…’twas tough being a witch in 1600s England… as Author Gerald Neal reveals…

…my good friend, Author Gerald Neal, is no stranger to this ‘ere blog… and my page is the more blessed for that… however blessings are usually never far from curses… and his insightful piece below is witness to that… enjoy…



The first case on the Sessions Book in Harwich concerned five women accused of witchcraft in 1601 – all were found guilty and hanged, not burnt alive as myth would have it. This did not occur until 1645 when Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General from nearby Manningtree bought over fifty suspected witches for torture and subsequent trial at Chelmsford court.

In 1605 Mary Hart was found not guilty of bewitching 7lb of meat that had gone putrid, but her luck ran out the following year when she was found guilty and hanged on another charge.

In 1609, Thos Barneby, Peter and Cecelia Wigborough were accused but found not guilty of witchcraft and wizardery. Also in 1611 and 1612 Peter faced further charges and was again adjudged innocent of all charges.

Most witches though were elderly widows or spinsters with a strong belief that witchcraft was hereditary. Indeed three generations of witches were accused in Harwich; Elizabeth Hanby (hanged), her daughter, Jane Prentice in1634 and 1638 plus her granddaughter Susan Prentice 1638.

Margaret Buller and her sister Anne was found guilty of murder and witchcraft at Dovercourt. John Camper’s father William Camper, a yeoman of Dovercourt, testified that; “John my son aged 13, fell ill with stomach pains and awoke during the night much frightened and scared with a thing fluttering on his face in his sleep like a bird and he said; pray God mother Buller did not send me something unto me this night”. Two days later John was dead. Both sisters were hanged.

Others were accused of making threats then sending their imps, familiars (often cats) or even birds to bring about their victims downfall; either sickness, loss of money or even their demise. One such woman (Jane Wiggins) went to Harwich docks to beg some fish from a fisherman Anthony Payne – he denied her so she cursed him and his ship. He, his ship with 16 other persons were all lost at sea on their following voyage. Also after the loss, strange rat-like imps and birds were seen to torment his surviving family and animal herd, Jane Wiggins was hanged for her perceived crimes.

The Essex witches though were not believed to fly or sail the sea in sieves, also they did not meet in witches’ Sabbaths, indulge in orgies or sleep with the Devil. A mark of guilt though could be ‘Witches Marks’ that were found upon the body of an accused woman, showing where she had suckled her imps with milk or blood.

Sarah Barton charged with witchcraft at Harwich 1645 gave evidence against her sister, Marion Hockett saying; “she had cut off her bigs (nipples) so she could suckle her three imps who she called; Littleman, Prettyman and Dainty.

After 1647 presentments for witchcraft decreased in number and there were no more executions, although Bridget Weaver the last Harwich witch was heard at the Essex Assizes in 1675.

…thanks for sharing, Gerald… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!



Filed under Blether, Scribbling & Stuff

18 responses to “…’twas tough being a witch in 1600s England… as Author Gerald Neal reveals…

  1. Tough up north too. I collaborated with Scots artist, Pauline McGee, who has done a couple of paintings on the subject. Ddid a couple of poems as a collaboration we call Fuse-the-Muse (the big word Is Ekphrasis so I’m told. I did a reading at an art exhibition in Glasgow last November and a couple of shows September and January.

    Want a link to the poems?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Blaming the women, eh? Not that much has changed. They were horrific times, that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks to Gerald for this thorough and interesting review of his book. Thank you, Seumas, for having him as a guest. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Gerald Neal tells us how tough it was being a witch in the 1600s through a post on Seumas Gallacher’s blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General from nearby Manningtree bought over fifty suspected witches for torture and subsequent trial at Chelmsford court.” How much did he pay for each witch??? Just asking…


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