“Ioane Cunny, liuing very lewdly, hauing two lewde Daughters, no better then naughty packs, had two Bastard Children: beeing both boyes, these two Children were cheefe witnesses, and gaue in great euidence against their Grandam and Mothers, the eldest being about 10. or 12. yeeres of age. Against this Mother Cunny the elder Boye gaue in this euideoce which she herselfe after confessed, that she going to Braintye Market, came to one Harry Finches house, to demaund some drink, his wife being busie and a brewing, tolde her she had no leysure to giue her any. Then Ioane Cunnye went away discontented: and at night Finches wife was greeuously taken in her head, and the next day in her side, and so continued in most horrible paine for the space of a week, and then dyed.” 
In 1589 Joan Cunny and her two daughters, Avice and Margaret, all from Stisted, Essex, were brought before the Summer Assizes in Chelmsford charged with witchcraft. Undoubtedly the two daughters, by having illegitimate children, lived outside the “norms” of Elizabethan society: a society where it has been estimated that only one to four percent of the population were illegitimate. Joan and Avice were charged with causing people to die by witchcraft – a crime punishable by the death penalty and Margaret was accused of the lesser offences of two counts of bewitchment. All three women were found guilty: Joan and Avice were sentenced to hang and Margaret sentenced to one year (and six appearances in the stocks). Joan was hanged immediately after her trial but Avice had pleaded pregnancy and, as she was found to be pregnant by a jury of matrons (which included Joan Robinson who had been implicated in the St Oysth witch-trials of 1582). Avice was hung the following year after the birth of her child. Joan’s crime, along with two other convicted Essex witches, was duly retold in a contemporary pamphlet “The arraignment and execution of three detestable witches”.
The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex, 1589
(Joan Cunny, Joan Upney and Joan Prentice)
The Cunny family of witches was just one small example of the witchcraft trials which took place within England at the regular county Assizes between the first Elizabethan witchcraft statute of 1562 (an “Act against Conjuracions Inchantments and Witchecraftes”) and the harsher 1604 Jacobean witchcraft act (an “Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealinge with evil and wicked Spirits”) which was finally repealed in 1735. Today, these witchcraft cases are much studied by historians and anthropologists both through official records such as the Assizes and Quarter Sessions accounts and unofficial accounts, such as contemporary treatises and pamphlets, in the quest to provide a picture of life and relationships within sixteenth and seventeenth century communities of England.
Contemporary people throughout England and Europe were fascinated by witches and the perception of malicious harm caused to both people and animals by people practising witchcraft. It seems that all levels of society believed in “witches” from King James I of England (who, as James VI of Scotland, wrote “Daemonologie” (1597), an influential treatise on the subject) to the victims and witnesses who reported their former friends and neighbours as witches to the authorities. In addition to the contemporary pamphlets that appeared after notorious and high profile cases such as the 1566 pamphlet describing the Hatfield Peverel witches, there were also tracts written by influential writers and contemporary clergymen. Some, such as Reginald Scot (a Kent JP) were highly skeptical about witchcraft: in 1584 he wrote “The Discovery of Witchcraft” putting over his opinion that “If it were true that witches confesse, or that all writers write or that witchmongers report, or that fooles believe, we should never have butter in the chearne, nor cow in the close, nor corne in the field, nor faire weather abroad, nor helth within doores.” Others, such as George Gifford, the vicar of Malden, Essex, writing in 1593 in his pamphlet A dialog concerning witches and witchcraftconfirmed the view that witchcraft existed: “there be two or three [witches] in our town which I like not, but especially an old woman. I have bene as careful to please her as ever I was to please mine own mother, and to give her ever and anon one thing or other, and yet methinks she frownes at me now and then.
Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogie, Divided into three Bookes,
James VI of Scotland, 1597
Discovery of Witchcraft, Reginald Scot, 1584
Bewitched ship from Discovery of Witchcraft,
Reginald Scot, 1584
In recent times, witchcraft in early modern England has been much studied by many eminent historians and anthropologists such as Alan MacFarlane, Keith Thomas, Robin Briggs and James Sharpe. An explanation for witchcraft that modern historians such as Thomas and MacFarlane have put forward is that the accusations occurred when there were disputes between neighbours. Thomas observed: “[this was a] tightly-knit, intolerant world with which the witch had parted company. She was the extreme example of the malignant or non-conforming person against whom the local community had always taken punitive action in the interests of social harmony.” He further remarks that when there was a breakdown of the mutual help that many English villagers relied on during this period, accusations of witchcraft often followed.
In addition to these socio-economic based questions, questions about gender relations within these tight-knit communities have been asked. These gender questions have ranged from the Marxist and feminist view that the witchcraft trials were “a ruling class campaign of terror against the female peasant population” to the view that witchcraft was “something which operated with the female social and cultural spheres, or, at least, as a specifically female form of power”. As Marion Gibson observes “The stories in the pamphlets make it hard to escape the conclusion that witch prosecution was often an expression of fears of supposed female power as well as a distaste for the uneducated, impious and criminal “worser sort” and an expression of frustration from the young to the old”.
The ability to be able to stand on water – an example of the threat of female power?
Front cover of the pamphlet A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch, 1643.
From the records of the witchcraft trials, can a modern day historian ask gender questions from primary source data, for example, what were the attitudes towards women from other females and males? Perhaps more specifically, can enquiries be made such as: if there were problems within the village and within that community there lived a female who lived outside the “norm” of contemporary society (for example, having illegitimate children or were fornicating with men outside of marriage), were they more likely to be accused of performing acts of witchcraft? Or, was an act of witchcraft one of the few ways that a contemporary female asserted her power over her fellow neighbours? Or were the witchcraft persecutions “an officially sanctioned bid to control… and to reassert male power over women”? Looking at the relatively few males accused of witchcraft, can the data from the records be used to establish that males only practised witchcraft in conjunction with other (female) witches or were they also “being accused for independent acts of malefic witchcraft”?
