Women: witnesses and witches

Women: witnesses and witches – witch-prosecutions in early modern England

Clive Holmes

The role played by women in the legal process against witches, as accusers or witnesses, has been frequently cited in the course of skirmishes about the question, as posed by Christina Larner, “Was witch-hunting women-hunting?”. Keith Thomas has argued that “The idea that witch-prosecutions reflected a war between the sexes must be discounted, not least because the victims and witnesses were themselves as likely to be women as men”. This argument is mirrored by that of Alan Macfarlane, and has been followed, in relation to the New England trials, by John Demos.(1) Feminist scholars, like Larner, Carol Karlsen and, most recently, Marianne Hester, have found such reasoning “simplistic”.(2) Yet Karlsen’s acknowledgement that the role of women as accusers remains “one of the most baffling questions about witchcraft” does suggest the need for further discussion, and a recent essay by J. A. Sharpe, examining the involvement of women in Yorkshire prosecutions, displays some of the potential of the subject.(3) An examination of the process of witnessing – a process, as I shall argue, of considerable cultural complexity – will illuminate a number of issues raised by the witchcraft prosecutions: the shaping role of the legal system, the dynamic interweaving of elite theology and the concerns of the populace and, not least, the misogynous dimension of witchcraft.

We may distinguish three ways in which women might participate in the trial procedures against witches. Two of these are very distinctive. First, women might testify as “possessed” victims of the witch’s malice; control of their minds and bodies had been seized by the Devil at the instigation of the witch. Secondly, women might report the results of physical searches that they had been instructed to conduct upon the witch’s body, designed to discover the incriminating physical characteristics that indicated her complicity with Satan and his minions. In both instances the female deponents appear to acquiesce in and reinforce theories of witchcraft, developed by theologians and lawyers, which emphasize female weakness – the greater susceptibility of women to satanic temptation; their greater sensual depravity. Before discussing these instances, it will be necessary to examine a third group of women involved in criminal prosecution: those who testified simply to their experience of the witch’s maleficium – to children lamed or killed, to stock or crops blighted, to the interruption of agricultural or domestic procedures. This kind of testimony is more inchoate than the other two categories; it lacks their conceptual clarity and sophistication. Yet, because it is the basic form of female engagement in the courts, both involving the greatest number of deponents, and rooted in popular rather than elite beliefs, it must be examined first.


The sources available for the study of witnessing can be divided into two categories. First, transcriptions of the testimony proffered to the examining magistrates or in court. Such evidence survives in a multiplicity of forms: in the private papers of J.P.s and ministers; in the official files of the clerks of assize and of the peace, and of the functionaries of the ecclesiastical courts; in published works – academic treatises and popular broadsides; even plays and ballads. Rich in detail, such testimonies certainly display the involvement of women in the process of accusation. And they indicate the concerns that exercised female witnesses, though these are, of course, refracted through the pens and the assumptions of their elite, male interlocutors. But the survival of these various sources is so random that any attempt to undertake a quantitative study, to calculate, for instance, the proportion of male and female deponents in witchcraft cases, would be misleading.(4) Any statistical exercise, an essential ground bass to a discussion of witchcraft testimony, has to be undertaken from the second of the available sources: the assize indictments. The latter, though highly formulaic and consequently opaque in terms of any substantive detail concerning the cases that they record, do have the virtue of surviving in a sufficient chronological series, at least for the Home Circuit, to permit a preliminary analysis.

In the 1590s the clerk of assize for the Home Circuit began to endorse some of the indictments upon which the accused were tried with the names of the witnesses in the case, and this was uniformly practised after 1600. In the course of the following century some nine hundred and seventy witnesses were recorded on witchcraft indictments: almost half of these (47.68 per cent) were women.(5) The endorsements also suggest that women were becoming proportionally more involved in witchcraft accusation in the course of the period. In the last years of Elizabeth’s reign (1596-1602) 38.2 per cent of witnesses against witches whose names were endorsed on the indictments were women; 43.4 per cent in the reign of James I. However, after the Restoration female witnesses were in the majority (52.9 per cent) in the counties that formed the Home Circuit. They were also in a majority in this latter period in indictments emanating from the assize courts of the Northern Circuit (56 per cent), though not in Norfolk Circuit cases (43 per cent).(6) The apparent rise in the proportion of female witnesses is not merely the product of a change in the recording practices of the clerks of assize. Early in the seventeenth century the clerks did not, in any of the indictments for major criminal offences, invariably annotate the document with the names of all those who were expected to testify at the assizes; in later records such omissions seem less frequent. However, there does not appear to be any gender bias in the determination of names for endorsement on the earlier indictments.(7) The rising proportion of female deponents in witchcraft cases in the course of the seventeenth century is not an optical illusion induced by changing clerical practice.

Why did this significant shift in the proportions of male and female deponents occur in the century after 1590? The phenomenon is paralleled by an increase in the involvement of female deponents in all cases before the assizes. Women formed only 10 per cent of the witnesses in non-witchcraft cases in a sample of sessions of the Essex assizes between 1596 and 1625; after the Restoration the proportion had more than doubled (22 per cent).(8) But this shift reflects, not any change in the courts’ readiness to accept female testimony, but simply the fall in the number of property offences coming to the attention of the assizes. Property crimes – larceny, burglary, housebreaking – had dominated proceedings from the 1590s until the end of the reign of James I; they declined markedly after 1660.(9) And in these prosecutions the bulk of the testimony was provided by men. As the numbers of property offences brought before the assize courts waned in the course of the century, so too did the proportion of male witnesses attending at Chelmsford.

The rising percentage of women witnesses in witchcraft cases is also related, though tangentially, to offences against property. In the reigns of Elizabeth and James 36.8 per cent of all witchcraft cases coming to the attention of the assizes involved an indictment alleging that the accused had damaged stock; in 14.3 per cent of incidents, stock-damage formed the sole charge. Indictments of stock-damage, either alone or in conjunction with other acts of maleficium, dropped to 15.8 per cent in Charles I’s reign, rose slightly to 25 per cent in the Interregnum, then plummeted to a mere 2.9 per cent after the Restoration. And in indictments concerning malefic damage to stock, as in all property crimes, the testimony of men predominated: men formed 80.8 per cent of witnesses to these charges. As the crime of witchcraft was increasingly perceived as involving mysterious human ailments and death; as indictments, like that against Margery Stanton of Wimbish in 1579, alleging the destruction of “unum spandonem [gelding] coloris white”,(10) disappear from the record, so the proportion of female witnesses increased. Women, attendant at the sick-bed of the victim, were well placed to describe the mental anguish and mortal physical torments inflicted by the witch.

Here, then, is the explanation for the growing proportion of women formally testifying in witchcraft cases in the course of the seventeenth century. Women were simply better placed than men to describe the incidents and activities that conformed to the altered perception of the nature of witchcraft as a criminal offence. The shift in the conceptualization of the offence was instigated by the legal elite. After 1660 the local justices and the courts were reluctant to admit charges of witchcraft except in cases of mysterious and terrifying illness leading to death or, more rarely, where the accused was directly alleged to be involved in diabolic practices. This restructuring of the offence by magistrates and lawyers certainly does not indicate any fundamental change in the nature of popular belief concerning witchcraft. The ancillary material produced in the official investigation of the late seventeenth-century cases demonstrates that at the local level witches were still believed to exercise their powers in the destruction of stock or the interruption of agricultural and domestic procedures. But the legal elite, unlike its Elizabethan predecessors, now refused to entertain formal accusations based on this kind of evidence. So, for example, at the Suffolk assizes in 1694 four indictments, three for killing by witchcraft and one for entertaining evil spirits, were preferred against Philippa Munnings of Hartest but, though no charges were formally levelled, her neighbours also believed her to be guilty of destroying stock and spoiling brewing.(11) The case of Jane Wenham, found guilty at the Hertford assizes in 1712 for diabolic dealings, revealed long-standing popular suspicions of a traditional kind that had little to do with the elite concerns that informed the language of the indictment. One Walkern yeoman believed that he had lost stock to the value of 200 [pounds] through her maleficence over the years; another local farmer’s sheep had died mysteriously after he threatened Wenham for stealing his turnips.(12)

The Wenham case deserves further discussion. It clearly displays the complex process which attended the transformation of local concerns into formal legal procedure. Suspicion against Wenham had festered for years, and was reinforced in 1711 by the mysterious behaviour and illness of a possessed maidservant. The girl’s affliction was studied and the charge of witchcraft against Wenham engineered by local Anglican clergymen, eager to use the opportunity to assert the reality of witchcraft in the face of growing intellectual scepticism. The case, for them, was a skirmish in the wider battle against deism and agnosticism. But when the divines sought to indict Wenham for “wasting and consuming” her victim, the clerk of assize insisted that “he neither could, nor would, lay it so”; an indictment for witchcraft required either the death of the victim or proof of diabolic practices. This was, as the clerical prosecutors complained, an odd reading of the Jacobean legislation (1 Jac., c. 12), but it was one that had begun to be favoured by the judges in the 1630s,(13) and which was revived after the peculiar circumstances of the Civil War and Interregnum cases. Hence, in the Wenham case, the odd, sardonic form taken by the indictment – “conversing familiarly with the Devil in the shape of a cat” – ostensibly bringing the offence within the compass of the clause of the statute that made it felony “to entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked spirit”.

