Notable Jacobean Cases

It is possible to sift, to analyze, and to reconstruct the material

derived from witch trials until some few conclusions about a given

period can be ventured. A large proportion of cases can be proved to

belong in this or that category, a certain percentage of the women can

be shown to possess these or those traits in common. Yet it is quite

thinkable that one might be armed with a quiver full of generalizations,

and f
il, withal, to comprehend Jacobean witchcraft. If one could have

asked information on the subject from a Londoner of 1620, he would

probably have heard little about witchcraft in general, but a very great

deal about the Lancashire, Northampton, Leicester, Lincoln, and Fairfax

trials. The Londoner might have been able to tell the stories complete

of all those famous cases. He would have been but poorly informed could

he not have related some of them, and the listener would have caught the

surface drift of those stories. But a witch panic is a subtle thing, not

to be understood by those who do not follow all its deeper sequences.

The springs of the movement, the interaction of cause and effect, the

operation of personal traits, these are factors that must be evaluated,

and they are not factors that can be fitted into a general scheme,

labelled and classified.

This does not mean that the cases should be examined in chronological

sequence. That is not necessary; for the half-dozen cases that we shall

run over had little or no cause-and-effect connection with one another.

It is convenient, indeed, to make some classification, and the simplest

is that by probable origin, especially as it will enable us to emphasize

that important feature of the trials. Now, by this method the six or

more trials of note may be grouped under three headings: cases that seem

to have originated in the actual practice of magic, cases where the

victims of convulsions and fits started the furor, and cases that were

simply the last stage of bitter quarrels or the result of grudges.

To the first group belongs the Lancastrian case of 1612, which, however,

may also be classed under the last heading. No case in the course of the

superstition in England gained such wide fame. Upon it Shadwell founded

in part a well-known play, The Lancashire Witches, while poets and

writers of prose have referred to it until the two words have been

linked in a phrase that has given them lasting association. It was in

the lonely forest of Pendle among the wild hills of eastern Lancashire

that there lived two hostile families headed by Elizabeth Southerns, or

"Old Demdike," and by Anne Chattox. The latter was a wool carder, "a

very old, withered, spent, and decreped creature," "her lippes ever

chattering"; the former a blind beggar of four-score years, "a generall

agent for the Devell in all these partes," and a "wicked fire-brand of

mischiefe," who had brought up her children and grandchildren to be

witches. Both families professed supernatural practices. Both families

no doubt traded on the fear they inspired. Indeed Dame Chattox was said

to have sold her guarantee to do no harm in return for a fixed annual

payment of "one aghen-dole of meale."

That there was a feud between the two clans was to be expected. They

were at once neighbors and competitors, and were engaged in a career in

which they must plot each against the other, and suspect each other.

There are hints of other difficulties. Years before there had been a

quarrel over stolen property. Demdike's daughter had missed clothes and

food to the value of 20 shillings, and had later found some of the

clothing in the possession of Chattox's daughter. A more serious

difficulty involved a third family: a member of the Nutter family,

well-to-do people in Lancashire, had sought to seduce old Chattox's

married daughter, and, when repelled, had warned her that when he

inherited the property where she lived she should be evicted. Chattox

had retaliated by seeking to kill Nutter by witchcraft, and had been

further incited thereto by three women, who wished to be rid of Nutter,

in order that "the women, their coosens, might have the land." As a

consequence Nutter had died within three months. The quarrel, indeed,

was three-cornered. It was said that Demdike's daughter had fashioned a

clay picture of a Nutter woman.[1]

We have all the elements here of a mountain feud; but, in place of the

revolvers and Kentucky moonshine of to-day, we have clay images and

Satanic banquets. The battles were to be fought out with imps of Hell as

participants and with ammunition supplied by the Evil One himself. It

was this connection with a reservoir of untouched demoniacal powers that

made the quarrel of the miserable mountaineers the most celebrated

incident in Lancashire story. Here were charmers and "inchanters,"

experienced dealers in magic, struggling against one another. Small

wonder that the community became alarmed and that Roger Nowell, justice

of the peace, suddenly swooped down upon the Pendle families. It was but

a short time before he had four women cooped up in Lancaster castle. In

a few days more he was able to get confessions out of them. They

admitted acquaintance with the Devil and implicated one another.

Now comes the strange part of the story. According to confessions made

later, Elizabeth Device, not yet shut up, but likely to be at any time,

called a meeting on Good Friday of all the witches in Pendle forest.

They were to come to her home at Malking Tower to plot the delivery of

the imprisoned women by the blowing up of Lancaster castle.[2] The

affair took the form of a dinner; and beef, bacon, and roasted mutton

were served. "All the witches went out of the said House in their owne

shapes and likenesses. And they all, by that they were forth of the

dores, gotten on Horsebacke, like unto Foales, some of one colour, some

of another; and Preston's wife was the last; and, when shee got on

Horsebacke, they all presently vanished out of ... sight." This was the

story, and the various witnesses agreed remarkably well as to its main

details. Those who believed in the "sabbath" of witches must have felt

their opinions confirmed by the testimony of the witnesses at Lancaster.