An example of male power over females.
From A brief treastise, by Richard Galis, 1579
My study is to examine this rich area of the English witchcraft trials to perform an analysis of gender and female power within the sixteenth century and attempt to answer the questions posed above. Two principle sources for providing information about the accused witches have been used; the first is research undertaken by Professor C L’Estrange Ewen in the 1920s and published in his book “Witch Hunting and Witch Trials: The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1559-1736” and the other source are the contemporary pamphlets and treatises. Whilst Ewen’s work is the main basis for the primary source data to be analysed, the contemporary pamphlets and writings have been used to gain further data for inclusion.
The information from the pamphlets has to be handled with some caution as they are often accounts that were written for contemporary people and thus are prejudiced towards the accused witches (as can be seen in the extract at the start of this essay). Moreover, the accounts may be written by more than one person and might have been written from second-hand information with the writer(s)’ own bias evident. For example, the 1582 trial pamphlet for the St Oysth’s trials is thought to have been written by the local JP, Brian Darcy, who examined the accused before sending them to trial at the Assizes. However they do provide us with contemporary attitudes and more details about some of the witches then the official records alone can provide.
Turning now to the main source of data to be analysed in my study: Ewen was a historian working in the 1920s when he transcribed and calendared from the original documents details of indictments from Assize trials held in the English counties of Essex, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Hertford for witchcraft for the period 1562 to 1736 (although his book does detail two acquitted witches from 1560). Keith Thomas comments that Ewen was “The first scholar to go beyond the printed sources to the actual records of witchcraft prosecution …[his work] was very high scholarly quality and the essential starting-point for any analysis of English witch-prosecution.” Alan MacFarlane extensively used Ewen’s work as the basis of his 1960s historical and anthropological study “Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England”. James Sharpe commented on the validity of Ewen’s work: “Neglected during his lifetime, Ewen’s researches are now regarded as path breaking”. Therefore, there is soundness in using the results of research (in effect, a secondary source) carried out eighty years ago to be the basis of a study to examine gender and witchcraft in early modern England.
Front cover of Ewen’s 1929 book showing the famous picture of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, from his 1647 pamphlet, The discovery of witches.
From Witch hunting and witch trials, by C L’estrange Ewen, 1929
Ewen’s work has limitations: he was only able to calendar approximately 77% of the original documents. Also, as he was obviously only able to transcribe records of trials that physically took place, there are not any records of people accused of witchcraft but who were not subsequently brought to the Assizes (although some of this people can be found in the pamphlets). Also, Ewen only calendared the Assize records and not records from other courts such as the Quarter Sessions, Ecclesiastical or Borough Courts as detailed by MacFarlane. Another weakness is that according to Ewen “Before the reign of Charles I it was not the practice to file bills thrown out by the grand jury”; therefore if an accused witch’s charges were dismissed by the court, s/he would still have been held and charged as a witch but no record would have been retained in the record offices and the existence of these people can only be gleaned from the pamphlets.
A further complication is that the indictments for Essex “outnumber those of the four counties of Herts, Kent, Surrey and Sussex combined”. Ewen’s original comments were that the Essex Assize rolls and gaol records survived better but MacFarlane refutes this when he conducted further analysis of files at the PRO and found that the number of records “missing” for each county were Surrey (thirty-six), Kent (forty-two), Essex (forty-three), Sussex (fifty-one), Herts (sixty-five) prompting his comment “Within the Home Circuit, [prosecutions in] Essex was exceptional, though other counties all had their prosecutions”.
For the purpose of my study, only to be used are the indictments for the county of Essex for the years 1560 (the date of the first trial that Ewen records) to 1603 (the first year of James I’s reign and the final year of the Elizabethan witchcraft act before a new harsher Jacobean act was passed in 1604). These years have also been chosen because, in James Sharpe’s words, “Despite the passing of the 1604 Witchcraft Act, witch trials were in decline in England by the early seventeenth century”. Moreover the activities of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, in 1645 would distort the results if data from these years of extreme witch-hunting were included.
The indictments for this time span gives the result of approximately 178 people (18 males and 159 females) accused of witchcraft from a total of 336 indictments. A full breakdown of the verdicts for the 336 indictments is shown in the table below. For those found guilty, fifty-eight were executed, another two were sentenced to be hanged but died of the plague in gaol and a further three were sentenced to be hanged but were reprieved before execution and their sentence commuted to imprisonment. The percentages also show that only 4.7% bills were not endorsed (ie the case was dismissed) – possibly a false percentage with the real number being a lot higher as the majority of non-endorsed indictments were not kept.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603
To gain an overall picture of witchcraft within Essex of this period, the graph below shows the five yearly numbers of people tried and subsequently hanged for witchcraft. From this graph, it can be seen that there were three main crisis periods for both the number of indictments and executions: 1580-84, 1590-94 and 1600-03. 1582 was a peak year for prosecutions when fifteen people were tried at Chelmsford for witchcraft practised in St Oysth and its surrounding villages. Thomas quantifies this figure further with: “At the Essex Assizes in the 1580s, a peak period, witchcraft cases formed thirteen per cent of all the criminal business”. Whilst these figures do show a large majority of witches as being female, this graph only starts to answer some of the questions regarding female power in connection with witchcraft.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603, five year totals
It has been estimated that in early modern England, only 20 to 25% of accused witches were male. In the time period of my study, eighteen male witches were found in the Assizes records – a little over 10% of the total number of accused witches perhaps showing that it was only after the harsher Jacobean witchcraft act of 1604 that more men were accused. These figures have to be used in conjunction with the figures for female witches to provide some answers as to the sphere of female power within sixteenth century England.
