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
Notable Jacobean Cases
The Beginnings Of English Witchcraft
The Close Of The Literary Controversy
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
Witchcraft Under Charles Ii And James Ii
No period of English history saw a wider interest in both the theory and
the practice of witchcraft than the years that followed the Restoration.
Throughout the course of the twenty-eight years that spanned the second
rule of the Stuarts, the Devil manifested himself in many forms and with
unusual frequency. Especially within the first half of that regime his
appearances were so thrilling in character that the enemies of the new
king might very well have said that the Evil One, like Charles, had come
to his own again. All over the realm the witches were popping up. If the
total number of trials and of executions did not foot up to the figures
of James I's reign or to those of the Civil War, the alarm was
nevertheless more widely distributed than ever before. In no less than
twenty counties of England witches were discovered and fetched to court.
Up to this time, so far at any rate as the printed records show, the
southwestern counties had been but little troubled. Now Somerset, Devon,
and Cornwall were the storm centre of the panic. In the north Yorkshire
began to win for itself the reputation as a centre of activity that had
long been held by Lancashire. Not that the witch was a new criminal in
Yorkshire courts. During the Civil Wars and the troubled years that
followed the discoverers had been active. But with the reign of Charles
II their zeal increased mightily. Yet, if they had never before fetched
in so many "suspected parties" to the court of the justice of the
peace, they had never before been so often baffled by the outcome. Among
the many such cases known to us during this time there is no mention of
a conviction. In Kent there was a flickering revival of the old
hatred of witches. In the year that Charles gained the throne the city
of Canterbury sent some women to the gibbet. Not so in Essex. In that
county not a single case during this period has been left on record. In
Middlesex, a county which from the days of Elizabeth through to the
Restoration had maintained a very even pace--a stray conviction now and
then among many acquittals--the reign of Charles II saw nothing more
serious than some commitments and releases upon bail. In the Midland
counties, where superstition had flourished in the days of James I,
there were now occasional tales of possession and vague charges which
rarely reached the ears of the assize judges. Northampton, where an
incendiary witch was sentenced, constituted the single exception. In
East Anglia there was just enough stir to prove that the days of Matthew
Hopkins had not been forgotten.
It needs no pointing out that a large proportion of the cases were but a
repetition of earlier trials. If a difference is discernible, it is in
the increased number of accusations that took their start in strange
diseases called possessions. Since the close of the sixteenth century
and the end of John Darrel's activities, the accounts of possession had
fallen off sensibly, but the last third of the seventeenth century saw a
distinct revival of this tendency to assign certain forms of disease to
the operation of the Devil. We have references to many cases, but only
in exceptional instances are the details given. Oliver Heywood, one of
the eminent Dissenters of northern England, fasted and prayed with his
co-workers over the convulsive and hysterical boys and girls in the West
Riding. Nathan Dodgson was left after long fastings in "a very sensible
melting frame," but the troubles returned and led, as we shall see in
another connection, to very tragic results. The Puritan clergymen do not
seem, however, to have had any highly developed method of exorcism or to
have looked upon cases of possession in a light very different from that
in which they would have looked upon ordinary illnesses.
Among the Baptists of Yorkshire there was a possession that roused wide
comment. Mary Hall of Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire, daughter of a
smith, was possessed in the fall of 1663 with two spirits who were said
to have come to her riding down the chimney upon a stick. The spirits
declared through the girl that Goodwife Harwood had sent them, and when
that suspected woman was brought into the girl's presence the spirits
cried out, "Oh, Goodwife Harwood, are you come?--that is well; ... we
have endeavored to choak her but cannot," and, when Mistress Harwood
left, the spirits begged to go with her.
In Southwark James Barrow, the son of John Barrow, was long possessed,
and neither "doctors, astrologers, nor apothecaries" could help him. He
was taken to the Catholics, but to no purpose. Finally he was cast among
a "poor dispirited people whom the Lord owned as instruments in his hand
to do this great work." By the "poor dispirited people" the Baptists
were almost certainly meant. By their assistance he seems to have
been cured. So also was Hannah Crump of Warwick, who had been afflicted
by witchcraft and put in a London hospital. Through prayer and fasting
she was entirely recovered.
Mary Hall had been taken to Doctor Woodhouse of Berkhampstead, "a man
famous for curing bewitched persons." Woodhouse's name comes up now and
again in the records of his time. He was in fact a very typical specimen
of the witch doctor. When Mary Hall's case had been submitted to him he
had cut off the ends of her nails and "with somewhat he added" hung them
in the chimney over night before making a diagnosis. He professed to
find stolen goods as well and fell foul of the courts in one instance,
probably because the woman who consulted him could not pay the shilling
fee. He was arraigned and spent a term in prison. No doubt many of
the witch physicians knew the inside of prisons and had returned
afterwards to successful practice. Redman, "whom some say is a
Conjurer, others say, He is an honest and able phisitian," had been in
prison, but nevertheless he had afterwards "abundance of Practice" and
was much talked about "in remote parts," all this in spite of the fact
that he was "unlearned in the languages."