Even the modern reader, with his skepticism, is somewhat daunted by the

cumulative force of what purports to be the evidence and would fain

rationalize it by supposing that some sort of a meeting actually did

take place at Malking Tower and that some Pendle men and women who had

delved in magic arts till they believed in them did formulate plans for

revenge. But this is not a probable supposition. The concurring evidence

in the Malking Tower story is of no more compelling character than that

to be found in a multitude of Continental stories of witch gatherings

which have been shown to be the outcome of physical or mental pressure

and of leading questions. It seems unnecessary to accept even a

substratum of fact.[3] Probably one of the accused women invented the

story of the witch feast after the model of others of which she had

heard, or developed it under the stimulus of suggestive questions from a

justice. Such a narrative, once started, would spread like wildfire and

the witnesses and the accused who were persuaded to confess might tell

approximately the same story. A careful re-reading of all this evidence

suggests that the various testimonies may indeed have been echoes of the

first narrative. They seem to lack those characteristic differences

which would stamp them as independent accounts. Moreover, when the story

was once started, it is not improbable that the justices and the judges

would assist the witnesses by framing questions based upon the narrative

already given. It cannot be said that the evidence exists upon which to

establish this hypothesis. There is little to show that the witnesses

were adroitly led into their narratives. But we know from other trials

that the method was so often adopted that it is not a far cry to suspect

that it was used at Lancaster.

It is not worth while to trace out the wearisome details that were

elicited by confession. Those already in prison made confessions that

implicated others, until the busy justices of the peace had shut up

sixteen women and four men to be tried at the assizes. Sir Edward

Bromley and Sir James Altham, who were then on the northern circuit,

reached Lancaster on the sixteenth of August. In the meantime, "Old

Demdike," after a confession of most awful crimes, had died in prison.

All the others were put on trial. Thomas Potts compiled a very careful

abstract of all the testimony taken, perhaps the most detailed account

of a witch trial written in the English language, with the possible

exception of the St. Oses affair. The evidence was in truth of a

somewhat similar type. Secret interviews with the Evil One, promises of

worldly riches, a contract sealed with blood, little shapes of dogs,

cats, and hares, clay pictures that had been dried and had crumpled,

threats and consequent "languishing" and death, these were the trappings

of the stories. The tales were old. Only the Malking Tower incident was

new. But its very novelty gave a plausibility to the stories that were

woven around it. There was not a single person to interpose a doubt. The

cross-examinations were nothing more than feeble attempts to bring out

further charges.

Though there is in the record little suggestion of the use of pressure

to obtain the confessions, the fact that three were retracted leads to

a suspicion that they had not been given quite freely. There was

doubtless something contagious about the impulse to confess. It is,

nevertheless, a curious circumstance that five members of the two rival

Pendle families made confession, while all the others whom their

confessions had involved stuck to it that they were innocent.[4] Among

those who persisted in denying their guilt Alice Nutter merits special

note. We have already mentioned her in the last chapter as an example of

a well-to-do and well connected woman who fell a victim to the

Lancashire excitement.[5] The evidence against the woman was perhaps the

flimsiest ever offered to a court. Elizabeth Device, daughter of "Old

Demdike," and her two children were the chief accusers. Elizabeth had

seen her present at the Malking Tower meeting. Moreover, she stated that

Alice had helped her mother ("Old Demdike") bewitch a man to death. Her

son had heard his grandmother Demdike narrate the incident. This

testimony and his sister's definite statement that Alice Nutter attended

the Malking Tower meeting established Mistress Nutter's guilt.[6] The

judge, indeed, was "very suspitious of the accusation of this yong

wench, Jennet Device," and, as we have already seen, caused her to be

sent out of the court room till the accused lady could be placed among

other prisoners, when the girl was recalled and required before the

great audience present to pick out the witch, as, of course, she easily

did, and as easily escaped another transparent trap.[7]

The two children figured prominently from this on. The nine-year-old

girl gave evidence as to events of three years before, while the young

man, who could hardly have been out of his teens,[8] recounted what had

happened twelve years earlier. It was their testimony against their

mother that roused most interest. Although of a circumstantial

character, it fitted in most remarkable fashion into the evidence

already presented.[9] The mother, says the nonchalant pamphleteer,

indignantly "cryed out against the child," cursing her so outrageously

that she was removed from the room while the child kept the stand. It is

useless to waste sympathy upon a mother who was getting at the hands of

her children the same treatment she had given her own mother Demdike.

The Chattox family held together better. Mistress Redfearne had been

carefully shielded in the testimony of her mother Chattox, but she fell

a victim to the accusations of the opposing family. The course of her

trial was remarkable. Denying her guilt with great emphasis, she had by

some wonder been acquitted. But this verdict displeased the people in

attendance upon the trial. Induced by the cries of the people, the court

was persuaded to try her again. The charge against her was exactly the

same, that eighteen years before she had participated in killing

Christopher Nutter with a clay figure. "Old Demdike" had seen her in the

act of making the image, and there was offered also the testimony of

the sister and brother of the dead man, who recalled that Robert Nutter

on his death-bed had accused Anne of his bewitchment.[10] It does not

seem to have occurred to the court that the principle that a person

could not twice be put in jeopardy for the same offence was already an

old principle in English law.[11] The judges were more concerned with

appeasing the people than with recalling old precedents, and sent the

woman to the gallows.

