VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational

   Home - Occult Lessons - Clairvoyance - Goths - Reading the Crystal - Mysticism - Supernatural Metals - Stonehenge - Naturalism - Witch Craft - History of the Devil - Crystal Gazing

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

Witchcraft Under Elizabeth

The year 1566 is hardly less interesting in the history of English
witchcraft than 1563. It has been seen that the new statute passed in
1563 was the beginning of a vigorous prosecution by the state of the
detested agents of the evil one. In 1566 occurred the first important
trial known to us in the new period. That trial deserves note not only
on its own account, but because it was recorded in the first of the long
series of witch chap-books--if we may so call them. A very large
proportion of our information about the execution of the witches is
derived from these crude pamphlets, briefly recounting the trials. The
witch chap-book was a distinct species. In the days when the chronicles
were the only newspapers it was what is now the "extra," brought out to
catch the public before the sensation had lost its flavor. It was of
course a partisan document, usually a vindication of the worthy judge
who had condemned the guilty, with some moral and religious
considerations by the respectable and righteous author. A terribly
serious bit of history it was that he had to tell and he told it grimly
and without pity. Such comedy as lights up the gloomy black-letter pages
was quite unintentional. He told a story too that was full of details
trivial enough in themselves, but details that give many glimpses into
the every-day life of the lower classes in town and country.

The pamphlet of 1566 was brief and compact of information. It was
entitled The examination and confession of certaine Wytches at
Chensforde in the Countie of Essex before the Quenes Maiesties Judges
the XXVI daye of July anno 1566. The trial there recorded is one that
presents some of the most curious and inexplicable features in the
annals of English witchcraft. The personnel of the "size" court is
mysterious. At the first examination "Doctor Cole" and "Master Foscue"
were present. Both men are easily identified. Doctor Cole was the
Reverend Thomas Cole, who had held several places in Essex and had in
1564 been presented to the rectory of Stanford Rivers, about ten miles
from Chelmsford. Master Foscue was unquestionably Sir John Fortescue,
later Chancellor of the Exchequer, and at this time keeper of the great
wardrobe. On the second examination Sir Gilbert Gerard, the queen's
attorney, and John Southcote, justice of the queen's bench, were
present. Why Southcote should be present is perfectly clear. It is not
so easy to understand about the others. Was the attorney-general acting
as presiding officer, or was he conducting the prosecution? The latter
hypothesis is of course more consistent with his position. But what were
the rector of Stanford Rivers and the keeper of the great wardrobe doing
there? Had Doctor Cole been appointed in recognition of the claims of
the church? And the keeper of the wardrobe, what was the part that he
played? One cannot easily escape the conclusion that the case was deemed
one of unusual significance. Perhaps the privy council had heard of
something that alarmed it and had delegated these four men, all known
at Elizabeth's court, to examine into the matter in connection with the

The examinations themselves present features of more interest to the
psychologist than to the historical student. Yet they have some
importance in the understanding of witchcraft as a social phenomenon.
Elizabeth Francis, when examined, confessed with readiness to various
"vilanies." From her grandmother she said she had as a child received a
white spotted cat, named Sathan, whom she had fed, and who gave her what
she asked for. "She desired to have one Andrew Byles to her husband,
which was a man of some welth, and the cat dyd promyse she shold." But
the promise proved illusory. The man left her without marriage and then
she "willed Sathan ... to touch his body, whych he forthewith dyd,
whereof he died." Once again she importuned Satan for a husband. This
time she gained one "not so rich as the other." She bore a daughter to
him, but the marriage was an unhappy one. "They lived not so quietly as
she desyred, beinge stirred to much unquietnes and moved to swearing and
cursinge." Thereupon she employed the spirit to kill her child and to
lame her husband. After keeping the cat fifteen years she turned it over
to Mother Waterhouse, "a pore woman."[1]

Mother Waterhouse was now examined. She had received the cat and kept it
"a great while in woll in a pot." She had then turned it into a toad.
She had used it to kill geese, hogs, and cattle of her neighbors. At
length she had employed it to kill a neighbor whom she disliked, and
finally her own husband. The woman's eighteen-year-old daughter, Joan,
was now called to the stand and confirmed the fact that her mother kept
a toad. She herself had one day been refused a piece of bread and cheese
by a neighbor's child and had invoked the toad's help. The toad promised
to assist her if she would surrender her soul. She did so. Then the toad
haunted the neighbor's girl in the form of a dog with horns. The mother
was again called to the stand and repeated the curious story told by her

