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THE LATER PERSECUTIONS IN ENGLAND
THE law especially in this country gains half its terrors from its pomp and circumstance. An English prisoner, condemned to death by a wig-less judge, might well regard himself as murdered and few Englishmen that have attended an American court of law but have felt scandalised by its lack of ceremonious decency, even if they have accepted its decrees as just. Indeed, it is scarcely too much to hold that the firm belief in the corruptibility of the American judge and the one-sidedness of American justice, which every Englishman cherishes as his birthright, was originally based upon his distaste for this lack of appropriate ceremonial.
If this judicial dignity be needed even for the trial of an ordinary fellow mortal, how much more must it be needed when Satan himself and his human agents are at the bar. Accordingly, we find the inquisitor or judge always ultra-punctilious in bringing all due form and ceremony to bear upon a witch-trial. No detail was without its special significance, no circumstance too trivial for august consideration, the more so that from its very nature a witch-trial could not exactly follow ordinary procedure. The power of Satan in the seventeenth century at any rate was more than a match even for the trained legal intellect, and special precautions were necessary to provide for the safety of the judge and the conviction of the witch. So exhaustive were these precautions, indeed, that we can find no trace that any judge in England or elsewhere was ever injured by the assaults of the Devil, when in court, while but very few witches, once put on trial, succeeded in escaping conviction the accusation being, to all intents and purposes, tantamount to a verdict of guilty.
A host of precautionary measures to be taken by the judge when the witch was brought into court, have been recorded. On no account must he allow her to touch him, especially, as Reginald Scot has it, "upon his bare." He must wear about his neck "conjured salt, palms, herbes, and halowed waxe." The prisoner must approach the judge backwards just as she approaches Satan's throne at the Sabbath, by the way and he must make the sign of the cross frequently the while. As we have seen, any evidence, even of those debarred from testifying in ordinary cases, might be given against a witch. This, of course, provided an excellent opportunity for the dishonest servant, who, having stolen his mistress' property and with it levanted, need only accuse her of witchcraft to escape any unpleasant consequences to himself. It was, however, the only means by which the law could escape from the horns of a serious dilemma as none that are honest can detect a witch. Again, she must be denied any chance of proving her innocence or the Devil will certainly take full advantage of it on her behalf, and once arrested, she must on no account be allowed to leave the prison or go home. Popular suspicion, presumption, and conjecture are sufficient to ensure a conviction, for in such a case Vox populi is emphatically Vox Dei. Confession must, however, be extorted at all costs. As the great Inquisitor, Sprenger, from whose authoritative pronouncements I have already quoted freely, has it: "If she confess nothing she must be dismissed according to the law; therefore every care must be taken to ensure confession."
Before burning the witch, it was, however, necessary to catch her. Here and more particularly in England private enterprise stepped in to supplement public effort. Witch-finding offered a respectable and lucrative career for anyone gifted with the requisite imagination, and provided a safe opening for those who had failed in other walks of life. Enterprise, imagination, the form of facile expression, the instinct of sensationalism, and so forth were all necessary for the finished witch-finder, it is true. The names of many have come down to us, but none more fully earned the prophetic title of the Napoleon of witch-finding than Matthew Hopkins, who alone gained, by his eminent services to the public, a "handle to his name" that of "Witch-Finder General." Hopkins, who flourished in the mid-seventeenth century, gauged the public taste in witch-sensation to a nicety and elevated his trade to an exact science. Yet curiously enough, he only entered it by accident, owing to an epidemic of witchcraft in his native town of Manningtree. His public spirit leading him to take a prominent part in the discovery and punishment of the culprits, it became plainly evident in which direction his talents could be best employed, and what had been a hobby became his life-work. His position having been legalised, he adopted the manner of a judge, taking regular circuits through the four counties which he more particularly took under his protection, or giving his services to any towns applying for them at the extremely modest charge of twenty shillings and expenses. More than a hundred witches were brought to punishment by his painstaking exertions, though perhaps his greatest triumph was achieved in the case of the Reverend Mr. Lewis, the "reading" parson of Framlingham. Mr. Lewis was a churchman, and as such regarded as a malignant by the Puritan Government, and, needless to say, by Mr. Hopkins, himself a Puritan of the most orthodox type. Mr. Lewis, being eighty-five years of age, was tortured after Mr. Hopkins' recipe, and was so brought to confess that he had made a compact with Satan, that he kept two imps, and that he had sunk several ships by his magic arts. He was duly hanged, though it is satisfactory to know that at his death he withdrew the confession his human weakness had extorted from him and died with a dignity becoming his age and cloth.