The Pendle cases were interrupted on the third day by the trial of three

women from Salmesbury, who pleaded not guilty and put themselves "upon

God and their Countrey." The case against them rested upon the testimony

of a single young woman, Grace Sowerbutts, who declared that for the

three years past she had been vexed by the women in question, who "did

violently draw her by the haire of the head, and layd her on the toppe

of a Hay-mowe." This delightfully absurd charge was coupled with some

testimony about the appearances of the accused in animal form. Three men

attempted to bolster up the story; but no "matter of witchcraft" was

proved, says the for once incredulous Mr. Potts. The women seized the

decisive moment. They kneeled before the judge and requested him to

examine Grace Sowerbutts as to who set her on. The judge--who had

seemingly not thought of this before--followed the suggestion. The girl

changed countenance and acknowledged that she had been taught her story.

At the order of the judge she was questioned by a clergyman and two

justices of the peace, who found that she had been coached to tell her

story by a Master Thompson, alias Southworth, a "seminarie priest." So

ended the charges against the Salmesbury witches.

One would suppose that this verdict might have turned the tide in the

other cases. But the evidence, as Potts is careful to show, lest the

reader should draw a wrong conclusion, was of very different character

in the other trials. They were all finished on the third day of court

and turned over to the jury. Five of the accused, exclusive of those at

Salmesbury, were acquitted, one condemned to a year's imprisonment, and

ten sentenced to death. To this number should be added Jennet Preston,

who had in the preceding month been tried at York for the killing of a

Mr. Lister, and who was named by the Lancaster witnesses as one of the

gang at Malking Tower.

So ended the Lancashire trials of 1612. The most remarkable event of the

sort in James's reign, they were clearly the outcome of his writings and

policy. Potts asks pointedly: "What hath the King's Maiestie written and

published in his Daemonologie by way of premonition and prevention, which

hath not here by the first or last beene executed, put in practice, or


Our second group of cases includes those where convulsive and

"possessed" persons had started the alarm. The Northampton, Leicester,

and Lichfield cases were all instances in point. The last two, however,

may be omitted here because they will come up in another connection. The

affair at Northampton in 1612, just a month earlier than the Lancashire

affair, merits notice. Elizabeth Belcher and her brother, "Master

Avery," were the disturbing agents. Mistress Belcher had long been

suffering with an illness that baffled diagnosis. It was suggested to

her that the cause was witchcraft. A list of women reputed to be witches

was repeated to her. The name of Joan Brown seemed to impress her. "Hath

shee done it?" she asked.[12] The name was repeated to her and from that

time she held Joan guilty.[13] Joan and her mother were shut up.

Meantime Master Avery began to take fits and to aid his sister in making

accusation. Between them they soon had accused six women for their

afflictions. The stir brought to the surface the hidden suspicions of

others. There was a witch panic and the justices of the peace[14]

scurried hither and thither till they had fourteen witches locked up in

Northampton. When the trial came off at Northampton, Master Avery was

the hero. He re-enacted the role of the Throckmorton children at Warboys

with great success. When he came to court--he came in a "coch"--he was

at once stricken with convulsions. His torments in court were very

convincing. It is pleasant to know that when he came out of his seizure

he would talk very "discreetly, christianly, and charitably." Master

Avery was versatile, however. His evidence against the women rested by

no means alone on his seizures. He had countless apparitions in which he

saw the accused;[15] he had been mysteriously thrown from a horse;

strangest of all, he had foretold at a certain time that if any one

should go down to the gaol and listen to the voices of the witches, he

could not understand a word. Whereupon a Master of Arts of Trinity

College, Oxford, went off to the prison at the uncanny hour of two in

the morning and "heard a confused noise of much chattering and chiding,

but could not discover a ready word."

Master Avery had a great deal more to tell, but the jury seem not to

have fully credited him.[16] They convicted Joan Brown and her mother,

however, on the charges of Elizabeth and her brother. Three others were

found guilty upon other counts. None of them, so far as the records go,

and the records were careful on this point, admitted any guilt.[17] The

one young man among those who were hanged bitterly resisted his

conviction from the beginning and died declaring that authority had

turned to tyranny. He might well feel so. His father and mother had both

been tortured by the water ordeal, and his mother had been worried till

she committed suicide in prison.

This brings us to the third sort of cases, those that were the outcome

of quarrels or grudges. It has already been observed that the Lancashire

affair could very well be reckoned under this heading. It is no

exaggeration to say that a goodly percentage of all other witch trials

in the reign of James could be classified in the same way. Most notable

among them was the famous trial of the Belvoir witches at Lincoln in

1618-1619. The trial has received wide notice because it concerned a

leading family--perhaps the wealthiest in England--the great Catholic

family of Manners, of which the Earl of Rutland was head. The effort to

account for the mysterious illness of his young heir and for that which

had a few years earlier carried off the boy's elder brother led to a

charge of witchcraft against three humble women of the neighborhood. The

Rutland affair shows how easily a suspicion of witchcraft might involve

the fortunes of the lowly with those of the great. Joan Flower and her

two daughters had been employed as charwomen in Belvoir Castle, the home

of the Rutlands. One of the daughters, indeed, had been put in charge of

"the poultrey abroad and the washhouse within dores." But this daughter

seems not to have given satisfaction to the countess in her work, some

other causes of disagreement arose which involved Mother Flower, and

both Mother Flower and her daughter were sent away from the castle. This

was the beginning of the trouble. Mother Flower "cursed them all that

were the cause of this discontentment." Naturally little heed was paid

to her grumblings. Such things were common enough and it did not even

occur to any one, when the eldest son of the earl sickened and died,

that the event was in any way connected with the malice of the Flowers.