In the Wenham case the manipulation of popular concerns and belief by elements of the elite, both the Tory divines crusading against infidelity and the cynics of the legal establishment who derided and sought to frustrate their efforts, is very apparent. Local suspicions and concerns had to be moulded to the requirements of legal categorization and procedure and, beyond these, to the political and theological concerns of the elite which informed and shaped the juridical forms. But such transmutation was not peculiar to the post-1660 cases in which it emerges most clearly. It was a permanent feature of the formal prosecution of witchcraft. From 1563 suspicions rooted in folklore had to be orchestrated to accommodate them to the machinery and the values of the elite. This raises a critical point concerning the analysis of the role of witnesses, male and female. We must consider: first, how local fears and suspicions were drawn to the attention of the magistracy; secondly, how far the authorities tailored the evidence to the constraints imposed by the changing assumptions of a system in which the witnesses were, in some measure, only marginal participants.


It is difficult to make confident assertions about the nature and patterns of popular beliefs about witchcraft. All the sources are, in some measure, distorted by refraction through the conceptual framework of the elite. Yet we may suggest a couple of its features salient to this enquiry. First, the mysterious powers that constituted witchcraft would normally be possessed by women. There is little of the sophisticated misogyny, a powerful brew of biblical and Aristotelian emphases on female inferiority, developed by elite commentators obliged to explain the substantial plurality of women in prosecution.(14) In so far as any attention was paid at the popular level to questions of the origin of this power, it appears that it was thought to inhere in matrilineal lineage: “by discent … from the grandmother to the mother, and from the mother to the children”.(15) Secondly, men and women shared a fear of witches. From a sample of the cases coming to the attention of Richard Napier, minister of Great Linford and astrological physician, between 1601 and 1627, Ronald Sawyer has noticed the plurality of women both among those named as witches (94.7 per cent), and among Napier’s patients, a group of 109 persons, who believed themselves the victims of witchcraft (59.7 per cent). Sawyer’s figures further suggest that women were quicker to nominate those they held responsible for their sufferings: 45.5 per cent of Napier’s male patients were ready to name the witch persecuting them; the figure for female patients is 58.2 per cent.(16) Women seeking the protection of the ecclesiastical courts

against the damage to their reputations, occasioned by abuse or rumours that suggested that they were witches, name men and women in almost equal numbers as their slanderers.(17)

But a general fear of a local woman possessing the formidable powers attributed to witches does not automatically transmute into legal prosecution. Confronted by power-wielding women, villagers at first instance might seek to ensure that they were not the victims of such power, perhaps to control and deploy it for their own purposes. The witch, in consequence, might be treated with an elaborate if cautious deference. Edward Fairfax noted that the inhabitants of Knaresborough Forest coexisted with the witch-clans in their midst, and that the head of one of the latter “had so powerful hand over the wealthiest neighbours about her, that none of them refused to do anything she required, yea, unbesought they provided her with fire, and meat from their own tables.”(18) A similarly dense and long-standing network of social relations is apparent in Pendle Forest between the rival witch-families, headed by their respective matriarchs, Old Chattox and Old Demdyke, and the villagers. The latter not only tolerated the petty thefts, begging and extortion of the suspected witches, but employed them routinely both in domestic industry and as healers. They sought protection from the witches’ power both by paying blackmail and by recourse to counter-magic.(19)

How did villagers who may have co-operated, if uneasily, with the suspected witch come to testify against her? In both Knaresborough and Pendle that transformation was accomplished by the direct intervention of members of the elite. Fairfax’s engagement in the prosecution of the Knaresborough witches stemmed from the mysterious illness of his daughter, Helen, who eventually attributed her condition to their maleficence. In Lancashire the zealous magistrate, Roger Nowell, “a very religious honest gentleman, painefull in the service of his Countrey”, was moved by local rumours to launch an investigation. Nowell’s intervention, while spurred by local suspicions and tensions, swiftly transformed them. Relentless interrogation of one of the accused – the boy attempted suicide – eventually elicited the required confession of diabolic activities.(20) Such examples of direct elite orchestration are, however, rare. In the bulk of cases the decision to bring a witch to the attention of the authorities appears to have been undertaken entirely within the neighbourhood, and the process of transmutation, whereby suspicion became prosecution, is opaque. Yet a few cases provide significant indicators concerning that process.

Brian Darcy’s self-congratulatory account of his short but spectacular career as a witch-hunter in north-eastern Essex in 1582 permits some discussion of the local instigation of prosecution. Darcy, like Roger Nowell, was well versed in the continental theories concerning the satanic dimension of witchcraft, and he proved a vigorous and inventive inquisitor; in cases from St Osyth, Darcy’s home, and its immediate vicinity, local beliefs hinted at in the earliest depositions were quickly swamped by a plethora of importations from the current theology of witchcraft. However, not all the 1582 cases were generated directly by Darcy’s inquisitorial techniques or refracted through his rich imagination. His activities acted as a catalyst, encouraging the villagers of Oakley and Walton to voice their long-held suspicions of their neighbours, Annis Heard and Joan Robinson, to the authorities. Darcy, dedicating his energies to the pursuit of the St Osyth’s coven, seems to have made little attempt to shape primary testimony from these peripheral communities. All witnesses concurred that to cross these women, to refuse to lend or sell them implements or goods, to demand the return of borrowed articles or payment, could be dangerous. Agricultural and domestic routines had failed; stock had sickened, died, or acted unnaturally (Thomas Rice’s goose, “that hath been as good for the bringing foorth of her broode as any goose in Walton”, had refused to hatch her eggs). Illness, occasionally mortal, had afflicted their enemies. Yet, as in Knaresborough and Pendle, social relations were maintained with the witches. The villagers, if they did fall foul of Heard or Robinson, had recourse to countermagic – heating a bewitched spindle to get it to work again; burning the ears of an afflicted pig to cure it; using a red-hot iron to get milk to churn and wort to brew. Men and women concurred in suspecting Heard and Robinson of witchcraft, but female experience of their maleficence tended, not surprisingly, to concentrate on the interruption of domestic routines. Women also seem readier to deploy, or perhaps merely to acknowledge their use of, counter-magic to frustrate the witch. The suspicions against Heard and Robinson, generally held, were obviously of long duration; they came to the attention of the authorities because the villagers were inspired and educated by Darcy’s crusade at neighbouring St Osyth. But the effective decision to transmute village suspicion into official testimony, and to organize their neighbours for this, was taken by local men. Edward Upcher had long suspected Robinson for the death of his wife. He visited the gaoled St Osyth woman, Ursley Kemp, who, under Darcy’s relentless questioning, had become his star witness, confessing satanic practices and naming a wide coven of accomplices; she readily confirmed Upcher’s suspicion, and he led the Walton prosecution. In Oakley, John Wadde, a yeoman who had suffered heavy stock losses for several years, was the first formally to denounce Heard, initially to the ecclesiastical court, then, encouraged by the St Osyth’s investigation, to Brian Darcy.(21)

The role of local men in organizing the process whereby suspicion and gossip were transformed into formal accusation, as in the 1582 Oakley and Walton denunciations, is apparent in other cases, admittedly few, where we can reconstruct a narrative with some confidence. In 1682 Temperance Lloyd was convicted for afflicting Grace Thomas of Bideford; the bulk of the testimony was provided by women who had attended the girl during her long sickness, but the accusation was driven on by her brother-in-law, Thomas Eastchurch, a respected local merchant. He had sought the advice of a number of eminent physicians on Grace’s behalf. Once the witchcraft diagnosis had been suggested, he pursued Lloyd’s destruction with equal vigour.(22) Ten years before, a local J.P. had reported that Widow Peacock of Malmesbury was “of very bad fame and very terrible to the people”, yet “nobody will eyther be at the charge to prosecute her, or run the hazard of her revenge if shee be acquitted … except such a person as this Mr Webb”.(23) With Robert Webb, a wealthy member of the Malmesbury elite, we have another figure like Upcher, Wadde and Eastchurch: a man with wealth, standing and confidence. These characteristics were essential, given that prosecution was time-consuming and expensive and its failure might leave accusers hostage to the malice of the witch, if a complaint was to be brought to the attention of the authorities. Yet the energetic prosecutor would not stand alone; his immediate complaint against the witch would be backed by corroborative testimony from his neighbours, both men and women.

