Witchcraft and Magic


A concern with witchcraft did not spring newly into being in England. There is an earlier and European context. Helped by the invention of printing, the witch-hunting craze picked up pace with notorious theoretical work like Malleus Maleficarum, the' Hammer of the Witche's, (1487), by the Dominican inquisitors Institoris and Sprenger. A Papal Bull of 1481 gave official endorsement to this misguided zeal. In Lorraine in the 1580s, for example, the judge and demonologist Nicholas Remy claimed to have burnt 900 witches. The relationship between periods of economic and civil misery has long been noted. Voltaire's was the original historical perception of the historical phenomenon. There was a second great flowering of witch-hunting in Essex occurs during the un-settled period of the Civil War and Commonwealth and in the misguided labours of Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree. The world of witches is not merely the preserve of students of folk-lore. Witchcraft beliefs formed an important part of the rich popular culture of early modern Europe.

Most people in 17th century England believed as their ancestors had done that the world was ordered by hidden forces that could be influenced or controlled by the use of rituals and magical ceremonies. Magic was believed to be divided into two parts, white magic was the craft of healing and was practised by 'cunning' or 'wise' folk. Whereas Black magic, Maleficium or Witchcraft was the craft of harming and was practiced by witches.

Tudor England is full of so-called 'wise men' and 'cunning women', white magicians who sell charms to help people overcome their problems or soothe their troubles. Typical are charms to ward off evil, stave off ruin or make money. Rings are sold to bring immunity in battle, keep off vermin and even make the wearer invisible. These professional and semi- professional white magicians performed the important social roles of providing healing, advice, finding lost possessions and mixing love potions. Magic is used to put out fires, make the kids sleep and avoid drunkenness.

People at the lower levels of the deeply hierarchical Early Modern English society (especially country people) were apt to turn to the cunning folk to solve their medical problems. However, they were also liable to believe that these problems had been caused by witchcraft.

The idea of the witches 'familiar' and animal who acted as an intermediary between a witch and Satan is particular to England and was not mentioned in European cases, notwithstanding their far greater numbers. The concept of the familiar was based upon medieval English folklore which saw Satan, the Devil as the 'Lord of the Flies' and which argued that each individual fly had within its spirit a tiny part of Satan's essence and it was thus Satan who caused flies to behave as they did. Within this logical framework, it was possible to argue that animals larger than flies could equally well be the repositories of the Satanic essence but in far larger quantities to enable Satan to perform the intermediary role between the witch and the Devil. The use of familiars was believed to be one of the main methods employed by witches to cause their maleficium. For example, Elizabeth Francis, wife of Christopher Francis, was charged at the Chelmsford summer assizes of 1566 with bewitching the infant child of William Auger. She was from Hatfield Peverell and to try to save herself she made a confession which was promptly put into a chapbook and became a bestseller. She said she had learned the art of witchcraft from her grandmother, Mother Eve, at the age of twelve and had been given a cat named Sathan to help her seduce one Andrew Byles. When he refused to marry her, she caused his death. Then Sathan found her another lover, her husband, and they had a daughter, but when the child was eighteen months old, Elizabeth ordered Sathan to kill her. Elizabeth also confessed to ordering Sathan to make Christopher lame. Then, after she’d had the cat for fifteen or sixteen years, Elizabeth grew tired of Sathan and gave him to a neighbor, Agnes Waterhouse, who was also charged with witchcraft in 1566. Elizabeth claimed she was innocent of the specific charge against her. She was sentenced to a year in jail. For bewitching Mary Cocke, she was sentenced to another year and four appearances in the pillory. In 1579, she went on trial again, this time for bewitching Anne Poole, who had died on 1 Nov 1578. This time Elizabeth was found guilty and hanged.

Adam Squire, the master of Balliol College in Oxford between 1571 and 1580, nearly loses his job when he's accused of selling gamblers a 'fly', or familiar spirit, which he claims will guarantee them success at dice. Another method of the witches was known as 'image-magic'. The normal remedy to employ, if you believed that you or yours had been bewitched was counter magic rather than criminal prosecution. Counter magic was the practise of turning the evil back upon the witch.