As was only to be expected in this imperfect world, Mr. Hopkins' just severity and proper disregard for sickly sentimentality brought him many enemies, some of whom no doubt were inspired by envy of his professional success. Although cheered by the understanding sympathy of the superior class, including among them no less a person than Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice of England, he was continually attacked, both publicly and privately, by people who ought to have known better. One of the most virulent of these was one Mr. Gaule, minister of Great Stoughton, in Huntingdon, who not only wrote and preached against Hopkins and his methods, but refused him permission to conduct a witch-hunt at Stoughton. Stung to the heart by such ingratitude, Mr. Hopkins set forth his side of the argument in a letter which Mr. Gaule himself subsequently gave to the world. It is sufficiently characteristic to bear re-quotation:
"My Service to your Worship presented. I have this day received a letter not to come to a Toune called Great Stoughton, to search for evil-disposed persons, called Witches (though I heare your Minister is farre against us through Ignorance) I intend to come the sooner to heare his singular Judgment in the Behalfe of such Parties; I have known a Minister in Suffolk preach as much against this Discovery in a Pulpit, and forced to recant it by the Committee in the same Place. I much marvaile such evil Members should have any, much more any of the Clergy, who should daily preach Terrour to convince such Offenders, stand up to take their Parts, against such as are complainants for the King and Sufferers themselves, with their Families and Estates. I intend to give your Toune a visit suddenly. I am to come to Kimbolton this Weeke, and it shall be tenne to one, but I will come to your Toune first, but I would certainly know afore whether your Toune affords many sticklers for such Cattell, or willing to give and afford as good Welcome and Entertainment as other where I have beene, else I shall wave your Shire (not as yet beginning in any Part of it myself) and betake me to such Places, where I doe, and may, persist without Controle, but with Thanks and Recompense. So I humbly take my leave and rest.
Servant to be Commanded, Matthew Hopkins."
Mr. Gaule, however ill-advised, proved himself no despicable antagonist. He turned the batteries of ridicule against the worthy witch-finder, and his methods, which he describes as follows: "Having taken the suspected Witch, she is placed in the middle of a room upon a stool or table, cross-legged or in some other uneasy Posture, to which if she submits not she is then bound with cords; there she is watched and kept without Meat or Sleep for the space of Four and Twenty Hours (for they say within that time they shall see her Imp come and suck). A little Hole is likewise made in the door, for her Imp to come in at lest it should come in some less discernible shape. They that watch her are taught to be ever and anon sweeping the Room, and if they see any Spiders or Flies, to kill them, and if they cannot kill them, then they may be sure they are her Imps.
But however earnest in their errors might be Mr. Gaule and those who supported him, it was long ere they could find many supporters in their crusade against one who had so struck the public imagination. Hopkins' methods of torture might be severe, but they produced results such as the following: "One Penitent Woman confessed that her mother, lying sick, and she looking at her, somewhat like a Mole ran into the bed to her, which she being startled at, her mother bade her not fear it, but gave it her, saying, "Keep this in a Pot by the fire and thou shalt never want." And so on and so forth.
