Quacks, Who in Cool Blood Undertook to Overreach Mankind (4/6)

King James’s Demonology
It was by a train of observations and experience like this, that James was prompted seven years after to compose and publish his Dialogues on Demonology in Three Books. In the Preface to this book he says, “The fearfull abounding at this time in this countrey, of these detestable slaves of the Diuel, the Witches or enchaunters, hath moved me (beloued Reader) to dispatch in post this following Treatise of mine, not in any wise (as I protest) to serue for a shew of my learning and ingine, but onely (moued of conscience) to preasse thereby, so farre as I can, to resolue the doubting hearts of many, both that such assaults of Satan are most certainely practised, and that the instruments thereof merits most seuerely to be punished.”

In the course of the treatise he affirms, “that barnes, or wiues, or neuer so diffamed persons, may serue for sufficient witnesses and proofes in such trialls; for who but Witches can be prooves, and so witnesses of the doings of Witches?” But, lest innocent persons should be accused, and suffer falsely, he tells us, “There are two other good helps that may be used for their trial: the one is, the finding of their marke [a mark that the devil was supposed to impress upon some part of their persons], and the trying the insensibleness thereof: the other is their fleeting on the water: for, as in a secret murther, if the dead carkasse be at any time thereafter handled by the murtherer, it will gush out of bloud, as if the bloud were crying to the heauen for revenge of the murtherer, God hauing appointed that secret supernaturall signe, for triall of that secret unnaturall crime, so it appears that God hath appointed (for a supernaturall signe of the monstrous impietie of Witches) that the water shall refuse to receive them in her bosome, that haue shaken off them the sacred water of Baptisme, and wilfully refused the benefite thereof: No, not so much as their eyes are able to shed teares (threaten and torture them as ye please) while first they repent (God not permitting them to dissemble their obstinacie in so horrible a crime.)”

Statute 1 of James I
In consequence of the strong conviction James entertained on the subject, the English parliament was induced, in the first year of his reign, to supersede the milder proceedings of Elizabeth, and to enact that “if any person shall use, practice, or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil and wicked spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil and wicked spirit, to or for any intent and purpose; or take up any dead man, woman, or child out of their grave, or the skin, bone, or any part of any dead person, to be used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment, or shall use any witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment, whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined or lamed in his or her body, or any part thereof; that then every such offender, their aiders, abettors and counsellors shall suffer the pains of death.” And upon this statute great numbers were condemned and executed.

Forman and Others
There is a story of necromancy which unfortunately makes too prominent a figure in the history of the court and character of King James the First. Robert earl of Essex, son of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, and who afterwards became commander in chief of the parliamentary forces in the civil wars, married lady Frances Howard, a younger daughter of the earl of Suffolk, the bride and bridegroom being the one thirteen, the other fourteen years old at the time of the marriage. The relatives of the countess however, who had brought about the match, thought it most decorous to separate them for some time, and, while she remained at home with her friends, the bridegroom travelled for three or four years on the continent. The lady proved the greatest beauty of her time, but along with this had the most libertine and unprincipled dispositions.

The very circumstance that she had vowed her faith at the altar when she was not properly capable of choice, inspired into the wayward mind of the countess a repugnance to her husband. He came from the continent, replete with accomplishments; and we may conclude, from the figure he afterwards made in the most perilous times, not without a competent share of intellectual abilities. But the countess shrank from all advances on his part. He loved retirement, and woed the lady to scenes most favourable to the development of the affections: she had been bred in court, and was melancholy and repined in any other scene. So capricious was her temper, that she is said at the same time to have repelled the overtures of the accomplished and popular prince Henry, the heir to the throne.

It happened about this period that a beautiful young man, twenty years of age, and full of all martial graces, appeared on the stage. King James was singularly partial to young men who were distinguished for personal attractions. By an extraordinary accident this person, Robert Carr by name, in the midst of a court-spectacle, just when it was his cue to present a buckler with a device to the king, was thrown from his horse, and broke his leg. This was enough: James naturally became interested in the misfortune, attached himself to Carr, and even favoured him again and again with a royal visit during his cure. Presently the young man became an exclusive favourite; and no honours and graces could be obtained of the sovereign but by his interference.

