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Popular Superstitions - Witchcraft In Wiltshire

( Originally Published 1884 )

One Susanna Hannokes, an elderly woman, of Wingrove, near Aylesbury, was accused by a neighbour for bewitching her spinning-wheel, so that she could not make it go round, and offered to make oath of it before a magistrate ; on which the husband, in order to justify his wife, insisted on her being tried by the church Bible, and that the accuser should be present. Accordingly, she was conducted to the parish church, where she was stript of all her cloaths to her shift and under-coat, and weighed against the Bible ; when, to the no small mortification of her accuser, she outweighed it, and was honour-ably acquitted of the charge.


I send you a copy of a manuscript containing some curious particulars upon the subject of demonology. It presents a melancholy picture of the ignorance that once prevailed, and of the debased state to which it is possible that the human mind may be reduced. The belief in witchcraft seems to have been particularly prevalent in the county of Wilts, if we may judge from the account of the drummer of Tedworth in Glanville, and from the facts detailed in this manuscript. His sapient Majesty King James was monstrously puzzled to find an answer for the difficult question, "why Sathan in matters of witchcraft had more frequent dealings with antient gentlewomen than with young ones ?" But now Satan, it should seem, in these matters as in many others, is grown wiser than of yore. Many poor men, to their grievous costs, find that Satan in this respect bath quite as frequent dealings with young gentlewomen as with ancient ones. To be old, wrinkled, and poor, was quite sufficient to stamp any unfortunate female as a witch. Experience, or the evidence of their own senses, appear to have had no influence on the judgment of witnesses, juries, or judges. They saw the accused standing at the bar, completely in their [power, offering no resistance, and incapable of escaping from their injustice; yet, notwithstanding this, they considered the mutterings of a wayward, sullen boy, and the ravings of delirium, sufficient evidences of the wretched victim's guilt, and without the slightest remorse consigned her to an ignominious death. The difficulty as to why Satan should forsake his followers in the hour of their greatest need, was accounted for by supposing that seeing them devoted to a miserable end, he then forsook them, having gained his object, their eternal perdition. Well may we exclaim, with the philosophic poet of antiquity

" Tantum Relligio potuit suadere malorum."

Yours, etc., B. C. T. Ash-Wednesday, 1685-6.


"By the date of a letter that will be delivered to yourself here-with, you will see that I designed earlyer to have addressed myself to you in reference to the representing the papers to yourself, which are much more imperfect than I hoped they would have been, which happens for that I am very little master of myne own time; even this very day in which I am fasting even from a bit of bread at or after 5 of the clock after noone, I have had people with me (and have some yet) uppon justice business, ever since I did rise in the morning, which hinders me from giving you the accompt of many occurrences very extraordinary. Amongst which is a relation of a rat which followed and ever would be with that worthy gentleman Sr Edward Norris,* then residing in Ireland ; an apparition to Mr. William Howard, father of Mr. Craven Howard, presumptive heyre to the Earle of Berkshire ; and several relations of that kind; as also specimens of several observations of animals and phaenomena of meteors, especially of some lately observed heere and neere this place by myself and others. Reverend Sr, I have so much certaynty of your candour, that I can beleeve no other, but that you will be pleesed to suspend your judgment of these papers and my purpose, until I have the happiness to attend you at Cambridge, which, God willing, shall be as soone as the wayes are good and our sessions past. I doubt not but you will thinck it very strange that I name not the justices for this county in the relation of those miserable women's tryals at Malmesbury, in which to you I acknowledge I myself was principally engaged, so that I being the last who came thither, even when the mittimus was made for 13, 12 women and one man, I brought it to pass, that but three of those were committed, of which 2 were convict and executed. I know you will approve the methodes I persuaded the other justices to use, which were not to persuade any one of the accused to confesse, much lesse to menace any of them; to take nothing for evidence which was sayd by a boy of 12 years old, in his fitts of being possessed, as was sup-posed, all which is set forth in the relation. The true reason why I name not myselfe is, for that it pleased God that, although a sinful man, but careful not to doe aught but what was directly next for me to doe in reference to the circumstances I was under then, and of firme faithe as I hope something were done by my head, which were not only mervaylous to others but to myself also, and in the sight of a cloud of witnesses now living, and those not meane or unadvised people, but of prudent, sober, and subtle persons, such as Captain Robert Young, now chiefe magistrate of Malmesbury, called there alderman, and several others of Malmesbury, and other neighbouring places. I also advised to procure two of the ablest ministers, and of best report in all those parts, to speak generally with the women, and to discover, if they could, whether there was any practice in the case, or any madness, deep melancholly, or hatred of life in Tilling, who confessed. The business was long, I having employed twenty days at least about the examinations; in all which time the women were in their owne houses, with slender guards, but the women before for much the more part were at liberty.