It was not until about five years later, when the younger son Francis

fell sick of an illness to prove fatal, that suspicion seems to have

lighted upon the three women.[18] The circumstances that led to their

discharge were then recalled and along with them a mass of idle gossip

and scandal against the women. It was remembered that Mother Joan was

"a monstrous malicious woman, full of oathes, curses, and imprecations

irreligious." Some of her neighbors "dared to affirme that she dealt

with familiar spirits, and terrified them all with curses and threatning

of revenge." At length, in February of 1618/19, on the return of the

earl from attending His Majesty "both at Newmarket before Christmas and

at Christmas at Whitehall," the women were fetched before justices of

the peace, who bound them over to the assizes at Lincoln. Mother Flower

died on the way to Lincoln, but the two daughters were tried there

before Sir Edward Bromley, who had been judge at the Lancashire trials,

and before Sir Henry Hobart. The women made a detailed confession of

weird crimes. There were tales of gloves belonging to the two young sons

of the earl, gloves that had been found in uncanny places and had been

put in hot water and rubbed upon Rutterkin the cat--or spirit. There

were worse stories that will not bear repetition. Needless to say,

Margaret and Philippa Flower were convicted and hanged.[19]

The Rutland cases have been used to illustrate how the witch accusation

might arise out of a grudge or quarrel. There were three or four other

cases that illustrate this origin of the charge. The first is that of

Johanna Harrison--she has been mentioned in the previous chapter--who

had an "altercation" with a neighbor. Of course she threatened him, he

fell ill, and he scratched her.[20] But here the commonplace tale takes

a new turn. She had him arrested and was awarded five shillings damages

and her costs of suit. No wonder the man fell sick again. Perhaps--but

this cannot be certain--it was the same man who was drinking his ale one

day with his fellows when she entered and stood "gloating" over him. He

turned and said, "Doe you heare, Witch, looke tother waies." The woman

berated him with angry words, and, feeling ill the next morning--he had

been drinking heavily the night before--he dragged her off to the

justice. A few weeks later she and her daughter were hanged at


The story of Mother Sutton and Master Enger has been referred to in

several connections, but it will bear telling in narrative form. Mother

Sutton was a poor tenant of Master Enger's, "a gentleman of worship,"

who often bestowed upon her "food and cloathes." On account of her want

she had been chosen village "hog-heard," and had for twenty years

fulfilled the duties of her office "not without commendations." But it

happened that she quarreled one day with her benefactor, and then his

difficulties began. The tale is almost too trivial for repetition, but

is nevertheless characteristic. Master Enger's servants were taking some

corn to market, when they met "a faire black sowe" grazing. The wayward

beast began turning round "as readily as a Windmill sail at worke; and

as sodainly their horses fell to starting and drawing some one way, some

another." They started off with the cart of corn, but broke from it and

ran away. The servants caught them and went on to Bedford with the load.

But the sow followed. When the corn had been sold, one of the servants

went home, the other stayed with his "boone companions." When he rode

home later, he found the sow grazing outside of town. It ran by his

side, and the horses ran away again. But the servants watched the sow

and saw it enter Mother Sutton's house. Master Enger made light of the

story when it was told to him, and, with remarkable insight for a

character in a witch story, "supposed they were drunke." But a few days

later the same servant fell into conversation with Mother Sutton, when a

beetle came and struck him. He fell into a trance, and then went home

and told his master. The next night the servant said that Mary Sutton

entered his room--the vision we have already described.[22]

The rest of the story the reader knows from the last chapter. Mother

Sutton and her daughter were put to various ordeals and at length

hanged. Doubtless the imaginative servant, who had in some way, perhaps,

been involved in the original quarrel, gained favor with his master, and

standing in the community.[23]

The tale of the Bakewell witches is a very curious one and, though not

to be confidently depended upon, may suggest how it was possible to

avail oneself of superstition in order to repay a grudge. A Scotchman

staying at a lodging-house in Bakewell fell in debt to his landlady, who

retained some of his clothes as security. He went to London, concealed

himself in a cellar, and was there found by a watchman, who arrested him

for being in an unoccupied house with felonious intent. He professed to

be dazed and declared that he was at Bakewell in Derbyshire at three

o'clock that morning. He explained it by the fact that he had repeated

certain words which he had heard his lodging-house keeper and her sister

say. The judge was amazed, the man's depositions were taken down, and he

was sent to the justices of Derby.

