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Popular Superstitions - Witchcraft In Suffolk

( Originally Published 1884 )

The county of Suffolk was remarkable for the number of Witches which were known to practise their diabolical arts in it. Baxter says he knew more than a hundred at one time. The famous trial of Sir Matthew Hale, at Lowestoft, is well known. The present case is found in a copy of Baxter's " World of Spirits," and was probably preserved for another edition which did not appear. It is directed to him.

Worthy Sir, Your last, of the 6th of July, I duly received, and since then I have inquired further into the business of the possession of Magdalen Holyday, maid servant to the Parson of Saxmundham, Suffolk, as you desired ; you saying it would be of use to your forthcoming volume, and of which case I informed you in a letter dated Nov. 1, 1685, and forwarded to you by the Ipswich waggon to the Ram Inn, Smithfield. Now, being myself lately on a visit to my sister's nephew in these parts, a painstaking, honest man, living at Freston, under the Lord Stafford, which village is near to the sea, and not far from the said town of Saxmundham, I have made due and diligent enquiry thereupon in answer to your pressing entreaties, that I would enrich your next work on Apparitions and Witchcrafts with this case ; I here, forthwith, send it to you, as I have received it from the mouths of many sober, creditable persons in these parts.

Witness my hand,


No. 2, Eastcheap, now dwelling at Freston, aforesaid.

" Magdalen Holyday, spinster, aged eighteen years, the daughter of poor honest persons, Phineas and Martha Holyday, of the parish of Rendham, near Framlingham (as may be seen by the register of the said parish), was servant-maid to Mr. Simon Jones, minister of the parish of Saxmundham, with whom she had dwelt for the space of three years and upwards, and was esteemed by all the neighbours as a civil, well-behaved young woman, of good conduct above her years ; very decent and frugal in her apparel, modest in her behaviour ; sweet and civil in her speech, and painstaking in her religion ; so that she was well respected of all in the said parish, young and old. She was also a very fair and comely person, save only a defect in the colour of her hair, of moderate stature and a cheerful disposition : nor was any reproach ever thrown upon her, save that some few of the Gospellers (a party that sprang up in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and doth now continue to the great division of the one Catholic Church,) would taunt her, that being handmaid to a Minister of the Church, she would frequent wakes and fairs at Whitsuntide, and saint days and holy days ; but they could not throw anything in her teeth which they would, as she always went in company with her brother, aunts, or other sober people of good repute, who could keep scandal from her door. Her family did not like Oliver Cromwell, nor any of his ordinances, but were true and faithful to King Charles, of blessed memory, though they were but poor folk. Now Magdalen Holyday had in her youth been touched of the King for the evil, when he come into the Associated Counties ; but since that she had always preserved her health, so that the rose-blush in her cheek, and the milky snow on her forehead were known to all. But to come to my story. It happened on Monday, in Lammas, the year 1672, about noon, as she was carrying in dinner, no one in the parlour, save the parson, his wife, and their eldest daughter, Rebecca, then about to be married to a worthy and painstaking Gospel Minister, then living at the parish of Yoxford, in the said county, that on a sudden, just as she had placed a suet dumpling on the board, she uttered a loud shriek, as if she were distraught, and stooping down, as in great pain, said she felt a pricking as of a large Pin in the upper part of her leg, but she did not think that any such thing could be there. Yet on ungartering her hose, she felt a pin had got there, within the skin, yet not drawing blood nor breaking the skin, nor making any hole or sign, and she could hardly feel the head of it with her finger, and from that time it continued tormenting her with violent and retching pains all the day and night ; and this continuing and nothing assuaged, Mistress Jones, by advice of the minister, sent for the assistance of two able apothecaries (medici) then dwelling in the said town ; one a chirurgeon of great repute, who had studied under the famous Hondius at Frankfort ; the other a real son of Galen ; who, on examining the part, and above and below at sufficient distance, both declared they could see neither 'volva, nec vestigium' of the said pin ; but on her constant and confident assertion that there was a pin, though it had now time to work itself deeper into the flesh, like an insidious enemy, they made an incision, but could find none, only the maid asserted that a few days before, an old woman came to the door and begged a pin of her, and she not giving her one, the said woman muttered something, but she did not suspect her. And now it was time these noted leeches should do something for this afflicted person ; for now she lies in ceaseless torment, both by night and by day, for if she slept her sleep was troubled with dreams and wicked apparitions : sometimes she saw something like a mole run into her bed, sometimes she saw a naked arm held over her, and so was this poor maid thus tormented by evil spirits in spite of all godly prayers and ringing of church bells, etc. But now the doctors took her in hand, their names, Anthony Smith, Gent., and Samuel Kingston, chirurgeon to Sir John Rouse, of Henham, Knt., having taken down the deposition of the said Magdalen Holyday before Mr. Pacey, a pious Justice of the Peace, living at Marlesford in the said county, upon oath ; they then gave to the said M. H. the following medicines : Imprimis, a decoction exfuga Doemonum of southern wood, mug wort vervain, of which they formed a drink according to Heuftius Medical Epistles,' lib. xii., sect. iv., also following Variola, a physician, of great experience at the court of the Emperor. They also anointed the part with the following embrocation :óDog's grease well mixed, four ounces; bear's fat, two ounces; eight ounces of capon's grease; four and twenty slips of misletoe, cut in pieces and powdered small with gum of Venice turpentine, put close into a phial, and exposed for nine days to the sun, till it formed into a green balsam, with which the said parts were daily anointed for the space of three weeks' time, during which time, instead of amendment, the poor patient daily got worse, and vomited, not without constant shrieks or gruntling, the following substances : paring of nails, bits of spoons, pieces of brass (triangular), crooked pins, bodkins, lumps of red hair, egg-shells broken, parchment shavings, a hen's bone of the leg, one thousand two hundred worms, pieces of glass, bones like the great teeth of a horse, aluminous matter, sal petri (not thoroughly prepared), till at length relief was found, when well nigh given up, when she brought up with violent retching, 'a whole row of pins stuck on blew paper ! !' After that, these sons of AEsculapius joyfully perceived that their potent drugs had wrought the designed cure they gave her comfort, that she had subdued her bitter foe, nor up to the present time has she ever been afflicted in any way ; but, having married an honest, poor man, though well to do in the world, being steward to Sir John Heveningham, she has borne him four healthy children, and is likely to cover his house with more sweet olive branches from her fruitful orchard. Whether this punishment was inflicted upon her by the said old woman, an emissary of Satan, or whether it was meant wholesomely to rebuke her for frequenting wakes, may-dances, and candlemas fairs, and such like pastimes, still to me remains in much doubt. 'Non possum solvere nodum."'

