Sunday, 18 December 2011

Witches of Maryland

In North America, most people think of Salem when witch trials are mentioned. I've already blogged about Virginia witches where the first such trial was held on the continent in 1626. But the neighboring colony of Maryland was known to have witch trials as well.

At least twelve people were prosecuted for being a witch in that colony. The earliest known trials were aboard ships bound for Maryland. In 1654, on the Charity from London, a storm struck at sea. Passengers aboard the ship claimed the relentless storm was caused by "the malevolence of witches." An old woman by the name of Mary Lee was found to have a "witch's mark." The crew hanged her. Her corpse and all of her belongings were thrown into the sea.

The second sea hanging involved the great grandfather of George Washington, Colonel John Washington, in 1659. He accused the owner of the ship Edward Prescott for hanging Elizabeth Richardson. Little is known as to why she was regarded to be a witch. Washington was unavailable for Prescott's trial. Prescott claimed John Greene had been in command of the ship at the time and was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

In 1665, a grand jury refused to indict Elizabeth Bennett for being a witch. Not much is known about the case, except that she was the wife of a wealthy landowner, which makes her quick acquittal understandable.

Rebecca Fowler wasn't so lucky. In 1685, she had "not the fear of God before her eyes, but being led by the instigation of the Devill certain evill & dyabolicall Artes called withcrafts charmes & sorceryes... did use practice & exercise... against one Francis Sandsbury... and Several other persons... and their bodyes were very much the worse, consumed, pined & lamed..."

Rebecca Fowler was hanged on the 9th day of October, 1685.

Similar charges had been brought against John Cowman in 1674. He was convicted "...for Witchcraft Conjuration Sorcery or Enchantment used upon the Body of Elizabeth Goodale." The governor gave him a last minute reprieve, providing the sheriff take him to the gallows and place a rope around his neck. After that he was to remain an indentured servant to the governor and Council that had spared his life.

The most famous Maryland witch is Moll Dyer. Because she was an herbal healer (a cunning woman?), she was said to have been accused of being a witch and driven out of her home during a winter night by the local townspeople and her home burned to the ground. Her body was found by a child a few days later frozen to a large stone. Unfortunately, historians have never uncovered any evidence that Moll ever existed. Even though the legend has been disregarded as a folktale, the rock where she supposedly died and left a hand print sits outside the historical society in Leonardtown.

Several other cases surfaced throughout the 17th and into the early 18th century. Katharine Pout was fined one hundred pounds of tobacco, and the last trial was held in 1712 when Virtue Violl was acquitted. Like most other areas, the majority of those accused were women, and in Maryland, those cases were 90 percent.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hortense de Mancini

Hortense Mancini
During my Restoration research, I came across another notorious but fascinating woman who lived by her own rules and scandalised Europe - Hortense de Mancini was rich and titled naturally, how else could she have got away with her outrageous behaviour?

Born 'Ortensia' in Rome on 6th June 1646 to Baron Lorenzo Mancini, an Italian aristocrat and Girolama Mazzarini, the sister of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France. Ortensia was the fourth of the five famous Mancini sisters, who along with two of their female Martinozzi cousins, were known at the court of King Louis XIV as the Mazarinettes. After her father’s death in 1650, her mother brought her daughters from Rome to Paris so Cardinal Mazarin, might gain them advantageous marriages.

Charles II proposed to Hortense in 1659, but Cardinal Mazarin believed the exiled king to have little in the way of prospects and refused the union. On Charles’ restoration, Mazarin realised his mistake and offered a dowry of 5 million livres, which Charles refused.

Hortense's hand was also requested by Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, another first cousin of Louis XIV, but failed when Cardinal Mazarin refused to include the stronghold-castle of Pigneol in her dowry. A similar situation occurred when the Duke of Lorraine offered for her also.

On 1 March 1661, fifteen-year-old Hortense was married to the twenty-nine-year-old Armand-Charles de la Porte, duc de La Meilleraye, one of the richest men in Europe, and granted the title of duc Mazarin. On the death of Cardinal Mazarin shortly afterward, he gained access to his wife's huge inheritance, which included the Palais Mazarin in Paris and its fine art collection.

Hortense was young, bright, and popular; Armand-Charles was miserly, extremely jealous and mentally unstable. He had his female servants' front teeth knocked out to prevent them from attracting male attention, and chipped off or painted over the "dirty bits" in his art collection. He forbade his wife to keep company with other men, made midnight searches for hidden lovers, insisted she spend hours a day at prayer, and forced her to leave Paris and move to the country.

Rebellious, Hortense began a lesbian love affair with the sixteen-year-old Sidonie de Courcelles. Her husband sent both girls to a convent to cure their immorality, which failed as they plagued the nuns with pranks: adding ink to the holy water, flooded the nuns' beds, and headed for freedom up the chimney. The duchess in her memoirs refutes these claims saying that when she asked the nuns for water to wash her feet she was refused, and:

'It is true that we filled a large coffer which stood in our dormitory with water, and, the boards of the floor being very loosely joined together, the water which overflowed leaked through the wretched floor and wetted the beds of the good sisters. This accident was talked about as if it had been something which we had done of design.'

Despite their differences, Hortense and her husband had four children, whom she left behind when she made her escape with the help of her brother, Philippe, Duc de Nevers, who procured horses and an escort to take her to Rome, and the refuge of her sister Marie Mancini, now the Princess Colonna.

Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, declared himself her protector as did Louis XIV and granted her a pension of 24 thousand livres. Hortense retired to Chambéry in Haute-Savoie and as Savoy’s mistress, established her home as a meeting place for authors, philosophers, and artists. After the death of the duke in 1675, she was turned out by his jealous widow, Marie Jeanne Baptiste de Savoie-Nemours, and Hortense's own husband froze her income, including the pension from Louis XIV. The English ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu, hoped Hortense would replace King Charles' current mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, and therefore increase his own standing.On January 2, 1676, the French Ambassador, Ruvigny, wrote to inform Pomponne that:

'The Duchesse de Mazarin had arrived two days previously in London, dressed as a cavalier, accompanied by two women and five men, without counting a little Moor, who takes his meals with her.'

Now 30, Hortense arrived under the pretext of a visit to her young cousin, Mary of Modena, the new wife of James, Duke of York. She cut an impressive figure, tall and beautiful in men's clothing or women's, she rode and drank hard, gambled, shot pistols, swam in rivers, took lovers of both genders, played the guitar and danced like a gypsy.Saint-Evremond, who cherished a boundless admiration for Hortense described her:

'She is one of those Roman beauties who in no way resemble your dolls of France ... the colour of her eyes has no name ; it is neither blue, nor grey, nor altogether black, but a combination of all the three ; they have the sweetness of blue, the gaiety of grey, and, above all, the fire of the black . . . there are none in the world so sweet . . . there are none in the world so serious and so grave when her thoughts are occupied with any serious subject . . . they are large, well-set, full of fire and intelligence ... all the movements of her mouth are full of charm, and the strangest grimaces become her wonderfully, when she imitates those who make them. Her smiles would soften the hardest heart and ease the most profound depression of mind  they almost entirely change her expression, which is naturally haughty, and spread over it a certain tincture of sweetness and kindness, which reassures those hearts which her charms have alarmed. Her nose, which without doubt is incomparably well-turned and perfectly-proportioned, imparts a noble and lofty air to her whole physiognomy. The tone of her voice is so harmonious and agreeable that none can hear her speak without being sensibly moved. Her complexion is so delicately clear that I cannot believe that any one who examined it closely can deny it to be whiter than the driven snow. Her hair is of a glossy black, with nothing harsh about it. To see how naturally it curls as soon as it is let loose, one would say it rejoiced to shade so lovely a head ; she has the finest turned countenance that a painter ever imagined." 

Hortense soon attracted the attention of Charles II and Nell Gwyn went into mourning, in ironical anticipation of the fall of the Duchess of Portsmouth. By mid 1676, Hortense had replaced Louise de Kerouaille in Charles II's affections and was granted a Royal pension of £4,000, considerably lightening her financial troubles, but causing poor Louise to pour out her anxiety to anyone who would listen.

