A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718
by Wallace Notestein
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To this Essay was awarded the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize in European History for 1909







In its original form this essay was the dissertation submitted for a doctorate in philosophy conferred by Yale University in 1908. When first projected it was the writer's purpose to take up the subject of English witchcraft under certain general political and social aspects. It was not long, however, before he began to feel that preliminary to such a treatment there was necessary a chronological survey of the witch trials. Those strange and tragic affairs were so closely involved with the politics, literature, and life of the seventeenth century that one is surprised to find how few of them have received accurate or complete record in history. It may be said, in fact, that few subjects have gathered about themselves so large concretions of misinformation as English witchcraft. This is largely, of course, because so little attention has been given to it by serious students of history. The mistakes and misunderstandings of contemporary writers and of the local historians have been handed down from county history to county history until many of them have crept into general works. For this reason it was determined to attempt a chronological treatment which would give a narrative history of the more significant trials along with some account of the progress of opinion. This plan has been adhered to somewhat strictly, sometimes not without regret upon the part of the writer. It is his hope later in a series of articles to deal with some of the more general phases of the subject, with such topics as the use of torture, the part of the physicians, the contagious nature of the witch alarms, the relation of Puritanism to persecution, the supposed influence of the Royal Society, the general causes for the gradual decline of the belief, and other like questions. It will be seen in the course of the narrative that some of these matters have been touched upon.

This study of witchcraft has been limited to a period of about one hundred and sixty years in English history. The year 1558 has been chosen as the starting point because almost immediately after the accession of Elizabeth there began the movement for a new law, a movement which resulted in the statute of 1563. With that statute the history of the persecution of witches gathers importance. The year 1718 has been selected as a concluding date because that year was marked by the publication of Francis Hutchinson's notable attack upon the belief. Hutchinson levelled a final and deadly blow at the dying superstition. Few men of intelligence dared after that avow any belief in the reality of witchcraft; it is probable that very few even secretly cherished such a belief. A complete history would of course include a full account both of the witch trials from Anglo-Saxon times to Elizabeth's accession and of the various witch-swimming incidents of the eighteenth century. The latter it has not seemed worth while here to consider. The former would involve an examination of all English sources from the earliest times and would mean a study of isolated and unrelated trials occurring at long intervals (at least, we have record only of such) and chiefly in church courts. The writer has not undertaken to treat this earlier period; he must confess to but small knowledge of it. In the few pages which he has given to it he has attempted nothing more than to sketch from the most obvious sources an outline of what is currently known as to English witches and witchcraft prior to the days of Elizabeth. It is to be hoped that some student of medieval society will at some time make a thorough investigation of the history of witchcraft in England to the accession of the great Queen.

For the study of the period to be covered in this monograph there exists a wealth of material. It would perhaps not be too much to say that everything in print and manuscript in England during the last half of the sixteenth and the entire seventeenth century should be read or at least glanced over. The writer has limited himself to certain kinds of material from which he could reasonably expect to glean information. These sources fall into seven principal categories. Most important of all are the pamphlets, or chapbooks, dealing with the history of particular alarms and trials and usually concluding with the details of confession and execution. Second only to them in importance are the local or municipal records, usually court files, but sometimes merely expense accounts. In the memoirs and diaries can be found many mentions of trials witnessed by the diarist or described to him. The newspapers of the time, in their eagerness to exploit the unusual, seize gloatingly upon the stories of witchcraft. The works of local historians and antiquarians record in their lists of striking and extraordinary events within their counties or boroughs the several trials and hangings for the crime. The writers, mainly theologians, who discuss the theory and doctrine of witchcraft illustrate the principles they lay down by cases that have fallen under their observation. Lastly, the state papers contain occasional references to the activities of the Devil and of his agents in the realm.

Besides these seven types of material there should be named a few others less important. From the pamphlet accounts of the criminal dockets at the Old Bailey and Newgate, leaflets which were published at frequent intervals after the Restoration, are to be gleaned mentions of perhaps half a dozen trials for witchcraft. The plays of Dekker, Heywood, and Shadwell must be used by the student, not because they add information omitted elsewhere, but because they offer some clue to the way in which the witches at Edmonton and Lancaster were regarded by the public. If the pamphlet narrative of the witch of Edmonton had been lost, it might be possible to reconstruct from the play of Dekker, Ford, and Rowley some of the outlines of the story. It would be at best a hazardous undertaking. To reconstruct the trials at Lancaster from the plays of Heywood and Brome or from that of Shadwell would be quite impossible. The ballads present a form of evidence much like that of the plays. Like the plays, they happen all to deal with cases about which we are already well informed. In general, they seem to follow the narratives and depositions faithfully.

No mention has been made of manuscript sources. Those used by the author have all belonged to one or other of the types of material described.

It has been remarked that there is current a large body of misinformation about English witchcraft. It would be ungrateful of the author not to acknowledge that some very good work has been done on the theme. The Reverend Francis Hutchinson, as already mentioned, wrote in 1718 an epoch-making history of the subject, a book which is still useful and can never be wholly displaced. In 1851 Thomas Wright brought out his Narratives of Sorcery and Magic, a work at once entertaining and learned. Wright wrote largely from original sources and wrote with a good deal of care. Such blunders as he made were the result of haste and of the want of those materials which we now possess. Mrs. Lynn Linton's Witch Stories, published first in 1861, is a better book than might be supposed from a casual glance at it. It was written with no more serious purpose than to entertain, but it is by no means to be despised. So far as it goes, it represents careful work. It would be wrong to pass over Lecky's brilliant essay on witchcraft in his History of Rationalism, valuable of course rather as an interpretation than as an historical account. Lecky said many things about witchcraft that needed to be said, and said them well. It is my belief that his verdicts as to the importance of sundry factors may have to be modified; but, however that be, the importance of his essay must always be recognized. One must not omit in passing James Russell Lowell's charming essay on the subject. Both Lecky and Lowell of course touched English witchcraft but lightly. Since Mrs. Lynn Linton's no careful treatment of English witchcraft proper has appeared. In 1907, however, Professor Kittredge published his Notes on Witchcraft, the sixty-seven pages of which with their footnotes contain a more scrupulous sifting of the evidence as to witchcraft in England than is to be found in any other treatment. Professor Kittredge is chiefly interested in English witchcraft as it relates itself to witchcraft in New England, but his work contains much that is fresh about the belief in England. As to the role and the importance of various actors in the drama and as to sundry minor matters, the writer has found himself forced to divergence of view. He recognizes nevertheless the importance of Professor Kittredge's contribution to the study of the whole subject and acknowledges his own indebtedness to the essay for suggestion and guidance.

The author cannot hope that the work here presented is final. Unfortunately there is still hidden away in England an unexplored mass of local records. Some of them no doubt contain accounts of witch trials. I have used chiefly such printed and manuscript materials as were accessible in London and Oxford. Some day perhaps I may find time to go the rounds of the English counties and search the masses of gaol delivery records and municipal archives. From the really small amount of new material on the subject brought to light by the Historical Manuscripts Commission and by the publication of many municipal records, it seems improbable that such a search would uncover so many unlisted trials as seriously to modify the narrative. Nevertheless until such a search is made no history of the subject has the right to be counted final. Mr. Charles W. Wallace, the student of Shakespeare, tells me that in turning over the multitudinous records of the Star Chamber he found a few witch cases. Professor Kittredge believes that there is still a great deal of such material to be turned up in private collections and local archives. Any information on this matter which any student of English local history can give me will be gratefully received.