All that we really know about the Bakewell affair is that several

witches probably suffered death there in 1607. A local antiquarian has

given this tale of how the alarm started.[24] While it is unlike any

other narrative of witchcraft, it is not necessarily without foundation.

The reader has doubtless observed that the cases which we have been

describing occurred, all of them with one exception, between 1603 and

1619. In discussing the matter of the distribution of witchcraft in the

last chapter we noted that not only executions for the crime, but even

accusations and indictments, were nearly altogether limited to the first

fifteen years of James's rule. If it is true that there was a rather

sudden falling off of prosecution in the reign of the zealous James, the

fact merits explanation. Fortunately the explanation is not far to seek.

The king's faith in the verity of many of the charges made against

witches had been rudely shaken. As a matter of fact there had always

been a grain of skepticism in his make-up. This had come out even before

he entered England. In 1597 he had become alarmed at the spread of

trials in Scotland and had revoked all the commissions then in force for

the trial of the offence.[25] At the very time when he became king of

England, there were special circumstances that must have had weight with

him. Throughout the last years of Elizabeth's reign there had been, as

we have seen, a morbid interest in demoniacal possession, an interest to

which sensation-mongers were quickly minded to respond. We saw that at

the end of the sixteenth century the Anglican church stepped in to put

down the exorcizing of spirits,[26] largely perhaps because it had been

carried on by Catholics and by a Puritan clergyman. Yet neither

Harsnett's book nor Darrel's imprisonment quite availed to end a

practice which offered at all times to all comers a path to notoriety.

James had not been on the English throne a year when he became

interested in a case of this kind. Mary Glover, a girl alleged to have

been bewitched by a Mother Jackson, was at the king's wish examined by a

skilled physician, Dr. Edward Jorden, who recognized her fits as

disease, brought the girl to a confession, published an account of the

matter, and so saved the life of the woman whom she had accused.[27]

In the very next year there was a case at Cambridge that gained royal

notice. It is not easy to straighten out the facts from the letters on

the matter, but it seems that two Cambridge maids had a curious disease

suggesting bewitchment.[28] A Franciscan and a Puritan clergyman were,

along with others, suspected. The matter was at once referred to the

king and the government. James directed that examinations be made and

reported to him. This was done. James wormed out of the "principal" some

admission of former dealing with conjuration, but turned the whole thing

over to the courts, where it seems later to have been established that

the disease of the bewitched maidens was "naturall."

These were but the first of several impostures that interested the king.

A girl at Windsor, another in Hertfordshire, were possessed by the

Devil,[29] two maids at Westminster were "in raptures from the Virgin

Mary and Michael the Archangel,"[30] a priest of Leicestershire was

"possessed of the Blessed Trinity."[31] Such cases--not to mention the

Grace Sowerbutts confessions at Lancaster that were like to end so

tragically--were the excrescences of an intensely religious age. The

reader of early colonial diaries in America will recognize the

resemblance of these to the wonders they report. James took such with

extreme seriousness.[32] The possessed person was summoned to court for

exhibition, or the king went out of his way to see him. It is a matter

of common information that James prided himself on his cleverness.

Having succeeded in detecting certain frauds, he became an expert

detective. In one instance "he ordered it so that a proper courtier made

love to one of these bewitched maids"[33] and soon got her over her

troubles. In another case a woman "strangely affected" by the first

verse of John's Gospel failed to recognize it when read in Greek,[34]

proof positive that the omniscient Devil did not possess her.

Three instances of exposure of imposture were most notable, those of

Grace Sowerbutts, the boy at Leicester, and the "Boy of Bilston." The

first of these has already been sufficiently discussed in connection

with the Lancashire trials. The second had nothing remarkable about it.

A twelve or thirteen-year-old boy had fits which he said were caused by

spirits sent by several women whom he accused as witches. Nine women

were hanged, while six more were under arrest and would probably have

met the same end, had not the king in his northward progress, while

stopping at Leicester, detected the shamming.[35] Whether or no the boy

was punished we are not told. It is some satisfaction that the judges

were disgraced.[36]

The boy of Bilston was, if Webster may be believed,[37] the most famous,

if not the most successful, fraud of all. The case was heralded over the

entire realm and thousands came to see. The story is almost an exact

duplicate of earlier narratives of possession. A thirteen-year-old boy

of Bilston in Staffordshire, William Perry, began to have fits and to

accuse a Jane Clarke, whose presence invariably made him worse. He "cast

out of his mouth rags, thred, straw, crooked pins." These were but

single deceptions in a repertoire of varied tricks. Doubtless he had

been trained in his role by a Roman priest. At any rate the Catholics

tried exorcism upon him, but to no purpose. Perhaps some Puritans

experimented with cures which had like result.[38] The boy continued his

spasms and his charges against the witch and she was brought into court

at the July assizes. But Bishop Morton,[39] before whose chancellor the

boy had first been brought, was present, and the judges turned the boy

over to him for further investigation.[40] Then, with the help of his

secretary, he set about to test the boy, and readily exposed his

deception--in most curious fashion too. The boy, like one we have met

before, could not endure the first verse of John's Gospel, but failed to

recognize it when read in the Greek. After that he was secretly watched

and his somewhat elaborate preparations for his pretences were found

out. He was persuaded to confess his trickery in court before Sir Peter

Warburton and Sir Humphrey Winch, "and the face of the County and

Country there assembled,"[41] as well as to beg forgiveness of the women

whom he had accused.

