Category Archives: Witchcraft

Curiosities Witchcraft Women

She threw up crooked pins


This extract comes from a late seventeenth century account of witchcraft in Somerset. I think it’s the first witchcraft text I’ve read which details victims vomiting household objects, and it makes for some curious reading. The text doesn’t unfortunately relate what subsequently happened to the suspected witch. 

In the Town of Beckenton, in Somersetshire, liveth one William Spicer, a young Man about eighteen Years of Age. As he was wont to pass by the Alms-house (where lived an Old Woman, about Four score) he would call her Witch, and tell her of her Buns; which did so enrage the Old Woman, that she threatened him with a Warrant; and accordingly did fetch one from a Neighbouring Justice of the Peace. At which he was so frightened, that he humbled himself to her, and promised never to call her so again. Within a few days after, this Young Man fell into the strangest Fits that held him about a Fortnight. When the Fits were upon him, he would often say that he did see this Old Woman against the Wall in the same Room of the House where he was, and that sometimes she did knock her Fist at him; sometimes grin her Teeth, and sometimes laugh at him in his Fits. He was so strong, that three or four Men could scarce hold him; and when he did call for Small Beer to drink, he would be sure to bring up some Crooked Pins to the Number of Thirty, and upwards.

In the same Town liveth one Mary Hill, about the same Age of this Young Man; who meeting with this Old Woman, demanded the Ring she borrowed of her, with a threatening from the Old Woman that she had been better to have let her kept it longer. About a Week before the said Mary was taken with Fits, she met this Old Woman in the Street; who taking her by the hand, desired her to go with her to Froom, to look after some Spinning Work. The said Mary being afraid, refused to go with her. About four days after she met the Old Woman again, who begged an Apple of her, which she refused to give her.

The Sunday following, she complained of a pricking in her Stomack; but on Monday, as she was Eating her Dinner, something arose in her Throat, which was like to have Choaked her; and at the same time she fell into Violent Fits, which held her till Nine or Ten a Clock at Night. The Fits were so strong and violent, that Four or Five Persons were scarce able to hold her, and in the midst of them, she would tell how she saw this old Woman against the Wall, grinning at her, and that she was the Person that had bewitcht her.

The Wednesday following, she began to throw up Crooked Pins, and so continued for the space of a Fortnight. After this, she began to throw up Nails and Pins. And then she began to throw up Nails again, and Handles of Spoons, several pieces of Iron, Lead, and Tin, with several clusters of Crooked Pins; some tied with Yarn, and some with Thread, with abundance of Blood. She threw up in all, above Two Hundred Crooked Pins.

The People of the Town seeing the sad and deplorable Condition of the said Mary, did cause this old Woman to be brought near the House where the Mary Lived, and being gathered together above an Hundred People, the said Mary was brought forth into the open Air, who immediately fell into such strong Fits, that two or three men were scarce able to hold her, and being brought upon the Hill by the Church, and the old Woman brought near her (notwithstanding there were four men to hold the said Mary in a Chair) she mounted up over their Heads into the Air; but the men, and others standing by, caught hold of her Legs, and pulled her down again.

This old Woman was ordered to be searched by a Jury of Women, who found about her several purple Spots, which they prickt with a sharp Needle, but she felt no pain. She had about her other Marks and Tokens of a Witch, and she was sent to the County Jayle.

This old Woman was had to a great River near the Town, to see whether she could sink under Water. Her Legs being tied, she was put in, and though she did endeavour to the uttermost by her Hands, yet she could not, but would lie upon her Back, and did Swim like a piece of Cork. There were present above Twenty Persons to Attest the Truth of this. She was had to the Water a second time, and being put in, she swam as at first; and though there were present above Two Hundred People to see this Sight, yet it could not be believed by many. At the same time, also, there was put into the Water, a Lusty young Woman, who sunk immediately, and had been drowned, had it not been for the help that was at hand. To satisfy the World, and to leave no Room for doubting, the old Woman was had down to the Water the third time, and being put in as before, she did still Swim. At this Swimming of her, were present, such a Company of People of the Town and Country, and many of them, Persons of Quality, as could not well be Numbered; so that now, there is scarce one Person that doubts of the Truth of this thing.

It is full Ten Weeks ago that this young Woman was first seized with these Terrible Fits, yet she continues to be often seized with terrible Fits, and to bring up both Nails and Handles of Spoons, and is still remaining an Object of great Pity.

Since writing this post, Tom White alerted me to the digitised records of this case, which reveal that the witch, Elizabeth Carrier, died in prison. The records are held on a wonderful database entitled Witches in Early Modern England, which can be accessed here


Crime Monarchy Murder Witchcraft

They should kiss the Devil’s buttocks


Today’s post comes from a contemporaneous account of the North Berwick Witch Trials, which took place in Scotland in 1591-2. The case was an overnight sensation since it featured the attempted murder of King James VI (later James I of England) by witchcraft.


Agnis Sampson, which was the elder Witch, was taken and brought to Haliriud house before the Kings Maiestie and sundry other of the nobility of Scotland, where she was straitly examined, but all the persuasions which the Kings maiestie used to her with the rest of his counsell, might not provoke or induce her to confesse any thing, but [she] stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge. Whereupon they caused her to be conveied awaye to prison, there to receive such torture as hath been lately provided for witches in that country.

By due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Devill doth generally marke them with a privie marke. The Witches have confessed themselves that the Divell doth lick them with his tung in some privy part of their bodie before he doth receive them to be his servants, which marke commonly is given them under the haire in some part of their bodye, whereby it may not easily be found out or seene, although they be searched. Generally, so long as the marke is not seene by those which search them, the parties that hath the marke will never confesse any thing. By special commandment this Agnis Sampson had all her haire shaven off in eache parte of her bodie, and her head thrawen [twisted] with a rope according to the custome of that Countrye, being a paine most greevous, which she continued almost an hour, during which time she would not confesse any thing untill the Divels marke was found upon her privities, Then she immediately confessed whatsoever was demanded of her, and justifying those persons aforesaid to be notorious witches.

The saide Agnis Tompson was after brought againe before the Kings Maiestie and his Counsell, and being examined of the meetings and detestable dealings of those witches, she confessed that upon the night of Allhallows Eve last, she was accompanied as well with the persons aforesaide, as also with a great many other witches, to the number of two hundred. And that all they together went by Sea each one in a Riddle or Cive, and went in the same very substantially with Flaggons of wine, making merrie and drinking to the kerke of North Barrick in Lowthian, and that after they had landed, tooke handes on the land and danced this reill or short dance, singing all with one voice

Commer goe ye before, commer goe ye,
Gif ye will not goe before, commer let me

Agnis Tompson confessed that the Divell being then at North Barrick Kerke attending their comming in the habit or likenes of a man, and seeing that they tarried over-long, he at their comming enjoyned them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his Buttockes, in signe of duetye to him: which being put over the Pulpit barre, everye one did as he had enjoyned them: and having made his ungodly exhortations, wherein he did greatlye enveighe against the King of Scotlond, he received their oathes for their good and true service towards him, and departed: which done, they returned to Sea, and so home againe.

The witches demanded of the Divel why he did beare such hatred to the King, who answered, by reason the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the worlde: all which their confessions and depositions are still extant upon record. Agnis Sampson confessed before the Kings Maiestie sundrye thinges which were so miraculous and strange that his Maiestie saide they were all extreame lyars, wherat she answered, she would not wishe his Maiestie to suppose her words to be false, but rather to beleeve them. And thereupon, taking his Maiestie a little aside, she declared unto him the verye wordes which passed betweene the Kings Maiestie and his Queene at Upslo in Norway the first night of their mariage. Where at the Kinges Maiestie wondered greatlye, and swore by the living God, that he believed that all the Divels in hell could not have discovered the same: acknowledging her words to be most true, and therefore gave the more credit to the rest.

Agnis Tompson, by the Divels persuasion should have intended and put in execution the Kings Maiesties death in this manner: She confessed that she tooke a blacke Toade, and did hang the same up by the heeles, three daies, and collected and gathered the venome as it dropped and fell in an Oister shell, and kept the same venome close covered, until she should obtaine any parte or peece of linen cloth, that had appertained to the Kings Maiestie, and shirt, handkercher, napkin or any other thing which she practised to obtaine. And the said Agnis Tompson by her depositions since her apprehension saith, that if she had obtained any one peece of linen cloth which the King had worne and fouled, she had bewitched him to death, and put him to such extraordinary paines, as if he had beene lying upon sharp thornes and endes of Needles.

Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Maiestie was in Denmarke, she tooke a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each parte of the Cat, the cheefest partes of a dead man, and severall joyntes of his body, and that in the night following the saide Cat was conveyed into the midst of the sea by all these witches sayling in their riddles or Cives as is aforesaide, and so left the saide Cat right before the Towne of Lieth in Scotland. This done, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater hath not beene seene: which tempest was the cause of the perrishing of a Boate or vessell comming over from the towne of Brunt Island to the towne of Lieth, wherein was sundrye jewelles and riche giftes, which should have been presented to the now Queen of Scotland.