I wish to express my thanks for reading parts of the manuscript to William Savage Johnson of Kansas University and to Miss Ada Comstock of the University of Minnesota. For general assistance and advice on the subject I am under obligations to Professor Wilbur C. Abbott and to Professor George Burton Adams of Yale University. It is quite impossible to say how very much I owe to Professor George L. Burr of Cornell. From cover to cover the book, since the award to it of the Adams Prize, has profited from his painstaking criticism and wise suggestion.

W. N.

Minneapolis, October 10, 1911.



Preface v


The Beginnings of English Witchcraft 1


Witchcraft under Elizabeth 33


Reginald Scot 57


The Exorcists 73


James I and Witchcraft 93


Notable Jacobean Cases 120


The Lancashire Witches and Charles I 146


Matthew Hopkins 164


Witchcraft during the Commonwealth and Protectorate 206


The Literature of Witchcraft from 1603 to 1660 227


Witchcraft under Charles II and James II 254


Glanvill and Webster and the Literary War over Witchcraft, 1660-1688 284


The Final Decline 313


The Close of the Literary Controversy 334

Appendices 345

A. Pamphlet Literature 345

B. List of Persons Sentenced to Death for Witchcraft during the Reign of James I 383

C. List of Cases of Witchcraft, 1558-1717, with References to Sources and Literature 384

Index 421



It has been said by a thoughtful writer that the subject of witchcraft has hardly received that place which it deserves in the history of opinions. There has been, of course, a reason for this neglect—the fact that the belief in witchcraft is no longer existent among intelligent people and that its history, in consequence, seems to possess rather an antiquarian than a living interest. No one can tell the story of the witch trials of sixteenth and seventeenth century England without digging up a buried past, and the process of exhumation is not always pleasant. Yet the study of English witchcraft is more than an unsightly exposure of a forgotten superstition. There were few aspects of sixteenth and seventeenth century life that were not affected by the ugly belief. It is quite impossible to grasp the social conditions, it is impossible to understand the opinions, fears, and hopes of the men and women who lived in Elizabethan and Stuart England, without some knowledge of the part played in that age by witchcraft. It was a matter that concerned all classes from the royal household to the ignorant denizens of country villages. Privy councillors anxious about their sovereign and thrifty peasants worrying over their crops, clergymen alert to detect the Devil in their own parishes, medical quacks eager to profit by the fear of evil women, justices of the peace zealous to beat down the works of Satan—all classes, indeed—believed more or less sincerely in the dangerous powers of human creatures who had surrendered themselves to the Evil One.

Witchcraft, in a general and vague sense, was something very old in English history. In a more specific and limited sense it is a comparatively modern phenomenon. This leads us to a definition of the term. It is a definition that can be given adequately only in an historical way. A group of closely related and somewhat ill defined conceptions went far back. Some of them, indeed, were to be found in the Old Testament, many of them in the Latin and Greek writers. The word witchcraft itself belonged to Anglo-Saxon days. As early as the seventh century Theodore of Tarsus imposed penances upon magicians and enchanters, and the laws, from Alfred on, abound with mentions of witchcraft.[1] From these passages the meaning of the word witch as used by the early English may be fairly deduced. The word was the current English term for one who used spells and charms, who was assisted by evil spirits to accomplish certain ends. It will be seen that this is by no means the whole meaning of the term in later times. Nothing is yet said about the transformation of witches into other shapes, and there is no mention of a compact, implicit or otherwise, with the Devil; there is no allusion to the nocturnal meetings of the Devil's worshippers and to the orgies that took place upon those occasions; there is no elaborate and systematic theological explanation of human relations with demons.

But these notions were to reach England soon enough. Already there were germinating in southern Europe ideas out of which the completer notions were to spring. As early as the close of the ninth century certain Byzantine traditions were being introduced into the West. There were legends of men who had made written compacts with the Devil, men whom he promised to assist in this world in return for their souls in the next.[2] But, while such stories were current throughout the Middle Ages, the notion behind them does not seem to have been connected with the other features of what was to make up the idea of witchcraft until about the middle of the fourteenth century. It was about that time that the belief in the "Sabbat" or nocturnal assembly of the witches made its appearance.[3] The belief grew up that witches rode through the air to these meetings, that they renounced Christ and engaged in foul forms of homage to Satan. Lea tells us that towards the close of the century the University of Paris formulated the theory that a pact with Satan was inherent in all magic, and judges began to connect this pact with the old belief in night riders through the air. The countless confessions that resulted from the carefully framed questions of the judges served to develop and systematize the theory of the subject. The witch was much more than a sorcerer. Sorcerers had been those who, through the aid of evil spirits, by the use of certain words or of representations of persons or things produced changes above the ordinary course of nature. "The witch," says Lea, "has abandoned Christianity, has renounced her baptism, has worshipped Satan as her God, has surrendered herself to him, body and soul, and exists only to be his instrument in working the evil to her fellow creatures which he cannot accomplish without a human agent."[4] This was the final and definite notion of a witch. It was the conception that controlled European opinion on the subject from the latter part of the fourteenth to the close of the seventeenth century. It was, as has been seen, an elaborate theological notion that had grown out of the comparatively simple and vague ideas to be found in the scriptural and classical writers.

It may well be doubted whether this definite and intricate theological notion of witchcraft reached England so early as the fourteenth century. Certainly not until a good deal later—if negative evidence is at all trustworthy—was a clear distinction made between sorcery and witchcraft. The witches searched for by Henry IV, the professor of divinity, the friar, the clerk, and the witch of Eye, who were hurried before the Council of Henry VI, that unfortunate Duchess of Gloucester who had to walk the streets of London, the Duchess of Bedford, the conspirators against Edward IV who were supposed to use magic, the unlucky mistress of Edward IV—none of these who through the course of two centuries were charged with magical misdeeds were, so far as we know, accused of those dreadful relations with the Devil, the nauseating details of which fill out the later narratives of witch history.

The truth seems to be that the idea of witchcraft was not very clearly defined and differentiated in the minds of ordinary Englishmen until after the beginning of legislation upon the subject. It is not impossible that there were English theologians who could have set forth the complete philosophy of the belief, but to the average mind sorcery, conjuration, enchantment, and witchcraft were but evil ways of mastering nature. All that was changed when laws were passed. With legislation came greatly increased numbers of accusations; with accusations and executions came treatises and theory. Continental writers were consulted, and the whole system and science of the subject were soon elaborated for all who read.

With the earlier period, which has been sketched merely by way of definition, this monograph cannot attempt to deal. It limits itself to a narrative of the witch trials, and incidentally of opinion as to witchcraft, after there was definite legislation by Parliament. The statute of the fifth year of Elizabeth's reign marks a point in the history of the judicial persecution at which an account may very naturally begin. The year 1558 has been selected as the date because from the very opening of the reign which was to be signalized by the passing of that statute and was to be characterized by a serious effort to enforce it, the persecution was preparing.

