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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Pacy would have been laughed out of court


The

usual nauseating evidence as to the Devil's marks was introduced by the testimony of the mother of one of the children bewitched. She had been, a month before, a member of a jury of matrons appointed by a justice of the peace to examine the body of the accused. Most damning proof against the woman had been found. It is very hard for us to understand why Hale allowed to testify, as one of the jury of examining matrons, a woman who was at the same time mother of one of the bewitched children upon whom the prosecution largely depended.

So far the case for the prosecution had been very strong, but it was in the final experiments in court, which were expected to clinch the evidence, that a very serious mishap occurred. A bewitched child, eleven years old, had been fetched into court. With eyes closed and head reclining upon the bar she had remained quiet until one of the accused was brought up, when she at once became frantic in her effort to scratch her. This was tried again and again and in every instance produced the same result. The performance must have had telling effect. But there happened to be present at the trial three Serjeants of the law. One of them, Serjeant John Kelyng, a few years later to become chief justice of the king's bench, was "much dissatisfied." He urged the point that the mere fact that the children were bewitched did not establish their claim to designate the authors of their misfortune. There were others present who agreed

with Kelyng in suspecting the actions of the girl on the stand. Baron Hale was induced, at length, to appoint a committee of several gentlemen, including Serjeant Kelyng, to make trial of the girl with her eyes covered. An outside party was brought up to her and touched her hand. The girl was expecting that Amy Duny would be brought up and flew into the usual paroxysms. This was what the committee had expected, and they declared their belief that the whole transaction was a mere imposture. One would have supposed that every one else must come to the same conclusion, but Mr. Pacy, the girl's father, offered an explanation of her mistake that seems to have found favor. The maid, he said, "might be deceived by a suspicion that the Witch touched her when she did not." One would suppose that this subtle suggestion would have broken the spell, and that Mr. Pacy would have been laughed out of court. Alas for the rarity of humor in seventeenth-century court rooms! Not only was the explanation received seriously, but it was, says the court reporter, afterwards found to be true.

In the mean time expert opinion had been called in. It is hard to say whether Dr. Browne had been requisitioned for the case or merely happened to be present. At all events, he was called upon to render his opinion as a medical man. The name of Thomas Browne is one eminent in English literature and not unknown in the annals of English medicine and science. More than twenty years earlier he had expressed faith in the reality of witchcraft.[14] In his _Commonplace Book_, a series of jottings made throughout his life, he reiterated his belief, but uttered a doubt as to the connection between possession and witchcraft.[15]

We should be glad to know at what time Browne wrote this deliverance; for, when called upon at Bury, he made no application of his principles of caution. He gave it as his opinion that the bewitchment of the two girls was genuine. The vomiting of needles and nails reminded him very much of a recent case in Denmark. For the moment the physician spoke, when he said that "these swounding Fits were Natural." But it was the student of seventeenth-century theology who went on: they were "heightened to a great excess by the subtilty of the Devil, co-operating with the Malice of these which we term Witches, at whose Instance he doth these Villanies."


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