The table below shows that 77.36% of female witches were working independently and only 4.4% of female witches worked with men. In comparison, 44.44% of male witches worked independently and 44.44% had female accomplices. Could these percentages be interpreted that contemporary people viewed English witchcraft as a crime which was mainly perpetrated by women working alone and if a witch was male then he would possibly have a female accomplice? If this was the case then this evidence would bear weight to an argument that witchcraft in England was viewed as a female crime and by a woman’s power, they could manipulate males into joining their “craft”. Therefore, then, witchcraft was a very strong form of female power.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Relationships between accused witches
James Sharpe has commented that “when male and female witches are being contrasted, it is essential to be specific about exactly what form of occult activities they were suspected of”. Did women perform different types of witchcraft to men and thus their differing acts show the type of power that females had during the Elizabethan age? The graph below shows the breakdown of types of witchcraft performed by each sex. This shows that males and females had roughly the same amount of indictments for witchcraft involving animals – 22.9% for females and 25.7% for males. As the England of this period had a market economy based on agriculture and many men and women had occupations based within agriculture, perhaps these figures show that one way to get revenge over a neighbour who had denied charity was to bewitch or kill his animals. This substantiates Thomas and MacFarlane’s thesis of witchcraft being sometimes a desire for revenge. An interesting feature shown in the graph is that, despite a female witch’s curses and mutterings, she did not practise invocation and sorcery – there were not any recorded instances of these acts by females whereas 20% of male indictments were for these two distinct forms of witchcraft.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Types of witchcraft acts
With regard to female power, of particular interest is that 58% of female acts of witchcraft had children as the victims, whilst only 5.7% of indictments for males had child victims (the figures are fifty-six indictments for the former and only two indictments for the latter). Raising children in the sixteenth century was very much the sphere of the female(s) of the house. By having child victims, despite the sex of the victim, can it be perceived that witchcraft against children was an act from one woman (the witch) to another (the victim’s mother)? Males perhaps would not have been interested in child victims as this act could be seen as an act of witchcraft from a “superior” male to an “inferior” female. Unfortunately the indictments do not give any indication as to whether the child victim’s mother was dead or still alive at the time of the witchcraft – if this information was available this theory could be given more credit. Further proof of this sphere of female power can be seen in the 1582 account of the St Oysth trial. Grace Thurlowe gave evidence against Ursula Kemp and related how she (Grace) gave birth to a child nearly a year previously. Grace refused to allow Ursula to wet-nurse her child and the child at the age of three months fell out of its crib and broke its neck. This would appear to be a two-way process of “female power”. Ursula was annoyed with Grace so used her “powers” to “murder” Grace’s child: Grace was perhaps not looking after her child properly, and had to blame someone for the accident, and not wanting to blame herself, accused Ursula of the child’s murder. Strong female power emitting from both the perpetrator and the victim?
The use of child witnesses related to the accused witch also provides an interesting slant to the hypothesis that witchcraft was an act of female power. Unfortunately the Assize records for this period do not list the names of witnesses: if they did, they would list a great number of children under the age of eighteen whose testimony was used against their mother. These child witnesses can be found in the majority of the trial pamphlets without any contemporary comments on the unsuitability of such young witnesses. At the start of this paper, it was related how the illegitimate children of Avice and Margaret Cunny testified against their grandmother and mothers. In 1579, Ellen Smith’s twelve year old son was called as a witness against his mother and in 1582 several of the witnesses St Oysth witchcraft were very young – Cecilia Celles’ two sons were aged nine and “six and three-quarters” and both were called as witnesses against their mother. Perhaps the use of children as witnesses against their mother can be seen as further evidence as to the way a female exercised her power as a witch when she was going about her daily duties thus giving more evidence to the supposition that the “classic image of a witch was that of the bad mother. She was supposed to kill children …. rather than protect and nourish them.” Acorruption of female power?Incredibly, the St Oysth trial used the evidence of a babe in arms “the saide childe beeing an infante and not a yeere olde, the mother thereof carrying it in her armes, to one mother Ratcliffes a neighbour of hers, to haue her to minister vnto it, was to passe by Ursley this examinates house, and passing bye the wyndowe, the Infante cryed to the mother, wo, wo, and poynted with the finger to the wyndowe wardes: And likewise the chyld vsed the like as shee passed homewards by the said window”. This abuse of a woman’s power by her being a witch had to be stopped by whatever means or method.
A detection of damnable drifts practized by three witches arraigned
at Chlemifforde in Essex, in the Countye of Essex, 1579.
Front cover of the pamphlet on the trial of Elizabeth Fraunces of Hatfield Peverel,
Ellen Smith of Maldon, Alice Nokes of Lambert (Lambourne).
Mother Staunton of Wimbish was also tried but found not guilty.
As has been discussed, from the graph showing Types of Witchcraft, it can be seen that witchcraft, in the main, was practiced by females: in contrast “cunning folk” appeared to be chiefly male. Cunning folk were practising acts such as soothsaying, healing, finding lost goods and anti-witch activities, which can perhaps be termed by modern day commentators as “white” or “good” witches. MacFarlane produced a table of “Cunning folk whose names are mentioned in the Essex Records”. Analysing this for the period 1560-1603 provides the following figures: forty-two people are mentioned in the table of which twenty-eight were male and fourteen were female (66% males and 33% females). Two female cunning women were eventually charged with witchcraft and hanged (Margery Skelton executed in 1571 and Ursula Kemp in 1582). Four cunning men were also subsequently charged with witchcraft, none of which were hanged and two were acquitted. This raises the question that did contemporary people consider a man’s part in “cunning/witchcraft” activity more acceptable so he was less likely to be prosecuted as a witch? Another possible cunning woman that does not appear in MacFarlane’s table was Elizabeth Lowys of Waltham who has hanged for witchcraft in 1564. According to the deposition of Agnes Devenyshe, “[Agnes] went to the said Lewys’ wife’s house, and they talked about a sore arm of hers. And she, Lewys, counselled her to go to a woman under Munckewood, and going there, the folks told her that she was a witch….” So she was a women that had seemingly over stepped the line of being a cunning women and had become a witch. Whilst cunning folk might have been more tolerated in Elizabethan times, this changed so that the 1604 statute had more severe penalties for crimes that might have been carried out by “cunning folk”. This was in line with the view of “Protestant theologians that “good” witches drew their powers from the devil as certainly as did the wicked ones, and should suffer accordingly”. But certainly during the period 1562 to 1603 the figures appear to show that male cunning folk were relatively acceptable but female witches were not.