It is significant that the women who became involved in the process often retailed older grievances and suspicions that had festered but previously gone unremarked to the authorities. John Swettson, a Cambridge apothecary, indicted Margaret Cotton for the death of his infant daughter in the summer of 1608; two poor women joined him in the prosecution, complaining of mysterious deaths in their families eighteen months before.(24) Samuel Pacy, a Lowestoft merchant, held Amy Duny and Rose Cullender responsible for the mysterious illness of his two daughters, and he and other members of his family testified to their afflictions at the assizes. They were joined by eight additional witnesses. Three testified concerning the ailments of their children, subsequent to, but mirroring, the torments of the Pacy girls. Three, two men and a woman, deposed concerning the interruption of agricultural routines that they attributed to the witches; Anne Sandeswell recalled an incident seven or eight years before, while the men referred to occasions “not long since”. Of the witnesses, only Dorothy Durent blamed the witches for a death, that of her daughter five years before, and she also testified concerning her infant son’s illness, for which she had sought help from a cunningman, in 1657.(25) In some cases the ancillary testimony offered by women deals with incidents so remote as to rouse the court’s suspicions concerning the witness’s motives in coming forward. When Elizabeth Field testified that her child had died many years ago upon Jane Wenham’s touching it, the judge asked “why she did not prosecute … immediately?”. Her artless reply – she appeared now, “the opportunity presenting itself “, and had not done so before because “she was a poor woman, and the child had no friends” – drew from the judge a stinging and insensitive retort: “was [she] grown rich since?”.(26) Yet her experience, drawn into the court to supplement a case orchestrated by others, may have been typical of that of many women. In several cases in the Home Circuit in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period a witch would be charged on a number of indictments, some alleging maleficent acts undertaken years before; so, in 1572 at Chelmsford assizes, Agnes Francys was arraigned on four indictments; two alleged recent incidents of murder and the destruction of stock; the other two dealt with murders respectively three and six years earlier. In 1596 at Hertford, Alice Crutch was arraigned upon two indictments for the recent destruction of the stock, and upon a third indictment for murder by witchcraft four years previously; in this case two men testified to their losses, while a woman deposed concerning the earlier death. This latter case is not untypical of those involving several indictments in which the names of witnesses are listed: women formed a higher proportion of the witnesses to the charges of earlier maleficence than to those of more recent provenance.(27) One further pattern that emerges from the Home Circuit indictments may reinforce the suggestion that women were being mobilized by men, who were the driving force behind the decision to bring local suspicions and fears to the attention of the courts. In 27.7 per cent of the witchcraft accusations between 1596 and 1642 men alone acted as witnesses, while in 67.7 per cent of them men and women testified together; only in 4.6 per cent of the cases did women testify against an accused witch alone.

Mary Smith of King’s Lynn was feared by her neighbours. Those who had offended her, by abusing her children or demanding the repayment of debts, were struck down with debilitating physical and mental illness. After an exchange of abuse concerning charges of theft, Smith cursed Elizabeth Hancock, a widow, who was soon experiencing frightening symptoms. Hancock sought the assistance of the local cunning-man, who con- firmed her suspicions of Smith’s responsibility for her illness, and prescribed a therapy of nauseating medicines and counter-magic. A further quarrel with Smith, over the mistreatment of the latter’s cat, occurred after Hancock’s remarriage. Smith, having attacked her with a broom, cursed her again, and the sickness recurred. Hancock’s new husband, however, did not permit further recourse to the cunning-man; he confronted Smith and threatened her with legal proceedings unless his wife recovered. Three years later Hancock’s story became part of the evidence at Smith’s trial for witchcraft, along with that of another woman, who also spoke of events that had occurred some years before. The two male witnesses at the trial testified to their current ailments, a consequence of Smith’s curses. Mary Smith was convicted, but elite interest did not cease with the provision of the machinery for prosecution. A number of local ministers, encouraged by the Lynn magistrates, sought to extract a confession of a compact with Satan from the convicted woman. Their assiduity was finally rewarded. Smith, after considerable initial resistance to the ministers in “this holy service”, finally acknowledged that the Devil – a black man with horns – had made a personal compact with her.(28)

The Smith case, while hardly typical, does embody a number of the most significant features of the complex process of the transposition of local suspicions to formal prosecution. Men and women believed that their female neighbours could deploy maleficent powers. They treated such witches warily, guarding themselves by seeking to avoid conflict, by elaborate deference, and, when necessary, by erecting a protective shield of counter-magic. However, another response had been made available by the legislation of 1563. This strategy, prosecution, was usually pursued by substantial men in the community who would lay the charge, and solicit the confirmatory testimony of their neighbours, often women. Yet the elite who controlled the judicial machinery had their own agenda, and cases emanating from local tensions and suspicions would have to be adjusted, and might be transformed, when brought to the attention of magistrates and ministers. These groups were concerned, not with the trivia of stock-loss or the interruptions of domestic and agricultural processes, but (as in the case of Smith) with diabolism, or with mysterious ailments and death. The development of this latter emphasis in the course of the seventeenth century explains the preponderance of female witnesses in later cases.

Women, despite their numerical involvement, were largely passive actors in the formal legal process against witches in the bulk of the cases that came to the attention of the judiciary. Does this argument also hold for those women whose depositions, on the face of it, suggest far more engagement in the concerns of the elite? Women also witnessed against witches i;n two more distinctive, if rarer, contexts: first, as victims of diabolic possession through the instigation of a witch; secondly, as examiners for the physical marks which were increasingly seen as key evidence in prosecution. Such testimony, it seems, reflected and confirmed intellectual edifices – of witchcraft as diabolism; of the inferiority of women as indicated by their greater susceptibility to satanic temptation – constructed by the elite.

Protestant divines sought to transform the gross popular superstitions that emerged in the witchcraft trials. Their missionary efforts, apparent in the interrogation of Mary Smith and the triumphant publication of her eventual confession of diabolism, were designed to insist on their theological conceptualization, that satanic covenant was the essence of the offence. Their treatises, sermons and editions of confessions, often explicitly designed for “the capacity of the simpler sort”,(29) were reinforced by works that were more obviously popular – chap-books, broadsides and ballads – and by the theatre of the court and the gallows. By the Civil War their educational efforts appear to have born fruit. In confessions from eastern England in 1645-7 the Devil figures prominently: he appears in human guise, contracts directly with his acolyte, and has carnal relations with her. This extensive group of depositions is a tribute, in part, to Matthew Hopkins’s acquaintance with continental theories, his skill as an inquisitor, and his own prurient fantasies. But many of the confessions are far from stereotyped, particularly the accused’s artless accounts of their discussions with Satan: so Elizabeth Southerne, a Dunwich pedlar, “met the divell midsomer last like a black boy 10 years old by a whitethorne as she went to Westleton and there he promised her 2s 6d and he had it not then but said she shold have it the next tirne she came that way but he fayled of his promise, he met her indeed, but complayned of the hardnes of the times”.(30) The idea that a direct relationship with the Devil is the foundation of the witch’s power, largely absent in early depositions, (31) seems to have become more generally understood by the mid-seventeenth century.

We could simply argue that the testimony of women in possession cases or as searchers, in which they repeated and confirmed elite theories, is another indication of the general transformation of popular belief engineered by the divines. However, a detailed analysis suggests that a more complex process of cultural construction was involved, in which ministers and lawyers played a direct and immediate role.


The most spectacular testimony in witch-trials, which, in consequence, is over-represented in the published accounts, was provided by those who, it was claimed, were possessed by the Devil through the agency of a witch. Nine women were convicted at Leicester assizes in 1616 upon the testimony of the thirteen-year-old Edward Smith; his fits during the trial, “in the syght of all the greatest parsons here, as dyvers knyghts and ladies and manny othars of the bettar sort”, were “most terrible to be tolld”. Horror might be punctuated by moments of didactic piety. William Avery, after raving in the presence of the judges, “came to his perfect understanding, and . . . spoke very discreetly, Christianly, and charitably to every point”; Jane Throckmorton, upon the witch’s courtroom confession, emerged from her fit, kneeled and asked her father’s blessing. (32) Cases of diabolic possession through the agency of a witch presented the maximum opportunities for an edifying and cathartic drama in the court. They also emphasized the diabolic origins of the witch’s power upon which the divines so pertinaciously insisted. As in New England, women, particularly adolescents, preponderate among “possessed” accusers.(33) The degree of involvement of these girls, who in their testimony so comprehensively reinforced academic theory, deserves discussion.

Most of the published accounts of possession cases provide a narrative which describes the victim’s confrontation with the witch as the first act of the subsequent drama. Thomas Darling inadvertently farted as he passed Alice Gooderidge; William Perry failed to salute Joan Cocke with sufficient courtesy when they met; Mercy Short, when an accused witch held in Boston gaol begged her for a little tobacco, “affronted the hag”: all were subsequently subjected to fearful physical and mental torments.(34) But, by the time it was employed by Cotton Mather in his accounts of the possession of the Goodwin children and of Mercy Short, this was simply the formulaic convention of a substantial literary genre. The actual process whereby the sufferer’s affliction was recognized as possession, and the witch-intermediary nominated, involved far more complex transactions. A few documents enable us to see this process directly. According to a pamphlet of 1612 Mrs Elizabeth Belcher, “a vertuous and godly gentle-woman”. struck Joan Vaughan, the daughter of a notorious local witch, after Joan had made an obscene gesture at her: a few days later Elizabeth was possessed, crying out in her fits, “Heere comes Joane Vaughan, away with Joane Vaughan”. A manuscript offers a very different account. Elizabeth had been sick for fifteen months; physic was unavailing, as were the efforts of the local practitioner of astrological medicine, Richard Napier. Belcher’s friends suspected witchcraft, but she refused to entertain this suggestion. Then, when Elizabeth was in her fit, those attending her began to nominate suspects; all were rejected until they named Joan. “Hath she done it?”, the sick woman asked; the bystanders named Joan again: Elizabeth responded, “Did she?”, and from that moment never ceased to accuse Joan, testifying at Northampton assizes where the witch was condemned.(35) In other cases, the conventional format of the narrative barely conceals the more diffuse reality. The orthodox beginning of the account of the possession of the daughter of Lady Jennings – her fear of an old woman “who suddainly appeared to her att the dore and demanded a pin of her” – seems quite irrelevant to the subsequent story. The girl only nominated witches after a severe illness of four months during which desperate medical remedies had been unsuccessfully attempted, and there had been much discussion among the family and visitors of the possibility of witchcraft.(36) If the possession-through-witchcraft diagnosis is the product of a dialogue involving many actors, so too was the subsequent behaviour of the victims, culminating in their courtroom performances. A basic pattern of language and gesture, gaining definition in the century after 1590, was leamed by the possessed, largely in response to the expectations of those who gathered about them to offer consolation and to participate vicariously in the conflict with Satan. Michael MacDonald, analysing Dr Stephen Bradwell’s account (1603) of the possession of Mary Glover, shows how her symptoms, initially “undistinctive”, “strengthened and changed over time, so that they confirmed with increasing clarity” a diagnosis of possession through witchcraft.(37) Dr John Cotta, writing in 1619, complained that the actions and accusations of the possessed “ordinarily” involved “the abusive impression of some indiscreete whispering about the sick”, while in several cases paradigms of appropriate behaviour, in the form of earlier possession narratives, were available in the sickroom.(38) The behaviour and testimony of the possessed were thus entangled with the interests of various other participants in the drama, chiefly from their own family networks, but also of medical professionals and divines.