Louise de Kerouaille Duchess of Portsmounth

Obtusely, Hortense began a lesbian relationship with Anne Lennard, Countess of Sussex, a girl half her age and the king's illegitimate daughter by Barbara Palmer.  Gossip about the two was salacious and Lady Chaworth wrote to her brother Lord Roos in December, 1676:

"Lady Sussex and Madame Mazarin have privately learnt to fence, and went downe into St. James Parke the other day with drawne swords under theire night gownes, which they drew out and made severall fine passes with, to the admiration of severall men that was lookers on in the Parke."

Anne's husband subsequently ordered his wife to the country, where she refused to do anything but lie in bed, repeatedly kissing a miniature of Hortense.

The introduction to Aphra Behn's ‘The History of the Nun’ has been taken as a suggestion that Behn too had romantic relations with Hortense, who also infuriated Charles II by beginning an affair with Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco. Charles cut off her pension, but almost immediately repented and restarted the payments, though this behaviour signified the end of her position as the king's favourite. She and Charles remained friends, and Louise de Kerouaille returned to her role as the King's mistress.

A few days before Charles II’s death in 1685,  the diarist John Evelyn wrote:

the King sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland, and Mazarin [Hortense] Six days after, all was in dust.

Hortense was well-provided for by the next king, James II, possibly due to her kinship with the new queen, Mary of Modena. Even when James fled England and William and Mary came to power in 1688, she remained in London, albeit with a reduced pension, where she presided over such as Charles de Saint-Évremond, the poet and epicurean, who brought to her door all the learned men of London.

Evelyn recorded her eventual death in 1699 at the age of 53:

......... born at Rome, educated in France, and was an extraordinary beauty and wit, but dissolute, and impatient of matrimonial restraint, so as to be abandoned by her husband, and banished: when she came to England for shelter, lived on a pension given her here, and is reported to have hastened her death by intemperate drinking strong spirits.

With the exception of Marguerite de Valois, Hortense and her sister, Marie Mancini, were the first women in France to put their memoirs into print, possibly to record for posterity the cause of separation from their abusive husbands. Hortense may have committed suicide, keeping her life dramatic until the very end. Her creditors seized her corpse, but her husband, the only man rich enough to redeem it, claimed her body and carted it around on his travels in France, before finally allowing it to be interred by the tomb of her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Pendle Witches and Their Magic: Part Two

Blacko Tower, a Victorian folly (ca 1890) near Malkin Tower Farm, Lancashire

The crimes of which Mother Demdike and her fellow witches were accused dated back years before the 1612 trial. The trial itself might have never happened had it not been for King James I’s obsession with the occult. Until his reign, witch persecutions had been relatively rare in England compared with Scotland and Continental Europe. But James’s book Daemonologie presented the idea of a vast conspiracy of satanic witches threatening to undermine the nation. Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth, which presents the first depiction of a witches’ coven in English drama, in James I’s honour.

To curry favour with his monarch, Lancashire magistrate Roger Nowell of Read Hall arrested and prosecuted no fewer than twelve individuals from the Pendle region and even went to the far fetched extreme of accusing them of conspiring their very own Gunpowder Plot to blow up Lancaster Castle. Two decades before the more famous Matthew Hopkins began his witch-hunting career in East Anglia, Roger Nowell had set himself up as witchfinder general of Lancashire.

What do we actually know about Mother Demdike? At the time of her trial she appears as a widow and matriarch, living in a place called Malkin Tower with her widowed daughter Elizabeth Device, and her three grandchildren, James, Alizon, and Jennet. Her clan was very poor and supported themselves by a combination of begging and by the family business of cunning craft. The trial transcripts mention that local farmer John Nutter of Bull Hole Farm near Newchurch hired Demdike to bless his sick cattle. Interestingly John Nutter chose not to testify against her family in the trial.

Demdike’s family at Malkin Tower had a powerful rival in the form of Chattox, another widow and charmer, who lived a few miles away at West Close near Fence. Chattox allegedly bewitched to death her landlord’s son, Robert Nutter of Greenhead, for attempting to rape her daughter, Anne Redfearne. For social historians it’s interesting to see how having a fearsome reputation as a cunning woman could be the only true power a poor woman could hope to wield.

Unfortunately this could also backfire as it did with Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, who exchanged angry words with a pedlar outside Colne in March, 1612. Moments later the pedlar collapsed and suddenly went stiff and lame on one half of his body and lost the power of speech. Today we would clearly recognise this as a stroke. But the pedlar and several witnesses were convinced that Alizon had lamed her victim with witchcraft. Even she seemed to believe this herself, immediately falling to her knees and begging his forgiveness. This unfortunate event triggered the arrest of Alizon and her grandmother. Alizon wasted no time in implicating Chattox, her grandmother’s rival, and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfearne.

The four accused witches were interrogated by Roger Nowell, and then force-marched to Lancaster Castle, walking over fells and moorland. Both Demdike and Chattox, whose real name was Anne Whittle, were frail and elderly. It was amazing they survived the journey. In Lancaster they were handed over to the sadistic Thomas Covell, the gaoler who reputedly slashed the ears off Edward Kelly, friend of John Dee, when he was arrested on the charge of forgery. The women were chained to a ring in the floor in the bottom of the Well Tower. Although torture was officially forbidden in England, gaolers were allowed to starve and beat their prisoners at will. Being chained to a ring in the floor and kept in constant darkness would certainly feel like torture for those who had to endure it.

On Good Friday following the arrests, worried family and friends met at Malkin Tower to discuss what they would do in regard to this tragic situation. Constable John Hargreaves came to write down the names of everyone present and later Roger Nowell made further arrests, accusing these people of convening at Malkin Tower on Good Friday for a witches’ sabbat, something he would have read about in Daemonologie. The arrests didn’t stop until he had the mythical thirteen to make up the alleged coven. Twelve were kept at Lancaster and one, Jennet Preston who lived over the county line in Gisburn, Yorkshire, was sent to York. Apart from Chattox and Demdike and their immediate families, none of these newly arrested people had previous reputations as cunning folk. It seemed they were just concerned friends and neighbours who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kept in such horrible conditions, Demdike died in prison before she came to trial, thus cheating the hangman. The others experienced a different fate.

The first to be arrested, Alizon was the last to be tried at Lancaster in August, 1612. Her final recorded words on the day before she was hanged for witchcraft are a moving tribute to her grandmother’s power as a healer. Roger Nowell, the prosecutor, brought John Law, the pedlar she had allegedly lamed, before her. Again Alizon begged the man’s forgiveness for her perceived crime against him. John Law, in return, said that if she had the power to lame him, she must also have the power to heal him. Alizon regrettably told him that she wasn’t able to, but if her grandmother, Old Demdike had lived, she could and would have healed him.

Mother Demdike is dead but not forgotten. By the mid-17th century, Demdike’s name became a local byword for witch, according to John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson’s Lancashire Folklore. In 1627, only fifteen years after the Pendle Witch Trial, a woman named Dorothy Shaw of Skippool, Lancashire, was accused by her neighbour of being a “witch and a Demdyke.”

History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. Long after her demise, Mother Demdike and her fellow Pendle Witches endure, their story and spirit woven into the living landscape, its weft and warp, like the stones and the streams that cut across the moors. Enthralled by their true history, I wrote my novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, dedicated to their memory. Other books have been written about the Pendle Witches, but mine turns the tables, telling the story from Demdike and Alizon Device’s point of view. I longed to give these women what their world denied them—their own voice. Their voices deserve to finally be heard.


Owen Davies, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History (Hambledon Continuum)
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (Yale)
Malcolm Gaskill, Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy (John Murray)
John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson, Lancashire Folklore (Kessinger Publishing)
King James I, Daemonologie, available online
Jonathan Lumby, The Lancashire Witch-Craze (Carnegie)
Margaret Murray, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, available online
Edgar Peel and Pat Southern, The Trials of the Lancashire Witches (Nelson)
Robert Poole, ed., The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (Manchester University Press)
Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, available online
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin)
John Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (Ams Pr Inc)
Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits (Sussex Academic Press)
Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr. Dee (Flamingo)

Friday, 11 November 2011

Aphra Behn

Doing research for my novels, I come across all sorts of fascinating people I cannot resist including in my latest wip.