Looking now at the ages of witches: ages were not recorded on the indictments so actual ages or an impression of a person’s age can only be extracted from pamphlets. Can the ages of witches be used to show female power as “an expression of frustration from the young to the old” (and vice-versa) and/or, as suggested by Sharpe, were there negative attitudes toward post-menopausal women? From the table below, it can be seen how difficult it is to determine the ages of the accused witches and that from the evidence used within my study it would be extremely hard to make any firm analysis. However, it does give an overall impression that witchcraft did not appear to have had any age boundaries: woman were practising at all ages – not forgetting also that many women such as Agnes Waterhouse, although 63 years old at the time of her execution, had been practising for twenty-five years and Elizabeth Frances learnt her craft when she was twelve.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Ages
Marital status of witches could also be used to understand female power during the sixteenth century. Similar to ages, this is also another category that is hard to quantify as many of the indictments show the words “spinster” then detail the name of the “spinster’s” husband. However, as the table below shows, of the forty-eight women where the marital status is known, 69% were married and 31% were widowed. This finding would correlate with MacFarlane’s conclusion that, over the longer period of 1560-1680, 40% were widows and would confirm his opinion that widowhood was a serious problem but that widowhood alone was not enough to make villagers accuse someone of witchcraft.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Marital status of females
Furthermore, the figures in the above table show that having the “male protection” of a husband was not enough security against the accusation of witchcraft. So witches exercised their female power over other people even if a husband was present. This appeared to be the case of Cecilia Celles whose husband believed his wife was a witch: when his son told him that he had seen imps, he said to his wife “why thou whore cannot you keepe your impes from my childre~[…] whereat shee presently called it away fro~ her sonne” Unfortunately for Henry Celles, believing that his wife as a witch was not enough to save him from the same accusations: he was also accused of witchcraft (arson) and held in gaol in Colchester but was released on bail before the Assizes took place. He is an example of a male that became implicated through the actions of his wife. 
Colchester Castle in the 1840s, by Thomas Dugdale, c1848.
County gaol and final home for many of Essex’s Tudor witches.
Postcard c1901-1910 of Colchester Castle
Having examined the larger picture of all the witchcraft indictments for 1560 to 1603 within Essex, examining a small pocket of witchcraft can give further insight into sixteenth century female power. The small village of Hatfield Peverel appeared to be a strong hold of either witchcraft practices or the belief in witchcraft (or perhaps both). The table below shows the ten witches accused of witchcraft over a twenty-three year period, all of whom were living in Hatfield Peverel – 5.78% of the total number of Essex people indicted for witchcraft between 1560 and 1603. Two Essex pamphlets (1566 and 1579) have been used in my study in conjunction with the data from the Assizes to construct a family of four (possibly six) witches which spanned four generations living within Hatfield Peverel – the diagram below shows their relationships. From these pamphlets we have a small insight into prevailing attitudes both towards religion and the possible heredity nature of witchcraft – or at least that witchcraft was something that could be learnt from other family members.
Four generations of witches living in Hatfield Peverel in the 1560s and 1570s.
Pictures are from the 1566 trial pamphlet.
Rosen linked Agnes Waterhouse and Elizabeth Frances as sisters via the 1566 and 1579 trial pamphlets. Agnes Frances has not been previously linked to Elizabeth Frances but she had the same surnname and was operating as witch at the same time in the same area – it is therefore possible that they related by birth or marriage.
Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – the Hatfield Peveral witches
Looking first at witchcraft being perceived as hereditary: Thomas comments: “The idea that witchcraft went in families and might be hereditary was often put forward”. A 1652 pamphlet stated: “Some there were that wished rather then they might be burnt to ashes, alleging, that it was a received opinion amongst many that, the body of a witch being burnt, her blood is prevented thereby from becoming hereditary to her progeny in the same evil, which by hanging was not.” There is further evidence that witchcraft was not seen to be heredity in that women who pleaded pregnancy were examined by a jury of matrons and, if found pregnant, had a stay of execution until their baby was born. This opinion that babies were innocent of their mother’s crime had been proved early on in Elizabeth’s reign when a court case was brought against a “Sheriff in Guernsey who, when Perotine Massey gave birth to a baby when she was burning at the stake, had ordered that the baby be thrown back onto the fire. The court held that as the baby had not been condemned as a heretic, the Sheriff was guilty of murder, but Elizabeth pardoned him”. Using the pamphlet of 1566, it can be argued that the writer(s) also did not believe witchcraft was heredity but rather a taught “art”. The pamphlet makes the comment that Elizabeth Frances “learnt this arte of witchcraft at the age of xii. yeres of hyr grandmother whose nam was mother Eue of Hatfyelde Peuerell disseased”. Agnes Waterhouse wanted to teach witchcraft to her daughter, Joan, “her mother this laste wynter would haue learned her this arte, but she lerned it not, nether yet the name of the thinge.”  These statements by the two women surely gives weight to the argument that witchcraft was considered to be a form of female power that grandmothers and/or mothers could teach to their (usually female) children.
