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Clerics and Witchcraft, Part Two

02/11/2015 in British Isles, Parish Research Today, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy

In my first blog entry, we looked at some examples of clerics who warned of the evils of witchcraft and magic, and also met Richard Napier, a cleric who preferred to heal victims of witchcraft and other patients through performing natural magic in the name of God.  However (and perhaps more interestingly), not even members of the Church were safe from magic and witchcraft accusations!  Gilbert Smythe, the minister of Swithland in Leicestershire brought a complaint against Christopher Moncke in 1620 for public slander and for accusing him of being a sorcerer and forsaking God. Moncke also accused Smythe of breaking of his wife’s arm and the reason for his son cutting his own throat, and that Smythe and his three sons were felons.  Smythe further claimed that by slandering him by petition to the King, the mayor of Leicester, the circuit judges and the people of Mountsorel, Leicester and London, ‘hee hath adventured my lyfe goods and reputation thereby and the undoinge of my wife and famylie which lyve by my breath’.  Moncke brought a counter-complaint, noting that he had attempted many times to solve a crime against him, and ‘has been put off by various great men’, as the judges apparently did not look at his case with any degree of seriousness:

The premises considered the faithful Justices of the County of Leicester dare not deale with Gilbert Smyth his approved pilfery, foreknowne periury, suspected sorcery and murther least money and freinds should lull the Judges asleepe as in the County of Darby they have beene and laughed to scorne by the favorites thereof.

Meanwhile, Thomas Johnson, the curate of Cranwell, Lincolnshire was indicted in 1603 at Spalding Court of Sewers, for acting as a wise man, and for administering ‘physic’ to sick people without a licence.  He was also accused of using witchcraft, charms and conjuration, calling up spirits, and deceiving the poor so that he could find stolen goods and foretell the future.  In doing this, he was not fulfilling his religious duties in instructing the people and youth of Cranwell in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, on the articles of faith as laid down in the Elizabethan Religious Settlement.

Some clergymen and physicians were known to practice as cunning-folk, mostly to increase their incomes.  In 1606 the Royal College of Physicians intervened to stop the Reverend John Bell from writing words on a piece of paper to treat fevers, and in 1637, the vicar of Fleckney, Leicestershire, was accused of making charms to treat toothache.   Non-conformist clergy were also accused, as in the case of Nicholas Gretton of Tamworth, cunning man, astrologer and leader of a Lichfield Independent congregation in 1654, who ‘was there discovered to be a fortune teller, or an Inchanter, a Wizard that tells people lyes for mony’.

George Fox was born in the strongly puritan village of Drayton-in-the-Clay, Leicestershire, (now known as Fenny Drayton), and, given to ‘wander[ing] around the Midlands’ in his early youth, he became the acknowledged founder of the Quaker movement after his ‘enlightenment’ in 1647, at the age of twenty-three.  Attempts by some ministers and justices to accuse Quakers of witchcraft led to George Fox himself being denounced as a witch or sorcerer, who rode around on a large black horse converting people to Quakerism by holding their hands or touching their foreheads.  The meeting places of the Quakers, in woods, commons and in houses ‘most solitary and remote from Neighbours, situated in Dales and by-places’, stimulated speculation and fear.   The strange noises that could be heard emanating from their meeting-places, and the trembling and shaking of the Quakers during their meetings were associated with Satan and demonic possession.

Other cases, adding to our narrative on the clergy, include that of the vicar of Cawnton, Nottinghamshire who was convicted of sorcery in 1472 at Southwell Minster, and was compelled to resign.  Additionally, the minister of Hope, Derbyshire, a Mr. Jones, gave a woman, distraught after hearing a warning in the Communion service against profane livers, an ‘amulet, viz. some verses of John i written in a paper to hang about her neck, as also certain herbs to drive the devil out of her’.  The role of the clergy, particularly in rural communities after the Reformation, often combined both ministry and medicine, with sometimes little difference compared to the methods of the local cunning folk and healers.

Consequently, the same accusations of magic and witchcraft applied to the ministers as well as the lay communities.  Even charges of petty sorcery served on the clergy, as we can see above, were brought before the ecclesiastical courts.  The need for assistance when faced with illness or loss provoked a search for whoever was deemed able to provide such solace – whether this was a witch, a cunning man or a man of God, and whatever methods they used to provide some comfort, was often not important.

 

SOURCES

Leach, Arthur Francis, Visitations and Memorials of Southwell Minster (London, 1891), p. 15.

