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Glanvill And Webster And The Literary War Over Witchcraft 1660-1688
James I And Witchcraft
List Of Cases Of Witchcraft 1558-1718 With References To Sources And Literature
List Of Persons Sentenced To Death For Witchcraft During The Reign Of James I
Matthew Hopkins
Notable Jacobean Cases
Reginald Scot
The Beginnings Of English Witchcraft
The Close Of The Literary Controversy
The Exorcists
The Final Decline
The Lancashire Witches And Charles I
The Literature Of Witchcraft From 1603 To 1660
Witchcraft During The Commonwealth And Protectorate
Witchcraft Under Charles Ii And James Ii
Witchcraft Under Elizabeth

James I And Witchcraft

Some one has remarked that witchcraft came into England with the Stuarts
and went out with them. This offhand way of fixing the rise and fall of
a movement has just enough truth about it to cause misconception.
Nothing is easier than to glance at the alarms of Elizabeth's reign and
to see in them accidental outbreaks with little meaning, isolated
affairs presaging a new movement rather than part of it. As a matter of
fact, any such view is superficial. In previous chapters the writer has
endeavored to show just how foreign ideas and conditions at home gave
the impulse to a movement which within a single reign took very definite

Yet so much was the movement accelerated, such additional impetus was
given it by James I, that the view that James set the superstition going
in England, however superficial, has some truth in it. If Elizabeth had
ever given the matter thought, she had not at least given it many words.
James had very definite opinions on the subject and hesitated not at all
to make them known. His views had weight. It is useless to deny that the
royal position swayed the courts. James's part in the witch persecution
cannot be condoned, save on the ground that he was perfectly honest. He
felt deeply on the matter. It was little wonder. He had grown up in
Scotland in the very midst of the witch alarms. His own life, he
believed, had been imperilled by the machinations of witches. He
believed he had every reason to fear and hate the creatures, and we can
only wonder that he was so moderate as we shall later find him to have
been. The story of the affair that stirred up the Scottish king and his
people has often been told, but it must be included here to make his
attitude explicable. In 1589 he had arranged for a marriage with the
Princess Anne of Denmark. The marriage had been performed by proxy in
July, and it was then provided that the princess was to come to England.
She set out, but was driven on to the coast of Norway by a violent
storm, and detained there by the continuance of the storms. James sailed
to Upsala, and, after a winter in the north of the Continent, brought
his bride to Scotland in the spring, not without encountering more rough
weather. To the people of the time it was quite clear that the ocean was
unfriendly to James's alliance. Had Scotland been ancient Greece, no
doubt Neptune would have been propitiated by a sacrifice. But it was
Scotland, and the ever-to-be-feared Satan was not so easily propitiated.
He had been very active of late in the realm.

Moreover it was a time when Satanic and other conspiracies were likely
to come to light. The kingdom was unsettled, if not discontented. There
were plots, and rumors of plots. The effort to expose them, as well as
to thwart the attacks of the evil one on the king, led to the conception
and spread of the monstrous story of the conspiracy of Dr. Fian. Dr.
Fian was nothing less than a Scottish Dr. Faustus. He was a schoolmaster
by profession. After a dissolute youth he was said to have given soul to
the Devil. According to the story he gathered around him a motley crowd,
Catholic women of rank, "wise women," and humble peasant people; but it
was a crew ready for evil enterprise. It is not very clear why they were
supposed to have attacked the king; perhaps because of his well known
piety, perhaps because he was a Protestant. In any case they set about,
as the story went, to destroy him, and thought to have found their
opportunity in his trip to Denmark. They would drown him in a storm at
sea. There was a simple expedient for raising a storm, the throwing of
cats into the sea. This Scottish method of sacrificing to Neptune was
duly carried out, and, as we have seen, just fell short of destroying
the king. It was only the piety of the king, as Dr. Fian admitted in his
confession, that overmatched the power of the evil one.[1]

Such is the story that stirred Scotland from end to end. It is a story
that is easily explained. The confessions were wrung from the supposed
conspirators by the various forms of torture "lately provided for
witches in that country." Geillis Duncane had been tried with "the
torture of the pilliwinkes upon her fingers, which is a grievous
torture, and binding or wrinching her head with a cord or roape." Agnes
Sampson had suffered terrible tortures and shameful indignities until
her womanly modesty could no longer endure it and she confessed
"whatsoever was demanded of her." Dr. Fian was put through the ordinary
forms of torture and was then "put to the most severe and cruel pain in
the world, called the bootes," and thereby was at length induced to
break his silence and to incriminate himself. At another time, when the
king, who examined him in person, saw that the man was stubborn and
denied the confessions already made, he ordered him to be tortured
again. His finger nails were pulled off with a pair of pincers, and
under what was left of them needles were inserted "up to the heads."
This was followed by other tortures too terrible to narrate.[2]