Now the neighbor's child, Agnes Brown, was brought in to testify. Her
story tallied in some of its details with that of the two Waterhouse
women; she had been haunted by the horned dog, and she added certain
descriptions of its conduct that revealed good play of childish

The attorney put some questions, but rather to lead on the witnesses
than to entangle them. He succeeded, however, in creating a violent
altercation between the Waterhouses on the one hand, and Agnes Brown on
the other, over trifling matters of detail.[3] At length he offered to
release Mother Waterhouse if she would make the spirit appear in the
court.[4] The offer was waived. The attorney then asked, "When dyd thye
Cat suck of thy bloud?" "Never," said she. He commanded the jailer to
lift up the "kercher" on the woman's head. He did so and the spots on
her face and nose where she had pricked herself for the evil spirit were

The jury retired. Two days later Agnes Waterhouse suffered the penalty
of the law, not however until she had added to her confessions.[5]

The case is a baffling one. We can be quite sure that the pamphlet
account is incomplete. One would like to know more about the substance
of fact behind this evidence. Did the parties that were said to have
been killed by witchcraft really die at the times specified? Either the
facts of their deaths were well known in the community and were fitted
with great cleverness into the story Mother Waterhouse told, or the
jurors and the judges neglected the first principles of common sense and
failed to inquire about the facts.[6] The questions asked by the queen's
attorney reveal hardly more than an unintelligent curiosity to know the
rest of the story. He shows just one saving glint of skepticism. He
offered to release Mother Waterhouse if she would materialize her

Mother Waterhouse was her own worst enemy. Her own testimony was the
principal evidence presented against her, and yet she denied guilt on
one particular upon which the attorney-general had interrogated her.
This might lead one to suppose that her answers were the haphazard
replies of a half-witted woman. But the supposition is by no means
consistent with the very definite and clear-cut nature of her testimony.
It is useless to try to unravel the tangles of the case. It is possible
that under some sort of duress--although there is no evidence of
this--she had deliberately concocted a story to fit those of Elizabeth
Francis and Agnes Brown, and that her daughter, hearing her mother's
narrative in court--a very possible thing in that day--had fitted hers
into it. It is conceivable too that Mother Waterhouse had yielded merely
to the wish to amaze her listeners. It is a more probable supposition
that the questions asked of her by the judge were based upon the
accusations already made by Agnes Brown and that they suggested to her
the main outlines of her narrative.

Elizabeth Francis, who had been the first accused and who had accused
Mother Waterhouse, escaped. Whether it was because she had turned
state's evidence or because she had influential friends in the
community, we do not know. It is possible that the judges recognized
that her confession was unsupported by the testimony of other witnesses.
Such a supposition, however, credits the court with keener
discrimination than seems ever to have been exhibited in such cases in
the sixteenth century.[7]

But, though Elizabeth Francis had escaped, her reputation as a dangerous
woman in the community was fixed. Thirteen years later she was again put
on trial before the itinerant justices. This brings us to the second
trial of witches at Chelmsford in 1579. Mistress Francis's examination
elicited less than in the first trial. She had cursed a woman "and badde
a mischief to light uppon her." The woman, she understood, was
grievously pained. She followed the course that she had taken before
and began to accuse others. We know very little as to the outcome. At
least one of the women accused went free because "manslaughter or murder
was not objected against her."[8] Three women, however, were condemned
and executed. One of them was almost certainly Elleine Smith, daughter
of a woman hanged as a witch,--another illustration of the persistence
of suspicion against the members of a family.

The Chelmsford affair of 1579[9] was not unlike that of 1566. There were
the same tales of spirits that assumed animal forms. The young son of
Elleine Smith declared that his mother kept three spirits, Great Dick in
a wicker bottle, Little Dick in a leathern bottle, and Willet in a
wool-pack. Goodwife Webb saw "a thyng like a black Dogge goe out of her
doore." But the general character of the testimony in the second trial
bore no relation to that in the first. There was no agreement of the
different witnesses. The evidence was haphazard. The witch and another
woman had a falling out--fallings out were very common. Next day the
woman was taken ill. This was the sort of unimpeachable testimony that
was to be accepted for a century yet. In the affair of 1566 the judges
had made some attempt at quizzing the witnesses, but in 1579 all
testimony was seemingly rated at par.[10] In both instances the proof
rested mainly upon confession. Every woman executed had made
confessions of guilt. This of course was deemed sufficient. Nevertheless
the courts were beginning to introduce other methods of proving the
accused guilty. The marks on Agnes Waterhouse had been uncovered at the
request of the attorney-general; and at her execution she had been
questioned about her ability to say the Lord's Prayer and other parts of
the service. Neither of these matters was emphasized, but the mention of
them proves that notions were already current that were later to have
great vogue.