In the end, however, as too often happens, envy triumphed over modest merit, and Hopkins had to pay the penalty that usually awaits the popular idol. Either his severity outran his discretion, or he showed too openly his belief that the chief object of a profession is to provide a handsome income; or perhaps his inventive faculties did not keep pace with the public desire. Be that as it may, his fall, when it came, was heavy. It is even said, on reputable authority, that Hopkins was himself, at the last, accused of witchcraft, that he was tried by one of his own methods, that of "swimming," and that like many of the old women he had tried, he "swam," was accordingly found guilty, and executed. It may be agreed that, like the story of Phalaris destroyed in the fiery bronze bull of his own devising, or of Dr. Guillotin, first to suffer on the guillotine he had invented, this end of Hopkins has too much of poetic justice about it to be altogether credible. But in all that has to do with witchcraft, faith is a matter of opinion, so there we may leave it.
That Matthew Hopkins initiated new methods of witch-finding by no means implies that there was any lack of such before his time. Where the simple rule-of-thumb torture failed to extract the requisite confession, a further range, subtler and more exquisite, came into play. No witch could say the Lord's Prayer a possible enough contingency under great nervous strain even for a good Christian. Thus Fairfax relates how Thorp's wife, accused of bewitching his children, being put to this test, could not say "Forgive us our trespasses," and thus convinced the justices of her guilt. Another method much practised by Hopkins was the searching for the Devil-marks. These marks, as we have said, were the corporeal proofs of her contract with Satan, borne by every witch upon some part of her body, and were further the places whereat her imps came to suck her blood. Few witches which is to say, suspects were ever found to pass this test satisfactorily a fact the less surprising in that any blemish, birth-mark, or even insect-bite was accepted by special legal injunction as sufficient evidence. The witch-mark was believed to be insensible to pain, whence arose the popular and lucrative profession of "witch-pricking." The witch-pricker, having blindfolded the witch, proceeded to prick her in suspected places with a three-inch pin, afterwards telling her to point out to him the places where she felt pain. If the suspect, half-crazed with shame and terror, was unable to do so with sufficient exactitude, the spot was declared insensible, and her conviction followed. Before the actual pricking, when the witch had been stripped of her clothes, she was shaven, lest she should have concealed in her hair some charm against confession under torture. Great care was taken at the same time lest the Devil, by sucking blood from her little finger or left foot, should make it impossible for her to confess. Further, as a witch was notoriously unable to shed tears, another test of her guilt was to call upon her to weep to order very much as Miss Haversham in "Great Expectations" commanded Little Pip, "Now, play!"
Most popular test of all, as taking place in the open and thus providing a general holiday, was witch-ducking or "swimming." So near was it to the great heart of the British public that its celebration continued informally well into the nineteenth century. In Monmouth, so late as 1829, several persons were tried for the ducking of a supposed witch; while in 1857 the Vicar of East Thorpe, in Essex perhaps the most noted witch-stronghold in England was compelled to mount guard in person over the door of a suspected witch to prevent her from undergoing a similar fate. The procedure was of the simplest. The thumbs and great toes of the suspect were tied across, and she was thus dragged in a sheet to a pond or stream. If she floated, she was pronounced a witch; if she sank, she was in all probability drowned. Even if by a lucky chance she escaped both these perils, the nervous shock to say nothing of what was probably the first cold bath she had ever experienced acting upon her advanced age, gave her little chance of final triumph over her accusers. Another well-known and popular test was that of weighing the suspected witch against the Church Bible. Had the authorities provided one of more than common weight which outweighed her skin and bone, woe betide her! for her guilt was proved beyond further question.
Such forms of extraneous evidence were, however, held in less store than was the obtaining of a definite confession, which had the double advantage of justifying the judges to the full as well as of convicting the accused. Of how it might be obtained Reginald Scot gives us a vivid example. "The seven words of the Cross," he says, "be hanged about the witch's neck and the length of Christ in wax be knit about her bare bodie with relikes of saints." If torture and other means of persuasion cannot obtain a confession, the jailer must pretend to leave her, and some of her friends must visit her, promising that if she will but confess they will help her to escape from prison. Friday, according to the same writer, was the most auspicious day for the purpose. As to the actual torture, the prisoner must first be stripped lest the means of witchcraft be sewn into her clothing, the instruments of torture being so placed that she has an uninterrupted view of them. The judge then exhorts her that if she remains obstinate, he bids the attendants make her fast to the strapado or other chosen instrument. Having been tortured, she is taken aside and again urged to confess by the promise of thus escaping the death-penalty. As the Church conveniently absolved the faithful from the necessity of keeping faith with heretics or sorcerers, this promise was never kept. To put it briefly, every possible avenue of escape was denied the accused. Even an alibi, however complete, was unavailing, seeing that in her absence her place was always filled by a demon.
