Sunday, 27 May 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Isobel Roby

Name: Isobel Roby
Location: Lancashire
Date: 1612

Accusations: One of the less well-known  of the "Pendle Witches", Isobel Roby was unusual in that she was not actually indicted for a specific act of witchcraft against a named victim.  Several people however spoke against her, including Peter Chaddock of Windle, Jane Wilkinson,  Margaret Lyon,  and Margaret Parre, who between them stated that a man had fallen ill after falling out with Isobel,  and that a woman who had refused her milk had experienced an unexplained pinch to her thigh. 

Outcome: Despite the scarcity of evidence or word against her and a plea of 'not guilty',  Isobel was found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to death with the rest of the Pendle victims. She was hanged on 20th August,  1612.

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Missing Mercer's Wife: The Mysterious Disappearance of Katherine Atkins

Tales of strange disappearances and people being transported from one place to another through mystical means are not uncommon in English myth and folklore. What is perhaps more surprising is to find them contained in accounts that purport to be a more 'accurate' telling of historical events.

Such an example is the 1652 pamphlet detailing the trial for witchcraft of several people from Cranbrook, Kent. Tacked onto the end of (and seemingly utterly unconnected to) the telling of the unhappy end of those accused, is 'A true Relation of one Mrs Atkins, a Mercer's Wife in Warwick, who was strangely carried away from her house in July last.' If this were not enough to grab the attention of the reader, it transpired that the missing woman had not been seen since.

(Creative Commons, Colin Craig)

It all started on the night of Saturday 24 July, 1652. Mrs Katherine Atkins had been standing at her door, when a 'certain unknown woman' approached and asked for two pence. Mrs Atkins however, pleading a lack of money herself, refused. Not to be put off, the woman then asked for the pin that Mrs Atkins had on her sleeve. This was duly removed and given to the woman, who seemed most grateful for the gift. Touched by her display of thanks, Mrs Atkins invited her to stay a while, offering to prepare some food, or, if she preferred, the gift of some thread or something else from the shop. The woman however took offence at this and she answered:

'she would have nothing else, and bid a pox on her victuals, and swore (by God) saying 'You shall be an hundred miles off within this week, when you shall want two-pence as much as I.'

With this ominous pronouncement, the woman went away, still grumbling to herself and leaving Katherine Atkins suitably shaken.

Come morning, her mind was still unsettled when she thought of what had occurred, and Mrs Atkins sought the advice of several friends for what to do. No one seemed to be able to offer a solution however or much in the way of reassurance, and on 29 July the tormented woman confided in a family member that she was very worried indeed about what the visitor had foretold. There was a glimmer of hope however; the time that the woman had pronounced her fate was to occur was almost passed: it might therefore not transpire as had been predicted after all.

This tentative optimism turned out to be premature: on Thursday night that week between eight and nine, Mrs Atkins visited her husband's shop. The unfortunate woman was last seen in the entrance way, before vanishing immediately before the very eyes of witnesses. No one knew where Mrs Atkins had gone or how she had been whisked away, and her whereabouts were unknown at the time of the pamphlet being printed. The tale ends with the entreaty that:

'The desire of her husband and friends is of all the inhabitants of this Nation, that if they hear of any such party in such a lost condition as is before expressed; that there may be speedy notice given thereof to her Husband in Warwick, and that all convenient provisions both of horse and money may be made for the conveying of her to the place aforesaid.'

As well as exhorting anyone who located the missing woman to aid her return to her home and family, the author goes on to ask most earnestly that ministers everywhere across the country, and in London in particular, could offer their prayers to God to help Mrs Atkin's return.

A fantastical story indeed. While the events themselves are questionable to say the least, the Atkins family of Warwick did in fact exist. Thomas Adkins or Atkins was baptised at St Mary's, Warwick, in 1612 to John and Elizabeth Adkins, and he had at least one brother, John, baptised 1615. There is no record of Thomas' marriage, but the parish registers contain baptism records for several children to Thomas and Katherine Adkins, including Alicia Adkins baptised 1634 and Anna Adkins baptised 1639. Further evidence regarding the couple can be found in the Hearth Tax index for Warwick which includes a Thomas Adkins living in Market Place, Warwick, and the records confirm that he was also known as Atkins.