I have heard of Aphra Behn, of course, as the first women who earned a living from her writing. What I didn’t know about her was she was born Aphra or ‘Eafrey’ Johnson, and spent a year in Surinam, Dutch Guiana in the West Indies, where her father was given a diplomatic post, although he allegedly didn’t survive the journey. Aphra returned to London as a widow, claiming her husband was a Dutchman called Johan Behn, but nothing is known of him, so his existence is still in debate. Perhaps Aphra simply tried to avail herself of the freedom a widow had over a single woman in the 17th Century.

At this time, the Anglo Dutch War was not going well and a group of Cromwellian exiles in Antwerp were working with the Dutch to undermine the Restoration regime.  Aphra was employed by Charles II as a spy, and under the codename, ‘Astrea’, was sent to Antwerp with instructions to reacquaint herself with a former suitor, William Scott, son of the regicide Thomas Scott who was executed in 1660, and discover what the Dutch were up to. 

William was eager to ingratiate himself with the English government, but he didn’t know very much so Aphra left Antwerp with very little information. Maybe as a result of this, her expenses were not paid by the infamous William Chiffinch, Charles II’s advisor, administrator of the ‘Secret Service’ budget and reputed pimp to the king.

This led to her borrowing the money to enable her to return to London in January 1667,  but also resulted in her spending some time in gaol for debt as she had no means to repay it.  Perhaps King Charles was told of her fate, or another benefactor stepped forward, but Aphra’s debts were finally discharged and she was released sometime in 1669.

Understandably, Aphra left the world of espionage and wrote plays for the theatre. The Forc'd Marriage was first performed in 1670 by The Duke's Company, followed by The Amorous Prince, in 1671. The Dutch Lover (1673), Abdelazar, (1676), The Town Fop, (1676), The Debauchee, (1677), and The Counterfeit Bridegroom, (1677).

In March, 1677, Aphra’s most successful work, The Rover was produced and Nell Gwyn came out of retirement to play the role of the whore, Angelica Bianca ('white angel'), her performance praised by The Duke of York (later James II) who was also rumoured to have been Aphra’s lover.

Nell Gwynn also took the lead as Lady Knowell in Aphra’s next play, Sir Patient Fancy (1678), and The Feigned Courtesans (1679), which Behn dedicated to Nell.  Maybe due to the demands of the debauched Royal Court, Aphra’s plays were becoming sexually risqué, with Behn herself being accused of being a libertine.  Her friendship with the Earl of Rochester, infamous for his sexual escapades and explicit poetry did nothing to allay this impression.  In fact her hero in, The Rover, was said to have been based on Rochester.

Aphra openly expressed her views on love and sex in her writing, and her poetry portrays romantic relationships with both men and women, discusses rape and impotence, puts forth a woman's right to sexual pleasure, and includes scenes of eroticism between men.

In 17th Century Theatre, women were assumed to be of low morals, their success coupled with envy in a traditionally male profession. Ignoring them all, and enjoying the patronage of the King, Aphra continued writing. The tragicomedy  The Young King was produced in the autumn of 1679, The Revenge in 1680, followed by The Second Part of The Rover in early 1681, The False Count in November and The Roundheads in December, 1681.  The City Heiress was produced in the spring of 1682. Audiences loved her plays with their rampant sexual content, but she had her critics. Alexander Pope, for instance, wrote of Behn:

The stage how loosely does Astræea tread
Who fairly puts all characters to bed.

When The Duke's Company merged with the King's Company to form the United Company, Aphra turned to writing poetry. Poems Upon Several Occasions appeared in 1684, as did Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister

When Charles II died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother, the Duke of York, as James II. Behn wrote verses on both occasions, and returned to writing for the stage. The Lucky Chance was performed in 1686  followed by the farce The Emperor of the Moon, which was not successful.

In 1688, Behn published Oroonoko, about a noble slave and his tragic love. Aphra claimed to have based this story on a slave leader she had met during her year in Surinam. It was an instant success, going through many reprints, and was even adapted for the stage by Thomas Southerne in 1695.

By the time James II was forced to abdicate his throne, Aphra was quite ill with rheumatoid arthritis. Her own descriptions of her lame hands and the lampoonists' cruel verses mocking her "limbs distortured" suggest she kept writing despite extreme pain. Aphra died on April 16, 1689, and was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. Two of her plays, The Widdow Ranter and The Younger Brother, were produced and published postuhumously.

The introduction to her "The History of the Nun" has been taken as a suggestion that Behn had romantic relations with Hortense Mancini, another of Charles II’s mistresses and notoriously bi-sexual. In it she says: infinitely one of Your own Sex ador'd You, and that, among all the numerous Conquest, Your Grace has made over the Hearts of Men, Your Grace had not subdu'd a more intire Slave; .............. the honour and satisfaction of being ever near Your Grace, to view eternally that lovely Person, and here that surprising Wit; what can be more grateful to a Heart, than so great, and so agreeable, an Entertainment? And how few Objects are there, that can render it so entire a Pleasure, as at once to hear you speak, and to look upon your Beauty?

Aphra was unapologetic on the subject of her explicit writing, saying she was: ‘forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it.’

Virginia Woolf wrote of Aphra:

All women together ought to let flowers fall upon
the tomb of Aphra Behn, ...for it was she who earned
them the right to speak their minds.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Gambling on love

I've been reading about John Law: gambler, criminal, genius, founder of our monetary system. His story is nothing short of amazing, but it is the story of his wife Catherine that intrigues me most.

Early in his eventful career, after a night of successful gambling, Law was introduced to Madame Catherine Seigneur (née Knowles, or Knollys, 1669 — 1747), an English noblewoman — a descendent of Anne Boleyn, in fact — who was married to a Frenchman.

Although there are no images of her (regretfully), she is described as having "dainty features, a generous bosom and minuscule waist." The Duc de Saint-Simon described her as "rather handsome," but flawed by a birthmark that covered one eye and the upper part of one cheek.

Saint-Simon goes on: "She was proud, overbearing and very impertinent in her talk and manners."

The few bits available give hints of her character: "...she was accustomed to say there was not a more tiresome animal in the world than a Duchess." [Memoirs of the life of John Law of Lauriston]

Attracted to this clever, outspoken women, Law pursued her. She was a married noblewoman, and he a gamester with criminal record and a mysterious if questionable lineage. Such an alliance was unthinkable, but they were in France, far from home. And far from her husband, it would appear; at the least, there is no record of his objection.

Law had a "knack" of winning at dice and games; when the pattern became visible, he was in the habit of moving on. But this time there was Catherine. He asked her to run away to Italy with him.

To run off with Law would ruin Catherine's reputation forever; there would be no turning back. One can only surmise that she was 1) miserable in her marriage, and 2) madly in love with John Law, for she agreed to this ruinous course of action.

She became Lady Catherine Law, although marriage was impossible. News of her betrayal made a news journal in Paris.

It was a peripatetic life: Genoa, Rome, Florence, Turin, Venice. At each city Law supported them with his gambling, successfully playing the tables — but all the while researching banking and finance. Over time — and countless moves, often "on the run," and either in greatly feted glory or in hiding from an outraged mob — Catherine bore him two children, a son and a daughter.

She seemed to have been game for it all. Their's is surely a love story. If only I could discover more.

{Image: an engraving from a print by Leon Schenk showing John Law as Controller General of Finance of France.}

Source: The Moneymaker by Janet Gleeson — a fantastic biography.

Sandra Gulland


Sunday, 30 October 2011

17th-Century Medicine

A couple of months ago while visiting Trinity College in Dublin, I saw an exhibit in celebration of 400 years of medicine. I was intrigued by the display. It had an original copy of the classic John Gerard's Herbal, or Generall Historie of Plantes. The glass cases also contained tools used by surgeons throughout the years. Notably absent was any mention of the cunning folk. Without saying as much, the exhibit really meant 400 years of male history, namely doctors and physicians. Anyone who was not a learned physician was simply regarded as a "quack".

