On the Rise and Progress of Witchcraft.
” Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Ex. xxii. 18.
I HAVE been impressed with an idea that it would be neither uninteresting nor unprofitable to collect from our ancient annals and historical resources some particulars relating to the existence and disappearance of witches. But be it known to those members of our fair sisterhood who have descended into the vale of years, that I have a tale for you, which, if ye have no “young blood” to “freeze,” will make
“Each knotty and combined lock to part, And each particular hair to stand on end.”
Before commencing our history of this singular craft, it may be expedient to give a definition of ” witchery,” and a description of what it has been generally understood to signify. In the first place, it should be carefully distinguished from several other equally surprising arts, which, though like witchcraft they were performed thro’ the medium of supernatural assistance, were dissimilar from it in many essential particulars.
“Sorcery” was an art which was supposed to be practised by a compact with an evil spirit, and was a power supposed to be possessed of commanding the infernal spirits by skill in charms and invocations, and of having influence over them by the help of fumigations, so that whilst the witch attained her ends by application to the devil, that evil spirit was under constraint to obey the sorcerer ; and it is remark-able that some foundation is to be found for this in the ” Book of Tobit,” ver. 7, where it is said, that touching the heart and liver of the fish, if a devil or evil spirit trouble any, we must make a smoke thereof before the man or the woman, and the party shall be no more vexed, and the devil shall smell it and flee away, and never come again any more. And there is a passage also in Josephus which states, that one Eleazer, before Vespasian and a great number of persons, freed several who were possessed with evil spirits from the power of them, by putting to their nose a certain ring, having a specific root under it, which quickly expelled the demon out of their bodies, so as never to return again.
” Magic,” in its ancient sense, merely signified the science or doctrine of the Magi, the wise men of Persia and other eastern countries, and who in the days of Zoroaster, the founder of them, and some time afterwards, were the most skilful mathematicians and philosophers of the ages in which they lived. Magic originally consisted in the study of wisdom. Afterwards the Magi applied their minds to the study of astrology, divination, and sorcery ; consequently in time the term “magic” assumed an odious character, and was used to signify a diabolical kind of science, depending on the assistance of the infernal host and the souls of the departed.
” Augury ” was an art much regarded among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and of very early origin. The “Iliad” and “Odyssey” abound with relations of prodigies appearing in the skies, which are expounded by the augurs to the ruin or advantage of the ancient Greeks, as in the following description :
“With that two eagles from a mountain’s height
By Jove’s command direct their rapid flight ;
Swift they descend with wing to wing conjoin’d,
Stretch their broad plumes, and float upon the wind ;
Above the assembled peers they wheel on high,
And clang their wings, and hovering beat the sky ;
With ardent eyes the rival train they threat,
And, shrieking loud, denounce approaching fate ;
They cuff; they tear, their cheeks and necks they rend,
And from their plumes huge drops of blood descend :
Then, sailing o’er the domes and towers, they fly
Full toward the east, and mount into the sky.
The wondering rivals gaze with care opprest,
And chilling horrors freeze in every breast,
Till big with knowledge of approaching woes
The prince of augurs Halitherses rose ;
Prescient he view’d the aerial tracks, and drew
A sure presage from every wing that flew.”
(Odyssey, book ii.)
The better opinion seems to be, that the origin of “augury” is to be traced to the migration of birds, by which husbandry in many ancient states was regulated. The circumstance of birds disappearing, and then re-appearing at stated periods, must doubtless, when it first came to be noticed, have excited much astonishment and curious speculation as to their abode ; hence the first observers might have imagined that they had approached the ethereal regions, and having visited the abode of the gods. be enabled to tell future events. In process of time these occasional visitants gained a high authority, and subsequently no affair of consequence was undertaken without consulting them. They were considered as the interpreters of the gods, and in the Greek and Roman States officers were appointed to augur of future events, which they did by the chattering or flight of birds; and these were so much respected, that they were never deposed, nor any substituted in their place, though they should have been convicted of the most heinous crimes.
The term “witchcraft,” like “magic,” originally signified wit or wisdom. It has been derived by us from our Saxon forefathers.* A witch may concisely be said to be one that had the knowledge or skill of doing or telling things in an extraordinary way; and that in virtue of either an express or implicit association or confederacy with some evil spirit. The witch occasioned, but was not the principal efficient. She seemed to do the work, but the spirit performed the wonder ; some-times immediately, as in transportations and possessions ; sometimes by applying other natural causes, as in raising storms and inflicting diseases.
To attempt, at this late and enlightened period, to encourage a belief in the existence of witchcraft, would in all probability subject the writer to be regarded as a sad instance of ignorant and superstitious credulity; and doubtless the number who now entertain such a notion is extremely limited, and which may reasonably be expected to decrease as time and improvement advance. That such an art exists at present, in this country, I can hardly think to be likely; but that it once did exist, and that it was practised in this and other countries until within the last 150 years, I have not the slightest hesitation whatever in firmly believing. As time advances, the facts and relations will be proportionably less known, and to this I mainly attribute the disbelief which at present exists; but I am apprehensive that a minute investigation of the extraordinary relations and trials which are to be met with in our antient annals, must shake the most stubborn disbeliever. This has been precisely the effect produced on the mind of the writer in the course of this investigation, and in order that some information may be possessed respecting the existence of this singular art, before it is wholly lost sight of, I design to give the result of a considerable research upon the subject, in this and a series of papers.
Our ancestors, even up to the commencement of the eighteenth century, were strong believers in the existence of witchcraft; and it is not surprising that they were so, for it is a fact that our antient law books are full of decisions and trials upon the subject. All histories refer to the exploits of those instruments of darkness ; and the testimonies of all ages, not merely of the rude and barbarous, but of the most civilized and polished, give accounts of these strange performances. We have the attestation of thousands of eye and ear witnesses, and those not of the easily deceived vulgar only, but of wise and grave discerners, and that when, as it would seem, no interest could oblige them to agree together in a common lie. Standing public records have been kept of well attested relations. Laws in most nations have been enacted against practices in witchcraft; those among the Jews, and our own, are notorious. Cases have been determined by judges who, as regards other legal matters, are revered, and their names handed down to us as legal oracles and sages, and to all appearance, upon the clearest and most decisive evidence ; and thousands in our own nation, as well as others, have suffered death for their vile compacts.
In tracing the origin of witchcraft, we find a very early mention of it made in Scripture. Exodus xxii. 18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Upon this it may be sufficient to remark, that this must evidently signify one who has dealings with a familiar spirit ; for it would indeed have been a severe law to put to death a poor conjuror, or hocus pocus, for exhibiting his tricks of legerdemain. Again, Leviticus xix. 31, ” Regard not them that have familiar spirits, nor seek after wizards to be defiled by them.” And Deut xviii. 10, 11, ” There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” This accumulation of names is a plain indication that the Hebrew witch was one that practised by compact with evil spirits. According to the learned Bishop Patrick, the terms “witch,” “wizard,” and “familiar spirit,” occurring here and in other parts of Scripture, are translated from the Hebrew word “Obor Oboth;” and he has collected together, with considerable industry, the opinions of the earliest Jewish writers as to their real signification. They think it probable that Oboth, in these places, signifies the same as the demon or spirit of the Greeks speaking out of the belly or chest, with a hollow voice, as if it came out of a bottle. So that the woman whom Saul went to consult is called “Baalath ob,” a mistress of such a spirit, where it is plain ” Ob ” signifies the spirit or demon, and she that had familiarity with such a spirit, was properly called “Baal,” or ” Baalath ob,” the master or mistress who had possessed it, and gave answers by it with a voice that seemed to come out of the lower parts of the belly. In Isa. xix. 3, according to Bishop Patrick, the Septuagint translates it, ” They speak out of the earth, because the voice coming from the lower parts of her that was possessed, seemed to come out of the earth,” which was the opinion of the learned Selden also. R. Levi Barcelonita saith, the manner of it was thus : (Precept 258) After certain fumes and other ceremonies, a voice seemed to come from under the arm-holes, so he takes it; and so it is said in “Sanhedrim,” c. 7, n. 7, of the person that had the familiar spirit, which answered to the questions which were asked. For this he quotes Sphira. But if it came from under the arm-holes, still it was so low and hollow, as if it had been out of the belly or the cavities of the earth. Others imagine that such persons had the name of Oboth, because they were swollen with the spirit, as a bladder is when blown. The famous Pythia, who delivered the oracles of Apollo according to Origen, sat over a hole, and received the spirit which swelled her, and made her utter oracles. Aug. Eugabinus affirms, that he himself had seen such women called ” Ventriloque,” from whom, as they sat, a voice came out from their lower parts, and gave answers to inquiries. And Coelius Rhodoginus, lib. viii. ” Antiq. Lect.,” cap. I0, says, that he not only saw such a woman, and heard a very small voice coming out of her belly, but innumerable other people, through all Italy, among whom there were many great persons (who had her stripped naked that they might be sure there was no fraud), to whom a voice answered unto such things as they inquired. Hieron. Oleaster also, upon Isa. xxiv. 4, says, he saw such an one at Lisbon, from under whose arm-holes, and other parts of her, a small voice was heard, which readily answered to what-ever was asked. And according to Whitby on Acts xvi. 16, the damsel possessed with a spirit of divination delivered her answers with a low voice, as out of her belly, and was then styled “Ventriloque.” Hence, says he, these diviners are by the Septuagint not only styled speakers out of the belly, Lev. xix. 31, xx. 6 ; Deut. xviii. I I ; I Sam. xxviii. 3,7, 8, 9 ; I Chron. x. 13 ; 2 Chron. xxxiii. 6 ; Isa. viii. 19 ; but also said to speak out of the ground, Isa. xix. 3.
