very old Inn, situated in a street called, if my memory serves me right, Maudlin (Magdalen) Street. The room I occupied was a very old-fashioned one. Over the fireplace was a portrait, painted on the wall itself, of a very pale man with black hair, dressed in some sort of ecclesiastical garb and bearing the look of a Jesuit or Romish priest……There was something about this picture that affected me very strongly……Next morning I asked the landlord whose portrait it might be, and he could not enlighten me…..” In the evening the author, Frederick Higbane, then took a walk around Norwich Cathedral:
“I was walking near one of the great gates, which led to the Cathedral, when I suddenly observed a man clothed like a clergyman standing in the angle of a wall directly in front of me. Owing to the dusk I could not see him well until I was close up against him. Then I saw him perfectly clearly, and to my horror his face was terribly swelled, and a rope was drawn tight around his neck. Protruding from his breast was a knife, such as formerly used by executioners for dismembering the bodies of criminals. I could not think why his facial appearance seemed so familiar to me, and then there suddenly flashed across my mind – yes, the portrait in my bedchamber at the inn. For some moments I gazed with the utmost horror, not unmixed with fear, at this awful sight. For a while the figure spoke no words, then I heard a mournful sigh – or was it a groan? Then, as I withdrew, the figure vanished”.
Returning to the inn, believed to be The Maid’s Head which is very close to the Cathedral and Erpingham Gate, Frederick Higbane took another look at the portrait to reassure himself that the vision he had seen was the same man. Then, taking the evidence of the portrait, Higbane further enquired of the landlord if there was a Catholic priest in Norwich and he was directed to a priest in the city.
“To him, therefore I went…….. telling him my strange adventure, he took me into his house and showed me a portrait of the same man. On my inquiring who it might be, he replied “It is the Rev. Thomas Tunstall, a priest, who was executed for the Catholic Faith in 1616 at the gates of the very street in which your inn is situated.” “Why I should have apparently seen his apparition, neither he nor I could form any idea.”
Thomas Tunstall took the College oath at Douay on 24 May 1607 and received minor orders at Arras on 13 June 1609, and the subdiaconate at Douay on 24 June following. His subsequent ordination is not recorded but he left college as a priest on 17 August 1610. What ever he got up to from that date and when he moved to England is something of a mystery, but whatever it was came to the notice of the authorities and he was almost immediately arrested after landing on grounds of his faith. He spent four or five years in various prisons until he succeeded in escaping from Wisbech Castle by rope. However, he sustained injuries to his hands in the process and sought medical help from Lady Alice L’Estrange in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Unfortunately, her husband, Sir Hamon, reported him to the authorities and he was recaptured and committed to Norwich Gaol.
At the next assizes in July 1616, he was tried and condemned on the 12th of that month. The following day, Thomas Tunstall was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his body displayed at various points in the city before being taken down by Catholics and later placed in an altar at Bath. A contemporary report recounts:
“The on lookers, who were very numerous, and amongst them many persons of note, were all sensibly affected with the sight of his death; many shed tears, all spoke kindly and compassionately of him, and appeared edified with his saint-like behaviour. His head was placed on St Benedict’s gate, in Norwich, according to his request; his quarters on the walls of the city. The judge who condemned him died before he had finished his circuit, and most of the jury came to untimely ends, or great misfortunes.”
Now, there is a contemporary portrait of Fr Thomas Tunstall, the martyr, at Stonyhurst in Lancashire. It is not known if this painting is the same one as that which hung in Frederick Higbane’s room in the inn on Maudlin (Magdalene) Street, Norwich in 1736, but, as far as it is known, there are no other images of this martyr. Stonyhurst acquired the portrait in 1828. It is small; approximately 5 inches by 4 inches and is enclosed by a wooden frame. The image shows him as a man still young with abundant black hair and dark moustache. However, it is unlike most paintings of English martyrs which usually show them robed. This portrait presents Tunstall in just his shirt. All these facets do, indeed, indicate a contemporary, if not eye-witness representation of the Martyr – as he may have been at the execution?
Thomas Tunstall was martyred just outside the Erpingham Gate in 1616 and was beatified by Puis XI in 1929.