Usually, of course, the witch doctor was a poor woman who was very happy
to get a penny fee now and then, but who ran a greater risk of the
gallows than her male competitors. Her reputation, which brought her a
little money from the sick and from those who had lost valuables, made
her at the same time a successful beggar. Those whom she importuned were
afraid to refuse her. But she was in constant peril. If she resented ill
treatment, if she gave in ill wishes as much as she took, she was sure
to hear from it before a stern justice of the peace. It can hardly be
doubted that a large proportion, after the Restoration as in every other
period, of those finally hanged for witchcraft, had in fact made claims
to skill in magic arts. Without question some of them had even traded on
the fear they inspired. Not a few of the wretched creatures fetched to
York castle to be tried were "inchanters."
Very often, indeed, a woman who was nothing more than a midwife, with
some little knowledge of medicine perhaps, would easily be classed by
the public among the regular witch doctors and so come to have a bad
name. Whether she lived up to her name or not--and the temptation to do
so would be great--she would from that time be subject to suspicion, and
might at length become a prey to the justice of the peace. Mrs. Pepper
was no more than a midwife who made also certain simple medical
examinations, but when one of her patients was "strangely handled" she
was taken to court. Margaret Stothard was probably, so far as we can
piece together her story, a woman who had been successful in calming
fretful children and had so gained for herself a reputation as a witch.
Doubtless she had acquired in time a few of the charmer's tricks that
enhanced her reputation and increased her practice. This was all very
well until one of her patients happened to die. Then she was carried to
Newcastle and would probably have suffered death, had it not been for a
These are typical cases. The would-be healer of the sick ran a risk, and
it was not always alone from failure to cure. If a witch doctor found
himself unable to bring relief to a patient, it was easy to suggest that
some other witch doctor--and such were usually women--was bewitching the
patient. There are many instances, and they are not confined to the
particular period with which we are dealing, in which one "good witch"
started the run on the other's reputation. Even the regular physician
may sometimes have yielded to the temptation to crush competition.
Of course, when all the cases are considered, only a very small part of
the "good witches" ever fell into the clutches of the law. The law
prescribed very definite penalties for their operations, but in most
instances no action was taken until after a long accumulation of
"suspicious circumstances," and, even if action was taken, the chances,
as we have seen, were by this time distinctly in favor of the accused.
This is not to say, by any means, that the judges and juries of England
had come over to the side of the witch. The period with which we are
dealing was marked by a variety of decision which betrays the perplexity
of judges and juries. It is true, indeed, that out of from eighty to one
hundred cases where accusations are on record less than twenty witches
were hanged. This does not mean that six times out of every seven the
courts were ruling against the fact of witchcraft. In the case of the
six released there was no very large body of evidence against them to be
considered, or perhaps no strong popular current to be stemmed. In
general, it may be said that the courts were still backing up the law of
To show this, it is only necessary to run over some of the leading
trials of the period. We shall briefly take up four trials conducted
respectively by Justice Archer, Chief Baron Hale, Justice Rainsford, and
Julian Cox, who was but one of the "pestilent brood" of witches ferreted
out in Somerset by the aggressive justice, Robert Hunt, was tried in
1663 at Taunton before Justice Archer. The charges against her
indeed excited such interest all over England, and elicited, upon the
part of disbelievers, so much derision, that it will be worth our while
to go over the principal points of evidence. The chief witness against
her was a huntsman who told a strange tale. He had started a hare and
chased it behind a bush. But when he came to the bush he had found
Julian Cox there, stooped over and quite out of breath. Another witness
had a strange story to tell about her. She had invited him to come up on
her porch and take a pipe of tobacco with her. While he was with her,
smoking, he saw a toad between his legs. On going home he had taken out
a pipe and smoked again and had again seen what looked to be the same
toad between his legs. "He took the Toad out to kill it, and to his
thinking cut it in several pieces, but returning to his Pipe the Toad
still appeared.... At length the Toad cryed, and vanish'd." A third
witness had seen the accused fly in at her window "in her full
proportion." This tissue of evidence was perhaps the absurdest ever used
against even a witch, but the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. It is
not unpleasant to know that Justice Archer met with a good deal of
criticism for his part in the affair.
In the following year occurred the trials at Bury St. Edmunds, which
derive their interest and importance largely from the position of the
presiding judge, Sir Matthew Hale, who was at this time chief baron of
the exchequer, and was later to be chief justice of the king's bench. He
was allowed, according to the admission of one none too friendly to him,
"on all hands to be the most profound lawyer of his time." Hale had
been a Puritan from his youth, though not of the rigid or theologically
minded sort. In the Civil Wars and the events that followed he had
remained non-partisan. He accepted office from Cromwell, though without
doubt mildly sympathizing with the king. One of those who had assisted
in recalling Charles II, he rose shortly to be chief baron of the
exchequer. Famous for his careful and reasoned interpretation of law, he
was to leave behind him a high reputation for his justice and for the
exceptional precision of his judgments. It is not too much to say that
he was one of the greatest legal figures of his century and that his
decisions served in no small degree to fix the law.
We should like to know how far he had been brought into contact with the
subject of witchcraft, but we can do no more than guess. His early
career had been moulded in no small degree by Selden, who, as has been
noted in an earlier chapter, believed in the punishment of those who
claimed to be witches. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the
Puritans with whom he had been thrown were all of them ready to quote
Scripture against the minions of Satan. We know that he had read some of
the works of Henry More, and, whether or not familiar with his
chapters on witchcraft, would have deduced from that writer's general
philosophy of spirits the particular application.
The trial concerned two women of Lowestoft, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender.