The most decided proof to be met with in sacred writ, of a confederacy between those who are there denominated “witches,” and the powers of darkness, is the narrative respecting Saul and the Witch of Endor, in r Sam. xxviii. 5 to 19.*
This has ever been a sad stumbling-block in the way of those who have endeavoured to get rid of the idea of the existence of witchcraft, and particularly of Scot and Webster. They very industriously collected all the information they could acquire relative to the subject, and have taken great pains to refute, if possible, its reality. Scot’s book was, by order of King James I., burnt by the hangman. On the other hand, Glanville, who was a celebrated ecclesiastic in the time of Charles II., and who appears from his writings to have been a pious man, in his “Philosophical Considerations of Witchcraft,” refutes their arguments with great perspicuity, and by the production of a body of evidence; and, according to a celebrated writer unfavourable to the notion of witchcraft, has certainly the superiority over his antagonists.
According to Arnold’s commentary upon this book, the opinion that it was really Saul is very ancient, and seems to have been the persuasion of the Jewish Church long before the coming of Christ. Not only the writer of this book, but the Greek translators of the Old Testament, who lived long after that time, were in the same per-suasion, as appears by a note which they inserted, I Chron. x. 13, where it is said that the Septuagint read very expressly that Samuel the Prophet gave the answer to King Saul when he enquired of the sorceress, which however is omitted in our version.
Justin Martyr also, who lived not long after the time of the Apostles, in his dialogue with Trypho, advances as an argument for the soul surviving in another state, that the witch called up the soul of Samuel at the request of Saul.
The appearance of the shades of the departed seems to have been a familiar idea of the ancient tragic poets. It were needless to refer to the interviews between the heroes of Homer and Virgil and the shades of the dead. AE schylus, in his tragedy of ” Persoe,” calls up the shade of Darius in a manner very similar to this of Samuel, who foretells Queen Atossa all her misfortunes. Among other proofs which might be produced from Scripture, we might refer to the circumstance of evil angels having been sent among the Egyptians, Psa. lxxviii. v. 49, ” and those passed through and smote the land, but the destroyers, viz., the evil angels, were not permitted to come into the Israelite’s house,” Ex. xii. 23. When God asked Satan whence he came, Job i. 7, he answered, “from going to and fro in the earth.” The writings of the great Apostle also furnish a proof, if further evidence were wanting from Scripture, of individuals practising similar arts, through the medium of commerce with evil spirits ; and they besides show that, after a progress of 4,000 years in the course of time, this diabolical art continued in existence, Acts xxi. 16, “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel, possessed with a spirit of divination, met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying.” Paul, it is said, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, “I command thee to come out of her ;” and he came out the same hour, which signifies plainly that an evil spirit, or spirit of divination, was in her. It is said that she brought her masters much gain by soothsaying ; that the evil spirit was actually expelled from her ; and that, upon such expulsion, her reputation as an oracle or soothsayer was at an end; for “her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone.”
” There sawe I playing Jogelours,
Magicians and Tragetours,
And Phetonissis, Charmerissis,
And olde Witchis and Sorcerissis,
That usen Exorsisacions
And eke subfumigacions,
And Clerkis eke, chicke connin well
All this Magike bight naturell,
That craftily doe ther ententes
To maken in certain ascendentes
Imagis lo! through which Magike,
To maken a man ben whole or sike.”
CHAUCER : 3 Book of Fame.
Having already at some length considered the evidence furnished in the Scriptures to substantiate the fact of an intercourse having subsisted between infernal spirits and those who were possessed, I proceed to trace its progress onwards ; but with the exception of our own country, there is scarcely anything to be met with in the records of other nations in the shape of relations. Little is to be found in foreign histories on the subject of witchcraft, beyond a mere occasional reference to the crime, and the existence of laws which recognised it, and awarded punishments against the commission of it. The Romans had a law as old as the 12 tables against witchcraft : ” Apud nos in duodecim Tabulis cavetur, ne quis alienos fructus excantassit.” Seneca, 1. 4, c. 7, mentions a similar law amongst the Athenians. Plato also, in his I Ith ” Book of Laws,” pp. 932, 933, orders punishments not only for those who destroyed others by potions, but for those who pretended to be able to revenge themselves on others, either by certain enchantments or by charms. And there-fore he would have even such people who used these sorts of witch-craft to be put to death if they were possessors of any sort of know-ledge, but if they were simple people, he leaves the judges to punish them as they found reason. [See note 40.]
Montesquieu, it seems, was a believer in the existence of witchcraft, and has appropriated a chapter in his ” Spirit of Laws ” to the consideration of the crime. He says that the Emperor Theodorus Lascarus attributed his illness to witchcraft. Those who were accused of this crime had no other resource left than to handle a red-hot iron without being burnt. Thus, among the Greeks, a person ought to have been a sorcerer to be able to clear himself of the suspicion of witchcraft.
If, however, the historian has not dwelt much upon the subject, it seems to have afforded ample scope for the exercise of fiction, and the loftiest imagination and genius of the poet, both in antient and modern times. Many fine selections could be given from the poems of the sublimest bards. The following description of a witch by Spenser is a beautiful sketch :
“There in a gloomy hollow glen she found
A little cottage built of sticks and reedes,
In homely wise and wald with sod, around ;
In which a Witch did dwell, in loathly weedes
And wilful want, all careless of her needes :
So choosing solitarie to abide
Far from all neighbours, that her devilish deeds
And hellish arts from people she might hide,
And hurt far off unknowne whom ever she envide.”
The history of our own country is the principal source from-whence to gain the most authentic records of the particular manner in which the art of witchcraft was practised, but few of these are to be met with previous to the period when printing was invented. After that time our annals are full of them. The writer has occupied much time in referring to as many of these as possible, but the number is so great that much embarrassment arises in selecting those which are the most remarkable, and attested by evidence. An abridgment of these, selected from a great variety of old materials, will be given as nearly as possible in order of date.
Witchcraft was severely punished before the Conquest. By the laws of our Saxon ancestors, it was sometimes punished by exile, but more generally by burning ; and frequent mention of it is to be found in the laws of Alfred, Athelstan, and Canute. “Inter leges Alveredi,” folio 23 ; I I Ethelstani, c. 6; Canute 4, 5. And numbers were punished after the Conquest. No mention of witchcraft certainly is to be found in the laws of William the Conqueror, but the offence seems to have been fully recognised by the old common law. In the ” Mirror,” c. I, it is said, ” Que sorcery et devinal sont members de heresie.” And Britton also, “Sorcerers, Sorcesses, etc., et miscreants, soient arses.” And thus in conformity with the old Saxon laws, there is a report of a case in an antient register, that in October, anno 20 Hen. VI., Margery Gurdeman of Eye, in the county of Suffolk, was, for witchcraft and consultation with the devil, after sentence and a relapse, burnt. [See note 41.]
In 1430 Joan of Arc, better known in history under the designation of the Maid of Orleans, displayed her enterprising and extra-ordinary prowess. The unhappy maid attributed the impulses which she felt to the influences of heaven ; but upon her downfall, those who had before regarded her as a saint considered her to be a sorceress, forsaken by the daemon who had granted her a fallacious and temporary assistance. Southey has immortalized her name in his beautiful poem, intituled, ” Joan of Arc,” in which the arch-priest is made to address her :
” Woman, if any fiend of hell
Lurk in thy bosom so to prompt the vaunt
Of inspiration, and to mock the power
Of God and holy Church, thus by the vlrtue
Of water, hallowed in the name of God,
That damned spirit adjure I to depart
From his possessed prey.”
