Wiltshire witchcraft cases



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Wiltshire witchcraft cases

From W. Notestein, A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718 (Baltimore, 1911)

But, if hanging witches was not easy in the north, there were still districts in the southwest of England where it could be done, with few to say nay. Anne[211]Bodenham,[13] of Fisherton Anger in Wiltshire, had not the social position of Dorothy Swinow, but she was the wife of a clothier who had lived "in good fashion," and in her old age she taught children to read. She had, it seems, been in earlier life an apt pupil of Dr. Lambe, and had learned from him the practice of magic lore. She drew magic circles, saw visions of people in a glass, possessed numerous charms and incantations, and, above all, kept a wonderful magic book. She attempted to find lost money, to tell the future, and to cure disease; indeed, she had a varied repertoire of occult performances.

Now, Mistress Bodenham did all these things for money and roused no antagonism in her community until she was unfortunate enough to have dealings with a maid-servant in a Wiltshire family. It is impossible to get behind the few hints given us by the cautious writer. The members of the family, evidently one of some standing in Wiltshire, became involved in a quarrel among themselves. It was believed, indeed, by neighbors that there had been a conspiracy on the part of some of the family to poison the mother-in-law. At all events, a maid in the family was imprisoned for participation in such a plot. It was then that Anne Bodenham first came into the story. The maid, to judge from the few data we have, in order to distract attention from her own doings, made a confession that she had signed a book of the Devil's with her own blood, all at the instigation of Anne Bodenham. Moreover, Anne, she said, had offered to send her to London in two hours. This was communicated to a justice of the[212]peace, who promptly took the accused woman into custody. The maid-servant, successful thus far, began to simulate fits and to lay the blame for them on Mistress Anne. Questioned as to what she conceived her condition, she replied, "Oh very damnable, very wretched." She could see the Devil, she said, on the housetop looking at her. These fancies passed as facts, and the accused woman was put to the usual humiliations. She was searched, examined, and urged to confess. The narrator of the story made effort after effort to wring from her an admission of her guilt, but she slipped out of all his traps. Against her accuser she was very bitter. "She hath undone me ... that am an honest woman, 'twill break my Husband's heart, he grieves to see me in these Irons: I did once live in good fashion."

The case was turned over by the justices of the peace to the assizes at Salisbury, where Chief Baron John Wylde of the exchequer presided.[14] The testimony of the maid was brought in, as well as the other proofs.[15]All we know of the trial is that Anne was condemned, and that Judge Wylde was so well satisfied with his work that he urged Edmund Bower, who had begun an account of the case, but had hesitated to expose himself to "this Censorious Age," to go on with his booklet. That detestable individual had followed the case closely. After the condemnation he labored with the woman to[213]make her confess. But no acknowledgment of guilt could be wrung from the high-spirited Mistress Bodenham, even when the would-be father confessor held out to her the false hope of mercy. She made a will giving gifts to thirty people, declared she had been robbed by her maids in prison, lamented over her husband's sorrow, and requested that she be buried under the gallows. Like the McPherson who danced so wantonly and rantingly beneath the gallows tree, she remained brave-hearted to the end. When the officer told her she must go with him to the place of execution, she replied, "Be you ready, I am ready." The narrator closes the account with some moral reflections. We may close with the observation that there is no finer instance of womanly courage in the annals of witchcraft than that of Anne Bodenham. Doubtless she had used charms, and experimented with glasses; it had been done by those of higher rank than she.

As for the maid, she had got herself well out of trouble. When Mistress Bodenham had been hanged, the fits ceased, and she professed great thankfulness to God and a desire to serve him.

...


The districts of England affected by the delusion during this period have already been indicated. While there were random cases in Suffolk, Hertfordshire,Wiltshire, Somerset, Cumberland, and Northumberland, by far the greatest activity seems to have been in Middlesex, Cornwall, and Yorkshire.

...


