Sunday, 14 January 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Joan Cason

Name: Joan Cason

Location: Faversham, Kent

Date: 1586

Accusations: When Sarah Cooke's young daughter fell ill, a traveller told her that the girl had been bewitched. To cure her, the worried mother was advised to procure a roof tile from the house of the woman she suspected was responsible: Joan Cason. Sarah was to place the tile in the fire, where it would 'sparkle and fly round the cradle' if the child was indeed bewitched. Sarah Cooke duly carried out the ritual using a tile from the roof of Joan's house, and the result proved positive. To further compound her guilt in the eyes of her neighbours, Joan herself came to the Cooke's house not long afterwards to see how the child did, with disasterous consequences: four hours after looking Joan in the face, young Jane Cooke was dead. Although Joan denied any culpability it did her little good; seven people vouched for the fact that several years ago a rat-like spirit used to visit Joan's house to aid her in her mischief. Despite Joan insisting that those who spoke against her did so out of malice, she was arrested and charged.

Outcome: Joan was indicted on the charge of invoking spirits and also of bewitching young Jane Cooke to death. She was acquitted of the murder charge however and only charged with the conjuring of spirits, after she admitted that the rat-like creature had indeed been a frequent visitor to her own house and others in Faversham. This 'leniency' was due, according to the account in Holinshed, to the jury being reluctant to convict Joan of a crime punishable by death. It seems, however, that their consideration was actually Joan's downfall; a lawyer who was present quibbled the matter of conjuring spirits, and Joan was hanged anyway three days later.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Jane Brooks

Name: Jane Brooks

Location: Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Date: 1657/8

Accusations: The elderly Jane, along with her sister, was accused of tormenting young Richard Jones. Jane had begged bread from him, and in return had given the boy an apple; after taking a bite from it he had suffered a fit and could not move or speak. Jane and her sister were said to then have continued to torment the boy, visiting him in spectral form; on one momentous occasion the apparition was stabbed in the hand by one of Richard's relations, only for the same injury to be discovered on Jane herself shortly afterwards. 

The boy continued to suffer strange fits and was seen to be in great agony, and matters continuing to escalate, despite rumours that the sisters had offered Richard money to drop the case against them. Most memorably, it was claimed by witnesses that on 25 February 1658 Richard Jones was lifted into the air by an invisible force and transported for three hundred yards – a journey that included clearing a stone wall – after which he was thrown to the ground with such force that he lost consciousness. Jones claimed upon waking that Jane had been responsible and had lifted him into the air – no mean feat for an elderly and frail woman. On another occasion, Richard was discovered floating up by the ceiling of his house, remaining there for quarter of an hour much to the amazement of the several witnesses who saw him.

Outcome: Jane and her sister were sent to the Shepton Mallet House of Correction before being tried at the Chard Assizes in March, 1658. The pair were sent to gaol on 10th March, from which point Richard Jones ceased to suffer further fits. This did not save Jane however, and she was executed on 26th of March, while her sister died in prison.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

New Year's Witchcraft

Wishing everyone a very happy start to 2018, and hoping that the festive period was a positive one, however you chose to spend it! I'm back blogging with tales of witches and everything weird and wonderful, and what better way to start than with some new year's accusations of witchcraft? 

Agnes and her husband John Godfrey were married 25th January, 1578 at St. Andrew's, Enfield, and had at least six children in the years that followed. There is no evidence one way or another as to how their marriage fared, but relations within the local community were certainly less than harmonious as Agnes was accused of bewitching Thomas Phillippes, a one-year old infant, on 1st January, 1596/7, and another child, William Harvey, on 1st January 1597/98. Both died. In November 1609, Agnes was indicted for both crimes. She was also charged with bewitching a 'steer' (castrated cow), a pig, a 'little pig' and a mare belonging to local gentleman William Durrant, bewitching Frances Baker and causing her illness and wasting, and causing the death of Jasper Tappes. Agnes pleaded 'not guilty' to all charges, but was found guilty of killing William Durrant's animals and also murdering Thomas Phillippes in 1596/7. 

