Witch trial!

Remember when I talked about Francois Villon and that somehow-authentic sound  that old court records seem to have? These ones are from Little Oakley in Essex, which was the site of one of the burials I studied in my thesis. If it weren’t for the fact that people got the jail and even died, witch trials would be some funny stuff. Consider, for instance, this excerpt from the testimony of Annis Herd, an accused witch: 

The said Annis Herd saith, that she told one of her neighbours that the churle (meaning Cartwrite) had carried away a bough which she had laid over a flowe in the high way, and saide that she was faine to goe up to the anckle every steppe, and that shee said hee had beene as good he had not caried it away, for she would fetch as much wood out of his hedges as that doeth come unto. And she saith also that she remembreth she came unto goodman Wad, & telled him that she was presented into the spirituall court for a witch … 

Also she confesseth yt Lannes wife gave her a pinte of milk & lent her a dish to carie it home in, & that she kept the dishe a fortnight or longer, & then sent it home by her girle, & also that Lannes wife came to her for ii. d. which shee ought her. 

… but denieth that she hath any imps Aveses or blackebirds, or any kine called Crowe or Donne: And all and every other thing in generall, or that shee is a witch or have any skill therein.

On the one hand, it’s comedy gold: a pint of milk? Crime of the century. The 16th century, that is. But on the other hand … look, if you are a 16th-century Essex housewife, maybe do not tell anyone that you were presented into the spirituall court for a witch. Like, that’s almost weirder than thinking you’re a witch, isn’t it? Going around saying you are? 

Mind you, not all contemporaries were convinced by this whole witch idea, either on evidentiary or theological grounds. This excerpt comes from another 16th century source, a pamphlet called The Discoverie of Witchcraft

My question is not (as manie fondlie suppose) whether there be witches or naie: but whether they can doo such miraculous works as are imputed unto them … O Maister Archdeacon, is it not pities, that that which is said to be doone with the almightie power of the most high God, and by our saviour his onelie sonne Jesus Crhist our Lord, should be referred to a baggage old womans nod or wish, &c? … If witches could helpe whom they are said to have made sicke, I see no reason, but remedie might as well be required at their hands, as a pursse demanded of him that hath stolne it. But trulie is is manifold idolatrie, to aske that of a creature, which none can give but the Creator. The papist hath some colour of scripture to mainteine his idoll of bread, but no Jesuiticall distinction can cover the witchmongers idolatrie in this behalfe. Alas, I am sorie and ashamed to see how manie die, that being said to be bewitched, onelie seeke for magicall cures, whom wholesome diet and good medicines would have recovered.

Again, I have nothing to say here except that I adore the insult “baggage” and would like to see it used more often. 

Don’t forget! My talk at Treadwell’s is coming up on Monday!

Witch trial!