Published On: Tue, Oct 31st, 2017

Exeter was a hub ‘witches’ and ‘sorcerers’ in England


A British city was gripped by the dread of witchcraft for more than a century, new research has found.

Historian Mark Stoyle has discovered Exeter was not only the last place in England where people were hanged for practising ‘dark arts’, but these were just the last in a series of executions which may have begun as early as 1566.

The Devon city may have been one of the first places in the kingdom to sentence a witch to death, he said.

New evidence reveals that between the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 and Charles II in 1660, more than 20 women and men were accused of being ‘witches’ or ‘sorcerers’ and denounced to magistrates.

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Exeter was not only the last place in England where people were hanged for practising 'dark arts', but these were just the last in a series of executions which may have begun as early as 1566. Pictured is a woodcut illustration from a book published in 1579 of a witch feeding her familiars with blood

Exeter was not only the last place in England where people were hanged for practising 'dark arts', but these were just the last in a series of executions which may have begun as early as 1566. Pictured is a woodcut illustration from a book published in 1579 of a witch feeding her familiars with blood

Exeter was not only the last place in England where people were hanged for practising ‘dark arts’, but these were just the last in a series of executions which may have begun as early as 1566. Pictured is a woodcut illustration from a book published in 1579 of a witch feeding her familiars with blood

EXETER’S WITCHES 

Historian Mark Stoyle has discovered Exeter was not only the last place in England where people were hanged for practising ‘dark arts’, but these were just the last in a series of executions which may have begun as early as 1566.

The Devon city may have been one of the first places in the kingdom to sentence a witch to death, he said.

New evidence reveals that between the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 and Charles II in 1660, more than 20 women and men were accused of being ‘witches’ or ‘sorcerers’ and denounced to magistrates.

 

Many were believed to possess ‘familiar spirits’ – demons in the shape of small animals, like rats and toads, which unleashed their evil powers to ‘waste’ both livestock and humans on the witches’ behalf.

Professor Stoyle, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘It’s long been known that Exeter witnessed the last English witch executions.

‘In 1683 three elderly women from North Devon – Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards and Mary Trembles – were hanged at Heavitree Gallows, while in 1685, another Devon woman, Alice Molland, was sentenced to death at the Exeter Assizes.

‘What we didn’t realise before was that further alleged witches were also executed in Exeter over the preceding 100 years.’

Many witches were believed to possess 'familiar spirits' - demons in the shape of small animals, like rats and toads, which unleashed their evil powers to 'waste' both livestock and humans on the witches' behalf. Pictured is a woodcut illustration form a book published in 1579

Many witches were believed to possess 'familiar spirits' - demons in the shape of small animals, like rats and toads, which unleashed their evil powers to 'waste' both livestock and humans on the witches' behalf. Pictured is a woodcut illustration form a book published in 1579

Many witches were believed to possess ‘familiar spirits’ – demons in the shape of small animals, like rats and toads, which unleashed their evil powers to ‘waste’ both livestock and humans on the witches’ behalf. Pictured is a woodcut illustration form a book published in 1579

Professor Stoyle added: ‘The world-famous witch trials at Salem, in colonial America, have been the subject of many books and films, as has the mass witch-hunt led by Matthew Hopkins – the so-called Witchfinder General – in East Anglia in the UK between 1645 and 1647.

‘Yet it’s too rarely appreciated that there were other centres of witch-prosecution in Tudor and Stuart England as well.

‘In Exeter, there was a long succession of indictments and prosecutions during the 16th and 17th centuries, which resulted in many unlucky women and men being banished, imprisoned or sent to the gallows.’

Professor Stoyle, of the University of Southampton, said: 'In Exeter, there was a long succession of indictments and prosecutions during the 16th and 17th centuries, which resulted in many unlucky women and men being banished, imprisoned or sent to the gallows'

Professor Stoyle, of the University of Southampton, said: 'In Exeter, there was a long succession of indictments and prosecutions during the 16th and 17th centuries, which resulted in many unlucky women and men being banished, imprisoned or sent to the gallows'

Professor Stoyle, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘In Exeter, there was a long succession of indictments and prosecutions during the 16th and 17th centuries, which resulted in many unlucky women and men being banished, imprisoned or sent to the gallows’

The deep roots of witch belief in the city are revealed in a new book by Professor Stoyle, ‘Witchcraft In Exeter: 1558-1660’.

Sourced from centuries-old court records, manuscript chronicles and registers of births, marriages and deaths, it charts the progress of each case of alleged ‘witchcraft’ from accusation to ultimate sentence.

Among the cases is one which occurred soon after a parliamentary statute of 1563 first decreed that those convicted of using ‘conjurations, enchantments and witchcrafts’ should suffer the death penalty.

THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS 

In 1692, mass hysteria swept through Salem, Massachusetts.

Superstitious townspeople, fearful of the devil, began accusing men and women of witchcraft and hounded scores of ‘witches’ to put on trial.

The hysteria began after a group of young girls in claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. 

As a hysteria spread throughout Massachusetts, a court convened in Salem to hear the cases. 

In 1692, mass hysteria swept through Salem, Massachusetts. Superstitious townspeople, fearful of the devil, began accusing men and women of witchcraft and hounded scores of 'witches' to put on trial

In 1692, mass hysteria swept through Salem, Massachusetts. Superstitious townspeople, fearful of the devil, began accusing men and women of witchcraft and hounded scores of 'witches' to put on trial

In 1692, mass hysteria swept through Salem, Massachusetts. Superstitious townspeople, fearful of the devil, began accusing men and women of witchcraft and hounded scores of ‘witches’ to put on trial

The first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June. 

Eighteen others followed and some 150 more men, women and children were accused over the next several months.

Trials continued until May 1693.

But by that May, the governor of Massachusetts had pardoned and released all those in prison.

Two local women, Maud Park and Alice Mead, appeared before the city court in 1566 and were charged with causing death and physical injury through the exercise of ‘magic art’.

Park and Mead were both found guilty, and although no record of their execution survives, if they did indeed fall victim to the noose – as seems all too likely – then they were among the first people in England to be executed for witchcraft following the passage of the statute.

Further hangings of witches took place in the city soon after this case.

 



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