Up to that time the crime of sorcery had been dealt with in a few early instances by the common-law courts, occasionally (where politics were involved) by the privy council, but more usually, it is probable, by the church. This, indeed, may easily be illustrated from the works of law. Britton and Fleta include an inquiry about sorcerers as one of the articles of the sheriff's tourn. A note upon Britton, however, declares that it is for the ecclesiastical court to try such offenders and to deliver them to be put to death in the king's court, but that the king himself may proceed against them if he pleases.[5] While there is some overlapping of procedure implied by this, the confusion seems to have been yet greater in actual practice. A brief narrative of some cases prior to 1558 will illustrate the strangely unsettled state of procedure. Pollock and Maitland relate several trials to be found in the early pleas. In 1209 one woman accused another of sorcery in the king's court and the defendant cleared herself by the ordeal. In 1279 a man accused of killing a witch who assaulted him in his house was fined, but only because he had fled away. Walter Langton, Bishop of Lichfield and treasurer of Edward I, was accused of sorcery and homage to Satan and cleared himself with the compurgators. In 1325 more than twenty men were indicted and tried by the king's bench for murder by tormenting a waxen image. All of them were acquitted. In 1371 there was brought before the king's bench an inhabitant of Southwark who was charged with sorcery, but he was finally discharged on swearing that he would never be a sorcerer.[6]

It will be observed that these early cases were all of them tried in the secular courts; but there is no reason to doubt that the ecclesiastical courts were quite as active, and their zeal must have been quickened by the statute of 1401, which in cases of heresy made the lay power their executioner. It was at nearly the same time, however, that the charge of sorcery began to be frequently used as a political weapon. In such cases, of course, the accused was usually a person of influence and the matter was tried in the council. It will be seen, then, that the crime was one that might fall either under ecclesiastical or conciliar jurisdiction and the particular circumstances usually determined finally the jurisdiction. When Henry IV was informed that the diocese of Lincoln was full of sorcerers, magicians, enchanters, necromancers, diviners, and soothsayers, he sent a letter to the bishop requiring him to search for sorcerers and to commit them to prison after conviction, or even before, if it should seem expedient.[7] This was entrusting the matter to the church, but the order was given by authority of the king, not improbably after the matter had been discussed in the council. In the reign of Henry VI conciliar and ecclesiastical authorities both took part at different times and in different ways. Thomas Northfield, a member of the Order of Preachers in Worcester and a professor of divinity, was brought before the council, together with all suspected matter belonging to him, and especially his books treating of sorcery. Pike does not tell us the outcome.[8] In the same year there were summoned before the council three humbler sorcerers, Margery Jourdemain, John Virley, a cleric, and John Ashwell, a friar of the Order of the Holy Cross. It would be hard to say whether the three were in any way connected with political intrigue. It is possible that they were suspected of sorcery against the sovereign. They were all, however, dismissed on giving security.[9] It was only a few years after this instance of conciliar jurisdiction that a much more important case was turned over to the clergy. The story of Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, is a familiar one. It was determined by the enemies of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester to attack him through his wife, who was believed to be influential with the young king. The first move was made by arresting a Roger Bolingbroke who had been connected with the duke and the duchess, and who was said to be an astronomer or necromancer. It was declared that he had cast the duchess's horoscope with a view to ascertaining her chances to the throne. Bolingbroke made confession, and Eleanor was then brought before "certayne bisshoppis of the kyngis." In the mean time several lords, members of the privy council, were authorized to "enquire of al maner tresons, sorcery, and alle othir thyngis that myghte in eny wise ... concerne harmfulli the kyngis persone."[10] Bolingbroke and a clergyman, Thomas Southwell, were indicted of treason with the duchess as accessory. With them was accused that Margery Jourdemain who had been released ten years before. Eleanor was then reexamined before the Bishops of London, Lincoln, and Norwich, she was condemned as guilty, and required to walk barefoot through the streets of London, which she "dede righte mekely." The rest of her life she spent in a northern prison. Bolingbroke was executed as a traitor, and Margery Jourdemain was burnt at Smithfield.[11]

The case of the Duchess of Bedford—another instance of the connection between sorcery and political intrigue—fell naturally into the hands of the council. It was believed by those who could understand in no other way the king's infatuation that he had been bewitched by the mother of the queen. The story was whispered from ear to ear until the duchess got wind of it and complained to the council against her maligners. The council declared her cleared of suspicion and ordered that the decision should be "enacted of record."[12]

The charge of sorcery brought by the protector Richard of Gloucester against Jane Shore, who had been the mistress of Edward IV, never came to trial and in consequence illustrates neither ecclesiastical nor conciliar jurisdiction. It is worthy of note however that the accusation was preferred by the protector—who was soon to be Richard III—in the council chamber.[13]

It will be seen that these cases prove very little as to procedure in the matter of sorcery and witchcraft. They are cases that arose in a disturbed period and that concerned chiefly people of note. That they were tried before the bishops or before the privy council does not mean that all such charges were brought into those courts. There must have been less important cases that were never brought before the council or the great ecclesiastical courts. It seems probable—to reason backward from later practice—that less important trials were conducted almost exclusively by the minor church courts.[14]

This would at first lead us to suspect that, when the state finally began to legislate against witchcraft by statute, it was endeavoring to wrest jurisdiction of the crime out of the hands of the church and to put it into secular hands. Such a supposition, however, there is nothing to justify. It seems probable, on the contrary, that the statute enacted in the reign of Henry VIII was passed rather to support the church in its struggle against sorcery and witchcraft than to limit its jurisdiction in the matter. It was to assist in checking these practitioners that the state stepped in. At another point in this chapter we shall have occasion to note the great interest in sorcery and all kindred subjects that was springing up over England, and we shall at times observe some of the manifestations of this interest as well as some of the causes for it. Here it is necessary only to urge the importance of this interest as accounting for the passage of a statute.[15]

Chapter VIII of 33 Henry VIII states its purpose clearly: "Where," reads the preamble, "dyvers and sundrie persones unlawfully have devised and practised Invocacions and conjuracions of Sprites, pretendyng by suche meanes to understande and get Knowlege for their owne lucre in what place treasure of golde and Silver shulde or mought be founde or had ... and also have used and occupied wichecraftes, inchauntmentes and sorceries to the distruccion of their neighbours persones and goodes." A description was given of the methods practised, and it was enacted that the use of any invocation or conjuration of spirits, witchcrafts, enchantments, or sorceries should be considered felony.[16] It will be observed that the law made no graduation of offences. Everything was listed as felony. No later piece of legislation on the subject was so sweeping in its severity.

The law remained on the statute-book only six years. In the early part of the reign of Edward VI, when the protector Somerset was in power, a policy of great leniency in respect to felonies was proposed. In December of 1547 a bill was introduced into Parliament to repeal certain statutes for treason and felony. "This bill being a matter of great concern to every subject, a committee was appointed, consisting of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the lord chancellor, the lord chamberlain, the Marquis of Dorset, the Earls of Shrewsbury and Southampton, the Bishops of Ely, Lincoln, and Worcester, the Lords Cobham, Clinton, and Wentworth, with certain of the king's learned council; all which noblemen were appointed to meet a committee of the Commons ... in order to treat and commune on the purport of the said bill."[17] The Commons, it seems, had already prepared a bill of their own, but this they were willing to drop and the Lords' measure with some amendments was finally passed. It was under this wide repeal of felonies that chapter VIII of 33 Henry VIII was finally annulled. Whether the question of witchcraft came up for special consideration or not, we are not informed. We do know that the Bishops of London, Durham, Ely, Hereford, and Chichester, took exception to some amendments that were inserted in the act of repeal,[18] and it is not impossible that they were opposed to repealing the act against witchcraft. Certainly there is no reason to suppose that the church was resisting the encroachment of the state in the subject.