However much we may sympathise with the victims of such judicial proceedings, it would be less than fair to blame the general public for its attitude towards them when such men as Blackstone or Sir Matthew Hale were convinced of their reasonableness. Blackstone, indeed, one of the greatest of English lawyers, went so far as to declare that "to deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence of witchcraft is at once flatly to contradict the revealed Word of God." The attitude of Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice, an enlightened and God-fearing man, may best be gathered from an account of one of the trials in which he was concerned. In 1664, at St. Edmundsbury, two women, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender, were tried before him upon the usual charges. The first witness was Dorothy Durent, whose child was under the care of Rose Cullender. Dorothy had for some time suspected Rose of bewitching her child a fact which throws some doubt upon the witness's maternal care in confiding her offspring to such a nurse. Eventually the witness consulted a witch-doctor, a proceeding which, had she known it, rendered her liable to conviction as well as Rose, under the statute of James I.1 The doctor advised her to hang up her child's blanket in the chimney, which she did. On taking it down some time later, she was horrorstricken to find a toad in it. This toad she had put it into the fire and held it there, though it made a great and horrible noise, and flashed like gunpowder and went off like a pistol, and then became invisible, and that by this the prisoner was scorched and burnt lamentably." Other witnesses, Mr. Pacy and Edmund Durent, deposed that Rose Cullender and Amy Duny came to them to buy herrings, and, on being refused, went away grumbling. Further, it appeared that Amy Duny had told Cornelius Sandwell's wife that if she did not fetch her geese home, they would be destroyed. She also told Cornelius that if he did not attend to a rickety chimney in his house it would fall. John Soan deposed that he had three carts wherein to carry corn. One of them "wrenched Amy Duny's house, whereat she scolded him. That very day his cart overturned two or three times, and his children had fits." Probably such damning evidence would have sufficed by itself. It was driven home by that of Sir Thomas Browne, who declared with dangerous moderation that "the fits were natural, but heightened by the Devil co-operating with the malice of the Witches, at whose Instance he did the villainies." This was too much for the Lord Chief Justice. He "was in such fears and proceeded with such caution that he would not so much as sum up the evidence, but left it to the Jury, with prayers that the great God of Heaven would direct their hearts in this weighty manner." Needless to say, the jury returned a sentence of "Guilty." Amy Duny and Rose Cullenden were hanged at Cambridge accordingly, obstinately refusing to confess, and no sooner were they dead than the afflicted children were cured of their fits and returned to the best of health. Which can have left no further doubt in the mind of Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer, as to the justice of his sentence, even had he any before.
be both tedious and unprofitable to trace out the whole long history of
witch-persecution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their details are
invariably nauseous, and differ only in the slightest degree; having heard one,
the recapitulation of the rest can be of interest only to the moralist. Some of
the more famous examples may be briefly considered, however, as typical of the
rest. I have already referred to the case of the Knaresborough witches, accused
of bewitching the children of Edward Fairfax, the scholar a case the more
remarkable that the six women accused, although tried before two successive
assizes, were finally acquitted. The lonely moorlands and grim wastes of the
Northern counties were, naturally enough, regarded with suspicion as offering
very eligible lurking-places for Satan's agents, and accordingly we find that
the majority of the earlier persecutions concerned that part of the county. Ten
years before the Knaresborough trial in 1612 twenty witches were tried
"at the Assizes and Generall Gaole Delivery, holden at Lancaster, before
Sir Edward Bromley and Sir James Eltham." They came from Pendle Forest, a
wild district on the eastern extremity of the county, and the most prominent
among them was Elizabeth Southernes, more generally known as Mother Demdyke,
who, by her own confession, had been a practising witch for nearly half a
century, having been led astray thereto by one Tibb, a spirit or devil in the
form of a boy wearing a parti-coloured coat of brown-and-black, whom she met upon the highway. She and her
fellow-prisoners were charged with murders, conspiracies, and other damnable
practices, upon evidence fully borne out by their own confessions.
