Sceptical Cases


The Boy of Burton, 1596-97

  • 1596 Thomas Darling had gone hare hunting with his uncle, Robert Toone
  • Claimed he had met Alice Gooderidge and when he passed wind, she cursed him
  • Fell ill within the next few days, having hallucinations of green angels and cats and having fits
  • Alice brought to Darling house and he had a fit, she was arrested with her mother Elizabeth Wright
  • Witch-marks found on both
  • Gooderidge changed story to say she bewitched him and had a familiar called Minny
  • Found guilty but died in custody
  • Darling's fits continued and John Darrell called in
  • Also previously exorcised William Somers
  • Both Darling and Somers confessed the stories were untrue
  • Samuel Harsnett wrote 'A Discovery of the Fraudulent Practices of John Darrell' in response
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The Pendle Swindle, 1634

  • Edmund Robinson brought up witchcraft to avoid punishment for not looking after his father's cattle
  • Approached by two greyhounds, held onto them but became suspicious when neither chased a hare
  • One turned into Frances Dickinson
  • Forced to go to Hoarstones where a witches gathering was taking place
  • Magistrates informed after 3 months
  • Magistrates Richard Shuttleworth and John Starkie were sceptical and sent the case to the Privy council
  • Henry Bridgeman investigated the women and so did King Charles,
  • Margaret Johnson did confess
  • Robinson became a witchfinder but when summoned to London, he admitted the story was false
  • Father wished for revenge on Dickinson after dispute over payment of a cow
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The Demon Drummer of Tedworth, 1662

  • John Mompesson intervened with ex-soldier William Drury who was fraudulently trying to raise alms for the poor by banging a drum
  • Drury trying to avoid punishment for being a vagrant
  • Drury arrested and drum sent to Mompesson's house
  • Thumping was heard, scratching noises, strange lights and smells, objects thrown and Bible buried
  • House became local attraction and King Charles II was sent to investigate
  • Appeared in two newspapers, widely read and accessed
  • Glanville investigated and heard noises
  • People blamed Drury
  • Everytime he was arrested or deported, disturbances stopped
  • Both on different sides in the civil war, Drury-Parliamentarian, Mompesson-Royalist
  • Letters from Mompesson reveal explanations were shaped by neighbours and not his own experiences
  • Servants may have been responsible
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The case of Jane Wenham, 1712

  • Last formal witch trial in England
  • Had a long-held reputation as a witch
  • Nickname of the Wise Woman of Walkern
  • Initially accused of bewitching farm labourer, Matthew Gilson over straw and he began to stuff his shirt with manure and run begging for straw
  • Gilson's employer publicly voiced the accusation and Wenham reported it to JP Sir Henry Chaucey, and the farmer was fined one shilling
  • Anne Thorne was the servant of local clergyman Godfrey Gardiner
  • Claimed Wenham bewitched her, suffered from fits, vomitted pins
  • Ran a mile to collecy sticks and when burned Wenham's figure appeared
  • Allegations were verified by locals and she confessed
  • Unable to recite Lord's prayer but judge Sir John Powell was sceptical
  • No law against flying
  • Found guilty, royal pardon secured, Whig Politician William Cowper offered her a cottage
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