The third noteworthy ruling in this period anent the crime of witchcraft was made a few years later inWiltshire by Justice Rainsford. The story, as he himself told it to a colleague, was this: "A Witch was brought to Salisbury and tried before him. Sir James Long came to his Chamber, and made a heavy Com[269]plaint of this Witch, and said that if she escaped, his Estate would not be worth any Thing; for all the People would go away. It happen'd that the Witch was acquitted, and the Knight continued extremely concern'd; therefore the Judge, to save the poor Gentleman's Estate, order'd the Woman to be kept in Gaol, and that the Town should allow her 2s. 6d. per Week; for which he was very thankful. The very next Assizes, he came to the Judge to desire his lordship would let her come back to the Town. And why? They could keep her for 1s. 6d. there; and, in the Gaol, she cost them a shilling more."[20] Another case before Justice Rainsford showed him less lenient. By a mere chance we have a letter, written at the time by one of the justices of the peace in Malmesbury, which sheds no little light on this affair and on the legal status of witchcraft at that time.[21] A certain Ann Tilling had been taken into custody on the complaint of Mrs. Webb of Malmesbury. The latter's son had swooning fits in which he accused Ann of bewitching him. Ann Tilling made voluble confession, implicating Elizabeth Peacock and Judith Witchell, who had, she declared, inveigled her into the practice of their evil arts. Other witches were named, and in a short time twelve women[270]and two men were under accusation. But the alderman of Malmesbury, who was the chief magistrate of that town, deemed it wise before going further to call in four of the justices of the peace in that subdivision of the county. Three of these justices of the peace came and listened to the confessions, and were about to make out a mittimus for sending eleven of the accused to Salisbury, when the fourth justice arrived, the man who has given us the story. He was, according to his own account, not "very credulous in matters of Witchcraft," and he made a speech to the other justices. "Gentlemen, what is done at this place, a Borough remote from the centre of this large County, and almost forty miles from Salisbury, will be expended [sic] both by the Reverend Judges, the learned Counsayle there ..., and the Gentry of the body of the County, so that if anything be done here rashly, it will be severely censured." He went on to urge the danger that the boy whose fits were the cause of so much excitement might be an impostor, and that Ann Tilling, who had freely confessed, might be in confederacy with the parents. The skeptical justice, who in spite of his boasted incredulity was a believer in the reality of witchcraft, was successful with his colleagues. All the accused were dismissed save Tilling, Peacock, and Witchell. They were sent to Salisbury and tried before Sir Richard Rainsford. Elizabeth Peacock, who had been tried on similar charges before, was dismissed. The other two were sentenced to be hanged.[22]

[20] Roger North, Life of the Rt. Hon. Francis North, Baron of Guilford ...(London, 1742), 130, 131. The story, as here told, ascribes the event to the year preceding Lord Guilford's first western circuit—i. e., to 1674. But this perhaps need not be taken too exactly, and the witch was probably that Elizabeth Peacock who was acquitted in 1670 and again in the case of 1672 described above. At least the list of "Indictments for witchcraft on the Western Circuit from 1670 to 1712," published by Inderwick in his Sidelights on the Stuarts (London, 1888), shows no other acquittal in Wiltshire during this decade.

[21] For this letter see the Gentleman's Magazine, 1832, pt. I, 405-410, 489-402. The story is confirmed in part by Inderwick's finds in the western Gaol Delivery records. As to the trustworthiness of this unknown justice of the peace, see above, pp. 160, 162, and notes.

[22] That the judge was Sir Richard Rainsford appears from Inderwick's list, mentioned above, note 20.

Doctor Lamb's Darling, or Strange and terrible News from Salisbury; Being A true, exact, and perfect Relation of the great and wonderful Contract and Engagement made between the Devil, and Mistris Anne Bodenham; with the manner how she could transform herself into the shape of a Mastive Dog, a black Lyon, a white Bear, a Woolf, a Bull, and a Cat.... The Tryal, Examinations, and Confession ... before the Lord Chief Baron Wild.... By James [Edmond?] Bower, Cleric, London, 1653. This is the first account of the affair and is a rather crude one.



Doctor Lamb Revived, or, Witchcraft condemn'd in Anne Bodenham ... who was Arraigned and Executed the Lent Assizes last at Salisbury, before the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Baron Wild, Judge of the Assize.... By Edmond Bower, an eye and ear Witness of her Examination and Confession, London, 1653. Bower's second and more detailed account. It is dedicated to the judge by the writer, who had a large part in the affair and frequently interviewed the witch. He does not present a record of examinations, but gives a detailed narrative of the entire affair. He throws out[365]hints about certain phases of the case and rouses curiosity without satisfying it. His story of Anne Bodenham is, however, clear and interesting. The celebrated Aubrey refers to the case in his Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, 261. His account, which tallies well with that of Bower, he seems to have derived from Anthony Ettrick "of the Middle Temple," who was a "curious observer of the whole triall."

From Indictments for witchcraft on the Western Circuit from 1670 to 1712," F. Inderwick, Sidelights on the Stuarts (London, 1888), p. 190

Wiltshire 1670 July

Elizabeth Peacock

Lameing of Thomas Webb by witchcraft

Not Guilty

Wiltshire March 1672

Elizabeth Peacocke

Feloniously lameing of Thomas Webbe by witchcraft

Not Guilty




Juditha Witchall

Guilty




Anna Tillinge

Guilty

Tried by Sir Richard Raynsford, L.C.J., and left for execution

Murder

Elizabeth Peacocke

Killing and murdring of Marye Tanner by witchcraft

Not Guilty

Murder

Ditto

Killing and murdring of Margery Neale by witchcraft

Not Guilty

Murder

Ditto

Killing and murdring of Mary Sharp by witchcraft

Not Guilty

Murder

Ditto

Killing and murdring of Margery Browne by witchcraft

Not Guilty




Eliz. Peacock

Juditha Witchall



Killing of 8 gueldinges and 7 mares, value £150 of goods of Henry Dennynge by witchcraft

Not guilty




Judith Witchall

Lameing of Julyan Webbe by witchcraft

Not guilty




Elizabeth Mills, alias Williams

Lameing of Allice Webb by witchcraft

Not guilty




Ditto

Lameing of Thomas Peters by witchcraft

Not guilty





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