I acknowledge with wonder sufficient I have heard severall persons, very learned otherwyse, affirme there were not, neyther could be, any witches ; amongst others, Doctor Harvey* was induced by a very weake experiment to be of that mind ; I was very familiarly acquainted with him, and was often abroad with him, and had severall discourses with him of things in his faculty, but principally about natural philosophy, I agreeing with him for much the more part. I once asked him what his opinion was concerning witchcraft; whether there was any such thing. Hee told mee he believed there was not. I asked him what induced him to be of that opinion. He told me that when he was at Newmercat with the King, he heard there was a woman who dwelt at a lone house on the borders of the heath who was reputed a witch ; that he went alone to her, and found her alone at home, alighted, and went into the house to her. Hee said shee was very distrustful at first ; but when hee told her he was a vizard, and came purposely to converse with her in their common trade, then shee easily believed him; for, say'd hee to mee, "You know I have a very magicall face," and looking upon mee, and gathering upp his face, I indeed thought hee had.

Dr. Harvey asked where her familiar was, and desired to see him. Shee immediately fetched a little milk, and put it in a flat dish, and went to a chest and chucked with her mouth, as toades doe when they call one another; and immediately a toad came from under the chest, and drunk some of the milke. He sayd it was enough, and caused her to take awaye the dish before the toad had done, and asked the woman whether she had any ale to sell, for they, beinge brother and sister, must drink together. She sayd there was ale to be sold about halfe a mile thence; hee desired her to goe to fetch some, whilst he stayed, and gave her a shilling; away she went for the ale. Hee tooke milke, when she was a goode waye on her way, went to the chest, chucked as shee did, the toad came out. His tongues were ready in his hand, he catched up the toad in them ; his disecting knife was ready alsoe, he opened the toades belly, out came the milk. Hee examin'd the toades entrayles, heart, and lungs, and it no ways differed from other toades, of which hee had disected many of, ergo it was a playne, naturall toad. The old woman was melancholly and poore; found the toad some evening abroad eating spiders, for hungry toades will eat spiders and other reptiles or insects ; carried it home, made it tame by feeding it, and so it became a spirit, and that spirit a familiar. From hence he concludes there are no witches very logistically; his argument in effect is this : A woman had a tame toade, which she believed to bee a spirit and her familiar; the toad upon disection proved an arrant naturall toad, and had really eaten milk, and not in appearance onely, therefore there are no witches. The good doctor, upon the woman's returne, who found him busy in observing what the toad would doe in the pickle hee had put him in, was in danger to have a more magical face than hee had before, and habit too ; the woman let or rather threw downe the pitcher of ale, flew like a tigris at his face; 'twas well hee had nothing but bare bones and tough tanned skin, neyther hair nor bearde, and 'twas well his eyes were out of reach, well guarded with prominent bones, otherways it had gone ill with him ; but for his short very short old black coat, that scaped not so well, that pay'd for killing the poor woman's divell. The doctor intreeted fayrly, offered money, would have persuaded 'twas not a divell, but a meer toad. That way not prevayling, hee turned his tale, sayd hee was the King's phisitian, sent by the King to discover whether indeed shee was a witch ; if a witch, to have her apprehended; if not, to undeceave her, if hee could. The name of the King, and the word apprehending, brought her into a better temper; and after having been called l000 old cheating rogues, and as many times freely given to the divell, the doctor got away ; tolde the Kinge, whose leave he had to go upon the expedition, the whole story, which was pleasant entertaynment for that good King at his dinner. I did know the doctor's temper well, and that it did not much concern me what opinion he was of in that poynt. I onely say'd, " I think I have heard their spirits have recourse to toades or other animalls (which the witches keep and feed) at set times, or where-fore spirits are called upon extraordinary occasions, but doe not exert them constantly, for then the poor divells would have a very bad time of it." I am certayne this, for an argument against spirits or witchcraft, is the best and most experimentall I ever heard, and as logically managed as I ever expect to have any. Pardon this long trouble, I beseech you, Sr, and bee pleased to beleeve there is no one honours you more than, Reverent Sr,

[no name.]