As a matter of fact it is probable that, in the general question of repeal of felonies, the question of witchcraft received scant attention. There is indeed an interesting story that seems to point in that direction and that deserves repeating also as an illustration of the protector's attitude towards the question. Edward Underhill gives the narrative in his autobiography: "When we hade dyned, the maior sentt to [two] off his offycers with me to seke Alene; whome we mett withalle in Poles, and toke hym with us unto his chamber, wheare we founde fygures sett to calke the nativetie off the kynge, and a jugementt gevyne off his deathe, wheroff this folyshe wreche thoughte hymselfe so sure thatt he and his conselars the papistes bruted it all over. The kynge laye att Hamtone courte the same tyme, and me lord protector at the Syone; unto whome I caryed this Alen, with his bokes off conejuracyons, cearkles, and many thynges beloungynge to thatt dyvlyshe art, wiche he affyrmed before me lorde was a lawfulle cyens [science], for the statute agaynst souche was repealed. 'Thow folyshe knave! (sayde me lorde) yff thou and all thatt be off thy cyens telle me what I shalle do to-morow, I wylle geve the alle thatt I have'; commaundynge me to cary hym unto the Tower." Alen was examined about his science and it was discovered that he was "a very unlearned asse, and a sorcerer, for the wiche he was worthye hangynge, sayde Mr. Recorde." He was however kept in the Tower "about the space off a yere, and then by frendshipe delyvered. So scapithe alwayes the weked."[19]

But the wicked were not long to escape. The beginning of Elizabeth's reign saw a serious and successful effort to put on the statute-book definite and severe penalties for conjuration, sorcery, witchcraft, and related crimes. The question was taken up in the very first year of the new reign and a bill was draughted.[20] It was not, however, until 1563 that the statute was finally passed. It was then enacted that those who "shall use, practise, or exercise any Witchecrafte, Enchantment, Charme or Sorcerie, whereby any person shall happen to bee killed or destroyed, ... their Concellors and Aidours, ... shall suffer paynes of Deathe as a Felon or Felons." It was further declared that those by whose practices any person was wasted, consumed, or lamed, should suffer for the first offence one year's imprisonment and should be put in the pillory four times. For the second offence death was the penalty. It was further provided that those who by witchcraft presumed to discover treasure or to find stolen property or to "provoke any person to unlawfull love" should suffer a year's imprisonment and four appearances in the pillory.

With this law the history of the prosecution of witchcraft in England as a secular crime may well begin. The question naturally arises, What was the occasion of this law? How did it happen that just at this particular time so drastic a measure was passed and put into operation? Fortunately part of the evidence exists upon which to frame an answer. The English churchmen who had been driven out of England during the Marian persecution had many of them sojourned in Zurich and Geneva, where the extirpation of witches was in full progress, and had talked over the matter with eminent Continental theologians. With the accession of Elizabeth these men returned to England in force and became prominent in church and state, many of them receiving bishoprics. It is not possible to show that they all were influential in putting through the statute of the fifth year of Elizabeth. It is clear that one of them spoke out plainly on the subject. It can hardly be doubted that he represented the opinions of many other ecclesiastics who had come under the same influences during their exile.[21] John Jewel was an Anglican of Calvinistic sympathies who on his return to England at Elizabeth's accession had been appointed Bishop of Salisbury. Within a short time he came to occupy a prominent position in the court. He preached before the Queen and accompanied her on a visit to Oxford. It was in the course of one of his first sermons—somewhere between November of 1559 and March of 1560[22]—that he laid before her his convictions on witchcraft. It is, he tells her, "the horrible using of your poor subjects," that forces him to speak. "This kind of people (I mean witches and sorcerers) within these few last years are marvellously increased within this your grace's realm. These eyes have seen most evident and manifest marks of their wickedness. Your grace's subjects pine away even unto death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft. Wherefore, your poor subjects' most humble petition unto your highness is, that the laws touching such malefactors may be put in due execution."

The church historian, Strype, conjectures that this sermon was the cause of the law passed in the fifth year of Elizabeth's reign, by which witchcraft was again made a felony, as it had been in the reign of Henry VIII.[23] Whatever weight we may attach to Strype's suggestion, we have every right to believe that Jewel introduced foreign opinion on witchcraft. Very probably there were many returned exiles as well as others who brought back word of the crusade on the Continent; but Jewel's words put the matter formally before the queen and her government.[24]

We can trace the effect of the ecclesiastic's appeal still further. The impression produced by it was responsible probably not only for the passage of the law but also for the issue of commissions to the justices of the peace to apprehend all the witches they were able to find in their jurisdictions.[25]

It can hardly be doubted that the impression produced by the bishop's sermon serves in part to explain the beginning of the state's attack upon witches. Yet one naturally inquires after some other factor in the problem. Is it not likely that there were in England itself certain peculiar conditions, certain special circumstances, that served to forward the attack? To answer that query, we must recall the situation in England when Elizabeth took the throne. Elizabeth was a Protestant, and her accession meant the relinquishment of the Catholic hold upon England. But it was not long before the claims of Mary, Queen of Scots, began to give the English ministers bad dreams. Catholic and Spanish plots against the life of Elizabeth kept the government detectives on the lookout. Perhaps because it was deemed the hardest to circumvent, the use of conjuration against the life of the queen was most feared. It was a method too that appealed to conspirators, who never questioned its efficacy, and who anticipated little risk of discovery.

To understand why the English government should have been so alarmed at the efforts of the conjurers, we shall have to go back to the half-century that preceded the reign of the great queen and review briefly the rise of those curious traders in mystery. The earlier half of the fifteenth century, when the witch fires were already lighted in South Germany, saw the coming of conjurers in England. Their numbers soon evidenced a growing interest in the supernatural upon the part of the English and foreshadowed the growing faith in witchcraft. From the scattered local records the facts have been pieced together to show that here and there professors of magic powers were beginning to get a hearing. As they first appear upon the scene, the conjurers may be grouped in two classes, the position seekers and the treasure seekers. To the first belong those who used incantations and charms to win the favor of the powerful, and so to gain advancement for themselves or for their clients.[26] It was a time when there was every encouragement to try these means. Men like Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell had risen from humble rank to the highest places in the state. Their careers seemed inexplicable, if not uncanny. It was easy to believe that unfair and unlawful practices had been used. What had been done before could be done again. So the dealers in magic may have reasoned. At all events, whatever their mental operations, they experimented with charms which were to gain the favor of the great, and some of their operations came to the ears of the court.