The first had been reputed a witch and a "person of very evil
behaviour." She was in all probability related to some of those women
who had suffered at the hands of Hopkins, and to that connection owed
her ill name. Some six or seven years before the date of the trial she
had got herself into trouble while taking care of the child of a
tradesman in Lowestoft. It would seem that, contrary to the orders of
the mother, she had suckled the child. The child had that same night
been attacked by fits, and a witch doctor of Yarmouth, who was
consulted, had prescribed for it. The reader will note that this
"suspicious circumstance" happened seven years earlier, and a large part
of the evidence presented in court concerned what had occurred from five
to seven years before.
We can not go into the details of a trial which abounded in curious bits
of evidence. The main plot indeed was an old one. The accused woman,
after she had been discharged from employment and reproved, had been
heard to mutter threats, close upon which the children of those she
cursed, who were now the witnesses against her, had fallen ill. Two of
the children had suffered severely and were still afflicted. They had
thrown up pins and even a two-penny nail. The nail, which was duly
offered as an exhibit in court, had been brought to one of the children
by a bee and had been forced into the child's mouth, upon which she
expelled it. This narrative was on a level with the other, that flies
brought crooked pins to the child. Both flies and bee, it will be
understood, were the witches in other form. A similar sort of evidence
was that a toad, which had been found as the result of the witch
doctor's directions, had been thrown into the fire, upon which a sharp
crackling noise ensued. When this incident was testified to in the court
the judge interrupted to ask if after the explosion the substance of the
toad was not to be seen in the fire. He was answered in the negative. On
the next day Amy Duny was found to have her face and body all scorched.
She said to the witness that "she might thank her for it." There can be
no doubt in the world that this testimony of the coincident burning of
the woman and the toad was regarded as damning proof, nor is there any
reason to believe that the court deemed it necessary to go behind the
mere say-so of a single witness for the fact. Along with this sort of
unsubstantial testimony there was presented a monotonous mass of
spectral evidence. Apparitions of the witches were the constant
occasions for the paroxysms of the children. In another connection it
will be observed that this form of proof was becoming increasingly
common in the last part of the seventeenth century. It can hardly be
doubted that in one way or another the use of such evidence at Bury
influenced other trials and more particularly the Salem cases in the New
World, where great importance was attached to evidence of this sort.
The usual nauseating evidence as to the Devil's marks was introduced by
the testimony of the mother of one of the children bewitched. She had
been, a month before, a member of a jury of matrons appointed by a
justice of the peace to examine the body of the accused. Most damning
proof against the woman had been found. It is very hard for us to
understand why Hale allowed to testify, as one of the jury of examining
matrons, a woman who was at the same time mother of one of the bewitched
children upon whom the prosecution largely depended.
So far the case for the prosecution had been very strong, but it was in
the final experiments in court, which were expected to clinch the
evidence, that a very serious mishap occurred. A bewitched child, eleven
years old, had been fetched into court. With eyes closed and head
reclining upon the bar she had remained quiet until one of the accused
was brought up, when she at once became frantic in her effort to scratch
her. This was tried again and again and in every instance produced the
same result. The performance must have had telling effect. But there
happened to be present at the trial three Serjeants of the law. One of
them, Serjeant John Kelyng, a few years later to become chief justice of
the king's bench, was "much dissatisfied." He urged the point that the
mere fact that the children were bewitched did not establish their claim
to designate the authors of their misfortune. There were others present
who agreed with Kelyng in suspecting the actions of the girl on the
stand. Baron Hale was induced, at length, to appoint a committee of
several gentlemen, including Serjeant Kelyng, to make trial of the girl
with her eyes covered. An outside party was brought up to her and
touched her hand. The girl was expecting that Amy Duny would be brought
up and flew into the usual paroxysms. This was what the committee had
expected, and they declared their belief that the whole transaction was
a mere imposture. One would have supposed that every one else must come
to the same conclusion, but Mr. Pacy, the girl's father, offered an
explanation of her mistake that seems to have found favor. The maid, he
said, "might be deceived by a suspicion that the Witch touched her when
she did not." One would suppose that this subtle suggestion would have
broken the spell, and that Mr. Pacy would have been laughed out of
court. Alas for the rarity of humor in seventeenth-century court rooms!
Not only was the explanation received seriously, but it was, says the
court reporter, afterwards found to be true.
In the mean time expert opinion had been called in. It is hard to say
whether Dr. Browne had been requisitioned for the case or merely
happened to be present. At all events, he was called upon to render his
opinion as a medical man. The name of Thomas Browne is one eminent in
English literature and not unknown in the annals of English medicine and
science. More than twenty years earlier he had expressed faith in the
reality of witchcraft. In his Commonplace Book, a series of
jottings made throughout his life, he reiterated his belief, but uttered
a doubt as to the connection between possession and witchcraft.
We should be glad to know at what time Browne wrote this deliverance;
for, when called upon at Bury, he made no application of his principles
of caution. He gave it as his opinion that the bewitchment of the two
girls was genuine. The vomiting of needles and nails reminded him very
much of a recent case in Denmark. For the moment the physician spoke,
when he said that "these swounding Fits were Natural." But it was the
student of seventeenth-century theology who went on: they were
"heightened 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."
No doubt Browne's words confirmed the sentiment of the court room and
strengthened the case of the prosecution. But it will not be overlooked
by the careful reader that he did not by any means commit himself as to
the guilt of the parties at the bar.
