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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

What happened at the April assizes we no not know


at Cambridge during the last

four years of James's reign; Osborne was a man of thirty-two when the king died, and had spent a part of his young manhood at the court. Their testimony was that of men who had every opportunity to know about the king's change of opinion.[47] In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must accept, at least provisionally, their statements.[48] And it is easier to do so in view of the marked falling off of prosecutions that we have already noted. This indeed is confirmation of a negative sort; but we have one interesting bit of affirmative proof, the outcome of the trials at York in 1622. In that year the children of Mr. Edward Fairfax, a member of the historic Fairfax family of Yorkshire, were seized with some strange illness, in which they saw again and again the spectres of six different women. These women were examined by the justices of the peace and committed to the assizes.[49] In the mean time they had found able and vigorous defenders in the community. What happened at the April assizes we no not know, but we know that four of the women were released, two of them on bond.[50] This was probably a compromise method of settling the matter. Fairfax was not satisfied. Probably through his influence the women were again brought up at the August assizes.[51] Then, at least, as we know beyond a doubt, they were formally tried, this time upon indictments preferred by Fairfax himself.[52] The judge warned the jury to be very careful, and, after hearing some of the evidence,
dismissed the women on the ground that the evidence "reached not to the point of the statute."[53] This seems significant. A man of a well known county family was utterly baffled in pressing charges in a case where his own children were involved.[54] It looks as if there were judges who were following the king's lead in looking out for imposture.[55] In any case there was, in certain quarters, a public sentiment against the conviction of witches, a sentiment that made itself felt. This we shall have occasion to note again in following out the currents and fluctuations of opinions.

[1] Of course the proof that some of the accused really made pretensions to magic rests upon their own confessions and their accusations of one another, and might be a part of an intricate tissue of falsehood. But, granting for the moment the absolute untrustworthiness of the confessions and accusations there are incidental statements which imply the practice of magic. For example, Elizabeth Device's young daughter quoted a long charm which she said her mother had taught her and which she hardly invented on the spur of the moment. And Demdike was requested to "amend a sick cow."

[2] The gunpowder plot, seven years earlier, no doubt gave direction to this plan, or, perhaps it would be better to say, gave the idea to those who confessed the plan.

[3] James Crossley seems to believe that there was "some scintilla of truth" behind the story. See his edition of Potts, notes, p. 40.

[4] Among those who never confessed seems to have been Chattox's daughter, Anne Redfearne.

[5] See above, p. 116.

[6] It is a satisfaction to know that Alice died "impenitent," and that not even her children could "move her to confesse."


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