Nevertheless, of the twenty only twelve were hanged, one, Mother Demdyke
herself, cheating the gallows by dying in prison, while the remaining seven
were acquitted for the time. That so large a proportion should have escaped
speaks ill for the abilities of the prosecution, for an example was badly
needed. "This remote country," says Scot, "was full of Popish
recusants, travelling priests, and so forth, and some of their spells are given
in which holy names and things alluded to form a strange contrast with the
purpose to which they were applied to secure a good brewing of ale, or the
like." One such charm, quoted at the trial, was used by Anne Whittle,
alias Chattox, one of the twenty, in order to remove a curse previously laid
upon John Moore's wife's brewing, and ran as follows:
Three Biters hast thou bitten,
The Host, ill Eye, ill Tongue
Three Bitter shall be thy boote,
Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost, A God's name.
Five Paternosters, five Avies, And a creede,
For worship of five woundes Of our Lord.
Which would seem to show that whether or no Anne Whittle was a witch, she was certainly a Papist, so we need feel little surprise that she was among the twelve executed.
The second great persecution in Lancashire, in 1633, rested almost entirely on the evidence of a boy of eleven. His name was Edmund Robinson, and he lived with his father, a very poor man, in Pendle Forest, where no doubt he heard many legends of the redoubtable Mother Demdyke and her colleagues. Upon All Saints' Day, when gathering "bulloes" in a field, he there saw two greyhounds, one black, the other brown, each wearing a collar shining like gold. They fawned upon him, whereafter, "seeing no one, he took them, thinking to course with them. And presently a Hare did rise very near before him. Whereat he cried, Loo, Loo, Loo'; but the Doggs would not run. Whereupon he, being very angry, took them, and with the strings that were about their collars, tied them to a little bush at the next hedge, and with a switch that he had in his hand he beat them. And instead of the black greyhound, one Dickenson's wife stood up, a Neighbour, whom this Informer knoweth. And instead of the brown one a little Boy, whom this Informer knoweth not." Dickenson's wife offered him a shilling as the price of his silence, but he answered, "Nay, thou art a witch." Whereupon she put her hand into her pocket and pulled out something like a Bridle, "that gingled," and put it over the little Boy's head, upon which he turned into a white horse. Mrs. Dickenson then seized upon the Informer, set him before her on the white horse, and carried him to a new house called Hoarstones, about a quarter of a mile away. Here he saw about sixty persons, some by the door, others riding towards the house on horses of different colours. In the house was a fire with meat roasting before it. A young woman offered him "Flesh and Bread upon a Trencher and Drink in a Glass," but after the first taste he would have no more of it. On going into the adjoining Barn, he there saw six persons kneeling and pulling at Ropes fastened to the top of the Barn. Whereupon "there came into the Informer's sight flesh smoking, butter in lumps, and milk as it were syling (streaming) from the said Ropes. All of which fell into basins placed under the said Ropes. And when these six had done, there came other six which did likewise, and during all the time of their said pulling they made such ugly faces as scared the Informer, so that he was glad to run out and steal homewards." They pursued him, but he met two horsemen, whereupon they left him. The foremost of his pursuers was one Loind's wife.
The troubles of the Informer were not yet at an end. "After he had come from the company aforesaid, his Father bade him go and fetch home two kine and he Napped upon a Boy, who fought him." The Informer had his ears and face made very bloody in the fight, and looking down he saw the Boy had a cloven foot. With commendable prudence he ran away, only to see a light like to a lantern, which he pursued, thinking it might be carried by a neighbour. But he only found a woman Loind's wife standing on a bridge, and running from her he met the cloven-footed Boy again, who hit him and made him cry.