It is not possible as yet for me to set out all the charges against the persons I mention now who have suffered on the accompt of witches, there having been many convicted formerly before my time, and some since, of whom I onely can now give the names ; such was John Barlowes wife, convicted of and executed for witchcraft about 55 year since. Alice Elger, widow, dwelling in Westport, became so audaciously obnoxious to the good inhabitance, there being none but martial law then, it was about 1643 ; Malmesbury then being in the hands of the armys ranged against the King; that the soldiers and some of the lowest of the people did in the mercat place use her very roughly, moved by an instant emergent, so that shee, perhaps to avoyd the like, went home and poysoned herselfe, as was then beleeved, and was buried in a cross way as a felon of herself.

Orchard, widow, was beleeved to be a witch universally, and was very conversant with Alice Elgar, and thought to bee her confederate about 27 years since; shee came to the house of Hugh Bartholomew, of Malmesbury, brewer, and finding his daughter Mary, since wife to Robert Web, not long since alderman of Malmesbury, now deceased, about the doore, Orchard asked her for some barme or yeast. The sayd Mary, apprehending harme from her, if she should give her any, refused her, and sayd there was none to spare. Orchard told her there were 40 hogsheads or barrels, then working, but was told by the sayd Mary, there was none for her. She rejoyned, " Then you will give me none? 'twere better for you you had ;" and went away muttering to her self. Immediately after shee was gone, a great cipress chest in which Mr. Bartholomew kept his money, being in the chamber over the roome where he and his company were, was lifted up and let fall, so that it shook the whole house; immediately after-wards they heard great cracks, and the gingling of money, of which there was above 2001. as they thought, and as in truth it was. Mr. Bartholomew beleeved his chest had been broken, and his money or part of it lost, went not upp into the chamber, but followed Orchard towards her house, and being to passe thorow a large plat of ground, which is within the walls of the towne, where much timber was lay'd and sawyed out, hee asked the sawyers if they sawe Goody Orchard goe homewards? They say'd they did, that shee was gone to her house a little while before. Hee cominge to her house, and finding the door shut, and the window-boards down, knocked at the door and the windows but nobody answered; although hee told her hee had six pence for her. A neybour's wife opened the door of her house, and seeing Mr. Bartholomew knocking at the doore, and calling Goody Orchard by her name, asked, laughing, whether her neybour Orchard had used or played any of her frolliques with him ? Hee answered she had, and that because she was refused barme at his house, she caused her spirits to breake his greate cyprus chest, and for ought he knew, to throwe about or carry away his money.

Goody Orchard, who it seems was harkening, hearing what hee say'd, speake as near as I can remember, for some are alive heard them, these words: "You lie, you old rogue; your chest is not broken, the nayles are only drawn, and there is never a penny of your money gone." He being well pleased to heare it was no worse, went home, and taking company with him, went into the roome, where he found the pinns or nayles of the chest onely drawn, the money out of the bags, but none missing ; but the lock so filled with it, and some of the money in the lock so bent, that he was forced to cause a smith to take it off, and to pull it to peeces, to get out the money, and to fit it up for use. Immediately after Mr. Bartholomew was gone from Orchard's house, shee packed upp what shee thought fit to carry with her, and left the house and towne, and was not heard of in 3 or 4 months; and then that shee was in Salisbury Gaole, committed thither for bewitching a young mayde, a gardiner's daughter of Burbage, about 4 miles south or south east of Marleboro'; the manner of it was thus : Early in the morning this goody Orchard came to the gardiner's house; hee was one of those who kept great grounds of early pease, carrotts, and turnips, for to serve mercats, and prayed his daughter, a young mayd of 17 or 18 years, then coming from fetching carrotts to bee carried out to mercat, to give her some victuels. Shee, whose hands were sandy, answered, "By her throth shee would wash her hands, and cut something to eat herselfe, for shee was ready to faynting, having been from the first day light working hard, filting up and cleansing carrots, and that shee had done more than that idle old woman had done in a twelvemonth; and after she had eated a bit or two, shee would give her some victuals."