To family members the witchcraft-possession diagnosis of a child’s otherwise mysterious illness was attractive. It provided an explanation reassuringly focused at a human level of causation; it solaced any doubts concerning personal or familial responsibility for the victim’s malaise. It also presented an opportunity for action. The nomination of a responsible witch transformed family members from helpless bystanders to engaged participants, hounding the witch in an effort to restore her victim and revenge the assault. Male and female family members were equally engaged in this process. Lady Cromwell’s involvement in the ordeal of the Throckmorton family of Warboys was distinguished from that of male relatives only by her readiness to deploy traditional and thus, from a godly perspective, suspect techniques of counter-magic in her efforts to relieve the possessed girls. 39 Brian Gunter in 1604-5 and Mary Moore fifty years later were, once a diagnosis of possession through witchcraft had been established to their satisfaction, relentless in their demand for public justice against those they held responsible for the diabolic attacks on their children. Both were equally bitter and uncomprehending of the reluctance of the authorities, unpersuaded of the diagnosis, to take action.(40)

The behaviour and testimony of the possessed was shaped by the expectations and concerns of sympathetic and engaged family members, male and female, who gathered about the victim. It was also informed by the conceptions of two exclusively male professional groups: doctors and divines. Sceptics saw the diagnosis of witchcraft as “the common cloke for the ignorance of bad physicians”; when a doctor “cannot find the nature of the disease, he saieth the party is bewitched”, sneered Ady in 1655.(41) This is, perhaps, simplistic as an account of the medical role in possession cases, where the general diagnoses, “no naturall disease” or “she had harm done her” (sufficient covers for medical impotence), transmute into connivance in the accusation of specific women as responsible for the mysterious symptoms of the afflicted. In these circumstances the doctors were seeking less to retain their reputations for omniscience, than acting under substantial social pressure, in the tense ambience of the sickroom, to comfort the distressed family by legitimizing their suspicions.(42) Some ministers may, like physicians, have acceded to the witch attribution because it served to console the distraught family. However, in general, it is clerics who played the most vigorous role in the tense interactions about the afflicted, shaping the latter’s experience, and thus their testimony, through the prism of divinity.

Cases of diabolic possession had always provided fertile opportunities for the pious. Moral and theological truths could be displayed in a ritual which culminated, after a prolonged but edifying struggle, in Satan’s ejection. Protestants might deride Sir Thomas More’s account of a dispossession at the shrine of Our Lady of Ipswich, but they quickly developed a cognate literature with very similar didactic purposes.(43) However, early Elizabethan accounts did not include accusations of witchcraft, nor is there any obvious theological reason why the Devil should exercise his terrifying powers at the instigation of any human intermediary.(44) The first well-reported witchcraft-possession case occurred in 1574 in the household of Foxe the martyrologist; and a number of the clergy, “godly men, plentifully adorned with fayth”, involved themselves in the subsequent proceedings.(45) From the mid-1580s a series of such cases occurred and, at least until the 1650s, they predominate over cases of possession in which no witch-intermediary is accused. Puritan divines were involved in the majority of these incidents, often first proposing the possibility of possession through witchcraft, then presiding over the subsequent process of accusation.46 The reason for the close association of possession with witchcraft remains mysterious. A sceptical cleric, Samuel Harsnet, argued that Puritans developed the witchcraft dimension to make the doctrine of diabolic possession “more probable to the simpler sort”, and thus increase the evangelical potential of the subsequent exorcism. The fact that the possessed usually were persuaded to accuse those already “commonly suspected for witches” might support Harsnet’s charge.47 But, while building upon popular belief, ministers also sought to transform it. The association of possession and witchcraft gave substance to the divines’ central doctrinal tenets concerning the latter, that witchcraft was a real power that emanated from a covenant between Satan and the witch.(48) Much of the witchcraft that emerged in the courts after 1563, firmly rooted in popular belief, was trivial, crude, and inadequate from the perspective of divinity.(49) Diabolic possession by witchcraft effectively affirmed the covenant-centred doctrinal formulation, most obviously when the spirits possessing a victim might, gratuitously or under ministerial interrogation, discuss their active relationship with the witch with whom they had co-operated; “Alas, oh pittiful, pittiful, pittiful”, sighed the demoniac, Edward Dynham, when the spirits tormenting him obligingly produced for his inspection the deeds, validated by “bloody seales”, that embodied the covenants of the witches responsible for his agonies.(50)

The possessed themselves were not simply malleable puppets articulating the concerns of others in a process of social ventriloquism. The witchcraft-possession identification might prove seductive to those whose symptoms bewildered medical experts, their families and neighbours, and, crucially, themselves. The victim became the focus of an intense attention, often, as with Katherine Wright and Anne Gunter, demonstrably absent from their previous affective relations.(51) The behavioural traits of possession, while conforming to a basic pattern, could be individually shaped to provide an outlet for personal feelings that would not otherwise achieve sanctioned expression – sexual fantasies, religious doubts, rage at parents, frustration with the constrictions imposed by social and gender roles. Nicholas Starkey’s children, aged nine and ten, delighted in “filthie and unsavoury speeches”; they scoffed at Scripture as “bible bable, bible bable”; the boy bit his mother and called her “whore”; Margaret Byrom, a poor kinswoman who lived on the Starkey family’s charity, “nicknamed and taunted” her benefactors.(52) But while the possessed were appropriating language and behaviour in ways that were intensely personal and liberating, the structure to which most accusations conformed, including the assertion of the responsibility of a witch for the victim’s experience, was the product of a social process(53) in which key roles were played by adults and males. The possessed adolescents were the tools of the divines; their dramatic performances reinforced the witchcraft-as-diabolic-covenant theology, with its ancillary emphasis upon the frailty of the “weaker sexe” in the face of satanic temptation.


A similar analysis is also appropriate in discussion of the evidence of the third group of female witnesses, those who testified to the physical marks that were thought to characterize a witch. They too confirmed, if more tangentially, suppositions concerning both the diabolic nature of witchcraft and female inferiority. And equally it is the element of blite construction and manipulation of their testimony that is most apparent.

At Lancaster assizes in 1634 some twenty people were convicted as witches. The accusation, levelled by a ten-year-old boy, was firmly rooted in long-standing local suspicion: it was corroborated by evidence of the witch-marks on the accused. Four men and sixteen women were accused; thirteen of the women were found to have marks or paps, and these were located in the genital area of eleven of them. The Lancaster case provides the first instance of the fully developed, officially sanctioned, search for the witch’s mark in England, and their usual discovery in the pudenda. Lancaster should also have been the last instance of the presentation of such evidence in court. The 1634 convictions troubled some of the authorities and they sought a respite of execution while further investigations were undertaken: these, sanctioned by the Privy Council, included an evaluation of the physiological evidence. Four of the convicted women were brought to London and re-examined. Ten London midwives “made diligent search and inspeccion of those women” in the presence of a panel of distinguished physicians headed by William Harvey. They reported that one of the women had unusual but explicable marks; on the other three they found “nothing un naturall neyther in the secrets or any other partes of theire bodyes, nor any thinge lyke a teate or marke, nor any signe that any suche thinge haith ever beene”.(54) Yet despite this critique, and further questions concerning the reliability of the search procedure during the wave of prosecutions in East Anglia in 1645-6,(55) pre-trial examination of the accused by “ancient skilfull matrons and midwives” continued as a feature of the witch accusations in England and the American colonies into the eighteenth century.(56)

The testimony of these knowing women” resulted in the condemnation of a number of individuals. Moreover, with its emphasis upon the female genitals, it reinforces the gender-oriented dimension of the academic theory of witchcraft, and resonates with the more overt continental discussions of women’s insatiable lust as a major element in their compact and relationship with Satan.(57) As with the possessed adolescents, however, a full understanding of the context in which their role as witnesses developed allows us to see the matrons and midwives as marginal participants in procedures originating in the concerns of exclusively male professional groups: the clergy, again, and the magistracy.

