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Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions by Charles Mackay

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was no other evidence against them but the fancies of this lying
child, and the confessions which pain had extorted from them; but upon
this no less than five women were condemned, before Lord Blantyre and
the rest of the Commissioners, appointed specially by the Privy
Council to try this case. They were burned on the Green at Paisley.
The warlock of the party, one John Reed, who was also condemned,
hanged himself in prison. It was the general belief in Paisley that
the devil had strangled him, lest he should have revealed in his last
moments too many of the unholy secrets of witchcraft. This trial
excited considerable disgust in Scotland. The Rev. Mr. Bell, a
contemporary writer, observed that, in this business, "persons of more
goodness and esteem than most of their calumniators were defamed for
witches." He adds, that the persons chiefly to blame were "certain
ministers of too much forwardness and absurd credulity, and some
topping professors in and about Glasgow." [Preface to "Law's
Memorials," edited by Sharpe.]

After this trial, there again occurs a lapse of seven years, when
the subject was painfully forced upon public attention by the brutal
cruelty of the mob at Pittenween. Two women were accused of having
bewitched a strolling beggar, who was subject to fits, or who
pretended to be so, for the purpose of exciting commiseration. They
were cast into prison, and tortured until they confessed. One of them,
named Janet Cornfoot, contrived to escape, but was brought back to
Pittenween next day by a party of soldiers. On her approach to the
town, she was, unfortunately, met by a furious mob, composed
principally of fishermen and their wives, who seized upon her with the
intention of swimming her. They forced her away to the sea shore, and
tying a rope around her body, secured the end of it to the mast of a
fishing-boat lying alongside. In this manner they ducked her several
times. When she was half dead, a sailor in the boat cut away the rope,
and the mob dragged her through the sea to the beach. Here, as she lay
quite insensible, a brawny ruffian took down the door of his hut,
close by, and placed it on her back. The mob gathered large stones
from the beach, and piled them upon her till the wretched woman was
pressed to death. No magistrate made the slightest attempt to
interfere, and the soldiers looked on, delighted spectators. A great
outcry was raised against this culpable remissness, but no judicial
inquiry was set on foot. This happened in 1704.

The next case we hear of is that of Elspeth Rule, found guilty of
witchcraft before Lord Anstruther at the Dumfries circuit, in 1708.
She was sentenced to be marked in the cheek with a redhot iron, and
banished the realm of Scotland for life.

Again there is a long interval. In 1718, the remote county of
Caithness, where the delusion remained in all its pristine vigour for
years after it had ceased elsewhere, was startled from its propriety
by the cry of witchcraft. A silly fellow, named William Montgomery, a
carpenter, had a mortal antipathy to cats, and, somehow or other,
these animals generally chose his back-yard as the scene of their
catterwaulings. He puzzled his brains for a long time to know why he,
above all his neighbours, should be so pestered; at last he came to
the sage conclusion that his tormentors were no cats, but witches. In
this opinion he was supported by his maid-servant, who swore a round
oath that she had often heard the aforesaid cats talking together in
human voices. The next time the unlucky tabbies assembled in his
back-yard, the valiant carpenter was on the alert. Arming himself with
an axe, a dirk, and a broadsword, he rushed out among them: one of
them he wounded in the back, a second in the hip, and the leg of a
third he maimed with his axe; but he could not capture any of them. A
few days afterwards, two old women of the parish died, and it was said
that, when their bodies were laid out, there appeared upon the back of
one the mark as of a recent wound, and a similar scar upon the hip of
the other. The carpenter and his maid were convinced that they were
the very cats, and the whole county repeated the same story. Every one
was upon the look-out for proofs corroborative: a very remarkable one
was soon discovered. Nanny Gilbert, a wretched old creature of upwards
of seventy years of age, was found in bed with her leg broken; as she
was ugly enough for a witch, it was asserted that she, also, was one
of the cats that had fared so ill at the hands of the carpenter. The
latter, when informed of the popular suspicion, asserted that he
distinctly remembered to have struck one of the cats a blow with the
back of his broadsword, which ought to have broken her leg. Nanny was
immediately dragged from her bed, and thrown into prison. Before she
was put to the torture, she explained, in a very natural and
intelligible manner, how she had broken her limb; but this account did
not give satisfaction: the professional persuasions of the torturer
made her tell a different tale, and she confessed that she was indeed
a witch, and had been wounded by Montgomery on the night stated - that
the two old women recently deceased were witches also, besides about a
score of others whom she named. The poor creature suffered so much by
the removal from her own home, and the tortures inflicted upon her,
that she died the next day in prison. Happily for the persons she had
named in her confession, Dundas of Arniston, at that time the King's
Advocate-general, wrote to the Sheriff-depute, one Captain Ross of
Littledean, cautioning him not to proceed to trial, the "thing being
of too great difficulty, and beyond the jurisdiction of an inferior
court." Dundas himself examined the precognition with great care, and
was so convinced of the utter folly of the whole case that he quashed
all further proceedings.

We find this same Sheriff-depute of Caithness very active four
years afterwards in another trial for witchcraft. In spite of the
warning he had received, that all such cases were to be tried in
future by the superior courts, he condemned to death an old woman at
Dornoch, upon the charge of bewitching the cows and pigs of her
neighbours. This poor creature was insane, and actually laughed and
clapped her hands at sight of "the bonnie fire" that was to consume
her. She had a daughter, who was lame both of her hands and feet, and
one of the charges brought against her was, that she had used this
daughter as a pony in her excursions to join the devil's sabbath, and
that the devil himself had shod her, and produced lameness.

This was the last execution that took place in Scotland for
witchcraft. The penal statutes were repealed in 1756, and, as in
England, whipping, the pillory, or imprisonment, were declared the
future punishments of all pretenders to magic or witchcraft.

Still, for many years after this, the superstition lingered both
in England and Scotland, and in some districts is far from being
extinct even at this day. But before we proceed to trace it any
further than to its legal extinction, we have yet to see the frightful
havoc it made in continental Europe from the commencement of the
seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth century. France, Germany,
and Switzerland were the countries which suffered most from the
epidemic. The number of victims in these countries during the
sixteenth century has already been mentioned; but, at the early part
of the seventeenth, the numbers are so great, especially in Germany,
that were they not to be found in the official records of the
tribunals, it would be almost impossible to believe that mankind could
ever have been so maddened and deluded. To use the words of the
learned and indefatigable Horst, [Zauber Bibliothek. Theil 5.] "the
world seemed to be like a large madhouse for witches and devils to
play their antics in." Satan was believed to be at everybody's call,
to raise the whirlwind, draw down the lightning, blight the
productions of the earth, or destroy the health and paralyse the limbs
of man. This belief, so insulting to the majesty and beneficence of
the Creator, was shared by the most pious ministers of religion. Those
who in their morning and evening prayers acknowledged the one true
God, and praised him for the blessings of the seed time and the
harvest, were convinced that frail humanity could enter into a compact
with the spirits of hell to subvert his laws and thwart all his
merciful intentions. Successive popes, from Innocent VIII. downwards,
promulgated this degrading doctrine, which spread so rapidly that
society seemed to be divided into two great factions, the bewitching
and the bewitched.

The commissioners named by Innocent VIII. to prosecute the
witch-trials in Germany, were Jacob Sprenger, so notorious for his
work on demonology, entitled the "Malleus Maleficarum," or "Hammer to
knock down Witches," Henry Institor a learned jurisconsult, and the
Bishop of Strasburgh. Barnberg, Treves, Cologne, Paderborn, and
Wurzburg, were the chief seats of the commissioners, who, during their
lives alone, condemned to the stake, on a very moderate calculation,
upwards of three thousand victims. The number of witches so increased,
that new commissioners were continually appointed in Germany, France,
and Switzerland. In Spain and Portugal the Inquisition alone took
cognizance of the crime. It is impossible to search the records of
those dark, but now happily nonexisting tribunals; but the mind
recoils with affright even to form a guess of the multitudes who

The mode of trial in the other countries is more easily
ascertained. Sprenger, in Germany, and Bodinus and Delrio, in France,
have left but too ample a record of the atrocities committed in the
much-abused names of justice and religion. Bodinus, of great repute
and authority in the seventeenth century, says, "The trial of this
offence must not be conducted like other crimes. Whoever adheres to
the ordinary course of justice perverts the spirit of the law, both
Divine and human. He who is accused of sorcery should never be
acquitted unless the malice of the prosecutor be clearer than the sun;
for it is so difficult to bring full proof of this secret crime, that
out of a million of witches not one would be convicted if the usual
course were followed!" Henri Boguet, a witch-finder, who styled
himself "The Grand Judge of Witches for the Territory of St. Claude,"
drew up a code for the guidance of all persons engaged in the
witch-trials, consisting of seventy articles, quite as cruel as the
code of Bodinus. In this document he affirms, that a mere suspicion of
witchcraft justifies the immediate arrest and torture of the suspected
person. If the prisoner muttered, looked on the ground, and did not
shed any tears, all these were proofs positive of guilt! In all cases
of witchcraft, the evidence of the child ought to be taken against its
parent; and persons of notoriously bad character, although not to be
believed upon their oaths on the ordinary occasions of dispute that
might arise between man and man, were to be believed, if they swore
that any person had bewitched them! Who, when he hears that this
diabolical doctrine was the universally received opinion of the
ecclesiastical and civil authorities, can wonder that thousands upon
thousands of unhappy persons should be brought to the stake? that
Cologne should for many years burn its three hundred witches annually?
the district of Barnberg its four hundred? Nuremberg, Geneva, Paris,
Toulouse, Lyons, and other cities, their two hundred?

A few of these trials may be cited, taking them in the order of
priority, as they occurred in different parts of the Continent. In
1595 an old woman residing in a village near Constance, angry at not
being invited to share the sports of the country people on a day of
public rejoicing, was heard to mutter something to herself, and was
afterwards seen to proceed through the fields towards a hill, where
she was lost sight of. A violent thunderstorm arose about two hours
afterwards, which wet the dancers to the skin, and did considerable
damage to the plantations. This woman, suspected before of witchcraft,
was seized and imprisoned, and accused of having raised the storm, by
filling a hole with wine, and stirring it about with a stick. She was
tortured till she confessed, and was burned alive the next evening.

About the same time two sorcerers in Toulouse were accused of
having dragged a crucifix about the streets at midnight, stopping at
times to spit upon and kick it, and uttering at intervals an exorcism
to raise the devil. The next day a hail-storm did considerable damage
to the crops, and a girl, the daughter of a shoemaker in the town,
remembered to have heard in the night the execrations of the wizards.
Her story led to their arrest. The usual means to produce confession
were resorted to. The wizards owned that they could raise tempests
whenever they pleased, and named several persons who possessed similar
powers. They were hanged, and then burned in the market-place, and
seven of the persons they had mentioned shared the same fate.

Hoppo and Stadlin, two noted wizards of Germany, were executed in
1599. They implicated twenty or thirty witches, who went about causing
women to miscarry, bringing down the lightning of heaven, and making
maidens bring forth toads. To this latter fact several girls were
found to swear most positively! Stadlin confessed that he had killed
seven infants in the womb of one woman.

Bodinus highly praises the exertions of a witchfinder, named
Nider, in France, who prosecuted so many that he could not calculate
them. Some of these witches could, by a single word, cause people to
fall down dead; others made women go with child three years instead of
nine months; while others, by certain invocations and ceremonies,
could turn the faces of their enemies upside down, or twist them round
to their backs. Although no witness was ever procured who saw persons
in this horrible state, the witches confessed that they had the power,
and exercised it. Nothing more was wanting to insure the stake.

At Amsterdam a crazy girl confessed that she could cause sterility
in cattle, and bewitch pigs and poultry by merely repeating the magic
words Turius und Shurius Inturius! She was hanged and burned. Another
woman in the same city, named Kornelis Van Purmerund, was arrested in
consequence of some disclosures the former had made. A witness came
forward and swore that she one day looked through the window of her
hut, and saw Kornelis sitting before a fire muttering something to the
devil. She was sure it was to the devil, because she heard him answer
her. Shortly afterwards twelve black cats ascended out of the floor,
and danced on their hind legs around the witch for the space of about
half an hour. They then vanished with a horrid noise, and leaving a
disagreeable smell behind them. She also was hanged and burned.

