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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Joan Read of Devizes had been reported to be a witch


If

the age was as "censorious" of things of this nature as Edmund Bower had believed it to be, it is rather remarkable that "these proceedings," which were within a short distance of London, excited so little stir in that metropolis. Elias Ashmole, founder of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and delver in astrology, attended the trials, with John Tradescant, traveller and gardener.[20] He left no comments. The _Faithful Scout_, in its issue of July 30-August 7, mentioned the trial and the confessions, but refrained from any expression of opinion.

There were other trials in this period; but they must be passed over rapidly. The physicians were quite as busy as ever in suggesting witchcraft. We can detect the hand of a physician in the attribution of the strange illness of a girl who discharged great quantities of stones to the contrivance of Catherine Huxley, who was, in consequence, hanged at Worcester.[21] In a case at Exeter the physician was only indirectly responsible. When Grace Matthews had consulted him about her husband's illness, he had apparently given up the case, and directed her to a wise woman.[22] The wise woman had warned Mistress Matthews of a neighbor "tall of stature and of a pale face and blinking eye," against whom it would be well to use certain prescribed remedies. Mrs. Matthews did so, and roused out the witch, who proved to be a butcher's wife, Joan Baker. When the witch found her spells thwarted, she turned them against Mrs.

Matthews's maid-servant, who in consequence died. This was part of the evidence against Joan, and it was confirmed by her own kinsfolk: her father-in-law had seen her handling toads. She was committed, but we hear no more of the case.

That random accusations were not feared as they had been was evidenced by the boldness of suspected parties in bringing action against their accusers, even if boldness was sometimes misjudged. We have two actions of this sort.

Joan Read of Devizes had been reported to be a witch, and on that account had been refused by the bakers the privilege of using their bakeries for her dough.[23] She threw down the glove to her accusers by demanding that they should be brought by warrant to accuse her. No doubt she realized that she had good support in her community, and that her challenge was not likely to be accepted. But a woman near Land's End in Cornwall seems to have overestimated the support upon which she could count. She had procured a warrant against her accusers to call the case before the mayor. The court sided with the accusers and the woman was brought to trial. Caught herself, she proceeded to ensnare others. As a result, eight persons were sent to Launceston,[24] and some probably suffered death.[25]

We have already seen what a tangled web Mrs. Muschamp wove when she set out to imprison a colonel's wife. It would be easy to cite cases to show the same reluctance to follow up prosecution. Four women at Leicester searched Ann Chettle and found no evidence of guilt.[26] In Durham a case came up before Justice Henry Tempest.[27] Mary Sykes was accused. Sara Rodes, a child, awakening from sleep in a fright, had declared to her mother that "Sikes' wife" had come in "att a hole att the bedd feete" and taken her by the throat. Of course Sara Rodes fell ill. Moreover, the witch had been seen riding at midnight on the back of a cow and at another time flying out of a "mistall windowe." But the woman, in spite of the unfavorable opinion of the women searchers, went free. There were cases that seem to have ended the same way at York, at Leeds, and at Scarborough. They were hints of what we have already noticed, that the northern counties were changing their attitude.[28] But a case in Derbyshire deserves more attention because the justice, Gervase Bennett, was one of the members of Cromwell's council. The case itself was not in any way unusual. A beggar woman, who had been liberally supported by those who feared her, was on trial for witchcraft. Because of Bennett's close relation to the government, we should be glad to know what he did with the case, but the fact that the woman's conviction is not among the records makes it probable that she was not bound over to the assizes.[29]


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