It is a little hard to understand how it was that the king "took great
delight to be present at the examinations," but throughout the whole
wretched series of trials he was never wanting in zeal. When Barbara
Napier, sister-in-law to the laird of Carshoggil, was to be executed, a
postponement had been granted on account of her approaching
accouchement. Afterwards, "nobody insisting in the pursute of her, she
was set at libertie." It seems also that the jury that had before
condemned her had acquitted her of the main charge, that of treasonable
witchcraft against the king. The king was angered at the default of
justice, went to the Tolbooth, and made an address on the subject. He
spoke of "his own impartiality, the use of witchcraft, the enormity of
the crime, ... the ignorance of thinking such matters mere fantasies,
the cause of his own interference in the matter, the ignorance of the
assizes in the late trial, his own opinion of what witches really

It was only a few years later that James put that opinion into written
form. All the world knows that the king was a serious student. With
unremitting zeal he studied this matter, and in 1597, seven years after
the Dr. Fian affair, he published his Daemonologie.[4] It was expressly
designed to controvert the "damnable opinions of two principally in our
age"--Scot, who "is not ashamed in publick Print to deny that there can
be such a thing as witchcraft," and Wierus, "a German physician," who
"sets out a publicke apologie for all these craft-folkes whereby ... he
plainly bewrayes himself to have been one of that profession."

It was to be expected that James would be an exponent of the current
system of belief. He had read diligently, if not widely, in the
Continental lore of the subject and had assimilated much of it. He was
Scotch enough to be interested in theology and Stuart enough to have
very definite opinions. James had, too, his own way of putting things.
There was a certain freshness about his treatment, in spite of the fact
that he was ploughing old fields. Nothing illustrates better his
combination of adherence to tradition, of credulity, and of originality
than his views on the transportation of witches, a subject that had long
engaged the theorists in demonology. Witches could be transported, he
believed, by natural means, or they could be carried through the air "by
the force of the spirit which is their conducter," as Habakkuk was
carried by the angel.[5] This much he could accept. But that they could
be transformed into a "little beast or foule" and pierce through
"whatsoever house or Church, though all ordinarie passages be closed,"
this he refused to believe. So far, however, there was nothing original
about either his belief or his disbelief. But his suggestion on another
matter was very probably his own. There had been long discussion as to
how far through the air witches could go. It was James's opinion that
they could go only so far as they could retain their breath.

But it was seldom that the royal demonologist wandered far from the
beaten road. He was a conformist and he felt that the orthodox case
needed defence: so he set about to answer the objectors. To the argument
that it was a strange thing that witches were melancholy and solitary
women (and so, he would have explained, offer the easiest object of
attack) he interposed a flat denial: they are "some of them rich and
worldly-wise, some of them fat or corpulent in their bodies." To the
point that if witches had the power ascribed to them no one but
themselves would be left alive in the world, he answered that such would
be the case, were not the power of the Devil bridled by God. To the plea
that God would not allow his children to be vexed by the Devil, he
replied that God permits the godly who are sleeping in sin to be
troubled; that He even allows the Evil One to vex the righteous for his
own good--a conventional argument that has done service in many a
theological controversy.

It is a curious circumstance that James seemingly recognized the
reliability of the Romish exorcisms which the Church of England was
about that time beginning to attack. His explanation of them is worthy
of "the wisest fool in Christendom." The Papists could often effect
cures of the possessed, he thought, because "the divell is content to
release the bodily hurting of them, ... thereby to obtain the perpetual
hurt of the soules."

That James should indulge in religious disquisitions rather than in
points of evidence was to be expected. Although he had given up the
Scottish theology, he never succeeded in getting it thoroughly out of
his system. As to the evidence against the accused, the royal writer was
brief. Two sorts of evidence he thought of value, one "the finding of
their marke, and the trying the insensiblenes thereof, the other is
their fleeting [floating] on the water." The latter sign was based, he
said, on the fact that the water refuses to receive a witch--that is to
say, the pure element would refuse to receive those who had renounced
their baptism.[6] We shall see that the influence of the Daemonologie
can be fairly appraised by measuring the increased use of these two
tests of guilt within his own reign and that of his son. Hitherto the
evidence of the mark had been of rather less importance, while the
ordeal by water was not in use.

The alleged witch-mark on the body had to do with the contracts between
witches and the Devil. This loathsome side of witch belief we cannot go
into. Suffice it to say that James insisted on the reality of these
contracts and consequently upon the punishment that should be meted to
those who had entered into them. All witches except children should be
sentenced to death. The king shows a trace of conventional moderation,
however, and admits that the magistrates should be careful whom they
condemned. But, while he holds that the innocent should not be
condemned, he warns officials against the sin of failing to convict the
guilty.[7] We shall see that throughout his reign in England he pursued
a course perfectly consistent with these principles.

