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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

In November of 1558 Sir Anthony Fortescue

fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

there had been isolated plots against the sovereign, in which conjury had played a conspicuous part. With these few exceptions the crime had been one left to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. But now the state was ready to reclaim its jurisdiction over these crimes and to assume a very positive attitude of hostility towards them. This came about in a way that has already been briefly indicated. The government of the queen found itself threatened constantly by plots for making away with the queen, plots which their instigators hoped would overturn the Protestant regime and bring England back into the fold. Elizabeth had hardly mounted her throne when her councillors began to suspect the use of sorcery and conjuration against her life. As a result they instituted the most painstaking inquiries into all reported cases of the sort, especially in and about London and the neighboring counties. Every Catholic was suspected. Two cases that were taken up within the first year came to nothing, but a third trial proved more serious. In November of 1558 Sir Anthony Fortescue,[39] member of a well known Catholic family, was arrested, together with several accomplices, upon the charge of casting the horoscope of the queen's life. Fortescue was soon released, but in 1561 he was again put in custody, this time with two brothers-in-law, Edmund and Arthur Pole, nephews of the famous cardinal of that name. The plot that came to light had many ramifications. It was proposed to marry Mary, Queen of Scots,
to Edmund Pole, and from Flanders to proclaim her Queen of England. In the meantime Elizabeth was to die a natural death--at least so the conspirators claimed--prophesied for her by two conjurers, John Prestall and Edmund Cosyn, with the assistance of a "wicked spryte." It was discovered that the plot involved the French and Spanish ambassadors. Relations between Paris and London became strained. The conspirators were tried and sentenced to death. Fortescue himself, perhaps because he was a second cousin of the queen and brother of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seems to have escaped the gallows.[40]

The Fortescue affair was, however, but one of many conspiracies on foot during the time. Throughout the sixties and the seventies the queen's councillors were on the lookout. Justices of the peace and other prominent men in the counties were kept informed by the privy council of reported conjurers, and they were instructed to send in what evidence they could gather against them. It is remarkable that three-fourths of the cases that came under investigation were from a territory within thirty miles of London. Two-thirds of them were from Essex. Not all the conjurers were charged with plotting against the queen, but that charge was most common. It is safe to suppose that, in the cases where that accusation was not preferred, it was nevertheless the alarm of the privy council for the life of the queen that had prompted the investigation and arrest.

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