Academic writers were frequently embarrassed by aspects of the popular beliefs about witchcraft that emerged in accusations. Yet “that which by experience is found to be true” could not simply be dismissed, and consequently had to be read or shaped in a way that permitted its incorporation into their theoretical constructs – hence the misogynous explanations developed by the divines to account for the plurality of female witches that emerged from popular accusation.(58) That the accommodation of popular belief and intellectual theory often proved awkward, and the resultant synthesis uneasy, is very apparent in the divines’ wrestling with the problem posed by the witches’ familiars. These creatures, which according to popular belief were kept by the witch and employed to execute her designs, were almost unique to English folklore. In consequence they were often the butt of the jibes of sceptics, and divines were taxed to explain their presence in terms of their theology of witchcraft. Gifford set out the difficulty: Satan was the efficient cause of the witch’s maleficence; Satan and his minions were described in Scripture “to be mightie terrible spirits, full of power, rage and cruelties”. Why, then, were they masquerading as “such paltrie vermin, as cats, mise, toads and weasils”? Having posed the problem, Gifford sketches an answer, “it is even of subtiltie”. The devils adopt these base guises so as not to terrify their dupes by revealing their horrendous forms and power.(59) This early answer is fleshed out by later writers into a more detailed narrative of the witch’s transaction with Satan that assimilates further “odd performances”, as Joseph Glanvill ingenuously described them, from the popular belief system.(60) It appears in the earliest trials that it was commonly thought that the witch housed and fed her familiars: Ursley Kemp lodged her two cats, a lamb and a toad in a large wool-lined pot, maintaining them on beer, cake and white bread. The diet seems ordinary enough, if extravagant, but it was occassionally plemented with the witch’s blood. So, after accomplishing Mother Waterhouse’s fell purposes, her familiar, a cat, was rewarded with a chicken and a drop of her blood; this she gave him “by pricking her hand or face and putting the bloud to his mouth whyche he sucked”.(61) Decontextualized and analysed in isolation, this blood-gift bore some affinities to the idea of Protestant continental theorists, that Satan, after making the covenant, clawed his new disciple, drawing blood with which to sign the compact and leaving an insensible scar as its tangible symbol. From this structural resemblance, the English commentators developed a syncretist theory, combining continental concepts and insular folklore. The witch enters a covenant with Satan who marks her and draws blood; the Devil then provides a familiar who regularly sucks blood from the resulting wound, drawing it into a teat; this inverted Eucharist is designed to “put her in mind of” the original transaction, “the more to aggravate the witch’s damnation”.(62)

The work of the academics had been to incorporate local “experience” emerging from the substrate of popular belief into a general theory, while still maintaining the coherence of the latter. Their theories were to be reinforced, and developed, by another group: lawyers and magistrates.

By the early seventeenth century some local officials were clearly troubled by the evidential problems posed by the usual form of witchcraft accusation. Accounts of the victim’s sufferings that followed a curse, reinforced by various dubious bits of confirmatory counter-magic, increasingly seemed insubstantial. Accordingly, in the absence of a confession, magistrates sought tangible proof of the witch’s status.(63) Their quest took a number of directions. In 1612 the Northamptonshire J.P.s, faced with a difficult case, experimented with the water-ordeal as practised on the Continent and approved by King James; the three accused witches all floated, and “the suspition that was before not well grounded, was now confirmed”.(64) So effective a litmus test proved attractive to other magistrates before the Civil War,(65) and the technique was used extensively in the 1645-6 witch-hunt in eastern England. However, its lavish employment by Hopkins and Stearne hardened objections that had already been expressed by a number of clerics, notably the influential William Perkins, who denounced the practice as unwarranted by Scripture, and thus merely a form of illicit counter-magic. In 1646 judge Godbolt halted the use of the water-ordeal by Hopkins and his entourage(66) and, although it survived as a vigorous element in the popular response to witchcraft, its official employment ceased save in very remote jurisdictions.(67)

The discovery of the physical peculiarities thought to mark a witch provided, as did the water-ordeal, the desired positivistic test of guilt. And, like the ordeal, it was an importation from continental practice, though reworked to accommodate parochial experience. European commentators asserted that at the making of the covenant the Devil clawed or branded his neophyte, leaving an insensible scar; proper physical examination could reveal such satanic stigmata and, by 1600, their discovery by qualified experts was essential for conviction in some jurisdictions.(68) A few English theorists follow their continental counterparts in describing the anaesthetic mark,(69) but in other writings and in local police practice the test was transformed, duplicating the English account of the covenant by an emphasis on the familiar. In England, the discovery of the sucked teat becomes an appropriate demonstration, equivalent to the search for the insensible brand in Scotland or Geneva, of the witch’s pact with Satan. The search was employed intermittently before 1634: the earliest surviving instance is the demand of a Southampton leet jury in 1579 that Widow Walker should be searched for any bloody marks “which is a comon token to know all witches by”; Brian Darcy had suspects searched in the 1582 St Osyth investigation, as did the Derbyshire J.P.s in 1597.(70) But the practice was not universal: in 1593 Mother Samuel’s mark was discovered after her execution, and in 1621 a J.P. had to press his colleagues on the Middlesex Bench to institute the search of a suspect; in this case two of the three women who examined Elizabeth Sawyer were “brought in by the Officers out of the streete, passing there by chance”.(71) Nor, in these early examples, was the search so concentrated on the genital area. The key event behind the 1634 Lancaster proceedings with their emphasis on female sexuality, and the frequent appearance of similar “paps or marks in her secrets” in the findings of the searchers thereafter, is the publication of the fourth edition of The Countrey Justice by Michael Dalton, lawyer and Cambridgeshire J.P., in 1630. Dalton revised his influential vade-mecum for local magistrates in the light of the 1627 Guide to Grand-Jury Men by the divine, Richard Bernard, which sets out the full-fledged theory expressing the role of the familiar in terms of the diabolic compact. Dalton cites Bernard with enthusiastic approval and emphasizes the utility of the discovery of the marks as incontrovertible proof – “maine points to discover and convict … for they prove fully that those witches have a familiar and made a league with the Devil”. Yet Dalton also transforms his source in a key respect. Bernard insists, with copious citation of the available English cases, that the mark may be anywhere, but that, since it is likely to be in “very hidden places”, the search must be diligent. Dalton, in his summary, shifts the language of Bernard’s argument: the teats, “these the Devil’s marks … be often in their secretest parts, and therefore require diligent and careful search”.(72) Fortified by Dalton’s confident pronouncements, magistrates after 1630, confronted by the evidential difficulties that typified all witchcraft accusations, employed the recommended body search as a routine aspect of pre-trial procedure.(73) And the search focused upon the genital area, as Dalton’s misreading of his source proved equally authoritative.

Matthew Hopkins, seeking to justify his witch-hunting techniques against a rising tide of scepticism, disingenuously endeavoured to associate the search procedures, over which he and his acolytes presided, with the revered institution of the jury; “commonly a dozen … ancient skilfull matrons and midwives” were present when women were stripped and searched, he claimed.(74) In the colonies, the institutional formalization at which Hopkins hinted was often though not invariably undertaken; juries of women were appointed and sworn by the courts, their verdicts becoming part of the trial record.(75) Yet in England the search procedure, despite its frequent employment, remained comparatively informal. Usually the examining magistrate, as part of the committal proceedings, would nominate a committee of women, numbering from four to eight, or empower the constable to appoint such a group, to search the accused: at Lowestoft in 1665 six women authorized by Sir Nicholas Bacon, the J.P. to whom complaint had been made, visited Rose Cullender and, having asked her permission and secured a grudging assent, they stripped and examined her, and then asked her to explain the unusual marks that they discovered.(76) The justice would then take depositions from some of the examining group concerning their findings, and they might subsequently testify at the assizes.(77)

The role and self-perception of the women who participated in the search procedures do not admit of easy analysis. It has been suggested, in the colonial context, that a particularly active part was played by midwives who, given an official distrust of their profession and the suspicions of witchcraft that focused on their presidency over the enclosed process of birth and their use of charms, were protecting their own precarious positions by associating themselves with orthodox belief.(78) But this hypothesis cannot survive David Harley’s demonstration that its essential premise, the vulnerability of midwives to witchcraft prosecution, is a myth.(79) Certainly some midwives were prepared to assert categorically that physical marks were unnatural, and to denounce those they searched as guilty of diabolic relations. In 1645 Bridget Reynolds of Ramsey searched three local women, diagnosed their marks as suspicious, and testified against them at the assizes.(80) In 1653 another midwife, Mrs Odill of Fairfield, Connecticut, authoritatively silenced those women who, in a macabre scene beneath the gallows, had examined the corpse of an executed witch and argued that the genital marks were “such as other women might have”. In 1699 the Coggeshall midwife conducted a post-mortem examination on the body of a woman “generally supposed to be a witch” and confirmed the suspicion.(81) Yet, while some midwives affirmed and reinforced the search procedures that had been shaped in the intersection of theology and jurisprudence by divines and lawyers, others were more wary, using a neutral, even ambiguous, language in their depositions. When Ellen Garrison of Upwell was searched in 1647, “some that were there that pretended to have skill in the discovery of witchcraft sayd that some of the deviles impes had sucked her”; but, despite this weighty professional opinion from Stearne and his circus, then touring the Isle of Ely, the local midwife was far more circumspect in her testimony.(82) Some, like the London midwives in 1634, were prepared to exculpate individuals, or to question the validity of the entire procedure; John Hale, minister of Beverley, Massachusetts, reported the doubts of “a skilfull midwife” concerning the witch’s mark.(83)