A critical estimate of James's book it is somewhat hard to give.
Students of witchcraft have given utterance to the most extravagant but
widely divergent opinions upon it. The writer confesses that he has not
that acquaintance with the witch literature of the Continent which would
enable him to appraise the Daemonologie as to its originality. So good
an authority as Thomas Wright has declared that it is "much inferior to
the other treatises on the subject," and that it was compiled from
foreign works.[8] Doubtless a study of the Continental literature would
warrant, at least in part, this opinion. Yet one gets the impression,
from what may be learned of that great body of writing through the
historians of witchcraft, that James's opinions were in some respects
his own. He had, of course, absorbed the current belief, but he did not
hesitate to give his own interpretation and explanation of phenomena.
That interpretation is not wanting in shrewdness. It seems to one who
has wandered through many tedious defences of the belief in witchcraft
that James's work is as able as any in English prior to the time of
Joseph Glanvill in 1668. One who should read Glanvill and James together
would get a very satisfactory understanding of the position of the
defenders of the superstition. Glanvill insisted upon what he believed
were well authenticated facts of experience. James grounded his belief
upon a course of theoretical reasoning.

We have already indicated that James's book was influential in its time.
It goes without saying that his position as a sovereign greatly enhanced
its influence. This was particularly true after he took the throne of
England. The dicta that emanated from the executive of the English
nation could not fail to find a wide audience, and especially in England
itself. His work offered a text-book to officials. It was a key to the
character and methods of the new ruler, and those who hoped for
promotion were quick to avail themselves of it. To prosecute witches was
to win the sovereign's approval. The judges were prompted to greater
activity. Moreover, the sanction of royalty gave to popular outbreaks
against suspicious women greater consideration at the hands of the
gentry. And it was in the last analysis the gentry, in the persons of
the justices of the peace, who decided whether or no neighborhood
whispering and rumors should be followed up.

But the king's most direct influence was in the passing of a new law.
His first Parliament had been in session but eight days when steps were
taken by the House of Lords towards strengthening the statute against
witchcraft. The law in force, passed in the fifth year of Elizabeth's
reign, imposed the death penalty for killing by witchcraft, and a year's
imprisonment for injuring by witchcraft or by allied means. James would
naturally feel that this law was merely one version of the statute
against murder and did not touch the horrible crime of contract with the
Devil and the keeping of imps.[9] Here was a sin beside which the taking
of life was a light offence. It was needful that those who were guilty
of it should suffer the severest penalty of the law, even if they had
not caused the loss of a single life. It was to remedy this defect in
the criminal code that a new statute was introduced.

It is not worth while to trace the progress of that bill from day to
day. It can be followed in the journals of the Lords and Commons. The
bill went to a large committee that included six earls and twelve
bishops.[10] Perhaps the presence of the bishops was an evidence that
witchcraft was still looked upon as a sin rather than as a crime. It was
a matter upon which the opinion of the church had been received before
and might well be accepted again. It was further arranged that the Lord
Chief-Justice of the common pleas, Sir Edmund Anderson, and the
attorney-general, the later so famous Sir Edward Coke, along with other
eminent jurists, were to act with the committee. Anderson, it will be
recalled, had presided over numerous trials and had both condemned and
released witches. As to Coke's attitude towards this subject, we know
not a thing, save that he served on this committee. The committee seems
to have found enough to do. At any rate the proposed statute underwent
revision.[11] Doubtless the privy council had a hand in the matter;[12]
indeed it is not unlikely that the bill was drawn up under its
direction. On the 9th of June, about two months and a half after its
introduction, the statute passed its final reading in the Lords.[13] It
repealed the statute of Elizabeth's reign and provided that any one who
"shall use, practise or exercise any Invocation or Conjuration of any
evill and wicked Spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertaine,
employe, feede, or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any
intent or purpose; or take up any dead man, woman, or child, ... to be
imployed or used in any manner of Witchcrafte" should suffer death as a
felon. It further provided that any one who should "take upon him or
them by Witchcrafte ... to tell or declare in what place any treasure of
Golde or Silver should or might be founde ... or where Goods or Things
loste or stollen should be founde or become, or to the intent to provoke
any person to unlawfull love, or wherebie any Cattell or Goods of any
person shall be destroyed, wasted, or impaired, or to hurte or destroy
any person in his or her bodie, although the same be not effected and
done," should for the first offence suffer one year's imprisonment with
four appearances in the pillory, and for the second offence, death. The
law explains itself. Not only the killing of people by the use of evil
spirits, but even the using of evil spirits in such a way as actually
to cause hurt was a capital crime. The second clause punished white
magic and the intent to hurt, even where it "be not effected," by a
year's imprisonment and the pillory. It can be easily seen that one of
the things which the framers of the statute were attempting to
accomplish in their somewhat awkward wording was to make the fact of
witchcraft as a felony depend chiefly upon a single form of evidence,
the testimony to the use of evil spirits.

We have seen why people with James's convictions about contracts with
the Devil might desire to rest the crime upon this kind of proof.[14] It
can be readily understood, too, how the statute would work in practice.
Hitherto it had been possible to arraign a witch on the accusations of
her neighbors, but it was not possible to send her to the gallows unless
some death in the vicinity could be laid to her charge. The community
that hustled a suspicious woman to court was likely to suffer the
expense of her imprisonment for a year. It had no assurance that it
could be finally rid of her.