It will be seen that the records of imposture were well on their way to

rival the records of witchcraft, if not in numbers, at least in the

notice that they received. And the king who had so bitterly arraigned

Reginald Scot was himself becoming the discoverer-general of

England.[42] It is not, then, without being forewarned that we read

Fuller's remarkable statement about the king's change of heart. "The

frequency of such forged possessions wrought such an alteration upon the

judgement of King James that he, receding from what he had written in

his 'Daemonology,' grew first diffident of, and then flatly to deny, the

workings of witches and devils, as but falsehoods and delusions."[43] In

immediate connection with this must be quoted what Francis Osborne has

to say.[44] He was told, he writes, that the king would have gone as far

as to deny any such operations, but out of reasons of state and to

gratify the church.[45]

Such a conversion is so remarkable that we could wish we had absolutely

contemporary statements of it. As a matter of fact, the statements we

have quoted establish nothing more than a probability, but they

certainly do establish that. Fuller, the church historian, responsible

for the first of the two statements, was a student in Queen's

College[46] at Cambridge during the last four years of James's reign;

Osborne was a man of thirty-two when the king died, and had spent a

part of his young manhood at the court. Their testimony was that of men

who had every opportunity to know about the king's change of

opinion.[47] In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must

accept, at least provisionally, their statements.[48] And it is easier

to do so in view of the marked falling off of prosecutions that we have

already noted. This indeed is confirmation of a negative sort; but we

have one interesting bit of affirmative proof, the outcome of the trials

at York in 1622. In that year the children of Mr. Edward Fairfax, a

member of the historic Fairfax family of Yorkshire, were seized with

some strange illness, in which they saw again and again the spectres of

six different women. These women were examined by the justices of the

peace and committed to the assizes.[49] In the mean time they had found

able and vigorous defenders in the community. What happened at the April

assizes we no not know, but we know that four of the women were

released, two of them on bond.[50] This was probably a compromise method

of settling the matter. Fairfax was not satisfied. Probably through his

influence the women were again brought up at the August assizes.[51]

Then, at least, as we know beyond a doubt, they were formally tried,

this time upon indictments preferred by Fairfax himself.[52] The judge

warned the jury to be very careful, and, after hearing some of the

evidence, dismissed the women on the ground that the evidence "reached

not to the point of the statute."[53] This seems significant. A man of a

well known county family was utterly baffled in pressing charges in a

case where his own children were involved.[54] It looks as if there were

judges who were following the king's lead in looking out for

imposture.[55] In any case there was, in certain quarters, a public

sentiment against the conviction of witches, a sentiment that made

itself felt. This we shall have occasion to note again in following out

the currents and fluctuations of opinions.

[1] Of course the proof that some of the accused really made pretensions

to magic rests upon their own confessions and their accusations of one

another, and might be a part of an intricate tissue of falsehood. But,

granting for the moment the absolute untrustworthiness of the

confessions and accusations there are incidental statements which imply

the practice of magic. For example, Elizabeth Device's young daughter

quoted a long charm which she said her mother had taught her and which

she hardly invented on the spur of the moment. And Demdike was requested

to "amend a sick cow."

[2] The gunpowder plot, seven years earlier, no doubt gave direction to

this plan, or, perhaps it would be better to say, gave the idea to those

who confessed the plan.

[3] James Crossley seems to believe that there was "some scintilla of

truth" behind the story. See his edition of Potts, notes, p. 40.

[4] Among those who never confessed seems to have been Chattox's

daughter, Anne Redfearne.

[5] See above, p. 116.

[6] It is a satisfaction to know that Alice died "impenitent," and that

not even her children could "move her to confesse."

[7] See above, pp. 112-113, and Potts, Q-Q verso.

[8] See Potts, I.

[9] It can hardly be doubted that the children had been thoroughly

primed with the stories in circulation against their mother.

[10] Other witnesses charged her with "many strange practises."

[11] The principle that a man's life may not twice be put in jeopardy

for the same offence had been pretty well established before 1612. See

Darly's Case, 25 Eliz. (1583), Coke's Reports (ed. Thomas and Fraser,

London, 1826), IV, f. 40; Vaux's Case, 33 Eliz. (1591), ibid., f. 45;

Wrote vs. Wiggs, 33 Eliz. (1591), ibid., f. 47. This principle had

been in process of development for several centuries. See Bracton (ed.

Sir Travers Twiss, London, 1878-1883), II, 417, 433, 437; Britton (ed.