If Mother Eve was grandmother to both Elizabeth Frances and Agnes Waterhouse (as has been suggested by Rosen because of the wording of the 1579 pamphlet), Mother Eve perhaps started practising her “craft” in the second half of the fifteenth century (given that Agnes’ date of birth would have been c1502): a time when, although the existence of witchcraft was acknowledged and people consulted cunning men and women, there was no witchcraft act on the Statute books. “In 1549, one suspected sorcerer reckoned “there be within England above five hundred conjurers as he thinketh”. This was probably a substantial under estimate.” Moreover, this family would have lived through great upheaval that affected all parts of England because of the Reformation. Christopher Marsh comments that many rituals of the Catholic Church (such as charms, sorcery, enchantments) were banned in 1559 and this ruling was a “broader campaign to destroy the credibility of traditional religion by exposing its alleged superstition”. Rosen remarks “Bitterness, resentment and pain that can no longer be discharged through familiar religious channels will almost inevitably be turned upon others; and in their delusions, such women were aided by the learned and by the religious terms in which they continued to think.” Agnes Waterhouse leaves us a tantalising clue about contemporary attitudes towards religion and those who practised outside the Elizabethan dictated protestant religion “she was demanded what praier she saide, she aunswered the Lordes prayer, the Aue Maria, and the belefe, & then they demaunded whether in laten or in englyshe, and shee sayde in laten[Latin], and they demaunded why she saide it not in engly[…]e but in laten”
So, Agnes Waterhouse at least, practised some of the “old ways” and perhaps had not converted to Protestantism and therefore operated outside the beliefs and “norms” of her society. Rosen comments that between 1534 and the time of this trial “there had been eight major religious changes requiring oaths from teachers, ministers and public officials with four total reversals of religious practice enforced by law and death sentence“. . This constant change of religious policy must have had a long lasting effect on many of the inhabitants of the villages, including the community of Hatfield Peverel. Moreover, of the 238 Protestant martyrs burnt during Mary’s reign of 1553 to 1558, 39 had been burnt in Essex and many of the 78 martyrs burnt in London had come from Essex showing the very diverse nature of the inhabitants of sixteenth century Essex. Agnes Waterhouse’s ability to say her prayers in Latin would have been compulsory during Mary’s reign and yet a few years later this factor was used against her as an indication that she was practising witchcraft and thus, as a witch, was unable to say her prayers correctly in English. Whilst it has long been established by modern day historians such as Keith Thomas that “in England witchcraft was prosecuted primarily as an anti-social crime, rather than as a heresy” Agnes Waterhouse’s case shows that religion must have played a small but significant part in her neighbours’ belief that she was a witch although she was executed as a murderer rather than a heretic.
In conclusion, it can be seen that the subject of witchcraft within England has raised many different questions and theories: from the “refused charity” hypothesis with “social tensions thrown up by the transition from personal to institutional charity” as argued by MacFarlane/Thomas to the extreme feminist argument of a “complex attack by male-dominated authority on dependent or independent women. My study has used evidence from the Assize trials and the pamphlets to study the surmise that witchcraft was a form of female power. Through looking at the pamphlets (whilst appreciating their bias and the possibility that they were not eye-witness accounts), it can be seen that many of the accused witches were living outside the “norms” of their society. For example, the Cunny sisters had illegitimate children; Ursula Kemp (who had also been known as “Ursula Gray”) had been openly living with a widower and had at least one illegitimate child; Agnes Waterhouse said her prayers in Latin so was perhaps a Catholic. These women and others accused did not live “conventional” sixteenth century lives: perhaps their witchcraft can be perceived as a form of power against conventional people within their society. Or perhaps the conventional people had accused non-conforming people of witchcraft and thus created a two-way process of power between victim and witch. Moreover, as the figures taken from the indictments found by Ewen shows, all ages of women from all marital categories were involved; accused male witches sometimes worked with females rather then on their own, and, whilst witchcraft was not perceived as heredity, (female) witches taught other (possibly related) people their “craft”. Taking these issues into account it would appear that witchcraft can be seen to be a form of female power supporting Sharpe’s theory that “witchcraft accusations were made by women against other woman” and that they “form one of the contexts within which female power was asserted and negotiated”.
Postcard dating from the 1930s showing the skeleton of one of the St Oysth witches, Ursula Kemp, executed in 1582 but rediscovered in 1921 and dig up in 1963. Her skeleton was then moved around England, until finally, in 2012, her skeleton was reburied back in St Oysth. The story of Ursula’s skeleton is told here Witch or Herbalist? Ursula is finally returned to St Osyth and laid to rest. Before burial, she had been bound in chains, and iron rivets had been driven through her ankles, knees and wrists.
It should be noted that this blog-post deals entirely with English witchcraft and English Acts of Parliament. Scottish witchcraft and its various Acts against it took an entirely different direction and so should be considered totally and utterly separate from English witchcraft. That is, until the British Witchcraft Act of 1735 repealed the existing separate English and Scottish witchcraft laws, and created one Act, which then related to the whole of Great Britain.
Appendix 1: Map of Tudor Essex
From The witch-craft papers: contemporary records of the Witchcraft Hysteria in Essex 1560-1700 by Peter Haining, 1974.
Appendix 2: English Acts of Parliament relating to witchcraft
Punishment in the Witchcraft Statutes 1542-1735.
1 1542 (English) Witchcraft Act – An Act against Conjurations, Witchcrafts, Sorcery and Inchantments (33 Hen. VIII c. 8). Repealed in 1547 by Edward VI.
2 1562 (English) Witchcraft Act – An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts (5 Eliz. I c. 16) . Repealed in 1604 by James I.
3 1604 (English) Witchcraft Act – An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and dealing with evil and wicked spirits (2 Ja. I c. 12). Repealed in 1735 by George II.
1735 (British) Witchcraft Act (9 Geo. II c. 5). Repealed in 1951 by Elizabeth II by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, which, in turn, was repealed in 2008. There are no longer any laws specifically against witchcraft on the British statute books.