The issue of her glories and her misfortunes terminated in her being tried and found guilty of sorcery and witchcraft, for which she was sentenced to be burned alive, which was ultimately executed with brutal severity in the market-place of Rouen.
In the reign of Henry VIII. flourished the celebrated Mother Shipton, whose fame spread through the whole kingdom, and multitudes of all ranks resorted to her for the removal of their doubts, and the knowledge of future events, which she explained to them in several mystical prophecies or oracles, particularly Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall, the following prediction of which may be worth preserving :
“When the lower shrubs do fall,
The great trees quickly follow shall,
The mitred Peacock’s lofty pride
Shall to his Master be a guide,
And one great Court to pass shall bring,
What was ne’er done by any King.
The poor shall grieve to see that day,
And who did feast must fast and pray,
Fate so decreed their overthrow,
Riches brought pride, and pride brought woe.”
In a sermon preached before Queen Elizabeth, in 1584, by Bishop Jewell, I find the following passage : ” It may please your Grace to understand that witches and sorcerers within these last four years are marvellously increased within your Grace’s realm. Your Grace’s subjects pine away even unto death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft. I pray God they never practise further than upon the subject.”
In the Lambeth Library is the ” Examination and Confession of certain Wytches at Chensford, Essex, before the Queen’s Majesty’s Judges, the 26 day of July, 1566, at the Assizes holden there, and one of them put to death for the same offence as their Examination declareth more at large. Mother Fraunces learnt her art of her grandmother Eve, of Hatfield Peverel, and trained a whyte spotted Cat with her own blood to be her sathan ; and Mother Waterhouse was hanged on her own confession of execrable sorcery, by her practised 15 years. The apprehension and confession of three notorious Witches, arreigtled, and by justice condemned and executed at Chelmsforde, in the County of Essex, the 5 day of Julye last past, with the manner of their devilish practices, and keeping of their spirits, whose fourmes are herein trulye pourtraied. Imprinted in London by Wyllyam Powell, for Wyllyame Pickeringe, dwelling at St. Magnus’s Corner, and are there for to be soulde, anno 1566.”
Sir Henry Cromwell, Lord of the Manor of Warboys, gave to the Corporation of Huntingdon £4o, the property of three witches of Warboys, arraigned, convicted, and executed at Huntingdon in 1593, for bewitching the five daughters of Robert Throckmorton, Esq., and divers other persons, with sundrie devilish and grievous torments, and also for the bewitching to death of the Lady Cromwell ; and this gift was presented on the condition that the Corporation should allow 40 shillings every year to a Doctor or Bachelor in Divinity, in Queen’s College, Cambridge, for preaching a Sermon at All Saints Church in Huntingdon, on the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, against the sin of witchcraft, and to teach the people how they should discover and frustrate the machinations of witches, and dealers with evil spirits. It appears that this annual service still continues; but the sin of witchcraft has long ceased to be the theme of these discourses, and the subject is now only mentioned to explode and deprecate the lamentable effects of such miserable delusions.
King James I. entertained a confident belief in the reality of witch-craft ; but not, as it is said, until he advanced considerably in life, when he enacted the Statutes against Witchcraft and Sorcery, and wrote several works upon the subject, particularly his “Daemonologie.” It appears, however, that in the earlier period of his life he considered the existence of witches to be an illusion, which opinion was considerably shaken, it is said, by the following confession of a suspected witch, who was examined before him in Scotland, and which is taken from the records in Scotland, and preserved in the Scottish dialect :
” Item, Fyled and convict for sameckle as she confessed before his Majesty, that the devil in man’s likeness met her going out in the fields from her own house, between 5 and 6 at even, being alone, and commandit her to be at Northbervick Kirk by the next night, and she past there on horseback, conveyed by her good son called John Cooper, and lighted at the kirk-yard, or a little before she came to it, about 11 hours at even. They danced along the kirk yard, Gailie Duncan plaid to them on a trump; John Fein, muffled, led all the rest; the said Agnes and her daughter followed next. Besides, there were Kate Gray, George Mailes’s wife, Rob. Grierson, Katherine Duncan Buchanan, Thos. Barnhill and his wife, Gilbert Macgill, Job Macgill, Katherine Macgill, with the rest of their complices, above an hundred persons, whereof there were 6 men, and all the rest women. The women made first their homage, and then the men. The men were turned 9 times wildershins about, and the women 6 times. John Fenn blew up the doors, and blew in the lights, which were like mickle black candles striking round about the pulpit. The Devil startit up himself in the pulpit, like a mickle black man, and every one answered here. Mr. Rob. Grierson being named, they all ran birdie girdie, and were angry, for it was promised he should be called Robert the Comptroller, alias Robert the Rower, for expriming of his name. The first thing he commandit was, as they kept all promise, and been good servants, and what they had done since the last time they had convened. At his command they opened up 3 graves, 2 within and one without the kirk, and took off the joints of their fingers, toes, and nose, and parted them amongst them. And the said Agnes Sympson got for her part a winding-sheet and 2 joynts. The Devil commandit them to keep the joints upon them while they were dry, and then to make a powder of them, to do evil withal, Then he commandit them to keep his commandments, which were to do all the evil they could. He had on him one gown and one hat, which were both black ; and they that were assembled, part stood and part sate. John Fien was nearest the Devil at his left Elbock. Graymaical kept the door.”
About this time a conspiracy was set on foot to drown the King on his passage home from Denmark. There is a scarce pamphlet, intituled, “News from Scotland, declaring the damnable life and death of Dr. Fian, a notable Sorcerer, who was buried in Edinburgh 1591, and which Doctor was Register to the Devil, that sundrie times preached at North Barwicke Kirke to a number of notorious Witches, with the true examination of the said Doctor and Witches, as they uttered them in the presence of the Scot King, discovering how they pretended to bewitch and drown his Majesty in the sea, coming from Denmark, with such other wonderful matters as the like bath not been heard of at any time.” The pamphlet contains a full narrative of the transactions of the Scottish crew, and thus at the conclusion accounts for the risking of the King’s royal person in the society of such notorious witches : [See post, p. 295.]
” It is well-known that the King is the Child and Servant of God, and they but the Servants of the Devil. He is the Lord’s anointed, and they but vessels of God’s wrath. He is a true Christian, and trusteth in God; they worse than Infidels, for they only trust in the Devil, who daily serves them till he have brought them to utter destruction. But hereby it seemeth that his highness carried a magnanimous and undisturbed mind, not scared with their enchantments, but resolute in this, that so long as God is with him, he feareth not who is against him.”
The occurrence of these transactions, it is said, made a strong impression upon the mind of the King, and in all probability led him to enact his famous Statute against Witchcraft, which was passed in the twelfth year of his reign. This statute he is said to have penned himself, and particularly specifies the several crimes, and awards the punishment for each. It is as follows :
” If any person or persons shall use, practise, or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil and wicked spirit, or shal consult, covenant with, entertaine, employ, feed, or reward, any evil or wicked spirit, to or for any intent or purpose; Or take up any dead man, woman, or child, out of his, her, or their grave, or any other place where the dead body resteth, or the skin, bone, or any part of a dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Charm, or Inchantment ; or shall use, practise, or exercise any Witch craft, Inchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, whereby any person shall be killed, disturbed, wasted, consumed, pierced or lamed in his or her body, or any part thereof; that then every such offender or offenders therein, aiders, abetters, and counsellors, being of any of the said offences duly and lawfully convicted, shall suffer pains of death as a felon or felons, and shall lose the privilege and benefit of clergy, and sanctuary.
” If any person or persons take upon him or them, by Witchcraft, Inchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, to tell or declare in what place any treasure of gold or silver should or might be found or had in the earth, or other secret places, or where goods or things lost or stolen should be found, or to the intent to provoke any person to unlawful love ; or whereby any cattle or goods of any person shall be destroyed ; or to hurt or destroy any person in his or her body, although the same be not effected or done, being therefor lawfully convicted, shall for the said offence suffer death,” etc.
The clause as to taking up a dead body to be employed in witch-craft, seems to be novel and singular enough ; but I find, in Sir Ed-ward Coke, 3 Inst., a circumstance related, which in all probability gave rise to it. He says :
” A man was taken in Southwark, with a hand and face of a dead man, and with a book of Sorcery in his male [mail], and was brought into the King’s Bench; but seeing no indictment was against him, the Clerks did swear him that from thenceforth he should not be a Sorcerer, and was delivered out of prison; and the head of the dead man, and the book of Sorcery, were burnt at Tothill, at the costs of the prisoner.”
