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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

The exorcist had outdone himself


Darrel

had been sent for by this time. He came at once and with his usual precipitancy pronounced the case one of possession. Somers, he said, was suffering for the sins of Nottingham.[18] It was time that something should be done. Prayer and fasting were instituted. For three days the youth was preached to and prayed over, while the people of Nottingham, or some of them at least, joined in the fast. On the third day came what was deemed a most remarkable exhibition. The preacher named slowly, one after another, fourteen signs of possession. As he named them Somers illustrated in turn each form of possession.[19] Here was confirmatory evidence of a high order. The exorcist had outdone himself. He now held out promises of deliverance for the subject. For a quarter of an hour the boy lay as if dead, and then rose up quite well.

Darrel now took up again the witchfinder's role he had once before assumed. Somers was encouraged to name the contrivers of his bewitchment. Through him, Darrel is said to have boasted, they would expose all the witches in England.[20] They made a most excellent start at it. Thirteen women were accused by the boy,[21] who would fall into fits at the sight of a witch, and a general invitation was extended to prefer charges. But the community was becoming a bit incredulous and failed to respond. All but two of the accused women were released.

The witch-discoverer, who in the meantime had been chosen

preacher at St. Mary's in Nottingham, made two serious mistakes. He allowed accusations to be preferred against Alice Freeman, sister of an alderman,[22] and he let Somers be taken out of his hands. By the contrivance of some citizens who doubted the possession, Somers was placed in the house of correction, on a trumped-up charge that he had bewitched a Mr. Sterland to death.[23] Removed from the clergyman's influence, he made confession that his possessions were pretended.[24] Darrel, he declared, had taught him how to pretend. The matter had now gained wide notoriety and was taken up by the Anglican church. The archdeacon of Derby reported the affair to his superiors, and the Archbishop of York appointed a commission to examine into the case.[25] Whether from alarm or because he had anew come under Darrel's influence, Somers refused to confess before the commission and again acted out his fits with such success that the commission seems to have been convinced of the reality of his possession.[26] This was a notable victory for the exorcist.

But Chief-Justice Anderson of the court of common pleas was now commencing the assizes at Nottingham and was sitting in judgment on the case of Alice Freeman. Anderson was a man of intense convictions. He believed in the reality of witchcraft and had earlier sent at least one witch to the gallows[27] and one to prison.[28] But he was a man who hated Puritanism with all his heart, and would at once have suspected Puritan exorcism. Whether because the


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