This circumstance fixed the wavering mind of the countess of Essex. Voluptuous and self-willed in her disposition, she would hear of no one but Carr. But her opportunities of seeing him were both short and rare. In this emergency she applied to Mrs. Turner, a woman whose profession it was to study and to accommodate the fancies of such persons as the countess. Mrs. Turner introduced her to Dr. Forman, a noted astrologer and magician, and he, by images made of wax, and various uncouth figures and devices, undertook to procure the love of Carr to the lady. At the same time he practised against the earl, that he might become impotent, at least towards his wife. This however did not satisfy the lady; and having gone the utmost lengths towards her innamorato, she insisted on a divorce in all the forms, and a legal marriage with the youth she loved. Carr appears originally to have had good dispositions; and, while that was the case, had assiduously cultivated the friendship of Sir Thomas Overbury, one of the most promising young courtiers of the time. Sir Thomas earnestly sought to break off the intimacy of Carr with Lady Essex, and told him how utterly ruinous to his reputation and prospects it would prove, if he married her. But Carr, instead of feeling how much obliged he was to Overbury for this example of disinterested friendship, went immediately and told the countess what the young man said.

From this time the destruction of Overbury was resolved on between them. He was first committed to the Tower by an arbitrary mandate of James for refusing an embassage to Russia, next sequestered from all visitors, and finally attacked with poison, which, after several abortive attempts, was at length brought to effect. Meanwhile a divorce was sued for by the countess upon an allegation of impotence; and another female was said to have been substituted in her room, to be subjected to the inspection of a jury of matrons in proof of her virginity. After a lapse of two years the murder was brought to light, the inferior criminals, Mrs. Turner and the rest, convicted and executed, and Carr, now earl of Somerset, and his countess, found guilty, but received the royal pardon.—It is proper to add, in order to give a just idea of the state of human credulity at this period, that, Forman having died at the time that his services were deemed most necessary, one Gresham first, and then a third astrologer and enchanter were brought forward, to consummate the atrocious projects of the infamous countess. It is said that she and her second husband were ultimately so thoroughly alienated from each other, that they resided for years under the same roof, with the most careful precautions that they might not by any chance come into each other’s presence.

Latest Ideas of James on the Subject
It is worthy of remark however that King James lived to alter his mind extremely on the question of witchcraft. He was active in his observations on the subject; and we are told that “the frequency of forged possessions which were detected by him wrought such an alteration in his judgment, that he, receding from what he had written in his early life, grew first diffident of, and then flatly to deny, the working of witches and devils, as but falsehoods and delusions.”

Lancashire Witches
A more melancholy tale does not occur in the annals of necromancy than that of the Lancashire witches in 1612. The scene of this story is in Pendlebury Forest, four or five miles from Manchester, remarkable for its picturesque and gloomy situation. Such places were not sought then as now, that they might afford food for the imagination, and gratify the refined taste of the traveller. They were rather shunned as infamous for scenes of depredation and murder, or as the consecrated haunts of diabolical intercourse. Pendlebury had been long of ill repute on this latter account, when a country magistrate, Roger Nowel by name, conceived about this time that he should do a public service, by rooting out a nest of witches, who rendered the place a terror to all the neighbouring vulgar. The first persons he seized on were Elizabeth Demdike and Ann Chattox, the former of whom was eighty years of age, and had for some years been blind, who subsisted principally by begging, though she had a miserable hovel on the spot, which she called her own. Ann Chattox was of the same age, and had for some time been threatened with the calamity of blindness. Demdike was held to be so hardened a witch, that she had trained all her family to the mystery; namely, Elizabeth Device, her daughter, and James and Alison Device, her grandchildren. In the accusation of Chattox was also involved Ann Redferne, her daughter. These, together with John Bulcock, and Jane his mother, Alice Nutter, Catherine Hewit, and Isabel Roby, were successively apprehended by the diligence of Nowel and one or two neighbouring magistrates, and were all of them by some means induced, some to make a more liberal, and others a more restricted confession of their misdeeds in witchcraft, and were afterwards hurried away to Lancaster Castle, fifty miles off, to prison. Their crimes were said to have universally proceeded from malignity and resentment; and it was reported to have repeatedly happened for poor old Demdike to be led by night from her habitation into the open air by some member of her family, when she was left alone for an hour to curse her victim, and pursue her unholy incantations, and was then sought, and brought again to her hovel. Her curses never failed to produce the desired effect.