The laconic references in the English records, and even the fuller verdicts of colonial juries, hardly permit any exhaustive analysis of how the “Ansient and Knowing Women” perceived their marginal role as searchers. In particular, those searches in which no incriminating marks were found, thus exculpating an accused witch, leave few traces in the English records, though such occasions may have been frequent.(84) It is tempting to fill the lacunae by introducing a comparative discussion of the other related activities where women played a role in the penumbra of the legal system. While women were appointed to conduct physical examinations in civil and criminal cases turning on virginity or pregnancy, they were most frequently employed on juries empanelled to test the claim that a woman convicted of a capital felony was pregnant. In the event of a positive determination execution was delayed, and the respite usually became a reprieve, even in those cases where the jury’s “pregnant” verdict was subsequently proved incorrect. J. S. Cockburn, considering the frequency with which such “mistakes” were made, has argued that the jury of women embodied the sentiment of the court and the wider community in favour of mercy in a particular case.(85) A similar argument may explain some of the determinations in searches for the witch’s marks; they were simply expressions of local sentiment concerning the innocence or guilt of the accused. Searchers were often prepared to testify not only to the accused’s physical marks, but to her reputation as a witch, or to their own experience of her maleficence. Frances Ward, with three other women nominated by the constable of Heath, found incriminating marks on Margaret Morton. Yet Ward was hardly a neutral observer: she attributed the deaths of two of her children to Morton, and reported that the accused, her mother and her sister were “all a long time suspected” of witchcraft.(86) Yet longstanding popular suspicions did not invariably lead to the discovery of the conclusive physical evidence; the search of the Widow Coman of Coggeshall, “generally supposed to be a witch . . . found no discovery of that nature”.(87) The searchers obviously took their responsibilities seriously, and this might lead to arguments among them resulting from their doubts in individual cases or about the procedure in general. Such disagreements, which are likely to be concealed in the formal documents, occasionally emerge powerfully. In 1650 the Essex J.P., Christopher Muschamp, appointed a committee of eight women to search Deborah Naylor, long suspected of witchcraft in Elsenham; their contradictory and gnomic findings hardly advanced the prosecution. Three of the searchers deposed that they had found a suspicious mark “somewhat like a teate in her private parts”; two women, one the village midwife, testified to marks such as they had “never see the like before”, though the midwife qualified even that limited finding by adding that she “knoweth not what to make of it”; two women thought the marks natural, and saw “noe Cause of suspicion”; finally, Elizabeth Saunders deposed that she had never been in a position to view the marks over which the others were arguing.(88)

The searches were an unstable creation that juxtaposed the conceptual schemes of the theologians with a pragmatic response by the magistracy to increasingly troubling evidential problems. Those women, midwives and others, who affirmed that their searches had revealed the Devil’s mark reinforced, often unwittingly, ministerial theories concerning the satanic dimension of witchcraft and the inferiority of women. But arguments among the searchers and the ambiguous language with which they often hedged their findings may equally have led to elite concern regarding both the efficacy of the test and, beyond that, the intellectual viability of the demonological speculation upon which it rested so uneasily.


The prosecution of witches in early modern England, and thus the role of women as witnesses, is a process of considerable cultural complexity. It involved a continuous but shifting dialogue among a variety of social and professional groups. Popular belief, shared by men and women, was that the mysterious, harmful power that constituted witchcraft would inhere in certain women. The response to this power, to the threats that it posed to life, to health, to property, and to domestic routines, was essentially instrumental: to placate or “curry favour” with the witch; to secure an effective counter-magic against assaults. In 1563 the elite, following the example of their continental counterparts, constructed a machinery of prosecution and so added a new weapon in the armoury against witchcraft. Victims could now choose to destroy their assailants through the formally sanctioned procedures of the courts. The opportunity created by the legislation was employed by both men and women, but men, usually those of some status in their communities, were the more engaged participants. It was they who brought charges and who orchestrated the prosecution, organizing their neighbours to testify to earlier experiences of the accused’s malice. Women, though active in the creation of local suspicions through gossip, and in the deployment of the traditional protective therapies and techniques that ratified accusation, were ancillaries in the formal procedures of quarter sessions and assizes.

Those who chose to employ the official machinery against witches were obliged to shape the local fears and rumours from which the prosecution emanated to the formalities of the law as defined by the statutes and to the reading of these by magistrates and judges. The changing concerns of the latter groups explain the growing proportion of female witnesses in witchcraft trials, apparent in the 1630s and after 1660. The judiciary were no longer prepared to entertain indictments for stock-damage, to which men had testified; fearful mortal illness or mental anguish alone would sustain a prosecution and women, attendant at the sickbed of the victirn, were better placed to give evidence. The concerns of the legal elite also explain the involvement of women in the searches for those physical characteristics which indicated conjunction with diabolic familiars. Lawyers, troubled by the absence of evidence that met increasingly strict norms for conviction, experimented with a number of procedures that might provide tangible proof of guilt or innocence. The search for the witch’s mark by committees of women, approved by the leading practical manual for local magistrates, proved the most enduring of these official confirmatory tests. Its justification lay in the developing theories of the other major professional group involved in witchcraft prosecution, the divines.

Witchcraft prosecutions after 1563 placed the clergy, well read in the continental theory of the essentially diabolic origins of the offence, in a quandary. Much of the popular belief that emerged in the courts seemed to trivialize witchcraft and to give ammunition to sceptics. In consequence, engaged divines used every opportunity to educate the populace concerning their witchcraft-as-heresy formulation, to transform popular belief with, to judge by the mid-seventeenth-century evidence, some success. Yet in this process aspects of popular belief were incorporated into the theories of the divines. The features of witchcraft that emerged regularly in the trials could not easily be dismissed, and had to be accommodated to theological presuppositions. So the animals who frequently attended the witch were diabolized as familiar spirits or emanations of Satan himself. From this theological reading of folklore emerged the test of the witch’s mark in its insular English form, and with it the committees of women who searched the accused.

The process of incorporation was often undertaken uneasily by the divines, and it created an increasingly anomalous theology of witchcraft. Its upholders, while they could – awkwardly – explain the presence of the menageries of “paltrie vermin” that emerged in the trials, were far keener to discover the direct engagement of the witch with Satan that was so central to their theory. The relentless team of Norfolk ministers who sought to extort a confession from Mary Smith of Lynn is one manifestation of this process. Another is the ministerial engagement in cases of possession. Clerics played major roles both in defining certain kinds of illness as diabolic possession, and in shaping subsequent behaviour to conform to appropriate stereotypes. The largely insular assumption that a witch was the efficient cause of the satanic affliction was also maintained by the clergy. Those possessed victims, largely young women, who testified against witches were involved in a process that was manipulated by the clergy as part of their general concern to sustain and propagate their theological conception of witchcraft.

