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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

Samuel Fairclough and Edmund Calamy the elder


as a result of his inability

to get along with those around him. As a young man he had been summoned to appear before the synod at Ipswich for not conforming to the rites of the Established Church.[25] In the first year of Charles's reign he had been indicted for refusing to exhibit his musket,[26] and he had twice later been indicted for witchcraft and once as a common imbarritor.[27] The very fact that he had been charged with witchcraft before would give color to the charge when made in 1645. We have indeed a clue to the motives for this accusation. A parishioner and a neighboring divine afterwards gave it as their opinion that "Mr. Lowes, being a litigious man, made his parishioners (too tenacious of their customs) very uneasy, so that they were glad to take the opportunity of those wicked times to get him hanged, rather than not get rid of him." Hopkins had afforded them the opportunity. The witchfinder had taken the parson in hand. He had caused him to be kept awake several nights together, and had run him backwards and forwards about the room until he was out of breath. "Then they rested him a little and then ran him again, and this they did for several days and nights together, till he was weary of his life and scarce sensible of what he said or did."[28] He had, when first accused, denied all charges and challenged proof, but after he had been subjected to these rigorous methods he made a full confession. He had, he said, sunk a sailing vessel of Ipswich, making fourteen widows in a quarter of an
hour. The witchfinder had asked him if it did not grieve him to see so many men cast away in a short time, and he answered: "No, he was joyfull to see what power his Impes had."[29] He had, he boasted, a charm to keep him out of gaol and from the gallows. It is too bad that the crazed man's confidence in his charm was misplaced. His whole wild confession is an illustration of the effectiveness of the torture. His fate is indicative of the hysteria of the times and of the advantages taken of it by malicious people. It was his hostility to the ecclesiastical and political sympathies of his community that caused his fall.

The dementia induced by the torture in Lowes's case showed itself in the case of others, who made confessions of long careers of murder. "These and all the rest confessed that cruell malice ... was their chiefe delight." The accused were being forced by cruel torture to lend their help to a panic which exceeded any before or after in England. From one hundred and thirty to two hundred people[30] were soon under accusation and shut up in Bury gaol.

News of this reached a Parliament in London that was very much engrossed with other matters. We cannot do better than to quote the Puritan biographer Clarke.[31] "A report was carried to the Parliament ... as if some busie men had made use of some ill Arts to extort such confession; ... thereupon a special Commission of Oyer and Terminer was granted for the trial of these Witches." Care was to be used, in gathering evidence, that confessions should be voluntary and should be backed by "many collateral circumstances." There were to be no convictions except upon proof of express compact with the Devil, or upon evidence of the use of imps, which implied the same thing. Samuel Fairclough and Edmund Calamy (the elder), both of them Non-Conformist clergymen of Suffolk,[32] together with Serjeant John Godbolt and the justices of the peace, were to compose this special court. The court met about the end of August, a month after the sessions under Warwick at Chelmsford, and was opened by two sermons preached by Mr. Fairclough in Bury church. One of the first things done by the special court, quite possibly at the instigation of the two clergymen, was to put an end to the swimming test,[33] which had been used on several of the accused, doubtless by the authority of the justices of the peace. This was of course in some sense a blow at Hopkins. Nevertheless a great deal of the evidence which he had gathered must have been taken into account. Eighteen persons, including two men,[34] were condemned to be hanged.[35] On the night before their execution, they were confined in a barn, where they made an agreement not to confess a word at the gallows the following day, and sang a psalm in confirmation. Next day they "dyed ... very desperately."[36] But there were still one hundred and twenty others in gaol[37] awaiting trial. No doubt many forthwith would have met the same end, had it not been for a lucky chance of the wars. The king's forces were approaching and the court hastened to adjourn its sessions.[38]


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