At Bamberg, in Bavaria, the executions from the year 1610 to 1640
were at the rate of about a hundred annually. One woman, suspected of
witchcraft, was seized because, having immoderately praised the beauty
of a child, it had shortly afterwards fallen ill and died. She
confessed upon the rack that the devil had given her the power to work
evil upon those she hated, by speaking words in their praise. If she
said with unwonted fervour, "What a strong man!" "What a lovely woman
!" "What a sweet child!" the devil understood her, and afflicted them
with diseases immediately. It is quite unnecessary to state the end of
this poor creature. Many women were executed for causing strange
substances to lodge in the bodies of those who offended them. Bits of
wood, nails, hair, eggshells, bits of glass, shreds of linen and
woollen cloth, pebbles, and even hot cinders and knives, were the
articles generally chosen. These were believed to remain in the body
till the witches confessed or were executed, when they were voided
from the bowels, or by the mouth, nostrils, or ears. Modern physicians
have often had cases of a similar description under their care, where
girls have swallowed needles, which have been voided on the arms,
legs, and other parts of the body. But the science of that day could
not account for these phenomena otherwise than by the power of the
devil; and every needle swallowed by a servant maid cost an old woman
her life. Nay, if no more than one suffered in consequence, the
district might think itself fortunate. The commissioners seldom
stopped short at one victim. The revelations of the rack in most cases
implicated half a score.

Of all the records of the witch-trials preserved for the wonder of
succeeding ages, that of Wurzburg, from 1627 to 1629, is the most
frightful. Hauber, who has preserved this list in his "Acta et Scripta
Magica," says, in a note at the end, that it is far from complete, and
that there were a great many other burnings too numerous to specify.
This record, which relates to the city only, and not to the province
of Wurzburg, contains the names of one hundred and fifty-seven
persons, who were burned in two years in twenty-nine burnings,
averaging from five to six at a time. The list comprises three
play-actors, four innkeepers, three common councilmen of Wurzburg,
fourteen vicars of the cathedral, the burgomaster's lady, an
apothecary's wife and daughter, two choristers of the cathedral, Gobel
Babelin the prettiest girl in the town, and the wife, the two little
sons, and the daughter of the councillor Stolzenberg. Rich and poor,
young and old, suffered alike. At the seventh of these recorded
burnings, the victims are described as a wandering boy, twelve years
of age, and four strange men and women, found sleeping in the
market-place. Thirty-two of the whole number appear to have been
vagrants, of both sexes, who, failing to give a satisfactory account
of themselves, were accused and found guilty of witchcraft. The number
of children on the list is horrible to think upon. The thirteenth and
fourteenth burnings comprised four persons, who are stated to have
been a little maiden nine years of age, a maiden still less, her
sister, their mother, and their aunt, a pretty young woman of
twenty-four. At the eighteenth burning the victims were two boys of
twelve, and a girl of fifteen; at the nineteenth, the young heir of
the noble house of Rotenhahn, aged nine, and two other boys, one aged
ten, and the other twelve. Among other entries appear the names of
Baunach, the fattest, and Steinacher, the richest burgher in Wurzburg.
What tended to keep up the delusion in this unhappy city, and indeed
all over Europe, was the number of hypochondriac and diseased persons
who came voluntarily forward, and made confession of witchcraft.
Several of the victims in the foregoing list, had only themselves to
blame for their fate. Many again, including the apothecary's wife and
daughter already mentioned, pretended to sorcery, and sold poisons, or
attempted by means of charms and incantations to raise the devil. But
throughout all this fearful period the delusion of the criminals was
as great as that of the judges. Depraved persons who, in ordinary
times, would have been thieves or murderers, added the desire of
sorcery to their depravity, sometimes with the hope of acquiring power
over their fellows, and sometimes with the hope of securing impunity
in this world by the protection of Satan. One of the persons executed
at the first burning, a prostitute, was heard repeating the exorcism,
which was supposed to have the power of raising the arch enemy in the
form of a goat. This precious specimen of human folly has been
preserved by Horst, in his "Zauberbibliothek." It ran as follows, and
was to be repeated slowly, with many ceremonies and waivings of the

"Lalle, Bachera, Magotte, Baphia, Dajam,
Vagoth Heneche Ammi Nagaz, Adomator
Raphael Immanuel Christus, Tetragrammaton
Agra Jod Loi. Konig! Konig!"

The two last words were uttered quickly, and with a sort of scream,
and were supposed to be highly agreeable to Satan, who loved to be
called a king. If he did not appear immediately, it was necessary to
repeat a further exorcism. The one in greatest repute was as follows,
and was to be read backwards, with the exception of the last two words

"Anion, Lalle, Sabolos, Sado, Pater, Aziel
Adonai Sado Vagoth Agra, Jod,
Baphra! Komm! Komm!"

When the witch wanted to get rid of the devil, who was sometimes in
the habit of prolonging his visits to an unconscionable length, she
had only to repeat the following, also backwards, when he generally
disappeared, leaving behind him a suffocating smell: --

"Zellianelle Heotti Bonus Vagotha
Plisos sother osech unicus Beelzebub
Dax! Komm! Komm!"

This nonsensical jargon soon became known to all the idle and foolish
boys of Germany. Many an unhappy urchin, who in a youthful frolic had
repeated it, paid for his folly the penalty of his life. Three, whose
ages varied from ten to fifteen, were burned alive at Wurzburg for no
other offence. Of course every other boy in the city became still more
convinced of the power of the charm. One boy confessed that he would
willingly have sold himself to the devil, if he could have raised him,
for a good dinner and cakes every day of his life, and a pony to ride
upon. This luxurious youngster, instead of being horsewhipped for his
folly, was hanged and burned.

The small district of Lindheim was, if possible, even more
notorious than Wurzburg for the number of its witch-burnings. In the
year 1633 a famous witch, named Pomp Anna, who could cause her foes to
fall sick by merely looking at them, was discovered and burned, along
with three of her companions. Every year in this parish, consisting at
most of a thousand persons, the average number of executions was five.
Between the years 1660 and 1664, the number consumed was thirty. If
the executions all over Germany had been in this frightful proportion,
hardly a family could have escaped losing one of its members.

In 1627 a ballad entitled the "Druten Zeitung," or the "Witches
Gazette," was very popular in Germany. It detailed, according to the
titlepage of a copy printed at Smalcald in 1627, "an account of the
remarkable events which took place in Franconia, Bamberg, and
Wurzburg, with those wretches who from avarice or ambition have sold
themselves to the devil, and how they had their reward at last: set to
music, and to be sung to the tune of Dorothea." The sufferings of the
witches at the stake are explained in it with great minuteness, the
poet waxing extremely witty when he describes the horrible contortions
of pain upon their countenances, and the shrieks that rent the air
when any one of more than common guilt was burned alive. A trick
resorted to in order to force one witch to confess, is told in this
doggrel as an excellent joke. As she obstinately refused to own that
she was in league with the powers of evil, the commissioners suggested
that the hangman should dress himself in a bear's skin, with the
horns, tail, and all the et ceteras, and in this form penetrate into
her dungeon. The woman, in the darkness of her cell, could not detect
the imposture, aided as it was by her own superstitious fears. She
thought she was actually in the presence of the prince of hell; and
when she was told to keep up her courage, and that she should be
relieved from the power of her enemies, she fell on her knees before
the supposed devil, and swore to dedicate herself hereafter body and
soul to his service. Germany is, perhaps, the only country in Europe
where the delusion was so great as to have made such detestable verses
as these the favourites of the people:--

"Man shickt ein Henkersknecht
Zu ihr in Gefangniss n'unter,
Den man hat kleidet recht,
Mir einer Barnhaute,
Als wenns der Teufel war;
Als ihm die Drut anschaute
Meints ihr Buhl kam daher.

"Sie sprach zu ihm behende,
Wie lasst du mich so lang
In der Obrigkeit Hande?
Hilf mir aus ihren Zwang,
Wie du mir hast verheissen,
Ich bin ja eben dein,
Thu mich aus der Angst entreissen
O liebster Buhle mein ?

[They sent a hangman's assistant down to her in her prison; they
clothed him properly in a bear's skin, as if he were the devil. Him,
when the witch saw, she thought he was her familiar. She said to him
quickly, "Why hast thou left me so long in the magistrate's hands?
Help me out of their power, as thou hast promised, and I will be thine
alone. Help me from this anguish, O thou dearest devil (or lover),

This rare poet adds, that in making such an appeal to the hangman,
the witch never imagined the roast that was to be made of her, and
puts in, by way of parenthesis, "was not that fine fun!" "Was das war
fur ein Spiel!" As feathers thrown into the air show how the wind
blows, so this trumpery ballad serves to show the current of popular
feeling at the time of its composition.

All readers of history are familiar with the celebrated trial of
the Marechale d'Ancre, who was executed in Paris in the year 1617.
Although witchcraft was one of the accusations brought against her,
the real crime for which she suffered was her ascendency over the mind
of Mary of Medicis, and the consequent influence she exercised
indirectly over the unworthy King, Louis XIII. Her coachman gave
evidence that she had sacrificed a cock at midnight, in one of the
churches, and others swore they had seen her go secretly into the
house of a noted witch, named Isabella. When asked by what means she
had acquired so extraordinary an influence over the mind of the Queen
Mother, she replied boldly, that she exercised no other power over
her, than that which a strong mind can always exercise over the weak.
She died with great firmness.

In two years afterwards scenes far more horrible than any that had
yet taken place in France were enacted at Labourt, at the foot of the
Pyrenees. The Parliament of Bourdeaux, scandalised at the number of
witches who were said to infest Labourt and its neighbourhood, deputed
one of its own members, the noted Pierre de l'Ancre, and its
President, Espaignel, to inquire into the matter, with full powers to
punish the offenders. They arrived at Labourt in May 1619. De l'Ancre
wrote a book, setting forth all his great deeds, in this battle
against the powers of evil. It is full of obscenity and absurdity; but
the facts may be relied on as far as they relate to the number of
trials and executions, and the strange confessions which torture
forced from the unhappy criminals.

De l'Ancre states as a reason why so many witches were to be found
at Labourt, that the country was mountainous and sterile! He
discovered many of them from their partiality to smoking tobacco. It
may be inferred from this, that he was of the opinion of King James,
that tobacco was the "devil's weed." When the commission first sat,
the number of persons brought to trial was about forty a day. The
acquittals did not average so many as five per cent. All the witches
confessed that they had been present at the great Domdaniel, or
Sabbath. At these saturnalia the devil sat upon a large gilded throne,
sometimes in the form of a goat; sometimes as a gentleman, dressed all
in black, with boots, spurs, and sword; and very often as a shapeless
mass, resembling the trunk of a blasted tree, seen indistinctly amid
the darkness. They generally proceeded to the Domdaniel, riding on
spits, pitchforks, or broomsticks, and, on their arrival, indulged
with the fiends in every species of debauchery. Upon one occasion they
had had the audacity to celebrate this festival in the very heart of
the city of Bourdeaux. The throne of the arch fiend was placed in the
middle of the Place de Gallienne, and the whole space was covered with
the multitude of witches and wizards, who flocked to it from far and
near; some arriving even from distant Scotland.

After two hundred poor wretches had been hanged and burned, there
seemed no diminution in the number of criminals to be tried. Many of
the latter were asked upon the rack what Satan had said, when he found
that the commissioners were proceeding with such severity? The general
reply was, that he did not seem to care much about it. Some of them
asserted, that they had boldly reproached him for suffering the
execution of their friends, saying, "Out upon thee, false ,fiend! thy
promise was, that they should not die! Look! how thou hast kept thy
word! They have been burned, and are a heap of ashes!" Upon these
occasions he was never offended. He would give orders that the sports
of the Domdaniel should cease, and producing illusory fires that did
not burn, he encouraged them to walk through, assuring them that the
fires lighted by the executioner gave no more pain than those. They
would then ask him, where their friends were, since they had not
suffered; to which the "Father of Lies" invariably replied, that they
were happy in a far country, and could see and hear all that was then
passing; and that, if they called by name those they wished to
converse with, they might hear their voices in reply. Satan then
imitated the voices of the defunct witches so successfully, that they
were all deceived. Having answered all objections, the orgies
recommenced, and lasted till the cock crew.