And Sir Edward remarks :
“So as the head and his book of Sorcery had the same punishment that the Sorcerer should have had by the antient law, if he had by his Sorcery prayed in aid of the devil.”
In 1616 was published ” A Treatise of Witchcraft, with a true narration of the Witchcrafts which Mary Smith, wife of Henry Smith, glover, did practise, of her contract vocally made between the Devil and her in solemne termes, by whose means she hurt sundry persons whom she envied, which is confirmed by her own Confession, and also from the publique records of the examination of diverse upon their oaths ; and lastly, of her death and execution for the same, which was on the 12 day of Januarie last past. By Alex Roberts, B.D., and preacher of God’s word at King’s Linne, in Norfolke, London, 1616.” [See Hazlitt’s Collections and Notes, 1876, p. 360.]
In the old Parish Register of Wells, in Norfolk, about the commencement of this century, in recording the death of thirteen individuals who had been drowned, it is thus stated :
“Misled uppe ye Weste Couste, coming from Spain, whose deaths were brought to pass by the detestable woorkinge of an execrable Witch of King’s Lynn, whose name was Mother Gabley ; by the boy-ling, or rather labouring of certayne eggs in a payle full of colde water ; afterwards approved sufficiently at the arraignmente of the said Witch.”
In Nichols’s ” History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester,” there is to be seen a letter from Alderman Robert Heyrick, of Leicester, to his brother Sir William, in the year 1616, relating to a transaction which took place at Husband’s Bosworth. The following extract contains the most material and singular parts of it :
“Although we have bene greatly busyed this 4 or 5 days past, being syse tyme, and a busie syse, speacyally about the arraynment of a sort of woomen, Wytches, wt 9 of them shal be executed at the Gal-lows this fornone, for bewitching of a young gentellman of the adge of 12 or 13 years old, beinge the soon of one Mr. Smythe of Husbands Bosworth, brother to Mr. Henry Smythe, that made the booke which we call Mr. Smythe’s Sarmons. Your man Sampson stays, and yt is to tedious to write anny one thing unto you of the matter ; and the examynacyons and finding out of this matter came to my hand in wrytyng just as I began your lettar. Only I will signifye unto you of the chyld’s straundg fits, who was brought hythar of Sayturday last to be shewed to the Judges, and synce his coming hither he hath had dyvars wonderful straundg fyts in the syght of all the greatest parsons here, as dyvers knights and ladies, and many othars of the bettar sort most tereble to be tolld. Sir Henry Hastings bath doon what he colld to holld him in his fit; but he and another as strong as he could not hold him ; yf he might have his arm at liberty, he woold stryke himselfe such blocs on his brest, being in his shirt, that you myght here the sound of yt the length of a long chamber, soumtymes 50 blocs, soumtyms 100, yea soumtyms 2 or 300 blocs, that the least of them was able to stryke doune a strong man ; and yet all he did to himself did him no hurt.”
In the reign of Charles I. we meet with an extraordinary character in one Hopkins, who was designated as the witch-finder, and upon whose evidence it is said that threescore suspected witches were hanged in one year in Suffolk. It appears that he went on searching and swimming them till some gentlemen, out of indignation at the barbarity, took him and tied his own thumbs and toes as he used to tie others, and when he was put into the water he himself swam as they did. He is thus recognised by Hudibras in his 3rd canto :
” Has not this present Parliament
A leger to the Devil sent,
Fully empowered to treat about
Finding revolted witches out,
And has not he within a year
Hang’d three score of ’em in one shire ?
Who after prov’d himself a witch,
And made a rod for his own breech.”
Sir Giles Overreach. Dost deal with witches, rascal?
MASSINGER : New Way to Pay Old Debts.
In proceeding with our relations, I noticed a pamphlet which made its appearance in 1645, entitled “A true relation of the arraignment of eighteen witches, that were tried, condemned, and executed, at the sessions held at St. Edmund’s Bury, in Suffolk, and there, by the judges and justices, condemned to die, and so were executed; and their several confessions before their examination, with a true relation of the manner how they found them out.”
In Voltaire’s “Commentary on Marquis Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes and Punishments,” he states that in 1652 every tribunal in Europe resounded with judgments against witchcraft, and fire and faggot were universally employed against it. The Turks were reputed with having amongst them neither sorcerers, witches, nor demoniacs, and the want of the latter was considered as an infallible proof of the falsity of their religion.
In 1652 we have “A Prodigious and Tragicall History of the Arraynment, Tryall, Confession, and Condemnation, of six Witches, at Maidstone in Kent, at the Assizes there held in July, Frydaye, 30th, this present year, 1652, before the Right Honourable Peter Warburton, one of the Justices of the Common Pleas, Collected from the Observations of E. G. Gent (a learned person, present at their conviction and condemnation), and Digested by H. F. Gent. To which is added a True Relation of one Mrs. Atkins, a Mercer’s Wife in Warwick, who was strangely carried away from her House in July last, and hath not been heard of since.”
I now relate the trial of one Jane Brooks, at the Chard Assizes, 26th March, 1658.
In November, 1657, Jane Brooks, of Shepton Mallet, stroked a son of Henry James, after giving him an apple. The boy was twelve years old, and upon returning home was taken ill, and complained of his side. The boy roasted the apple, and, having eaten it, was extremely ill, and sometimes speechless. The boy intimated to his father that Jane Brooks had given him the apple, etc., and the father was advised to get her into the house. Upon her arrival, the boy was taken so ill that for some time he could not see or speak.
I pass over many other particulars of witchery attributed to Jane Brooks; but on 8th December, 1657, the boy, Jane Brooks, and Alice Coward (to whom, also similar practices were attributed), appeared before Mr. Hunt and Mr. Cary, Justices of Peace. The boy, having begun to give his testimony, upon the coming in of the women, and their looking on him, he was instantly taken speechless, and so remained till the women were removed out of the room, and then, recovering, he was enabled to give his evidence.
Upon the second examination the same thing again occurred. And on another appearance, when many gentlemen, ministers, and other persons were present, the boy fell into fits upon the sight of Jane Brooks, and lay in a man’s arms like one dead. The woman was then required to lay her hands on him, and he thereupon started and sprung out. One of the justices, to prevent all possibility of legerdemain, caused Gibson and the rest to stand off from the boy, and then the magistrate himself held him; the youth being blindfolded, he called upon Brooks to touch him, but winked others to do it, which two or three successively did, but the boy appeared not affected. The justice then called on the father to take him, but he had privately desired one Geoffry Strode to bring Jane Brooks, to touch him at such a time as he should call for his father, which was done, and the boy immediately sprang out in a very violent manner. He was after-wards touched by several persons and moved not, but Jane Brooks being again caused to put her hand upon him, he started and sprang out twice or thrice as before.
It would be tedious to record the particulars of a variety of other experiments which were tried, with a view of tracing the cause of the boy’s affliction to Brooks, which all proved successful. One circumstance, however, which was deposed to by a man and his wife at the trial of Brooks, was of so singular a nature as to deserve notice.
The boy being one day in the garden, and while not at the distance of two yards from these persons, he was seen to rise up from the ground from before them, and so mounted higher and higher till he passed in the air over the garden wall, and was carried so above ground more than thirty yards, falling at last at one Jordan’s door, at Shepton, where he was found as dead for a time ; but on coming to himself he told these parties that Jane Brooks had taken him up by the arm out of the garden, and carried him into the air as is related.
From the 15th November to l0th March following, he was, by reason of his fits, much wasted in body; but after that time, being the day the two women were sent to the goal, he had no more of these fits.
