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

ies 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.