What many people don't realize is that during the 17th century there were few doctors. Even fewer people could afford the services of a doctor, and those who could often didn't trust them. Most healers were herbalists and/or users of magic. Anthropologists commonly refer to such healers as shamans.

In writing The Dreaming, I discovered that I needed guidance from the era I was writing about. I first looked to Gerard's Herbal, but it wasn't easy getting my hands on a copy. Instead, I turned to Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal. Copies of this book are still easily available, and I was able to get a late 20th-century edition. Don't let a modern edition fool you. Culpeper's words were left intact. The book was, however, typeset in a modern font, making it a little easier to read.

Because my stories are set in Virginia, I also used medicinal guides that showed me what plants the Native Americans used. For instance, when I portrayed an outbreak of small pox, the Natives had no remedies. It was a new disease to the Americas and nearly wiped out the indigenous population. My cunning woman was all too familiar with the disease, and Culpeper let me know that saffron was a good herb of choice. But saffron was limited in Virginia because it had to be shipped from England. Thankfully, all was not lost. An African servant knew of another treatment called variolation.

In another scene, a teenager was bitten by a poisonous snake. In this case, my healer used a knife to make small incisions over the fang marks. She then sucked out the poison. I had been able to verify this treatment was indeed practiced by the Native people in the Virginia area for snake bites and thought it would make a good addition. It's only been within the last thirty to forty years that the method has fallen out of favor with modern emergency crews.

While these are only a couple of examples of 17th-century medicine, I think they give the general idea. There were gifted healers long before modern physicians.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Pendle Witches and Their Magic: Part 1

In 1612, in one of the most meticulously documented witch trials in English history, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest in Lancashire, Northern England were executed. In court clerk Thomas Potts’s account of the proceedings, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, published in 1613, he pays particular attention to the one alleged witch who escaped justice by dying in prison before she could come to trial. She was Elizabeth Southerns, more commonly known by her nickname, Old Demdike. According to Potts, she was the ringleader, the one who initiated all the others into witchcraft. This is how Potts describes her:

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knows. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.

Quite impressive for an eighty-year-old lady! In England, unlike Scotland and Continental Europe, the law forbade the use of torture to extract witchcraft confessions. Thus the trial transcripts supposedly reveal Elizabeth Southerns’s voluntary confession, although her words might have been manipulated or altered by the magistrate and scribe. What’s interesting, if the trial transcripts can be believed, is that she freely confessed to being a healer and magical practitioner. Local farmers called on her to cure their children and their cattle. She described in rich detail how she first met her familiar spirit, Tibb, at the stone quarry near Newchurch in Pendle. He appeared to her at daylight gate—twilight in the local dialect—in the form of beautiful young man, his coat half black and half brown, and he promised to teach her all she needed to know about magic.

Tibb was not the “devil in disguise.” The devil, as such, appeared to be a minor figure in British witchcraft. It was the familiar spirit who took centre stage: this was the cunning person’s otherworldly spirit helper who could shapeshift between human and animal form, as Emma Wilby explains in her excellent scholarly study, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits. Mother Demdike describes Tibb appearing to her at different times in human form or in animal form. He could take the shape of a hare, a black cat, or a brown dog. It appeared that in traditional English folk magic, no cunning man or cunning woman could work magic without the aid of their spirit familiar—they needed this otherworldly ally to make things happen.

Belief in magic and the spirit world was absolutely mainstream in the 16th and 17th centuries. Not only the poor and ignorant believed in spells and witchcraft—rich and educated people believed in magic just as strongly. Dr. John Dee, conjuror to Elizabeth I, was a brilliant mathematician and cartographer and also an alchemist and ceremonial magician. In Dee’s England, more people relied on cunning folk for healing than on physicians. As Owen Davies explains in his book, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History, cunning men and women used charms to heal, foretell the future, and find the location of stolen property. What they did was technically illegal—sorcery was a hanging offence—but few were arrested for it as the demand for their services was so great. Doctors were so expensive that only the very rich could afford them and the “physick” of this era involved bleeding patients with lancets and using dangerous medicines such as mercury—your local village healer with her herbs and charms was far less likely to kill you.

In this period there were magical practitioners in every community. Those who used their magic for good were called cunning folk or charmers or blessers or wisemen and wisewomen. Those who were perceived by others as using their magic to curse and harm were called witches. But here it gets complicated. A cunning woman who performs a spell to discover the location of stolen goods would say that she is working for good. However, the person who claims to have been falsely accused of harbouring those stolen goods can turn around and accuse her of sorcery and slander. This is what happened to 16th century Scottish cunning woman Bessie Dunlop of Edinburgh, cited by Emma Wilby in Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits. Dunlop was burned as a witch in 1576 after her “white magic” offended the wrong person. Ultimately the difference between cunning folk and witches lay in the eye of the beholder. If your neighbours turned against you and decided you were a witch, you were doomed.

Although King James I, author of the witch-hunting handbook Daemonologie, believed that witches had made a pact with the devil, there’s no actual evidence to suggest that witches or cunning folk took part in any diabolical cult. Anthropologist Margaret Murray, in her book, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, published in 1921, tried to prove that alleged witches were part of a Pagan religion that somehow survived for centuries after the Christian conversion. Most modern academics have rejected Murray’s hypothesis as unlikely. Indeed, lingering belief in an organised Pagan religion is very difficult to substantiate. So what did cunning folk like Old Demdike believe in?

Some of her family’s charms and spells were recorded in the trial transcripts and they reveal absolutely no evidence of devil worship, but instead use the ecclesiastical language of the Catholic Church, the old religion driven underground by the English Reformation. Her charm to cure a bewitched person, cited by the prosecution as evidence of diabolical sorcery, is, in fact, a moving and poetic depiction of the passion of Christ, as witnessed by the Virgin Mary. The text, in places, is very similar to the White Pater Noster, an Elizabethan prayer charm which Eamon Duffy discusses in his landmark book, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580.

It appears that Mother Demdike was a practitioner of the kind of quasi-Catholic folk magic that would have been commonplace before the Reformation. The pre-Reformation Church embraced many practises that seemed magical and mystical. People used holy water and communion bread for healing. They went on pilgrimages, left offerings at holy wells, and prayed to the saints for intercession. Some practises, such as the blessing of the wells and fields, may indeed have Pagan origins. Indeed, looking at pre-Reformation folk magic, it is very hard to untangle the strands of Catholicism from the remnants of Pagan belief, which had become so tightly interwoven.

Unfortunately Mother Demdike had the misfortune to live in a place and time when Catholicism was conflated with witchcraft. Even Reginald Scot, one of the most enlightened men of his age, believed the act of transubstantiation, the point in the Catholic mass where it is believed that the host becomes the body and blood of Christ, was an act of sorcery. In a 1645 pamphlet by Edward Fleetwood entitled A Declaration of a Strange and Wonderfull Monster, describing how a royalist woman in Lancashire supposedly gave birth to a headless baby, Lancashire is described thusly: "No part of England hath so many witches, none fuller of Papists." Keith Thomas’s social history Religion and the Decline of Magic is an excellent study on how the Reformation literally took the magic out of Christianity.

However, it would be an oversimplification to state that Mother Demdike was merely a misunderstood practitioner of Catholic folk magic. Her description of her decades-long partnership with her spirit Tibb seems to draw on something outside the boundaries of Christianity.

Although it is difficult to prove that witches and cunning folk in early modern Britain worshipped Pagan deities, the so-called fairy faith, the enduring belief in fairies and elves, is well documented. In his 1677 book The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft, Lancashire author John Webster mentions a local cunning man who claimed that his familiar spirit was none other than the Queen of Elfhame herself. The Scottish cunning woman Bessie Dunlop mentioned earlier, while being tried for witchcraft and sorcery at the Edinburgh Assizes, stated that her familiar spirit was a fairy man sent to her by the Queen of Elfhame.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

All Hallows Eve in Old Lancashire

Come Halloween, the popular imagination turns to witches. Especially in Pendle Witch Country, the rugged Pennine landscape surrounding Pendle Hill, once home to twelve individuals arrested for witchcraft in 1612. The most notorious was Elizabeth Southerns, alias Old Demdike, cunning woman of long-standing repute and the heroine of my novel Daughters of the Witching Hill.