Ursula Kempe, also known as Ursula Gray, was a major figure in the 1582 Chelmsford witch trials. She was one of the “cunning folk” who were usually accepted by the community because of their usefulness in finding lost property, “unwitching,” and nursing. Ursula was not married but she did have a son, Thomas Rabbet (b.1574). In 1580, Ursula was hired by the Thorlowe family. Grace Thorlowe suffered from arthritis and her son Davy also had some sort of ailment which Ursula healed with an incantation. The Thorlowes, however, refused to let Ursula nurse their newborn daughter, Joan, and when Joan fell out of her crib and broke her neck on 6 Oct 1580, they accused Ursula of bewitching her to death. It has been speculated that the charge was made because the Thorlowes hoped to save themselves paying the shilling they owed Ursula for healing Davy and giving Grace a remedy for her arthritis. Whatever their reason, when Ursula went before Brian Darcy, the quarter sessions judge, matters escalated. Darcy was an avid witch hunter. He convinced both Ursula and her son to “confess” and his promise of clemency persuaded Ursula to name four other women as witches: Elizabeth Bennett, Alice Hunt, Alice Newman, and Margery Sammon. Ursula also confessed to having four familiars, two cats (Titty and Jack), a toad (Pigin) and a lamb (Tyffin). In official documents, Ursula Kempe is accused of bewitching Joan Thorlowe on 3 Oct , Edna Stratton (d. 14 Feb 1582) on 30 Nov 1581, and Elizabeth Letherdall (d. 26 Feb) on 12 Feb 1582. Meanwhile, the four women Ursula implicated named nine more: Joan Pechey, Agnes Glascock, Cecily Celles or Sylles, Joan Turner, Elizabeth Ewstace, Anis Herd, Alice Manfield, Margaret Grevell, and Alice Hunt's sister, Anne Swallow. These thirteen women, collectively known as the St. Osyth Witches after Ursula's village, were tried at Chelmsford in Essex on charges of witchcraft. Two were not indicted. Two were discharged but held in prison on other charges. Four were acquitted. Four were found guilty but reprieved. Two, Ursula Kempe and Elizabeth Bennett, were hanged. In 1921, two female skeletons were discovered in St. Osyth, both with iron rivets driven into their knees and elbows. This was done to prevent witches from rising from their graves. On this evidence, they have been identified as Ursula Kempe and Elizabeth Bennett.

Joseph Blagrove of Reading in his work called the 'Astrological Practise of Physick' published in 1671, describes a number of counter magical techniques including the following: "Another way is to stop the urine of the Patient, close up in a bottle, and put into it three nails, pins or needles with little white salt, keeping the urine always warm. If you let it remain long in the bottle, it will endanger the witch's life: for I have found by experience that they be grievously tormented making their water with great difficulty, if any at all, and the more if the Moon being Scorpio in Square or Opposition to his Significator, when its done". Blagrove explains why the witch can be tormented through the medium of the victim's urine: "The reason…is because there is part of the vital spirit of the Witch in it, for such is the subtlety of the Devil, that he will not suffer the Witch to infuse any poisonous matter into the body of man or beast, without some of the Witches blood mingled with it…".

In 1583, the churchwardens of Thatcham in Berkshire send for a cunning woman to find out who's stolen the church's communion cloth. Some white magicians were even more ambitious. In his Natural and Artificial Conclusions, a 1567 book that was so popular that no copies of the first two editions survive, Thomas Ross gave instructions for walking on water. While the seventh son of a seventh son is usually recognised as a white witch who can bring good magic and help people, in reality anyone can become a wise woman or man. Magical activities are a sideline and the job is not hereditary. Having a prominent birthmark or other physical blemish can help – but most white witches just need confidence and luck.

Before the Reformation, saints are believed to have the power to protect you. St Sebastian, because of his many wounds, protects against the plague; St Barbara, killed by her angry father, protects against thunder and sudden death (she's a favourite with soldiers and gunpowder makers); the Virgin Mary protects everyone.

