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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Who denied the accusations against her


We

have seen the readiness with which the deluded women made confession. Some of the confessions were poured forth as from souls long surcharged with guilt. But not all of them came in this way. Margerie Sammon, who had testified against one of her neighbors, was finally herself caught in the web of accusation in which a sister had also been involved. She was accused by her sister. "I defie thee," she answered, "though thou art my sister." But her sister drew her aside and "whyspered her in the eare," after which, with "great submission and many teares," she made a voluble confession. One wonders about that whispered consultation. Had her sister perhaps suggested that the justice was offering mercy to those who confessed? For Justice Darcy was very liberal with his promises of mercy and absolutely unscrupulous about breaking them.[16] It is gratifying to be able to record that there was yet a remnant left who confessed nothing at all and stood stubborn to the last. One of them was Margaret Grevel, who denied the accusations against her. She "saith that shee herselfe hath lost severall bruings and bakings of bread, and also swine, but she never did complaine thereof: saying that shee wished her gere were at a stay and then shee cared not whether shee were hanged or burnt or what did become of her." Annis Herd was another who stuck to her innocence. She could recall various incidents mentioned by her accusers; it was true that she had talked to Andrew West about getting a pig, it was
true that she had seen Mr. Harrison at his parsonage gathering plums and had asked for some and been refused. But she denied that she had any imps or that she had killed any one.

The use of evidence in this trial would lead one to suppose that in England no rules of evidence were yet in existence. The testimony of children ranging in age from six to nine was eagerly received. No objection indeed was made to the testimony of a neighbor who professed to have overheard what he deemed an incriminating statement. As a matter of fact the remark, if made, was harmless enough.[17] Expert evidence was introduced in a roundabout way by the statement offered in court that a physician had suspected that a certain case was witchcraft. Nothing was excluded. The garrulous women had been give free rein to pile up their silly accusations against one another. Not until the trial was nearing its end does it seem to have occurred to Brian Darcy to warn a woman against making false charges.

It will be recalled that in the Chelmsford trials Mother Waterhouse had been found to have upon her certain marks, yet little emphasis had been laid upon them. In the trials of 1582 the proof drawn from these marks was deemed of the first importance and the judge appointed juries of women to make examination. No artist has yet dared to paint the picture of the gloating female inquisitors grouped around their naked and trembling victim, a scene that was to be enacted in many a witch trial. And it is well, for the scene would be too repellent and brutal for reproduction. In the use of these specially instituted juries there was no care to get unbiassed decisions. One of the inquisitors appointed to examine Cystley Celles had already served as witness against her.

It is hard to refrain from an indictment of the hopelessly prejudiced justice who gathered the evidence.[18] To entrap the defendants seems to have been his end. In the account which he wrote[19] he seems to have feared lest the public should fail to understand how his cleverness ministered to the conviction of the women.[20]


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