De l'Ancre was also very zealous in the trial of unhappy
monomaniacs for the crime of lycanthropy. Several who were arrested
confessed, without being tortured, that they were weir-wolves, and
that, at night, they rushed out among the flocks and herds, killing
and devouring. One young man at Besancon, with the full consciousness
of the awful fate that awaited him, voluntarily gave himself up to the
commissioner Espaignel, and confessed that he was the servant of a
strong fiend, who was known by the name of "Lord of the Forests." By
his power, he was transformed into the likeness of a wolf. The "Lord
of the Forests" assumed the same shape, but was much larger, fiercer,
and stronger. They prowled about the pastures together at midnight,
strangling the watch-dogs that defended the folds, and killing more
sheep than they could devour. He felt, he said, a fierce pleasure in
these excursions, and howled in excess of joy as he tore with his
fangs the warm flesh of the sheep asunder. This youth was not alone in
this horrid confession; many others voluntarily owned that they were
weir-wolves, and many more were forced by torture to make the same
avowal. Such criminals were thought to be too atrocious to be hanged
first, and then burned: they were generally sentenced to be burned
alive, and their ashes to be scattered to the winds. Grave and learned
doctors of divinity openly sustained the possibility of these
transformations, relying mainly upon the history of Nebuchadnezzar.
They could not imagine why, if he had been an ox, modern men could not
become wolves, by Divine permission and the power of the devil. They
also contended that, if men should confess, it was evidence enough, if
there had been no other. Delrio mentions that one gentleman accused of
lycanthropy was put to the torture no less than twenty times, but
still he would not confess. An intoxicating draught was then given
him, and under its influence he confessed that he was a weir-wolf.
Delrio cites this to show the extreme equity of the commissioners.
They never burned anybody till he confessed; and if one course of
torture would not suffice, their patience was not exhausted, and they
tried him again and again, even to the twentieth time! Well may we
exclaim, when such atrocities have been committed in the name of

"Quel lion, quel tigre egale en cruaute,
Une injuste fureur qu'arme la piete?"

The trial of the unhappy Urbain Grandier, the curate of Loudun,
for bewitching a number of girls in the convent of the Ursulines in
that town, was, like that of the Marechale d'Ancre, an accusation
resorted to by his enemies to ruin one against whom no other charge
could be brought so readily. This noted affair, which kept France in
commotion for months, and the true character of which was known even
at that time, merits no more than a passing notice in this place. It
did not spring from the epidemic dread of sorcery then so prevalent,
but was carried on by wretched intriguers, who had sworn to have the
life of their foe. Such a charge could not be refuted in 1634: the
accused could not, as Bodinus expresses it, "make the malice of the
prosecutors more clear than the sun;" and his own denial, however
intelligible, honest, and straightforward, was held as nothing in
refutation of the testimony of the crazy women who imagined themselves
bewitched. The more absurd and contradictory their assertions, the
stronger the argument employed by his enemies that the devil was in
them. He was burned alive, under circumstances of great cruelty. [A
very graphic account of the execution of this unfortunate gentleman is
to be found in the excellent romance of M. Alfred de Vigny, entitled
"Cinq Mars ;" but if the reader wishes for a full and accurate detail
of all the circumstances of one of the most extraordinary trials upon
record, he is referred to a work published anonymously, at Amsterdam,
in 1693, entitled "Histoire des Diables de Loudun, ou de la Possession
des Religieuses Ursulines, et de la Condemnation et du Supplice
d'Urbain Grandier."]

A singular instance of the epidemic fear of witchcraft occurred at
Lille, in 1639. A pious, but not very sane lady, named Antoinette
Bourignon, founded a school, or hospice, in that city. One day, on
entering the school-room, she imagined that she saw a great number of
little black angels flying about the heads of the children. In great
alarm, she told her pupils of what she had seen, warning them to
beware of the devil, whose imps were hovering about them. The foolish
woman continued daily to repeat the same story, and Satan and his
power became the only subject of conversation, not only between the
girls themselves, but between them and their instructors. One of them
at this time ran away from the school. On being brought back and
interrogated, she said she had not run away, but had been carried away
by the devil -- she was a witch, and had been one since the age of
seven. Some other little girls in the school went into fits at this
announcement, and, on their recovery, confessed that they also were
witches. At last, the whole of them, to the number of fifty, worked
upon each other's imaginations to such a degree that they also
confessed that they were witches -- that they attended the Domdaniel,
or meeting of the fiends -- that they could ride through the air on
broom-sticks, feast on infants' flesh, or creep through a key-hole.

The citizens of Lille were astounded at these disclosures. The
clergy hastened to investigate the matter; many of them, to their
credit, openly expressed their opinion that the whole affair was an
imposture: not so the majority -- they strenuously insisted that the
confessions of the children were valid, and that it was necessary to
make an example by burning them all for witches. The poor parents,
alarmed for their offspring, implored the examining Capuchins with
tears in their eyes to save their young lives, insisting that they
were bewitched, and not bewitching. This opinion also gained ground in
the town. Antoinette Bourignon, who had put these absurd notions into
the heads of the children, was accused of witchcraft, and examined
before the council. The circumstances of the case seemed so
unfavourable towards her that she would not stay for a second
examination. Disguising herself as she best could, she hastened out of
Lille and escaped pursuit. If she had remained four hours longer, she
would have been burned by judicial sentence, as a witch and a heretic.
It is to be hoped that, wherever she went, she learned the danger of
tampering with youthful minds, and was never again entrusted with the
management of children.

The Duke of Brunswick and the Elector of Menz were struck with the
great cruelty exercised in the torture of suspected persons, and
convinced at the same time that no righteous judge would consider a
confession extorted by pain, and contradictory in itself, as
sufficient evidence to justify the execution of any accused person. It
is related of the Duke of Brunswick that he invited two learned
Jesuits to his house, who were known to entertain strong opinions upon
the subject of witchcraft, with a view of showing them the cruelty and
absurdity of such practises. A woman lay in the dungeon of the city
accused of witchcraft, and the Duke, having given previous
instructions to the officiating torturers, went with the two Jesuits
to hear her confession. By a series of artful leading questions, the
poor creature, in the extremity of her anguish, was induced to confess
that she had often attended the sabbath of the fiends upon the Brocken
-- that she had seen two Jesuits there, who had made themselves
notorious, even among witches, for their abominations -- that she had
seen them assume the form of goats, wolves, and other animals; and
that many noted witches had borne them five, six, and seven children
at a birth, who had heads like toads and legs like spiders. Being
asked if the Jesuits were far from her, she replied that they were in
the room beside her. The Duke of Brunswick led his astounded friends
away, and explained the stratagem. This was convincing proof to both
of them that thousands of persons had suffered unjustly; they knew
their own innocence, and shuddered to think what their fate might have
been, if an enemy, instead of a friend, had put such a confession into
the mouth of a criminal. One of these Jesuits was Frederick Spee, the
author of the "Cautio Criminalis," published in 1631. This work,
exposing the horrors of the witch trials, had a most salutary effect
in Germany: Schonbrunn, Archbishop and Elector of Menz, abolished the
torture entirely within his dominions, and his example was imitated by
the Duke of Brunswick and other potentates. The number of supposed
witches immediately diminished, and the violence of the mania began to
subside. The Elector of Brandenburg issued a rescript, in 1654, with
respect to the case of Anna of Ellerbrock, a supposed witch,
forbidding the use of torture, and stigmatizing the swimming of
witches as an unjust, cruel, and deceitful test.

This was the beginning of the dawn after the long-protracted
darkness. The tribunals no longer condemned witches to execution by
hundreds in a year. Wurzburg, the grand theatre of the burnings,
burned but one, where, forty years previously, it had burned three
score. From 1660 to 1670, the electoral chambers in all parts of
Germany constantly commuted the sentence of death passed by the
provincial tribunals into imprisonment for life, or burning on the

A truer philosophy had gradually disabused the public mind.
Learned men freed themselves from the trammels of a debasing
superstition, and governments, both civil and ecclesiastical,
repressed the popular delusion they had so long encouraged. The
Parliament of Normandy condemned a number of women to death, in the
year 1670, on the old charge of riding on broomsticks to the
Domdaniel; but Louis XIV. commuted the sentence into banishment for
life. The Parliament remonstrated, and sent the King the following
remarkable request. The reader will, perhaps, be glad to see this
document at length. It is of importance, as the last effort of a
legislative assembly to uphold this great error; and the arguments
they used, and the instances they quoted, are in the highest degree
curious. It reflects honour upon the memory of Louis XIV. that he was
not swayed by it.



"EMBOLDENED by the authority which your Majesty has committed into
our hands in the province of Normandy, to try and punish offences, and
more particularly those offences of the nature of witchcraft, which
tend to the destruction of religion and the ruin of nations, we, your
Parliament, remonstrate humbly with your Majesty upon certain cases of
this kind which have been lately brought before us. We cannot permit
the letter addressed by your Majesty's command to the Attorney-General
of this district, for the reprieve of certain persons condemned to
death for witchcraft, and for the staying of proceedings in several
other cases, to remain unnoticed, and without remarking upon the
consequences which may ensue. There is also a letter from your
Secretary of State, declaring your Majesty's intention to commute the
punishment of these criminals into one of perpetual banishment, and to
submit to the opinion of the Procureur-General, and of the most
learned members of the Parliament of Paris, whether, in the matter of
witchcraft, the jurisprudence of the Parliament of Rouen is to be
followed in preference to that of the Parliament of Paris, and of the
other parliaments of the kingdom which judge differently.

"Although by the ordinances of the Kings your predecessors,
Parliaments have been forbidden to pay any attention to lettres de
cachet; we, nevertheless, from the knowledge which we have, in common
with the whole kingdom, of the care bestowed by your Majesty for the
good of your subjects, and from the submission and obedience to your
commandments which we have always manifested, have stayed all
proceedings, in conformity to your orders; hoping that your Majesty,
considering the importance of the crime of witchcraft, and the
consequences likely to ensue from its impunity, will be graciously
pleased to grant us once more your permission to continue the trials,
and execute judgment upon those found guilty. And as, since we
received the letter of your Secretary of State, we have also been made
acquainted with the determination of your Majesty, not only to commute
the sentence of death passed upon these witches into one of perpetual
banishment from the province, but to re-establish them in the
possession of their goods and chattels, and of their good fame and
character, your Parliament have thought it their duty, on occasion of
these crimes, the greatest which men can commit, to make you
acquainted with the general and uniform feelings of the people of this
province with regard to them; it being, moreover, a question in which
are concerned the glory of God and the relief of your suffering
subjects, who groan under their fears from the threats and menaces of
this sort of persons, and who feel the effects of them every day in
the mortal and extraordinary maladies which attack them, and the
surprising damage and loss of their possessions.

"Your Majesty knows well that there is no crime so opposed to the
commands of God as witchcraft, which destroys the very foundation of
religion, and draws strange abominations after it. It is for this
reason, Sire, that the Scriptures pronounce the punishment of death
against offenders, and that the church and the holy fathers have
fulminated their anathemas, and that canonical decisions have one and
all decreed the most severe punishments, to deter from this crime; and
that the Church of France, animated by the piety of the Kings your
predecessors, has expressed so great a horror at it, that, not judging
the punishment of perpetual imprisonment, the highest it has the power
to inflict, sufficiently severe, it has left such criminals to be
dealt with by the secular power.

"It has been the general feeling of all nations that such
criminals ought to be condemned to death, and all the ancients were of
the same opinion. The law of the "Twelve Tables," which was the
principal of the Roman laws, ordains the same punishment. All
jurisconsults agreed in it, as well as the constitutions of the
Emperors, and more especially those of Constantine and Theodosius,
who, enlightened by the Gospel, not only renewed the same punishment,
but also deprived, expressly, all persons found guilty of witchcraft
of the right of appeal, and declared them to be unworthy of a prince's
mercy. And Charles VIII, Sire, inspired by the same sentiments, passed
that beautiful and severe ordinance (cette belle et severe
ordonnance), which enjoined the judges to punish witches according to
the exigencies of the case, under a penalty of being themselves fined
or imprisoned, or dismissed from their office; and decreed, at the
same time, that all persons who refused to denounce a witch, should be
punished as accomplices; and that all, on the contrary, who gave
evidence against one, should be rewarded.

"From these considerations, Sire, and in the execution of so holy
an ordinance, your parliaments, by their decrees, proportion their
punishments to the guilt of the offenders: and your Parliament of
Normandy has never, until the present time, found that its practice
was different from that of other courts; for all the books which treat
upon this matter cite an infinite number of decrees condemning witches
to be burnt, or broken on the wheel, or to other punishments. The
following are examples: -- In the time of Chilperic, as may be seen in
Gregory of Tours, b. vi, c. 35 of his History of France: all the
decrees of the Parliament of Paris passed according to, and in
conformity with, this ancient jurisprudence of the kingdom, cited by
Imbert, in his "Judicial Practice;" all those cited by Monstrelet, in
1459, against the witches of Artois; the decrees of the same
Parliament, of the l3th of October 1573, against Mary Le Fief, native
of Saumur; of the 21st of October 1596, against the Sieur de Beaumont,
who pleaded, in his defence, that he had only sought the aid of the
devil for the purpose of unbewitching the afflicted and of curing
diseases; of the 4th of July 1606, against Francis du Bose; of the
20th of July 1582, against Abel de la Rue, native of Coulommiers; of
the 2nd of October 1593, against Rousseau and his daughter; of 1608,
against another Rousseau and one Peley, for witchcraft and adoration
of the devil at the Sabbath, under the figure of a he-goat, as
confessed by them; the decree of 4th of February 1615, against
Leclerc, who appealed from the sentence of the Parliament of Orleans,
and who was condemned for having attended the Sabbath, and confessed,
as well as two of his accomplices, who died in prison, that he had
adored the devil, renounced his baptism and his faith in God, danced
the witches' dance, and offered up unholy sacrifices; the decrees of
the 6th of May 1616, against a man named Leger, on a similar
accusation; the pardon granted by Charles IX to Trois Echelles, upon
condition of revealing his accomplices, but afterwards revoked for
renewed sorcery on his part; the decree of the Parliament of Paris,
cited by Mornac in 1595; the judgments passed in consequence of the
commission given by Henry IV to the Sieur de Lancre, councillor of the
Parliament of Bourdeaux; of the 20th of March 1619, against Etienne
Audibert; those passed by the Chamber of Nerac, on the 26th of June
1620, against several witches; those passed by the Parliament of
Toulouse in 1577, as cited by Gregory Tolosanus, against four hundred
persons accused of this crime, and who were all marked with the sign
of the devil. Besides all these, we might recall to your Majesty's
recollection the various decrees of the Parliament of Provence,
especially in the case of Gaufredy in 1611; the decrees of the
Parliament of Dijon, and those of the Parliament of Rennes, following
the example of the condemnation of the Marshal de Rays, who was burned
in 1441, for the crime of witchcraft, in presence of the Duke of
Brittany; -- all these examples, Sire, prove that the accusation of
witchcraft has always been punished with death by the Parliaments of
your kingdom, and justify the uniformity of their practice.

"These, Sire, are the motives upon which your Parliament of
Normandy has acted in decreeing the punishment of death against the
persons lately brought before it for this crime. If it has happened
that, on any occasion, these parliaments, and the Parliament of
Normandy among the rest, have condemned the guilty to a less
punishment than that of death, it was for the reason that their guilt
was not of the deepest dye; your Majesty, and the Kings your
predecessors, having left full liberty to the various tribunals to
whom they delegated the administration of justice, to decree such
punishment as was warranted by the evidence brought before them.

"After so many authorities, and punishments ordained by human and
divine laws, we humbly supplicate your Majesty to reflect once more
upon the extraordinary results which proceed from the malevolence of
this sort of people -- on the deaths from unknown diseases, which are
often the consequences of their menaces -- on the loss of the goods
and chattels of your subjects -- on the proofs of guilt continually
afforded by the insensibility of the marks upon the accused -- on the
sudden transportation of bodies from one place to another -- on the
sacrifices and nocturnal assemblies, and other facts, corroborated by
the testimony of ancient and modern authors, and verified by so many
eye-witnesses, composed partly of accomplices, and partly of people
who had no interest in the trials beyond the love of truth, and
confirmed, moreover, by the confessions of the accused parties
themselves; and that, Sire, with so much agreement and conformity
between the different cases, that the most ignorant persons convicted
of this crime have spoken to the same circumstances, and in nearly the
same words, as the most celebrated authors who have written about it,
all of which may be easily proved to your Majesty's satisfaction by
the records of various trials before your parliaments.

"These, Sire, are truths so intimately bound up with the
principles of our religion, that, extraordinary although they be, no
person has been able to this time to call them in question. If some
have cited, in opposition to these truths, the pretended canon of the
Council of Ancyre, and a passage from St. Augustin, in a treatise upon
the 'Spirit and the Soul', it has been without foundation; and it
would be easy to convince your Majesty that neither the one nor the
other ought to be accounted of any authority; and, besides that, the
canon, in this sense, would be contrary to the opinion of all
succeeding councils of the church, Cardinal Baronius, and all learned
commentators, agree that it is not to be found in any old edition. In
effect, in those editions wherein it is found, it is in another
language, and is in direct contradiction to the twenty-third canon of
the same council, which condemns sorcery, according to all preceding
constitutions. Even supposing that this canon was really promulgated
by the Council of Ancyre, we must observe that it was issued in the
second century, when the principal attention of the Church was
directed to the destruction of paganism. For this reason, it condemns
that class of women who said they could pass through the air, and over
immense regions, with Diana and Herodias, and enjoins all preachers to
teach the falsehood of such an opinion, in order to deter people from
the worship of these false divinities; but it does not question the
power of the devil over the human body, which is, in fact, proved by
the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ himself. And with regard, Sire, to the
pretended passage of St. Augustin, everybody knows that it was not
written by him, because the writer, whoever he was, cites Boetius, who
died more than eighty years after the time of St. Augustin. Besides,
there is still more convincing proof in the fact, that the same father
establishes the truth of witchcraft in all his writings, and more
particularly in his 'City of God;' and in his first volume, question
the 25th, wherein he states that sorcery is a communion between man
and the devil, which all good Christians ought to look upon with

"Taking all these things into consideration, Sire, the officers of
your Parliament hope, from the justice of your Majesty, that you will
be graciously pleased to receive the humble remonstrances they have
taken the liberty to make. They are compelled, for the acquittal of
their own consciences and in discharge of their duty, to make known to
your Majesty, that the decrees they passed against the sorcerers and
witches brought before them, were passed after a mature deliberation
on the part of all the judges present, and that nothing has been done
therein which is not conformable to the universal jurisprudence of the
kingdom, and for the general welfare of your Majesty's subjects, of
whom there is not one who can say that he is secure from the
malevolence of such criminals. We therefore supplicate your Majesty to
suffer us to carry into effect the sentences we passed, and to proceed
with the trial of the other persons accused of the same crime; and
that the piety of your Majesty will not suffer to be introduced during
your reign an opinion contrary to the principles of that holy religion
for which you have always employed so gloriously both your cares and
your arms."

Louis, as we have already mentioned, paid no attention to this
appeal. The lives of the old women were spared, and prosecutions for
mere witchcraft, unconnected with other offences, were discontinued
throughout France. In 1680 an act was passed for the punishment, not
of witches, but of pretenders to witchcraft, fortune-tellers,
divineresses, and poisoners.

Thus the light broke in upon Germany, France, England, and
Scotland about the same time, gradually growing clearer and clearer
till the middle of the eighteenth century, when witchcraft was finally
reckoned amongst exploded doctrines, and the belief in it confined to
the uttermost vulgar. Twice, however, did the madness burst forth
again as furious, while it lasted, as ever it had been. The first time
in Sweden, in 1669, and the second in Germany, so late as 1749. Both
these instances merit particular mention. The first is one of the most
extraordinary upon record, and for atrocity and absurdity is
unsurpassed in the annals of any nation.

It having been reported to the King of Sweden that the little
village of Mohra, in the province of Dalecarlia, was troubled
exceedingly with witches, he appointed a commission of clergy and
laymen to trace the rumour to its source, with full powers to punish
the guilty. On the 12th of August 1669, the commissioners arrived in
the bewitched village, to the great joy of the credulous inhabitants.
On the following day the whole population, amounting to three thousand
persons, assembled in the church. A sermon was preached, "declaring
the miserable case of those people that suffered themselves to be
deluded by the devil," and fervent prayer was offered up that God
would remove the scourge from among them.

The whole assembly then adjourned to the rector's house, filling
all the street before it, when the King's commission was read,
charging every person who knew anything of the witchery, to come
forward and declare the truth. A passion of tears seized upon the
multitude; men, women, and children began to weep and sob, and all
promised to divulge what they had heard or knew. In this frame of mind
they were dismissed to their homes. On the following day they were
again called together, when the depositions of several persons were
taken publicly before them all. The result was that seventy persons,
including fifteen children, were taken into custody. Numbers also were
arrested in the neighbouring district of Elfdale. Being put to the
torture, they all confessed their guilt. They said they used to go to
a gravel-pit that lay hard by the cross-way, where they put a vest
upon their heads, and danced "round and round and round about." They
then went to the cross-way, and called three times upon the devil; the
first time in a low still voice; the second, somewhat louder; and the
third, very loudly, with these words, "Antecessor, come, and carry us
to Blockula!" This invocation never failed to bring him to their view.
He generally appeared as a little old man, in a grey coat, with red
and blue stockings, with exceedingly long garters. He had besides a
very high-crowned hat, with bands of many-coloured linen enfolded
about it, and a long red beard, that hung down to his middle.

The first question he put to them was, whether they would serve
him soul and body? On their answering in the affirmative, he told
them to make ready for the journey to Blockula. It was necessary to
procure, in the first place, "some scrapings of altars and filings of
church clocks." Antecessor then gave them a horn, with some salve in
it, wherewith they anointed themselves. These preparations ended, he
brought beasts for them to ride upon, horses, asses, goats, and
monkeys; and, giving them a saddle, a hammer, and a nail, uttered the
word of command, and away they went. Nothing stopped them. They flew
over churches, high walls, rocks, and mountains, until they came to
the green meadow where Blockula was situated. Upon these occasions
they carried as many children with them as they could; for the devil,
they said, "did plague and whip them if they did not procure him
children, insomuch that they had no peace or quiet for him."

Many parents corroborated a part of this evidence, stating that
their children had repeatedly told them that they had been carried
away in the night to Blockula, where the devil had beaten them black
and blue. They had seen the marks in the morning, but they soon
disappeared. One little girl was examined, who swore positively that
she was carried through the air by the witches, and when at a great
height she uttered the holy name of Jesus. She immediately fell to the
ground, and made a great hole in her side. "The devil, however, picked
her up, healed her side, and carried her away to Blockula." She added,
and her mother confirmed her statement, that she had till that day "an
exceeding great pain in her side." This was a clencher, and the nail
of conviction was driven home to the hearts of the judges.

The place called Blockula, whither they were carried, was a large
house, with a gate to it, "in a delicate meadow, whereof they could
see no end." There was a very long table in it, at which the witches
sat down; and in other rooms "there were very lovely and delicate beds
for them to sleep upon."

After a number of ceremonies had been performed, by which they
bound themselves, body and soul, to the service of Antecessor, they
sat down to a feast, composed of broth, made of colworts and bacon,
oatmeal, bread and butter, milk and cheese. The devil always took the
chair, and sometimes played to them on the harp or the fiddle, while
they were eating. After dinner they danced in a ring, sometimes naked,
and sometimes in their clothes, cursing and swearing all the time.
Some of the women added particulars too horrible and too obscene for

Once the devil pretended to be dead, that he might see whether his
people regretted him. They instantly set up a loud wail, and wept
three tears each for him, at which he was so pleased, that he jumped
up among them, and hugged in his arms those who had been most
obstreperous in their sorrow.

Such were the principal details given by the children, and
corroborated by the confessions of the full-grown witches. Anything
more absurd was never before stated in a court of justice. Many of the
accused contradicted themselves most palpably; but the commissioners
gave no heed to discrepancies. One of them, the parson of the
district, stated, in the course of the inquiry, that on a particular
night, which he mentioned, he had been afflicted with a headach so
agonizing, that he could not account for it otherwise than by
supposing he was bewitched. In fact, he thought a score of witches
must have been dancing on the crown of his head. This announcement
excited great horror among the pious dames of the auditory, who loudly
expressed their wonder that the devil should have power to hurt so
good a man. One poor witch, who lay in the very jaws of death,
confessed that she knew too well the cause of the minister's headach.
The devil had sent her with a sledge hammer and a large nail, to
drive into the good man's skull. She had hammered at it for some time,
but the skull was so enormously thick, that she made no impression
upon it. Every hand was held up in astonishment. The pious minister
blessed God that his skull was so solid, and he became renowned for
his thick head all the days of his life. Whether the witch intended a
joke does not appear, but she was looked upon as a criminal more than
usually atrocious. Seventy persons were condemned to death on these so
awful yet so ridiculous confessions. Twenty-three of them were burned
together, in one fire, in the village of Mohra, in the presence of
thousands of delighted spectators. On the following day fifteen
children were murdered in the same manner; offered up in sacrifice to
the bloody Moloch of superstition. The remaining thirty-two were
executed at the neighbouring town of Fahluna. Besides these, fifty-six
children were found guilty of witchcraft in a minor degree, and
sentenced to various punishments, such as running the gauntlet,
imprisonment, and public whipping once a week for a twelvemonth.

Long after the occurrence of this case, it was cited as one of the
most convincing proofs upon record of the prevalence of witchcraft.
When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts
into their service! The lying whimsies of a few sick children,
encouraged by foolish parents, and drawn out by superstitious
neighbours, were sufficient to set a country in a flame. If, instead
of commissioners as deeply sunk in the slough of ignorance as the
people they were sent amongst, there had been deputed a few men firm
in courage and clear in understanding, how different would have been
the result! Some of the poor children who were burned would have been
sent to an infirmary; others would have been well flogged; the
credulity of the parents would have been laughed at, and the lives of
seventy persons spared. The belief in witchcraft remains in Sweden to
this day; but, happily, the annals of that country present no more
such instances of lamentable aberration of intellect as the one just

In New England, about the same time, the colonists were scared by
similar stories of the antics of the devil. All at once a fear seized
upon the multitude, and supposed criminals were arrested day after day
in such numbers, that the prisons were found too small to contain
them. A girl, named Goodwin, the daughter of a mason, who was
hypochondriac and subject to fits, imagined that an old Irishwoman,
named Glover, had bewitched her. Her two brothers, in whose
constitutions there was apparently a predisposition to similar fits,
went off in the same way, crying out that the devil and Dame Glover
were tormenting them. At times their joints were so stiff that they
could not be moved, while at others, said the neighbours, they were so
flexible, that the bones appeared softened into sinews. The supposed
witch was seized, and, as she could not repeat the Lord's Prayer
without making a mistake in it, she was condemned and executed.

But the popular excitement was not allayed. One victim was not
enough: the people waited agape for new disclosures. Suddenly two
hysteric girls in another family fell into fits daily, and the cry of
witchcraft resounded from one end of the colony to the other. The
feeling of suffocation in the throat, so common in cases of hysteria,
was said by the patients to be caused by the devil himself, who had
stuck balls in the windpipe to choke them. They felt the pricking of
thorns in every part of the body, and one of them vomited needles. The
case of these girls, who were the daughter and niece of a Mr. Parris,
the minister of a Calvinist chapel, excited so much attention, that
all the weak women in the colony began to fancy themselves similarly
afflicted. The more they brooded on it, the more convinced they
became. The contagion of this mental disease was as great as if it had
been a pestilence. One after the other the women fainted away,
asserting, on their recovery, that they had seen the spectres of
witches. Where there were three or four girls in a family, they so
worked, each upon the diseased imagination of the other, that they
fell into fits five or six times in a day. Some related that the devil
himself appeared to them, bearing in his hand a parchment roll, and
promising that if they would sign an agreement transferring to him
their immortal souls, they should be immediately relieved from fits
and all the ills of the flesh. Others asserted that they saw witches
only, who made them similar promises, threatening that they should
never be free from aches and pains till they had agreed to become the
devil's. When they refused, the witches pinched, or bit, or pricked
them with long pins and needles. More than two hundred persons named
by these mischievous visionaries, were thrown into prison. They were
of all ages and conditions of life, and many of them of exemplary
character. No less than nineteen were condemned and executed before
reason returned to the minds of the colonists. The most horrible part
of this lamentable history is, that among the victims there was a
little child only five years old. Some women swore that they had seen
it repeatedly in company with the devil, and that it had bitten them
often with its little teeth, for refusing to sign a compact with the
Evil One. It can hardly increase our feelings of disgust and
abhorrence when we learn that this insane community actually tried and
executed a dog for the same offence!

One man, named Cory, stoutly refused to plead to the preposterous
indictment against him. As was the practice in such eases, he was
pressed to death. It is told of the Sheriff of New England, who
superintended the execution, that when this unhappy man thrust out his
tongue in his mortal agony, he seized hold of a cane, and crammed it
back again into the mouth. If ever there were a fiend in human form,
it was this Sheriff; a man, who, if the truth were known, perhaps
plumed himself upon his piety -- thought he was doing God good
service, and

"Hoped to merit heaven by making earth a hell!"

Arguing still in the firm belief of witchcraft, the bereaved
people began to inquire, when they saw their dearest friends snatched
away from them by these wide-spreading accusations, whether the whole
proceedings were not carried on by the agency of the devil. Might not
the great enemy have put false testimony into the mouths of the
witnesses, or might not the witnesses be witches themselves? Every
man who was in danger of losing his wife, his child, or his sister,
embraced this doctrine with avidity. The revulsion was as sudden as
the first frenzy. All at once, the colonists were convinced of their
error. The judges put a stop to the prosecutions, even of those who
had confessed their guilt. The latter were no sooner at liberty than
they retracted all they had said, and the greater number hardly
remembered the avowals which agony had extorted from them. Eight
persons, who had been tried and condemned, were set free; and
gradually girls ceased to have fits and to talk of the persecutions of
the devil. The judge who had condemned the first criminal executed on
this charge, was so smitten with sorrow and humiliation at his folly,
that he set apart the anniversary of that day as one of solemn
penitence and fasting. He still clung to the belief in witchcraft;
no new light had broken in upon him on that subject, but, happily for
the community, the delusion had taken a merciful turn. The whole
colony shared the feeling; the jurors on the different trials openly
expressed their penitence in the churches; and those who had suffered
were regarded as the victims, and not the accomplices of Satan.

It is related that the Indian tribes in New England were sorely
puzzled at the infatuation of the settlers, and thought them either a
race inferior to, or more sinful than the French colonists in the
vicinity, amongst whom, as they remarked, "the Great Spirit sent no

Returning again to the continent of Europe, we find that, after
the year 1680, men became still wiser upon this subject. For twenty
years the populace were left to their belief, but governments in
general gave it no aliment in the shape of executions. The edict of
Louis XIV. gave a blow to the superstition, from which it never
recovered. The last execution in the Protestant cantons of Switzerland
was at Geneva, in 1652. The various potentates of Germany, although
they could not stay the trials, invariably commuted the sentence into
imprisonment, in all cases where the pretended witch was accused of
pure witchcraft, unconnected with any other crime. In the year 1701,
Thomasius, the learned professor at the University of Halle, delivered
his inaugural thesis, "De Crimine Magiae," which struck another blow
at the falling monster of popular error. But a faith so strong as that
in witchcraft was not to be eradicated at once: the arguments of
learned men did not penetrate to the villages and hamlets, but still
they achieved great things; they rendered the belief an unworking
faith, and prevented the supply of victims, on which for so many ages
it had battened and grown strong.

Once more the delusion broke out; like a wild beast wounded to the
death, it collected all its remaining energies for the final
convulsion, which was to show how mighty it had once been. Germany,
which had nursed the frightful error in its cradle, tended it on its
death-bed, and Wurzburg, the scene of so many murders on the same
pretext, was destined to be the scene of the last. That it might lose
no portion of its bad renown, the last murder was as atrocious as the
first. This case offers a great resemblance to that of the witches of
Mohra and New England, except in the number of its victims. It
happened so late as the year 1749, to the astonishment and disgust of
the rest of Europe.

A number of young women in a convent at Wurzburg fancied
themselves bewitched; they felt, like all hysteric subjects, a sense
of suffocation in the throat. They went into fits repeatedly; and one
of them, who had swallowed needles, evacuated them at abscesses, which
formed in different parts of the body. The cry of sorcery was raised,
and a young woman, named Maria Renata Sanger, was arrested on the
charge of having leagued with the devil, to bewitch five of the young
ladies. It was sworn on the trial that Maria had been frequently seen
to clamber over the convent walls in the shape of a pig -- that,
proceeding to the cellar, she used to drink the best wine till she was
intoxicated; and then start suddenly up in her own form. Other girls
asserted that she used to prowl about the roof like a cat, and often
penetrate into their chamber, and frighten them by her dreadful
howlings. It was also said that she had been seen in the shape of a
hare, milking the cows dry in the meadows belonging to the convent;
that she used to perform as an actress on the boards of Drury Lane
theatre in London, and, on the very same night, return upon a
broomstick to Wurzburg, and afflict the young ladies with pains in all
their limbs. Upon this evidence she was condemned, and burned alive in
the market-place of Wurzburg.

Here ends this frightful catalogue of murder and superstition.
Since that day, the belief in witchcraft has fled from the populous
abodes of men, and taken refuge in remote villages and districts too
wild, rugged, and inhospitable to afford a resting-place for the foot
of civilization. Rude fishers and uneducated labourers still attribute
every phenomenon of nature which they cannot account for, to the devil
and witches. Catalepsy, that wondrous disease, is still thought by
ignorant gossips to be the work of Satan; and hypochondriacs,
uninformed by science of the nature of their malady, devoutly believe
in the reality of their visions. The reader would hardly credit the
extent of the delusion upon this subject in the very heart of England
at this day. Many an old woman leads a life of misery from the
unfeeling insults of her neighbours, who raise the scornful finger and
hooting voice at her, because in her decrepitude she is ugly,
spiteful, perhaps insane, and realizes in her personal appearance the
description preserved by tradition of the witches of yore. Even in the
neighbourhood of great towns the taint remains of this once
widely-spread contagion. If no victims fall beneath it, the
enlightenment of the law is all that prevents a recurrence of scenes
as horrid as those of the seventeeth century. Hundreds upon hundreds
of witnesses could be found to swear to absurdities as great as those
asserted by the infamous Matthew Hopkins.

In the Annual Register for 1760, an instance of the belief in
witchcraft is related, which shows how superstition lingers. A dispute
arose in the little village of Glen, in Leicestershire, between two
old women, each of whom vehemently accused the other of witchcraft.
The quarrel at last ran so high that a challenge ensued, and they both
agreed to be tried by the ordeal of swimming. They accordingly
stripped to their shifts -- procured some men, who tied their thumbs
and great toes together, cross-wise, and then, with a cart-rope about
their middle, suffered themselves to be thrown into a pool of water.
One of them sank immediately, but the other continued struggling a
short time upon the surface of the water, which the mob deeming an
infallible sign of her guilt, pulled her out, and insisted that she
should immediately impeach all her accomplices in the craft. She
accordingly told them that, in the neighbouring village of Burton,
there were several old women as "much witches as she was." Happily for
her, this negative information was deemed sufficient, and a student in
astrology, or "white-witch," coming up at the time, the mob, by his
direction, proceeded forthwith to Burton in search of all the
delinquents. After a little consultation on their arrival, they went
to the old woman's house on whom they had fixed the strongest
suspicion. The poor old creature on their approach locked the outer
door, and from the window of an upstairs room asked what they wanted.
They informed her that she was charged with being guilty of
witchcraft, and that they were come to duck her; remonstrating with
her at the same time upon the necessity of submission to the ordeal,
that, if she were innocent, all the world might know it. Upon her
persisting in a positive refusal to come down, they broke open the
door and carried her out by force, to a deep gravel-pit full of water.
They tied her thumbs and toes together and threw her into the water,
where they kept her for several minutes, drawing her out and in two or
three times by the rope round her middle. Not being able to satisfy
themselves whether she were a witch or no, they at last let her go,
or, more properly speaking, they left her on the bank to walk home by
herself, if she ever recovered. Next day, they tried the same
experiment upon another woman, and afterwards upon a third; but,
fortunately, neither of the victims lost her life from this brutality.
Many of the ringleaders in the outrage were apprehended during the
week, and tried before the justices at quarter-sessions. Two of them
were sentenced to stand in the pillory and to be imprisoned for a
month; and as many as twenty more were fined in small sums for the
assault, and bound over to keep the peace for a twelvemonth.

"So late as the year 1785," says Arnot, in his collection and
abridgment of Criminal Trials in Scotland, "it was the custom among
the sect of Seceders to read from the pulpit an annual confession of
sins, national and personal; amongst the former of which was
particularly mentioned the 'Repeal by Parliament of the penal statute
against witches, contrary to the express laws of God.'"

Many houses are still to be found in England with the horse-shoe
(the grand preservative against witchcraft) nailed against the
threshold. If any over-wise philosopher should attempt to remove them,
the chances are that he would have more broken bones than thanks for
his interference. Let any man walk into Cross-street, Hatton-Garden,
and from thence into Bleeding-heart Yard, and learn the tales still
told and believed of one house in that neighbourhood, and he will ask
himself in astonishment if such things can be in the nineteenth
century. The witchcraft of Lady Hatton, the wife of the famous Sir
Christopher, so renowned for his elegant dancing in the days of
Elizabeth, is as devoutly believed as the Gospels. The room is to be
seen where the devil seized her after the expiration of the contract
he had made with her, and bore her away bodily to the pit of Tophet:
the pump against which he dashed her is still pointed out, and the
spot where her heart was found, after he had torn it out of her bosom
with his iron claws, has received the name of Bleeding-heart Yard, in
confirmation of the story. Whether the horse-shoe still remains upon
the door of the haunted house, to keep away other witches, is
uncertain; but there it was, twelve or thirteen years ago. The writer
resided at that time in the house alluded to, and well remembers that
more than one old woman begged for admittance repeatedly, to satisfy
themselves that it was in its proper place. One poor creature,
apparently insane, and clothed in rags, came to the door with a
tremendous double-knock, as loud as that of a fashionable footman, and
walked straight along the passage to the horse-shoe. Great was the
wonderment of the inmates, especially when the woman spat upon the
horse-shoe, and expressed her sorrow that she could do no harm while
it remained there. After spitting upon, and kicking it again and
again, she coolly turned round and left the house, without saying a
word to anybody. This poor creature perhaps intended a joke, but the
probability is that she imagined herself a witch. In Saffron Hill,
where she resided, her ignorant neighbours gave her that character,
and looked upon her with no little fear and aversion.

More than one example of the popular belief in witchcraft occurred
in the neighbourhood of Hastings so lately as the year 1830. An aged
woman, who resided in the Rope-walk of that town, was so repulsive in
her appearance, that she was invariably accused of being a witch by
all the ignorant people who knew her. She was bent completely double;
and though very old, her eye was unusually bright and malignant. She
wore a red cloak, and supported herself on a crutch: she was, to all
outward appearance, the very beau ideal of a witch. So dear is power
to the human heart, that this old woman actually encouraged the
popular superstition: she took no pains to remove the ill impression,
but seemed to delight that she, old and miserable as she was, could
keep in awe so many happier and stronger fellow-creatures. Timid girls
crouched with fear when they met her, and many would go a mile out of
their way to avoid her. Like the witches of the olden time, she was
not sparing of her curses against those who offended her. The child of
a woman who resided within two doors of her, was afflicted with
lameness, and the mother constantly asserted that the old woman had
bewitched her. All the neighbours credited the tale. It was believed,
too, that she could assume the form of a cat. Many a harmless puss has
been hunted almost to the death by mobs of men and boys, upon the
supposition that the animal would start up before them in the true
shape of Mother * * * * *.

In the same town there resided a fisherman, -- who is, probably,
still alive, and whose name, for that reason, we forbear to mention,
-- who was the object of unceasing persecution, because it was said
that he had sold himself to the devil. It was currently reported that
he could creep through a keyhole, and that he had made a witch of his
daughter, in order that he might have the more power over his fellows.
It was also believed that he could sit on the points of pins and
needles, and feel no pain. His brother-fishermen put him to this test
whenever they had an opportunity. In the alehouses which he
frequented, they often placed long needles in the cushions of the
chairs, in such a manner that he could not fail to pierce himself when
he sat down. The result of these experiments tended to confirm their
faith in his supernatural powers. It was asserted that he never
flinched. Such was the popular feeling in the fashionable town of
Hastings only seven years ago; very probably it is the same now.

In the north of England, the superstition lingers to an almost
inconceivable extent. Lancashire abounds with witch-doctors, a set of
quacks, who pretend to cure diseases inflicted by the devil. The
practices of these worthies may be judged of by the following case,
reported in the "Hertford Reformer," of the 23rd of June, 1838. The
witch-doctor alluded to is better known by the name of the cunning
man, and has a large practice in the counties of Lincoln and
Nottingham. According to the writer in "The Reformer," the dupe, whose
name is not mentioned, had been for about two years afflicted with a
painful abscess, and had been prescribed for without relief by more
than one medical gentleman. He was urged by some of his friends, not
only in his own village, but in neighbouring ones, to consult the
witch-doctor, as they were convinced he was under some evil influence.
He agreed, and sent his wife to the cunning man, who lived in New
Saint Swithin's, in Lincoln. She was informed by this ignorant
impostor that her husband's disorder was an infliction of the devil,
occasioned by his next-door neighbours, who had made use of certain
charms for that purpose. From the description he gave of the process,
it appears to be the same as that employed by Dr. Fian and Gellie
Duncan, to work woe upon King James. He stated that the neighbours,
instigated by a witch, whom he pointed out, took some wax, and moulded
it before the fire into the form of her husband, as near as they could
represent him; they then pierced the image with pins on all sides --
repeated the Lord's Prayer backwards, and offered prayers to the devil
that he would fix his stings into the person whom that figure
represented, in like manner as they pierced it with pins. To
counteract the effects of this diabolical process, the witch-doctor
prescribed a certain medicine, and a charm to be worn next the body,
on that part where the disease principally lay. The patient was to
repeat the 109th and 119th Psalms every day, or the cure would not be
effectual. The fee which he claimed for this advice was a guinea.

So efficacious is faith in the cure of any malady, that the
patient actually felt much better after a three weeks' course of this
prescription. The notable charm which the quack had given was
afterwards opened, and found to be a piece of parchment, covered with
some cabalistic characters and signs of the planets.

The next-door neighbours were in great alarm that the witch-doctor
would, on the solicitation of the recovering patient, employ some
means to punish them for their pretended witchcraft. To escape the
infliction, they feed another cunning man, in Nottinghamshire, who
told them of a similar charm, which would preserve them from all the
malice of their enemies. The writer concludes by saying that, "the
doctor, not long after he had been thus consulted, wrote to say that
he had discovered that his patient was not afflicted by Satan, as he
had imagined, but by God, and would continue, more or less, in the
same state till his life's end."

An impostor carried on a similar trade in the neighbourhood of
Tunbridge Wells, about the year 1830. He had been in practice for
several years, and charged enormous fees for his advice. This fellow
pretended to be the seventh son of a seventh son, and to be endowed in
consequence with miraculous powers for the cure of all diseases, but
especially of those resulting from witchcraft. It was not only the
poor who employed him, but ladies who rode in their carriages. He was
often sent for from a distance of sixty or seventy miles by these
people, who paid all his expenses to and fro, besides rewarding him
handsomely. He was about eighty years of age, and his extremely
venerable appearance aided his imposition in no slight degree. His
name was Okey, or Oakley.

In France, the superstition at this day is even more prevalent
than it is in England. Garinet, in his history of Magic and Sorcery in
that country, cites upwards of twenty instances which occurred between
the years 1805 and 1818. In the latter year, no less than three
tribunals were occupied with trials originating in this humiliating
belief: we shall cite only one of them. Julian Desbourdes, aged
fifty-three, a mason, and inhabitant of the village of Thilouze, near
Bordeaux, was taken suddenly ill, in the month of January 1818. As he
did not know how to account for his malady, he suspected at last that
he was bewitched. He communicated this suspicion to his son-in-law,
Bridier, and they both went to consult a sort of idiot, named
Baudouin, who passed for a conjuror, or white-witch. This man told
them that Desbourdes was certainly bewitched, and offered to accompany
them to the house of an old man, named Renard, who, he said, was
undoubtedly the criminal. On the night of the 23rd of January all
three proceeded stealthily to the dwelling of Renard, and accused him
of afflicting persons with diseases, by the aid of the devil.
Desbourdes fell on his knees, and earnestly entreated to be restored
to his former health, promising that he would take no measures against
him for the evil he had done. The old man denied in the strongest
terms that he was a wizard; and when Desbourdes still pressed him to
remove the spell from him, he said he knew nothing about the spell,
and refused to remove it. The idiot Baudouin, the white-witch, now
interfered, and told his companions that no relief for the malady
could ever be procured until the old man confessed his guilt. To force
him to confession they lighted some sticks of sulphur, which they had
brought with them for the purpose, and placed them under the old man's
nose. In a few moments, he fell down suffocated and apparently
lifeless. They were all greatly alarmed; and thinking that they had
killed the. man, they carried him out and threw him into a
neighbouring pond, hoping to make it appear that he had fallen in
accidentally. The pond, however, was not very deep, and the coolness
of the water reviving the old man, he opened his eyes and sat up.
Desbourdes and Bridier, who were still waiting on the bank, were now
more alarmed than before, lest he should recover and inform against
them. They, therefore, waded into the pond -- seized their victim by
the hair of the head -- beat him severely, and then held him under
water till he was drowned.

They were all three apprehended on the charge of murder a few days
afterwards. Desbourdes and Bridier were found guilty of aggravated
manslaughter only, and sentenced to be burnt on the back, and to work
in the galleys for life. The white-witch Baudouin was acquitted, on
the ground of insanity.

M. Garinet further informs us that France, at the time he wrote
(1818), was overrun by a race of fellows, who made a trade of casting
out devils and finding out witches. He adds, also, that many of the
priests in the rural districts encouraged the superstition of their
parishioners, by resorting frequently to exorcisms, whenever any
foolish persons took it into their heads that a spell had been thrown
over them. He recommended, as a remedy for the evil, that all these
exorcists, whether lay or clerical, should be sent to the galleys, and
that the number of witches would then very sensibly diminish.

Many other instances of this lingering belief might be cited both
in France and Great Britain, and indeed in every other country in
Europe. So deeply rooted are some errors that ages cannot remove them.
The poisonous tree that once overshadowed the land, may be cut down by
the sturdy efforts of sages and philosophers -- the sun may shine
clearly upon spots where venemous things once nestled in security and
shade; but still the entangled roots are stretched beneath the
surface, and may be found by those who dig. Another king, like James
I, might make them vegetate again; and, more mischievous still,
another pope, like Innocent VIII, might raise the decaying roots to
strength and verdure. Still, it is consoling to think, that the
delirium has passed away; that the raging madness has given place to a
milder folly; and that we may now count by units the votaries of a
superstition which, in former ages, numbered its victims by tens of
thousands, and its votaries by millions.


Pescara. -- The like was never read of.
Stephano. -- In my judgment,
To all that shall but hear it, 't will appear
A most impossible fable.
Pescara. -- Troth, I'll tell you,
And briefly as I can, by what degrees
They fell into this madness.

Duke of Milan.

The atrocious system of poisoning, by poisons so slow in their
operation, as to make the victim appear, to ordinary observers, as if
dying from a gradual decay of nature, has been practised in all ages.
Those who are curious in the matter may refer to Beckmann on Secret
Poisons, in his "History of Inventions," in which he has collected
several instances of it from the Greek and Roman writers. Early in the
sixteenth century the crime seems to have gradually increased, till,
in the seventeenth, it spread over Europe like a pestilence. It was
often exercised by pretended witches and sorcerers, and finally became
a branch of education amongst all who laid any claim to magical and
supernatural arts. In the twenty-first year of Henry VIII. an act was
passed, rendering it high-treason: those found guilty of it, were to
be boiled to death.

One of the first in point of date, and hardly second to any in
point of atrocity, is the murder by this means of Sir Thomas Overbury,
which disgraced the court of James I, in the year 1613. A slight
sketch of it will be a fitting introduction to the history of the
poisoning mania, which was so prevalent in France and Italy fifty
years later.

Robert Kerr, a Scottish youth, was early taken notice of by James
I, and loaded with honours, for no other reason that the world could
ever discover than the beauty of his person. James, even in his own
day, was suspected of being addicted to the most abominable of all
offences, and the more we examine his history now, the stronger the
suspicion becomes. However that may be, the handsome Kerr, lending his
smooth cheek, even in public, to the disgusting kisses of his royal
master, rose rapidly in favour. In the year 1613, he was made Lord
High Treasurer of Scotland, and created an English peer, by the style
and title of Viscount Rochester. Still further honours were in store
for him.

In this rapid promotion he had not been without a friend. Sir
Thomas Overbury, the King's secretary-who appears, from some threats
in his own letters, to have been no better than a pander to the vices
of the King, and privy to his dangerous secrets -- exerted all his
backstair influence to forward the promotion of Kerr, by whom he was,
doubtless, repaid in some way or other. Overbury did not confine his
friendship to this, if friendship ever could exist between two such
men, but acted the part of an entremetteur, and assisted Rochester to
carry on an adulterous intrigue with the Lady Frances Howard, the wife
of the Earl of Essex. This woman was a person of violent passions, and
lost to all sense of shame. Her husband was in her way, and to be
freed from him, she instituted proceedings for a divorce, on grounds
which a woman of any modesty or delicacy of feeling would die rather
than avow. Her scandalous suit was successful, and was no sooner
decided than preparations, on a scale of the greatest magnificence,
were made for her marriage with Lord Rochester.

Sir Thomas Overbury, who had willingly assisted his patron to
intrigue with the Countess of Essex, seems to have imagined that his
marriage with so vile a woman might retard his advancement; he
accordingly employed all his influence to dissuade him from it. But
Rochester was bent on the match, and his passions were as violent as
those of the Countess. On one occasion, when Overbury and the Viscount
were walking in the gallery of Whitehall, Overbury was overheard to
say, "Well, my Lord, if you do marry that base woman, you will utterly
ruin your honour and yourself. You shall never do it with my advice or
consent; and, if you do, you had best look to stand fast." Rochester
flung from him in a rage, exclaiming with an oath, "I will be even
with you for this." These words were the death-warrant of the
unfortunate Overbury. He had mortally wounded the pride of Rochester
in insinuating that by his (Overbury's) means he might be lowered in
the King's favour; and he had endeavoured to curb the burning passions
of a heartless, dissolute, and reckless man.

Overbury's imprudent remonstrances were reported to the Countess;
and from that moment, she also vowed the most deadly vengeance against
him. With a fiendish hypocrisy, however, they both concealed their
intentions, and Overbury, at the solicitation of Rochester, was
appointed ambassador to the court of Russia. This apparent favour was
but the first step in a deep and deadly plot. Rochester, pretending to
be warmly attached to the interests of Overbury, advised him to refuse
the embassy, which, he said, was but a trick to get him out of the
way. He promised, at the same time, to stand between him and any evil
consequences which might result from his refusal. Overbury fell into
the snare, and declined the embassy. James, offended, immediately
ordered his committal to the Tower.

He was now in safe custody, and his enemies had opportunity to
commence the work of vengeance. The first thing Rochester did was to
procure, by his influence at court, the dismissal of the Lieutenant of
the Tower, and the appointment of Sir Jervis Elwes, one of his
creatures, to the vacant post. This man was but one instrument, and
another being necessary, was found in Richard Weston, a fellow who had
formerly been shopman to a druggist. He was installed in the office of
under-keeper, and as such had the direct custody of Overbury. So far,
all was favourable to the designs of the conspirators.

In the mean time, the insidious Rochester wrote the most friendly
letters to Overbury, requesting him to bear his ill-fortune patiently,
and promising that his imprisonment should not be of long duration;
for that his friends were exerting themselves to soften the King's
displeasure. Still pretending the extreme of sympathy for him, he
followed up the letters by presents of pastry and other delicacies,
which could not be procured in the Tower. These articles were all
poisoned. Occasionally, presents of a similar description were sent to
Sir Jervis Elwes, with the understanding that these articles were not
poisoned, when they were unaccompanied by letters: of these the
unfortunate prisoner never tasted. A woman, named Turner, who had
formerly kept a house of ill fame, and who had more than once lent it
to further the guilty intercourse of Rochester and Lady Essex, was the
agent employed to procure the poisons. They were prepared by Dr.
Forman, a pretended fortune-teller of Lambeth, assisted by an
apothecary named Franklin. Both these persons knew for what purposes
the poisons were needed, and employed their skill in mixing them in
the pastry and other edibles, in such small quantities as gradually to
wear out the constitution of their victim. Mrs. Turner regularly
furnished the poisoned articles to the under-keeper, who placed them
before Overbury. Not only his food, but his drink was poisoned.
Arsenic was mixed with the salt he ate, and cantharides with the
pepper. All this time, his health declined sensibly. Every day he grew
weaker and weaker; and with a sickly appetite, craved for sweets and
jellies. Rochester continued to condole with him, and anticipated all
his wants in this respect, sending him abundance of pastry, and
occasionally partridges and other game, and young pigs. With the sauce
for the game, Mrs. Turner mixed a quantity of cantharides, and
poisoned the pork with lunar-caustic. As stated on the trial, Overbury
took in this manner poison enough to have poisoned twenty men; but his
constitution was strong, and he still lingered. Frank]in, the
apothecary, confessed that he prepared with Dr. Forman seven different
sorts of poisons; viz. aquafortis, arsenic, mercury, powder of
diamonds, lunar-caustic, great spiders, and cantharides. Overbury held
out so long that Rochester became impatient, and in a letter to Lady
Essex, expressed his wonder that things were not sooner despatched.
Orders were immediately sent by Lady Essex to the keeper to finish
with the victim at once. Overbury had not been all this time without
suspicion of treachery, although he appears to have had no idea of
poison. He merely suspected that it was intended to confine him for
life, and to set the King still more bitterly against him. In one of
his letters, he threatened Rochester that, unless he were speedily
liberated, he would expose his villany to the world. He says, "You and
I, ere it be long, will come to a public trial of another nature." *
* * "Drive me not to extremities, lest I should say something that
both you and I should repent." * * * "Whether I live or die, your
shame shall never die, but ever remain to the world, to make you the
most odious man living." * * * "I wonder much you should neglect him
to whom such secrets of all kinds have passed." * * * "Be these the
fruits of common secrets, common dangers?"

All these remonstrances, and hints as to the dangerous secrets in
his keeping, were ill-calculated to serve him with a man so reckless
as Lord Rochester: they were more likely to cause him to be sacrificed
than to be saved. Rochester appears to have acted as if he thought so.
He doubtless employed the murderer's reasoning that "dead men tell no
tales," when, after receiving letters of this description, he
complained to his paramour of the delay. Weston was spurred on to
consummate the atrocity; and the patience of all parties being
exhausted, a dose of corrosive sublimate was administered to him, in
October 1613, which put an end to his sufferings, after he had been
for six months in their hands. On the very day of his death, and
before his body was cold, he was wrapped up carelessly in a sheet, and
buried without any funeral ceremony in a pit within the precincts of
the Tower.

Sir Anthony Weldon, in his "Court and Character of James I," gives
a somewhat different account of the closing scene of this tragedy. He
says, "Franklin and Weston came into Overbury's chamber, and found him
in infinite torment, with contention between the strength of nature
and the working of the poison; and it being very like that nature had
gotten the better in this contention, by the thrusting out of boils,
blotches, and blains, they, fearing it might come to light by the
judgment of physicians, the foul play that had been offered him,
consented to stifle him with the bedclothes, which accordingly was
performed; and so ended his miserable life, with the assurance of the
conspirators that he died by the poison; none thinking otherwise than
these two murderers."

The sudden death -- the indecent haste of the funeral, and the
non-holding of an inquest upon the body, strengthened the suspicions
that were afloat. Rumour, instead of whispering, began to speak out;
and the relatives of the deceased openly expressed their belief that
their kinsman had been murdered. But Rochester was still all powerful
at court, and no one dared to utter a word to his discredit. Shortly
afterwards, his marriage with the Countess of Essex was celebrated
with the utmost splendour, the King himself being present at the

It would seem that Overbury's knowledge of James's character was
deeper than Rochester had given him credit for, and that he had been a
true prophet when he predicted that his marriage would eventually
estrange James from his minion. At this time, however, Rochester stood
higher than ever in the royal favour; but it did not last long -
conscience, that busy monitor, was at work. The tongue of rumour was
never still; and Rochester, who had long been a guilty, became at last
a wretched man. His cheeks lost their colour -- his eyes grew dim; and
he became moody, careless, and melancholy. The King seeing him thus,
took at length no pleasure in his society, and began to look about for
another favourite. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was the man to
his mind; quick-witted, handsome, and unscrupulous. The two latter
qualities alone were sufficient to recommend him to James I. In
proportion as the influence of Rochester declined, that of Buckingham
increased. A falling favourite has no friends; and Rumour wagged her
tongue against Rochester louder and more pertinaciously than ever. A
new favourite, too, generally endeavours to hasten by a kick the fall
of the old one; and Buckingham, anxious to work the complete ruin of
his forerunner in the King's good graces, encouraged the relatives of
Sir Thomas Overbury to prosecute their inquiries into the strange
death of their kinsman.

James was rigorous enough in the punishment of offences when he
was not himself involved. He piqued himself, moreover, on his
dexterity in unravelling mysteries. The affair of Sir Thomas Overbury
found him congenial occupation. He set to work by ordering the arrest
of Sir Jervis Elwes. James, at this early stage of the proceedings,
does not seem to have been aware that Rochester was so deeply
implicated. Struck with horror at the atrocious system of slow
poisoning, the King sent for all the Judges. According to Sir Anthony
Weldon, he knelt down in the midst of them, and said, "My Lords the
Judges, it is lately come to my hearing that you have now in
examination a business of poisoning. Lord! in what a miserable
condition shall this kingdom be (the only famous nation for
hospitality in the world) if our tables should become such a snare, as
that none could eat without danger of life, and that Italian custom
should be introduced among us! Therefore, my Lords, I charge you, as
you will answer it at that great and dreadful day of judgment, that
you examine it strictly, without layout, affection, or partiality. And
if you shall spare any guilty of this crime, God's curse light on you
and your posterity! and if I spare any that are guilty, God's curse
light on me and my posterity for ever!"

The imprecation fell but too surely upon the devoted house of
Stuart. The solemn oath was broken, and God's curse did light upon him
and his posterity!

The next person arrested after Sir Jervis Elwes, was Weston, the
under-keeper; then Franklin and Mrs. Turner; and, lastly, the Earl and
Countess of Somerset, to which dignity Rochester had been advanced
since the death of Overbury.

Weston was first brought to trial. Public curiosity was on the
stretch. Nothing else was talked of, and the court on the day of trial
was crowded to suffocation. The "State Trials" report, that Lord Chief
Justice Coke "laid open to the jury the baseness and cowardliness of
poisoners, who attempt that secretly against which there is no means
of preservation or defence for a man's life; and how rare it was to
hear of any poisoning in England, so detestable it was to our nation.
But the devil had taught divers to be cunning in it, so that they can
poison in what distance of space they please, by consuming the nativum
calidum, or humidum radicale, in one month, two or three, or more, as
they list, which they four manner of ways do execute; viz. haustu,
gustu, odore, and contactu."

When the indictment was read over, Weston made no other reply
than, "Lord have mercy upon me! Lord have mercy upon me!" On being
asked how he would be tried, he refused to throw himself upon a jury
of his country, and declared, that he would be tried by God alone. In
this he persisted for some time. The fear of the dreadful punishment
for contumacy induced him, at length, to plead "Not guilty," and take
his trial in due course of law.

[The punishment for the contumacious was expressed by the words
onere, frigore, et fame. By the first was meant that the culprit
should be extended on his back on the ground, and weights placed over
his body, gradually increased, until he expired. Sometimes the
punishment was not extended to this length, and the victim, being
allowed to recover, underwent the second portion, the frigore, which
consisted in his standing naked in the open air, for a certain space,
in the sight of all the people. The third, or fame, was more dreadful,
the statute saying, "That he was to be preserved with the coarsest
bread that could be got, and water out of the next sink or puddle, to
the place of execution; and that day he had water he should have no
bread, and that day he had bread, he should have no water;" and in
this torment he was to linger as long as nature would hold out.]

All the circumstances against him were fully proved, and he was
found guilty and executed at Tyburn. Mrs. Turner, Franklin, and Sir
Jervis Elwes were also brought to trial, found guilty, and executed
between the 19th of October and the 4th of December 1615; but the
grand trial of the Earl and Countess of Somerset did not take place
till the month of May following.

On the trial of Sir Jervis Elwes, circumstances had transpired,
showing a guilty knowledge of the poisoning on the part of the Earl of
Northampton the uncle of Lady Somerset, and the chief falconer Sir
Thomas Monson. The former was dead; but Sir Thomas Monson was
arrested, and brought to trial. It appeared, however, that he was too
dangerous a man to be brought to the scaffold. He knew too many of the
odious secrets of James I, and his dying speech might contain
disclosures which would compromise the King. To conceal old guilt it
was necessary to incur new: the trial of Sir Thomas Monson was brought
to an abrupt conclusion, and himself set at liberty!