The visionary nun, Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent, claims to have been visited by the Virgin Mary – and foresees disaster if Henry VIII divorces his first wife. For her pains, she is charged with treason and hanged at Tyburn.

In Jul 1507, a girl run over by a cart in Cheapside, London is lifeless, but revives and says she saw Our Lady of Barking lifting up the cart. Such 'miracles' are attacked by Protestants who say they are mere superstitions.

Mother Shipton is the most famous prophetess of the British Isles. With lack of historical evidence, there is even debate as to whether she existed at all. Many of her prophecies are undoubtedly later fabrications, and the first written accounts of her exploits were published eighty years after her supposed death. The first stories about Mother Shipton appear in chapbooks from the mid seventeenth century. Mother Shipton was born in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, in 1488 as Ursula Southill to a poor single mother. According to tradition her mother had been seduced out of wedlock and died during her birth. Her birthplace has been identified as the cave by the river Nidd, which bears her name. Another place associated with her is the nearby dropping well, where the limestone rich waters have the power of turning objects to stone. The cave and the well were probably 'religious' places long before her alleged birth, and may have become associated with her as her legend grew. Ursula was not a pretty baby by any stretch of the imagination in fact she was hideous to behold, and it was difficult to find a nurse to care for her. Eventually a woman who lived on the outskirts of Knaresborough agreed to be her foster mother. Strange happenings were reported throughout her childhood, furniture reportedly moved around the house of its own violation, plates and crockery were said to fly around the room, and her powers of prophesy were evident at an early age. As she grew into adulthood her inborn ugliness did not improve and descriptions of her visage paint a particularly ugly figure, her nose was sight to be seen in itself being "of improportional length with many crooks and turnings... her stature was larger than common, her body crooked and her face frightful", she had great goggling eyes and her wreck of a nose also gave off a faint luminosity. However, her hideous appearance did not stop her from finding a suitable husband and Ursula was married at the age of 24 to Toby Shipton - a carpenter from Shipton. They set up home in Knaresborough, which became a magnet for people far and wide in search of her words of wisdom and prophetic powers. Her fame soon spread and she became known as Mother Shipton. She was thought to have died in 1561, and event that she prophesised. She is said to have prophesised many things during her lifetime, including the Civil War, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. However, many of the rhymes are obscure and like many obscure riddles - such as those of Nostradamus - can be moulded to fit a number of events.


Astrology is the most intellectually demanding of the many magical beliefs circulating in Tudor England. Based on ancient Babylonian, Greek and Roman learning, astrology tries to predict events on Earth from a study of the movements of celestial bodies such as planets and stars. There's a magnificent astrological clock in Hampton Court.

Since different signs of the zodiac are thought to rule different parts of the body, most astrologers have some medical knowledge as well as an awareness of astronomy.

For most of the Tudor era, English astrology is moribund – the predictions of court astrologers that Henry VIII will have a son are proved so often wrong that patrons lose faith in them. But astrology is revived in Elizabeth's reign by John Dee. When Elizabeth I has to set the date of her coronation, she asks 'her noble intelligencier', the astrologer Dee. After casting a horoscope, Dee comes up with 15 Jan 1559. He is a mathematical whiz kid, who also studies astronomy, cartography and medicine. But his belief in the spirit world leads him to have conversations with angels, search for the fabled philosopher's stone. By then, even the Earl of Essex possesses a treatise on astrology.

On the eve of the Spanish Armada, England experiences strange eclipses and conjunctions of the planets. Astrologers expect something dramatic to happen.


For much of the 16th century, despite the technical achievements of the master craftsmen who build the ships that take on the Spanish Armada, modern science is in its infancy. For example, it is thought that toothache is caused by tiny worms. In the place of science, old-fashioned beliefs try to explain the nature of the world and our place in it.

The dividing line between magic and legitimate medical practice was extremely blurred. Much that we may se as magic seemed perfectly logical and even scientific to an Elizabethan. Sir Kenelm Digby, an educated and respectable man often at court in the next reign wrote an entire book explaining how 'weapon salve' worked and why it was an effective cure working 'naturally and without any magic'. Weapon salve is when you put the healing lotion on the weapon which caused the wound and though the victim be many miles away the wound shall be healed.

