Witchcraft in the Archives

  • 31st October 2016

The Quarter Sessions are a great source of stories. They contain all sorts of crimes and disputes from across the county, which the Justices of the Peace had to adjudicate on with the help of juries. Over the years volunteers have indexed these which help people to search through for particular people and places, and also by subject. One heading caught our eye recently – accusations of witchcraft, so we thought we’d take a look.

The first was in 1662 and was a little complicated. The case was brought by Elizabeth Ranford against Joan Willis of Comberton. The accusation was of assault, but this was due to Joan believing Elizabeth of bewitching two children to death and trying to bewitch a third.

Another was in 1698 when six people testified against Margaret Hill of Ipsley. Again it seems a little complicated. The initial complaint related to Margaret going round to the house of Martha Farmer and when a child hurt his finger and bled and later became sick they accused Margaret of bewitching him. Other accusations relate to a cow, pig and a calf which died and Margaret was blamed.

Unfortunately we don’t know the outcomes, and only have the witness statements. They predate newspaper reports and the order books of the Quarter Sessions are unavailable for these dates. The women don’t seem to be mentioned again, and since there would probably be a lot of publicity if someone was found guilty of witchcraft the two women were possibly found not guilty. Witchcraft accusations were not very common, despite the impression which can sometimes be given of the period, and often when you examine the details the woman is called a witch to deflect from an accusation she makes against someone else.

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