When the judge found that the prisoners had "nothing material" to say
for themselves he addressed the jury. Perhaps because he was not
altogether clear in his own mind about the merits of the case, he
refused to sum up the evidence. It is impossible for us to understand
why he did not carry further the tests which had convinced Kelyng of the
fraud, or why he did not ask questions which would have uncovered the
weakness of the testimony. One cannot but suspect that North's criticism
of him, that he had a "leaning towards the Popular" and that he had
gained such "transcendent" authority as not easily to bear
contradiction, was altogether accurate. At all events he passed over
the evidence and went on to declare that there were two problems before
the jury: (1) were these children bewitched, (2) were the prisoners at
the bar guilty of it? As to the existence of witches, he never doubted
it. The Scriptures affirmed it, and all nations provided laws against
On the following Sunday Baron Hale composed a meditation upon the
subject. Unfortunately it was simply a dissertation on Scripture texts
and touched upon the law at no point.
It is obvious enough to the most casual student that Sir Matthew Hale
had a chance to anticipate the work of Chief Justice Holt and missed it.
In the nineties of the seventeenth century, as we shall see, there was a
man in the chief justiceship who dared to nullify the law of James I. It
is not too much to say that Matthew Hale by a different charge to the
jury could as easily have made the current of judicial decisions run in
favor of accused witches all over England. His weight was thrown in the
other direction, and the witch-triers for a half-century to come invoked
the name of Hale.
There is an interesting though hardly trustworthy story told by Speaker
Onslow--writing a century later--that Hale "was afterwards much
altered in his notions as to this matter, and had great concern upon him
for what had befallen these persons." This seems the more doubtful
because there is not a shred of proof that Hale's decisions occasioned a
word of criticism among his contemporaries. So great, indeed, was
the spell of his name that not even a man like John Webster dared to
comment upon his decision. Not indeed until nearly the middle of the
eighteenth century does anyone seem to have felt that the decision
called for apology.
The third noteworthy ruling in this period anent the crime of witchcraft
was made a few years later in Wiltshire by Justice Rainsford. The story,
as he himself told it to a colleague, was this: "A Witch was brought to
Salisbury and tried before him. Sir James Long came to his Chamber, and
made a heavy Complaint of this Witch, and said that if she escaped, his
Estate would not be worth any Thing; for all the People would go away.
It happen'd that the Witch was acquitted, and the Knight continued
extremely concern'd; therefore the Judge, to save the poor Gentleman's
Estate, order'd the Woman to be kept in Gaol, and that the Town should
allow her 2s. 6d. per Week; for which he was very thankful. The very
next Assizes, he came to the Judge to desire his lordship would let her
come back to the Town. And why? They could keep her for 1s. 6d. there;
and, in the Gaol, she cost them a shilling more." Another case
before Justice Rainsford showed him less lenient. By a mere chance we
have a letter, written at the time by one of the justices of the peace
in Malmesbury, which sheds no little light on this affair and on the
legal status of witchcraft at that time. A certain Ann Tilling had
been taken into custody on the complaint of Mrs. Webb of Malmesbury. The
latter's son had swooning fits in which he accused Ann of bewitching
him. Ann Tilling made voluble confession, implicating Elizabeth Peacock
and Judith Witchell, who had, she declared, inveigled her into the
practice of their evil arts. Other witches were named, and in a short
time twelve women and two men were under accusation. But the alderman
of Malmesbury, who was the chief magistrate of that town, deemed it wise
before going further to call in four of the justices of the peace in
that subdivision of the county. Three of these justices of the peace
came and listened to the confessions, and were about to make out a
mittimus for sending eleven of the accused to Salisbury, when the fourth
justice arrived, the man who has given us the story. He was, according
to his own account, not "very credulous in matters of Witchcraft," and
he made a speech to the other justices. "Gentlemen, what is done at this
place, a Borough remote from the centre of this large County, and almost
forty miles from Salisbury, will be expended [sic] both by the
Reverend Judges, the learned Counsayle there ..., and the Gentry of the
body of the County, so that if anything be done here rashly, it will be
severely censured." He went on to urge the danger that the boy whose
fits were the cause of so much excitement might be an impostor, and that
Ann Tilling, who had freely confessed, might be in confederacy with the
parents. The skeptical justice, who in spite of his boasted incredulity
was a believer in the reality of witchcraft, was successful with his
colleagues. All the accused were dismissed save Tilling, Peacock, and
Witchell. They were sent to Salisbury and tried before Sir Richard
Rainsford. Elizabeth Peacock, who had been tried on similar charges
before, was dismissed. The other two were sentenced to be hanged.
Ten years later came a fourth remarkable ruling against witchcraft, this
time by Justice Raymond at Exeter. During the intervening years there
had been cases a-plenty in England and a few hangings, but none that had
attracted comment. It was not until the summer of 1682, when three
Devonshire women were arraigned, tried, and sent to the gallows by
Justice Raymond, that the public again realized that witchcraft was
still upheld by the courts.
The trials in themselves had no very striking features. At least two of
the three women had been beggars; the other, who had been the first
accused and who had in all probability involved her two companions, had
on two different occasions before been arraigned but let off. The
evidence submitted against them consisted of the usual sworn statements
made by neighbors to the justice of the peace, as well as of hardly
coherent confessions by the accused. The repetition of the Lord's Prayer
was gone through with and the results of examinations by a female jury
were detailed ad nauseam. The poor creatures on trial were remarkably
stupid, even for beings of their grade. Their several confessions
tallied with one another in hardly a single point.