The treasure seekers[27] were more numerous. Every now and then in the course of English history treasures have been unearthed, many of them buried in Roman times. Stories of lucky finds had of course gained wide circulation. Here was the opportunity of the bankrupt adventurer and the stranded promoter. The treasures could be found by the science of magic. The notion was closely akin to the still current idea that wells can be located by the use of hazel wands. But none of the conjurers—and this seems a curious fact to one familiar with the English stories of the supernatural—ever lit upon the desired treasure. Their efforts hardly aroused public interest, least of all alarm. Experimenters, who fifty years later would have been hurried before the privy council, were allowed to conjure and dig as they pleased. Henry VIII even sold the right in one locality, and sold it at a price which showed how lightly he regarded it.[28]

Other forms of magic were of course practiced. By the time that Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, it is safe to say that the practice of forbidden arts had become wide-spread in England. Reginald Scot a little later declared that every parish was full of men and women who claimed to work miracles.[29] Most of them were women, and their performances read like those of the gipsy fortune-tellers today. "Cunning women" they called themselves. They were many of them semi-medical or pseudo-medical practitioners[30] who used herbs and extracts, and, when those failed, charms and enchantments, to heal the sick. If they were fairly fortunate, they became known as "good witches." Particularly in connection with midwifery were their incantations deemed effective.[31] From such functions it was no far call to forecast the outcome of love affairs, or to prepare potions which would ensure love.[32] They became general helpers to the distressed. They could tell where lost property was to be found, an undertaking closely related to that of the treasure seekers.[33]

It was usually in the less serious diseases[34] that these cunning folk were consulted. They were called upon often indeed—if one fragmentary evidence may be trusted—to diagnose the diseases and to account for the deaths of domestic animals.[35] It may very easily be that it was from the necessity of explaining the deaths of animals that the practitioners of magic began to talk about witchcraft and to throw out a hint that some witch was at the back of the matter. It would be in line with their own pretensions. Were they not good witches? Was it not their province to overcome the machinations of the black witches, that is, witches who wrought evil rather than good? The disease of an animal was hard to prescribe for. A sick horse would hardly respond to the waving of hands and a jumble of strange words. The animal was, in all probability, bewitched.

At any rate, whether in this particular manner or not, it became shortly the duty of the cunning women to recognize the signs of witchcraft, to prescribe for it, and if possible to detect the witch. In many cases the practitioner wisely enough refused to name any one, but described the appearance of the guilty party and set forth a series of operations by which to expose her machinations. If certain herbs were plucked and treated in certain ways, if such and such words were said, the guilty party would appear at the door. At other times the wise woman gave a perfectly recognizable description of the guilty one and offered remedies that would nullify her maleficent influences. No doubt the party indicated as the witch was very often another of the "good witches," perhaps a rival. Throughout the records of the superstition are scattered examples of wise women upon whom suspicion suddenly lighted, and who were arraigned and sent to the gallows. Beyond question the suspicion began often with the ill words of a neighbor,[36] perhaps of a competitor, words that started an attack upon the woman's reputation that she was unable to repel.

It is not to be supposed that the art of cunning was confined to the female sex. Throughout the reign of Elizabeth, the realm was alive with men who were pretenders to knowledge of mysteries. So closely was the occupation allied to that of the physician that no such strict line as now exists between reputable physicians and quack doctors separated the "good witches" from the regular practicers of medicine. It was so customary in Elizabethan times for thoroughly reputable and even eminent medical men to explain baffling cases as the results of witchcraft[37] that to draw the line of demarcation between them and the pretenders who suggested by means of a charm or a glass a maleficent agent would be impossible. Granted the phenomena of conjuration and witchcraft as facts—and no one had yet disputed them—it was altogether easy to believe that good witches who antagonized the works of black witches were more dependable than the family physician, who could but suggest the cause of sickness. The regular practitioner must often have created business for his brother of the cunning arts.

One would like to know what these practicers thought of their own arts. Certainly some of them accomplished cures. Mental troubles that baffled the ordinary physician would offer the "good witch" a rare field for successful endeavor. Such would be able not only to persuade a community of their good offices, but to deceive themselves. Not all of them, however, by any means, were self-deceived. Conscious fraud played a part in a large percentage of cases. One witch was very naive in her confession of fraud. When suspected of sorcery and cited to court, she was said to have frankly recited her charm:

"My lofe in my lappe, My penny in my purse, You are never the better, I am never the worse."

She was acquitted and doubtless continued to add penny to penny.[38]

We need not, indeed, be surprised that the state should have been remiss in punishing a crime so vague in character and so closely related to an honorable profession. Except where conjuration had affected high interests of state, it had been practically overlooked by the government. Now and then throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there had been isolated plots against the sovereign, in which conjury had played a conspicuous part. With these few exceptions the crime had been one left to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. But now the state was ready to reclaim its jurisdiction over these crimes and to assume a very positive attitude of hostility towards them. This came about in a way that has already been briefly indicated. The government of the queen found itself threatened constantly by plots for making away with the queen, plots which their instigators hoped would overturn the Protestant regime and bring England back into the fold. Elizabeth had hardly mounted her throne when her councillors began to suspect the use of sorcery and conjuration against her life. As a result they instituted the most painstaking inquiries into all reported cases of the sort, especially in and about London and the neighboring counties. Every Catholic was suspected. Two cases that were taken up within the first year came to nothing, but a third trial proved more serious. In November of 1558 Sir Anthony Fortescue,[39] member of a well known Catholic family, was arrested, together with several accomplices, upon the charge of casting the horoscope of the queen's life. Fortescue was soon released, but in 1561 he was again put in custody, this time with two brothers-in-law, Edmund and Arthur Pole, nephews of the famous cardinal of that name. The plot that came to light had many ramifications. It was proposed to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, to Edmund Pole, and from Flanders to proclaim her Queen of England. In the meantime Elizabeth was to die a natural death—at least so the conspirators claimed—prophesied for her by two conjurers, John Prestall and Edmund Cosyn, with the assistance of a "wicked spryte." It was discovered that the plot involved the French and Spanish ambassadors. Relations between Paris and London became strained. The conspirators were tried and sentenced to death. Fortescue himself, perhaps because he was a second cousin of the queen and brother of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seems to have escaped the gallows.[40]

The Fortescue affair was, however, but one of many conspiracies on foot during the time. Throughout the sixties and the seventies the queen's councillors were on the lookout. Justices of the peace and other prominent men in the counties were kept informed by the privy council of reported conjurers, and they were instructed to send in what evidence they could gather against them. It is remarkable that three-fourths of the cases that came under investigation were from a territory within thirty miles of London. Two-thirds of them were from Essex. Not all the conjurers were charged with plotting against the queen, but that charge was most common. It is safe to suppose that, in the cases where that accusation was not preferred, it was nevertheless the alarm of the privy council for the life of the queen that had prompted the investigation and arrest.

Between 1578 and 1582, critical years in the affairs of the Scottish queen, the anxiety of the London authorities was intense[41]—their precautions were redoubled. Representatives of the government were sent out to search for conjurers and were paid well for their services.[42] The Earl of Shrewsbury, a member of the council who had charge of the now captive Queen Mary, kept in his employ special detectors of conjuring.[43] Nothing about Elizabeth's government was better organized than Cecil's detective service, and the state papers show that the ferreting out of the conjurers was by no means the least of its work. It was a service carried on, of course, as quietly as could be, and yet the cases now and again came to light and made clear to the public that the government was very fearful of conjurers' attacks upon the queen. No doubt the activity of the council put all conjurers under public suspicion and in some degree roused public resentment against them.