All witnesses, but particularly those girls who described their possession and the matrons who discovered the genital marks, ratified the misogynous rationalizations proffered by the divines to explain the preponderant numbers of women accused of witchcraft. Their testimony apparently confirmed that women were the weaker sex, more easily seduced by satanic temptation. But the machinery in which they became involved, often at the instigation of men, was created, controlled, and ultimately discarded by the magisterial and clerical elite. And it was they who read local experience in terms of a particular intellectual scheme. The construction of a prosecution was a complex, dialogic process, involving many actors, and the intersection of divergent and shifting systems of ideas. We can show that female participation as witness in the English trials was extensive and, proportionately, growing in the seventeenth century. But the social meaning of these figures is not so easily read. They certainly do not eliminate “gender” or “misogyny” as key categories for any discussion of witchcraft beliefs and prosecutions. (1) Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1971), p. 568. See also Alan Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1970), p. 160; John Demos, Entertaining Satan (New York, 1982), p. 64. (2) Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief (Oxford, 1984), pp. 84-8; Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (New York, 1987), p. 226; Marianne Hester, Lewd Women and Wicked Witches (London, 1992), p. 201. (3) J. A. Sharpe, Witchcraft and Women in Seventeenth-Century England: Some Northern Evidence”, Continuity and Change, vi (1991), pp. 179-99. (4) Sharpe (ibid., p. 185) discusses the “higher percentage of women witnesses” in Yorkshire cases as though this was a constant element of prosecution. But the bulk of his cases occur after 1646 when, for reasons discussed below, in general men become less involved in the process of prosecution. See also J. A. Sharpe, Witchcraft in Seventeenth Century Yorkshire: Accusations and Counter Measures (Borthwick Paper, no. 81, York, 1992), pp. 18-19. (5) C. L’Estrange Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials (London, 1929), provides synopses of all the assize indictments. His transcription of names is not always reliable, so the original documents in the Public Record Office, London (hereafter P.R.O.), class ASSI 35, have been checked. (6) Indictments, endorsed as in the Home Circuit, become available for the Northern Circuit in the late 1640s (P.R.O., ASSI 44) and for the Norfolk Circuit (P.R.O., ASSI 16) after the Restoration. Synopses of the former are available as Appendix A in C. L’Estrange Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism (London, 1933), pp. 393-407, and of the latter in Ewen’s pamphlet, Witchcraft in the Norfolk Circuit ([Paignton], 1939), but Ewen does not consistently transcribe the names of witnesses for either jurisdiction. (7) In the 1610 witchcraft case against Margery Raye, the indictment is endorsed with the names of one male and one female witness; seven men and two women entered recognizances to testify before the examining magistrate: P.R.O., ASSI 35/52/3, m. 11. In that of Ann Smith, the indictment is endorsed with the names of three men and a woman; an attached paper lists an additional six men and one woman who entered recognizances to testify: P.R.O., ASSI 35/57/3, mm. 1, 36, 51. Similar disparities occur in non-witchcraft cases, for example, P.R.O., ASSI 35/42/4, mm. 3, 14, 19, 20, 35, 36 – all midsummer assizes, Essex, 1600. (8) The sample consists of those assizes at which Essex witchcraft cases were determined; twenty courts between 1600 and 1624; six between 1660 and 1675: P.R.O. ASSI 35/42/4; 43/2; 44/1, 2; 45/1; 49/1, 2; 51/2; 52/1, 2; 54/1; 55/1; 57/1; 58/1, 2; 60/1; 62/1; 63/1; 102/1, 3; 105/2; 106/2; 107/1; 111/3; 115/4, 5. (9) For a general discussion of the “fall in the levels of indictment for property offences”, see J. A. Sharpe, Crime in Early Modern England (London, 1984), pp. 58-60. (10) Transcribed in Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, p. 81. (11) Francis Hutchinson, An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft (London, 1720), pp. 59-60; P.R.O., ASSI 35/135/14. (12) Francis Bragge, A Full and Impartial Account of the Discovery of Sorcery and Witchcraft, Practiced by Jane Wenham of Walkerne (London, 1712), pp. 1, 14, 23-4. For the local conflicts surrounding the prosecution, see Phyllis J. Guskin, “The Context of Witchcraft: The Case of Jane Wenham (1712)”, Eighteenth Century Studies, xv (1981-2), pp. 48-71. (13) As was noted by Sir Robert Filmer in his An Advertisment to the Jury-Men of England (London, 1653, Wing F909), p. 2. (14) For further discussion of this issue, see Clive Holmes, “Popular Culture? Witches, Magistrates and Divines in Early Modern England”, in S. L. Kaplan (ed.), Understanding Popular Culture (Berlin, 1984), pp. 94-5; Sharpe, Witchcraft in Seventeenth Century Yorkshire, pp. 5-11. (15) British Library, London (hereafter Brit. Lib.), Additional MS. 36674, “Trial of Edward Bull and Joan Greedy for Bewitching Edward Dynham”, fo. 190; see also Holmes, “Popular Culture?”, p. 96. (16) Ronald C. Sawyer, “|Strangely Handled in All Her Lyms’: Witchcraft and Healing in Jacobean England”, Jl. Social Hist., xxii (1988-9), pp. 461-85. (17) Based on an analysis of the Essex defamation cases listed in Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, pp. 278-301; and see Peter Rushton, “Women, Witchcraft and Slander in Early Modern England: Cases from the Church Courts of Durham, 1560-1675”, Northern Hist., xviii (1982), pp. 126-31. (19) Edward Fairfax, Daemonologia: A Discourse on Witchcraft, as It Was Acted in the Family of Mr Edward Fairfax, ed. William Grainge (Harrogate, 1882), pp. 32-5. (19) Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (London, 1613, S.T.C. 20138), sigs. C, [E1.sup.v], [E2.sup.v]. (20) Ibid., sigs. [[14.sup.v]]-K. (21) W. W., A True and Iust Recorde, of the Information, Examination and Confession of All the Witches, at S. Oses in Essex (London, 1582, S.T.C. 24922); this “anonymous” tract is obviously Darcy’s own work. For the Heard and Robinson material, see sigs. [E4-F5.sup.v]. (22) A True and Impartial Relation of the Informations against Three Witches (Exeter, 1682, Wing T2502), esp. pp. 17-23. (23) Letter of an anonymous Wiltshire J.P. of 1672, published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, cii pt. 1 (1832), p. 492. (24) P.R.O., STAC 8 95/4, 105/16. (25) A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes Held at Bury St Edmonds (London, 1682, Wing T2240). (26) Bragge, Full and Impartial Account, p. 28. (27) Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, pp. 127, 185. (28) Alexander Roberts, A Treatise of Witchcraft … with a True Narration of the Witchcrafts Which Mary Smith, Did Practice (London, 1616, S.T.C. 21075), pp. 50-5. (29) George Gifford, A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes (London, 1593, S.T.C. 11850; repr. Percy Soc., London, 1842), p. v. For a general discussion of this educational process, see Holmes, “Popular Culture?”, pp. 92-3, 100-1. (30) Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, p. 299. (31) Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 444. (32) John Nichols, The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, 4 vols. (London, 1795-1811), ii pt. 2, p. 471*; Brit. Lib., Sloane MS. 972, “Brief Abstract of the Arraigmnent of Nine Witches at Northampton”, fo. 7 (Ewen provides a full synopsis of this in Witchcraft and Demonianism, pp. 209-12); The Most Strange and Admirable Discoverie of the Three Witches of Warboys (London, 1593, S.T.C. 25019), sig. [O.sup.v]. (33) In England I calculate that, in cases which were believed to involve possession through the agency of a witch, just over 80 per cent of victims were female. In New England the figure is 86 per cent: Karlsen, Devil in the Shape of a Woman, pp. 223-5. (34) I[ohn) D[enison], The Most Wonderfull and True Storie, of a Certaine Witch Named Alse Gooderige of Stapenhill: As Also a True Report of Thomas Darling, a Boy Possessed by the Devill (London, 1597, S.T.C. 6170.7), p. 3; Richard Baddeley, The Boy of Bilson: or, A True Discovery of Romish Priests (London, 1622, S.T.C. 1185), p. 46; Cotton Mather, “A Brand Pluck’d out of the Burning”, in Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706, ed. G. L. Burr (New York, 1914), pp. 259-60. (35) The Witches of Northamptonshire: Agnes Browne, Yoane Vaughan [and 3 Others.’ Who Were All Executed the 22 of July Last (London, 1612, S.T.C. 3907), sigs. B2-C1, compared with Brit. Lib., Sloane MS. 972, fo. 7; and see Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety and Healing in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1981), p. 212. (36) Brit. Lib., Add. MS. 36674, “Papers Relating to the Possession of Elizabeth Jennings”, fos. 134-7. (37) Michael MacDonald, Witchcraft and Hysteria in Elizabethan London (London, 1991), p. xxxvi; see, in general, pp. xxxiii-xxxix. (38) John Cotta, A Short Discoverie of Severall Sorts of Ignorant Practisers (London, 1619, S.T.C. 5835), p. 69. The account of the possession of the Throckmorton children, published in 1593, was made available to the demoniac William Sommers at Nottingham in 1597-8, and to Ann Gunter in Berkshire in 1604: Samuel Harsnet, A Discovery of the Fraudulent Practices of Y. Darrell Concerning the Pretended Possession of W. Somers (London, 1599, S.T.C. 12883), p. 93; P.R.O., STAC 4/10, fos. [9.sup.v], 93, 123. (39) Most Strange and Admirable Discoverie, sig. [D3.sup.v]. (40) P.R.O., STAC 4/ 10, fos. [9.sup.v], 10; Mary Moore, Wonderfull News from the North: or, A True Relation (London, 1650, Wing M2581), pp. 6, 8, 10-14. (41) Thomas Ady, A Candle in the Dark (London, 1655, Wing A673), p. 115. (42) Dr Roger Bracegirdle’s apologetic account of his involvement in the Anne Gunter case provides an exceflent example of this process: see P.R.O., STAC 8 4/10, fos. 123, 141. (43) Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, pp. 478-83. (44) D. P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia, 1981), pp. 8-9. (45) The Disclosing of a Late Counterfeyted Possession by the Devyl of Two Maydens (A. Brigges and R. Pynder) within the Citie of London (London, 1574, S.T.C. 3738). (46) This was John Darrell’s role in the case of Katherine Wright: see Harsnet, Discovery of the Fraudulent Practices of Y. Darrell, pp. 300-1, 304, 310-12. (47) Ibid., pp. 93, 