The Chelmsford cases find their greatest significance, however, not as
illustrations of the use and abuse of evidence, but because they
exemplify the continuity of the witch movement. That continuity finds
further illustration in the fact that there was a third alarm at
Chelmsford in 1589, which resulted in three more executions. But in this
case the women involved seem, so far as we know, to have had no
connection with the earlier cases. The fate of Elizabeth Francis and
that of Elleine Smith are more instructive as proof of the long-standing
nature of a community suspicion. Elleine could not escape her mother's
reputation nor Elizabeth her own.

Both these women seem to have been of low character at any rate.
Elizabeth had admitted illicit amours, and Elleine may very well have
been guilty on the same count.[11] All of the women involved in the two
trials were in circumstances of wretched poverty; most, if not all, of
them were dependent upon begging and the poor relief for support.[12]

It is easy to imagine the excitement in Essex that these trials must
have produced. The accused had represented a wide territory in the
county. The women had been fetched to Chelmsford from towns as far apart
as Hatfield-Peverel and Maldon. It is not remarkable that three years
later than the affair of 1579 there should have been another outbreak in
the county, this time in a more aggravated form. St. Oses, or St.
Osyth's, to the northeast of Chelmsford, was to be the scene of the most
remarkable affair of its kind in Elizabethan times. The alarm began with
the formulation of charges against a woman of the community. Ursley Kemp
was a poor woman of doubtful reputation. She rendered miscellaneous
services to her neighbors. She acted as midwife, nursed children, and
added to her income by "unwitching" the diseased. Like other women of
the sort, she was looked upon with suspicion. Hence, when she had been
refused the nursing of the child of Grace Thurlow, a servant of that Mr.
Darcy who was later to try her, and when the child soon afterward fell
out of its cradle and broke its neck, the mother suspected Ursley of
witchcraft. Nevertheless she did not refuse her help when she "began to
have a lameness in her bones." Ursley promised to unwitch her and
seemingly kept her word, for the lameness disappeared. Then it was that
the nurse-woman asked for the twelve-pence she had been promised and was
refused. Grace pleaded that she was a "poore and needie woman." Ursley
became angry and threatened to be even with her. The lameness reappeared
and Grace Thurlow was thoroughly convinced that Ursley was to blame.
When the case was carried before the justices of the peace, the accused
woman denied that she was guilty of anything more than unwitching the
afflicted. That she had learned, she said, ten or more years ago from a
woman now deceased. She was committed to the assizes, and Justice Brian
Darcy, whose servant Grace Thurlow had started the trouble, took the
case in hand. He examined her eight-year-old "base son," who gave
damning evidence against his mother. She fed four imps, Tyffin, Tittey,
Piggen, and Jacket. The boy's testimony and the judge's promise that if
she would confess the truth she "would have favour," seemed to break
down the woman's resolution. "Bursting out with weeping she fell upon
her knees and confessed that she had four spirits." Two of them she had
used for laming, two for killing. Not only the details of her son's
evidence, but all the earlier charges, she confirmed step by step, first
in private confessions to the judge and then publicly at the court
sessions. The woman's stories tallied with those of all her accusers[13]
and displayed no little play of imagination in the orientation of
details.[14] Not content with thus entangling herself in a fearful web
of crime, she went on to point out other women guilty of similar
witchcrafts. Four of those whom she named were haled before the justice.
Elizabeth Bennett, who spun wool for a cloth-maker, was one of those
most vehemently accused, but she denied knowledge of any kind of
witchcraft. It had been charged against her that she kept some wool
hidden in a pot under some stones in her house. She denied at first the
possession of this potent and malignant charm; but, influenced by the
gentle urgings of Justice Darcy,[15] she gave way, as Ursley Kemp had
done, and, breaking all restraint, poured forth wild stories of devilish
crimes committed through the assistance of her imps.