Jane Brooks was condemned and executed. The following are the particulars of the trial of Florence Newton at Cork Assizes in 1661. Mary Langden, upon whom the witchcraft was practised, swore that at Christmas last Florence came to her, at the house of her master John Pyne, in Youghall, and asked her to give her a piece of beef out of the powdering tub. The witness answered that she could not give away her master’s beef, upon which Florence was very angry, and said, “Thou hadst as good as given it me,” and went her way grumbling. She then stated that a few days afterwards she saw a woman with a veil over her face, and a little old man in silk clothes, and that the man, whom witness took to be a spirit, drew the veil from off the woman’s face, and that she knew it to be Florence. That the spirit spoke to witness, and would have had her promise him to follow his advice, and she should have all things after her own heart. To which she answered that she would have nothing to say to him, for her trust was in the Lord. That within a month after Florence had kissed her, witness fell very ill of fits, or trances, which would take her on the sudden; and while in that state three or four men could not hold her. And in those fits she would vomit up needles, pins, horsenails, stubs, wool, and straw. And she goes on to state a variety of other extraordinary occurrences which took place. That on many of these occasions the witch would stick pins in her arms, and some of them so fast that a man must pluck three or four times to get out the pin. That sometime she should be removed out of her bed into another room, sometimes carried to the top of the house, sometimes put into a chest, sometimes under a piece of wool, and a variety of other places, and that she never knew where she was, until taken out of the places by some of the family of the house. That she suffered much affliction while Florence lay in prison, whereupon it was deemed expedient that she should be bolted, which was accordingly done, and the witness got well again, and so continued ever since.
After she had closed her evidence it was observed that Florence peeped at her, as it were betwixt the heads of the bystanders, and lifting up both her hands together, as they were manacled, cast them in an angry violent motion towards the witness, as if she intended to strike at her, if she could have reached her. Upon which she fell suddenly down in a violent fit, and continued so for a quarter of an hour, in the course of which she vomited crooked pins, and straw, and wool. Upon which the Court, recollecting that she had become well upon the bolts being put upon Florence, ordered that bolts should be put upon her, whereupon the maid recovered again.
John Pyne, Esq., the girl’s master, in the course of a long examination, confirms her evidence in almost every particular.
Another witness swears to the prisoner having confessed several particulars of witchery, and also that one evening the door of the prison shook, and she arose up hastily, and said, “What makest thou here this time of night ?” and there was a very great noise, as if somebody with bolts and chains had been running up and down the room ; and they asked her what it was she spoke to, and made the noise, and she said she saw nothing, neither did she speak, and if she did it was she knew not what ; but the next day she confessed it was a spirit and her familiar in the shape of a grey-hound.
The confession of the witch is also confirmed by the evidence of several other witnesses, and a minister; and the Mayor of Youghall also deposed to the fits of the girl, and the extraordinary vomiting on these occasions. But besides all this, there is another very singular circumstance related respecting this mischievous individual ; as that she bewitched one David Jones to death, by kissing his hand through the gate of the prison, for which also she was indicted at the Cork Assizes.
Eleanor Jones, the relict of the unhappy sufferer, being sworn and examined in open Court, what she knew concerning any practice of witchcraft, by Florence Newton, upon her. husband David, gave in evidence, that in April then last, her husband, having been out all night, came home early in the morning, and said to her, ” Where dost thou think I have been all night ?” to which she answered she knew not. Whereupon he replied, ” I and Grant Besely (sic) have been standing sentinel over the witch all night.” On which the wife observed, ” Why what hurt is that ?” ” Hurt,” quoth he ; “marry I doubt its never a whit better for me, for she hath kissed my hand, and I have had a great pain in that arm, and I verily believe that she bath bewitched me, if ever she bewitched any man.” To which she answered, “The Lord forbid.” That all night, and continually from that time, he was restless and ill, complaining exceedingly of a great pain in the arm, for seven days together, and at the seven days’ end he complained that the pain was come from his arm to his heart, and then kept his bed night and day, grievously afflicted, and crying out against Florence Newton, and about fourteen days afterwards he died.
One Francis Beseley, the gaoler, deposes to Jones having expressed a wish to watch her for the purpose of seeing her familiar, and that he accordingly did so, and that in the course of this time, Beseley having put his hand through the grate, she caught hold of it and kissed it. And witness having afterwards learned that Jones was ill, went to see him, when he told witness that he had been seized with pain, and that the old hag had bewitched him when she kissed his hand, and that she had him then by the hand, and was pulling off his arm. And he said, ” Do you not see the old hag, how she pulls them ? Well, I lay my death on her ; she has bewitched me.” And several times after would complain that she had tormented him, and after fourteen days languishing he died.
About this time a suspected witch was tried for practising her arts upon a young woman, in the course of which trial the following curious scene transpired.
Judge Archer, who tried the prisoner, told the jury he had heard that a witch could not repeat the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ” And lead us not into temptation,” and having this occasion, he would try the experiment : told the jury that whether she could or could not they were not in the least measure to guide their verdict according to it, because it was not legal evidence, but that they must be guided in their verdict by the former evidence, given in upon oath only. The prisoner was accordingly called to the next bar, and demanded if she could say the Lord’s Prayer. She said she could, and went over the prayer readily, till she came to that petition ; then she said : ” And lead us into temptation,” or ” And lead us not into no temptation,” but could not say it correctly, though she was directed to say it after one that repeated it to her distinctly; but she could not repeat it otherwise than is expressed already, though she tried to do it near half a score times in open Court.
She, too, was condemned and executed.
Mr. John Mompesson, of Tedworth, Wilts, in 1661, being in a neighbouring town which was annoyed by an idle drummer, who produced a pass which was suspected to be forged, gave him in charge of a constable. He was committed as a vagrant, his drum being sent to Mr. Mompesson’s house until the drummer should be discharged. After this some most extraordinary occurrences took place at Mr. Mompesson’s house, which were supposed to have ensued from the diabolical art and power of this drummer, and he was accordingly tried as a wizard at the Salisbury Assizes.
The following is the substance of the depositions of witnesses upon the trial. Mr. Mompesson, his wife, and several other members of the family, deposed to their having been for upwards of two months annoyed in the night by a violent drumming which took place almost every night during that period. Sometimes it appeared to be in the room where they slept, sometimes by their ears. When they arose from bed it would appear to be at the top of the house, which continued some time, and then went off into the air. And at its going off the beating was similar to what was heard at the breaking up of a guard. The most diligent search was made by various individuals armed with pistols ; but although the drumming was constantly heard, night after night, nothing like a drum could be met with. When this amusement had continued for a period of two or three months, a fresh series were produced for the entertainment of this unhappy family. The younger children were vexed in their beds, the bed-steads receiving blows with such violence that the spectators expected they would be broken in pieces, and crackings were heard under the children’s beds, as if by something that had iron talons ; it would lift the children up in their beds, follow them from one room to another, and for a while haunted none particularly but them ; and all this time the drumming continued, and by this time had considerably improved, inasmuch as it for an hour together beat round-heads and cuckolds, the tat-too, and other points of war, as well as any drummer. These things were spoken to by half a house full of people; amongst others who testified was the parish minister, who on one occasion went to prayers with the family, during which the annoyance ceased, but the moment they were ended it would return, and then in sight of the company the chairs walked about the room of themselves, the children’s shoes were hurled over their heads, and every loose thing moved about the- chamber ; at the same time a bed-staff was hurled at the parson, which hit him on the leg, but so favourably that a lock of wool could not fall more softly, and it was observed that it stopped just where it alighted, without rolling or moving from the place.
Mr. Mompesson, for the safety of his children, lodged them in a neighbour’s house; and there, strange to say, the same system was pursued, and the drumming noises and disturbances carried on with similar spirit and vigour, and it was noticed that when the noise was loudest, and came with the most sudden surprise and violence, no dog in the house would move, though the cracking was oft so boisterous that it was heard at a considerable distance in the fields, and awakened the neighbours in the village, none of which were very near the house. The servants were sometimes lifted up with their beds, and let down gently again without being hurt, and at other times it would be like a great weight upon their feet.
It would be endless to recount all the astonishing feats which were exhibited in the house of this ill-fated family; they continued for several months longer without any cessation, the entertainments being exceedingly various and diversified. A narration of these would fill many pages, but it may be sufficient to say they were sworn to upon the trial of the drummer by Mr. Mompesson and his family, the minister of the parish, Sir Thomas Chamberlin, and many other respectable inhabitants of the place, who had been eye and ear witnesses of them time after time. What caused suspicion to fall upon the drummer was this : While he was in custody, a Wiltshireman coming to see him, he asked ” What news in Wiltshire ?” The man said he knew of none. ” No,” said the drummer ; ” do you not hear of the drumming at a gentleman’s house at Tedworth ?” “That I do, enough,” said the man. ” I,” quoth the drummer, ” have plagued him, and he shall never be quiet till he hath made me satisfied for taking away my drum.” Upon information of this he was tried for a witch, convicted, and transported.