Appendix 3: Text of each English witchcraft Act
Text taken from Vol 3, Statutes of the Realm 1509-1545 and
Vol 4, Statutes of the Realm 1547-1624
33 Henry VIII (1542) The Bill ayēst conjuracõns & wichecraftes and sorcery and enchantments.
|Where dyvers and sundrie persones unlawfully have devised and practised Invocacõns and conjuracõns of Sprites p~tendyng by suche meanes to understande and get Knowlege for their owne lucre in what place treasure of golde and Silver shulde or mought be founde or had in the earthe or other secrete places, and also have used and occupied wichecraftes inchauntement’ and sorceries to the distrucõn of their neighbours persones and goodes, And for execuõn of their saide falce devyses and practises have made or caused to be made dyvers Images and pictures of men women childrene Angelles or develles beastes or fowles, and also have made Crownes Septures Swordes rynges glasses and other thinges, and gyving faithe & credit to suche fantasticall practises have dygged up and pulled downe an infinite nombre of Crosses win this Realme, and taken upon them to declare and tell where thinges lost or stollen shulde be becōme; whiche thinges cannot be used and excersised but to the great Offence of Godes lawe, hurt and damage of the Kinges Subjectes, and losse of the sowles of suche Offenders, to the greate dishonor of God, Infamy and disquyetnes of the Realme :||
Various Sorts of Sorceries, &c.
|FOR REFORMACÕN wherof be it enacted by the Kyng oure Soveraigne Lorde w’ thassent of the Lordes spuall and temporall and the Comons in this p~sent Parliament assembled and by auctoritie of the same, that yf any persone or persones, after the first daye of Maye next comyng, use devise practise or exercise, or cause to be used devysed practised or exercised, any Invocacõns or conjuracõns of Sprites wichecraftes enchauntmentes or sorceries, to thentent to get or fynde money or treasure, or to waste consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres or goodes, or to Vvoke any persone to unlawfull love, or for any other unlawfull intente or purpose, or by occadtn or color of suche thinges or any of them, or for dispite of Cryste, or for lucre of money, dygge up or pull downe any Crosse or Crosses, or by suche Invocaeons or conjuracõns of Sprites wichecraftes enchauntementes or sorcerie or any of them take upon them to tell or declare where goodes stollen or lost shall become, That then all and ev~y suche Offence and Offences, frome the saide first day of May next comyng, shalbe demyde accepted and adjuged Felonye ; And that all and ev~y persone and persones offendyng as is abovesaide their Councellors Abettors and Procurors and ev~y of them from the saide first day of Maye shalbe demyde accepted and adjuged a Felon and Felones; And thoffender and Offenders contrarie to this Acte, being therof lawfullie convicte before suche as shall have power and auctoritie to here and determyn felonyes, shall have and suffre suche paynes of deathe losse and forfaytures of their landes tentes goodes and Catalles as in cases of felonie by the course of the Cōmon lawes of this Realme, And also shall lose prvilege of Clergie and Sayntuarie.||
Persons using Invocations, or other Practices of Sorcery, to discover Treasure, &c. or to destroy or injure any one, or to provoke unlawful Love, &C. declared Felons without Clergy,&c.
5 Elizabeth I (1562) An Act agaynst Conjuracõns Inchantmentes and Witchecraftes.
|Where at this present, there ys no ordinarye ne condigne Punishement provided against the Practisers of the wicked Offences of Conjuracõns and Incovacõns of evill Sprirites, and of Soceries Enchauntmentes Charmes and Witchecraftes, the wch Offences by force of a Statute made in the xxxiij yere of the Reigne of the late King Henry the Eyghthe were made to bee Felonye, and so continued untill the sayd Statute was repealed by Thacte and Statute of Repeale made in the first yere of the Reigne of the late King Edwarde the vjth; sythens the Repeale wherof many fantasticall and devilishe p~sons have devised and practised Invocacõns and Conjuracõns of evill and wicked Spirites, and have used and practised Wytchecraftes Enchantementes Charms and Sorceries, to the Destruccõon of the P~sons and Goodes of their Neighebours and other Subjectes of this Realme, and for other lewde Intentes and Purposes contrarye to the Lawes of Almighty God, to the Perill of theyr owne Soules, and to the great Infamye and Disquietnes of this Realme:||
St. 33 H.VIII. c.8. against Witchcraft, repealed by the Operation of Stats E.VI. c. 12.
|FOR REFORMACÕN wherof bee it enacted by the Quenes Maj wch thassent of the Lordes Sp~uall and Temporall and the Cōmons in this p~nte P~liament assembled, and by thaucthoritee of the same, That yf any p~son or p~sons after the first daye of June nexte cōming, use practise or exersise any Invocacõns or Conjuracõns of evill and wicked Spirites, to or for any Intent or Purpose ; or els if any p~son or p~sons after the said first daye of June shall use practise or exercise any Witchecrafte Enchantment Charme or Sorcerie, wherby any p~son shall happen to bee killed or destroyed, that then aswell every suche Offendor or Offendors in Invocacõns or Conjuracõns as ys aforesayd, their Concellors & Aidours, as also every suche Offendor or Offendors in Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerie wherby the Deathe of anny p~son dothe ensue, their Aidours and Concellors, being of either of the said Offences laufully convicted and attainted, shall suffer paynes of Deathe as a Felon or Felons, and shall lose the Priviledg and Benefite of Sanctuarie & Clergie: Saving to the Wief of such parsone her Title of Dower, and also to the Heyre and Successour of suche p~son his or theyr Tytles of Inheritaunce Succession and other Rightes, as thoughe no suche Attayndour of the Auncestour or Predecessour had been hadd or made.||
Persons using any Invocations of Spirits whatever, or practising Witchcraft,-&c. whereby Death shall ensue, declared Felons without Clergy.
