her fellow neighbours. Or were the witchcraft persecutions "an officially sanctioned bid to control... and to reassert male power over women"18? Looking at the relatively few males accused of witchcraft, can the data from the Assize records be used to establish that males only practised witchcraft in conjunction with other (female) witches or were they also "being accused 7oZanmtTRilP7^:7i59 for independent acts of malefic witchcraft"^

"A brief treatise"

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 data for the tables within the database, 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

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

sending them to trial at the Assizes20. However they do provide us with contemporary attitudes and more details about some of the witches then the Assize records alone can provide.

Turning now to the main source of data: 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 counties of Essex, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Hertford for witchcraft for the period 1563 to 1736 (although his book does detail two acquitted witches from 156021). 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 startingpoint for any analysis of English witch-prosecution."22 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"23. Therefore, there is soundness in using the results of research (in effect, a secondary source) carried out nearly eighty years ago to be the basis of a database and study to examine gender and witchcraft in early modern England.

Ewen's work has limitations: he was only able to calendar approximately 77% of the original documents24. 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

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

Sessions, Ecclesiastical or Borough Courts as detailed by MacFarlane25. 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"26; 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"27. Ewen's original comments were that the Essex Assize rolls and gaol records survived better28 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)29 prompting his comment "Within the Home Circuit, [prosecutions in] Essex was exceptional, though other counties all had their prosecutions".30

For the purpose of this 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 century31". Moreover the activities of Matthew Hopkins in 1645 would distort the results of many of the questions if data from these years were included. Table 6 in Appendix 2 shows the various witchcraft statutes.

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

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 indictments32. A full breakdown of the verdicts for the 336 indictments is shown in Table 1. For those found guilty, fifty-eight were executed, another two were sentenced to be hanged but died of the plague in gaol33 and a further three were sentenced to be hanged but were reprieved before execution and their sentence commuted to imprisonment34. 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.

To gain an overall picture of witchcraft within Essex of this period, Figure 1 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: 1590-94, 1580-84 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 villages35. 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"36. Whilst these figures do

Indictments 1560-1603



% of total

No verdict

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