But why should we trace out the confessions, charges, and
counter-charges that followed? The stories that were poured forth
continued to involve a widening group until sixteen persons were under
accusation of the most awful crimes, committed by demoniacal agency. As
at Chelmsford, they were the dregs of the lower classes, women with
illegitimate children, some of them dependent upon public support. It
will be seen that in some respects the panic bore a likeness to those
that had preceded. The spirits, which took extraordinary and bizarre
forms, were the offspring of the same perverted imaginations, but they
had assumed new shapes. Ursley Kemp kept a white lamb, a little gray
cat, a black cat, and a black toad. There were spirits of every sort,
"two little thyngs like horses, one white, the other black'"; six
"spirits like cowes ... as big as rattles"; spirits masquerading as
blackbirds. One spirit strangely enough remained invisible. It will be
observed by the reader that the spirits almost fitted into a color
scheme. Very vivid colors were those preferred in their spirits by these
St. Oses women. The reader can see, too, that the confessions showed the
influence of the great cat tradition.

We have seen the readiness with which the deluded women made confession.
Some of the confessions were poured forth as from souls long surcharged
with guilt. But not all of them came in this way. Margerie Sammon, who
had testified against one of her neighbors, was finally herself caught
in the web of accusation in which a sister had also been involved. She
was accused by her sister. "I defie thee," she answered, "though thou
art my sister." But her sister drew her aside and "whyspered her in the
eare," after which, with "great submission and many teares," she made a
voluble confession. One wonders about that whispered consultation. Had
her sister perhaps suggested that the justice was offering mercy to
those who confessed? For Justice Darcy was very liberal with his
promises of mercy and absolutely unscrupulous about breaking them.[16]
It is gratifying to be able to record that there was yet a remnant left
who confessed nothing at all and stood stubborn to the last. One of them
was Margaret Grevel, who denied the accusations against her. She "saith
that shee herselfe hath lost severall bruings and bakings of bread, and
also swine, but she never did complaine thereof: saying that shee wished
her gere were at a stay and then shee cared not whether shee were hanged
or burnt or what did become of her." Annis Herd was another who stuck to
her innocence. She could recall various incidents mentioned by her
accusers; it was true that she had talked to Andrew West about getting a
pig, it was true that she had seen Mr. Harrison at his parsonage
gathering plums and had asked for some and been refused. But she denied
that she had any imps or that she had killed any one.

The use of evidence in this trial would lead one to suppose that in
England no rules of evidence were yet in existence. The testimony of
children ranging in age from six to nine was eagerly received. No
objection indeed was made to the testimony of a neighbor who professed
to have overheard what he deemed an incriminating statement. As a matter
of fact the remark, if made, was harmless enough.[17] Expert evidence
was introduced in a roundabout way by the statement offered in court
that a physician had suspected that a certain case was witchcraft.
Nothing was excluded. The garrulous women had been give free rein to
pile up their silly accusations against one another. Not until the trial
was nearing its end does it seem to have occurred to Brian Darcy to warn
a woman against making false charges.

It will be recalled that in the Chelmsford trials Mother Waterhouse had
been found to have upon her certain marks, yet little emphasis had been
laid upon them. In the trials of 1582 the proof drawn from these marks
was deemed of the first importance and the judge appointed juries of
women to make examination. No artist has yet dared to paint the picture
of the gloating female inquisitors grouped around their naked and
trembling victim, a scene that was to be enacted in many a witch trial.
And it is well, for the scene would be too repellent and brutal for
reproduction. In the use of these specially instituted juries there was
no care to get unbiassed decisions. One of the inquisitors appointed to
examine Cystley Celles had already served as witness against her.

It is hard to refrain from an indictment of the hopelessly prejudiced
justice who gathered the evidence.[18] To entrap the defendants seems to
have been his end. In the account which he wrote[19] he seems to have
feared lest the public should fail to understand how his cleverness
ministered to the conviction of the women.[20]

"There is a man," he wrote, "of great cunning and knowledge come over
lately unto our Queenes Maiestie, which hath advertised her what a
companie and number of witches be within Englande: whereupon I and other
of her Justices have received commission for the apprehending of as many
as are within these limites." No doubt he hoped to attract royal notice
and win favor by his zeal.