|And further bee yt enacted by thaucthoritee aforesayd, That if any p~son or p~sons, after the saide first daye of June nexte cōmyng, shall use practise or exercyse any Wytchecrafte Enchauntement Charme or Sorcerie, wherby any p~on shall happen to bee wasted consumed or lamed in his or her Bodye or Member, or wherby any Goodes or Cattelles of any p~son shalbee destroyed wasted or impayred, then every suche Offendour or Offendours their Councelloures and Aydoures, being therof laufully convicted, shall for his or their first Offence or Offences, suffer Imprisonement by the Space of one whole Yere, wthout Bayle or Mayneprise, and once in every Quarter of the said Yere, shall in some Market Towne, upon the Market Daye or at suche tyme as any Fayer shalbee kepte there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the Space of Syxe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Errour and Offence; and for the Seconde Offence, being as ys aforesayd laufully convicted or attaynted, shall suffer Deathe as a Felon, and shall lose the Privilege of Clergie and Sanctuarye : Saving to the Wief of suche p~son her Title of Dower, and also to Theire & Successor of suche p~son, his or their Titles of Inheritance Succession and other Rightes, as thoughe no suche Attaindor of Thancestor or Predecessor had beene hadde or made.||
Penalty on practising witchcraft, &c. to the Bodily Harm of any one; First Offence, One Year’s Imprisonment and Pilory.; Second Offence, Felony without Clergy.
|Provided alwaies, That yf the Offendour, in any of the Cases aforesayd for whiche the paynes of Deathe shall ensue, shall happen to bee a Peere of this Realme, then his Triall thereyn to be hadd by hys Peeres, as yt ys used in cases of Felonye or Treason and not otherwyse.||
Peers shall be tried by Peers.
|And further to thintent that all maner of practise use or exercise of Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerye shoulde bee from hensforthe utterly avoyded abolished and taken awaye ; Bee it enacted by thaucthoritee of this P~nte P~liament, That yf any p~son or p~sons shall from and after the sayd first daye of June nexte cōming, take upon him or them, by Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerie, to tell or declare in what Place any Treasure of Golde or Sylver shoulde or might bee founde or had in the Earthe or other secret Places, or where Goodes or Thinges lost or stollen should bee founde or becume, or shall use or practise anyc Sorcery Enchantement Charme or Witchecrafte, to thintent to provoke any p~son to unlaufull love, or to hurte or destroye any p~son in his or her Body, Member or Goodes ; that then every suche p~son or p~sons so offending, and being therof laufully convicted, shall for the said Offence suffer Imprysonement by the space of One whole yere wthout Bayle or Mayneprise, and once in every Quarter of the said yere shall in some Market Towne, upon the Marcket day or at suche tyme as any Fayer shall bee kept there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the space of Sixe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Error and Offence; And yf anye p~son or p~sons, beyng once convicted of the same Offences as ys aforesayd, doo eftesones p~petrate and cōmitt the lyke Offence, that then every suche Offendour beyng thereof the seconde tyme convicted as ys aforesaid, shall forfaitee unto the Quenes Majestie her heires and successoures, all his Goodes and Cattelles and suffer Imprysonement during Lyef.||
Penalty on practising Witchcraft, &c. to discover Treasure, or to proke unlawfulI Love, &c. First Offence, One Year’s Imprisonment and Pillory : Second Offence, Forfeiture of Goods and Imprisonment for Life.
2 James I (1604) An Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealinge with evill and wicked Spirits.
|Be it enacted by the King our Sov~aigne Lorde the Lordes Spirituall and Temporall and the Comons in this p~sent Parliament assembled, and by the authoritie of the same, That the Statute made in the fifte yeere of the Raigne of our late Sov~aigne Ladie of moste famous and happie memorie Queene Elizabeth, intituled An Acte againste Conjurations Inchantmente and Witchcraft, be from the Feaste of St. Michaell the Archangell nexte cōminge, for and concerninge all Offences to be cōmitted after the same Feaste, utterlie repealed.||
5 Eliz. c. 16. repealed.
|And for the botter restrayninge the saide Offenses, and more severe punishinge the ,same, be it further enacted by the authoritie aforesaide, That if any p~ron or persons, after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell nextcōminge, shall use practise or exercise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and wicked Spirit, or shall consult covenant with entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or purpose; or take up any dead man woman or child out of his her or theire grave, or any other place where the dead bodie resteth, or the skin bone or any other parte of any dead person, to be imployed or used in any manner of Witchcrafte Soreerie Charme or Inchantment ; or shall use practise or exercise any Witchcrafte Inchantment Charme or Sorcerie, wherebie any p~son shalbe killed destroyed wasted consumed pined or lamed in his or her bodie, or any parte thereof; that then everie such Offendor or Offendors, theire Ayders Abettors and Counsellors, being of any the saide Offences dulie and lawfullie convicted and attainted, shall suffer pains of deathe as a Felon or Felons, and shall loose the priviledge and benefit of Cleargie and Sanctuarie.||
Invoking or consulting with Evil Spirits, taking up Dead Bodies, &c. for Purposes of Witchcraft, &c. or practising Witchcraft, &c. to the Harm of others, declared Felony without Clergy.
|And further, to the intent that all manner of practise use or exercise of Witchcrafte Inchantment Charme or Sorcerie should be from henceforth utterlie avoyded abolished and taken away, Be it enacted by the authoritie of this p~sent Parliament, That if any p~son or p~sons shall from and after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell next cōminge, take upon him or them by Witchcrafte Inchantment Charme or Sorcerie to tell or declare in what place any treasure of Golde or Silver should or might be founde or had in the earth or other secret places, or where Goode or Thinge loste or stollen should be founde or become ; or to the intent to p~voke any person to unlawfull love, or wherebie any Cattell or Goods of any p~son shall be destroyed wasted or impaired, or to hurte or destroy any p~son in his or her bodie, although the same be not effected and done ; that then all and everie such p~son & p~sons so offendinge, and beinge thereof lawfullie convicted, shall for the said Offence suffer Imprisonment by the space of one whole yeere, without baile or maineprise, and once in everie quarter of the &aide yere, shall in some Markett Towne, upon the Markett Day, or at such time as any Faire shalbe kepte theme, stande openlie upon the Pillorie by the space of sixe houres, and there shall openlie confesse his or her error and offence ; And if any p~son or p~sons beinge once convicted of the same offences as is aforesaide, doe eftsoones ppetra and cōmit the like offence, that then everie such Offender, beinge of any the saide offences the second tyme lawfullie and duelie convicted and attainted as is aforesaide, shall sufer paines of death as a Felon or Felons, and shall loose the benefiti and priviledge of Clergie and Sanctuarie:||
Penalty on declaring by Witchcraft where Treasure, &c, is hidden : procuring unlawful Love : or attempting to hurt Cattle or Persons : 1st Offence Imprisonment : ad. Felony without Clergy
|Savinge to the wife of such person as shall offend in any thinge contrarie to this Acte, her title of dower; and also to the heire and successour of everie such person his or theire titles of Inheritance Succession and other Rights, as though no such Attaindor of the Ancestor or Predecessor had bene made:||
Saving of Dower, Inheritance, &c.