It appears that in 1670 a village named Molera, in Switzerland, was reduced to a miserable condition by a strange witchcraft which prevailed there ; which being communicated to the king, he appointed certain commissioners, some of the clergy, and some of the laity, to examine the whole business. When they met at the minister’s house, numbers of people of fashion appeared before them, and with tears complained of the miserable condition they were in, and therefore begged of them to think of some way whereby they might be delivered from that calamity. The commissioners proceeded in their investigation of the devil’s tyranny at this place, and found that he had drawn some hundreds, and made them subjects of his power ; that he had been seen to go in a visible shape through the country, and appeared daily to the people, and that he had wrought upon the poorer sort by presenting them with meat and drink, and this way allured them to himself. A day of humiliation was instituted by royal authority for removing this judgment. Two sermons were preached, in which the miserable case of those that suffered themselves to be deluded by the devil was laid open; and these sermons were concluded with fervent prayer. The commissioners afterwards proceeded in their examination, and discovered threescore and ten witches in the village, twenty-three of whom freely confessed their crimes; some were discharged upon a promise of recantation, many were executed, and the remainder received a milder punishment.
In 1682 was published “A true and impartial relation of the informations against three Witches, viz., Temperence Lloyd, Mary Gremble, and Susanna Edwards, who were indicted, arraigned, and convicted at the assizes holden for the county of Devon at the Castle of Exon, Aug. 14, 1682, with their several confessions taken before Thomas Gist, mayor, and John Davie, alderman, of Biddeford, as also their speeches, confessions, and behaviour at the time and place of execution on the 25th of the said month.” [See Hazlitt loc. cit. p. 126.]
” The wonder of Suffolke, being a true relation of one that reports he made a league with the Devil for three years, to do mischief, and now breaks open houses, robs people daily, destroys cattle before the owners’ faces, strips women naked, etc., and can neither be shot nor taken, but leaps over walls fifteen feet high, runs five or six miles in a quarter of an hour, and sometimes vanishes in the midst of multitudes that go to take him. Faithfully written in a letter from a solemn person, dated not long since, to a friend in Ship-yard, near Temple Bar, and ready to be attested by hundreds that have been spectators of, or sufferers by, his exploits in several parts of Suffolk. Printed in London, 1677.”
“Witches and spells in antient time
Were sacred subjects ev’n in rhyme;
No wonder that should be received
Which laws condemned and kings believ’d.
But now of late, since royal speeches
Have kept to weightier things than Witches,
Since Parliament (whom Heav’n direct)
Have treated Satan with neglect,
The vulgar learn to take the hint,
And find the whole has nothing in’t.”
Lines on the passing of the Repeal Bill.
The next circumstance to be recorded, in proceeding with our historical relations, is a curious document, being an account of expenses debited to the town and kirk sessions of Culross, in Scotland, for burning three witches, who. had been condemned towards the close of the seventeenth century.
Another remarkable transaction of this kind is a case of Elizabeth Style, who was tried and convicted for witchcraft and sorcery upon her own confession. The circumstances which were deposed to by a variety of witnesses, amongst whom was the rector of the parish, are shortly as follows : A daughter of Richard Hill, aged thirteen, was taken with strange fits, which lasted two or three hours or more, and that in these fits the child declared that this Elizabeth Style appeared to her, and was the same who tormented her. While in these fits it was sworn by the witnesses that, though held in a chair by four or five persons by the arms, legs, and shoulders, she would rise out of her chair and raise her body above four or five feet high, and that while in this state there appeared to be holes in her flesh, which the witnesses considered to be with thorns, for they saw thorns in her flesh, and some they hooked out. Among the witnesses was one Richard Vining, who stated that some time previously his late wife Agnes fell out with Elizabeth Style, and within two or three days she was taken with a grievous pricking in her leg, which pain continued for a long time. Some time after Style came to his wife and gave her two apples, which Style requested her to eat ; which she did, and in a few hours was taken ill and worse than ever she had been before, and continued so till Easter eve, and then died.
Before her death her leg rotted, and one of her eyes swelled out. She declared to him then, and at several times before, that she believed Elizabeth Style had bewitched her, and that she was the cause of her death. But the confession of the witch herself is a document of a very curious and extraordinary kind. She confessed that the devil, about ten years previously, appeared to her in the shape of a handsome man, that he promised her money, and that she should live gallantly, and have the pleasure of the world for twelve years, if she would with her blood sign his paper, which was to give her soul to him and observe his laws, and that he might suck her blood. This, after four solicitations, Style promised to do; upon which he pricked the fourth finger of her right hand between the middle and upper joint, where the sign of the time of the confession remained, and with a drop or two of her blood she signed the paper. Upon this the devil gave her sixpence, and vanished with the paper. That he had since appeared to her in the shape of a man; but more usually he appeared in the likeness of a dog, a cat, or a fly, in which last he usually sucked her in the poll about four o’clock in the morning, and did so 27th January. That when she had a desire to do harm she called the spirit by the name of Robin, to whom, when he appeared, she used the words, ” O Satan, give me my purpose.” She then told him what she would have done; and that he should so appear to her was part of her contract with him. That she had desired him to torment one Elizabeth Hill, and to thrust thorns into her flesh ; which he promised to do. The next time he appeared he told her he had done it. She then goes on to recount a variety of other extraordinary adventures between her and three other persons, who also had made a similar contract with the king of fiends, and then acknowledges that the reason why she caused Elizabeth Hill to be the more tormented was, because her father had said she was a witch. And that some two years ago she gave two apples to Agnes Vining, late wife of Richard Vining, and that she had one of the apples from the devil,. who then appeared to her, and told her that the apples would do Vining’s wife’s business.
This confession is certified to have been taken in the presence of several grave and orthodox divines, before Robert Hunt, magistrate, and was free and unforced, without any torturing or watching, drawn from her by a gentle examination, meeting with the convictions of a guilty conscience.
One Nicholas Lambert also swore that after Style had been committed he and two others watched her, agreeably to the magistrate’s request; that he, Lambert, sitting near the fire about three o’clock in the morning, and reading in the “Practice of Piety,” there came from her head a glittering bright fly, about an inch in length, which pitched at first in the chimney, and then vanished. He looked stedfastly then on Style, perceived her countenance change and to become very black and ghastly; the fire at the same time changed its colour; whereupon Lambert and the two others, considering that her familiar was then about her, looked to her poll, and seeing her hair shake very strangely, took it up, and then a great fly flew out from the place and pitched on the table-board, and then vanished away. Upon the witnesses looking again in Style’s poll, they found it very red, like raw beef. Upon being asked what it was went out of her poll, she said it was a butterfly; and asked them why they had not caught it. Lambert said they could not ; she replied, ” I think so too.” A little while after the informant and others looked upon her poll, and found the place to be of its former colour. Lambert demanded again what the fly was. She confessed it was her familiar, and that she felt it tickle in her poll, and that was the usual time when her familiar came to her.
Elizabeth Torwood then swears that she, together with four other women who also gave evidence to the same effect, searched Style in the poll, and found a little rising which felt hard like a kernel of beef; whereupon they, suspecting it to be an ill mark, thrust a pin into it, and having drawn it out, thrust it in again the second time, that the other women might see it also. Notwithstanding which Style did neither at the first nor second time make the least show that she felt any thing; but after, when the constable told her he would thrust in a pin in the place, and made a shew as if he did, she said he pricked her, whereas no one then touched her.
Style was tried and condemned, but died shortly before the time appointed for her execution.
Shortly afterwards Alice Duke, one of Style’s knot, was tried for a witch, and convicted upon the testimony of many witnesses; and her own confession, which contains a minute account of many extra-ordinary and devilish tricks, which she, in conjunction with her con-federates and his Satanic Majesty, performed; she confesses that her familiar commonly sucked her right breast about seven at night, in the shape of a little cat of a dunnish colour, and when she was sucked she was in a kind of trance. That she hurt Thomas Garrett’s cows because he refused to write a petition for her. That she hurt Thomas Conway, by putting a dish into his hand, which dish she had from the devil. That she hurt Dorothy, the wife of George Vining, by giving an iron stake to put into her steeling box. That being angry with Edith Watts for treading on her foot, she cursed her, and after-wards touched her, which had done her much harm, for which she is very sorry. That being provoked by Swanton’s wife, she did before her death curse her, and believes she did thereby hurt her; but denies that she did bewitch Mr. Swanton’s cattle. And then she gives this suitable information, which may serve to put us on our guard against having anything to do with this father of lies. That when the devil does anything for her, she calls for him by the name of Robin, upon which he appears; and when in the shape of a man, she can hear him speak, but his voice is very low. He promised her, when she had made her contract with him, that she should want nothing, but ever since she wanted all things.