How did these historical cunning folk celebrate All Hallows Eve?

All Hallows has its roots in the ancient feast of Samhain, which marked the end of the pastoral year and was considered particularly numinous, a time when the faery folk and the spirits of the dead roved abroad. Many of these beliefs were preserved in the Christian feast of All Hallows, which had developed into a spectacular affair by the late Middle Ages, with church bells ringing all night to comfort the souls thought to be in purgatory. Did this custom have its origin in much older rites of ancestor veneration? This threshold feast opening the season of cold and darkness allowed people to confront their deepest fears—that of death and what lay beyond. And their deepest longings—reunion with their cherished departed.

After the Reformation, these old Catholic rites were outlawed, resulting in one of the longest struggles waged by Protestant reformers against any of the traditional ecclesiastical rituals. Lay people stubbornly continued to hold vigils for their dead—a rite that could be performed without a priest and in cover of darkness. Until the early 19th century in the Lancashire parish of Whalley, some families still gathered at midnight upon All Hallows Eve. One person held a large bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the others knelt in a circle and prayed for their beloved dead until the flames burned out.

Long after the Reformation, people persisted in giving round oatcakes, called Soul-Mass Cakes to soulers, the poor who went door to door singing Souling Songs as they begged for alms on the Feast of All Souls, November 2. Each cake eaten represented a soul released from purgatory, a mystical communion with the dead.

In Glossographia, published in 1674, Thomas Blount writes:

All Souls Day, November 2d: the custom of Soul Mass cakes, which are a kind of oat cakes, that some of the richer sorts in Lancashire and Herefordshire (among the Papists there) use still to give the poor upon this day; and they, in retribution of their charity, hold themselves obliged to say this old couplet:

God have your soul,
Bones and all.

Other All Hallows folk rituals invoked the power of fire to purify and ward. In the Fylde district of Lancashire, farmers circled their fields with burning straw on the point of a fork to protect the coming crop from noxious weeds.

Fire was used to protect people from perceived evil spirits active on this night. At Longridge Fell in Lancashire, very close to Pendle Hill, the custom of ‘lating’ or hindering witches endured until the early 19th century. On All Hallows Eve, people walked up hillsides between 11 pm and midnight. Each person carried a lighted candle and if the flame went out, it was taken as a sign that an attack by a witch was impending and that the appropriate charms must be employed to protect oneself.

What do these old traditions mean to us today?

All Hallows is not just a date on the calendar, but the entire tide, or season, in which we celebrate ancestral memory and commemorate our dead. This is also the season of storytelling, of re-membering the past. The veil between the seen and unseen grows thin and we may dream true.

Wishing a blessed All Hallows Tide to all!

Source: Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain


Soul Cake Recipes

Souling Songs

Excerpt from Daughters of the Witching Hill

At Hallowtide, Liza insisted on walking up Blacko Hill, as we’d always done, for our midnight vigil on the Eve of All Saints. Under cover of darkness we crept forth with me carrying the lantern to light our way and John following with a pitchfork crowned in a great bundle of straw.

Once we reached the hilltop, after a furtive look round to make sure no one else was about, John lit the straw with the lantern flame so that the straw atop the pitchfork blazed like a torch. With him to hold the fork upright and keep an eye out for intruders, Liza and I knelt to pray for our dead. In the old days, we’d held this vigil in the church, the whole parish praying together, the darkened chapel bright as day with the many candles glowing on the saints’ altars. Now we were left to do this in secret, stealing away like criminals in the night, as though it were something shameful to hail our deceased. I prayed for my mam and grand-dad, calling out to their souls till I felt them both step through the veil to bring me comfort.

In my heart of hearts, I did not believe my loved ones were in purgatory waiting, by and by, to be let into heaven. There was no air of suffering or torment about them, only the joy of reunion. My mam, young and pretty, worked in her herb garden. She hummed a lilting tune whilst her earth-stained fingers pointed out to me the plants I must use to ease Liza’s birth pangs. Grand-Dad whispered his old charms to bless me and Liza and John.

A long spell I knelt there, held in the embrace of my beloved dead, till the straw on the pitchfork burned itself out, falling in embers and ash to the ground. Our John helped my pregnant daughter to her feet, then we made our way home through the night that no longer seemed so dark.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Thirty Years War – A Beginners Guide Part 1

I must confess to pure self interest in writing this blog because for me the Thirty Years War  is something that happened in “the backstory” to my main interest in the English Civil Wars. Yet many of the men who fought in the English Civil Wars, Prince Rupert and Thomas Fairfax for example, served on the continent and gained their experience in the bloody conflict that raged across Europe and involved nearly all the main European powers .

So how did it all begin? 

As many wars of that time did...with religion! I won’t go into the complex toing and froing of the sixteenth century that began with the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, brought about by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and intended to end the war between the German Lutherans and Catholics. 

Instead we will begin in 1618 with "The Bohemian Revolt".

Round 1 (1618-1620)

In the absence of an heir in order to ensure an orderly succession, Matthias, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (of the Habsburg line), appointed his heir apparent, the Catholic Ferdinand of the Habsburg line (later to become Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor) to the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. This upset the Bohemian protestants whose preferred candidate was the protestant Elector of the Palatine (and father to Prince Rupert of the Rhine), Frederick V.

The Defenestration of Prague
In May 1618 Ferdinand’s (Catholic) representatives in Prague were seized by the Protestant Hussites and thrown out of a window in the palace (the "Defenestration of Prague" - footnote to history despite the drop of 50 feet they survived unharmed). This small local revolt quickly spread throughout all of the Bohemian crown (Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia, and Moravia. The latter already in a protestant/catholic revolt).

The death of Empereror Matthias in 1619 fanned the flames of what should have been a short lived revolt that had been on the verge of settlement. The revolt spread to Western Germany and Ferdinand applied to his nephew, Phillip IV King of Spain for assistance. The Bohemians brought the protestant FrederickV Elector of Palatine in on their side. They were joined by Upper and then Lower Austria and further assistance was rendered in the east by  the Protestant Hungarian Prince of Transylvania, Bethlen Gabor, who led a spirited campaign into Hungary with the support of the Ottoman Sultan, Osman II. The Ottomans offered a force of 60,000 cavalry to Frederick and plans were made for an invasion of Poland with 400,000 troops in exchange for the payment of an annual tribute to the Sultan. These negotiations triggered the Polish–Ottoman War of 1620-21. 

On 17 August 1619, Ferdinand was officially deposed as King of Bohemia and was replaced by the Palatine Elector Frederick V. 

End of Round 1 New Year 1620:  Ferdinand V has been driven from the throne of Bohemia. Frederick, Elector of Palatine has been crowned King of Bohemia and over in the east war is raging between Poland and the Ottoman empire.

Round 2 (1620-1625)

You may recall Ferdinand had applied to Spain for help and in 1620 Spain dispatched an army from Brussels (Belgium at the time was a Spanish possession). Simultaneously, Saxony was persuaded over to the Catholic side and invaded Lusatia. The two armies united and defeated Frederick V at the Battle of the White Mountain (near Prague) on 8 November 1620.

Frederick was deposed as King of Bohemia and Bohemia fell into the hands of the Catholics (where it remains). Frederick and his family become exiles. (For those who haven't made the connection - Frederick’s wife is Elizabeth, “the Winter Queen”, sister of Charles I).  

The Spanish, also in conflict with the Dutch, saw the strategic importance of the Rhine Palatinate and sought to occupy it. The years from 1621-1625 were marked by continuing conflict over the Palatinate and by 1625 the Spanish had fully occupied the area, leaving the Netherlands vulnerable. The remnants of the Protestant army withdrew to service with the Dutch.

