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Witches in Northamptonshire

Executions in Northampton in 1612
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Almost everyone has heard of the witches of Pendle in Lancashire. ( details » ). Not so many know of the arrest, trial and execution a few months earlier of five Northamptonshire people:

  • Arthur Bill of Raunds
  • Mary Barber of Stanwick
  • Agnes Browne of Guilsborough
  • Joan Browne/Vaughan (daughter of Agnes) of Guilsborough
  • Helen Jenkinson of Thrapston

James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England in 1603 was obsessed with witches, to the extent that he published a book on the subject, "Daemonologie" in 1597. Response to his interest prompted witch hunts north and south of the border and the trial of many - and the deaths of most of those. This mania persisted through the 17th Century and inspired the work of Matthew Hopkins, who was described as holding the office of Witchfinder General during the English Civil War.

In 1612 some nine Northamptonshire people were accused by Elizabeth Belchery and William Avery of belonging to a group of witches who, among other things, rode to visit one another on a sow's back. They were also said to have bewitched a man and a child to death and harmed farm animals.

For more details see this summary of a pamphlet published at the time.

Some were convivted on the evidence of "The Witch's Mark", a mole or similar blemish which would not bleed when pricked. Others were tried by "dunking" - being tied and thrown into the water. If they sank they were innocent and, if pulled out before they drowned, were to go free. Those who floated were deemed guilty and sent for punishment, often execution. The Northamptonshire witches were among the first to face this ordeal.

While it is comforting to believe that such irrational violence has been pushed away into the past, there are too many examples still today of how people can be whipped up into a frenzy of hatred and sometimes violence, aimed at anyone who is different or who is vulnerable to spiteful retribution from someone they have offended.

For more on this subject explore the following:

» The Witches of Northampton-shire - Early Modern Pamphlets
» Witches in Britain, Historic UK
» Northampton Witch Trials, Wikipedia
» The Northamptonshire Witches, Catherine Cavendish

The Witches of Northamptonshire