Sir Thomas Raymond and Sir Francis North were the judges present at the
Exeter assizes. Happily the latter has left his impressions of this
trial. He admits that witch trials worried him because the evidence
was usually slight, but the people very intent upon a verdict of guilty.
He was very glad that at Exeter his colleague who sat upon the "crown
side" had to bear the responsibilities. The two women (he seems to
have known of no more) were scarce alive as to sense and understanding,
but were "overwhelm'd with melancholy and waking Dreams." Barring
confessions, the other evidence he considered trifling, and he cites the
testimony of a witness that "he saw a cat leap in at her (the old
woman's) window, when it was twilight; and this Informant farther saith
that he verily believeth the said Cat to be the Devil, and more saith
not." Raymond, declares his colleague, made no nice distinctions as to
the possibility of melancholy women contracting an opinion of themselves
that was false, but left the matter to the jury.
We have already intimated that the rulings of the courts were by no
means all of them adverse to the witches. Almost contemporaneous with
the far-reaching sentence of Sir Matthew Hale at Bury were the trials in
Somerset, where flies and nails and needles played a similar part, but
where the outcome was very different. A zealous justice of the peace,
Robert Hunt, had for the last eight years been on the lookout for
witches. In 1663 he had turned Julian Cox over to the tender mercies of
Justice Archer. By 1664 he had uncovered a "hellish knot" of the wicked
women and was taking depositions against them, wringing confessions from
them and sending them to gaol with all possible speed. The women
were of the usual class, a herd of poor quarrelsome, bickering females
who went from house to house seeking alms. In the numbers of the accused
the discovery resembled that at Lancaster in 1633-1634, as indeed it did
in other ways. A witch meeting or conventicle was confessed to. The
county was being terrified and entertained by the most horrible tales,
when suddenly a quietus was put upon the affair "by some of them in
authority." A witch chase, which during the Civil Wars would have led to
a tragedy, was cut short, probably through the agency of a privy council
less fearful of popular sentiment than the assize judges.
The Mompesson case was of no less importance in its time, although
it belongs rather in the annals of trickery than in those of
witchcraft. But the sensation which it caused in England and the
controversy waged over it between the upholders of witchcraft and the
"Sadducees," give the story a considerable interest and render the
outcome of the trial significant. The only case of its sort in its time,
it was nevertheless most typical of the superstition of the time. A
little town in Wiltshire had been disturbed by a stray drummer. The
self-constituted noise-maker was called to account by a stranger in the
village, a Mr. Mompesson of Tedworth, who on examining the man's license
saw that it had been forged and took it away from him. This, at any
rate, was Mr. Mompesson's story as to how he had incurred the ill will
of the man. The drummer took his revenge in a singular way. Within a few
days the Mompesson family at Tedworth began to be annoyed at night by
strange noises or drummings on the roofs. All the phenomena and
manifestations which we associate with a modern haunted-house story were
observed by this alarmed family of the seventeenth century. The little
girls were knocked about in their beds at night, a stout servant was
forcibly held hand and foot, the children's shoes were thrown about, the
chairs glided about the room. It would seem that all this bold
horse-play must soon have been exposed, but it went on merrily. Whenever
any tune was called for, it was given on the drum. The family Bible was
thrown upside down into the ashes. For three weeks, however, the spirits
ceased operations during the lying-in of Mrs. Mompesson. But they
sedulously avoided the family servants, especially when those retainers
happened to be armed with swords. Well they might, for we are told that
on one occasion, after a pistol shot had been fired at the place where
they were heard, blood was found on the spot. In another instance,
according to Mr. Mompesson's own account, there were seen figures, "in
the shape of Men, who, as soon as a Gun was discharg'd, would shuffle
away together into an Arbour."
It is clear enough that a somewhat clumsy fraud was being imposed upon
Mr. Mompesson. A contemporary writer tells us he was told that it was
done by "two Young Women in the House with a design to scare thence Mr.
Mompesson's Mother." From other sources it is quite certain that the
injured drummer had a hand in the affair. A very similar game had been
played at Woodstock in 1649, and formed a comedy situation of which
Scott makes brilliant use in his novel of that name. Indeed, it is quite
possible that the drummer, who had been a soldier of Cromwell's, was
inspired by a memory of that affair.
But there was no one to detect the fraud, as at Woodstock. Tedworth
became a Mecca for those interested in the supernatural. One of the
visitors was Joseph Glanvill, at this time a young man of twenty-seven,
later to become a member of the Royal Society and chaplain in ordinary
to the king. The spirits were less noisy; they were always somewhat
restrained before visitors, but scratched on bed sheets and panted in
dog fashion, till Glanvill was thoroughly taken in. For the rest of his
life this psychic experimenter fought a literary war over this case with
those who made fun of it. While we cannot prove it, we may guess with
some confidence that this episode was the beginning of the special
interest in the supernatural upon Glanvill's part which was later to
make him the arch-defender of the witchcraft superstition in his
How wide an interest the matter evoked may be judged from the warm
discussions upon it at Cambridge, and from the royal interest in it
which induced Charles to send down a committee of investigation.
Curiously enough, the spirits were singularly and most extraordinarily
quiet when the royal investigators were at work, a fact to which
delighted skeptics pointed with satisfaction.