Under the new statute it was only necessary to prove that the woman made
use of evil spirits, and she was put out of the way. It was a simpler
thing to charge a woman with keeping a "familiar" than to accuse her of
murder. The stories that the village gossips gathered in their rounds
had the keeping of "familiars" for their central interest.[15] It was
only necessary to produce a few of these gossips in court and the woman
was doomed.

To be sure, this is theory. The practical question is, not how would the
law operate, but how did it operate? This brings us again into the
dangerous field of statistics. Now, if we may suppose that the witch
cases known to us are a safe basis of comparison, the reign of James, as
has already been intimated, shows a notable increase in witch executions
over that of Elizabeth. We have records of between forty and fifty
people who suffered for the crime during the reign of James, all but one
of them within the first fifteen years. It will be seen that the average
per year is nearly double that of the executions known to us in the
first part of Elizabeth's rule, and of course several times that of
those known in the last part. This increased number we are at once
inclined to assign to the direct and indirect influence of the new king.
But it may very fairly be asked whether the new statute passed at the
king's suggestion had not been in part responsible for the increased
number. This question can be answered from an examination of those cases
where we have the charges given. Of thirty-seven such cases in the reign
of James I, where the capital sentence was given, seventeen were on
indictments for witchcrafts that had not caused death. In the other
twenty cases, the accused were charged with murder.[16]

This means that over two-fifths of those who are known to have been
convicted under the new law would have escaped death under the
Elizabethan statute. With all due allowance for the incompleteness of
our statistics, it seems certain that the new law had added very
considerably to the number of capital sentences. Subtract the seventeen
death sentences for crimes of witchcraft that were not murder from the
total number of such sentences, and we have figures not so different
from those of Elizabeth's reign.

This is a sufficient comment on the effectiveness of the new law as
respects its particularly novel features. A study of the character of
the evidence and of the tests of guilt employed at the various trials
during the reign will show that the phrasing of the law, as well as the
royal directions for trying guilt, influenced the forms of accusation
and the verdicts of the juries. In other words the testimony rendered in
some of the well known trials of the reign offers the best commentary
upon the statute as well as upon the Daemonologie. This can be
illustrated from three of the processes employed to determine guilt. The
king had recommended the water ordeal. Up to this time it had not been
employed in English witch cases, so far as we know. The first record of
its use was in 1612, nine years after James ascended the English throne.
In that year there was a "discoverie" of witches at Northampton. Eight
or nine women were accused of torturing a man and his sister and of
laming others. One of them was, at the command of a justice of the
peace, cast into the water with "her hands and feete bound," but "could
not sink to the bottome by any meanes." The same experiment was applied
to Arthur Bill and his parents. He was accused of bewitching a Martha
Aspine. His father and mother had long been considered witches. But the
"matter remaining doubtful that it could not be cleerly tryed upon him,"
he (and his parents) were tied with "their thumbes and great toes ...
acrosse" and thrown into the water. The suspicion that was before not
well grounded was now confirmed.[17] To be sure, this was done by the
justices of the peace and we do not know how much it influenced the
assize court.[18]

These are the only instances given us by the records of James's reign
where this test was employed by the authorities. But in the very next
year after the Northampton affair it was used in the adjoining county of
Bedford by private parties. A land-owner who had suffered ills, as he
thought, from two tenants, Mother Sutton and her daughter, took matters
into his own hands. His men were ordered to strip the two women "in to
their smocks," to tie their arms together, and to throw them into the
water. The precaution of a "roape tyed about their middles" was useless,
for both floated. This was not enough. The mother, tied toe and thumb,
was thrown into the water again. She "sunke not at all, but sitting upon
the water turned round about like a wheele.... And then being taken up,
she as boldly as if she had beene innocent asked them if they could doe
any more to her."

The use of marks as evidence was not as new as the water ordeal. But it
is a rather curious thing that in the two series of cases involving
water ordeal the other process was also emphasized. In these two
instances it would seem as if the advice of the Daemonologie had been
taken very directly by the accusers.[19] There was one other instance of
this test.[20] The remarkable thing, however, is that in the most
important trial of the time, that at Lancaster in 1612, there was an
utter absence, at least so far as the extant record goes, of female
juries or of reports from them.[21] This method of determining guilt was
not as yet widely accepted in the courts. We can hardly doubt that it
had been definitely forbidden at Lancaster.[22] The evidence of the use
of evil spirits, against which the statute of the first year of James I
had been especially framed, was employed in such a large proportion of
trials that it is not worth while to go over the cases in detail.

The law forbade to take up any dead person or the skin, bone, or other
part thereof for use in witchcraft. Presumably some instance of this
form of witchcraft had been responsible for the phrase, but we have on
record no case of the sort until a few years after the passage of the
statute. It was one of the principal charges against Johanna Harrison
of Royston in 1606 that the officers found in her possession "all the
bones due to the Anatomy of man and woman."[23] This discovery brought
out other charges and she was hanged. At the famous Lancashire trials in
1612 the arch-witch Chattox was declared to have had in her possession
three scalps and eight teeth. She was guilty on other counts, but she
escaped the executioner by death.