Againe it is confessed that the said christened Cat was the cause that the Kinges Maiesties Ship at his coming forth of Denmarke had a contrary winde to the rest of his Ships, which thing was most strange and true, as the Kings Maiestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the Shippes had a faire and good winde, then was the winde contrarye and altogether against his Maiestie: and further the saide witche declared, that his Maiestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their intentions.

As is clear from the account, Agnes Sampson was tortured in prison prior to her confession. She was probably forced to wear a scold’s bridle – an iron device which was fitted over the head and had sharp clamps which crushed the tongue, and sometimes spikes which poked into the face. She was also deprived of sleep, chained to the wall of her cell, and abused. It was only after extreme torture that Agnes confessed to witchcraft. She was eventually strangled and burned alive for her supposed crimes. Estimates suggest that up to four thousand people in Scotland were executed for witchcraft through the late sixteenth and seventeenth century.

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Crime Curiosities Death Murder Vice Witchcraft

In his Wolvish shape he would run among them

This curious account of a Werewolf comes from Germany in the 1590s. With a ravenous appetite for lust and murder, Stubbe Peeter eventually meets his own rather gory end.

In the townes of Cperadt and Bedbur neer unto Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evill, and the practising of wicked Artes even from twelve years of age till twentye, and so forwardes till his dying daye, insomuch that surfeiting in the Damnable desire of magick, necromancye, and sorcery, acquainting him selfe with many infernall spirites and fiends. The Devill who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischeefe as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle, which being put about him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy devouring Wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes: And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appeare in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never beene changed.

Stubbe Peeter hearwith was exceedingly well pleased, and the shape fitted his fancye and agreed best with his nature. If any person displeased him, he would incontinent thirst for revenge, and no sooner should they or any of theirs walke abroad in the fields or about the Cittie, but in the shape of a Woolfe he would presentlye encounter them, and never rest till he had pluckt out their throates and teare their joyntes a sunder: And after he had gotten a taste hereof, he tooke such pleasure and delight in shedding of blood, that he would night and day walke the Fields, and work extreme cruelties. And sundry times he would go through the Streetes of Collin, Bedbur, and Cperadt, in comely habit, and very civilly as one well knowen to all the inhabitants therabout, & oftentimes was he saluted of those whose friendes and children he had buchered, though nothing suspected for the same.

It came to passe that as he walked abroad in the fieldes, if he chanced to spye a companye of maydens playing together, or else a milking of their Kine, in his Woolvishe shape he would incontinent runne among them, and while the rest escaped by flight, he would be sure to laye holde of one, and after his filthy lust fulfilled, he would murder her presentlye, beside, if he had liked or knowne any of them, her he would pursue, whether she were before or behinde, and take her from the rest, for such was his swiftnes of foot while he continued a woolf: that he would outrunne the swiftest greyhound in that Countrye: and so muche he had practised this wickednes, that the whole Province was feared by the cruelty of this bloody and devouring Woolfe. Thus continuing his divelishe and damnable deedes within the compass of fewe yeares, he had murdered thirteene young Children, and two goodly young women bigge with Child, tearing the Children out of their wombes, in most bloody and savage sorte, and after eate their hartes panting hotte and rawe, which he accounted dainty morsells & best agreeing to his Appetite.

He had at that time living a faire young Damsell, his Daughter, after whom he also lusted most unnaturallye, and cruellye committed most wicked inceste with her. This daughter he begot when he was not altogether so wickedlye given, who was called by the name of Stubbe Bell, whose beautye and good grace was such as deserved commendations of all those that knewe her: And such was his inordinate lust and filthye desire toward her, that he begat a Childe by her, dayly using her as his Concubine, but as an insaciate and filthy beast, given over to work evil. With greedines he also lay with his owne Sister, frequenting her company long time even according as the wickednes of his hart lead him. Moreover being on a time sent for to a Gossip of his there to make merry and good cheere, ere he thence departed he so won the woman by his faire and flattering speech, and so much prevailed, yet ere he departed the house: he lay by her, and ever after had her companye at his command. This woman was Katherine Trompin, a woman of tall and comely stature of exceeding good favour and one that was well esteemed among her neighbours. But his lewde and inordinate lust being not satisfied with the company of many Concubines, nor his wicked fancye contented with the beauty of any woman, at length the devill sent unto him a wicked spirit in the similitude and likenes of a woman, so faire of face and comelye of personage, that she resembled rather some heavenly creature, so farre her beauty exceeded the chiefest sorte of women, and with her as with his harts delight, he kept company the space of seven yeeres, though in the end she proved and was found indeed no other then a she Devil