Lincolnshire Archives, Sessions Papers, Spalding Sewers/460/1/6.

Lincolnshire Archives, Diocesan Court Papers 58/2/70.

Reay, Barry, The Quakers and the English Revolution (Hounslow, 1985), pp. 7, 70-71.

Stocks, Helen (ed.) & Stevenson, H., Records of the Borough of Leicester, 1603-1688 (Cambridge, 1923), pp. 193-94.

Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1971), pp. 311, 328-29.

Wood, A. C. (ed.), ‘The Nottinghamshire Presentment Bills of 1587’, Thoroton Society Record Series, XI, A Miscellany (1943), p. 22.

 

 

Clerics and Witchcraft, Part One

02/08/2015 in Blogs, British Isles, Parish Research Today, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy

My area of academic research concentrates on magic and witchcraft in the early modern English Midlands. Both personally and academically, and as a born-and-bred Coventrian, I have always been interested in local history, witchcraft, magic, folk customs, paganism, religion and the unorthodox within Warwickshire and the Midlands, hence the geographical area within which I have focussed my attention. I also like to visit the Midlands parish churches my ancestors worshipped at, as part of my family history research, and visiting churches and cathedrals generally as I have a fascination with ecclesiastical architecture and enjoy taking photographs documenting my visits, concentrating particularly on doors and porches.

Church of St. John, Copston Magna, Warwickshire (Pic: Paula McBride)

Church of St. John, Copston Magna, Warwickshire (Pic: Paula McBride)

The main objective for my research is to redress the lack of evidence for magic and witchcraft in the Midlands within existing secondary sources, in comparison with the extensive volumes of information available for the Home Counties, the South of England, and Scotland.  For the MA by Research in History, which I completed in September 2014, I concentrated on the Midland Assize Circuit areas of the Midlands – Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. Due to word count limitations and the number of cases I was finding, my original plans to write a full history of witchcraft and magic for the Midlands regrettably had to be reduced, and so the study concentrated only on the areas of the Midland Assize Circuit, leaving around half of the Midlands still to be researched.  I now intend to broaden my investigation through further study including research on the Oxford Assize Circuit areas – Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, and some parts of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, depending on the county or assize boundaries of the time. My recent research has shown that, with only half of the Midlands researched so far, and if one is prepared to look hard enough for the evidence, there are a surprising number of cases for magic and witchcraft.  One of the exciting questions I hope to look at further is the involvement of the clergy in witchcraft and magic, as accuser, healer and even accused.

Our first vicar, Humphrey Michel, of Horninghold, Leicestershire, was ‘a staunch Tory, a closet Jacobite, a scourge of the local dissenters’, and often presented who he deemed to be ‘moral offenders’ at the local church courts.  Michel also believed wholeheartedly in the existence of witches, and discussed the problems of witchcraft in his diary.  In June 1709, he recorded the swimming of two witches, Mary Palmer, a cripple, who ‘though bound hand and feet, did not sink but swim [sic] before the said company’, and Joseph Harding, who ‘sunk immediately like a stone before them all’.  Other entries include a woman named Goody Ridgway who had ‘in all probability’ been bewitched to death, and Michel had also accusingly noted the strange behaviour of ‘a wench of the widow Barlow, a supposed witch’, who ‘went out of the church when I had named and read my text, Deut Chap 18, where is the word “witch”’.

Sir Richard Newdigate, a lawyer from a family of wealthy landowners in Arbury, Warwickshire, attended a sermon at Fillongley a few miles away, given by Josiah Packwood.  In the sermon, the minister denounced members of the congregation for seeking help from cunning men, as this action of seeking remedy itself constituted witchcraft.  Newdigate carefully recorded the preacher’s advice in his diary, on how to counter the arguments of  ‘those that seek to witches for remedies’, including advising those tempted that help should be sought only from God, and that ‘the Devil is full of subtlety and simulation.  His end is to enlarge his kingdom by curing diseases’.

The English Reformation should have removed the clergy from the world of popular magic, and to some extent this did happen, as the number of sacraments was reduced, sacramentals rejected and exorcism suppressed, relics were destroyed, and prayers had to be said in the vernacular.   However, at parish level, many clergymen, such as Richard Napier, continued to be involved with the physical and mental illnesses and magical distresses of their laity.  Napier, a well-respected Protestant rector of Great Linford, Buckinghamshire, employed a series of curates to deal with the majority of his clerical obligations, and dedicated himself to private study and public practice of natural magic and astrological physic until his death in 1634.  Napier saw himself as fulfilling his Christian duties, charging little if anything for his services for those who considered him both clergyman and physician, by not only healing the souls of his clients who were drawn from all social classes, but also their bodies and minds.  He dealt with hundreds of cases of witchcraft and thousands of patients during his career, all noted carefully in casebooks.  Napier believed in witchcraft, but seldom ever verified any suspicions of bewitchment.  He preferred instead to interpret his clients’ symptoms as the result of natural physical illnesses and diseases or spiritual disorder, as did most doctors, Protestant churchmen and educated laymen.