F. M. Nichols, Oxford, 1865), bk. I, cap. xxiv, 5, f. 44 b.

It must be noted, however, that the statute of 3 Hen. VII, cap. II,

provides that indictments shall be proceeded in, immediately, at the

king's suit, for the death of a man, without waiting for bringing an

appeal; and that the plea of antefort acquit in an indictment shall be

no bar to the prosecuting of an appeal. This law was passed to get

around special legal inconvenience and related only to homicide and to

the single case of prosecution by appeal. In general, then, we may say

that the former-jeopardy doctrine was part of the common law, (1) an

appeal of felony being a bar to subsequent appeal or indictment, (2) an

indictment a bar to a subsequent indictment, and (3) an indictment to a

subsequent appeal, except so far as the statute of 3 Hen. VII., cap. II,

changed the law as respects homicides. For this brief statement I am

indebted to Professor William Underhill Moore of the University of


What Potts has to say about Anne Redfearne's case hardly enables us to

reach a conclusion about the legal aspect of it.

[12] This is the story in the MS. account (Brit. Mus., Sloane, 972). The

printed narrative of the origin of the affair is somewhat different.

Joan had on one occasion been struck by Mistress Belcher for unbecoming

behavior and had cherished a grudge. No doubt this was a point recalled

against Joan after suspicion had been directed against her.

[13] In John Cotta's The Triall of Witchcraft ... (London, 1616),

66-67, there is a very interesting statement which probably refers to

this case. Cotta, it will be remembered, was a physician at Northampton.

He wrote: "There is a very rare, but true, description of a Gentlewoman,

about sixe yeares past, cured of divers kinds of convulsions, ... After

she was almost cured, ... but the cure not fully accomplished, it was by

a reputed Wisard whispered ... that the Gentlewoman was meerely

bewitched, supposed Witches were accused and after executed.... In this

last past seventh yeare ... fits are critically again returned." Cotta

says six years ago and the Northampton trials were in 1612, four years

before. It is quite possible, however, that Mistress Belcher began to be

afflicted in 1610.

[14] One of these was Sir Gilbert Pickering of Tichmarsh, almost

certainly the Gilbert Pickering mentioned as an uncle of the

Throckmorton children at Warboys. See above, pp. 47-48. His hatred of

witches had no doubt been increased by that affair.

[15] See what is said of spectral evidence in chapter V, above.

[16] At least there is no evidence that Alice Abbott, Catherine

Gardiner, and Alice Harris, whom he accused, were punished in any way.

[17] It seems, however, that Arthur Bill, while he sturdily denied

guilt, had been before trapped into some sort of an admission. He had

"unawares confest that he had certaine spirits at command." But this may

mean nothing more than that something he had said had been grossly


[18] Three women of Leicestershire, Anne Baker, Joan Willimot, and Ellen

Greene, who in their confessions implicated the Flowers (they belonged

to parishes neighbor to that of Belvoir, which lies on the shire border)

and whose testimony against them figured in their trials, were at the

same time (Feb.-March, 1618/19) under examination in that county.

Whether these women were authors or victims of the Belvoir suspicions we

do not know. As we have their damning confessions, there is small doubt

as to their fate.

[19] The women were tried in March, 1618/19. Henry, the elder son of the

earl, was buried at Bottesford, September 26, 1613. John Nichols,

History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester (London,

1795-1815), II, pt. i, 49, note 10. Francis, the second, lingered till

early in 1620. His sister, Lady Katherine, whose delicate health had

also been ascribed to the witches, was now the heiress, and became in

that year the bride of Buckingham, the king's favorite. There is one

aspect of this affair that must not be overlooked. The accusation

against the Flowers cannot have been unknown to the king, who was a

frequent visitor at the seat of the Rutlands. It is hard to believe that

under such circumstances the use of torture, which James had declared

essential to bring out the guilt of the accused witches, was not after

some fashion resorted to. The weird and uncanny confessions go far

towards supporting such an hypothesis.

[20] The Most Cruell and Bloody Murther committed by ... Annis Dell,

... with the severall Witch-crafts ... of one Johane Harrison and her

Daughter, 63.

[21] This story must be accepted with hesitation; see below, appendix A,


[22] See above, pp. 110-111.

[23] The trial of Elizabeth Sawyer at Edmonton in 1621 had to do with

similar trivialities. Agnes Ratcliffe was washing one day, when a sow

belonging to Elizabeth licked up a bit of her washing soap. She struck

it with a "washing beetle." Of course she fell sick, and on her

death-bed accused Mistress Elizabeth Sawyer, who was afterwards hanged.

[24] See T. Tindall Wildridge, in William Andrews, Bygone Derbyshire

(Derby, 1892), 180-184. It has been impossible to locate the sources of

this story. J. Charles Cox, who explored the Derby records, seems never

to have discovered anything about the affair.

[25] See F. Legge, "Witchcraft in Scotland," in the Scottish Review,

XVIII, 264.

[26] See above, ch. IV, especially note 36.

[27] On Mary Glover see also appendix A, Sec. 2. On other impostures see

Thomas Fuller, Church History of Britain (London, 1655; Oxford, ed. J.

S. Brewer, 1845), ed. of 1845, V, 450; letters given by Edmund Lodge,

1791), III, 275, 284, 287-288; also King James, His Apothegms, by B.

A., Gent. (London, 1643), 8-10.

[28] Cal. St. P., Dom., 1603-1610, 218.

[29] Fuller, op. cit., V, 450.

[30] Ibid.; John Gee, The Foot out of the Snare, or Detection of

Practices and Impostures of Priests and Jesuits in England ... (London,

1624), reprinted in Somers Tracts, III, 72.