Long time he continued this wilde and villanous life, sometime in the likenes of a Woolfe, sometime in the habit of a man, sometime in the Townes and Citties, and sometimes in the Woods and thickettes to them adjoyning. Thus this damnable Stubbe Peeter lived the tearme of five and twenty yeeres, unsuspected to be Author of so many cruell and unnaturall murders, in which time he destroyed and spoyled an unknowen number of Men, Women, and Children, sheepe, Lambes, and Goates: and other Catttell. The inhabitantes of Collin, Bedbur and Cperadt, seeing themselves so greevously endangered, plagued, and molested by this greedy & cruel Woolfe, none durst travell to or from those places without good provision of defence. Oftentimes the inhabitants found the Armes & legges of dead Men, Women, and Children, scattered up and down the fields to their great greefe and vexation of heart, knowing the same to be done by that strange and cruell Woolfe. They daylye continued and sought to intrap him. In the end it pleased God that they should espye him in his woolvishe likeness, and moste circumspectlye set their Dogges upon him. He, seeing no way to escape the imminent danger, presently slipt his girdle from about him, whereby the shape of a Woolfe cleane avoided, he appeared presently in his true shape & likeness, having in his hand a staffe as one walking toward the Cittie. But the hunters came unto him, and brought him to his owne house, and finding him to be the man indeede, and no delusion or phantasticall motion, they had him before the Magistrates to be examined.

Thus being apprehended, he was shortly after put to the racke in the Towne of Bedbur, but fearing the torture, he volluntarilye confessed his whole life, and made knowen the villanies which he had committed for the space of 25 yeares, also he confessed how by Sorcery he procured of the Devill a Girdle, which beeing put on, he forthwith became a Woolfe. After he had some space beene imprisoned, the majestrates found out through due examination of the matter, that his daughter Stubbe Bell and his Gossip Katherine Trompin, were both accessory to divers murders committed, who for the same were arraigned, and with Stubbe Peeter condemned, and their severall Judgementes pronounced the 28 of October 1589· in this manner, that is to saye: Stubbe Peeter as principall mallefactor, was judged first to have his body laide on a wheele, and with red hotte burning pincers in ten several places to have the flesh pulled off from the bones, after that, his legges and Armes to be broken with a woodden Hatchet, afterward to have his head strook from his body, then to have his carkasse burned to Ashes.

Also his Daughter and his Gossip were judged to be burned quicke to Ashes, the same time and day with the carkasse of the aforesaid Stubbe Peeter, and on the 31 of the same moneth, they suffered death accordingly in the town of Bedbur in the presence of many peeres & princes of Germany.

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Crime Execution Witchcraft

She did witch unto death Agnes Ratcleife

These fragments come from Henry Goodcole, a chaplain of Newgate prison.  In 1621 he wrote an account of the sensational trial of Elizabeth Sawyer, a poor woman convicted of witchcraft and subsequently hanged.  Her case attracted widespread attention, and in the same year, a play entitled The Witch of Edmonton, written by John Ford, Thomas Dekker, and William Rowley, was performed at the Cockpit Theatre.  In this play Elizabeth is depicted as a victim of vicious abuse by the authorities; echoing writers such as Reginald Scot (Discoverie of Witchcraft,1584) who sought to temper belief in witchcraft and supernatural activity. No formal records of Elizabeth’s trial survive..

A great, and long suspition was held of this person to be a witch, and the eye of Mr Arthur Robinson, a worthy Justice of Peace, was watchfull over her and her ways. Seeing the death of Nurse-children and Cattell strangely and suddenly to happen, and to finde out who should be the author of this mischiefe, an old ridiculous custome was used, which was to plucke the Thatch off her house, and to burne it, and it being so burnd, the author of such mischiefe should presently then come. And it was observed and affirmed to the Court, that Elizabeth Sawyer would presently frequent the house of them that burnt the thatch which they pluckt off her house.

This triall, though it was slight and ridiculous, settled a resolution in those whom it concerned, to finde out by all meanes they could endeavour, her long, and close carried Witchery, to explaine it to the world; and being descried, to pay in the ende such a worker of Iniquity her wages, and that which shee had deserved, (namely, shame and Death). Her face was most pale & ghost-like without any blood at all, and her countenance was still dejected to the ground.  Her body was crooked and deformed, even bending together, which happened but a little before her apprehension. That tongue, which by cursing, swearing, blaspheming, and imprecating, as afterward she confessed, was the occasioning cause of the Divels accesse unto her.