Sir Kenelm Digby

A cure for pains in the head consists of taking a lock of the patient’s hair, boiling it in the patient’s own urine then throwing the mixture into the fire.

The really intense period of persecution of witches did not come until the late 16th and 17th centuries. Tudor century is not the first to believe in witches, but it is the first to try and wipe them out by judicial persecution. Religion goes hand in hand with a belief in a spirit world and only the strictest Puritans make a clear distinction between the two. For most of the population, the use of charms, potions and horoscopes is an effective answer to the ills of the world.

Acts of 1542 and 1563 make witchcraft a crime and lead to witch hunts. Hundreds of prosecutions follow, especially in Essex. In the 1580s, 13% of assize trials in that county are for witchcraft. Of 64 accused, 53 are found guilty. Poor, old and/or unprotected women are the main victims. What seems to happen is that they ask for help from their neighbours, are refused and respond by cursing them. When any misfortune then befalls the neighbour, such as an accident or inexplicable crop failure, the curse is remembered and the poor woman is accused of witchcraft. She is tried for maleficium, the use of diabolical power to cause harm, not for heresy. Often, the accused confesses.

George Gifford, an Essex preacher, writes that the common people think 'if there were no witches, there should be no plagues'. By blaming natural calamities, whose causes are not understood, on human beings, who are always suspected of evil, Tudor communities try to eradicate natural disasters by exterminating witches.

In 1563 Elizabeth I's government passed an 'Act against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts', which opened the way for a period of persecution that affected England for the rest of the sixteenth and well into the seventeenth century. Now a felony, the 'crime' of witchcraft could be prosecuted in local courts. One of the first persons to be dealt with under this new statute was Elizabeth Lowys from the Essex village of Great Waltham.

The execution of a witch is a ritual that has the approval of the whole village community. At a time when the old charitable institutions of the Roman Catholic Church have been destroyed and the new institutions of the Poor Law are not yet set up, witchcraft accusations are one way of dealing with guilt about not giving poor people charity – a new individualistic spirit is replacing traditional community care.

Witchcraft Cases

There appear to be many more cases of witchcraft outstanding in Essex than elsewhere in the country. Rather than search for an explanation in the supposed nature of Essex people, (a supposed reluctance to abandon old religions and customs), a likelier cause seems to be that the relevant papers survive soonest here than elsewhere. In 1582, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett, wife of a husbandman, John Bennett of St. Osyth, Essex, employed as a spinner by a local clothmaker, was accused of killing three people by witchcraft. She confessed to having two familiar spirits, Black Suckin and Red Liard and was executed by hanging.  

Alice Samuel’s maiden name is unknown. She was the wife of John Samuel of Warboys, Huntingdonshire and had a daughter named Agnes. In Nov 1589, ten-year-old Jane Throckmorton, daughter of Robert Throckmorton of Warboys, who may have been an epileptic, accused Alice Samuel of being a witch. Within two months, Jane’s four sisters, ranging in age from nine to fifteen, and seven of the family’s servants, began to imitate Jane’s symptoms in order to share the attention she was getting. They forced Alice to move in with the family as a servant. In 1590, Susan Weeks, Lady Cromwell, visited the Throckmortons and had an exchange of words with Alice in which Alice uttered the fatal words “I never did you any harm as yet”. Soon after, Lady Cromwell fell ill. She died in Jul 1592. At Christmas that year, when Alice, at last fed up, ordered the Thockmorton girls to stop their erratic behavior, they surprised her by obeying. All this led the local pastor, Dr. Dorrington, to convince Alice that she should confess to witchcraft. She did so, but retracted her confession the next day. The retraction did her no good. She was taken before William Wickham, Bishop of Lincoln, where, once again, she was coerced into confessing. This time she admitted to having three familiars—chickens named Pluck, Catch, and White. With her husband and daughter, now also accused by the Throckmorton girls, Alice was tried on 5 Apr 1593 for the murder by witchcraft of Lady Cromwell. They were found guilty and hanged. Their property was confiscated by Lady Cromwell’s husband, Sir Henry, who used the proceeds to pay for an annual sermon against witchcraft to be preached in Huntingdon in perpetuity. A pamphlet (The Most Strange and Admirable Discovery of the Three Witches of Warboys) published in 1593 memorialized the trial.

