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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

But Master Enger was responsible


In

another connection we spoke of two witches pardoned by local authorities at the instance of the government. This brings us to the question of jurisdiction. The town of Rye had but recently, it would seem, been granted a charter and certain judicial rights. But when the town authorities sentenced one woman to death and indicted another for witchcraft, the Lord Warden interfered with a question as to their power.[46] The town, after some correspondence, gave way and both women were pardoned. This was, however, the only instance of disputed jurisdiction. The local powers in King's Lynn hanged a witch without interference,[47] and the vicar-general of the Bishop of Durham proceeded against a "common charmer"[48] with impunity, as of course he had every right to do.

There is, in fact, a shred of evidence to show that the memory of ecclesiastical jurisdiction had not been lost. In the North Riding of Yorkshire the quarter sessions sentenced Ralph Milner for "sorcerie, witchcraft, inchantment and telling of fortunes" to confess his fault at divine service, "that he hath heighlie offended God and deluded men, and is heartily sorie."[49] There is nothing, of course, in the statute to authorize this form of punishment, and it is only accounted for as a reversion to the original ecclesiastical penalty for a crime that seemed to belong in church courts.

What we call nowadays mob law had not yet made its appearance--that

is, in connection with witchcraft. We shall see plenty of it when we come to the early part of the eighteenth century. But there was in 1613 one significant instance of independence of any jurisdiction, secular or ecclesiastical. In the famous case at Bedford, Master Enger, whom we have met before, had been "damnified" in his property to the round sum of L200. He was at length persuaded that Mother Sutton was to blame. Without any authority whatsoever he brought her forcibly to his house and caused her to be scratched.[50] Not only so, but he threw the woman and her daughter, tied and bound, into his mill-pond to prove their guilt.[51] In the mean time the wretched creatures had been stripped of their clothes and examined for marks, under whose oversight we are not told, but Master Enger was responsible. He should have suffered for all this, but there is no record of his having done so. On the contrary he carried the prosecution of the women to a successful issue and saw them both hanged.

We now turn to the question of the distribution of witchcraft in the realm during James's reign. From the incidental references already given, it will be evident that the trials were distributed over a wide area. In number executed, Lancashire led with ten, Leicester had nine, Northampton five or more, Middlesex four,[52] Bedford, Lincoln, York, Bristol, and Hertford each two; Derby had several, the exact number we can not learn. These figures of the more serious trials seem to show that the alarm was drifting from the southeast corner of England towards the midlands. In the last half of Elizabeth's rule the centre had been to the north of London in the southern midlands. Now it seems to have progressed to the northern midlands. Leicester, Derby, and Nottingham may be selected as the triangle of counties that would fairly represent the centre of the movement. If the matter were to be determined with mathematical accuracy, the centre would need to be placed perhaps a little farther west, for Stafford, Cheshire, Bristol, and the remote Welsh Carnarvon all experienced witch alarms. In the north, York and Durham had their share of trials.


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