The mayd's father hearing her answere the woman as above, sayd to her, " Cut the poore woman some bread and cheese, and let her goe about her business." The mayd answered, "Let her staye; I am so faynt, I can scarce stand on my leggs; I will eat a bit or two, and give her some." There was a garden by the doore near the path to it, where were walks round a grasse plot, into which garden the woman stepped, and, neyther walking or running, she trotted about the garden in the walk ; and when she came round it, she trotted into the middle of the grass plot, and squatted downe there. This she did three times, muttering some words not understood by those present, and then trudged away as fast as shee could. The young mayd having water brought her, put her hands into it to wash them, which she had no sooner done, but her fingers were distorted in theyr joynts, one this way, another that way, and with such extreame torment, that shee cryed out as if one had been about to kill her, or shee had been killing, and say'd, that wicked old woman had bewitched her, and preyed her father to send after her, and bring her back. Many horses being ready to goe out with carrots to the mercats, men and labourers mounte, and some one way and some another pursued the woman, and the third day found her begging about twenty miles thence at Edington, in the mannour house, of which Mr. Leues,* a person not to bee mentioned without his due prayse of being both very prudent and very hospitable, dwells ; to him they brought the woman. Hee having heard the complaynt, and taken the information and examination, made a mittimus for her to Salisbury Goale; but, on the request of the men who tooke her, hee suffered them to carry her back to Burbage, to the gardiner's house, to which they carried her, and found the mayd in a feaver, with the extreame torment of her fingers, and not having slept since it came upon her. When Orchard was brought to the mayd, the mayd charged her with bewitching her, and so did the rest of the persons there, and threatened her with hanging : but

Orchard stood stoutly in it, that she was not bewitched, but that she had washed her hands in unwholesome water, and that wholesome water would cure her; whereupon some of the same sort of water which she washed in before was brought, which Goody Orchard desiring to see, that she might judge whether it were wholesome or not, she put one of her fingers into it, and carried her finger so that shee made three circles in it contrary to the course of the sun, and then pronounced it wholesome water, and bid the mayd dip her hands in it, which the mayd doing, her fingers recovered their due posture, and the extreame paynes ceased, but the tone of the nerves being for the present lost, her fingers had no strength in them at the time of the tryal, and were not without some payne.

The woman was carried to Salisbury, and there convicted and executed ; and, to prove her a witch, Mr. Bartholomew and divers of Malmesbury, that being discovered to be the place of her last abode, were bound to give evidence against her, which they did ; for which, and for Mr. Bartholomew's being the cause of her flying from Malmesbury, those dire revenges were taken upon Mrs. Mary Webb, his daughter, who also had denyed the yeest. I have omitted, that when the hagg trotted about the garden, she muttered certayne words, some of which the witnesses thought to be --------

Jan. 16, 1685-6. The Alderman of Malmesbury, in Wiltshire, that being the title of the chiefe Magistrate of that auntient Borrow, sent to the Justices of the Peace of that subdivision of the County, to pray them to assist him in a discovery which was made of Witches by the voluntary confession of one Ann Tilling, widdowe, who had confessed to Mrs. Mary Webb, the wife of Mr. Robert Webb, since Alderman of that Burrow, that she Ann Tilling, — Peacock, and

Witchell, widow, sisters, had bewitched Thomas the son of the above-named Robert Webb and Mary his wife, which Mary was the daughter of Mr. Bartholomew, whos chest was broken as in the foregoing relation, so that Thomas Webb above-named had very grievous fitts of swooning, sometimes three or four times in a day, and that he seemed to bee possest with some foreigne power betwixt thos fitts, so that he would curse and sweare, tell what the persons suspected to have harmed him were doing or saying, and often speake to them as if they or some of them were present, although not visible to any person uppon the place.