Agnes Waterhouse of Hatfield Peverell, Essex, known as "Mother Waterhouse", was accused of witchcraft in 1566, along with her daughter, Joan, and Elizabeth Francis. She was said to have bewitched one William Fynne, who had died on 1 Nov 1565. In a confession, she claimed she had been a witch for fifteen years and admitted to killing livestock, bewitching her husband, and trying to kill another man. She said she had tried to use Mrs. Francis’s familiar, the cat named Sathan, to help her, but that Sathan had turned himself into a toad. She denied she had ever succeeded in killing anyone by witchcraft, but she was found guilty of Fynne’s death at the Chelmsford Assizes and hanged.

On 26 Jul 1566, Joan Waterhouse, 18 years old, called the familiar Sathan from out of her mother's shoes, expecting a toad. Instead, a great dog came to her, demanding what she would like. She asked him to haunt Agnes Brown, 12, who hadn't given her enough bread once. Agnes Brown said that a thing came to her like a black dog with a face like an ape, a short tail, a chain and a silver whistle around its neck and horns on its head. (From "The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensford (Chelmsford)", 1566). Joan was acquitted.

A drawing of “Mother Waterhouse”, included in a chapbook describing the trial.

From Cornwall, Anne Piers is known only through one record, that of her interrogation by Sir Richard Grenville in 1581 on charges of receiving stolen goods and witchcraft. She was found innocent of the latter charge, but guilty of selling plate at Bodmin. Anne was the wife of William Piers and the mother of Capt. John Piers of Padstow, Cornwall (b. 1560 - d. 1582), a notorious pirate captured in 1581 at Studland, Dorset. Anne’s abilities as a witch had been given credit for his success up to that point. Piers himself was imprisoned but escaped for Dorchester gaol. When he was recaptured, he was executed. His mother’s fate does not seem to have been recorded.

One of the most important English witchcraft cases took place in the Vale of Belvoir in Leicestershire in 1618 when Francis Manners, sixth Earl of Rutland, accused a group of six women of murdering his two sons, Francis and Henry by witchcraft. The case is commemorated on the Earl's tomb in St. Mary's Church, Bottesford, part of his tomb inscription reading:

"In 1608 he married ye lady Cecilia Hungerford, daughter to ye Honorable Knight Sir John Tufton, by whom he had two sons, both of which died in their infancy by wicked practises and sorcerye"

Anne Baker, Joan Willmot, and Ellen Greene, three of the Witches of Belvoir

The evidence of these wicked practises which forms the basis of this website has survived in the form of a pamphlet and broadsheet ballad, both written by John Barns in 1619. The pamphlet was entitled "The Wonderful Discovery of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillippa Flower, daughters of Joan Flower neere Bever Castle: executed at Lincolne, March 11th 1618". 

The Bottesford cunning woman Anne Baker was accused of witchcraft, as was the Stathern woman Joan Willimott. Both responded to the accusations (not by admitting guilt as had Margaret Flower, Phillippa Flower and Ellen Greene in their examinations) but by stressing the fact that their relationships with the spirit world were white rather than black. In the following example, during her examination on 2 Mar 1618, Joan confessed that she had her own personal spirit called 'Pretty' but she explained that:

'She never hurt any body, but did help divers persons that were stricken or fore-spoken (bewitched): and that her Spirit came weekly to her, and would tell of divers persons that were stricken and fore-spoken: an she saith that the use which she had of the Spirit, was to know those did which she had undertaken to amend and she did help them by certain prayers which she used'.

Anne Baker was widely suspected of crossing the barrier between white and black magic, which was why William Fairbarne had beaten her ( he believed she had sent an illness called the Plannett to his son Thomas). Anne was also accused of murder by witchcraft.