Such was the dread story told in court, and partly corroborated by the boy's father. The wives of Dickenson and Loind, along with some eighteen other persons, were arrested at once, while the informer and his father made a comfortable little sum of money by going the round of the neighbouring churches and there detecting others. The trial took place at Lancaster Assizes, when seventeen of the accused were found guilty, but the judge, not being satisfied with the evidence, obtained a reprieve. Four of the accused were sent up to London, and committed to the Fleet Prison, where "great sums of money were gotten by shewing them." The Bishop of Chester held a special examination of the case, and the informer, being separated from his father, soon confessed that his estimable parent had invented the whole story as a means towards an end. So the trial ended in a lamentable fiasco, from the point of view of that public who were looking forward to the public executions as a holiday.
Although the activities of Matthew Hopkins reached their culminating point in the trial of the Manningtree Witches, held before Sir Matthew Hale at Ipswich in 1645, they were only a part of his bag in that year, as we may gather from a statement in Beaumont's "Treatise on Spirits," that "thirty-six were arraigned at the same time before Judge Coniers, an. 1645, and fourteen of them hanged and a hundred more detained in several prisons in Suffolk and Essex." Nearly twenty years later, in 1664, we find the Witchfinder-General at work in Great Yarmouth, where he accused sixteen old women, all of whom were convicted and executed; and in the same year took place the St. Edmunsbury trials already referred to. Nevertheless it must be said for Matthew Hopkins, gent., that by the very enthusiasm he imparted into his business he did something towards checking the tide of persecution even at the full. Although the general public gave little sign of satiety, those in authority and the more educated class in general were growing tired of so much useless bloodshed. Witch-trials continued unabated, but towards the close of the century the judge's directions to his jury were frequently such as to ensure an acquittal; while, even when found guilty, the accused were often reprieved through the judge's exertions. Among these just judges the name of Lord Chief Justice Holt merits a high place, as of one more than usually in advance of his age.
In 1694, before the same Lord Chief Justice, at Bury Saint Edmunds, was tried Mother Munnings, of Hartis, in Suffolk. Many things were deposed concerning her spoiling of wort and harming of cattle, and, further, that several persons upon their death-beds had attributed their destruction to her arts. Thus it was sworn that Thomas Pannel, the landlord, not knowing how to turn her out of his house, took away the door and left her without one. Some time after, he happening to pass by, she said to him, "Go thy way; thy nose shall lie upward in the churchyard before Saturday next." On the Monday following Pannel sickened, died on the Tuesday, and was buried within the week, according to her word. To confirm this, another witness added that a doctor, being consulted about another afflicted person, and Mother Munnings being mentioned, said that she was a dangerous woman, for she could touch the line of life. In the indictment she was charged with having an imp like a polecat, and one witness swore that coming from the alehouse about nine o'clock at night, he looked through her window, and saw her take two imps out of a basket, a black and a white. It was further deposed that one Sarah Wager, after a quarrel with the accused, was struck dumb and lame, and was in that condition at home at the time of the trial. Many other equally dreadful accusations were brought, and things might have gone hard for Mother Munnings had not the Lord Chief Justice been on the bench. He, however, directed the jury to bring in a verdict of "Not Guilty," which they obediently did. "Upon particular Enquiry," says Hutchinson, "of several in or near the Town, I find most are satisfied it was a very right Judgment. She lived about Two years after without doing any known Harm to any, and died declaring her Innocence. Her landlord was a consumptive spent Man, and the Words not exactly as they swore them, and the whole thing seventeen Years before . . . the White Imp is believed to have been a Lock of Wool taken out of her Basket to spin, and its Shadow, it is supposed, was the Black one."