Warwick St Mary, as it is today.
(Creative Commons, Chris Nyborg)

How Katherine returned to her home in Warwick or how long she was missing for is unknown, but it appears the situation had a favourable outcome. Several more children were baptised to the couple in the years that followed her supposed disappearance, and Katherine herself was buried in Warwick St Mary's 25th January 1669. The truth behind her absence and the identity of the mysterious woman who cursed her remains a mystery, although it is unlikely that either were quickly forgotten by Katherine and Thomas Atkins.

A-Z of the Accused: Agnes Hurst

Name: Agnes Hurst

Location: Westhoughton, Lancashire

Date: 1665

Accusations: Jane Gregory testified that her husband Thomas had been taken ill after an encounter with Agnes Hurst, a woman reputed to have been a witch for the last twenty years. He had helped in transporting the old woman in a chair with a group of others, and she had taken him by the hand. This seemingly innocent gesture was, in hindsight, taken as malevolent in nature, as the following day Thomas Gregory was certain he thought he saw someone on the chimney of his house, only to find no one there when he reached home. This was the prelude to his symptoms, as upon entering the house he was taken ill, feeling as if he were being 'pricked' with an awl. Convinced that Agnes and her daughter Margaret had bewitched him, Thomas went to their house to accuse the women; he and Agnes exchanged heated words, during which Agnes said she hoped to see the end of him. Several other members of the Gregory family supported Jane and Thomas' story.

Outcome: Although nothing came of the matter at the time, Agnes and Margaret were indicted three years later for the murder by witchcraft of Thomas Gregory, who according to the burial register for Westhoughton died in 1667. The pair were cleared of the crime however, with Agnes living on until 1670 and her daughter until 1684. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Alice Gooderidge

Name: Alice Gooderidge

Date: 1596

Location: Stapenhill, Burton-Upon-Trent, Staffordshire

Accusations: In February 1596, Alice was accused of bewitching young Thomas Darling after meeting the boy when he got lost in the woods while hunting with his uncle. Shortly afterwards, Thomas suffered from vomiting and hallucinations; when the doctor called to attend him could do nothing to ease his condition, it was noted that the boy became worse when praying or reading the bible, and witchcraft was diagnosed. When Thomas told of his meeting with the old woman, (and her anger when he happened to break wind in front of her) the finger of blame was soon pointed at sixty-year old Alice Gooderidge, although some also believed her mother, Elizabeth Wright, was actually the woman in question. Upon examination, Alice initially admitted she had been in the wood, but not to seeing Thomas there. Upon being unable to say the Lord's Prayer properly however, the local Justice was called, and Alice and her mother were apprehended by the constable, leading to  Alice finally admitting to having met Thomas Darling. Further evidence was forthcoming: a hole was discovered on Alice's belly, the site, it was said, where she had desperately tried to remove the evidence of the witch's mark that would incriminate her, and although she said the injury was caused by a fall from a ladder, this explanation was not believed. Alice was imprisoned and Thomas Darling continued to suffer: the boy was plagued by hallucinations, fits and, incredibly, was said to have been threatened by a spectral bear.