'Being charged that she bewitched Elizabeth Hough, the wife of William Hough to death, for that she angered her in giving her almes of her second bread (i.e. stale): confesseth that she was angry with her and she might have given her of better bread for she had gone too often on her errands'.

This is the classic Maleficium accusation, the vast majority of English witchcraft cases are of this type. A village quarrel, (Elizabeth Hough gave Anne Baker stale bread when Anne asked her for charity) has been followed by misfortune, Elizabeth died suddenly.

Anne Baker was probably a witch in the minds of the villagers of Bottesford because she was manifestly failing as a cunning woman. Joanne Gylls asked her to discover if her sick child was fore-spoken, Anne looked at the child and said that it was but she seems to have taken no further remedial action. She also confessed that she told Anthony Gill that 'he might have had a Child of his own if he would have sought in time for it' i.e. employed her to find the bewitching spirit. It is probable the complaints against Anne came to the Earl from the people of Bottesford as in all probability those against Joan Willimott, came from the people of Stathern.

Joan Willimott provided the same defence to the charge of the witchcraft killing of John Patchett's wife and baby, as had Anne Baker when she maintained that John Patchett, Yeoman of Stathern, would have had 'his wife and child alive if he would have sought forth by it'. Thus she argued that John Patchett should have employed her to protect his wife and new born baby who were Death Stricken and in fact both died shortly after birth. She also sought to divert the Justices' attention from herself by identifying Gamaliel Green, a Shepherd from Waltham who had a white spirit like a mouse which gave him power of the Evil Eye. However, Joan Willimott seems to have weakened at the end of the examination when she confessed that she had taken part in a witches meeting with Joanne, Margaret and Phillippa Flower. In contrast her friend Ellen Green offered no defence at all, confessing to the Patchett deaths and other bewitchments and deaths, through the medium of the familiar spirits of a cat and a moldiwarp (mole). The ' familiars' in the Rutland case, include Joan Willimott's cat and mole as well as the Flower's cat, Rutterkin and white and speckled rats who were alleged to have been suckled by Margaret and Phillippa Flower upon witches teats (supernumerary breasts which supplied blood rather than milk). Ellen Green testified that:

"Joan Willimott called two spirits, one in the likeness of a kitten, and the other of a moldiwarp (a mole): the first, said Willimott was called Pusse, and Hisse, and they presently came ot her, and she departing and they leapt upon her shoulder, and the kitten sucked under her right ear on her neck, and the mole on the left side in the like place. After they had sucked her she sent the kitten to a baker of that town (ie. Goadby) whose name she remembers not, who had called her a witch and had stricken her, and had her said spirit go and bewitch hime to death: the mole she then had go to Anne Dawse of the same town and bewitch her to death, because she called this examinate witch, whore, Jade etc., and within one fortnight after they both died".

The suspects in the Rutland case confessed to using the method known as 'image-magic'. This example is from an examination of Margaret Flower:

'She saith and confesseth, that about four or five years since, her mother sent her for the right hand glove of Henry, Lord Roos, afterward that her mother bade her go again into the castle of Belvoir and bring down the gloves and some other things and she asked "What to do?". Her mother replied "To harm my Lord Roos". Whereupon she brought down a glove, and delivered the same to her mother, who stroked Rutterkin her cat with it, after it was dipt in hot water, and so prickted it often, after which Henry, Lord Roos fell sick within a week, and was much tormented with the same".

This story of the glove was 'confirmed' by the Bottesford cunning woman Anne Baker in the following passage:

"The said Anne Baker, March 2, 1618 confessed before Samuel Fleming, Doctor of Divinity, that about 3 years ago she went into Northamptonshire, and that at her coming back again, one Peaks's wife and Dennis his wife of Belvoir, told her that my Lord Henry was dead, and there was a glove of the said Lord buried in the ground: and that as that glove did rot and waste so did the liver of the said Lord rot and waste".

The mention of 'Peake's wife' in Anne's evidence is interesting because Barnes mentions an argument between Robert Peake and Joan Flower followed by an unsuccessful complaint to the Earl against him, which was said to be one of the reasons for the Flowers seeking revenge against Lord Roos. If Mrs Peake was talking about 'stolen and rotting' gloves in 1615, three years before the case, it does suggest that Robert Peake and his wife may have been the source of the witchcraft accusations against the Flower family.