The Chelmsford affairs and that at St. Oses were the three remarkable
trials of their kind in the first part of Elizabeth's reign. They
furnish some evidence of the progress of superstition. The procedure in
1582 reveals considerable advance over that of 1566. The theory of
diabolic agency had been elaborated. The testimony offered was gaining
in complexity and in variety. New proofs of guilt were being introduced
as well as new methods of testing the matter. In the second part of
Elizabeth's reign we have but one trial of unusual interest, that at
Warboys in Huntingdonshire. This, we shall see, continued the
elaboration of the witch procedure. It was a case that attracted
probably more notice at the time than any other in the sixteenth
century. The accidental fancy of a child and the pronouncement of a
baffled physician were in this instance the originating causes of the
trouble. One of the children of Sir Robert Throckmorton, head of a
prominent family in Huntingdonshire, was taken ill. It so happened that
a neighbor, by name Alice Samuel, called at the house and the ailing and
nervous child took the notion that the woman was a witch and cried out
against her. "Did you ever see, sayd the child, one more like a witch
then she is; take off her blacke thrumbd cap, for I cannot abide to
looke on her." Her parents apparently thought nothing of this at the
time. When Dr. Barrow, an eminent physician of Cambridge, having treated
the child for two of the diseases of children, and without success,
asked the mother and father if any witchcraft were suspected, he was
answered in the negative. The Throckmortons were by no means quick to
harbor a suspicion. But when two and then three other children in the
family fell ill and began in the same way to designate Mother Samuel as
a witch, the parents were more willing to heed the hint thrown out by
the physician. The suspected woman was forcibly brought by Gilbert
Pickering, an uncle of the children, into their presence. The children
at once fell upon the ground "strangely tormented," and insisted upon
scratching Mother Samuel's hand. Meantime Lady Cromwell[21] visited at
the Throckmorton house, and, after an interview with Alice Samuel,
suffered in her dreams from her till at length she fell ill and died,
something over a year later. This confirmed what had been suspicion. To
detail all the steps taken to prove Mother Samuel guilty is unnecessary.
A degree of caution was used which was remarkable. Henry Pickering, a
relative, and some of his fellow scholars at Cambridge made an
investigation into the case, but decided with the others that the woman
was guilty. Mother Samuel herself laid the whole trouble to the
children's "wantonness." Again and again she was urged by the children
to confess. "Such were the heavenly and divine speeches of the children
in their fits to this old woman ... as that if a man had heard it he
would not have thought himself better edified at ten sermons." The
parents pleaded with her to admit her responsibility for the constantly
recurring sickness of their children, but she denied bitterly that she
was to blame. She was compelled to live at the Throckmorton house and to
be a witness constantly to the strange behavior of the children. The
poor creature was dragged back and forth, watched and experimented upon
in a dozen ways, until it is little wonder that she grew ill and spent
her nights in groaning. She was implored to confess and told that all
might yet be well. For a long time she persisted in her denial, but at
length in a moment of weakness, when the children had come out of their
fits at her chance exhortation to them, she became convinced that she
was guilty and exclaimed, "O sir, I have been the cause of all this
trouble to your children." The woman, who up to this time had shown some
spirit, had broken down. She now confessed that she had given her soul
to the Devil. A clergyman was hastily sent for, who preached a sermon of
repentance, upon which the distracted woman made a public confession.
But on the next day, after she had been refreshed by sleep and had been
in her own home again, she denied her confession. The constable now
prepared to take the woman as well as her daughter to the Bishop of
Lincoln, and the frightened creature again made a confession. In the
presence of the bishop she reiterated her story in detail and gave the
names of her spirits. She was put in gaol at Huntingdon and with her
were imprisoned her daughter Agnes and her husband John Samuel, who were
now accused by the Throckmorton children, and all three were tried at
the assizes in Huntingdon before Judge Fenner. The facts already
narrated were given in evidence, the seizures of the children at the
appearance of any of the Samuel family[22], the certainty with which the
children could with closed eyes pick Mother Samuel out of a crowd and
scratch her, the confessions of the crazed creature, all these evidences
were given to the court. But the strongest proof was that given in the
presence of the court. The daughter Agnes Samuel was charged to repeat,
"As I am a witch and consenting to the death of Lady Cromwell, I charge
thee, come out of her."[23] At this charge the children would at once
recover from their fits. But a charge phrased negatively, "As I am no
witch," was ineffectual. And the affirmative charge, when tried by some
other person, had no result. This was deemed conclusive proof. The woman
was beyond doubt guilty. The same method was applied with equally
successful issue to the father. When he refused to use the words of the
charge he was warned by the judge that he would endanger his life. He
gave way.