The sentence passed against Agnes is unknown, but she clearly escaped the noose as she was indicted again several years later in 1621 on more charges of witchcraft. The previous enmity between Agnes and William Durrant had not been resolved, as this time she was accused of harming the man himself, causing his body to be wasted. Agnes was also accused of using witchcraft to murder William and Robert Coxe and Henry Butterfield in the years since her previous indictments.

Agnes pleaded 'not guilty' again and was this time acquitted on all counts. This was hopefully the end of at least official accusations for witchcraft for Agnes, as she does not appear in the court records again for any reason. 

(As I can't let these things lie, I am currently pursuing research to find out how long Agnes lived after her acquittal. Watch this space!)

Monday, 1 January 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Anne Ashby

Name: Anne Ashby, (alias Anne Cobler)

Location: Cranbrook, Kent

Date: 1652

Accusations: Anne, a spinster, was accused of bewitching the three year old daughter of Richard Wilding to death, and another infant on 4th December the year before. She was also accused along with four other women of bewitching Elizabeth Osborne on 19th April, 1652, causing her to languish until she died on 15th July that same year. Anne was named as the main 'actress' in the drama that unfolded, and not only confessed to the crimes she was charged with, but also to having let the Devil have carnal knowledge of her. 

Anne appeared to be possessed by a spirit named Rug and to have control over said spirit; she was observed to fall into 'an ecstacy' whilst in court, and when she recovered informed those present that 'the spirit Rug came out of her mouth like a mouse.' According to Anne, the Devil had given the women a piece of flesh and told them that if they touched it they would get whatever they wanted. She also revealed the location of this grisly object, 'of a sinewy substance and scorched,' and, if the account be believed, it was discovered in the place she named. Anne, along with two others of the accused, pleaded pregnancy in an attempt to avoid their fate.  

Outcome: Three of the women were reprieved, but Anne was found guilty at the Maidstone Assizes on Friday 30th July 1652 and hanged not long afterwards. 

Further details of the case are related in the pamphlet A Prodigious and Tragical History of the Arraignment, Trial, Confession and Condemnation of six Witches at Maidstone, in Kent', printed in London, August 1652. 

A-Z of the Accused

As anyone keeping an eye on my Twitter feed will already know, I've been busy enjoying the challenges of a new addition to the family for the last few months, which has left little time for blogging and all that goes with it. To get back into the swing of things I've decided to have a bit of fun: a set of posts working through the alphabet, each looking at a different accused witch. 

To start with I'll be focusing on English witches; can I find one for each letter? Watch out for a new post each Monday and keep up with previous witches below. 


Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Yorkshire Witch: A Tantalising Read

Superstition. Cunning. Manipulation. Murder.

On 20 March 1809, Mary Bateman was executed in York for the murder of Rebecca, wife to William Perigo. Although the last, this was likely not the first murder to Mary's name, 'The Yorkshire Witch' leaving a trail of theft, poisoning and deceit behind her as she took her place at the gallows. 

The tale of Mary Bateman is so sensational that a reader would be forgiven for thinking the details to be a work of crime fiction rather than real life. Despite, or perhaps because of this fact, there has not been a full look at Mary's life and acts since the pamphlet written not long after her execution. Summer Strevens however redresses the balance in The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman, giving the fascinating and gruesome events their first full airing for two centuries.

It has been well worth the wait: Strevens has clearly done her research, including in her study of Mary's life such varied and tantalising details as the geographical layout of 19th century Leeds and the history of the storage of poisons, that help to bring the time and context into sharper focus and add a further fascinating layer to the incredible story. She also makes good use of the often underused resource of parish records, adding biographical details to further enhance the fragmentary glimpses into Mary's story. 

Written by a skilled and accurate narrator, The Yorkshire Witch is a compelling blend of historical research and storytelling. Along with giving the known details of Mary's life and the harrowing relation of her murderous schemes, Strevens ventures some interesting speculation regarding Mary's mental and psychological state. Ultimately however she accepts that we just don't know why Mary carried out the acts she did, leaving the case ultimately open. 