The confession of Anne Tilling was made to Mrs. Mary Webb upon this motion. Mrs. Webb meeting casually with Ann Tilling, reproached her for that, ungratefully and without provocation, shee had joined with Peacock and Witchell to bewitch her son, who in his fitts complayned of Tilling, Peacock, and Witchell, for tormenting him and doing him hurt severall ways. That her husband and shee (Mrs. Webb) had ever been very good friends to Ann Tilling and her deceased husband, and had employed them in their work, when they wanted work, and had been many ways uppon several occasions bountiful and beneficial to them, even to the preventing of their utmost necessity ; uppon which Ann Tilling fell downe on her knees, and beg'd Mrs. Webb's pardon, confessing she had been wrought on by Goody Peacock and Witchell, to agree that her son Thomas should be bewitched ; for which shee was very sorry, and would do what shee could at any time to helpe him to come out of his fitts. The boy continuing to have his fitts, Mr. Webb complayned to the Alder man, who having apprehended Ann Tilling, sent to the Justices above-mentioned to have their assistance in the examinations of Tilling and the two others above-named. Ann Tilling confessed before the Alderman and 3 County Justices, that herselfe, persuaded by and joining with Peacock and Witchell, had harmed the boy, and caused those fitts, which, by the helpe of theyr spirits, they had brought upon him ; and That, three witches being needful to doe things of that nature, Goody Clark being bedrid, soe that shee could not goe out with them, nor they have free recourse to her; they had taken her, Ann Tilling, into the first 3 in Goody Clark's place ; that they had consultations often with other two threes, so that they were 9, about avenging themselves upon theyr enimys, and that the three threes had often mett since shee was admitted into the first 3 ; shee alsoe named 3 or 4 men and women confederates, but not frequently conversing with them. That when they mett altogether, it was late at night, in some one of their houses ; and that there and then they did eate and drink all together, and consulted of their business, which was the avenging themselves uppon theyr enimys. Besides the three first uppon Tilling's confession, eleven persons, 2 men and nine women, were apprehended and examined, theyr examinations taken in writing, and mittimus making, and some made and signed, for sending them to the County Gaole. Whilst the clerks were finishing the mittimus, another Justice of the Peace arrived, who had not been forward, not being perhaps very credulous in matters of witchcraft, at least thinking that at Malmesbury they were rarer than they were thought to be. He was much caressed by the Alderman and the 3 Justices, who began to despair of his company at that time, and desired him to read the information and confession of Ann Tilling, and also the information of Thomas the son of Robert Webb, which having done, and seeinge 14 persons ready to be committed to the County Gaole, he was extremely concerned at the precipitate proceeding of his fellow Justices, and very sadly prayed that they would be pleased to hear him, before they proceeded further uppon the committment of the 14 persons then apprehended. It was agreed readily that the last come Justice should be heard; who thereupon moved that the roome might be ushered, and that none should remayne but the Justices and those gentlemen of quality that should desire to be present with them. It was done as agreed to ; some gentlemen sent for, and admitted; and an audience given to the last Justice, who spoke words to this purpose :

