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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome


We have already referred to the widespread interest in the Lancashire witches. There are two good illustrations of this interest. When Sir William Brereton was travelling in Holland in June of 1634, a little while before the four women had been brought to London, he met King Charles's sister, the Queen of Bohemia, and at once, apparently, they began to talk about the great Lancashire discovery.[30] The other instance of comment on the case was in England. It is one which shows that playwrights were quite as eager then as now to be abreast of current topics. Before final judgment had been given on the Lancashire women, Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome, well known dramatists, had written a play on the subject which was at once published and "acted at the Globe on the Bankside by His Majesty's Actors." By some it has been supposed that this play was an older play founded on the Lancashire affair of 1612 and warmed over in 1634; but the main incidents and the characters of the play are so fully copied from the depositions of the young Robinson and from the charges preferred against Mary Spencer, Frances Dickonson, and Margaret Johnson, that a layman would at once pronounce it a play written entirely to order from the affair of 1634. Nothing unique in the stories was left out. The pail incident--of course without its rational explanation--was grafted into the play and put upon the stage. Indeed, a marriage that afforded the hook upon which to hang a bundle of indecencies, and the story of a virtuous husband who discovers his wife to be a witch, were the only added motives of importance. For our purpose the significance of the play lies of course in its testimony to the general interest--the people of London were obviously familiar with the details, even, of the charges--and its probable reflection of London opinion about the case. Throughout the five acts there were those who maintained that there were no witches, a recognition of the existence of such an opinion. Of course in the play they were all, before the curtain fell, convinced of their error. The authors, who no doubt catered to public sentiment, were not as earnest as the divines of their day, but they were almost as superstitious. Heywood showed himself in another work, _The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels_,[31] a sincere believer in witchcraft and backed his belief by the Warboys case. Probably he had read Scot, but he was not at all the type of man to set himself against the tide. _The late Lancashire Witches_ no doubt expressed quite accurately London opinion. It was written, it will be remembered, before the final outcome of the case could be foreseen. Perhaps Heywood foresaw it, more probably he was sailing close to the wind of opinion when he wrote in the epilogue,

... "Perhaps great mercy may, After just condemnation, give them day Of longer life."

It is easy in discussing the Lancashire affair to miss a central figure. Frances Dickonson, Mary Spencer, and the others, could they have known it, owed their lives in all probability to the intellectual independence of William Harvey. There


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