One wonders that the drummer, who must have known that his name would be
connected with the affair, failed to realize the risk he was running
from the witch hunters. He was indicted on minor felonies of another
sort, but the charges which Mompesson brought against him seem to have
been passed over. The man was condemned for stealing and was
transported. With his departure the troubles at Tedworth ceased. But the
drummer, in some way, escaped and returned to England. The angry
Mompesson now brought him to the assizes as a felon on the strength of
the statute of James I. Unhappily we have no details of this trial, nor
do we know even the name of the judge; but we do know that the jury gave
a verdict of acquittal.
In 1671 Cornwall was stirred up over a witch whose crimes were said to
be directed against the state. She had hindered the English fleet in
their war against the Dutch, she had caused a bull to kill one of the
enemies in Parliament of the Non-Conformists, she had been responsible
for the barrenness of the queen. And for all these political crimes the
chief evidence was that some cats had been seen playing ("dancing") near
her house. She was committed, along with several other women who were
accused. Although at the assizes they were all proved to have had cats
and rats about them, they went free.
In 1682, the same year in which the three women of Devonshire had been
condemned, there was a trial at Southwark, just outside of London, which
resulted in a verdict of acquittal. The case had many of the usual
features, but in two points was unique. Joan Butts was accused of having
bewitched a child that had been taken with fits. Nineteen or twenty
witnesses testified against the witch. One of the witnesses heard her
say that, if she had not bewitched the child, if all the devils in hell
could help her, she would bewitch it. Joan admitted the words, but said
that she had spoken them in passion. She then turned on one of the
witnesses and declared that he had given himself to the Devil, body and
soul. Chief Justice Pemberton was presiding, and he called her to order
for this attack on a witness, and then catechized her as to her means of
knowing the fact. The woman had thoughtlessly laid herself open by her
own words to the most serious suspicion. In spite of this, however, the
jury brought her in not guilty, "to the great amazement of some, ... yet
others who consider the great difficulty in proving a Witch, thought the
jury could do no less than acquit her."
This was, during the period, the one trial in or near London of which we
have details. There can be no doubt that the courts in London and the
vicinity were beginning to ignore cases of witchcraft. After 1670 there
were no more trials of the sort in Middlesex.
The reader will remember that Justice North had questioned the equity of
Justice Raymond's decision at Exeter. He has told us the story of a
trial at Taunton-Dean, where he himself had to try a witch. A
ten-year-old girl, who was taking strange fits and spitting out pins,
was the witness against an old man whom she accused of bewitching her.
The defendant made "a Defence as orderly and well expressed as I ever
heard spoke." The judge then asked the justice of the peace who had
committed the man his opinion. He said that he believed the girl,
"doubling herself in her Fit, as being convulsed, bent her Head down
close to her Stomacher, and with her Mouth, took Pins out of the Edge of
that, and then, righting herself a little, spit them into some
By-stander's Hands." "The Sum of it was Malice, Threatening, and
Circumstances of Imposture in the Girl." As the judge went downstairs
after the man had been acquitted, "an hideous old woman" cried to him,
"My Lord, Forty Years ago they would have hang'd me for a Witch, and
they could not; and now they would have hang'd my poor Son."
The five cases we have cited, while not so celebrated as those on the
other side, were quite as representative of what was going on in
England. It is to be regretted that we have not the records by which to
compute the acquittals of this period. In a large number of cases where
we have depositions we have no statement of the outcome. This is
particularly true of Yorkshire. As has been pointed out in the earlier
part of the chapter, we can be sure that most of these cases were
dismissed or were never brought to trial.
When we come to the question of the forms of evidence presented during
this period, we have a story that has been told before. Female juries,
convulsive children or child pretenders, we have met them all before.
Two or three differences may nevertheless be noted. The use of spectral
evidence was becoming increasingly common. The spectres, as always,
assumed weird forms. Nicholas Rames's wife (at Longwitton, in the north)
saw Elizabeth Fenwick and the Devil dancing together. A sick boy in
Cornwall saw a "Woman in a blue Jerkin and Red Petticoat with Yellow and
Green patches," who was quickly identified and put in hold.
Sometimes the spectres were more material. Jane Milburne of Newcastle
testified that Dorothy Stranger, in the form of a cat, had leaped upon
her and held her to the ground for a quarter of an hour. A "Barber's
boy" in Cambridge had escaped from a spectral woman in the isle of Ely,
but she followed him to Cambridge and killed him with a blow. "He had
the exact mark in his forehead, being dead, where the Spiritual Woman
did hit him alive." It is unnecessary to multiply cases. The
Collection of Modern Relations is full of the same sort of evidence.
It has been seen that in nearly every epoch of witch history the
voluntary and involuntary confessions of the accused had greatly
simplified the difficulties of prosecution. The witches whom Matthew
Hopkins discovered were too ready to confess to enormous and unnatural
crimes. In this respect there is a marked change in the period of the
later Stuarts. Elizabeth Style of Somerset in 1663 and the three
Devonshire witches of 1682 were the only ones who made confessions.