Meanwhile in France, the succession of Louis XIII to the throne following the death of the Hugueonot sympathiser Henri IV, marked a new period of religious intolerance against the Protestant Hugeonots leading to a general revolt that waged across France during the period 1620-1628. The English became embroiled in the Siege of La Rochelle which led to the Anglo-French war of 1627-1629. Charles I’s attempts to broker peace came to nothing and the English withdrew to deal with their own growing internal difficulties. The defeat of the Hugueonots marked another blow to the Protestant hopes on the continent.

End of Round 2:  1625 - Frederick V, Elector of Palatine and one time King of Bohemia is in exile, the Catholic Habsburgs are in full control of Bohemia, Holland and the Palatinate. The French Catholics, who are unaligned to the Habsburgs are in control of France. The Protestant cause is now resting in Holland, Denmark and Sweden (and over in the East where Transylvania has triumphed).

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Beginners Guide to the Thirty Year’s War in my next blog.

For more reading on Hoydens and Firebrands see:
Nicola Cornick’s blog on William Craven’s affair with Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen 
Anita Davison’s blog on Prince Rupert of the Rhine 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

VENGEANCE THWARTED - A New book of the English Civil War by Prue Phillipson

This week, Hoydens welcomes debut author, Prue Phillipson. Of her novel, Prue comments ‘I have studied the history of the mid-seventeenth century and am fascinated by its impact on the daily lives of families. A true story of a haystack firing followed by a summary hanging gave me the idea for an exciting opening but under different circumstances.  I enjoyed working out the unusual plot, tracing two lives from one incident that powerfully involved them both until they again intertwined.’ Over to Prue....

We think of the mid-seventeenth century as a time when great matters were settled by fighting. Who rules England? A divinely appointed king or an elected parliament? But behind the scenes were serious efforts on the part of both factions to maintain a framework of legality. In Vengeance Thwarted I show how these efforts touched the lives of two ordinary families, the Hordens of Northumberland and the Wilsons of Yorkshire, from 1640 to 1647.
Sir John Horden is a magistrate faced with a case of theft and rick-firing. The Scots army is advancing to take over the county after the Battle of Newburn-on-Tyne. Sir John is anxious to try the case properly. The furious villagers claim that the culprit is a Scots deserter but the magistrate establishes that the man has actually deserted from the English army. He wishes to show the Scots that looting and pillage must be tried and punished without fear or favour. He convenes a hasty trial in the Dame School and picks a jury of twelve men who are not witnesses. While the case looks strong he is concerned that the accused seems to be a half-wit, but when a messenger rides up and shouts out that the Scots forces are coming, he asks the jury their verdict and the cry of guilty triggers a lynch mob and a summary hanging.
The magistrate, a genuine lover of the due processes of the law, is troubled in his mind. He would be even more so if he knew the true culprit! Read the book to find out.
When the Wilson family learn of their son’s death the enraged mother urges her other son to avenge his brother but his father seeks redress under the law by appealing to the Star Chamber Court system whereby a citizen could approach the king’s representative directly. In this case it is the Earl of Strafford presiding over the Court of the North at York. There is a delay while Strafford is engaged with the Council on the peace treaty but an answer comes at length, under his signature and couched in the legalese of the time, assuring the family of the fairness of the trial. That there had been cunning work by Sir John’s son, Robert, in the meanwhile, backed up by bribery of a clerk of the court, does not invalidate the fact that the appearances of justice were maintained.
When Parliament under Pym’s leadership was in the ascendancy new anti-Papist laws were passed so lists were made of Catholic households whose goods were sequestered. The bureaucracy must have been immense since the lists included any who had even harboured Catholics. Every document of sequestration had to be delivered and details of family members noted, since a proportion of the value of each estate could be kept back for their support.
Sir John Horden himself comes under this punishment in the novel, and the Wilsons suffer under the subsequent laws affecting those who refused to sign the Covenant.
Parliament passed many draconian laws in the mid-seventeenth century but it was still crucial to carry them out as fairly as possible. Spurious laws and often spurious justice, but the keeping of written records and the holding of trials with witnesses and juries persisted. Chaotic and apparently lawless as much of the country was where actual fighting was taking place there remained an underlying loyalty to the idea of justice enshrined in law. 


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Gold fever everlasting

Before the Gold Rush, before Dot Com Fever (and bust), there was alchemy—a formula thought to be able to turn base metals into gold or silver. The search for such a formula was certainly a part of the 17th century in all levels of society.

Madame Catherine Voisin was burned alive at the stake for being a witch, but it was possibly Gold Fever that killed her.

Denis Poculot, Sieur de Blessis (sometimes spelled Belsize), is reputed to have been her lover. Whatever their relationship, there was a certainly a significant affiliation between them. He foolishly made the claim to have succeeded in making lead into gold, and was  thus more or less held prisoner in the château de Fontenay-en-Brie by the bankrupt Roger de Pardaillan, Marquis de Termes, in an attempt to get Blessis to reveal his secret. (Or, at the least, produce counterfeit money.)

It's likely that La Voisin, who believed in alchemy, invested in Blessis's work. Indignant over his capture, she went to Saint-German-en-Laye to try to put a plea before the King for Blessis's release—and thus began her downfall. (Her mentally unstable daughter claimed she intended to poison the King there.) A few days later, March 12 of 1679, Voisin was arrested coming out of her neighbourhood church after mass.

I'm left wanting to know more about Marquis de Termes (shown at left). He was related to the infamous Madame de Montespan's husband, Monsieur de Montespan. He spent some time in the Bastille. He was in business with the Minister of Finance Fouquet, and was thus impoverished by Fouquet's fall from grace.

As to his prisoner, Denis Poculot, Sieur de Blessis, it appears that he was sent to the galleys. He was known for a trick in which mirrors were manipulated in such a way that whoever looked at them died.

And all for the love of gold.

Sandra Gulland is author of The Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Queen of the Pamunkey

Daughter of paramount chief, Opechancanough, Cockacoeske was known as the Queen of the Pamunkey. Queen is an incorrect term, but it was the closest 17th-century word to the English concept. In reality, Cockacoeske was a weroansqua, or a female chief. The correct title for a male chief was weroance, and they were usually referred to by the English as kings.

Born around 1640, little is known about Cockacoeske's early life. In 1656, she became chief of the Pamunkey upon the death of her husband Totopotomoy. An ally of the English, he was killed in a battle while fighting against other native tribes. Later, Cockacoeske had an illegitimate son with Colonel John West. The boy was also named John West.

Despite the Pamunkey's alliance with the English, they were attacked during Bacon's Rebellion (a topic for a future blog). Men, women, and children were captured or killed. To save her own life, Cockacoeske went into hiding and nearly starved to death. Her son was one of those captured. During the investigation of the rebellion, the royal commissioners determined that Cockacoeske had remained loyal to England, and she was rewarded with regal attire.

Cockacoeske is best known for the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677. The treaty made her the leader over a number of Indian nations, including the Chickahominy and Rappahanock, who were previously not part of the Powhatan chiefdom. The treaty set up the first Indian reservation, the Pamunkey, which exists to this day. Members from the tribe, as well as the Mattaponi, gave tributes of the now endangered river otter skins that were highly prized by the English to the governor. The agreement is still honored and tribal members present deer and wild turkeys to the Governor's Mansion in Richmond annually, on the day before Thanksgiving.

Cockacoeske died around 1686. Her attempt to restore the paramount chiefdom failed as there was little cooperation with the other tribes. By maintaining her alliances with England, she made it possible for her people to survive.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Yorkshire “Dick Whittington” – Sir William Craven and the rise of the Craven Dynasty

Ashdown House Parterre
This week the hoydens are delighted to welcome back NICOLA CORNICK , USA Today best selling author with another installment in the Craven dynasty. Nicola has a close association with Ashdown House in Berkshire, the seat of the Craven family. 

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of The City Madam at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon. This satiric comedy, written in 1632, reflects on the consumer culture of the early 17th century. The story contrasts the city and the court, new money and old and it was of particular interest to me because it set in context the rise of Sir William Craven, founder of the Craven family fortunes, and father of the First Earl of Craven, Stuart supporter extraordinaire, who built Ashdown House. 