[31] Ibid.; Fuller, op. cit., V, 450.

[32] How much more seriously than his courtiers is suggested by an

anecdote of Sir John Harington's: James gravely questioned Sir John why

the Devil did work more with ancient women than with others. "We are

taught thereof in Scripture," gaily answered Sir John, "where it is told

that the Devil walketh in dry places." See his Nugae Antiquae (London,

1769), ed. of London, 1804, I, 368-369.

[33] Fuller, op. cit., V, 451.

[34] Ibid.

[35] The story of the hangings at Leicester in 1616 has to be put

together from various sources. Our principal authority, however, is in

two letters written by Robert Heyrick of Leicester to his brother

William in 1616, which are to be found in John Nichols, History and

Antiquities of the County of Leicester (London, 1795-1815), II, pt. ii,

471, and in the Annual Register for 1800. See also William Kelly,

Royal Progresses to Leicester (Leicester, 1884), 367-369. Probably

this is the case referred to by Francis Osborne, where the boy was sent

to the Archbishop of Canterbury for further examination. Osborne, who

wrote a good deal later than the events, apparently confused the story

of the Leicester witches with that of the Boy of Bilston--their origins

were similar--and produced a strange account; see his Miscellany of

Sundry Essays, Paradoxes and Problematicall Discourses (London,

1658-1659), 6-9.

[36] For the disgrace of the judges see Cal. St. P., Dom., 1611-1618,


[37] Webster knew Bishop Morton, and also his secretary, Baddeley, who

had been notary in the case and had written an account of it. See John

Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (London, 1677), 275.

[38] The Catholics declared that the Puritans tried "syllabub" upon him.

This was perhaps a sarcastic reference to their attempts to cure him by


[39] Then of Lichfield.

[40] Baddeley, who was Bishop Morton's secretary and who prepared the

narrative of the affair for the printer, says that the woman was freed

by the inquest; Ryc. Baddeley, The Boy of Bilson ... (London, 1622),

61. Arthur Wilson, who tells us that he heard the story "from the

Bishop's own mouth almost thirty years before it was inserted here,"

says that the woman was found guilty and condemned to die; Arthur

Wilson, Life and Reign of James I (London, 1653), 107. It is evident

that Baddeley's story is the more trustworthy. It is of course possible,

although not probable, that there were two trials, and that Baddeley

ignored the second one, the outcome of which would have been less

creditable to the bishop.

[41] Webster, Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, 275.

[42] See Fairfax, A Discourse of Witchcraft (Philobiblon Soc.): "and

those whose impostures our wise King so lately laid open." See also an

interesting letter from James himself in J. O. Halliwell, Letters of

the Kings of England (London, 1846), II, 124-125.

[43] Fuller, Church History of Britain, V, 452 (ch. X, sect. 4). It is

worthy of note that Peter Heylyn, who, in his Examen Historicum

(London, 1659), sought to pick Fuller to pieces, does not mention this


[44] See Francis Osborne, Miscellany, 4-9. Lucy Aikin, Memoirs of the

Court of King James the First (London, 1823), II, 398-399, gives about

the same story as Fuller and Osborne, and, while the wording is slightly

different, it is probable that they were her sources.

[45] Arthur Wilson, op. cit., 111, tells us: "The King took delight by

the line of his reason to sound the depth of such brutish impostors, and

he discovered many." A writer to the Gentleman's Magazine (LIV, pt. I,

246-247), in 1784, says that he has somewhere read that King James on

his death-bed acknowledged that he had been deceived in his opinion

respecting witchcraft and expressed his concern that so many innocent

persons had suffered on that account. But, as he has forgotten where he

read it, his evidence is of course of small value.

[46] The college where an annual sermon was preached on the subject of

witchcraft since the Warboys affair.

[47] Osborne's statement should perhaps be discounted a little on

account of his skepticism. On the other hand he was not such an admirer

of James I as to have given him undue credit. Fuller's opinion was


[48] James still believed in witchcraft in 1613, when the malodorous

divorce trial of Lady Essex took place. A careful reading of his words

at that time, however, leaves the impression that he was not nearly so

certain about the possibilities of witchcraft as he had been when he

wrote his book. His position was clearly defensive. It must be

remembered that James in 1613 had a point to be gained and would not

have allowed a possible doubt as to witchcraft to interfere with his

wish for the divorce. See Howell, State Trials, II, 806.

[49] One of them was publicly searched by command of a justice. See

Fairfax, op. cit., 138-139.

[50] Ibid., 205. Two of the women had gone home before, ibid., 180.

[51] Ibid., 225-234.

[52] Ibid., 234.

[53] Ibid., 237-238. If the women were tried twice, it seems a clear

violation of the principle of former jeopardy. See above, note 11. The

statute of 3 Hen. VII, cap. I, that the plea of antefort acquit was no

bar to the prosecution of an appeal, would not apply in this instance,

as that statute was limited to cases of homicide.

[54] Fairfax was moreover a man for whom the king had a high personal


[55] At the August assizes there had been an effort to show that the

children were "counterfeiting." See the Discourse, 235-237.