This brings us back to the point: What had the conjurers to do with witchcraft? By this time the answer is fairly obvious. The practisers of the magic arts, the charmers and enchanters, were responsible for developing the notions of witchcraft. The good witch brought in her company the black witch. This in itself might never have meant more than an increased activity in the church courts. But when Protestant England grew suddenly nervous for the life of the queen, when the conjurers became a source of danger to the sovereign, and the council commenced its campaign against them, the conditions had been created in which witchcraft became at once the most dangerous and detested of crimes. While the government was busy putting down the conjurers, the aroused popular sentiment was compelling the justices of the peace and then the assize judges to hang the witches.

This cannot be better illustrated than by the Abingdon affair of 1578-1579. Word had been carried to the privy council that Sir Henry Newell, justice of the peace, had committed some women near Abingdon on the charge of making waxen images.[44] The government was at once alarmed and sent a message to Sir Henry and to the Dean of Windsor instructing them to find out the facts and to discover if the plots were directed against the queen. The precaution was unnecessary. There was no ground for believing that the designs of the women accused had included the queen. Indeed the evidence of guilt of any kind was very flimsy. But the excitement of the public had been stirred to the highest pitch. The privy council had shown its fear of the women and all four of them went to the gallows.[45]

The same situation that brought about the attack upon witchcraft and conjuration was no doubt responsible for the transfer of jurisdiction over the crime. We have already seen that the practice of conjuration had probably been left largely to the episcopal hierarchy for punishment.[46] The archdeacons were expected in their visitations to inquire into the practice of enchantment and magic within the parishes and to make report.[47] In the reign of Elizabeth it became no light duty. The church set itself to suppress both the consulter and the consulted.[48] By the largest number of recorded cases deal of course with the first class. It was very easy when sick or in trouble to go to a professed conjurer for help.[49] It was like seeking a physician's service, as we have seen. The church frowned upon it, but the danger involved in disobeying the church was not deemed great. The cunning man or woman was of course the one who ran the great risk. When worst came to worst and the ecclesiastical power took cognizance of his profession, the best he could do was to plead that he was a "good witch" and rendered valuable services to the community.[50] But a good end was in the eyes of the church no excuse for an evil means. The good witches were dealers with evil spirits and hence to be repressed.

Yet the church was very light in its punishments. In the matter of penalties, indeed, consulter and consulted fared nearly alike, and both got off easily. Public confession and penance in one or more specifically designated churches, usually in the nearest parish church, constituted the customary penalty.[51] In a few instances it was coupled with the requirement that the criminal should stand in the pillory, taper in hand, at several places at stated times.[52] The ecclesiastical records are so full of church penances that a student is led to wonder how effectual they were in shaming the penitent into better conduct. It may well be guessed that most of the criminals were not sensitive souls that would suffer profoundly from the disgrace incurred.

The control of matters of this kind was in the hands of the church by sufferance only. So long as the state was not greatly interested, the church was permitted to retain its jurisdiction.[53] Doubtless the kings of England would have claimed the state's right of jurisdiction if it had become a matter of dispute. The church itself recognized the secular power in more important cases.[54] In such cases the archdeacon usually acted with the justice of peace in conducting the examination,[55] as in rendering sentence. Even then, however, the penalty was as a rule ecclesiastical. But, with the second half of the sixteenth century, there arose new conditions which resulted in the transfer of this control to the state. Henry VIII had broken with Rome and established a Church of England around the king as a centre. The power of the church belonged to the king, and, if to the king, to his ministers and his judges. Hence certain crimes that had been under the control of the church fell under the jurisdiction of the king's courts.[56] In a more special way the same change came about through the attack of the privy council upon the conjurers. What had hitherto been a comparatively insignificant offence now became a crime against the state and was so dealt with.

The change, of course, was not sudden. It was not accomplished in a year, nor in a decade. It was going on throughout the first half of Elizabeth's reign. By the beginning of the eighties the church control was disappearing. After 1585 the state had practically exclusive jurisdiction.[57]

We have now finished the attempt to trace the beginning of the definite movement against witchcraft in England. What witchcraft was, what it became, how it was to be distinguished from sorcery—these are questions that we have tried to answer very briefly. We have dealt in a cursory way with a series of cases extending from Anglo-Saxon days down to the fifteenth century in order to show how unfixed was the matter of jurisdiction. We have sought also to explain how Continental opinion was introduced into England through Jewel and other Marian exiles, to show what independent forces were operating in England, and to exhibit the growing influence of the charmers and their relation to the development of witchcraft; and lastly we have aimed to prove that the special danger to the queen had no little part in creating the crusade against witches. These are conclusions of some moment and a caution must be inserted. We have been treating of a period where facts are few and information fragmentary. Under such circumstances conclusions can only be tentative. Perhaps the most that can be said of them is that they are suggestions.

[1] Benjamin Thorpe, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England (London, 1840), I, 41; Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (Halle, 1906), and passages cited in his Woerterbuch under wiccan, wiccacraeft; Thomas Wright, ed., A Contemporary Narrative of the Proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler (Camden Soc., London, 1843), introd., i-iii.

[2] George L. Burr, "The Literature of Witchcraft," printed in Papers of the Am. Hist. Assoc., IV (New York, 1890), 244.

[3] Henry C. Lea, History of the Inquisition in Spain (New York, 1906-1907), IV, 207; cf. his History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages (New York, 1888), III, chs. VI, VII. The most elaborate study of the rise of the delusion is that by J. Hansen, Zauberwahn, Inquisition und Hexenprozess im Mittelalter (Cologne, 1900).

[4] Lea, Inquisition in Spain, IV, 206.

[5] Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law (2d ed., Cambridge, 1898), II, 554.

[6] Ibid. See also Wright, ed., Proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler, introd., ix.

[7] Ibid., x. Lincoln, not Norwich, as Wright's text (followed by Pollock and Maitland) has it. See the royal letter itself printed in his footnote, and cf. Rymer's Foedera (under date of 2 Jan. 1406) and the Calendar of the Patent Rolls (Henry IV, vol. III, p. 112). The bishop was Philip Repington, late the King's chaplain and confessor.

[8] L. O. Pike, History of Crime in England (London, 1873), I, 355-356.

[9] Ibid. Sir Harris Nicolas, Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council (London, 1834-1837). IV, 114.

[10] English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, etc., edited by J. S. Davies (Camden Soc., London, 1856), 57-60.

[11] Ramsay, Lancaster and York (Oxford, 1892), II, 31-35; Wright, ed., Proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler, introd., xv-xvi, quoting the Chronicle of London; K. H. Vickers, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (London, 1907), 269-279.

[12] Wright, ed., op. cit., introd., xvi-xvii.

[13] James Gairdner, Life and Reign of Richard III (2d ed., London, 1879), 81-89. Jane Shore was finally tried before the court of the Bishop of London.

