Table 2 Relationships between accused

Table 2 Relationships between accused

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.

Indictments for witchcraft 1560-1603

Figure 2 Types of witchcraft

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'39. 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? Figure 2 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.40 An interesting feature

Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p69 MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p623

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.

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.

Figure 3 The body of Ursula Kemp executed in 1582 & dig up in 1921. Before burial iron rivets had been driven through her ankles, knees and wrists.

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 mother41. 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 mother42 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 mother43. 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.'44 A corruption 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'45. This "abuse" of a woman's power by her being a witch had to be stopped by whatever means or method.

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

As has been discussed, from Figure 2 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. From analysing MacFarlane's table of "Cunning folk whose names are mentioned in the Essex Records'46 for the period 1560-1603 are 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 '47 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 (as detailed in Appendix 2, Table 6) 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".48 But certainly during the period 1563 to 1603 the figures appear to show that male cunning folk were relatively acceptable but female witches were not.

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

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"49 (and vice-versa) and/or, as suggested by Sharpe, were there negative attitudes toward postmenopausal women50? From Table 3 it can be seen how difficult it is to determine the ages of the accused witches and that from the evidence used within this 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.51

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 Table 4 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

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




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