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Popular Superstitions - Witchcraft In Lancashire

( Originally Published 1884 )

The murders lately committed at Tring, of which you have given us several new particulars in page 198 of your last magazine, have revived the controversy concerning the reality of witchcraft and enchantment, which appeared to have been determined in the negative by the general consent, to which the sanction of the legislature has been lately added by a repeal of the statute of James I. against witch-craft. It may therefore afford some entertainment to your readers to show how much opinion has differed with respect to this subject within little more than a century, by publishing the remarkable case of the E. of Derby from the chronicle, in which some of the wisest and most learned persons of the time appear to have believed his disorder to proceed from a preternatural cause. His lordship's case, I think, is uncommon, and as it is related very circumstantially, this extract will not be without use to your medical readers, and perhaps some of them may send you their thoughts upon it.

I am, etc.

An. Reg. Eliz. 36, 1594, the 16th of April, Ferdinando Earl of Derby deceased at Latham, whose strange sickness and death, gathered by those who were present with him at the time thereof, was such as followeth : His apparent diseases were, vomiting of sower or rustic matter with blood, the yellow jaundies, melting of his fat, swelling and hardness of his spleen, a vehement hickcough, and four days before he died stopping of his water. The causes of all his diseases were thought by the physicians to be partly a surfeit, and partly a most violent distempering himself with vehement exercise, taken four days together in the Easter week.

The 5th of April, about six o'clock at night, he fell sick at Luowsby, where he vomited thrice.

The 6th he returned to Latham, and feeling his health to sink more and more, sent to Chester for a doctor of physick.

The 7th, before the coming of the doctor, he had cast seven times, the colour of his vomits like to sooty or rusty iron, the substance very gross and fattie, the quantity about seven pints, the smell not without offence ; his waters were in colour, smell and substance not unlike his vomits. The same night he took a glyster to draw the course of the humours. downwards, which wrought five times and gave some ease.

The 8th he took a gentle infusion of rhubarb and manna in a draught of chicken-broth, which wrought very well nine times.

The 9th, because of his continual bleeding by mouth with his vomits, he was instantly intreated to be let blood, to divert and stay the course thereof, but he could by no means be perswaded thereunto, wherefore that day only fomentations and oils and plasters were outwardly applied to stay and comfort his stomach.

The 10th he took one other glyster, which wrought well six times.

The I Ith he took one other purge, which wrought with great ease nine times upon the humours. The same night he took a little diascordium, with the syrup of lemons and scabious water, which some what stayed his stomach and gave him some rest.

The 12th, because his vomiting continued still, he was moved to take a vomit, that thereby the bottom of his stomach might be scoured and cleansed from so vile and loathsome matter wherewith he was troubled ; but by no perswasion would he yield thereunto, not-withstanding the same day he took a medicine to procure sweat, but prevailed not. The very same night his water stopp'd upon a sudden, to the astonishment of all.

The 13th all means were offered to provoke water, as glyster, drinks, plasters, fomentations, oils, pultises, stirrings, but nothing happily succeeded.

The 14th and 15th was used an instrument called a catheter, which being convey'd into his bladder was strongly sucked by the surgeon, but no water followed.

The 16th, about five o'clock at night, he most devoutly yielded his soul to God.

In all the time of his sickness he often took Bezoar stone and Unicorn's horn, his pulse were ever good, his strength indifferent, the number of vomits were 52, and of his stools 29 ; his physicians were Dr. Canon, Dr. Joyner, Dr. Bate, and Dr. Case.

A true Report of such Reasons and Conjectures as caused many learned men to suppose him to be bewitched.

The first of April, before his honour fell sick, a woman offered unto him a supplication or petition, wherein her request was, that it would please him to give or assign her a dwelling-place near unto himself, that she might from time to time reveal unto him such things with speed which God revealed unto her for his good. This petition was thought vain, therefore refused.

On the fourth of April he dreamed that his lady was most dangerously sick to death, and in his sleep being sore troubled therewith, he wept, suddenly cried out, and started from his bed, called for help, and sought about the chamber betwixt sleeping and waking, but being fully awaked, was comforted because he found her well. Here we omit strange dreams or divinations of divers great men, which happened before or about the time of his sickness.

On the 5th of April, in his chamber at Kronstey about six o'clock at night there appeared suddenly a tall man with a ghastly and threatening countenance, who twice or thrice seemed to cross him as he was passing thro' the chamber, and when he came to the same part of the chamber where this shadow appeared, he presently fell sick, and there vomited thrice. And yet Goborne, one of his secretaries attending then upon him, saw nothing, which more amazed him. The same night he dreamed he was in fighting twice or thrice stabbed to the heart, also wounded in many other places of his body.

The l0th of April about midnight was found in his bedchamber by one Master Halsall, an image of wax with hair, like unto the hair of his honour's head, twisted through the belly thereof from the navel to the secrets. This image was spotted, as Master Halsall reported to Master Smyth, one of his secretaries, a day before any pain grew, and spots appeared on his sides and belly. This image was hastily cast into the fire by Mr. Halsall before it was viewed, because he thought by burning thereof, as he said, he should relieve his lord from witchcraft, and burn the witch who so much tormented his lord, but it fell out contrary to his love and affection, for after the melting thereof he more and more declined.

The l2th of April one Jane a witch demanded of Mr. Goborne whether his honour felt no pain in his lower parts, and whether he made water as yet or no ; and at that very time his water utterly stopped, and so remained till he died.

Sir Edward Filton, who with other justices examined certain witches, reporteth that one of them being bidden to say the Lord's prayer, said it well ; but being conjured in the name of Jesus that if she had bewitched his honour she should not be able to say the same, she never could repeat that petition "Forgive us our trespasses," no not altho' it was repeated unto her.

A homely woman about the age of 50 was found mumbling in a corner of his honour's chamber, but what God knoweth.

This wise woman (as they termed her) seemed often to ease his honour both of his vomiting and hickcough, but so it fell out, which was strange, that when so long as he was eased the woman herself was troubled most vehemently in the same manner, the matter which she vomited being like also unto that which passed from him. But at last when this woman was espied by one of the doctors tempering and blessing (after her manner) the juice of certain herbs, her pot whereinto she strained the juice, was tumbled down by the same doctor, she rated out of the chamber, notwithstanding she did still say that she would not cease to ease him, altho' she could not perfectly help him, because he was so strangely bewitched. All physic wrought very well, yet he had none or little ease thereby, his diseases were many, and his vomits, with stopping his water grievous, yet ever his pulse remained as good and perfect as ever it did in time of his best health, till one quarter of an hour before he died.

He himself in all the time of his sickness cried out that the doctors laboured in vain, because he was certainly bewitched. He fell twice into a trance, not able to move head, hand, or foot, when he would have taken physick to do him good. In the end he cried out against all witches and witchcraft, reposing his only hope of salvation upon the merits of Christ Jesus his Saviour.

One excellent speech among many cannot be omitted in the time of his sickness, especially the day before he departed, at which time he desired one of his doctors whom he especially loved to perswade him no longer to live; because, saith he, although out of thy love thou wouldst stir up hopes of life, and dost employ all thy wit, art, and travel to that end; yet knowing for a certainty that I must now die, I pray thee cease, for I am resolved presently to die, and to take away with me only one part of my arms, I mean the eagle's wings, so will I fly swiftly into the bosom of Christ my only Saviour, and with that he sent for his lady, and gave her his last farewell, de-siring her to take away and love his doctor, and also to give him some jewel, with his armes and name, that he might be remembered; which thing immediately after his death was most honourably performed. His spiritual physicians were the Bishop of Chester and Mr. Lee his chaplain.



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