These are illustrations of the point that the Daemonologie and the
statute of James I find their commentary in the evidence offered at the
trials. It goes without saying that these illustrations represent only a
few of the forms of testimony given in the courts. It may not,
therefore, be amiss to run over some other specimens of the proof that
characterized the witch trials of the reign. With most of them we are
already familiar. The requirement that the witch should repeat certain
words after the justice of the peace was used once in the reign of
James. It was an unusual method at best.[24] A commoner form of proof
was that adduced from the finding or seeing clay or waxen images in the
possession of the accused.[25] The witness who had found such a model on
the premises of the defendant or had seen the defendant handling it,
jumped readily to the conclusion that the image represented some
individual. If it should be asked how we are to account for this sort of
evidence, the answer is an easy one. Every now and then in the annals of
witchcraft it came out that a would-be accuser had hidden a waxen or
clay figure in the house of the person he wished to accuse and had then
found it. No doubt some cases started in this way. No doubt, too, bitter
women with grudges to satisfy did experiment with images and were caught
at it. But this was rare. In the greater number of cases the stories of
images were pure fabrications. To that category belong almost certainly
the tales told at Lancaster.[26]

"Spectral evidence" we have met with in the Elizabethan period. That
reign saw two or three instances of its employment, and there were more
examples of it in the reign of James. Master Avery of Northampton, who
with his sister was the principal accuser in the trials there, saw in
one of his fits a black wart on the body of Agnes Brown, a wart which
was actually found "upon search."[27] Master Avery saw other spectres,
but the most curious was that of a bloody man desiring him to have mercy
on his Mistress Agnes and to cease impeaching her.[28] At Bedford,
Master Enger's servant had a long story to tell, but the most thrilling
part concerned a visit which the young Mary Sutton (whom he was
accusing) made to him. On a "moonshine night" she came in at the window
in her "accustomed and personall habite and shape" and knitted at his
side. Then drawing nearer, she offered him terms by which he could be
restored to his former health, terms which we are to understand the
virtuous witness refused. It is pleasant to know that Master Enger was
"distrustfull of the truth" of this tale. One fears that these spectres
were not the products of overwrought imagination, as were many others,
but were merely fabrics of elaborate fiction.[29] In any case they were
not the groundwork of the proof. In the Fairfax prosecutions at York in
1622 the charges against the six women accused rested entirely upon a
great tissue of spectral evidence. The three children had talked to the
spectres, had met them outdoors and at church and in the kitchen. The
spectres were remarkably wise and named visitors whom the family did not
know. They struggled with the children, they rolled over them in bed,
they followed them to the neighbors.

Somewhat akin to the evidence from apparitions was that from the effect
of a witch's glance. This is uncommonly rare in English witchcraft, but
the reign of James offers two instances of it. In Royston,
Hertfordshire, there was "an honest fellow and as boone a companion ...
one that loved the pot with the long necke almost as well as his
prayers." One day when he was drinking with four companions Johanna
Harrison came in and "stood gloating upon them." He went home and at
once fell sick.[30] At Northampton the twelve-year-old Hugh Lucas had
looked "stark" upon Jane Lucas at church and gone into convulsions when
he returned home.[31]

One other form of proof demands notice. In the trial of Jennet Preston
at York it was testified that the corpse of Mr. Lister, whom she was
believed to have slain by witchcraft, had bled at her presence. The
judge did not overlook this in summarizing the evidence. It was one of
three important counts against the woman, indeed it was, says the
impressive Mr. Potts, quoting the judge, of more consequence than all
the rest.[32] Of course Mistress Preston went to the gallows.

It will occur to the reader to ask whether any sort of evidence was
ruled out or objected to. On this point we have but slight knowledge. In
reporting the trial of Elizabeth Sawyer of Edmonton in 1621 the Reverend
Henry Goodcole wrote that a piece of thatch from the accused woman's
house was plucked and burned, whereupon the woman presently came upon
the scene.[33] Goodcole characterized this method as an "old ridiculous
custome" and we may guess that he spoke for the judge too. In the
Lancashire cases, Justice Altham, whose credulity knew hardly any
bounds, grew suddenly "suspitious of the accusation of this yong wench,
Jennet Device," who had been piling up charges against Alice Nutter. The
girl was sent out of the room, the witches were mixed up, and Jennet was
required on coming in again to pick out Alice Nutter. Of course that
proved an easy matter.[34] At another time, when Jennet was glibly
enumerating the witches that had assembled at the great meeting at
Malking Tower, the judge suddenly asked her if Joane-a-Downe were there.
But the little girl failed to rise to the bait and answered negatively,
much to the satisfaction of everybody, and especially of the righteous
Mr. Potts.[35]

This is all we know directly about any tendency to question evidence at
Lancaster in 1612, but a good deal more may be inferred from what is not
there. A comparison of that trial with other contemporary trials will
convince any one that Justices Altham and Bromley must have ruled out
certain forms of evidence. There were no experiments made of any sort
nor any female juries set inspecting.[36] This, indeed, is not to say
that all silly testimony was excluded. There is enough and more of sheer
nonsense in the testimony to prove the contrary.

