The Witch Trail

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The Witch Trail

NOTORIOUS CASES

 

THE NORTH BERWICK WITCHES

Accused of brewing a storm to wreck the ship on which James VI of Scotland was sailing homeward with his new bride, Anne of Denmark. The ship that did not make it, succumbing to the storm, it was claimed, was the wrong vessel.

David Seaton, the deputy bailiff of Trenant in East Lothian was suspicious of a servant in his employment. Gilly Duncan had taken to leaving the house at night without permission, and when questioned, would not say where she had been. Seaton even used thumbscrews on the woman to extract information, but to no avail.

Under further inspection, a mole was found on her neck. This supposedly being the devil's mark, she was interrogated further. She then confessed to being in a coven and named other members. She gave a garbled account of a plot against the king's life in which the Earl of Bothwell was the ringleader. The Earl was the king's cousin and next in line to the throne as James had not yet produced any heirs. The Earl was suspected of being the coven leader, always remaining in disguise at meetings.

Gilly named many people, but only four were put on trial. These were a young schoolmaster at Saltpans, Dr. John Fien; the daughter of Lord Cliftonhall, Euphemia MacLean; a midwife from Keith, Agnes Sampson, who was sought after for her medical remedies; and a local woman, Barbara Napier.

Dr. Fien confessed under torture, though not thought adequate in England, any method could be used in Scotland to extract a statement and information. He later recanted, but the execution was carried out and he was strangled and burned at Edinburgh's Castle Hill in January 1591.

Agnes Sampson was examined and questioned at Holyrood House in the presence of King James, who took a great interest in the matter. In fact, he became so interested in the subject that his first-hand involvement led to him personally writing a book. This was to become a bible for witch-hunters, no more so than Matthew Hopkins.

Agnes Sampson and Euphemia MacLean were both sentenced to death which was carried out on Castle Hill. Barbara Napier was imprisoned but later released.

Having being placed in Edinburgh Castle, the Earl of Bothwell escaped to Naples where it is said he continued to practice his magic, and where he died in poverty thirty-four years later.

 

THE WARBOYS WITCHES

In 1593 the Huntingdon Assizes put three accused witches on trial. This was all on the evidence of a 10-year-old girl named Jane Throgmorton from a prosperous family at Warboys. Coming down with a mystery illness, she was visited by Alice Samuel, a concerned neighbour. Jane did not like the old woman and said she was a witch. Within months, other children of the Throgmorton family fell ill with the same symptoms as Jane, sneezing, shivers, and fits. The family doctor could find no reason or cause. When witchcraft was suggested, he agreed that could also be the case.

The children's symptoms grew no better, and strangely seemed to worsen in the presence of strangers. Alice Samuel was under suspicion and was not pleased when Lady Cromwell (a relative of Oliver Cromwell), snipped some of her hair and gave it to the Throgmortons to burn. That night Lady Cromwell had a dream that she was being attacked by a cat sent by Alice Samuel. She was taken ill soon afterwards, an illness which lasted for 15-months before she died.

All this time the Throgmorton family harassed Alice Samuel, wanting her to confess to being a witch, and to remove the spell. Presumably, to appease them, she confessed in the presence of the Bishop of Lincoln but later retracted her statement. In fury, the Throgmortons had her arrested along with her husband John and daughter, Agnes. The three family members were accused of bewitching the Throgmorton children and using sorcery to bring about the death of Lady Cromwell. Confessions were obtained by means of the usual treatment. It was on these confessions they were found guilty and hanged at Huntingdon.

 

THE WITCHES OF PENDLE

Gallows were built a mile outside of the town of Lancaster for three generations of witches from two families. There, on the 20th of August 1612, they were hanged. They ranged from an 80-year-old woman to teenage children. One, Mother Demdike, a frail 80-year-old, cheated the hangman by dying in prison at Lancaster Castle gaol.

It was while out begging that the granddaughter, Alizon, asked a peddler for pins. When he refused, she cursed him, and shortly afterwards he suffered a stroke. Though in an unfit state, he managed to live long enough to give evidence at the trial.

The local magistrate, Roger Nowell, took charge and it seems he amassed confessions with ease. He soon had enough evidence to convict Alizon, her grandmother, and nine others.

The witches were charged with the desecration of graves, communication with imps and familiars, and plotting to blow up Lancaster Castle by the use of magic. The family as a whole, were alleged to have committed at least sixteen murders, and all this took from March to August when the trial began. Jennet Demdike, a 9-year-old was called to give evidence against her own family.

 

THE WITCHES OF BELVOIR CASTLE

At Lincoln, on the 11th of March 1618, the two daughters of Joan Flower, Margaret and Philippa, were hanged for crimes using witchcraft. It was claimed they were also in league with Anne Baker, Joan Willimot, and Ellen Green.

Having worked at Belvoir Castle for the Earl of Rutland, when Margaret was dismissed for pilfering, Joan Flower was said to have publicly cursed the family.

It was shortly after this that the two children of the Earl and Countess took ill and died, one after the other.

Confessions were extracted with Joan Flower admitting to killing the children by means of witchcraft. She later recanted and asked for bread and butter, saying that if she were guilty, may it choke her. With all the tricks of the trade for denouncing witches, and the methods used to extract distorted confessions, it is not unlikely that the food was poisoned. Joan Flower died, which gave proof of her guilt. Her two daughters were put on trial and hanged.

The two sons of the Earl of Rutland are entombed in the church of St. Mary the Virgin with an inscription stating they died by sorcery.

 

THE HELLFIRE CLUB

West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire is said to have been the meeting place of The Hellfire Club, Here, there was orgies, rituals in the black arts, and sacrifices of all kinds. Sir Francis Dashwood owned the park in 1755, and founded a society of Knights of Sir Francis, which was later better known as The Hellfire Club. The membership was limited to twenty-four men of high social standing. During the summer months they used Medmensham Abbey as a meeting place.

Dashwood also had caves cut out in the hillside at West Wycombe where most of the rituals were said to have taken place. He also had a mausoleum built in which he was interred when he died in 1781. The Hellfire Club by that time had long been disbanded in 1763.

Though these activities were not illegal, the law on witchcraft being repealed in 1736, this type of thing was still frowned upon. The members were titled gentry, had social standing, and money, which allowed them to flaunt the old laws of witchcraft without having a mob on a lynching mission.

Paranormal X 2000 - 2012

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