And Conway, his wife, and Watts, also corroborated her statements, by describing on oath the injuries which they had sustained from this acknowledged witch.
The intimation above, as to the devil being a hard master, reminds one of a passage in an old translation of ” “Bodinus,” from which it appears that in Livonia, yearly, about the end of December, a certain knave or devil warneth all the witches in the country to come to a certain place. If they fail, the devil cometh and whippeth them with an iron rod, so as the print of his lashes remains upon their bodies for ever. Which circumstance has thus been preserved by one of our early bards :
“Till on a day (that day is everie Prime)
When Witches wont do penance for their crime.”
In the State Trials there is recorded the trial of Richard Hathaway, on 24th March, 1702, upon an indictment charging him with contriving and maliciously intending one Sarah Morduck, who for the whole course of her life was an honest and pious woman, and not a witch, nor using witchcraft, inchantment, charm, or sorcery, to bring into danger of losing her life falsely, maliciously, devilishly, and knowingly, and as a false impostor, did pretend and affirm himself, by the said Sarah to be bewitched; and that he by drawing blood from the said Sarah, by scratching, should be freed from the said pretended witchcraft. That the said R. H. did then and there, with force, etc., draw the blood of her the said Sarah. He was found guilty of this charge, and I merely refer to the trial for the purpose of noticing a curious piece of evidence given by a woman who was examined on his behalf. Lord Chief Justice Holt, ” Do you think he was be-witched l” Elizabeth Willoughby, ” I believe he was.” ” I suppose you have some skill in witchcraft did you ever see anybody that was bewitched before ?” ” My lord, I have been under the same circumstances myself, when I was a girl, in Sir Edward Bramfield’s time.” ” How do you know you were bewitched ?” ” There was a woman taken up upon suspicion for it.” ” For bewitching thee ?” ” Yes, my lord.” ” Did you scratch her ?” ” My lord, I had no power to do anything I flew over them all; one held me by one arm, another by the other, and another behind, and I flew sheer over their heads.” “Can you produce any of these women that saw you fly ?” ” It was when I was a child ; they are dead. I have been well ever since I was married.”
In 1705 was published, ” A True and Faithful Account of the Birth, Education, Lives, and Convictions of Eleanor Shaw and Mary Phillips (the two notorious witches), that were executed at Northampton, on Saturday, March 17th, 1705, for bewitching a woman and two children to death, etc., containing the manner and occasion of their turning witches, the league they made with the devil, and the strange discourse they had with him; as also the amazing pranks and remarkable acts both before and after their apprehension, and how they bewitched several persons to death, besides abundance of all sorts of cattle, even to the ruin of many families; with their full confession to the minister, and last dying speeches at the place of execution, the like never before heard of. London, 1705.”
In Clutterbuck’s ” History of Herts,” he says, ” In this village (i.e., Walkern) lived Jane Wenham, a poor woman, who was accused in several instances of having practised sorcery and witchcraft upon the body of Ann Thorn, upon the oaths of several respectable inhabitants of this neighbourhood, before Sir Henry Chauncey, of Yardly Bury, and by him committed to Hertford gaol. She was afterwards tried at the Assizes on the 4th March, 1712, before Mr. Justice Powell, and being found guilty of the charges brought against her, received sentence of death. The judge, however, made a favourable representation of her case to the Queen, who was graciously pleased to grant her a pardon.”
1735. At Burlington, in Pennsylvania, the owners of several cattle believing them to be bewitched, caused some suspected men and women to be taken up, and trials to be made for detecting them. Above three hundred people assembled near the governor’s house, and a pair of scales being erected, the suspected persons were each weighed against a large Bible; but all of them vastly outweighed it. The accused were then tied hand and feet together, and put into a river, on the supposition that if they swam they must be guilty. This trial they offered to undergo, in case as many of the accusers should be served in the like manner; which being done, they all swam very buoyantly, to the no small diversion of the spectators, and clearing of the accused.
In the Frame Daily Journal, Jan. 15, 1731, there is an account of a child of one Wheeler being seized with strange unaccountable fits; the mother goes to a cunning man, who advises her to hang a bottle of the child’s water, close stopped, over the fire, and that the witch would thereupon come and break it. The success of this advice is not mentioned; but a poor old woman in the neighbourhood was taken up, and the old trial by water ordeal revived. They dragged her shivering with an ague out of her house, set her astride on the pommel of a saddle, and carried her about two miles to a mill pond, stripped off her upper clothes, tied her legs, and with a rope about her middle threw her in, two hundred spectators huzzaing and abetting in the riot. They affirm she swam like a cork, though forced several times under water. About an hour after she was taken out of the water she expired. The coroner sat on her body, but could make no discovery of the ringleaders ; although above forty persons assisted in the act, yet none of them could be persuaded to accuse his neighbour, so that the inquest were able to charge only three of them with manslaughter.
We must now notice the statute which was passed in the 9th year of the reign of George II., c. 5, whereby all previous statutes against witchcraft, etc., are repealed. And it is thereby enacted, that all per-sons pretending to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, inchantment, or conjuration, or undertake to tell fortunes, or pretend from his or her skill or knowledge in any occult or crafty science to discover where, or in what manner, any goods or chattels supposed to have been lost or stolen may be found, shall, upon conviction, be imprisoned for a year, and once in every quarter of a year in some market-place of the proper county upon the market day, stand openly on the pillory by the space of one hour, and also give security for good behaviour.
The passing of this Act seems to have given general satisfaction to the community, and at the time gave rise to several droll essays and poems upon the subject, which are to be found in the Gentleman’s Magazine and other periodicals of that day. [See post, pp. a53, 256.] But, although numbers rejoiced at the repeal of the obnoxious statutes which had so long continued on the statute-book, to the terror of antient females, there were others who contemplated the measure with some alarm, and anticipated strange work from the circumstance of the devil being thus fairly let loose.
In April, 1751, at Tring in Herts, a publican giving out that he was bewitched by one Osborne and his wife, harmless people above 70, had it cried at several market towns that they were to be tried by ducking on April 22, which occasioned a vast concourse. [See post, p. 267.]
22 June, 1760. At a General Quarter Sessions for Leicester, two persons, concerned in ducking for witches all the poor old women in Glen and Burton Overy, were sentenced to stand in the pillory twice, and to be in gaol one month.
28 Nov., 1762. A number of people surrounded the house of John Pritchers of West Langdon in Kent, and under a notion of his wife having bewitched a boy 13 years old, dragged her out by violence, and compelled her to go to the boy’s father, about a mile from her own, where they forced her into the room where the boy was, scratched her arms and face in a most cruel manner to draw blood, and they threatened to swim her, but some people of condition interfering, the poor woman’s life was happily preserved; and the persons concerned in carrying on the imposture, particularly one Beard and Ladd’s wife, being carried before a magistrate, and compelled to make satisfaction to the unhappy injured woman, the mob dispersed, and the country, that was everywhere in tumult, again quieted, The boy pretended to void needles and pins from his body, and his father and mother upheld the deceit, and collected large sums of those whose compassion was excited.
15 Nov., 1775. Nine old women were burned at Kaleck in Poland, charged with having bewitched and rendered unfruitful the lands be-longing to a gentleman in the Palatinate.
I July, 1776. A woman at Earls Shilton in Leicestershire, being sometime previously seized with an uncommon disorder, her friends took it into their heads that she was bewitched by a poor old creature in the neighbourhood who could scarce crawl. To this miserable object the diseased, her husband, and son (a soldier), went and threatened to destroy her if she did not instantly suffer blood to be drawn from her body, bless the woman, and remove her disorder. Hesitating a little, the son drew his sword, and pointing it to her breast, swore he would plunge it into her heart if she did not instantly comply, which being consented to, they all returned home, seemingly satisfied; but the part not being relieved, they raised a mob, seized the old woman, dragged her to a pond, cruelly plunged her in to the waist, and were proceeding to practise some of the ancient expedients, when, fortunately for her, she was rescued from their hands by the humanity of the neighbouring gentlemen.
“Behold them front to front, accursed both,
Saul and the Sorceress. Her inquisitive gaze
Glar’d on him ; and his eyelid gradual sank
Beneath her searching.”-W. SOTHEBY : Saul [1807, 4to.].