Margaret Flower described one of the methods of the use of Image Magic in the Rutland case when she testified that :

"her mother complained to the Earl against one Peake. who offered her some wrong, wherein she conceived that the Earl took not her part as she expected; which dislike with the rest, exasperated her displeasure against him, and so she watched for an opportunity to be revenged: whereupon she took wool out of the said mattress (given to Margaret by the Countess on her dismissal from the Castle) and a pair of gloves, which were given her by Mr Vavasor and put them into warm water, mingling them with some blood, and stirring it together: then she took the wool and gloves out of the water, and rubbed them on the belly of Rutterkin her cat, saying the Lord and Lady should have more children but it would be long first".

Many of the features that would later be used to make a Witch Bottle were present in the last quotation. Fabric connected with the victim is mixed with blood and water warmed and manipulated (in this case on a familiar). For generations the normal remedy to employ, if you believed that you or yours had been bewitched was counter magic rather than criminal prosecution. Counter magic was the practise of turning the evil back upon the witch as in this example. When counter magic was used as 'evidence' against the Bottesford witch Anne Baker:

"Being examined concerning a child of Anne Stannidge, which she was suspected to have bewitched to death: saith the said Anne Stannidge did deliver her child into her hands, and that she did no harm unto it: And being charged by the Mother of the Child, that upon the burning of the hair and the paring of the nails of the said child, the said Anne Baker came in and set her down and for one hours space would speak nothing".

Because of the magical link between Witch and Victim, it was believed that Anne Baker could harm Anne Stannidge's child by using the type of combination of manipulation of bodily fluids and image magic employed by Joan Flower. Equally she could be harmed in turn through the magical link, by the burning of the child's hair and nail parings. The fact that Anne Baker was taken ill after Anne Stannidge's counter magic was taken to be strong proof of her use of witchcraft against the child.

The Long Clawson 'Bellarmines' are examples of a type of response to witchcraft. This method entailed heating the victim's urine in a bottle, often mixed with human hair (as with Anne Stannidge's counter magical defence of her child), and sometimes with metal nails and pins. Examples have also been found with representations of the human heart cut from felt or cloth and pierced with pins. They are the first recorded finds of witch bottles in Leicestershire, and they seem to be earlier in date, than the twenty-one examples discovered in East Anglia and London (probably dating between 1627 and 1647). This practise must have originated with the use of pins or thorns to stab images. The bottle was then either buried under the hearth of a house, or thrown into a river or ditch as were examples found in London.

Bellarmine bottles originated in the Rhineland of Germany and their proper name is Rhenish stoneware, although they were originally very different in style from the Long Clawson examples. The mask on the vessel represents a burgher, a civic dignitary, who was intended to symbolise prosperity and good fortune. Rhenish stoneware became popular as tavern ware for storing wine or ale and from around 1560, large quantities were imported. As the vessels were mass-produced for the English market by less skillful potters, the mask became progressively less naturalistic and more stylised until it developed the forms which were nicknamed the Bellarmine.(20) The name is a reference to the Catholic theologian Cardinal Bellarmine who had been involved in a theological dispute with King James I and who was angrily denounced by the King as the 'ANTICHRIST'.

Once this satanic name had been established, the folk traditions of English witchcraft belief were dynamic enough to see its possibilities as a new, yet at the same time traditional method of counter magic.

Although there is as yet no evidence to directly link the Long Clawson bottles with the Rutland case, Barnes' pamphlet does however establish that between 1615-18 there were no less than 18 people, at all levels of society in the Vale of Belvoir who were believed to have been killed or seriously injured by witchcraft. The Long Clawson bottles do provide therefore evidence that this climate of fear lasted even after the real victims of witchcraft beliefs, Joan, Phillippa and Margaret had met their terrible ends.


Wicked Practises and Sorceries, A case study in the history of witchcraft,written and designed by Bob Sparham.

to Life Page to Home Page