|Provided alwaes, That if the Offendor in any the Cases aforemde shall happen to be a Peere of this Realme, then his Triall therein to be had by his Peeres, as it is used in cases of Felonie or Treason, and not otherwise.||
Peers shall be tried by Peers
 Anon; (1589) The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex Munro, J; (2004) The economic history of later-Medieval and Early-Modern Europe, p28
 Harris, A; (2001), Witch-hunt: the great Essex witch scare of 1582; p63
 Rosen, B; (1991) Witchcraft in England 1558-1618; p182
 MacFarlane, A; (1970) Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study; p14
 Ewen, C L’Estrange; (1929) Witch Hunting and Witch Trials : The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1559-1736; p19
 Scot, R; (1584) as quoted in Haining, P; (1974), The witch-craft papers: contemporary records of the Witchcraft Hysteria in Essex 1560-1700; p68
 Gifford, G; (1593), as quoted in Haining, P; The witch-craft papers; p78
 Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England
 Religion and the decline of Magic
 Witches and neighbours 1) Witchcraft in early Modern England; 2) The bewitching of Anne Gunter: A horrible and true story of football, witchcraft, murder and the King of England, 3) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volumes 1 to 6 (Gen Ed) Thomas, K; (1991), Religion and the Decline of Magic; p632
 Ibid; p662
 Eirenreich, B and English D, (1973) Witches, Midwifes and nurses, a history of women healers as quoted in Sharpe, J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England p10
 J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England p10
 Sharpe, J. A; (2003) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 2 Early English trial pamphlets; pxi
 Jackson, L; (1995) Witches, Wives and Mothers: witchcraft persecutions and women’s confessions in seventeenth century England; Women’s History Review Volume 4, Number 1; p71
 Sharpe, J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p68
 W. W; (1582) A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S. Ofes in the countie of Essex
 Ewen, C L’Estrange; Witch Hunting and Witch Trials; p117. Indictments number 1 & 2.
 Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p517
 Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p11
 Ewen, C L’Estrange; Witch Hunting and Witch Trials; p100
 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p271-303
 Ewen, C L’Estrange; Witch Hunting and Witch Trials; p99
 Ibid; p99
 Ibid; p97 & p99
 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p64, footnote 32
 Ibid; p61
 Sharpe, J. A; (2003) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 1 Early English demonological works; pxii
 My figures vary between 175 to 178 people accused of witchcraft as my Access tables might contain duplicates where Ewen or MacFarlane have not identified two people with similar details as being the same person such as Agnes Duke (id numbers 77 and 106) of Hatfield Peverel and Agnes Whilland/Agnes Whitland (id numbers 120 and 126) of Dagenham and Joan Cock (numbers 11 & 79) of Kelvedon/Hatfield Peverel (the two villages are nearby to each other).
 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p256 (Ewen indictment number 58) & p260 (Ewen indictment number 233b)
 Ewen indictment numbers155-157, 159 and 160 (all three were part of the St Oysth trials of 1582)
 W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches
 Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p536
 University of Essex, (2005) Witchcraft and Masculinities in the Early Modern World
 There is difficulty with finding female-related witches as often women were related but did not have the same surname. For example, it is only through the 1582 pamphlet that we know that Margery Sammon was Alice Hunt’s sister. This case has further complications in that the Margery Sammon was held without charge in 1582 but then there was another trial two years later by which time she was known as Margery Barnes.
 Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p69
 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p623
 Interestingly, Robbins in his 1964 Encycopedia of Witchcraft preferred to use the term “informers” as opposed to “witnesses” perhaps to support his thesis that witchcraft came “from the top down”
 Anon; A detection of damnable driftes, practized by three vvitches arraigned at Chelmifforde in Essex
 W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches
 Briggs, R; (1996) Witches & Neighbours: The social and cultural context of European Witchcraft ;p241
 W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S. Ofes
 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p117-8
 Haining, P; The witch-craft papers; p20
 Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p101
 Sharpe, J. A; English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 2 Early English trial pamphlets; pxi
 Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p68
 Phillips, J; (1566) The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde
 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p164
 W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches
 Harris, A; Witch-hunt; p65
 Phillips, J; The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde
 Anon (1579) A detection of damnable driftes, practized by three vvitches arraigned at Chelmifforde
 Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p 552 and his footnote number 102 regarding Ewen’s Witchcraft and Demonism index “heredity in witchcraft”.
 E. G; (1652) A prodigious & tragicall history of the arraignment, tryall, confession, and condemnation of six witches at Maidstone, in Kent
 A Protestant Marian martyr burnt for her religion during the reign of Mary I.
 Ridley, J; (2002) Bloody Mary’s Martyrs; p215
 Phillips, J; The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde
 Rosen, B; Witchcraft in England; p94
 Marsh, C; (1998) Popular Religion in Sixteenth Century England; p147
 Rosen, B; Witchcraft in England; p148
 Ibid; p43
 Phillips, J; The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde.
 Rosen, B; Witchcraft in England; p35
 Ridley, J; Bloody Mary’s Martyrs; p216
 Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p527
 Anon; (1589) The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches
 W. W; (1582) A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches
 Phillips, J; (1566) The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde
 Marsh, C; Popular Religion in Sixteenth Century England; p150
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