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Stanley and the Stanley Knife

They are sharp and good for purposes both fair and foul, and might even be handy for some back-stabbing (should one be of that disposition!)

What am I talking about? The Stanley Knife.

Jokes abound on certain medieval groups about these multi purpose knives being something that should have been invented by the two side-shifting, game-playing Stanley Bros of the 15thc…so I thought I would endeavour to find out if there was indeed a connection.

Here is what I’ve found…

A WILLIAM Stanley invented the Stanley Knife. No, not the one who Henry Tudor executed when he suggested Perkin Warbeck might be the ‘real deal’ but William Stanley, born in Islington in 1829. He was the son of a mechanic called John Stanley and was a descendant of  Thomas Stanley–not THAT particular Thomas Stanley, but the one who wrote The History of Philosophy in the 17th c. Author-philosopher Stanley was the son of Sir Thomas Stanley of Cumberlow, who—and this is where it gets interesting—happened to be the grandson of  yet another Thomas Stanley (they loved the name Thomas, those Stanleys! Doubting Thomases?), an illegitimate son of Edward Stanley, third Earl of Derby. Edward Stanley was the son of Thomas Stanley (that name again!) the 2nd Earl, who was, in turn, the son of George Stanley…you might also know George as Lord Strange, who was held at Bosworth by  Richard for  the good behaviour of his father, THE Thomas Stanley.

(The story goes that Stanley said Richard could go ahead and execute poor old George  because he ‘had other sons’; this may be purely mythical, however. Other falsehoods about Lord Strange is that he was a hapless innocent child held hostage by the nasty ‘baddie’ Richard—he was at least 24-25 at the time of Bosworth, and some sources list him as older still. A further interesting fact is that his wife Joan’s  mother Jacquetta was sister to Elizabeth Woodville.)

And so this leads us to George Stanley’s father, who was, of course, was Thomas the Trimmer, first Earl of Derby, step-father to Henry Tudor and husband of Margaret Beaufort–so yes, one could indeed say the Stanley Knife is connected to that slippery lord and his kin.

I expect Lord Stanley would have approved.

stanleyknife

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More than one target for the Cairo dwellers?

21 September 1327 is the traditional date of death for Edward II at Berkeley Castle and various myths about it and his life have passed through these 690 years almost unquestioned. They are repeated by quite a few notable people without real evidence as well. If this sounds familiar, it is because certain individuals have made statements about Richard III over the years that either wasn’t based on any reliable source or contradicts the evidence that has gradually come to light thanks to the likes of Barrie Williams and John Ashdown-Hill. For some years, they have been referred to as “Cairo (or even Alexandria) dwellers”, because they are so far up the Nile.

Edward II has evidently attracted similar such posthumous adversaries – of which Channel Four’s series “Monarchy” referred to the most grisly myth of all. That this was presented by David Starkey demonstrates that both kings, and possibly several others, attract the same drastically over-simplifying detractors, whose followers appear to have closed

their minds at the age of about seven.

Here Kathryn Warner, who has gone some way towards showing Edward may well have survived his visit to Berkeley and died later elsewhere, demonstrates that a forty year-old footnote referred to a fictional part of a mis-dated document and was cited to fuel a new myth by someone either monumentally stupid OR … worse.

Similarly, here, Jacqueline Reiter shows that a book supposedly owned by John 2nd Earl of Chatham could not have been written until after his death.

Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy

Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy

A team of scientists and art historians has been attempting to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Black Prince’s tomb. In this short video you can find out what they were up to and what they are hoping to discover.

This investigation is one of a number of research papers and talks that are being prepared for The Black Prince: Man, Mortality & Myth conference on 16 and 17 November 2017. You can find out more about the conference here: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/blackprinceconference/

There will also be a free #YoungFutures conference in the build up to the event for 16-25 year olds. For more information visit: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/youngfutures2017/

#BlackPrince

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The ten worst Britons in history?

This is a very entertaining and well-illustrated 2006 article, choosing one arch-villain for each century from the eleventh to the twentieth. The all-male list includes just one King but two Archbishops of Canterbury.

So what do you think?