In the same year Margaret Elmore was tried at the Ipswich Assizes before the same judge. "She was committed," says Hutchinson, "upon the account of one Mrs. Rudge, who was Three Years in a languishing condition, as was thought by the Witchcraft of the Prisoner then at the Bar, because Mr. Rudge, Husband of the afflicted Person, had refused letting her a House. Some Witnesses said that Mrs. Rudge was better upon the confinement of the woman, and worse again when her chains were off. Other witnesses gave account that her grandmother and her aunt had formerly been hanged for Witches, and that her Grandmother had said she had 8 or 9 Imps, and that she had given two or three apiece to her children." It was further shown on the evidence of a midwife who had searched her grandmother, that the prisoner had plainer witch-marks than she; while several women who had been on bad terms with her took oath that their bodies were infested with lice and other vermin supposed to be of her sending. But not even the vermin could influence the Lord Chief Justice, and Margaret Elmore was found "Not Guilty."
Yet another case, tried before Holt, was that of Elizabeth Horner at Exeter, in 1696. Three children of one William Borch were said to have been bewitched by her. One had died, the leg of another was twisted, all had vomited pins, been bitten, pricked, and pinched. Their mother deposed "that one of them walked up a smooth plaistered Wall till her Feet were nine foot high, her Head standing off from it. This," she said, "she did five or six times, and laughed and said Bess Horner held her up." Poor Elizabeth had a wart on her shoulder, which the children said was a witch-mark, and was sucked by her toad.
But the Lord Chief Justice seems to have been of another opinion, for he directed the jury to acquit her. Indeed, of all the many cases of witchcraft brought before him, not one prisoner was convicted a state of things which would certainly have resulted in a question being asked in Parliament had it happened in our time. The last woman found guilty of witchcraft in this country was Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkerne, in Hertfordshire, who was tried in 1712. The witch-finder was called into requisition, and she was submitted to the usual inane and degrading tests. "They either did themselves or suffered others that were about them to scratch and tear her face and run Pins into her Flesh. They . . . turned the Lord's Prayer into a Charm" (the Vicar of Ardely was responsible for this part of the performance, by the way). "They turned to Spectre Evidence, they drave her to such Distraction that by leading Questions they drew from her what they called a Confession. They had her to Jail. The witnesses swore to vomiting Pins. The Jury found her Guilty, the Judge condemned her, and those clergymen wrote a Narrative of the Tryal, which was received and read with such Pleasure that in a Month's Time it had a Fourth Edition." But Jane Wenham was fortunate in her judge. Being a man of learning and experience, "he Valued not those Tricks and Tryals, and though he was forced to condemn her because a Silly Jury would find her guilty, he saved her Life. And that she might not afterwards be torn to pieces in an ignorant Town, a sensible Gentleman, who will for ever be in Honour for what he did, Colonel Plummer of Gilston, in the same County, took her into his protection and placed her in a little house near his own, where she now lives soberly and inoffensively, and keeps her church, and the whole county is now fully convinced that she was innocent, and that the Maid that was thought to be bewitched was an Idle Hussy . . . and was well as soon as her sweetheart came and married her."
Thenceforward the law of England had no more terrors for the witch, though she was not yet quite out of danger. The Statute of James I. was not repealed until 1736, and long after that the mob was accustomed to take the law into its own hands. Thus, in 1751, a man and his wife named Osborn were ducked at Thring, having been dragged by the mob from the workhouse where they had been placed by the parish officers for safety. The woman lost her life in the process. She was, however, not unavenged, for a verdict of "Wilful Murder" was returned against the ringleader of the mob, a chimney-sweeper named Colley, and he was hanged, very much to his own and other people's indignation. There was indeed something to be said for the injured Colley when a man like Wesley, pinning his faith to the Bible, could find no means of evading the direct command, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The last case in which the blood of a witch was actually shed in this country, so far as I have been able to trace, was in 1875, when a certain Ann Turner, a reputed witch, was murdered by a man, who was, however, declared insane.
1 If any person, or persons, shall use, practise, or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil and wicked spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, find, or reward any evil and wicked spirit, to or for any intent or purpose, or to take up any dead man, woman, or child out of his, her, or their grave, or any other place where the dead body resteth, or the skin, bone, or any part of any dead person to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment, or shall use, practise, or exercise any witchcraft, enchantment, charm, or sorcery whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined, or lamed in his or her body, or any part thereof, every such offender is a felon without benefit of clergy." (This Act was not repealed until 1736.)