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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

The mother suspected Ursley of witchcraft

The Chelmsford affair of 1579[9] was not unlike that of 1566. There were the same tales of spirits that assumed animal forms. The young son of Elleine Smith declared that his mother kept three spirits, Great Dick in a wicker bottle, Little Dick in a leathern bottle, and Willet in a wool-pack. Goodwife Webb saw "a thyng like a black Dogge goe out of her doore." But the general character of the testimony in the second trial bore no relation to that in the first. There was no agreement of the different witnesses. The evidence was haphazard. The witch and another woman had a falling out--fallings out were very common. Next day the woman was taken ill. This was the sort of unimpeachable testimony that was to be accepted for a century yet. In the affair of 1566 the judges had made some attempt at quizzing the witnesses, but in 1579 all testimony was seemingly rated at par.[10] In both instances the proof rested mainly upon confession. Every woman executed had made confessions of guilt. This of course was deemed sufficient. Nevertheless the courts were beginning to introduce other methods of proving the accused guilty. The marks on Agnes Waterhouse had been uncovered at the request of the attorney-general; and at her execution she had been questioned about her ability to say the Lord's Prayer and other parts of the service. Neither of these matters was emphasized, but the mention of them proves that notions were already current that were later to have great vogue.

The Chelmsford cases find their greatest significance, however, not as illustrations of the use and abuse of evidence, but because they exemplify the continuity of the witch movement. That continuity finds further illustration in the fact that there was a third alarm at Chelmsford in 1589, which resulted in three more executions. But in this case the women involved seem, so far as we know, to have had no connection with the earlier cases. The fate of Elizabeth Francis and that of Elleine Smith are more instructive as proof of the long-standing nature of a community suspicion. Elleine could not escape her mother's reputation nor Elizabeth her own.

Both these women seem to have been of low character at any rate. Elizabeth had admitted illicit amours, and Elleine may very well have been guilty on the same count.[11] All of the women involved in the two trials were in circumstances of wretched poverty; most, if not all, of them were dependent upon begging and the poor relief for support.[12]

It is easy to imagine the excitement in Essex that these trials must have produced. The accused had represented a wide territory in the county. The women had been fetched to Chelmsford from towns as far apart as Hatfield-Peverel and Maldon. It is not remarkable that three years later than the affair of 1579 there should have been another outbreak in the county, this time in a more aggravated form. St. Oses, or St. Osyth's, to the northeast of Chelmsford, was to be the scene of the most remarkable affair of its kind in Elizabethan times. The alarm began with the formulation of charges against a woman of the community. Ursley Kemp was a poor woman of doubtful reputation. She rendered miscellaneous services to her neighbors. She acted as midwife, nursed children, and added to her income by "unwitching" the diseased. Like other women of the sort, she was looked upon with suspicion. Hence, when she had been refused the nursing of the child of Grace Thurlow, a servant of that Mr. Darcy who was later to try her, and when the child soon afterward fell out of its cradle and broke its neck, the mother suspected Ursley of witchcraft. Nevertheless she did not refuse her help

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