On Saturday, being the fourteenth day of April 1621. this Elizabeth Sawyer late of Edmonton, in the County of Middlesex Spinster, was arraigned, and indited three severall times at Justice Hall in the Old Baily in London. Which Inditements were, viz.

That she, the said Elizabeth Sawyer, not having the feare of God before her eyes, but moved and seduced by the Divell, by Diabolicall helpe, did out of her malicious heart, (because her neighbours where she dwelt would not buy Broomes off her) revenged her selfe on them in this manner, namely, witched to death their Nurse Children and Cattell.

She was also indited that shee the said Elizabeth Sawyer, by Diabolicall helpe, and out of her malice afore-thought, did witch unto death Agnes Ratcleife, a neighbour of hers, dwelling in the towne of Edmonton where shee did likewise dwell, and the cause that urged her thereunto was because that Elizabeth Ratcliefe did strike a Sowe of hers in her sight, for licking up a little Soape where shee had laide it, and for that Elizabeth Sawyer would be revenged of her, and thus threatned Agnes Ratcleife. That evening Agnes Ratcleife fell very sicke, and was extraordinarily vexed, and in a most strange manner in her sicknesse was tormented. Oath whereof was by this Agnes Ratcleifes Husband, given to the Court, the time when shee fell sicke, and the time when shee died, which was within foure dayes after she fell sicke: and further then related, that in the time of her sicknesse his wife Agnes Ratcleife lay foaming at the mouth, and was extraordinarily distempered. The said Agnes Ratcleife lying on her death-bed, these wordes confidently spake: namely, that if shee did die at that time shee would verily take it on her death that Elizabeth Sawyer her neighbour, whose Sowe with a washing-Beetle she had stricken, was the occasion of her death.


 Witch (1592)
Master Arthur Robinson had often & divers times, upon the complaints of the neighbours against this Elizabeth Sawyer, laboriously and carefully examined her, and stil his suspition was strengthened against her that doutlesse shee was a Witch. Information was given unto him by some of her Neighbours, that this Elizabeth Sawyer had a private and strange marke on her body, and he sitting in the Court at that time of her triall, informed the Bench thereof, desiring the Bench to send for women to search her. 
The Bench commanded officers to fetch in three women to search the body of Elizabeth Sawyer, to see if they could finde any such unwonted marke. One of the womens names was Margaret Weaver, that keepes the Sessions House for the City of London, a widow of an honest reputation, and two other grave Matrons, brought in by the Officer out of the streete, passing by there by chance, were joyned with her in this search of the person named, who fearing and perceiving she should by that search of theirs be then discovered, behaved her selfe most sluttishly and loathsomely towards them, intending thereby to prevent their search of her. Nevertheless, nicenesse they laid aside, and according to the request of the Court, they all three searched her, and made their answer unto the Court, being sworne thereunto to deliver the truth.  And they all three said that they, a little above the Fundiment of Elizabeth Sawyer found a thing like a Teate the bignesse of the little finger, and the length of halfe a finger, which was branched at the top like a teate, and seemed as though one had suckt it, and that the bottome thereof was blew, and the top of it was redde. This view of theirs, and answere that she had such a thing about her, which boldly shee denied, gave some insight to the Jury of her.  Who upon their consciences returned the said Elizabeth Sawyer, to be guilty, by dibolicall help, of the death of Agnes Ratcliefe onely, and acquitted her of the other two Inditements.

A Relation what shee said at the place of Execution, which was at Tiborne, on Thursday, the 19. day of Aprill 1621.

This confession which is now read unto me, by Master Henry Goodcoale Minister, with my owne mouth I spake it to him on Tuesday last at Newgate, and I here doe acknowledge, to all the people that are here present, that it is all truth, disiring you all to pray unto Almightie God to forgive me my grievous sinnes.

This was confirmed, in the hearing of many hundreds at her last breath, what formerly she in prison confessed to me. We whose names are heere subscribed, do thereby testifie, that Elizabeth Sawyer late of Edmonton in the Countie of Midds. Spinster, did in our hearings, confesse on Tuesday the 17. of Aprill, in the Gaole of Newgate, to Master Henry Goodcoale Minister of the word of God, the repeated foule crimes, and confirmed it at her death the 19. of Aprill following, to be true.

Deare Christians, lay this to heart, to subvert you· that so you that doe detest her abhominable wordes, and wayes, may never taste of the cup nor wages of shame and destruction, of which she did in this life: from which and from whose power, Lord Jesus save and defend thy little flocke. Amen.

An e-text of The Witch of Edmonton can be found here

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