102. (48) John Denison, a supporter of Darrell’s, argued that “peevish” doubt concerning the reality of witchcraft would be confuted by an examination of the possession of the “Boy of Burton” which was attributed to the malevolence of a local witch: D[enison], Most Wonderfull and True Storie, sig. [A2.sup.v]. (49) So Gifford mocked the popular conception: has Satan, he asked sardonically, “left off to be as a roaring lion . . . ? Hath he put off the bloodie and cruell nature of the firie dragon, so that he niindeth no harme but when an angrie woman intreate him to goe kill a cow?”: Gifford, Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes, p. 89. (50) Brit. Lib., Add. MS. 36674, fo. 190. (51) Katherine Wright had been physically abused by her stepfather; upon her possession, he “made much of her”: Harsnet, Discovery of the Frauduknt Practices of F. Darrell, p. 297. Brian Gunter “cared lesse for his daughter Anne when she was well then for any of the rest of his children”; after her iuness, “hee made exceeding much of her”: P.R.O., STAC 4/10, fo. 88. (52) John Darrell, A True Narration of the Strange and Grevous Vexation by the Devil, of 7 Persons in Lancashire and W. Somers: Wherein the Doctrine of Possession and Dispossession of Demoniakes is Applyed (London, 1600, S.T.C. 6288), first pagination, pp. 2, 3, 9, and second pagination, p. 10; George More, A True Discourse Concerning the Certaine Possession and Dispossession of 7 Persons in One Familie in Lancashire (Middleburg, 1600, S.T.C. 18070), p. 45. (53) A point made powerfully both by Michael MacDonald (Witchcraft and Hysteria in Elizabethan London, pp. xxxiii-xli) and by Carol Karlsen in her account of diabolic possession cases in New England (Devil in the Shape of a Woman, pp. 222-51); my thinking on this issue has been much influenced by discussion with Carol Karlsen. (54) Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism, pp. 244-51, details this case; the report of the London midwives is in P.R.O., SP 16/271/9. (55) Matthew Hopkins, The Discovery of Witches (London, 1647, Wing H2751), pp. 2-4, sought to answer detractors on this point. (56) The search was employed in a Virginia case of 1706 (Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, ed. Burr, pp. 439-42) and in the accusation against Jane Wenham of Walkern in 1712 (Bragge, Full and Impartial Account, p. 11). (57) Thomas Cooper, The Mystery of Witch-Craft: Discovering the Truth, Nature, Occasion, Growth and Power Therof, with the Detection and Punishment of the Same, as also the Severall Stratagems of Sathan (London, 1617, S.T.C. 5701), pp. 88-92, made an explicit attempt to conflate the familiar’s sucking blood from the witch with the continental discussion of the coven and the witch’s sexual relationship with Satan. (58) Richard Bernard, A Guide to Grand-Fury Men, Divided into Two Bookes: In the First, Advice before They Bring in a Bilia Vera in Cases of Witchcraft; In the Second, a Treatise Touching Witches (London, 1627, S.T.C. 1943), p. 91: the dialogue between academic theory and “experience” is stressed in Holmes, “Popular Culture?”, pp. 94-9. (59) Gifford, Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes, pp. 22-3. (60) Joseph Glanvill, Saducismus Triumphatus, 2nd edn. (London, 1682, Wing G823), pt. 1, pp. 17-23. (61) W. W., True and Iust Recorde, sig. [A3.sup.v]; Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, p. 319. (62) Hopkins, Discovery of Witches, p. 3. (63) C. R. Unsworth, “Witchcraft Beliefs and Criminal Procedure in Early Modern England”, in Thomas G. Watkin (ed.), Legal Record and Historical Reality (London, 1989), pp. 71-98, esp. pp. 82-4, and Barbara J. Shapiro, Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton, 1983), pp. 194-212, stress the problem of evidence that confronted the judiciary. (64) Witches of Northamptonshire, sig. C2. For more general discussion of the water-ordeal, see Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986), pp. 144-8; Holmes, “Popular Culture?”, pp. 104-5. (65) Brit. Lib., Sloane MS. 972, fo. 7; Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ashmole MS. 416, “Casebook of Richard Napier, 17 March to 6 Sept. 1632”, p. 99. (66) John Stearne, The Confirmation and Discovery of Witch-Craft (London, 1648, Wing S5365), pp. 18-19. (67) For officially sanctioned swimmings in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1692, and in Princess Anne County, Virginia in 1706, see John M. Taylor, The Witchcraft Delusion in Colonial Connecticut (New York, 1908), p. 73; Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, ed. Burr, pp. 441-2. In 1716 the ruffianly J.P., John Dinely, organized a water-ordeal in Worcestershire; its official status is questionable – Dinely was spectacularly drunk, and subsequently swam naked in the mill-pond where the ordeal had taken place: Hertfordshire Record Office, Hertford, Panshanger MS. D/P/F154 #60, “Deposition of Edward Corner of Fladbury”. (68) E. William Monter, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland (Ithaca, 1976), pp. 157-66; Larner, Enemies of God, pp. 110-12. (69) Cooper, Mystery of Witch-Craft, p. 88. (70) Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism, p. 75; W. W., True and Just Recorde, sigs. C3, D3; D[enison], Most Wonderfull and True Storie, pp. 8-9, 13. (71) Most Strange and Admirable Discoverie, sig. O4; Henry Goodcole, The Wonderfull Discoverie of E. Sawyer, a Witch, Late of Edmonton (London, 1621, S.T.C. 12014), sigs. B[2.sup.v]-B3. (72) Bernard, Guide to Grand-Jury Men, pp. 111-12, 218-20; Michael Dalton, The Countrey Justice, 4th edn. (London, 1630, S.T.C. 6209), p. [273]: second pagination, after p. 276 (Dalton’s revision of his text in the light of his reading involved a substantial addition to this section, and in consequence the pagination goes awry). (73) Having appointed a committee of women to conduct a search, the justices of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, in the 1670s solemnly noted that this was warranted “according to the 118th chapter of Dalton”: Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, ed. Burr, p. 436. (74) Hopkins, Discovery of Witches, pp. 3-4. It is clear that the searches were conducted by Hopkins and Stearne, on men, and by Mary Phillips and Priscilla Briggs, who formed part of the Witch-Finder’s entourage, on women: Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism, p. 259; Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, p. 300. An audience of locals – hardly a jury – watched this process: A True Relation of the Araignment of Eighteene Witches … St Edmunds-Bury (London, 1645, Wing T2928), pp. 6-7. John Stearne abandoned the jury-model, and chose to defend the search-procedure by emphasizing his and his co-adjutors’ professional expertise: Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery of Witch-Craft, pp. 43-50. (75) See, for example, J. R. Trumbull, History of Northampton, Massachusetts, 2 vols. (Northampton, Mass., 1898-1902), i, pp. 230-2; Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, ed. Burr, pp. 439-42. (76) Tryal of Witches … at Bury St Edmonds, pp. 35-6; see also True and Impartial Relation, pp. 11-12; Bragge, Full and Impartial Account, p. 11; Historical Manuscripts Commission, Ninth Report, Appendix 1, p. 320; P.R.O., ASSI 45/3/2, fos. 130-4; 4/1, fo. 131; 5/2, fos. 30-1; 5/5, fo. 2; Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, Q/SBa 2/74, “Informations against Dorothy Nayler”. (77) Edmund Bower, Doctor Lamb Revived (London, 1653, Wing B3869), pp. 28-9. (78) Sanford J. Fox, Science and Justice: The Massachusetts Witchcraft Trials (Baltimore, 1968), pp. 83-90; Richard Weisman, Witchcraft, Magic and Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts (Amherst, 1984), pp. 88, 101-3. (79) David Harley, “Historians as Demonologists: The Myth of the Midwife-Witch”, Social Hist. Medicine, iii (1990), pp. 1-26. (80) H. F., A True and Exact Relation of the Severall Informations … of … Witches (London, 1645, Wing F23), p. 26; Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials, pp. 230-1. (81) Records of the Colony or Jurisdiction of New Haven, ed. Charles J. Hoadley, 2 vols. (New Haven, 1857-8), ii, pp. 79-90; William Gilbert, “Witchcraft in Essex”, Trans. Essex Archaeol. Soc., new ser., xi (1911), p. 216. (82) Cambridge University Library, Ely Diocesan Records, 12 f. 2, “Depositions against Ellen Garrison”. See also Essex R.O., Q/SBa 2/74, “Information of Beatrice Hockley”. (83) John Hale, A Modest Enqiry into the Nature of Witchcraft (Boston, Mass., 1702), p. 72. (840 The women searching Jane Wenham as instructed by Sir Henry Chauncy, J.P., insisted that they found nothing: Bragge, Full and Impartial Account, p. 11. The first search of Joan Peterson was equally negative: A Declaration in Answer to Several Lying Pamphlets (London, 1652, Wing D598), pp. 4, 5. In 1682 Temperance Lloyd of Bideford was accused of witchcraft, and incriminating marks found by the searchers; but in 1679, upon an earlier accusation, a search had proved inconclusive, and the case was dropped by the prosecutor: True and Impartial Relation, pp. 11-12, 17. The more formal New England procedures leave better traces of negative findings in the records: Woodward’s Historical Series, ed. W. Elliott Woodward, 8 vols. (Roxbury, Mass., 1864-8), i, Records of Salem Witchcraft, p. 63; Brown University, Providence, Ann Mary Brown Memorial Library, Willys Papers, W 19[5]; I am grateful to John Demos for transcripts of these materials. (85) J. S. Cockburn, Introduction to the Assize Calendars (London, 1985), p. 122. There is a very useful discussion of the various court-appointed bodies made up of women in James C. Oldham, “On Pleading the Belly: A History of the jury of Matrons”, Criminal Justice Hist., vi (1985), pp. 1-64. (86) P.R.O., ASSI 45 4/1, fo. 131, “Deposition of Frances Ward”. For other examples of searchers also testifying to the accused’s reputation or to their own experience of her or his powers, see W. W., True and Iust Recorde, sig. D3; Joseph Brogden Baker, The History of Scarborough (London, 1882), pp. 481-3; Cambridge Univ. Lib., Ely Diocesan Records, E 12, “Depositions against Robert Ellis”; True and Impartial Relation, pp. 11-12. (87) Gilbert, “Witchcraft in Essex”, pp. 211, 215. (88) Essex R.O., Q/SBa 2/74, “Informations against Dorothy Nayler”. For a similar incident, involving disagreement among the searchers during the Salem witch-hunt, see Woodward’s Historical Series, ed. Woodward, i, pp. 98-9, 146-8.

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