Elizabeth Style had probably been "watched," in spite of Glanvill's
statement to the contrary, perhaps somewhat in the same torturing way as
the Suffolk witches whom Hopkins "discovered," and her wild confession
showed the effect. The Devonshire women were half-witted creatures, of
the type that had always been most voluble in confession; but such were
This means one of two things. Either the witches of the Restoration were
by some chance a more intelligent set, or they were showing more spirit
than ever before because they had more supporters and fairer treatment
in court. It is quite possible that both suppositions have in them some
elements of truth. As the belief in the powers of witches developed in
form and theory, it came to draw within its radius more groups of
people. In its earlier stages the attack upon the witch had been in part
the community's way of ridding itself of a disreputable member. By the
time that the process of attack had been developed for a century, it had
become less impersonal. Personal hatreds were now more often the
occasion of accusation. Individual malice was playing a larger role. In
consequence those who were accused were more often those who were
capable of fighting for themselves or who had friends to back them. And
those friends were more numerous and zealous because the attitude of the
public and of the courts was more friendly to the accused witch. This
explanation is at best, however, nothing more than a suggestion. We have
not the material for confident generalization.
One other form of evidence must be mentioned. The town of Newcastle,
which in 1649 had sent to Scotland for a witchfinder, was able in 1673
to make use of home-grown talent. In this instance it was a woman, Ann
Armstrong, who implicated a score of her neighbors and at length went
around pointing out witches. She was a smooth-witted woman who was
probably taking a shrewd method of turning off charges against herself.
Her testimony dealt with witch gatherings or conventicles held at
various times and places. She told whom she had seen there and what they
had said about their crimes. She told of their feasts and of their
dances. Poor woman, she had herself been compelled to sing for them
while they danced. Nor was this the worst. She had been terribly
misused. She had been often turned into a horse, then bridled and
It would not be worth while to go further into Ann Armstrong's stories.
It is enough to remark that she offered details, as to harm done to
certain individuals in certain ways, which tallied closely with the
sworn statements of those individuals as to what had happened to them at
the times specified. The conclusion cannot be avoided that the female
witchfinder had been at no small pains to get even such minute details
in exact form. She had gathered together all the witch stories of that
part of Northumberland and had embodied them in her account of the
confessions made at the "conventicles."
What was the ruling of the court on all this evidence we do not know. We
have only one instance in which any evidence was ruled out. That was at
the trial of Julian Cox in 1663. Justice Archer tried an experiment in
that trial, but before doing so he explained to the court that no
account was to be taken of the result in making up their verdict. He had
heard that a witch could not repeat the petition in the Lord's Prayer,
"Lead us not into temptation." The witch indeed failed to meet the
In the course of this period we have two trials that reveal a connection
between witchcraft and other crimes. Perhaps it would be fairer to say
that the charge of witchcraft was sometimes made when other crimes were
suspected, but could not be proved. The first case concerned a rich
farmer in Northamptonshire who had gained the ill will of a woman named
Ann Foster. Thirty of his sheep were found dead with their "Leggs broke
in pieces, and their Bones all shattered in their Skins." A little later
his house and barns were set on fire. Ann Foster was brought to trial
for using witchcraft against him, confessed to it, and was hanged.
The other case was at Brightling in Sussex, not far from London. There a
woman who was suspected as the one who had told a servant that Joseph
Cruther's house would be burned--a prophecy which came true very
shortly--was accused as a witch. She had been accused years before at
the Maidstone assizes, but had gone free. This time she was "watched"
for twenty-four hours and four ministers kept a fast over the
These cases are worth something as an indication that the charge of
witchcraft was still a method of getting rid of people whom the
At the beginning of this chapter the years 1660 to 1688 were marked off
as constituting a single epoch in the history of the superstition. Yet
those years were by no means characterized by the same sort of court
verdicts. The sixties saw a decided increase over the years of the
Commonwealth in the number of trials and in the number of executions.
The seventies witnessed a rapid dropping off in both figures. Even more
so the eighties. By the close of the eighties the accounts of witchcraft
were exceedingly rare. The decisions of the courts in the matter were in
a state of fluctuation. Two things were happening. The justices of the
peace were growing much more reluctant to send accused witches to the
assize courts; and the itinerant judges as a body were, in spite of the
decisions of Hale and Raymond, more careful in witch trials than ever
before, and more likely to withstand public sentiment.
The changes of opinion, as reflected in the literature of the time,
especially in the literature of the subject, will show the same
tendencies. We shall take them up in the next chapter.
 See Raine, ed., York Depositions (Surtees Soc.), preface, xxx.
 Joseph Hunter, Life of Heywood (London, 1842), 167, and Heywood's
Diaries, ed. J. H. Turner (Brighouse, 1881-1885), I, 199; III, 100.
Heywood, who was one of the leading Dissenters of his time, must not be
credited with extreme superstition. In noting the death of a boy whom
his parents believed bewitched, he wrote, "Oh that they saw the lords
hand." Diary, I, 287.
 William Drage, Daimonomageia (London, 1665), 32-38.
 The Lord's Arm Stretched Out, ... or a True Relation of the
wonderful Deliverance of James Barrow ... (London, 1664).
 Compare Drage, op. cit., 36, 39, 42, with The Lord's Arm
Stretched Out, 17. Mary Hall, whose cure Drage celebrates, had friends
among the Baptists. Drage seems to connect her case with those of Barrow
and Hannah Crump, both of whom were helped by that "dispirited people"
whom the author of The Lord's Arm Stretched Out exalts.
 Drage, op. cit., 34.
 Yorkshire Notes and Queries, I (Bradford, 1885), 26. But a
physician in Winchester Park, whom Hannah Crump had consulted, had asked
five pounds to unbewitch her.
 Drage, op. cit., 39.
 York Depositions, 127.