It is needless to say that the grand jury arraigned all three of the
family and that the "jury of life and death" found them guilty. It
needed but a five hours' trial.[24] The mother was induced to plead
pregnancy as a delay to execution, but after an examination by a jury
was adjudged not pregnant. The daughter had been urged to make the same
defence, but spiritedly replied, "It shall never be said that I was both
a witch and a whore." At the execution the mother made another
confession, in which she implicated her husband, but refused to the end
to accuse her daughter.

From beginning to end it had been the strong against the weak. Sir
Robert Throckmorton, Sir Henry Cromwell, William Wickham, Bishop of
Lincoln, the justices of the peace, Justice Fenner of the king's court,
the Cambridge scholars, the "Doctor of Divinitie," and two other
clergymen, all were banded together against this poor but respectable
family. In some respects the trial reminds us of one that was to take
place ninety-nine years later in Massachusetts. The part played by the
children in the two instances was very similar. Mother Samuel had hit
the nail on the head when she said that the trouble was due to the
children's "wantonness." Probably the first child had really suffered
from some slight ailment. The others were imitators eager to gain notice
and pleased with their success; and this fact was realized by some
people at the time. "It had been reported by some in the county, those
that thought themselves wise, that this Mother Samuel ... was an old
simple woman, and that one might make her by fayre words confesse what
they would." Moreover the tone of the writer's defense makes it evident
that others beside Mother Samuel laid the action of the Throckmorton
children to "wantonness." And six years later Samuel Harsnett, chaplain
to the Bishop of London and a man already influential, called the
account of the affair "a very ridiculous booke" and evidently believed
the children guilty of the same pretences as William Somers, whose
confessions of imposture he was relating.[25]

We have already observed that the Warboys affair was the only celebrated
trial of its sort in the last part of Elizabeth's reign--that is, from
the time of Reginald Scot to the accession of James I. This does not
mean that the superstition was waning or that the trials were on the
decrease. The records show that the number of trials was steadily
increasing. They were more widely distributed. London was still the
centre of the belief. Chief-Justice Anderson sent Joan Kerke to Tyburn
and the Middlesex sessions were still occupied with accusations. The
counties adjacent to it could still claim more than two-thirds of the
executions. But a far wider area was infected with the superstition.
Norfolk in East Anglia, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby in the
Midlands, and York and Northumberland in the North were all involved.

The truth is that there are two tendencies that appear very clearly
towards the last part of Elizabeth's reign. On the one hand the feeling
of the people against witchcraft was growing in intensity, while on the
other the administration at London was inclined to be more lenient.
Pardons and reprieves were issued to women already condemned,[26] while
some attempt was made to curb popular excitement. The attitude of the
queen towards the celebrated John Dee was an instance in point. Dee was
an eminent alchemist, astrologer, and spiritualist of his time. He has
left a diary which shows us his half mystic, half scientific pursuits.
In the earlier part of Mary's reign he had been accused of attempting
poison or magic against the queen and had been imprisoned and examined
by the privy council and by the Star Chamber. At Elizabeth's accession
he had cast the horoscope for her coronation day, and he was said to
have revealed to the queen who were her enemies at foreign courts. More
than once afterwards Dee was called upon by the queen to render her
services when she was ill or when some mysterious design against her
person was feared. While he dealt with many curious things, he had
consistently refused to meddle with conjuring. Indeed he had rebuked the
conjurer Hartley and had refused to help the bewitched Margaret Byrom of
Cleworth in Lancashire. Sometime about 1590 Dee's enemies--and he had
many--put in circulation stories of his success as a conjurer. It was
the more easy to do, because for a long time he had been suspected by
many of unlawful dealings with spirits. His position became dangerous.
He appealed to Elizabeth for protection and she gave him assurance that
he might push on with his studies. Throughout her life the queen
continued to stand by Dee,[27] and it was not until a new sovereign came
to the throne that he again came into danger. But the moral of the
incident is obvious. The privy council, so nervous about the conjurers
in the days of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Catholic and Spanish plots,
was now resting easier and refused to be affrighted.