These poor wretches had been but a short time in prison, when information was given, that a meeting of witches was held on Good Friday, at Malkin’s Tower, the habitation of Elizabeth Device, to the number of twenty persons, to consult how by infernal machinations to kill one Covel, an officer, to blow up Lancaster Castle, and deliver the prisoners, and to kill another man of the name of Lister. The last was effected. The other plans by some means, we are not told how, were prevented.

The prisoners were kept in jail till the summer assizes; and in the mean time it fortunately happened that the poor blind Demdike died in confinement, and was never brought up to trial.

The other prisoners were severally indicted for killing by witchcraft certain persons who were named, and were all found guilty. The principal witnesses against Elizabeth Device were James Device and Jennet Device, her grandchildren, the latter only nine years of age. When this girl was put into the witness-box, the grandmother, on seeing her, set up so dreadful a yell, intermixed with bitter curses, that the child declared that she could not go on with her evidence, unless the prisoner was removed. This was agreed to; and both brother and sister swore, that they had been present, when the devil came to their grandmother in the shape of a black dog, and asked her what she desired. She said, the death of John Robinson; when the dog told her to make an image of Robinson in clay, and after crumble it into dust, and as fast as the image perished, the life of the victim should waste away, and in conclusion the man should die. This evidence was received; and upon such testimony, and testimony like this, ten persons were led to the gallows, on the twentieth of August, Ann Chattox of eighty years of age among the rest, the day after the trials, which lasted two days, were finished. The judges who presided on these trials were Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, barons of the exchequer.

From the whole of this story it is fair to infer, that these old women had played at the game of commerce with the devil. It had flattered their vanity, to make their simpler neighbours afraid of them. To observe the symptoms of their rustic terror, even of their hatred and detestation, had been gratifying to them. They played the game so long, that in an imperfect degree they deceived themselves. Human passions are always to a certain degree infectious. Perceiving the hatred of their neighbours, they began to think that they were worthy objects of detestation and terror, that their imprecations had a real effect, and their curses killed. The brown horrors of the forest were favourable to visions; and they sometimes almost believed, that they met the foe of mankind in the night.—But, when Elizabeth Device actually saw her grandchild of nine years old placed in the witness-box, with the intention of consigning her to a public and an ignominious end, then the reveries of the imagination vanished, and she deeply felt the reality, that, where she had been somewhat imposing on the child in devilish sport, she had been whetting the dagger that was to take her own life, and digging her own grave. It was then no wonder that she uttered a preternatural yell, and poured curses from the bottom of her heart. It must have been almost beyond human endurance, to hear the cry of her despair, and to witness the curses and the agony in which it vented itself.

Twenty-two years elapsed after this scene, when a wretched man, of the name of Edmund Robinson, conceived on the same spot the scheme of making himself a profitable speculation from a similar source. He trained his son, eleven years of age, and furnished him with the necessary instructions. He taught him to say that one day in the fields he had met with two dogs, which he urged on to hunt a hare. They would not budge; and he in revenge tied them to a bush and whipped them; when suddenly one of them was transformed into an old woman and the other into a child, a witch and her imp. This story succeeded so well, that the father soon after gave out that his son had an eye that could distinguish a witch by sight, and took him round to the neighbouring churches, where he placed him standing on a bench after service, and bade him look round and see what he could observe. The device, however clumsy, succeeded, and no less than seventeen persons were apprehended at the boy’s selection, and conducted to Lancaster Castle. These seventeen persons were tried at the assizes, and found guilty; but the judge, whose name has unfortunately been lost, unlike sir James Altham and sir Edward Bromley, saw something in the case that excited his suspicion, and, though the juries had not hesitated in any one instance, respited the convicts, and sent up a report of the affair to the government. Twenty-two years on this occasion had not elapsed in vain. Four of the prisoners were by the judge’s recommendation sent for to the metropolis, and were examined first by the king’s physicians, and then by Charles the First in person. The boy’s story was strictly scrutinised. In fine he confessed that it was all an imposture; and the whole seventeen received the royal pardon.


Month at a Glance

November 2013
« Oct   Dec »


Filed Under:

Hit On Me!

  • 407,329 hits

%d bloggers like this: