English witches

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Mother Dickenson lived in the 17th Century and was tried as a witch and found guilty. She was burnt at the stake for, amongst other things, indulging in obscene rituals and transforming herself into a horse before riding off with young men. Whether the young men in question were willing participants or not is not recorded.

Joan Flower was born in the mid 16th Century, and was arrested for being a witch, along with her two daughters. The daughters both worked at Belvoir Castle, seat of the Earls of Rutland, at this time Francis Manners, the 6th earl. Her daughter Margaret was suspected of stealing items – including gloves belonging to the two young sons of Manners – from her employer and dismissed, upon which Joan threatened to get her revenge on the earl and countess. It was alleged that one glove was stuck with pins and the other buried in dung – within a week the elder of the two boys, Lord Henry Rosse, was dead from a fever, followed by his brother Lord Francis Rosse. Their stepsister suffered fits but recovered, and the earl and countess allegedly became sterile. Joan, her daughters, and three local women were accused of being witches and detained – while protesting her innocence Joan requested bread, telling her captors that if she were a witch it would kill her. Bread was provided, Joan took one bite, choked and died. The remaining co-accused were so unnerved by this that they incriminated each other and the trial of the Witches of Belvoir saw all five hung in Lincoln prison on 11 March 1619. The 6th earl died in 1632 and the absence of male heirs saw the title pass to his brother. He is buried in St. Mary the Virgin’s Church in Bottesford, Leicestershire, and his tomb includes the information that he had ‘two sonnes, both who dyed in their infancy by wicked practice and sorcerye’.

Jane Wenham was the last known convicted witch in England in 1712. An elderly lady when the charges were brought, Jane lived alone in poverty at the edge of Walkern in Kent. Regularly seen begging for scraps of food or a coin with which to buy something to eat, Jane was accused of causing harm to sheep and later members of the local population with curses and so forth. After being acquitted on the first occasion, Jane was later further accused and had to endure the humiliating process of being searched for ‘witches marks’ by four local women for a good hour. Nothing was found. She was pricked to see how she bled, another sign of a witch and eventually called to answer a second trial. Sir Henry Chauncy and his rather nasty son Arthur were responsible for gathering the evidence against this poor old lady, inflicting a number of ever more incredible tests on her, including pricking her with a pin to see if she bled.12196089_175712216104202_2164006467234796404_n

When they were satisfied that Jane was responsible for the deaths of livestock, and a small child, because living alone and being hungry causes that, she was referred for trial by Judge Sir John Powell. Powell was perhaps more sympathetic to her plight, and proceeded to dismiss the evidence, one piece at a time. My favourite bit has to be when a local woman claimed Jane could fly. Powell dryly responded “There’s no law against that!” before dismissing it. AT the end of the trial, he invited the jury to find her innocent. They refused. A number of them were locals who were wrapped up in the accusations and incredibly superstitious. They found her guilty; Powell had no choice but to order her execution, however he placed a stay on the death sentence and Wenham was removed to jail pending appeal.

The appeal was taken by a Mr Cowper to Queen Anne, his daughter Lady Sarah later recorded Jane’s death in a cottage on her land in 1729, where she had lived out her days for the seventeen years after she was found guilty and then pardoned by the Queen.

JJ