We have already referred to the pardons issued as one of the evidences
of the more lenient policy of the government. That policy appeared too
in the lessening rigor of the assize judges. The first half of
Elizabeth's reign had been marked by few acquittals. Nearly half the
cases of which we have record in the second part resulted in the
discharge of the accused. Whether the judges were taking their cue from
the privy council or whether some of them were feeling the same reaction
against the cruelty of the prosecutions, it is certain that there was a
considerable nullifying of the force of the belief. We shall see in the
chapter on Reginald Scot that his Discoverie of Witchcraft was said to
have "affected the magistracy and the clergy." It is hard to lay one's
finger upon influences of this sort, but we can hardly doubt that there
was some connection between Scot's brave indictment of the witch-triers
and the lessening severity of court verdicts. When George Gifford, the
non-conformist clergyman at Maiden, wrote his Dialogue concerning
Witches, in which he earnestly deprecated the conviction of so many
witches, he dedicated the book "to the Right Worshipful Maister Robert
Clarke, one of her Maiesties Barons of her Highnesse Court of the
Exchequer," and wrote that he had been "delighted to heare and see the
wise and godly course used upon the seate of justice by your worship,
when such have bene arraigned." Unfortunately there is not much evidence
of this kind.

One other fact must not be overlooked. A large percentage of the cases
that went against the accused were in towns judicially independent of
the assize courts. At Faversham, at Lynn, at Yarmouth, and at
Leicester[28] the local municipal authorities were to blame for the
hanging of witches. The regular assize courts had nothing to do with the
matter. The case at Faversham in Kent was unusual. Joan Cason was
indicted for bewitching to death a three-year-old child. Eight of her
neighbors, seven of them women, "poore people," testified against her.
The woman took up her own cause with great spirit and exposed the
malicious dealings of her adversaries and also certain controversies
betwixt her and them. "But although she satisfied the bench," says
Holinshed, "and all the jurie touching hir innocencie ... she ...
confessed that a little vermin, being of colour reddish, of stature
lesse than a rat ... did ... haunt her house." She was willing too to
admit illicit relations with one Mason, whose housekeeper she had
been--probably the original cause of her troubles. The jury acquitted
her of witchcraft, but found her guilty of the "invocation of evil
spirits," intending to send her to the pillory. While the mayor was
admonishing her, a lawyer called attention to the point that the
invocation of evil spirits had been made a felony. The mayor sentenced
the woman to execution. But, "because there was no matter of invocation
given in evidence against hir, ... hir execution was staied by the space
of three daies." Sundry preachers tried to wring confessions from her,
but to no purpose. Yet she made so godly an end, says the chronicler,
that "manie now lamented hir death which were before hir utter
enimies."[29] The case illustrates vividly the clumsiness of municipal
court procedure. The mayor's court was unfamiliar with the law and
utterly unable to avert the consequences of its own finding. In the
regular assize courts, Joan Cason would probably have been sentenced to
four public appearances in the pillory.

The differences between the first half and the second half of
Elizabeth's reign have not been deemed wide enough by the writer to
justify separate treatment. The whole reign was a time when the
superstition was gaining ground. Yet in the span of years from Reginald
Scot to the death of Elizabeth there was enough of reaction to justify a
differentiation of statistics. In both periods, and more particularly in
the first, we may be sure that some of the records have been lost and
that a thorough search of local archives would reveal some trials of
which we have at present no knowledge. It was a time rich in mention of
witch trials, but a time too when but few cases were fully described.
Scot's incidental references to the varied experiences of Sir Roger
Manwood and of his uncle Sir Thomas Scot merely confirm an impression
gained from the literature of the time that the witch executions were
becoming, throughout the seventies and early eighties, too common to be
remarkable. For the second period we have record of probably a larger
percentage of all the cases. For the whole time from 1563, when the new
law went into effect, down to 1603, we have records of nearly fifty
executions. Of these just about two-thirds occurred in the earlier
period, while of the acquittals two-thirds belong to the later period.
It would be rash to attach too much significance to these figures. As a
matter of fact, the records are so incomplete that the actual totals
have little if any meaning and only the proportions can be
considered.[30] Yet it looks as if the forces which caused the
persecution of witches in England were beginning to abate; and it may
fairly be inquired whether some new factor may not have entered into the
situation. It is time to speak of Reginald Scot and of the exorcists.

[1] Who from a confession made in 1579 seems to have been her sister.
See the pamphlet A Detection of damnable driftes, practised by three
Witches arraigned at Chelmsforde in Essex at the last Assizes there
holden, which were executed in Aprill, 1579 (London, 1579).

[2] E. g.: "I was afearde for he [the dog with horns] skypped and
leaped to and fro, and satte on the toppe of a nettle."

[3] Whether Agnes Waterhouse had a "daggar's knife" and whether the dog
had the face of an ape.

[4] An offer which indicates that he was acting as judge.