At the Taunton Assizes, 1811, Betty Townsend, aged 77, considered by the superstitious as a witch, was tried for obtaining money from a child under the following circumstances. The prosecutor, Jacob Poole, a labouring man, had been in the habit of sending his daughter, aged thirteen, with apples in a basket to market. On Jan. 24, the old woman met with the girl, and asked to see what she had got in her basket, which having examined, she said to her, “Hast got any money ?” The child said she had none. ” Then get some for me,” said the old woman, “and bring it to me at the castle door, or I will kill thee.” The child, terrified to an extreme at such a threat from a witch, procured two shillings, and carried it to her, when the old woman said, “‘Tis a good thing thou hast got it, or else I would have made thee die by inches.” She practised this upon the child several times, obtaining in all £2 6s. 5d. This was at length disclosed by the child to her mother, who accused the witch, whereupon she swore that if any one dared to accuse her, she would make them die by inches. ” No,” said Mrs. Poole, who considered that she knew more about witches than her daughter; “that thee shall not; I’ll hinder that ;” and, taking a pin from her clothes, scratched the witch from the elbow to the wrist, in three different places, to draw her blood ; a process believed to be of unfailing efficacy as an antidote to witchcraft.
It appears, by the “Annual Register” of 1802, that five women were tried at Putna, in Hindostan, on charges of sorcery, and being found guilty, were put to death. The Governor-General, on being informed of the circumstance, ordered all the principal persons who composed the tribunals to be apprehended, and arraigned before the Circuit Court of Putna, on charges of the murder of these women ; and the Court ordered them to suffer death. It appeared, however, that this custom had been preserved time immemorial. Several of the witnesses referred to numerous instances of persons having been put to death by the Brahmins for sorcery ; and one of them, in particular, proved that his own mother had been tried and executed as a witch. The Governor therefore pardoned the officers ; but, to pre-vent the recurrence of a circumstance so disgraceful to humanity, a proclamation was forthwith issued, declaring that anyone forming a tribunal for the trial of persons charged with witchcraft, or aiding or encouraging in any act to deprive such persons of life, shall be deemed guilty of murder, and suffer the penalty attached to that offence.
On the 11th April, 1827, at the Monmouth Assizes, William Watkins, and three others, were indicted and found guilty of an assault upon Mary Nicolas, a decrepit old woman, upwards of ninety, which they had committed under a belief, prevalent in that neighbourhood, that she was a witch. The old woman deposed to the prisoners and others having seized her, and beaten her with thorns and briars, for the purpose of, as in days of yore, drawing blood; and they also attempted to force her into a pool, for the purpose of trying the efficacy of the water ordeal.
A witness proved the prisoners having taken the old woman to a lane where three cattle had died, and charged her with being the author of their death; and then, taking her to a stable where there was a colt, made her repeat several times, “God bless the colt!” They afterwards stripped her naked, and searched her, in order to find her teat, which they declared they had found, upon their discovering a wart or wen upon her head.
This, in all probability, is the latest instance to be met with of English credulity as to the existence of this surprising art, and it may be questionable whether it will not be the last.
From what has been stated, it will be perceived that the ladies, with but very few exceptions, have possessed the honour of being the exclusive proprietors of this peculiar charm ; and it may be expected that, in a treatise of this kind, the writer should attempt to give some account of this, and explain the cause to which it may be attributed.
By what means the ladies, in preference to the other sex, became thus peculiarly gifted, I have not been able distinctly to ascertain. One Richard Barnard, however, a minister at Batcombe, in Somerset, in 1627, attempted to account for this singular monopoly, in a little work entitled, ” A Guide to Grand Jurymen about the Trial of Witches.”
“There are more women witches,” says he, “than men, and it may be for these reasons :-First, Satan his setting upon these rather than on men, since his unhappie outset and prevailing with Eve. Secondly, their more credulous nature, and apt to be misled and deceived. Thirdly, for that they are commonlie more impatient and more superstitious; and, being displeased, more malicious, and so more apt to bitter cursing ; and far more revengeful, according to their power, than men, and so herein more fit instruments of the devill. Fourthly, they are more tongue-ripe, and less able to hide what they know from others; and therefore, in this respect, are more ready to be teachers of witchcraft to others, and to leave it to children, servants, or to some others, than men. Fifthly and lastly, because, where they think they can command, they are more proud in their rule, and more busy in setting such on worke whom they may command, than men, and therefore the devill laboureth most to make them witches ; because they, upon every light displeasure, will set him on worke, which is that which he desireth, and is sore displeased if he bee not set on worke, which women will be ready enough to doe.”
It is time now to bring this subject to a close; and, in doing so, it may not be altogether useless if we endeavour to satisfy ourselves whether or not there is any foundation for the belief, which appears to have been entertained in every age and in every country, that this extraordinary power has been possessed by our frail species.
Sir Matthew Hale has said, that there were such creatures as witches, he made no doubt at all, for these reasons :First, the Holy Scriptures have affirmed it. Secondly, the wisdom of all nations has provided laws against such persons, which seems to imply a confident belief in the existence of witchcraft. Can it, in short, be allowed that all the world have conspired together to cheat and juggle mankind on this subject; that every recorded instance is false; that every one of the many thousands who have suffered death, had no commerce with an evil spirit, without whose influence it cannot be believed that they could have performed these astonishing feats; that all the countless host of witnesses were, to a man, liars and perjurers ; and the judges and juries of the accused fools and murderers ?
Upon the whole, the safest conclusion appears to be that which was come to by the enlightened Blackstone, doubtless after much reflection upon the subject, who adopted the opinion entertained by a celebrated essayist in 1711. After a description of the crime of witch-craft, in the fourth volume of his ” Commentaries,” p. 60, Blackstone says:
” To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God, in various passages both of the Old and New Testaments ; and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world has in its turn borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well attested, or by prohibitory laws, which at least suppose the possibility of a commerce with evil spirits. The civil law punishes with death not only the sorcerers themselves, but also those who consult them, imitating in the former the express law of God’ Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ And our own laws, both before and since the Conquest, have been equally penal, ranking the crime in the same class with heresy, and condemning both to the flames. Wherefore,” he adds, ” it seems to be the most eligible way to come to the conclusion of an ingenious writer of our own.”
The conclusion referred to will be found in No. 117 of The Spectator, which, it is said, was written by the elegant and sensible Addison, and produced a great sensation in the year 1711, having materially shook the popular credulity, no one having been put to death in this country after that period, although one was hanged in 1705, and several were afterwards convicted. With the observations of this estimable man, as they entirely coincide with my own humble opinions, I close this subject:
“When I hear the relations that are made from all parts of the world, not only from Norway and Lapland, from the East and West Indies, but from every particular nation in Europe, I cannot forbear thinking that there is such an intercourse and commerce with evil spirits as that which we express by the name of witchcraft. But when I consider that the ignorant and credulous parts of the world abound most in these relations, and that the persons amongst us who are sup-posed to engage in such an infernal commerce are people of a weak understanding and crazed imagination, and at the same time reflect upon the many impostures and delusions of this nature that have been detected in all ages, I endeavour to suspend my belief till I hear more certain accounts than any which have yet come to my knowledge. In short, when I consider the question whether there are such persons in the world as those we call witches, my mind is divided between the two opposite opinions; or rather, to speak my thoughts freely, I believe in several that there is, and has been, such a thing as witchcraft; but, at the same time, can give no credit to any particular modern instance of it.”
Yours, etc., I. P.
[Under the heading ” Original Documents,” the Gent. Mag. for October, 1860, pp.380-385, contains an account and transcript of documents in the State Paper Office, Domestic Series, temp. Eliz., which illustrate the superstition that a little waxen figure formed to represent some particular person might be rendered capable by magical enchantments of entering into such intimate sympathy with the person represented that any torture inflicted on the symbol would affect the being symbolized. The principal parties to the transaction here revealed were one Robert Birch, a reputed conjurer, and Mrs. Dewse, of whose station in life nothing appears, but who was evidently the wife of a man well-to-do in the world. The persons to whom the injury was to be done were “those knaves,” Rowland Heyward, the Lord Mayor, and Justice Young. These persons had so misrepresented the case of the Dewses to the authorities that they would not hear the husband’s petition. Her desire was to have “all their pictures, and prick them with pins, that they might think it was God’s doing. . . She meant to prick them all at the heart, and if they died, all except the Lord Chancellor, it was no matter.” The conjuror Birch went to Justice Young and revealed the whole plot. Under the justice’s direction he played the spy, assisted her in making three of the images, and saw her thrust a pin in the heart of each of those intended for Young and Sir Rowland Heyward, with an additional one under Heyward’s ribs, and two pins into the eyes of the image intended for a person named Pye. The documents setting forth these particulars are “Information against Dewse’s wife, January, 1589-90,” and “Mr. Birche’s Report of Mrs. Dewse’s words, Jan., 1590.”1