Outcome: After undergoing inducement to confess, including having the shoes on her feet heated to unbearable temperatures before the fire, Alice finally broke. On 2 and 3 May she confessed that she had bewitched Thomas, and sent the Devil after him in the form of a red and white coloured dog named Minny. She was also charged with bewitching a cow belonging to a man named Michael. Thomas Darling was exorcised by the soon to be infamous exorcist John Darrell, after which the boy recovered from his bewitchment. Alice was not so fortunate; it is believed that she was sentenced to a year in gaol, and although there is no further record of her, it is believed she died during her imprisonment. Tragically, three years later, Thomas Darling confessed that he had fabricated the entire story and his subsequent illness. Darrell, after playing a prominent role in several high-profile possession cases, was like-wise discredited as a fraud.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Margaret Flower

Name: Margaret Flower

Date: 1619

Location: Bottesford, Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire

Accusations: After Margaret was dismissed from service at Belvoir Castle by the wife of the Earl of Rutland, she was accused along with her mother Joan and sister Philippa of bewitching two of the Earl's sons to death in revenge. The magic was worked against them in turn using a glove belonging to each boy, items Margaret was responsible for procuring. An unsuccessful attempt was likewise made on the life of Katherine, the Earl's daughter, and it was believed that the Flower women had also made sure the Earl and his wife would have no further children.

Outcome: The three women were arrested, and after her mother died on the way to Lincoln, Margaret and her sister made the rest of the journey to Lincoln Castle where they were imprisoned and tried. Margaret related how spirits and devils had appeared to her in her gaol cell; it was only then that she realised her own guilt in the matter and had not before that point thought herself a witch. No doubt terrified and confused, the two sisters incriminated themselves and each other, and Margaret and Philippa were found guilty and hanged. 

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Margaret Ellnore

Name: Margaret Ellnore

Date: 1694

Location: Ipswich

Accusations: Francis Hutchinson recorded in his Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft that when a man named Rudge refused to let Margaret Ellnore a house, his wife fell ill soon afterwards and Margaret was blamed. The woman remained unwell for three years, only improving during the periods when Margaret was arrested and chained up; as soon as Margaret was released, Mistress Rudge once again fell ill. Further accusations were made against her by others, who said they had fallen ill after likewise quarelling with Margaret. To make matters worse, it was said that Margaret's Grandmother and aunt had previously been hanged for witches, (the grandmother having passed her own imps on to her children) something that made her guilt all the more believable as witchcraft was known to run in families.

Outcome: One of the later witchcraft trials to take place in England, Margaret Ellnore had the good luck to be tried by Sir John Holt, a judge who was responsible for acquitting several accused witches during his career and had a reputation for leniency where this particular crime was concerned. Margaret was accordingly found innocent of the crimes of which she was accused. It seems that Holt's leniency only bought Margaret a few more years; a burial record for Maragret Elmore in Ipswich suggests she died in 1697.

Monday, 22 January 2018

A-Z of the Accused: Agnes Duke

Name: Agnes Duke

Location: Hatfield Peverel, Essex

Date: 1566-1589

Accusations: Agnes' first official step on the wrong side of the law was not actually for witchcraft. At the Brentwood Assizes on 14 March 1566, she was indicted along with William Spayne on the charge of burglary;  on 15 December the previous year, the pair had stolen goods from the house of Richard Harris in Agnes' native Hatfield Peverel in Essex. Agnes was found guilty, but was remanded, possibly because she pleaded pregnancy. Her accomplice wasn't as fortunate; Spayne is recorded as having died in prison, a common occurrence given the unsanitary conditions prisoners were frequently held in. 

Agnes was still in prison in March 1567, but was apparently released some time after that, as the next mention of her is not until the Chelmsford Assizes of 1584 when she was again before the courts, this time indicted for murder by witchcraft. It was said that on 7 February 1584 she bewitched John Byrde, who died 25 that same month. Agnes was found not guilty and, again, released. Finally on 13 March 1589 Agnes was again up for charges of witchcraft at Chelmsford, this time working with John Heare to bewitch Joan Hawkins in November 1588, their victim languishing until 10 March the following year. Agnes was again, surprisingly, found not guilty. 

Outcome: Despite being cleared and escaping the noose, Agnes was still listed as a gaol prisoner at the February Chelmsford sessions in 1590. The end result for Agnes is ultimately unknown as mention of her dries up in the Assize records for the period; one might hope she was released, although death in prison was, potentially, more likely.