Sir, your thankful servant, T. G.

Freston Parish, nigh to Saxmondham, sent by the carrier.

P.S. I hear the physicians followed up their first medicine with castory, and rad. ostrutii, and sem. dauci, on Forestius, his recommendation.


The following curious letter is copied from a manuscript preserved in the British Museum (MS. Harl. 1686) :

From Mr. Manning, Dissenting Teacher at Halstead, in Essex, to J. Morley, Esq., Halstead.

" SIR, " Halstead, August 2, 1732.

" The narrative wh I gave you in relation to witchcraft, and which you are pleased to lay your commands upon me to repeat, is as follows : There was one Master Collete, a smith by trade, of Haveningham, in the County of Suffolk, formerly servant in Sir John Duke's family, in Benhall, in Suffolk, who, as 'twas customary with him, assisting the maide to churne, and not being able (as the phrase is) to make the butter come, threw a hot iron into the churn, under the notion of witchcraft in the case, upon which a poore labourer, then employed in carrying of dung in the yard, cryed out in a terrible manner : 'They have killed me ; they have killed me ;' still keeping his hand upon his back, intimating where the paine was, and died upon the spot.

" Mr. Collett, with the rest of the servants then present, took off the poore man's cloathes, and found to their great surprize, the mark of the iron that was heated and thrown into the churn, deeply impressed upon his back. This account I had from Mr. Collett's own mouth, who being a man of unblemished character, I verily believe to be matter of fact. I am, Sir, your obliged humble servant,


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