Philip Massinger, who wrote The City Madam, was the son of a provincial gentleman and a tradesman's daughter and was very familiar with the scramble up the social ladder in 17th century society. In scene two of the play Sir Maurice Lacy makes fun of the gentleman Mr Plenty with the following words: "Thy great-grandfather was a butcher, and his son a grazier; thy sire constable of the hundred and thou the first of thy dunghill created gentleman." He could almost have been talking about Sir William. 

The Craven family can be traced back to William Craven of Appletreewick in Yorkshire who in the mid sixteenth-century married a woman called Beatrix and had three sons, Henry, Anthony and William. There is little information about the social standing of William’s family at this time but it is known that William was born in one of two cottages that now form part of the church of St John the Baptist in Appletreewick. He attended a "Dames School" in nearby Burnsall, a place where basic education was provided to the children of poor working families before they themselves were old enough to go out to work. In 1560 William got his big chance when he was chosen to be the new apprentice to Robert Hulson, a Burnsall man who had become a merchant tailor in London.

After he became a member of the Merchant Tailors' Company in 1569, Craven went into business with Hulson and when Hulson died he left his former apprentice £5, “a mourninge gown and my shop at Breedstreete corner of Watling Street with the lytle shoppe and warehowse thereunto adjoining, for a terme of three years.” This bequest was made to William "for failthful and diligent service to me done." He had evidently been a loyal and industrious business partner.

After Hulson's death Craven expanded the business and became a Warden of the Merchant Tailors Company on 4th July 1594. He married late, in 1597, when he was already a man of substance and could look for a wife who was younger but was of equal wealth and social standing. Elizabeth Whitmore was the daughter of William Whitmore, another merchant tailor, and her brother George went on to be Lord Mayor of London. Elizabeth and William Craven had six children.

William was by now well on the way to making a fortune and moving up in the fluid social world of the late-16th century middle class. Opportunities provided by trade gave men such as Craven a route not merely to money but also to influential municipal connections. He was elected Alderman of the Bishopsgate Ward of London in 1600, became Sheriff of London in 1601, was knighted in 1603 and became Lord Mayor of London in 1610. He made his money in the wholesale of cloth for the domestic market, providing, for example, cloth worth almost £600 for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I. Later on in his career he became a moneylender to the aristocracy, and his debtors included Sir Robert Cecil, the 2nd Earl of Essex and the 9th Earl of Northumberland. 

Craven was associated with a number of charitable projects in London and he also became a benefactor to the Yorkshire villages of Burnsall and Appletreewick. He paid for renovations to St Wilfrid's Church Burnsall in 1612, furnishing the main body of the church and the chancel with seats and "stalls of wainscot" and he walled the churchyard and had gates added. He paid for a bridge to be built over the River Wharf and had a causeway built from Appletreewick to the church. This was visible until the mid-20th century but is now buried. A rather charming verse was painted onto the church wall to record Craven's generosity:

This church of beauty most, repaired and bright,
Two hundred pouds or more, did cost Sir William Craven, knight,
Many other works of charity whereof no mention here;
True tokens of his bounty in this parish did appear.
His place of his nativity in Appletreewick is seen,
And late of London Lord City Mayor he hath been.

There is a second verse in a similar vein referring to "that bountiful knighte" and his generosity once again. The total sum Craven spent restoring the church and its grounds was about £600, the equivalent of about £80,000 today. Craven also built and endowed Burnsall Grammar School in 1605, giving £20 per annum to pay a schoolteacher and £10 for an usher (assistant schoolmaster). The scholars received free education in Latin and English but had to pay one shilling a week for tuition in Maths. The school statutes give a fascinating insight into both Sir William's benevolent paternalism and into the influence that the rest of the Craven family were already exerting in local affairs. All documents relating to the governance of the school were to be kept in a chest in the schoolhouse. The chest had three locks and the three keys were held by the Rector of Burnsall, 

Sir William and his relatives Robert and Antony Craven. The keys were handed down through the family and the statutes decreed that they should be held by "two men of the name of Craven from the Parish of Burnsall" for as long as there were Craven descendents in the parish.

The school was built on land given by Sir Stephen Tempest, the local squire. The Tempest family had been well-established in the Appletreewick area for three hundred years; it would be interesting to know how they felt about the re-appearance of the newly rich and knighted Sir William Craven in a county where they had always led society, especially as in 1601 Craven bought the manor house Elm Tree in Appletreeewick, which he re-named High Hall. It was situated opposite the cottage where he had been born. Again this seems a significant statement in Craven's rise to eminence.

When Sir William Craven died in 1618 he left a fortune of £125,000, the equivalent of £5.3 billion in today's values. He was however still very much a man of the upper middle classes, not the aristocracy. What happened next in the Craven family, though, was possibly even more interesting in terms of upward mobility. In his will Craven specified that his wife (for obvious reasons now one of the most sought-after widows in London!) should invest some of his billions in land. This she did, buying Combe Abbey in Warwickshire, Ashdown in Berkshire and Stokesay in Shropshire, amongst many others. This had strong social as well as financial implications. Craven was posthumously moving his fortune and his family's social positioning from the middle to the upper class.

William Craven, 1st Earl
A look at the Craven family tree serves to demonstrate the influence that one success can have on future generations. Sir William Craven's eldest son William went on to become the first Earl of Craven, a notable soldier and friend of Charles II and prince Rupert of the Rhine. His second son John became Baron Craven of Ryton and married the daughter of the 2nd Baron Spencer. One of his cousins became Master of the Horse to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and another became her usher. His daughter Mary married Thomas, 2nd Baron Coventry. His other daughter Elizabeth married Sir Percy Herbert who succeeded to the title of Baron Powis.

 Several other Craven nephews and cousins were knighted and married into the aristocracy. Perhaps the most interesting early descendent is Mary Craven who became Lady Andros. As a result of her connection to the first Earl of Craven she gained a place at the court of King Charles II and went on to marry Sir Edmund Andros, gentleman in waiting to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and later one of the early colonial governors of America. Mary died in Boston in 1688. It was a long way from Appletreewick in Yorkshire, and a graphic illustration of how high the Craven family had risen on the coattails of one man.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Witch Persecutions, Women, and Social Change: Germany 1560-1660

Burning witches, 1555.


(Read Part One and Part Two.)

Major witch hunting panics arose in the 1560s throughout Europe and were especially severe in the German Southwest. Who were the victims of this mass hysteria? Even though witches were believed to come from all social classes, the trials focused on poor, middle-aged or older women (Merchant 138). Throughout Europe, midwives and healers were particularly suspect. These "wise women" who healed with herbs were held especially suspect, as they were often older women who had astonishing empirical knowlege, which their accusers traced back to the devil (Rauer 121). Many other women were targeted, as well. Outsiders and women on the fringe of society were especially vulnerable. Fifty-five of the seventy-one accused witches executed in Rottenweil, Germany, after 1600 came from outside the community, and their execution reflected both xenophobia and "a hatred of the unusual and rootless" (Midelfort 95-96). The blatant persecution of the poor prompted one accused witch in Wiesenstieg to ask her inquisitor why rich women were never arrested (Ibid. 169). Thus, though the witch panics took different forms at different times and places, they never lost their essential character--that of a campaign of terror against lower class women in search of substinence.

The question we must ask when presented with this information is why poor women and why this period in history? To invoke such massive hunts, trials, and executions, these women must have been perceived as a major threat. Whose interests did their annihalation serve? Here, I must agree with Carolyn Merchant that the control and maintenance of the social order and women's place within it was one major underlying motivation for the witch trials (Merchant 138).