We turn now from the question of evidence to a brief consideration of
several less prominent features of Jacobean witchcraft. We shall note
the character of the sentences, the distribution of the trials, the
personnel and position in life of the accused, and lastly the question
of jurisdiction.

We have in another connection indicated the approximate number of
executions of which we have record in James's reign. That number, we
saw, was certainly over forty and probably approached fifty. It
represented, however, not quite half the total number of cases of
accusation recorded. In consequence the other verdicts and sentences
have significance. Especially is this true of the acquittals. They
amounted to thirty, perhaps to forty. When we add the trials of which we
do not know the outcome, we can guess that the number was close to the
sum total of executions. Legally only one other outcome of a trial was
possible, a year's imprisonment with quarterly appearances in the
pillory. There were three or four instances of this penalty as well as
one case where bond of good behavior was perhaps substituted for
imprisonment.[37] Five pardons were issued,[38] three of them by the
authorities at London, two of them by local powers apparently under

We come now to consider the personnel, sex, occupations, and positions
in life of the accused. On certain of these matters it is possible to
give statistical conclusions, but such conclusions must be accepted with
great caution. By a count as careful as the insufficient evidence
permits it would seem that about six times as many women were indicted
as men. This was to be expected. It is perhaps less in accord with
tradition that twice as many married women as spinsters seem to have
figured in the witch trials of the Jacobean era. The proportion of
widows to unmarried women was about the same, so that the proportion of
unmarried women among the whole number accused would seem to have been
small. These results must be accepted guardedly, yet more complete
statistics would probably show that the proportion of married women was
even greater.[40]

The position in life of these people was not unlike that of the same
class in the earlier period. In the account of the Lancashire trials we
shall see that the two families whose quarrels started the trouble were
the lowest of low hill-country people, beggars and charmers, lax in
their morals and cunning in their dealings. The Flower women, mother and
daughter, had been charged with evil living; it was said that Agnes
Brown and her daughter of Northampton had very doubtful reputations;
Mother Sutton of Bedford was alleged to have three illegitimate
children. The rest of the witches of the time were not, however, quite
so low in the scale. They were household servants, poor tenants, "hog
hearders," wives of yeomen, broomsellers, and what not.

Above this motley peasant crew were a few of various higher ranks. A
schoolmaster who had experimented with sorcery against the king,[41] a
minister who had been "busy with conjuration in his youth,"[42] a lady
charged with sorcery but held for other sin,[43] a conjurer who had
rendered professional services to a passionate countess,[44] these make
up a strange group of witches, and for that matter an unimportant one.
None of their cases were illustrations of the working of witch law; they
were rather stray examples of the connection between superstition, on
the one hand, and politics and court intrigue on the other. Not so,
however, the prosecution of Alice Nutter in the Lancashire trials of
1612. Alice Nutter was a member of a well known county family. "She
was," says Potts, "a rich woman, had a great estate and children of good
hope."[45] She was moreover "of good temper, free from envy and malice."
In spite of all this she was accused of the most desperate crimes and
went to the gallows. Why family connections and influences could not
have saved her is a mystery.

In another connection we spoke of two witches pardoned by local
authorities at the instance of the government. This brings us to the
question of jurisdiction. The town of Rye had but recently, it would
seem, been granted a charter and certain judicial rights. But when the
town authorities sentenced one woman to death and indicted another for
witchcraft, the Lord Warden interfered with a question as to their
power.[46] The town, after some correspondence, gave way and both women
were pardoned. This was, however, the only instance of disputed
jurisdiction. The local powers in King's Lynn hanged a witch without
interference,[47] and the vicar-general of the Bishop of Durham
proceeded against a "common charmer"[48] with impunity, as of course he
had every right to do.

There is, in fact, a shred of evidence to show that the memory of
ecclesiastical jurisdiction had not been lost. In the North Riding of
Yorkshire the quarter sessions sentenced Ralph Milner for "sorcerie,
witchcraft, inchantment and telling of fortunes" to confess his fault at
divine service, "that he hath heighlie offended God and deluded men, and
is heartily sorie."[49] There is nothing, of course, in the statute to
authorize this form of punishment, and it is only accounted for as a
reversion to the original ecclesiastical penalty for a crime that seemed
to belong in church courts.

What we call nowadays mob law had not yet made its appearance--that is,
in connection with witchcraft. We shall see plenty of it when we come to
the early part of the eighteenth century. But there was in 1613 one
significant instance of independence of any jurisdiction, secular or
ecclesiastical. In the famous case at Bedford, Master Enger, whom we
have met before, had been "damnified" in his property to the round sum
of L200. He was at length persuaded that Mother Sutton was to blame.
Without any authority whatsoever he brought her forcibly to his house
and caused her to be scratched.[50] Not only so, but he threw the woman
and her daughter, tied and bound, into his mill-pond to prove their
guilt.[51] In the mean time the wretched creatures had been stripped of
their clothes and examined for marks, under whose oversight we are not
told, but Master Enger was responsible. He should have suffered for all
this, but there is no record of his having done so. On the contrary he
carried the prosecution of the women to a successful issue and saw them
both hanged.