 See E. Mackenzie, History of Northumberland (Newcastle, 1825),
II, 33-36. We do not know that the woman was excused, but the case was
before Henry Ogle and we may fairly guess the outcome.
 Glanvill, Sadducismus Triumphatus, pt. ii, 191-209.
 This is the estimate of him by North, who adds: "and he knew it."
Roger North, Life of the Rt. Hon. Francis North, Baron of Guilford ...
(London, 1742), 62-63.
 Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, II, pt. I
(Chetham Soc., no. 36, 1855), 155.
 In his Religio Medici. See Sir Thomas Browne's Works (ed. S.
Wilkin, London, 1851-1852), II, 43.
 Ibid., IV, 389.
 Roger North, op. cit., 61.
 Inderwick has given a good illustration of Hale's weakness of
character: "I confess," he says, "to a feeling of pain at finding him in
October, 1660, sitting as a judge at the Old Bailey, trying and
condemning to death batches of the regicides, men under whose orders he
had himself acted, who had been his colleagues in parliament, with whom
he had sat on committees to alter the law." Interregnum, 217-218.
 Hist. MSS. Comm. Reports, XIV, 9, p. 480.
 Bishop Burnet, in his Life and Death of Sir Matthew Hale (London,
1682), does not seem to have felt called upon to mention the Bury trial
at all. See also Lord Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices (London,
1849), I, 563-567.
 Roger North, op. cit., 130, 131. The story, as here told,
ascribes the event to the year preceding Lord Guilford's first western
circuit--i. e., to 1674. But this perhaps need not be taken too
exactly, and the witch was probably that Elizabeth Peacock who was
acquitted in 1670 and again in the case of 1672 described above. At
least the list of "Indictments for witchcraft on the Western Circuit
from 1670 to 1712," published by Inderwick in his Sidelights on the
Stuarts (London, 1888), shows no other acquittal in Wiltshire during
 For this letter see the Gentleman's Magazine, 1832, pt. I,
405-410, 489-402. The story is confirmed in part by Inderwick's finds in
the western Gaol Delivery records. As to the trustworthiness of this
unknown justice of the peace, see above, pp. 160, 162, and notes.
 That the judge was Sir Richard Rainsford appears from Inderwick's
list, mentioned above, note 20.
 A True and Impartial Relation of the Informations against ...
Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards (London, 1682).
And The Tryal, Condemnation and Execution of Three Witches ...
(London, 1682). See also below, note 26, and appendix A, Sec. 6.
 Roger North, op. cit., 130.
 At a trial at the York assizes in 1687 Sir John Reresby seems to
have played about the same part that North played at Exeter. Serjeant
Powell, later to be chief justice, was presiding over the case. "An old
woman was condemned for a witch. Those who were more credulous in points
of this nature than myself, conceived the evidence to be very strong
against her. The boy she was said to have bewitched fell down on a
sudden before all the court when he saw her, and would then as suddenly
return to himself again, and very distinctly relate the several injuries
she had done him: but in all this it was observed the boy was free from
any distortion; that he did not foam at the mouth, and that his fits did
not leave him gradually, but all at once; so that, upon the whole, the
judge thought it proper to reprieve her." Memoirs and Travels of Sir
John Reresby (London, 1813), 329.
 There is indeed some evidence that Raymond wished not to condemn
the women, but yielded nevertheless to public opinion. In a pamphlet
published five years later it is stated that the judge "in his charge to
the jury gave his Opinion that these three poor Women (as he supposed)
were weary of their Lives, and that he thought it proper for them to be
carryed to the Parish from whence they came, and that the Parish should
be charged with their Maintainance; for he thought their oppressing
Poverty had constrained them to wish for Death." Unhappily the neighbors
made such an outcry that the women were found guilty and sentenced. This
is from a later and somewhat untrustworthy account, but it fits in well
with what North says of the case. The Life and Conversation of
Temperance Floyd, Mary Lloyd [sic], and Susanna Edwards: ... (London,
 The second part of Glanvill's Sadducismus Triumphatus is full of
 For a full account of this affair see Glanvill's Sadducismus
Triumphatus, pt. ii, preface and Relation I. Glanvill had investigated
the matter and had diligently collected all the evidence. He was
familiar also with what the "deriders" had to say, and we can discover
their point of view from his answers. See also John Beaumont, An
Historical, Physiological and Theological Treatise of Spirits,
Apparitions, Witchcrafts, and other Magical Practices (London, 1705),
 Ibid., 309.
 Cal. St. P., Dom., 1671, 105, 171.
 We have two accounts of this affair: Strange and Wonderful News
from Yowell in Surry (1681), and An Account of the Tryal and
Examination of Joan Buts (1682).
 Roger North, op. cit., 131-132.
 York Depositions, 247.
 A True Account ... of one John Tonken, of Pensans in Cornwall ...
(1686). For other examples of spectral evidence see York Depositions,
88; Roberts, Southern Counties (London, 1856), 525-526; Gentleman's
Magazine, 1832, pt. II, 489.
 York Depositions, 112, 113.
 Drage, Daimonomageia, 12.
 For an account of her case, see Glanvill, Sadducismus
Triumphatus, pt. ii, 127-146.
 York Depositions, 191-201.
 For a complete account of the Julian Cox case see Glanvill,
Sadducismus Triumphatus, pt. ii, 191-209.
 A Full and True Relation of the Tryal ... of Ann Foster ...
 Sussex Archaeological Collections, XVIII, 111-113.
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