The Yorkshire Witch is available from Amazon and Pen and Sword Books.  

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Visit to Outlaw Territory: Exploring the city of Robin Hood

As most readers of this blog know, we had a new addition to the family back in March. It was an eventful occassion in many ways, and along with a long-expected diagnosis of autism for our now middle-child, and the rather less expected discovery that Tiny Baby had a tongue tie that needed snipping, all in all, 2017 has been an eventful, sometimes taxing, and often wonderful, year so far! 

For many reasons it's meant we've had to be a little more creative in meeting everyone's needs and wants. Take plans for the summer for instance. The kids want to go on holiday. Tiny Baby hates the car. Day trips to nearby places invariably end up with something being missed out and there not being enough time to do everything we want to do. 


A mini-break to nearby Nottingham! 

(And of course, being me, it was inevitable that we would find more than one folklore connection along the way.....) 

The only 'original' remaining section of Nottingham Castle

There's a lot to be said for going on holiday somewhere only half an hour away from where you live. I checked into the Premier Inn with the three kids and a huge suitcase on the Sunday afternoon, and then we were off across the road to make the most of our family pass for Nottingham Castle.

The ducal mansion, which now houses the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

My three favourite small people! 

On our way back to the hotel we made an unexpected discovery; although The Robin Hood Legacy has been running since last year, this was the first time we had passed that route from the castle! Robin Hood and Maid Marian were very friendly and welcoming, and after soaking each other in the stocks outside, the kids had a fabulous time being told of Robin's exploits through a series of talking tableaus, finishing up with some target practice and a look through a fascinating array of Robin Hood memorabilia. 

Check out The Robin Hood Legacy on Twitter at @RobinHoodMuseum

Having a chat with Robin Himself

The perfect excuse to soak your sister! 

Tiny and I kept well out of the way once the swords and arrows came out!

We'll be visiting again soon! 

With the obvious Robin Hood connection, it is hardly surprising that we encountered the famous outlaw in several guises during our trip...

'The' Robin Hood statue, just outside Nottingham Castle

Robin Hood takes on Guy of Gisborne

Robin in Wicker

Can't get enough Robin Hood? Check out the following Robin-themed articles:

And let me know if you have a local Robin Hood statue or image either here or on Twitter! 

Moving away from legendary outlaws, we also went on the Dinosaur trail around the city to hunt down the three dinosaurs said to be lurking....

This one has the best name of the bunch - Ayupmeduckasaurus the Plesiosaurus (It's a local thing...!) Some say the Loch Ness Monster looks rather like this prehistoric sea creature...

Posing with Squawkers The Pterodactyl

No one wanted to be in a picture with this rather terrifying specimen! 

Nottingham Kitty Cafe

The kids have been asking to visit the famed Kitty Cafe every time we've gone past for the last year. They do say the best things come to those that wait! The cafe is home to a wide selection of cats with a variety of tastes and temperaments - we ordered drinks and very soon the visitors started coming to our table, much to the delight of the children! The cafe also operates a rehoming service, but the only cats we took home on this occasion were toy ones as a souvenir. 

To find out more about the Kitty Cafe or to plan a visit, check out their website here: Kitty Cafe

Of course cats feature frequently in folklore, find some examples below:

Getting brave enough to stroke one! 

Enjoying a play with Fred (or is it George?) 

On our last day we  returned to the castle again for a tour through the famous caves that run under the city. Our tour guide filled us in on the fascinating and often gruesome history of the castle and the caves, and I admit to a shiver as we passed deeper and deeper underground...

In the caves...

One of several tunnels with a tale attached...

Holding on tight! 

Down we go...

At the bottom and back in the fresh air at last! 

Close by the exit to the caves lies Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, an inn that promises to support
its claim to being the oldest inn in England

All in all we had a wonderful trip, and only scratched the surface of what the city had to offer. As I write this, the kids are already planning our next visit, and I don't think it will be long before we'll be heading back! 

A chance find of a winged horse had us reaching for our cameras!