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Popular Superstitions - Witchcraft In Leicestershire

( Originally Published 1884 )

On the monument of Francis, sixth Earl of Rutland, in Bottesford Church, Leicestershire, it is recorded, that by his second lady he had " two sons, both which died in their infancy by wicked practices and sorcery."

The circumstances which gave rise to this supposition were briefly these. " Joan Flower and her two daughters, Margaretta and Philippa, servants at Belvoir Castle, were dismissed for neglect of business, and various misdemeanours. This excited their revenge against the family; they therefore made use of all the enchantments, spells, and charms that were at that time supposed to answer their malicious purposes. Henry, the eldest of the sons, died soon after their dismission ; notwithstanding which, no suspicion of witchcraft arose till five years afterward; when the woman, and her two daughters, who are said to have entered into a formal contract with the devil, and to have become `devils incarnate themselves,' were accused of murdering Henry Lord Ross by witchcraft, and torturing the Lord Francis, his brother, and the Lady Catherine his sister.

Being apprehended five years after the supposed fact, after various examinations before Francis Lord Willoughby of Eresby, Sir George Manners, Sir William Pelham, Sir Henry Hastings, Knight, and Samuel Fleming, D.D., Rector of Bottesford, and other his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the said parts of the county, they were committed to Lincoln gaol.

" Joan Flower died at Ancaster in her way thither, by wishing the bread and butter she ate might choak her if she was guilty. The two daughters were tried before Sir Henry Hobart, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Sir Edward Bromley, one of the Barons of the Exchequer ; confessed their guilt, and were executed at Lincoln, March I I, 1618-19."

However we may deplore the ignorance of the times, these unhappy women could not be said to be innocent ; as, from the depositions of others, and their own examinations and confessions, there could be no doubt of their intentional guilt. In short, they believed themselves witches. Many of the evidences in the different examinations concerning the witchcraft were of Bottesford, and are in the register of that time, some of their descendants being yet living. Their case was printed 1618, 4to.; and soon after was published "The wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, Daughters of Joan Flower, neere Bever Castle ; executed at Lincoln, March I I, 1618, who were specially arraigned and condemned before Sir Henry Hobart, and Sir Edward Bromley, Judges of Assize, for confessing themselves Actors in the Destruction of Henry Lord Rosse, with their damnable Practices against others the Children of the Right Honourable Francis Earl of Rutland. Together with the severall Examinations and Confessions of Anne Baker [of Bottesford, spinster], Joan Willimot [of Gowby, widow], and Ellen Greene [of Malherne], Witches in Leicestershire. Printed at London, by G. Eld, for I. Barnes dwelling in the Long Walke, neere Christ Church, 1619," 4to.

It is preserved at large in Mr. Nichols's "History of Leicestershire," vol. ii., Appendix, p. 69 ; and is a most striking proof of the then prevalent opinion on the subject of witchcraft. The examinations were taken by Magistrates of the first consequence in the neighbour-hood.

In 1621 appeared, " Strange and wonderful Witchcrafts : discovering the damnable Practices of seven Witches against the Lives of certain noble Personages, and others of this Kingdom ; with an approved Trial how to find out either Witch or any Apprentice to Witchcraft." See also Turner's " History of Remarkable Providences," etc.

The calamities in the earl's family are said to have occasioned the famous Act of Parliament in that reign against sorcery and other diabolical practices, which was lately repealed. Howel tells us, in his " Letters," vol. i., p. 58, " that King James, a great while, was loth to believe there were witches ; but that which happened to my lord Francis of Rutland's children convinced him." This is contradictory to the tenor of the " Daemonologia," which was published long before. Yours, etc., M. GREEN.



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