The women most likely to be accused and executed were those most visibly discontent with their socio-economic condition. They were the strident women who complained about their situations and would not conform to the increasingly restrictive sphere of femininity of 16th and 17th century Europe. Sharp-tongued mothers-in-law were accused of witchcraft by their own families. Feisty spinsters or widows who refused to remarry were frequent targets of witchcraft allegations. Midelfort cites an example of a widow accused of witchcraft being released on the condition that she live with her son-in-law and remain under his control (Midelfort 184). Another common trait found among accused witches in Southwest Germany was a melancholic dissatisfaction with marriage and conventional religion (Ibid. 92) Begging and complaining about poverty were behaviors that led very frequently to accusations (Rauer 121). In 1505, Heinrich Deichsler reports in his famous Nuernberger Chronik that Barbara, a woman from Schwabach near Nuremburg, was burned as a witch after she had borrowed money from several neighbors and failed to pay them back (Schneider 18-19). The primary personality traits of witches outlined by Kramer and Sprenger in their witch-hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum were infidelity, ambition, and lust--traits that may not have been so noteworthy a few centuries before (Malleus 47). All in all, witch persecutions appeared to focus specifically on headstrong and insubordinate women.

Once a woman was labeled a witch, almost anyone could do anything to her without fear or punishment. Legally she was damned and without rights. Even before she was arrested and taken to trial, her neighbors were allowed to take justice in their own hands. Indeed, neighbors took the lead in making witchcraft accusations--it was quite common to simply call someone one disliked a witch (Midelfort 115).

Once a witch was brought to trial, she was doomed. In Germany, torture was part of the established trial procedure and could legally last for days on end. German prison guards sometimes admitted to committing rape, extortion, and blackmail on prisoners, as well (Midelfort 107). Suspects were tortured until they confessed their participation in evil magic and sex with the devil, and named the other women they had seen at the supposed witches' sabbat. Many trial officials had lists of questions to elicit responses which would conform to established beliefs about witchcraft. Dr. Carl Ellwangen began his inquisitions by asking the accused to recite the Lord's Prayer. Then he immediately asked them who seduced them into witchcraft, how the seduction occured, why they gave in, what it was like to have sex with the devil, and so on (Ibid. 105). Torture could extract almost any confession from anyone. "When suspects proved stubborn, they were often tortured to death" (Ibid. 149). Another common trial procedure reveals the inquisitors' obsession with sexuality. Women were stripped, shaved, and pricked with bodkins all over their bodies in search of supposed witch marks, or searched for signs of intercourse with the devil. In Germany, it was not uncommon for an accused witch's property to be confiscated, with Church and secular authorities receiving their share (Ibid. 178). Because accused witches were tortured until they gave the names of others they had allegedly seen at the sabbat, the more intensely witchcraft was persecuted, and the more numerous the alleged witches became. Thus, the trials and accusations escalated (Trevor-Roper 97).

On a social level, witch persecutions could not only be used to weed out the most troublesome of the undeserving poor, but they also produced a general atmosphere of paranoia and disunity among the population. Even those who consulted accused witches for healing or other services risked becomong suspect (Larner 9). The accused witch served as an example to other women as to how they would be treated if they did as she did. This, of course, helped enforce new moral and religious codes (Ibid 102). For this reason, witch hunting can be viewed as one of the most public and effective forms of social control to evolve in Early Modern Europe (Ibid 64). Witches made convenient community scapegoats for communal misfortunes such as plagues and famines (Midelfort 121). The peasant population focused their anger and resentment at members of their own peer group rather than the ruling classes who exploited them. Thus, the witch persecutions undermined solidarity and cooperation among peasants and were instrumental in curbing rebellion. In Southwest Germany, the great witch trials began not long after the Peasant Wars.

Why were such extreme measures of social control necessary? What was taking place in society at large that caused poor and elderly women to be viewed as such an enormous threat?

The period of 1560 to 1660 was one of drastic economic, religious, and social change. This period witnessed the dissolution of the last remnants of a feudal agrarian and domestic economy in favor of a capitalist market economy (Hobsbawn 5). But for this new order to succeed, the old feudal tradition, in which peasants controlled production and were guaranteed subsistence, had to die. This transition was particularly hard on women. Formerly, in the domestic economy, the workplace was the home and women were active in cottage industries. However, the transition to working in outside the home made participation in this economy more and more difficult for women. Over this period, women were forced out of the guilds and the professions in which they could maintain economic independence. Increasingly they were forced into a narrowly domestic role. By the 16th century, the only opportunities for women to earn a living were in menial servant and labor occupations (Hoher 17). Often this sort of work was so low paid that women wandered penniless and homeless in search of better conditions (Ibid. 18).

Furthermore, by this time, even such traditionally feminine occupations such as healing and midwifery were being taken over by men. In the Renaissance, the trend among the wealthy was to have a university-educated physician at their disposal. After the advent of Paracelsus, the famous medical doctor, only men were officially allowed to practice medicine. Paracelsus himself explained that God granted the educated physician all the arts and faculties most beneficial to serve others and that the doctor must be a true man and not some ignorant old woman (Rauer 109, paraphrasing "So spricht Paracelsus"). Male medical practitioners went so far as to push women out of midwifery. Eucharius Rosslin, author of the foremost "midwife" book, Der Schwangererfrawen und Hebammen rossgarten complained that midwives' supposed incompetence, laziness, and lack of education resulted in high infant mortality. He even denounces them as murderers:

Ich meyn die Hebammen alle sampt
Die also gar kein Wissen handt.
Dazu durch yr Hynlessigkeit
Kind verderben weit und breit.
Und handt so schlechten Fleiss gethon
Dass sie mit Ampt eyn Mort begon. (Ibid 123)

Women in the Renaissance not only faced an economic crisis. Their sexual and social freedom was being severely restricted, as well. Unlike the Middle Ages, the Early Modern Period offered practically no alternative to the wife-mother role. By the 16th century, the beguinages were gone. Women hermits and vagabonds risked being accused of witchcraft. Due to the Reformation and Counter Reformation, even convents had grown smaller in number and the nuns who lived there experienced increasing restrictions on their mobility and contact to the outside world. At the same time, both Catholic and Protestant Churches were tightening moral strictures to produce a puritanism unheard of in the agrarian society of the medieval period. Church officials on both sides of the faultline of the Reformation wanted to have iron control over the moral behavior of the populace. Traditional seasonal festivals, hedonism, and sexual licentiousness all smacked of ungodliness and were no longer to be tolerated. Control over female sexuality was especially emphasized. Religious offences were now punished in secular courts and in public shaming rituals. For this was a period of great religious insecurity. The cut-throat competition between Catholics and Protestants resulted in sectarian and ideological warfare, with each side trying to terrorize the local population into submitting to their orthodoxies (Reuther 104). The witch trials' obsession with female sexuality reflects this puritanical attempt to control women's lives. Tightening religious strictures and the new economic system complemented each other--they both attempted to bring the rebellious, hedonistic peasant population under control of Church and secular authorities. The witch persecutions were symptomatic of a new totalitarianism (Rauer 123).

The ideal housewife, circa 1525, by Anton Woensam.


Hobsbawn, E.J., "The Crisis in the Seventeenth Century," Crisis in Europe 1560-1660, Trevor Aston, ed., Routledge, London, 1983.

Hoher, Frederike, "Hexe, Maria, und Hausmutter--zur Geschichte der Weiblichkeit im Spaetmittelalter," Frauen in der Geschichte, Vol. III, Kuhn/Rusen, eds, Paedagogischer Verlag Schwann-Bagel, Duesseldorf, 1983.

Institorus, Henricus, Malleus Maleficarum, Benjamin Blom, Inc., New York, 1970.

Larner, Christine, Enemies of God, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1981.

Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, Haeprer & Row, San Francisco, 1979.

Midelfort, Erik, H.C., Witch Hunting in Southwest Germany 1562-1684: The Social Foundations, Stanford, 1972.

Rauer, Brigitte, "Hexenwahn--Frauenverfolgung zu Beginn der Neuzeit," Frauen in der Geschichte, Vol. II, Kuhn/Rusen, eds., Paedagogischer Verlag Schwann-Bagel, 1982.

Schneider, Joachim, Heinrich Deichsler und die Nuernberger Chronik des 15. Jahrhunderts, Wissenliteratur im Mittelalter, Vol. 5, Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1991.

Trevor-Roper, H.R., The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Harper & Row, New York, 1969.