Already James had broken his oath. He now began to fear that he
had been rash in engaging so zealously to bring the poisoners to
punishment. That Somerset would be declared guilty there was no doubt,
and that he looked for pardon and impunity was equally evident to the
King. Somerset, while in the Tower, asserted confidently, that James
would not dare to bring him to trial. In this he was mistaken; but
James was in an agony. What the secret was between them will now never
be known with certainty; but it may be surmised. Some have imagined it
to be the vice to which the King was addicted; while others have
asserted, that it related to the death of Prince Henry, a virtuous
young man, who had held Somerset in especial abhorrence. The Prince
died early, unlamented by his father, and, as public opinion whispered
at the time, poisoned by Somerset. Probably, some crime or other lay
heavy upon the soul of the King; and Somerset, his accomplice, could
not be brought to public execution with safety. Hence the dreadful
tortures of James, when he discovered that his favourite was so deeply
implicated in the murder of Overbury. Every means was taken by the
agonized King to bring the prisoner into what was called a safe frame
of mind. He was secretly advised to plead guilty, and trust to the
clemency of the King. The same advice was conveyed to the Countess.
Bacon was instructed by the King to draw up a paper of all the points
of "mercy and favour" to Somerset which might result from the
evidence; and Somerset was again recommended to plead guilty, and
promised that no evil should ensue to him.

The Countess was first tried. She trembled and shed tears during
the reading of the indictment, and, in a low voice, pleaded guilty. On
being asked why sentence of death should not be passed against her,
she replied meekly, "I can much aggravate, but nothing extenuate my
fault. I desire mercy, and that the lords will intercede for me with
the King." Sentence of death was passed upon her.

Next day the Earl was brought to trial. He appears to have
mistrusted the promises of James, and he pleaded not guilty. With a
self-possession and confidence, which he felt, probably, from his
knowledge of the King's character, he rigorously cross-examined the
witnesses, and made a stubborn defence. After a trial which lasted
eleven hours, he was found guilty, and condemned to the felon's death.

Whatever may have been the secrets between the criminal and the
King, the latter, notwithstanding his terrific oath, was afraid to
sign the death-warrant. It might, perchance, have been his own. The
Earl and Countess were committed to the Tower, where they remained for
nearly five years. At the end of this period, to the surprise and
scandal of the community, and the disgrace of its chief magistrate,
they both received the royal pardon, but were ordered to reside at a
distance from the court. Having been found guilty of felony, the
estates of the Earl had become forfeited; but James granted him out of
their revenues an income of 4,000 pounds per annum! Shamelessness
could go no further.

Of the after life of these criminals nothing is known, except that
the love they had formerly borne each other was changed into aversion,
and that they lived under the same roof for months together without
the interchange of a word.

The exposure of their atrocities did not put a stop to the
practice of poisoning. On the contrary, as we shall see hereafter, it
engendered that insane imitation which is so strange a feature of the
human character. James himself is supposed, with great probability, to
have fallen a victim to it. In the notes to "Harris's Life and
Writings of James I," there is a good deal of information on the
subject. The guilt of Buckingham, although not fully established,
rests upon circumstances of suspicion stronger than have been
sufficient to lead hundreds to the scaffold. His motives for
committing the crime are stated to have been a desire of revenge for
the coldness with which the King, in the latter years of his reign,
began to regard him; his fear that James intended to degrade him; and
his hope that the great influence he possessed over the mind of the
heir-apparent would last through a new reign, if the old one were
brought to a close.

In the second volume of the "Harleian Miscellany," there is a
tract, entitled the "Forerunner of Revenge," written by George
Eglisham, doctor of medicine, and one of the physicians to King James.
Harris, in quoting it, says that it is full of rancour and prejudice.
It is evidently exaggerated; but forms, nevertheless, a link in the
chain of evidence. Eglisham says: -- "The King being sick of an ague,
the Duke took this opportunity, when all the King's doctors of physic
were at dinner, and offered to him a white powder to take, the which
he a long time refused; but, overcome with his flattering importunity,
he took it in wine, and immediately became worse and worse, falling
into many swoonings and pains, and violent fluxes of the belly, so
tormented, that his Majesty cried out aloud of this white powder,
'Would to God I had never taken it?" He then tells us "Of the Countess
of Buckingham (the Duke's mother) applying the plaister to the King's
heart and breast, whereupon he grew faint and short-breathed, and in
agony. That the physicians exclaimed, that the King was poisoned; that
Buckingham commanded them out of the room, and committed one of them
close prisoner to his own chamber, and another to be removed from
court; and that, after his Majesty's death, his body and head swelled
above measure; his hair, with the skin of his head, stuck to his
pillow, and his nails became loose on his fingers and toes."
Clarendon, who, by the way, was a partisan of the Duke's, gives a
totally different account of James's death. He says, "It was
occasioned by an ague (after a short indisposition by the gout)which,
meeting many humours in a fat unwieldy body of fifty-eight years old,
in four or five fits carried him out of the world. After whose death
many scandalous and libellous discourses were raised, without the
least colour or ground; as appeared upon the strictest and most
malicious examination that could be made, long after, in a time of
licence, when nobody was afraid of offending majesty, and when
prosecuting the highest reproaches and contumelies against the royal
family was held very meritorious." Notwithstanding this confident
declaration, the world will hardly be persuaded that there was not
some truth in the rumours that were abroad. The inquiries which were
instituted were not strict, as he asserts, and all the
unconstitutional influence of the powerful favourite was exerted to
defeat them. In the celebrated accusations brought against Buckingham
by the Earl of Bristol, the poisoning of King James was placed last on
the list, and the pages of history bear evidence of the summary mode
in which they were, for the time, got rid of.

The man from whom Buckingham is said to have procured his poisons
was one Dr. Lamb, a conjuror and empiric, who, besides dealing in
poisons, pretended to be a fortune-teller. The popular fury, which
broke with comparative harmlessness against his patron, was directed
against this man, until he could not appear with safety in the streets
of London. His fate was melancholy. Walking one day in Cheapside,
disguised, as he thought, from all observers, he was recognized by
some idle boys, who began to hoot and pelt him with rubbish, calling
out, "The poisoner! the poisoner! Down with the wizard! down with
him!" A mob very soon collected, and the Doctor took to his heels and
ran for his life. He was pursued and seized in Wood Street, and from
thence dragged by the hair through the mire to St. Paul's Cross; the
mob beating him with sticks and stones, and calling out, "Kill the
wizard! kill the poisoner!"

Charles I, on hearing of the riot, rode from Whitehall to quell
it; but he arrived too late to save the victim. Every bone in his body
was broken, and he was quite dead. Charles was excessively indignant,
and fined the city six hundred pounds for its inability to deliver up
the ringleaders to justice.

But it was in Italy that poisoning was most prevalent. From a very
early period, it seems to have been looked upon in that country as a
perfectly justifiable means of getting rid of an enemy. The Italians
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries poisoned their opponents
with as little compunction as an Englishman of the present day brings
an action at law against any one who has done him an injury. The
writings of contemporary authors inform us that, when La Spara and La
Tophania carried on their infernal trade, ladies put poisonbottles on
their dressing-tables as openly, and used them with as little scruple
upon others, as modern dames use Eau de Cologne or lavender-water upon
themselves. So powerful is the influence of fashion, it can even cause
murder to be regarded as a venial peccadillo.

In the memoirs of the last Duke of Guise, who made a Quixotic
attempt, in 1648, to seize upon the government of Naples, we find some
curious particulars relative to the popular feeling with regard to
poisoning. A man, named Gennaro Annese, who, after the short and
extraordinary career of Masaniello the fisherman, had established
himself as a sort of captain-general of the populace, rendered himself
so obnoxious to the Duke of Guise that the adherents of the latter
determined to murder him. The captain of the guard, as the Duke
himself very coolly informs us, was requested to undertake this
office. It was suggested to him that the poniard would be the most
effectual instrument, but the man turned up his eyes with pious horror
at the proposition. He was ready to poison Gennaro Annese whenever he
might be called upon to do so; but to poniard him, he said, would be
disgraceful, and unbecoming an officer of the guards! At last poison
was agreed upon, and Augustino Molla, an attorney in the Duke's
confidence, brought the bottle containing the liquid to show it to his
master. The following is the Duke's own account:--

"Augustino came to me at night, and told me: 'I have brought you
something which will free you from Gennaro. He deserves death, and it
is no great matter after what fashion justice is done upon him. Look
at this vial, full of clear and beautiful water: in four days' time,
it will punish all his treasons. The captain of the guard has
undertaken to give it him; and as it has no taste at all, Gennaro will
suspect nothing.'"

The Duke further informs us that the dose was duly administered;
but that Gennaro, fortunately for himself, ate nothing for dinner that
day but cabbage dressed with oil, which acting as an antidote, caused
him to vomit profusely, and saved his life. He was exceedingly ill for
five days, but never suspected that he had been poisoned.

In process of time, poison vending became a profitable trade.
Eleven years after this period, it was carried on at Rome to such an
extent that the sluggish government was roused to interference.
Beckmann, in his "History of Inventions," and Lebret, in his "Magazin
zum Gebrauche der Staaten Kirche Geschichte," or Magazine of Materials
for a History of a State Church, relates that, in the year 1659, it
was made known to Pope Alexander VII. that great numbers of young
women had avowed in the confessional that they had poisoned their
husbands with slow poisons. The Catholic clergy, who in general hold
the secrets of the confessional so sacred, were shocked and alarmed at
the extraordinary prevalence of the crime. Although they refrained
from revealing the names of the penitents, they conceived themselves
bound to apprise the head of the church of the enormities that were
practised. It was also the subject of general conversation in Rome
that young widows were unusually abundant. It was remarked, too, that
if any couple lived unhappily together, the husband soon took ill and
died. The papal authorities, when once they began to inquire, soon
learned that a society of young wives had been formed, and met
nightly, for some mysterious purpose, at the house of an old woman
named Hieronyma Spara. This hag was a reputed witch and
fortune-teller, and acted as president of the young viragos, several
of whom, it was afterwards ascertained, belonged to the first families
of Rome.

In order to have positive evidence of the practices of this female
conclave, a lady was employed by the Government to seek an interview
with them. She dressed herself out in the most magnificent style; and
having been amply provided with money, she found but little
difficulty, when she had stated her object, of procuring an audience
of La Spara and her sisterhood. She pretended to be in extreme
distress of mind on account of the infidelities and ill-treatment of
her husband, and implored La Spara to furnish her with a few drops of
the wonderful elixir, the efficacy of which in sending cruel husbands
to "their last long sleep" was so much vaunted by the ladies of Rome.
La Spara fell into the snare, and sold her some of her "drops," at a
price commensurate with the supposed wealth of the purchaser.

The liquor thus obtained was subjected to an analysis, and found
to be, as was suspected, a slow poison - clear, tasteless, and limpid,
like that spoken of by the Duke of Guise. Upon this evidence the house
was surrounded by the police, and La Spara and her companions taken
into custody. La Spara, who is described as having been a little,
ugly, old woman, was put to the torture, but obstinately refused to
confess her guilt. Another of the women, named La Gratiosa, had less
firmness, and laid bare all the secrets of the infernal sisterhood.
Taking a confession, extorted by anguish on the rack, at its true
value (nothing at all), there is still sufficient evidence to warrant
posterity in the belief of their guilt. They were found guilty, and
condemned, according to their degrees of culpability, to various
punishments. La Spara, Gratiosa, and three young women, who had
poisoned their husbands, were hanged together at Rome. Upwards of
thirty women were whipped publicly through the streets; and several,
whose high rank screened them from more degrading punishment, were
banished from the country, and mulcted in heavy fines. In a few months
afterwards, nine women more were hanged for poisoning; and another
bevy, including many young and beautiful girls, were whipped half
naked through the streets of Rome.

This severity did not put a stop to the practice, and jealous
women and avaricious men, anxious to step into the inheritance of
fathers, uncles, or brothers, resorted to poison. As it was quite free
from taste, colour, and smell, it was administered without exciting
suspicion. The skilful vendors compounded it of different degrees of
strength, so that the poisoners had only to say whether they wanted
their victims to die in a week, a month, or six months, and they were
suited with corresponding doses. The vendors were chiefly women, of
whom the most celebrated was a hag, named Tophania, who was in this
way accessory to the death of upwards of six hundred persons. This
woman appears to have been a dealer in poisons from her girlhood, and
resided first at Palermo and then at Naples. That entertaining
traveller, Father Lebat, has given, in his Letters from Italy, many
curious particulars relating to her. When he was at Civita Vecchia, in
1719, the Viceroy of Naples discovered that poison was extensively
sold in the latter city, and that it went by the name of aqueta, or
little-water. On making further inquiry, he ascertained that Tophania
(who was by this time near seventy years of age, and who seems to have
begun her evil courses very soon after the execution of La Spara) sent
large quantities of it to all parts of Italy in small vials, with the
inscription "Manna of St. Nicholas of Barri."

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