When Robert Curthose Sat On The Throne

It is perhaps not a well-known fact that during World War II, many priceless historical treasures were crated up and shipped out of London for safe storage. At least, I wasn’t particularly aware of something that now makes perfect sense. I found out about this whilst visiting Gloucester Cathedral and touring the amazing crypt beneath the main body of the building. It’s a place well worth going to and the crypt is fascinating to look around, particularly with the knowledgeable and helpful guides.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

The fact that grabbed my attention was that during the war, St Edward’s Chair, or the Coronation Chair, the traditional coronation throne from Westminster Abbey that dates from the reign of Edward I. It was commissioned in 1300-1 to house the Stone of Scone Edward took from Scotland in 1296. The chair has been used in every monarch’s coronation ceremony from 1308 onwards, amounting to 38 coronations with an additional 14 queen consorts being crowned in ceremonies using the chair too. It is usually kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor; hence it is sometimes referred to as St Edward’s Chair.

 

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The Coronation Chair at Gloucester Cathedral

 

During the war, Gloucester Cathedral also packed up some of its own important moveable items and stored them in crates in the crypt along with the Coronation Chair. One of the monuments that made its way to the crypt was the tomb effigy of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, the oldest son of William the Conqueror who was destined never to become King of England. William left his duchy to Robert and the kingdom to Robert’s younger brother William Rufus. When William II died in a hunting ‘accident’, their youngest brother Henry snatched the royal treasury and then the crown before Curthose knew what was happening.

 

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Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy

 

The two siblings ended up in a bitter rivalry that was concluded on the battlefield. Henry invaded Normandy and at the Battle of Tinchebray on 28 September 1106, Henry captured his older brother. Robert spent the rest of his life as Henry’s prisoner, firstly in Devizes Castle and then at Cardiff Castle where he died in 1134. Robert was buried at Gloucester Cathedral, though the location of his grave is not known. The wooden effigy does not mark the spot in which he was buried.

 

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The wooden effigy of Robert Curthose

 

Anyway, according to cathedral legend, Robert’s effigy was crated up and stored in the crypt on top of the crate containing the Coronation Chair, which would make the that the closest Robert Curthose ever got to the throne of England, just over 800 years after his death. I’m not sure how true the story is, but I like to think Robert might have sat on the throne for a while.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

Another posthumously mobile Bishop?

We do know that Edmund Bonner , born in Worcestershire in about 1500, died in the Marshalsea Prison, today in 1569 and was buried secretly in St. George’s, Southwark. Rather like the head of Cardinal Morton, however, we cannot be certain that he remains there. As Bishop of London under Mary I, he (along with Cardinal Pole and Bishop Gardiner) had been significantly responsible for applying her policy of de heretico comburendo. London, the south-east and East Anglia had seen most of the persecution .

Not surprisingly, he was unpopular with her successor, being deprived and imprisoned later. Our old friend Strype, in his Ecclesiastica Memoria, actually suggests that Bonner’s father was actually Rev. George Savage of Cheshire. Illegitimacy, if known, could have made Edmund ineligble for ordination. Having lived occasionally in CopfordEssex, it is rumoured that he was reburied here, particularly as a suitable , named, coffin was found there in 1809. He seems to have added his name to the lexicon of a county further north, with a new name for a ladybird.

 

More Tyrrells, this time in Oxfordshire. One family or two?

This (below) is Shotover Park in Oxfordshire, formerly part of the Wychwood royal hunting forest. It becamAerial_View_of_Shotover_House_(geograph_4217497)e the property of one Timothy Tyrrell in 1613, the year after the death of Henry Stuart,  Prince of Wales, whom Tyrrell had served as Master of the Royal Buckhounds. Tyrrell was further honoured with a knighthood in 1624 and his grandson James built the current House, a listed building, on the site in 1714-5.

Stuart Oxfordshire was not Yorkist Suffolk, Prince Henry was not Richard III and buckhounds are not horses. Nevertheless, Sir Timothy was serving the Crown in a very similar role to that of his namesake and it is not surprising that readers will wonder whether he was related to Sir James through a different branch of the family, as a direct descendant or not at all. In a similar case, we showed “Robin” Catesby to be descended from William.