[14] Sir J. F. Stephen, History of the Criminal Law of England (London, 1883), II, 410, gives five instances from Archdeacon Hale's Ecclesiastical Precedents; see extracts from Lincoln Episcopal Visitations in Archaeologia (Soc. of Antiquaries, London), XLVIII, 254-255, 262; see also articles of visitation, etc., for 1547 and 1559 in David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae (London, 1737), IV, 25, 186, 190.

[15] An earlier statute had mentioned sorcery and witchcraft in connection with medical practitioners. The "Act concerning Phesicions and Surgeons" of 3 Henry VIII, ch. XI, was aimed against quacks. "Forasmoche as the science and connyng of Physyke and Surgerie to the perfecte knowlege wherof bee requisite bothe grete lernyng and ripe experience ys daily ... exercised by a grete multitude of ignoraunt persones ... soofarfurth that common Artificers as Smythes Wevers and Women boldely and custumably take upon theim grete curis and thyngys of great difficultie In the which they partely use socery and which crafte [sic] partely applie such medicyne unto the disease as be verey noyous," it was required that every candidate to practice medicine should be examined by the bishop of the diocese (in London by either the bishop or the Dean of St. Paul's).

[16] Stephen, History of Criminal Law, II, 431, says of this act: "Hutchinson suggests that this act, which was passed two years after the act of the Six Articles, was intended as a 'hank upon the reformers,' that the part of it to which importance was attached was the pulling down of crosses, which, it seems, was supposed to be practised in connection with magic. Hutchinson adds that the act was never put into execution either against witches or reformers. The act was certainly passed during that period of Henry's reign when he was inclining in the Roman Catholic direction." The part of the act to which Hutchinson refers reads as follows: "And for execucion of their saide falce devyses and practises have made or caused to be made dyvers Images and pictures of men, women, childrene, Angelles or develles, beastes or fowles, ... and gyving faithe and credit to suche fantasticall practises have dygged up and pulled downe an infinite nombre of Crosses within this Realme."

[17] Parliamentary History (London, 1751-1762), III, 229.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Autobiography of Edward Underhill (in Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, Camden Soc., London, 1859), 172-175.

[20] The measure in fact reached the engrossing stage in the Commons. Both houses, however, adjourned early in April and left it unpassed.

[21] Several of the bishops who were appointed on Elizabeth's accession had travelled in South Germany and Switzerland during the Marian period and had the opportunity of familiarizing themselves with the propaganda in these parts against witches. Thomas Bentham, who was to be bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, had retired from England to Zurich and had afterwards been preacher to the exiles at Basel. John Parkhurst, appointed bishop of Norwich, had settled in Zurich on Mary's accession. John Scory, appointed bishop of Hereford, had served as chaplain to the exiles in Geneva. Richard Cox, appointed bishop of Ely, had visited Frankfort and Strassburg. Edmund Grindall, who was to be the new bishop of London, had, during his exile, visited Strassburg, Speier, and Frankfort. Miles Coverdale, who had been bishop of Exeter but who was not reappointed, had been in Geneva in the course of his exile. There were many other churchmen of less importance who at one time or another during the Marian period visited Zurich. See Bullinger's Diarium (Basel, 1904) and Pellican's Chronikon (Basel, 1877), passim, as also Theodor Vetter, Relations between England and Zurich during the Reformation (London, 1904). At Strassburg the persecution raged somewhat later; but how thoroughly Bucer and his colleagues approved and urged it is clear from a letter of advice addressed by them in 1538 to their fellow pastor Schwebel, of Zweibruecken (printed as No. 88 in the Centuria Epistolarum appended to Schwebel's Scripta Theologica, Zweibruecken, 1605). That Bucer while in England (1549-1551) found also occasion to utter these views can hardly be doubted. These details I owe to Professor Burr.

[22] Various dates have been assigned for Jewel's sermon, but it can be determined approximately from a passage in the discourse. In the course of the sermon he remarked: "I would wish that once again, as time should serve, there might be had a quiet and sober disputation, that each part might be required to shew their grounds without self will and without affection, not to maintain or breed contention, ... but only that the truth may be known.... For, at the last disputation that should have been, you know which party gave over and would not meddle." This is clearly an allusion to the Westminster disputation of the last of March, 1559; see John Strype, Annals of the Reformation (London, 1709-1731; Oxford, 1824), ed. of 1824, I, pt. i, 128. The sermon therefore was preached after that disputation. It may be further inferred that it was preached before Jewel's controversy with Cole in March, 1560. The words, "For at the last disputation ... you know which party gave over and would not meddle," were hardly written after Cole accepted Jewel's challenge. It was on the second Sunday before Easter (March 17), 1560, that Jewel delivered at court the discourse in which he challenged dispute on four points of church doctrine. On the next day Henry Cole addressed him a letter in which he asked him why he "yesterday in the Court and at all other times at Paul's Cross" offered rather to "dispute in these four points than in the chief matters that lie in question betwixt the Church of Rome and the Protestants." In replying to Cole on the 20th of March Jewel wrote that he stood only upon the negative and again mentioned his offer. On the 31st of March he repeated his challenge upon the four points, and upon this occasion went very much into detail in supporting them. Now, in the sermon which we are trying to date, the sermon in which allusion is made to the prevalence of witches, the four points are briefly named. It may be reasonably conjectured that this sermon anticipated the elaboration of the four points as well as the challenging sermon of March 17. It is as certain that it was delivered after Jewel's return to London from his visitation in the west country. On November 2, 1559, he wrote to Peter Martyr: "I have at last returned to London, with a body worn out by a most fatiguing journey." See Zurich Letters, I (Parker Soc., Cambridge, 1842), 44. It is interesting and significant that he adds: "We found in all places votive relics of saints, nails with which the infatuated people dreamed that Christ had been pierced, and I know not what small fragments of the sacred cross. The number of witches and sorceresses had everywhere become enormous." Jewel was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury in the following January, having been nominated in the summer of 1559 just before his western visitation. The sermon in which he alluded to witches may have been preached at any time after he returned from the west, November 2, and before March 17. It would be entirely natural that in a court sermon delivered by the newly appointed bishop of Salisbury the prevalence of witchcraft should be mentioned. It does not seem a rash guess that the sermon was preached soon after his return, perhaps in December, when the impression of what he had seen in the west was still fresh in his memory. But it is not necessary to make this supposition. Though the discourse was delivered some time after March 15, 1559, when the first bill "against Conjurations, Prophecies, etc.," was brought before the Commons (see Journal of the House of Commons, I, 57), it is not unreasonable to believe that there was some connection between the discourse and the fortunes of this bill. That connection seems the more probable on a careful reading of the Commons Journals for the first sessions of Elizabeth's Parliament. It is evident that the Elizabethan legislators were working in close cooperation with the ecclesiastical authorities. Jewel's sermon may be found in his Works (ed. for the Parker Soc., Cambridge, 1845-1850), II, 1025-1034. (For the correspondence with Cole see I, 26 ff.)

For assistance in dating this sermon the writer wishes to express his special obligation to Professor Burr.

[23] Strype, Annals of the Reformation, I, pt. i, 11. He may, indeed, mean to ascribe it, not to the sermon, but to the evils alleged by the sermon.

[24] In the contemporary account entitled A True and just Recorde of the Information, Examination, and Confession of all the Witches taken at St. Oses.... Written ... by W. W. (1582), next leaf after B 5, we read: "there is a man 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." This probably refers to Jewel.