(To be continued – Clerics as sorcerers and other magical practitioners)

SOURCES

Davies, Owen, Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History (London, 2003), pp. 170-72.

Sharpe, James, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1550-1750 (London, 1997), pp. 286-87.

Warwickshire County Record Office., CR0136/7: Richard Newdigate’s Diary.

Research guides for parish history

04/25/2013 in agriculture and the economy, archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, households and the domestic environment, landscapes and pilgrimage, literature and the liturgy, Parish sources, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy

Research guides are now available on the following topics to help those interested in Leicestershire parish history:

Exploring your parish church (in two parts – Reading the building and Documentary sources)

Your local school

Maps before the Ordnance Survey

Farming and enclosure, 1480-1790

Farms and farming, from 1790

Although these concentrate on Leicestershire documents, other counties will have similar records, and therefore these may be of much wider interest and use.

‘Parish Pieties’, with Beat Kumin, Andrew Spicer, Gary Gibbs, Penny Roberts, Bill Sheils, and Brodie Waddell.

10/11/2012 in British Isles, France, Media, Podcasts, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy


Download
A podcast introduction to ‘Parish Pieties’, the 2008 Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, with Beat Kümin, and featuring a discussion of different approaches to the theme of ‘Parish Pieties’ by Andrew Spicer, Gary Gibbs, Penny Roberts, Bill Sheils and Brodie Waddell.

Preaching and Pastoral Provision

10/08/2012 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, genealogy and family history, literature and the liturgy, Media, Podcasts, preservation and memory, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy


Download
Dr Heather Falvey (University of Cambridge) chairs a morning panel session, entitled ‘Preaching and Pastoral Provision’, at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Papers include:

  • Revd Martin Gorick, ‘Stratford Sermon Series Project’
  • Ian Brodie (Southam), ‘Bastard priest: The life of a Scottish-born 19thC vicar of Grandborough, Warwickshire’
  • Prof. em. Claire Cross and Dr Judith A. Frost (The University of York, History), ‘A Prior and his Parish: Alvered Comyn and Wragby Church in the Reign of Henry VIII’
  • Andrew Thomson (King’s College London, History), ‘17th-century Winchester clergy’

Recorded Saturday 26 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.

 

‘Engaging with History’: John Wolffe, ‘Building on History’

10/08/2012 in British Isles, Media, Podcasts, preservation and memory, the clergy


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Prof. John Wolffe (The Open University) contributes his paper ‘Building on History’ to a panel session entitled ‘Engaging With History’ at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. The chair is Dr Dee Dyas (University of York, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture). Recorded Saturday 26 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.

‘Communities of the Living and the Dead’: Mark Bratton and Jill Tompkins Bailey, ‘The Spirit of Berkswell Project’

10/08/2012 in art and imagery, British Isles, Media, Podcasts, preservation and memory, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy


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Revd. Mark Bratton and Jill Tompkins Bailey give their talk, entitled ‘Spirit of Berkswell Project’, in a morning panel session on ‘Communities of the Living and the Dead’, at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Dr. Hannes Obermair (Bolzano Regional Archives) chairs. Recorded Sunday 27 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.

‘Communities of the Living and the Dead’: Mark Bratton and Jill Tompkins Bailey, ‘The Spirit of Berkswell Project’

10/06/2012 in British Isles, Media, preservation and memory, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy, Videos

Revd. Mark Bratton and Jill Tompkins Bailey give their talk, entitled ‘Spirit of Berkswell Project’, in a morning panel session on ‘Communities of the Living and the Dead’, at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Dr. Hannes Obermair (Bolzano Regional Archives) chairs. Recorded Sunday 27 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.

‘Engaging with History’: John Wolffe, ‘Building on History’

10/06/2012 in British Isles, Media, preservation and memory, the clergy, Videos

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Prof. John Wolffe (The Open University) contributes his paper ‘Building on History’ to a panel session entitled ‘Engaging With History’ at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. The chair is Dr Dee Dyas (University of York, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture). Recorded Saturday 26 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.