[5] She was questioned on her church habits. She claimed to be a regular
attendant; she "prayed right hartely there." She admitted, however, that
she prayed "in laten" because Sathan would not let her pray in English.

[6] There is of course the further possibility that the pamphlet account
was largely invented. A critical examination of the pamphlet tends to
establish its trustworthiness. See appendix A, Sec. 1.

[7] Alice Chandler was probably hanged at this time. The failure to
mention her name is easily explained when we remember that the pamphlet
was issued in two parts, as soon as possible after the event. Alice
Chandler's case probably did not come up for trial until the two parts
of the pamphlet had already been published. See A Detection of damnable

[8] Mother Staunton, who had apparently made some pretensions to the
practice of magic, was arraigned on several charges. She had been
refused her requests by several people, who had thereupon suffered some

[9] It is possible that the whole affair started from the whim of a sick
child, who, when she saw Elleine Smith, cried, "Away with the witch."

[10] A caution here. The pamphlets were hastily compiled and perhaps
left out important facts.

[11] Her eight-year-old boy was probably illegitimate.

[12] Mother Waterhouse's knowledge of Latin, if that is more than the
fiction of a Protestant pamphleteer, is rather remarkable.

[13] Allowance must be made for a very prejudiced reporter, i. e., the
judge himself.

[14] These details were very probably suggested to her by the judge.

[15] Who promised her also "favour."

[16] The detestable methods of Justice Darcy come out in the case of a
woman from whom he threatened to remove her imps if she did not confess,
and by that means trapped her into the incriminating statement, "That
shal ye not."

[17] William Hooke had heard William Newman "bid the said Ales his wife
to beate it away." Comparable with this was the evidence of Margerie
Sammon who "sayeth that the saide widow Hunt did tell her that shee had
harde the said Joan Pechey, being in her house, verie often to chide and
vehemently speaking, ... and sayth that shee went in to see, ... shee
founde no bodie but herselfe alone."

[18] Reginald Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft, 542, says of this trial,
"In the meane time let anie man with good consideration peruse that
booke published by W. W. and it shall suffice to satisfie him in all
that may be required.... See whether the witnesses be not single, of
what credit, sex, and age they are; namelie lewd miserable and envious
poore people; most of them which speake to anie purpose being old women
and children of the age of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 yeares."

[19] There can be no doubt that Brian Darcy either wrote the account
himself or dictated it to "W. W." The frequent use of "me," meaning by
that pronoun the judge, indicates that he was responsible.

[20] It is some relief in this trial to read the testimony of John
Tendering about William Byett. He had a cow "in a strange case." He
could not lift it. He put fire under the cow, she got up and "there
stood still and fell a byting of stickes larger than any man's finger
and after lived and did well."

[21] Second wife of Sir Henry Cromwell, who was the grandfather of

[22] The children were strangely inconsistent. At the first they had
fits when Mother Samuel appeared. Later they were troubled unless Mother
Samuel were kept in the house, or unless they were taken to her house.

[23] This device seems to have been originally suggested by the children
to try Mother Samuel's guilt.

[24] The clergyman, "Doctor Dorrington," had been one of the leaders in
prosecuting them.

[25] Harsnett, Discovery of the Fraudulent Practises of John Darrel
(London, 1599), 92, 97.

[26] Among the manuscripts on witchcraft in the Bodleian Library are
three such pardons of witches for their witchcraft--one of Jane Mortimer
in 1595, one of Rosa Bexwell in 1600, and one of "Alice S.," without
date but under Elizabeth.

[27] In 1595 he was made warden of the Manchester Collegiate Church. Dee
has in our days found a biographer. See John Dee (1527-1608), by
Charlotte Fell Smith (London, 1909).

[28] For the particular case, see Mary Bateson, ed., Records of the
Borough of Leicester (Cambridge, 1899), III. 335; for the general
letters patent covering such cases see id., II, 365, 366.

[29] For this story see Ralph Holinshed, Chronicles of England,
Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1577, reprinted 1586-1587 and
1807-1808), ed. of 1807-1808, IV, 891, 893. Faversham was then

[30] Justice Anderson, when sentencing a witch to a year's imprisonment,
declared that this was the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth witch he had
condemned. This is good evidence that the records of many cases have
been lost. See Brit. Mus., Sloane MS. 831, f. 38.

Next: Reginald Scot

Previous: The Beginnings Of English Witchcraft

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 708