[25] See ibid., B 5 verso: "I and other of her Justices have received commission for the apprehending of as many as are within these limites." This was written later, but the event is referred to as following what must have been Bishop Jewel's sermon.

[26] Thomas Wright, Narratives of Sorcery and Magic (ed. of N. Y., 1852), 126 ff.; see also his Elizabeth and her Times (London, 1838), I, 457, letter of Shrewsbury to Burghley.

[27] Wright, Narratives, 130 ff.

[28] Ibid., 134.

[29] See Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1584; reprinted, Brinsley Nicholson, ed., London, 1886), 4.

[30] A very typical instance was that in Kent in 1597, see Archaeologia Cantiana (Kent Archaeological Soc., London), XXVI, 21. Several good instances are given in the Hertfordshire County Session Rolls (compiled by W. J. Hardy, London, 1905), I; see also J. Raine, ed., Depositions respecting the Rebellion of 1569, Witchcraft, and other Ecclesiastical Proceedings from the Court of Durham (Surtees Soc., London, 1845), 99, 100.

[31] J. Raine, ed., Injunctions and other Ecclesiastical Proceedings of Richard Barnes, Bishop of Durham (Surtees Soc., London, 1850), 18; H. Owen and J. B. Blakeway, History of Shrewsbury (London, 1825), II, 364, art. 43.

[32] Arch. Cant., XXVI, 19.

[33] Hertfordshire Co. Sess. Rolls, I, 3.

[34] See Depositions ... from the Court of Durham, 99; Arch. Cant., XXVI, 21; W. H. Hale, Precedents, etc. (London, 1847), 148, 185.

[35] Hale, op. cit., 163; Middlesex County Records, ed. by J. C. Jeaffreson (London, 1892), I, 84, 94.

[36] For an instance of how a "wise woman" feared this very thing, see Hale, op. cit., 147.

[37] See Witches taken at St. Oses, E; also Dr. Barrow's opinion in the pamphlet entitled The most strange and admirable discoverie of the three Witches of Warboys, arraigned, convicted and executed at the last assizes at Huntingdon.... (London, 1593).

[38] Folk Lore Soc. Journal, II, 157-158, where this story is quoted from a work by "Wm. Clouues, Mayster in Chirurgery," published in 1588. He only professed to have "reade" of it, so that it is perhaps just a pleasant tradition. If it is nothing more than that, it is at least an interesting evidence of opinion.

[39] Strype, Annals of the Reformation, I, pt. i, 9-10; Dictionary of National Biography, article on Anthony Fortescue, by G. K. Fortescue.

[40] Strype, op. cit., I, pt. i, 546, 555-558; also Wright, Elizabeth and her Times, I, 121, where a letter from Cecil to Sir Thomas Smith is printed.

[41] The interest which the privy council showed in sorcery and witchcraft during the earlier part of the reign is indicated in the following references: Acts of the Privy Council, new series, VII, 6, 22, 200-201; X, 220, 382; XI, 22, 36, 292, 370-371, 427; XII, 21-22, 23, 26, 29, 34, 102, 251; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1547-1580, 137, 142; id., 1581-1590, 29, 220, 246-247; id., Add. 1580-1625, 120-121; see also John Strype, Life of Sir Thomas Smith (London, 1698; Oxford, 1820), ed. of 1820, 127-129. The case mentioned in Cal. St. P., Dom., 1581-1590, 29, was probably a result of the activity of the privy council. The case in id., Add., 1580-1625, 120-121, is an instance of where the accused was suspected of both witchcraft and "high treason touching the supremacy." Nearly all of the above mentioned references to the activity of the privy council refer to the first half of the reign and a goodly proportion to the years 1578-1582.

[42] Acts P. C., n. s., XI, 292.

[43] Strype, Sir Thomas Smith, 127-129.

[44] A Rehearsall both straung and true of hainous and horrible acts committed by Elizabeth Stile, etc. (for full title see appendix). This pamphlet is in black letter. Its account is confirmed by the reference in Acts P. C., n. s., XI, 22. See also Scot, Discoverie, 51, 543.

[45] An aged widow had been committed to gaol on the testimony of her neighbors that she was "lewde, malitious, and hurtful to the people." An ostler, after he had refused to give her relief, had suffered a pain. So far as the account goes, this was the sum of the evidence against the woman. Unhappily she waited not on the order of her trial but made voluble confession and implicated five others, three of whom were without doubt professional enchanters. She had met, she said, with Mother Dutten, Mother Devell, and Mother Margaret, and "concluded several hainous and vilanous practices." The deaths of five persons whom she named were the outcome of their concerted plans. For the death of a sixth she avowed entire responsibility. This amazing confession may have been suggested to her piece by piece, but it was received at full value. That she included others in her guilt was perhaps because she responded to the evident interest aroused by such additions, or more likely because she had grudges unsatisfied. The women were friendless, three of the four were partially dependent upon alms, there was no one to come to their help, and they were convicted. The man that had been arraigned, a "charmer," seems to have gone free.

[46] Injunctions ... of ... Bishop of Durham, 18, 84, 99; Visitations of Canterbury, in Arch. Cant., XXVI; Hale, Precedents, 1475-1640, 147, etc.

[47] Arch. Cant., XXVI, passim; Hale, op. cit., 147, 148, 163, 185; Mrs. Lynn Linton, Witch Stories (London, 1861; new ed., 1883), 144.

[48] See Hale, op. cit., 148, 157.

[49] Hale, op. cit., 148; Depositions ... from the Court of Durham, 99; Arch. Cant., XXVI, 21.

[50] Hale, op. cit., 148, 185.

[51] Ibid., 157.

[52] Denham Tracts (Folk Lore Soc., London), II, 332; John Sykes, Local Record ... of Remarkable Events ... in Northumberland, Durham, ... etc. (2d ed., Newcastle, 1833-1852), I, 79.

[53] See, for example, Acts P. C., n. s., VII, 32 (1558).

[54] Cal. St. P., Dom., 1547-1580, 173. Instance where the Bishop of London seems to have examined a case and turned it over to the privy council.

[55] Rachel Pinder and Agnes Bridges, who pretended to be possessed by the Devil, were examined before the "person of St. Margarets in Lothberry," and the Mayor of London, as well as some justices of the peace. They later made confession before the Archbishop of Canterbury and some justices of the peace. See the black letter pamphlet, The discloysing of a late counterfeyted possession by the devyl in two maydens within the Citie of London [1574].

[56] Francis Coxe came before the queen rather than the church. He narrates his experiences in A short treatise declaringe the detestable wickednesse of magicall sciences, ... (1561). Yet John Walsh, a man with a similar record, came before the commissary of the Bishop of Exeter. See The Examination of John Walsh before Master Thomas Williams, Commissary to the Reverend father in God, William, bishop of Excester, upon certayne Interrogatories touchyng Wytch-crafte and Sorcerye, in the presence of divers gentlemen and others, the XX of August, 1566.

[57] We say "practically," because instances of church jurisdiction come to light now and again throughout the seventeenth century.



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

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

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 daughter.

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 imagination.[2]

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 exposed.

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 spirit.

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.

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