Bury St. Edmunds witch trials

Bury St. Edmunds witch trials

The Bury St Edmunds witch trials were a series of trials conducted in the town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England intermittently between the years 1599 and 1694.

Two specific trials in 1645 and 1662 became historically well known. The 1645 trial "facilitated" by the Witchfinder General saw 18 people executed in one day. The judgment by the future Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Sir Matthew Hale in the 1662 trial acted as a powerful influence on the continuing persecution of witches in England and similar persecutions in the American colonies. [Notestein 1911: p261 –262]


As well as being the seat of county assizes, Bury St. Edmunds had been a site for both Piepowder Courts and court assizes, the latter since the Abbey was awarded the Liberty of Saint Edmund. [cite web
last = East Anglian
first = Daily Times
title = Days when the monks held all the aces. |url=http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/features/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&category=Features&tBrand=EADOnline&tCategory=features&itemid=IPED10%20Dec%202007%2009%3A58%3A51%3A527
accessdate = 2007-12-20
] [cite web
last = Knott
first = Simon
title = Suffolk Churches.
accessdate = 2007-12-15
] [cite web
last = St Edmundsbury
first = Borough Council
title = The history of Bury St. Edmunds markets
accessdate = 2007-12-15
] For the purposes of civil government the town and the remainder (or "body") of the county were quite distinct, each providing a separate grand jury to the assizes. [cite web
last = British History
first = On Line
title = Houses of Benedictine monks; Abbey of Bury St Edmunds
accessdate = 2007-12-15

The trials

The first recorded account of a witch trial at Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk was held in 1599 when Jone Jordan of Shadbrook (Stradbroke [Wright 2005: p13] ) and Joane Nayler were tried, but there is no record of the charges or verdicts. In the same year, Oliffe Bartham of Shadbrook was executed, [Notestein 1911: p393] for "sending three toads to destroy the rest (sleep [Geis & Bunn 1997: p50] ) of Joan Jordan". [Wright 2005: p13]

The 1645 trial

On the 27 August 1645, no fewer than 18 "witches" were hanged at Bury St. Edmunds. [Notestein 1911: p178] These trials were held by Matthew Hopkins, the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General. [Geis & Bunn 1997: p188] They were:
*Anne Alderman, Rebecca Morris and Mary Bacon of Chattisham
*Mary Clowes of Yoxford
*Sarah Spindler, Jane Linstead, Thomas Everard (cooper) and his wife Mary of Halesworth
*Mary Fuller of Combs, near Stowmarket
*John Lowes, Vicar of Brandeston
*Susan Manners, Jane Rivet and Mary Skipper of Copdock, near Ipswich
*Mary Smith of Glemham
*Margery Sparham of Mendham
*Katherine Tooly of Westleton.
*Anne Leech and Anne Wright of unknown. [Robbins 1959: p252] It has been estimated that in all of the English witch trials between the early-15th and late-18th centuries, fewer than 500 witches were executed, so this one trial and execution accounted for 3.6% of that total. [Harvnb|Sharpe|2002|p=3.] According to John Stearn(e) [A detailed account of Hopkins and his fellow witchfinder John Stearne can be found in Malcolm Gaskill's "Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy" (Harvard, 2005). The duo's activities were portrayed, unreliably but entertainingly, in the 1968 cult classic "Witchfinder-General" (US: "Conqueror Worm").] known at various times as the witch-hunter, [cite web
last = St Edmundsbury
first = Borough Council
title = Reformation and Civil War 1539-1699
accessdate = 2007-12-15
] [Notestein 1911: p166] and "witch pricker", [Notestein 1911: p248] assistant to Matthew Hopkins, in his book "A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft" there were one hundred and twenty others in gaol awaiting trial, of these 17 were men. [Wright 2005: p26] Following a three-week adjournment made necessary by the advancing King's Army, [Notestein 1911: p179] the second sitting of the court resulted in 68 other "condemnations"; [Notestein 1911: p179] [cite web
last = Essex Witch Trials
title = A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft John Stearne 1648
url = http://www.hulford.co.uk/stearne.html
accessdate = 2008-03-15
] though reports say "mass executions of sixty or seventy witches". [Notestein 1911: p404] [Robbins 1959: p66] Both Hopkins and Stearne treated the search for, and trials of, witches as military campaigns, as shown in their choice of language in both seeking support for and reporting their endeavours.cite web
last = Purkiss
first = Diane
title = Desire and Its Deformities: Fantasies of Witchcraft in the English Civil War
accessdate = 2007-12-20
] There was much to keep the minds of Parliamentarians busy at this time with the Royalist Army heading towards Cambridgeshire but concern about the events unfolding were being voiced. Prior to the trial a report was carried to the Parliament "...as if some busie men had made use of some ill Arts to extort such confession;..." [Notestein 1911: p178] that a special Commission of Oyer and Terminer was granted for the trail of these Witches. [Notestein 1911: p178] After the trail and execution the
"Moderate Intelligencer", a parliamentary paper published during the English Civil War, in an editorial of 4–11 September 1645 expressed unease with the affairs in Bury:

The 1662 trial

This took place on 10 March 1662, [Geis & Bunn 1997: p36] when two elderly widows, Rose Cullender and Amy Denny (Deny / Duny), living in Lowestoft, were accused of witchcraft by their neighbours. They may have been aware of each other, inhabiting a small town, [Geis & Bunn 1997: p125] but Cullender was from a property owning family, whilst Denny was a widow of a Labourer. [Geis & Bunn 1997: p32–33] They were tried at the Assize held in Bury St. Edmunds by one of England's most eminent judges of the time and Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer Sir Matthew Hale. [Notestein 1911: p261] The jury found them guilty on thirteen charges of using malevolent witchcraft and the judge sentenced them to death. They were hanged in the town on 17 March 1662.

Thomas Browne, the philosopher, physician and author, attended the trial. [cite web
last = Bunn
first = Ivan
title = The Lowestoft Witches
accessdate = 2007-12-29
] The reporting of similar events that had occurred in Denmark by someone as eminent as Browne seemed to confirm the guilt of the accused. [Notestein 1911: p266] [Thomas 1971: pp524–525] He also testified that "the young girls accusing Denny and Cullander were afflicted with organic problems, but that they undoubtedly also had been bewitched". [Geis & Bunn 1997: p6] He had expressed his belief in the existence of witches twenty years earlier, [Notestein 1911: p266] and that only: "they that doubt of these, do not only deny them, but spirits; and are obliquely, and upon consequence a sort not of infidels, but atheists" [Browne 1645: p64] in his work "Religio Medici", published in 1643: blockquote|... how so many learned heads should so farre forget their Metaphysicks, and destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to question the existence of Spirits: for my part, I have ever beleeved,and doe now know, that there are Witches;— — how so many learned heads should so far forget their metaphysics, and destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to question the existence of spirits. For my part, I have ever believed, and do now know, that there are witches; [Browne 1645: p71] The book "A Tryal of Witches", taken from a contemporary report of the proceedings, erroneously dates the trial as March 1664, both on the front page and introduction. Original documents in the Public Record Office [(ASSI/16/4/1)see [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATLN=6&CATID=581177] ] and other contemporary records clearly states it took place in the 14th year of the reign of Charles II (30 January 1662 to 29 January 1663). [ reign = actual: 29 May 1660 – 6 February 1685 but according to royalists "de jure" from 30 January 1649 the day of execution of his father. At this time the new year did not occur until March, so the father's death (and Charles II succession) would have been recorded as 1648. Further clarification if required] [cite web
last = Bunn
first = Ivan
title = The Lowestoft Witches
accessdate = 2007-12-15

This case became a model for, and was referenced in, the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, when the magistrates were looking for proof that spectral evidence could be used in a court of law. [Geis & Bunn 1997: p185] cite book | last =Jensen | first =Gary F. | title ="The Path of the Devil: Early Modern Witch Hunts." | publisher =Rowman & Littlefield | date =2006 | location =Lanham | ISBN 0742546977 ] [cite web
last = Bunn
first = Ivan
title = The Lowestoft Witches
accessdate = 2007-12-15
] Reverend John Hale, whose wife was accused at Salem, in his publication "Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft" noted how the judges consulted for precedents and lists the 60 page publication "A Tryal of Witches". [Robbins 1959: p66]
Cotton Mather in his 1693 book "The Wonders of the Invisible World," concerning the Salem Witch Trials specifically draws attention to the Suffolk trial, [Mather 1693: p44] and the judge stated that although spectral evidence should be allowed in order to begin investigations, it should not be admitted as evidence to decide a case. [Mather 1693: p42]

Later trials

The next recorded trial was in 1655 when a mother and daughter by the name of Boram were tried and said to be hanged. The last was in 1694 when Lord Chief Justice Sir John Holt – "who did more than any other man in English history to end the prosecution of witches" [Notestein 1911: p320] – forced the acquittal of Mother Munnings' of Hartis (Hartest [Wright 2005: p37] ) on charges of prognostications causing death. [Robbins 1959: p69] The chief charge was 17 years old, the second bought by a man on his way home from an alehouse. Sir John "so well directed the jury that she was acquitted". [Robbins 1959: p248] {



*citation |last=Browne |first=Thomas |year=1645 |title=facsimile version of Sir Thomas Browne’s ReligioMedici |publisher=Chicago University |location=Chicago |url=http://penelope.uchicago.edu/relmed/relmed1645.pdf
accessdate = 2007-12-15 |ref=Religio

*citation |last=Geis |first=Gilbert |year=1997 | coauthors=Ivan Bunn |title=A Trial of Witches A Seventeenth –century Witchcraft Prosecution |publisher=Routledge |location=London & New York |isbn=0415171091|ref=Witchtrial
*citation |last=Notestein |first=Wallace |year=1911 |title=A History of Witchcraft In England from 1558 to 1718 |publisher=American Historical Association 1911 (reissued 1965) New York Russell & Russell |location=New York |L.C. Catalogue Card No: 65-188240954829816 |ref=Witchcraft
*citation |last=Robbins |first=Rossell Hope |year=1959 |title=The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology |publisher=Peter Nevill Limited |location=London |isbn=0517362457 (for modern publication) |ref=Demonology
*citation |last=Sharpe |first=James |contribution=The Lancaster witches in historical context |editor-last=Poole |editor-first=Robert |title=The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories |place=Manchester |publisher=Manchester University Press |year=2002 |isbn=978-0719062049 |pages=1–18
*citation |last=Smolinski |first=Reiner |year=2007|title=facsimile version of The Wonders of the Invisible World. Observations as Well Historical as Theological, upon the Nature, the Number, and the Operations of the Devils (1693). Cotton Mather |publisher=University of Nebraska-Lincoln |location=Nebraska |url=http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=etas |accessdate = 2008-03-15 |ref=Wonders
*citation |last=Thomas |first=Keith |year=1971 |title=Religion and the Decline of Magic – studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth and seventeenth century England|publisher=Penguin Books |location=London |isbn=0140137440
*citation |last=Wright |first=Pip & Joy |year=2005 |title=Witches in and around Suffolk |publisher=Paw-print Publishing |location=Stowmarket |isbn=0954829816

Further reading

*Gaskill, Malcolm. "Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy." Harvard University Press: 2005. ISBN 0674019768
*Geis, Gilbert, and Bunn Ivan. "A Trial of Witches: A Seventeenth-century Witchcraft Prosecution." Routledge: London & New York, 1997.ISBN 0415171091
*Jensen Gary F. "The Path of the Devil: Early Modern Witch Hunts." Rowman & Littlefield 2006 Lanham ISBN 0742546977
*Notestein, Wallace "A History of Witchcraft In England from 1558 to 1718" Kessinger Publishing: U.S.A. 2003 ISBN 0766179184

External links

* [http://members.tripod.com/mythofdesire/possession/id18.htm A Sample Case: The Trial at St. Bury Edwards]

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