We now turn to the question of the distribution of witchcraft in the
realm during James's reign. From the incidental references already
given, it will be evident that the trials were distributed over a wide
area. In number executed, Lancashire led with ten, Leicester had nine,
Northampton five or more, Middlesex four,[52] Bedford, Lincoln, York,
Bristol, and Hertford each two; Derby had several, the exact number we
can not learn. These figures of the more serious trials seem to show
that the alarm was drifting from the southeast corner of England towards
the midlands. In the last half of Elizabeth's rule the centre had been
to the north of London in the southern midlands. Now it seems to have
progressed to the northern midlands. Leicester, Derby, and Nottingham
may be selected as the triangle of counties that would fairly represent
the centre of the movement. If the matter were to be determined with
mathematical accuracy, the centre would need to be placed perhaps a
little farther west, for Stafford, Cheshire, Bristol, and the remote
Welsh Carnarvon all experienced witch alarms. In the north, York and
Durham had their share of trials.

It will be easier to realize what had happened when we discover that, so
far as records go, Kent and Essex were entirely quiet during the period,
and East Anglia almost so. We shall later see that these counties had
not at all forgotten to believe in witchcraft, but the witchfinders had
ceased their activities for a while.

To be sure, this reasoning from the distribution of trials is a
dangerous proceeding. Witch alarms, on they face of things, seem
haphazard outbursts of excitement. And such no doubt they are in part;
yet one who goes over many cases in order cannot fail to observe that an
outbreak in one county was very likely to be followed by one in the next
county.[53] This is perfectly intelligible to every one familiar with
the essentially contagious character of these scares. The stories spread
from village to village as fast as that personified Rumor of the poet
Vergil, "than which nothing is fleeter"; nor did they halt with the
sheriffs at the county boundaries.

We have now traced the growth of James's opinions until they found
effect in English law, have seen the practical operation of that law,
and have gone over the forms of evidence, as well as some other features
of the witch trials of his reign. In the next chapter we shall take up
some of the more famous Jacobean cases in detail as examples of witch
alarms. We shall seek to find out how they started and what were the
real causes at work.

[1] I have not attempted to give more than a brief resume of this story,
and have used Thomas Wright, Narratives of Sorcery and Magic (London,
1851), I, 181-190, and Mrs. Lynn Linton, Witch Stories, 21-34. The
pamphlet about Dr. Fian is a rare one, but may be found in several
libraries. It has been reprinted by the Gentleman's Magazine, vol.
XLIX (1779), by the Roxburghe Club (London, 1816), by Robert Pitcairn,
in his Criminal Trials in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1829-1833), vol. I, and
doubtless in many other places. Pitcairn has also printed a part of the
records of his trial.

[2] This is all based upon the contemporary accounts mentioned above.

[3] Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, IV (Edinburgh, 1881),
644-645, note.

[4] A fresh edition was brought out at London in 1603. In 1616 it
appeared again as a part of the handsome collection of his Workes
compiled by the Bishop of Winchester.

[5] This story is to be found in the apocryphal book of Bel and the
Dragon. It played a great part in the discussions of the writers on

[6] H. C. Lea, Superstition and Force (4th ed., Philadelphia, 1892),
325 ff., gives some facts about the water ordeal on the Continent. A
sharp dispute over its use in witch cases was just at this time going on

[7] He recommended torture in finding out the guilty: "And further
experience daily proves how loth they are to confesse without torture,
which witnesseth their guiltinesse," Daemonologie, bk. ii, ch. i.

[8] Wright, Narratives of Sorcery and Magic, I, 197.

[9] Edward Fairfax, A Discourse of Witchcraft As it was acted in the
Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax ... in the year 1621 (Philobiblon Soc.,
Miscellanies, V, ed. R. Monckton Milnes, London, 1858-1859), "Preface
to the Reader," 26, explains the king's motive: His "Majesty found a
defect in the statutes, ... by which none died for Witchcraft but they
only who by that means killed, so that such were executed rather as
murderers than as Witches."

[10] Journals of the House of Lords, II, 269; Wm. Cobbett,
Parliamentary History, I, 1017, 1018.

[11] Lords' Journal, II, 271, 316; Commons' Journal, I, 203-204.

[12] Cal. St. P., Dom., 1603-1610, 117.

[13] It had passed the third reading in the Commons on June 7; Commons'
Journal, I, 234.

[14] It can hardly be doubted that the change in the wording of the law
was dictated not only by the desire to simplify the matter of proof but
by a wish to satisfy those theologians who urged that any use of
witchcraft was a "covenant with death" and "an agreement with hell"
(Isaiah xxviii, 18).

[15] See Southworth case in Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of
Witches in the countie of Lancaster ... (London, 1613; reprinted,
Chetham Soc., 1845), L 2 verso. Cited hereafter as Potts.

[16] See, below, appendix B. It should be added that six others who had
been condemned by the judges for bewitching a boy were released at
James's command.