"Gentlemen, I see here are apprehended and designed to be committed many persons, against whom by the informations which I have seen, there is (if any) very light evidence. Gentlemen, what is done at this place, a Borough remote from the centre of this large County, and almost 40 miles from Salisbury, will be exjended both by the Reverend Judges, the learned Counsayle there, the persons Ecclesiastique, and the Gentry of the body of the County; so that if any thing be done here rashly, it will be severely censured, and for ought I know, those against whom there is some kind of evidence, may escape in the crowd of such against whom I see none. Gentlemen, the mittimus's only mention a general charge of suspicion of witchcraft, and that against three onely there is a very special charge in the informations, that is to say, against Tilling, Peacock, and Witchell. Truely, Gentlemen, I ever thought the word witch to have a very wide extent, for as that word is used now, there may be such as are naturally so, at least their natures are corrupted by atrabilis, or some-thing I understand not ; so that theyr look, when fixed upon a living object many times, destroyes it by a certayn poyson, very contrary to the purpose of those miserable people, so that it somethmes affects their beloved children, but oftener theyre owne cattle, which pine away and die, to theyr masters' impoverishment ; as in the case of Lee of Christian Malford, who was, although he had a good farm, and was very laborious and diligent, by the death of his own cattle, as well as those of his neighbours, which he fixedly looked upon, reduced to great poverty, for his lands beinge pasture, nobody would rent them, and his owne would pine away and dy. I did know another in the next parish to Christian Malford, ordinarily knowne by the name of Snigg, whose cattle did not dye ordinarily, but would never prove so as to be in good liking, his whfe, himselfe, his children, extreamely leane, and out of proofe, as well as his horses, oxen, kowes, and hoggs ; I never did know any he had fat, but a dog, which kept himselfe in the barne amongst the beanes, out of sight, and had learned to eate them, so that hee was fatt. The truth of what I assert may be easily knowne, one of these persons having dwelt in this Hundred; the other, Lee, in Damerham North Hundred, in this subdivision. Of these unhappy people there has so much been sayd by phylosophers, phisitians, and poets, that there nothing remayns but to give our compassion to the involuntary witches, and to avoyd any neere converse with them. There are other witches, for so I must call those who in their passion curse in the usual terms, " The Divell take you or him !" "The Divell break your or his neck !" This is an invocation of the Divell; and truly their ignorance cannot well excuse them from being witches, by their inadvertency, for they misprize the invocation of the Divell. There are others who deal in charmes, who have never made any explicit contract, but are by others' contract, perhaps made many generations past, of which they are ignorant, but have by tradition some conditions annext to the charme, as in the case of Mr. Crander, who did wear a charme for an ague, and was advised to take care of water, whilst he wore that charm, he having very narrowly spared drowning in a mill-pound of his owne, not far from his house, was some few days after with Mr. Curtis crossing the Thames from Chemsford (Rempsford), in the night to the Wiltshire side, where he dwelt. At the landing of the boate, both himself and Mr. Curtis were mis'd ; and upon search two or three days after, taken up with crooks from under some willows which hung down into the water. The thing is so well knowne, I need say no more of it. Probably the woman was ignorantly a witch, acting by a precedent contract, which might be unknowne to her. The last, and such as deserve the highest punishments, are those who are entered into an explicitt contract with some uncleane spirits, and have had knowingly and willingly conference with such spirits, and are taught by those spirits to hurt man or beast ; if beasts are hurt by witchcraft, and the author proved to be so, it is pilloring in 4 townes of the county, and actionable at law, for the first offence : but if any of the King's subjects be by those means kill'd, maymed, or pyned, it is felony, without benefit of Clergy, for the first offence : and this is the charge against Peacock, Tilling, and Witchell. But I see not cleer evidence against Peacock or Witchell. The boyes information I think should have little stresse put on it, for eyther he is an impostor, or indeed he is agitated by some foreigne or external power. If he imposes on us who are auntient and should be prudent, it will be our perpetuall shame, that a boy of 12 years old should not be discovered to impose on us; but if his fitts are not fayned, they must be effected by some spiritual foreigne power, and that power must be of light or darkness ; that it is not of light, is as clear as he speaks in another tone and other words than hee was ever heard to speeke, when he was or is well ; hee reviles his father and mother, swears and curses and blasphemes God, which he was never observed to doe formerly; which deportment shows by whom hee is actuated; and truly if in such fitts he accuses any person, I think hee is not greatly to be heeded, for as much as those murderers are likelyer to destroy the innocent than their own confederates the nocent. As for Ann Tilling's evidence against herselfe, Peacock, and Witchell, it may, for ought I yet see, bee a confederacy with the boyes parents, who are sayd to be ever good to her, to bring in Peacocke and Witchell, who are women of very bad fame, and terrible to the people. Peacocke having been lately acquitted at Salisbury upon a trial for witchcraft, and proceeding boldly since as is sayd upon confidence, nobody will eyther be at the charge to prosecute her, or run the hazard of her revenge, if shee be acquitted, or of her confederates, if she is found guilty, except such a person as this Mr. Webb is reported to be, for him I doe not know there. I would perswade that the boy be very well observed, and Tilling examined at several times, and with prudence to observe whether she alters her confession or information."

The Alderman and the three other Justices approved what the last-come Justice had proposed, and desired him earnestly to propose some methode for their proceeding. Hee sayd his opinion was, that the eleven persons then in custody should be set at liberty, and that Peacock, Witchell, and Tilling, should be retayned in restraint ; but by no means to be ill used, or any tryals made on their persons, as had been so usual in the lately passed times; and alsoe bee thought it might be a safe course for the Justices to send immediately for 2 or more of the ablest Divines in those parts, to confer with Tilling and the other 2.

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