[17] The Witches of Northamptonshire ... C 2 verso. The writer of this
pamphlet, who does not tell the story of the ordeal so fully as the
author of the MS. account, "A briefe abstract of the arraignment of nine
witches at Northampton, July 21, 1612" (Brit. Mus., Sloane, 972), gives,
however, proof of the influence of James in the matter. He says that the
two ways of testing witches are by the marks and "the trying of the
insensiblenesse thereof," and by "their fleeting on the water," which is
an exact quotation from James, although not so indicated.

[18] The mother and father were apparently not sent to the assize court.

[19] The female jury was used at Northampton ("women sworn"), also at
Bedford, but by a private party.

[20] It was used in 1621 on Elizabeth Sawyer of Edmonton. In this case
it was done clearly at the command of the judge who tried her at the Old

[21] Elizabeth Device, however, confessed that the "said Devill did get
blood under her left arme," which raises a suspicion that this
confession was the result of accusations against her on that score.

[22] See account in next chapter of the trial at Lancaster.

[23] This case must be used with hesitation; see below, appendix A, Sec. 3.

[24] At Warboys the Samuels had been required to repeat: "If I be a
witch and consenting to the death" of such and such a one. Alice Wilson,
at Northampton in 1612, was threatened by the justice with execution, if
she would not say after the minister "I forsake the Devil." She is said
to have averred that she could not say this. See MS. account of the
witches of Northampton.

[25] Well known is the practice ascribed to witches of making a waxen
image, which was then pricked or melted before the fire, in the belief
that the torments inflicted upon it would be suffered by the individual
it represented.

[26] Potts, E 3 verso, F 4, G 2; also The Wonderful Discoverie of the
Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, ... (London, 1619), 21.

[27] See MS. account of the Northampton witches.

[28] Ibid.: "Sundry other witches appeared to him.... Hee heard many
of them railing at Jane Lucas, laying the fault on her that they were
thus accused."

[29] There was practically no spectral evidence in the Lancashire cases.
Lister on his death-bed had cried out against Jennet Preston, and John
Law was tormented with a vision of Alizon Device "both day and night";
Potts, Y 2 verso. But these were exceptional.

[30] See The Most Cruell and Bloody Murther committed by ... Annis
Dell.... With the Severall Witch-crafts ... of one Johane Harrison and
her Daughter (London, 1606).

[31] MS. account of the Northampton witches.

[32] See Potts, Z 2.

[33] The dramatist Dekker made use of this; see his Witch of Edmonton,
act IV, scene I (Mermaid edition, London, 1904):

1st Countreyman.--This thatch is as good as a jury to prove she is a

* * * * *

Justice.-- Come, come: firing her thatch? ridiculous!
Take heed, sirs, what you do; unless your proofs
Come better aimed, instead of turning her
Into a witch, you'll prove yourselves stark fools.

[34] See Potts, P 2.

[35] See ibid., Q verso. This, however, was the second time that the
judge had tried this ruse; see ibid., P 2.

[36] See above, note 21.

[37] North Riding Record Soc., Quarter Sessions Records (London, 1883,
etc.), III, 181.

[38] Two of them, however, were issued to the same woman, one in 1604
and one in 1610.

[39] Hist. MSS. Comm. Reports, XIII, 4 (Rye), pp. 136-137, 139-140,
144, 147-148.

[40] The term "spinster" was sometimes used of a married woman.

[41] Cal. St. P., Dom., 1619-1623, 125, Chamberlain to Carleton,
February 26, 1620: "Peacock, a schoolmaster, committed to the Tower and
tortured for practising sorcery upon the King, to infatuate him in Sir
Thos. Lake's business." This is one of those rare cases in which we know
certainly that torture was used.

[42] Sir Thomas Lake to Viscount Cranbourne, January 20, 1604, Brit.
Mus., Add. MSS., 6177, fol. 403.

[43] Cal. St. P., Dom., 1623-1625, 474, 485, 497.

[44] T. B. and T. J. Howell, State Trials (London, 1809-1818), II.

[45] See Potts, O 3 verso.

[46] See Hist. MSS. Comm. Reports, XIII, 4 (Rye), pp. 136-137,
139-140, 144, 147-148.

[47] See Alexander Roberts, A Treatise of Witchcraft ... (London,
1616), dedicated to the "Maior and Aldermen."

[48] M. A. Richardson, Table Book (London, 1841-1846), I, 245.

[49] North Riding Record Soc., Quarter Sessions Records, I, 58.

[50] "... neither had they authoritie to compell her to goe without a

[51] Brit. Mus., Add. MSS., 36,674, fol. 148. This is a brief
description of "how to discover a witch." It recommends the water ordeal
and cites the case of Mr. Enger and Mary Sutton.

[52] In the case of three of these four we know only that they were

[53] Before the Flower case at Lincoln came the Willimot-Baker cases at
Leicester. The Bedford trial resembled much the Northampton trial of the
previous year.

Next: Notable Jacobean Cases

Previous: The Exorcists

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