We can take a few clues from Sir James’ life and career. He was born into a Lancastrian family in about 1455 at Gipping Hall, near Stowmarket, and was appointed Master of Horse in 1483. In 1485, he became Governor of Guisnes and may have transported the “Princes” to the continent en route to taking up this position – in which case they could have resided at Gipping Hall for a short while. Gipping Chapel (left) still stands. In 1502, he was arrested for helping the fugitive Earl of Suffolk and tried at the London Guildhall for this alone. Starkey has shown that Henry VII and Elizabeth of York watched it at the Tower, presumably live on television, including Tyrrell’s murder confession which nobody mentioned until More wrote some years after Henry’s death – see Leas’ article.

In other words, this Tyrrell was associated with the sons of a King, as Sir Timothy was to be. Sir James’ family was also associated with Great Wenham near Capel St. Mary and benefitted when his 1504 attainder was reversed only three years later. He had three sons and a daughter, of whom at least three survived him.

Ancient Ratae, City on the Soar

In the second century BC, in a Britain still filled with wild boar, beaver, lynx, bears and wolves, a group of people settled  near to the River Soar. The descendants of Bronze Age peoples and Neolithic farmers, they built a series of huts on the east bank of the river, their settlement extending across some twenty acres. They called themselves the Corieltauvi; the closest translation of their name would be the ‘army of the land of many rivers.’ The exact  name of their settlement is unknown but it contains a Celtic root word similar to ‘rath’, meaning (approximately)  ‘ramparts’, which can be found in many Irish place names today. This humble Iron Age settlement is the origin of modern day Leicester.

Roman  interest in this area of Britain began when they realised it was a place of strategic value; and so it became an intersection of the Fosse Way and Gartree Street. There might have been some opposition from the local Corieltauvi, but the tribesmen proved no match for the might of Rome; a fort or base was soon established on the banks of the Soar for the Legion XIV.  Quite simple in plan and  housing approx 500 men,  the fort was surrounded by a ditch and rampart; it retained the name of the ancient British settlement but in a new, Larinised form–Ratae.

The new fort brought  much  trade to the area and a small civilian settlement quickly sprang up. A few years later a second fort was constructed nearby—it is thought this defensive structure may have been built in response to Boudicca’s revolt. However, the brave British Queen’s chariots never rolled up to Ratae’s earthen ramparts.

About 30 years later, most of the Legions were recalled from Britain and the forts on the Soar handed over to civilians,  although they were remained part of the Roman Empire. Ratae became an important  tribal administrative capital.

Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the town in 122 AD seems to have  sparked a new rebuilding phase. Outmoded wooden structures were dismantled and local granite and millstone grit from Derbyshire brought to build a forum, basilica and colonnades. A few decades later, a public bath house was constructed—today its remains are known as the Jewry Wall, Britain’s largest free-standing piece of  Roman architecture. Water for the baths came to the site from Knighton Brook via an aqueduct. Some of the earthworks surrounding the water channel still survive and are known as Raw Dykes (the word ‘Raw’ has the same origin as Rath/Ratae.)

At this time in Ratae’s history, the local population grew quite wealthy. Townhouses appeared with opulent mosaics, painted walls, heating and bathing facilities. A stone wall was built around the perimeter of the settlement, for added security for the residents of the town.

Temples to the varying gods  were built too, one being found near St Nicholas’ Church, which today retains much brickwork pilfered from the ancient Roman building. This temple was dedicated to Mithras, the bull-slaying god who was born on December 25 and whose cult was seen as a rival to Christianity.  He was a Persian ‘import’ and his all-male accolytes often held their rites in a secret underground chamber known as a Mithraeum. Other evidence has been found of British bull-gods, spear carrying sons of Zeus, and sea-gods.  Of great interest is the curse tablet discovered, in which a native British God, Maglus (‘Prince/princely’) is invoked for help in bringing about the destruction of a thief : “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …”

By the 5th century, however, Ratae was in serious decline as the legions pulled out from Britain and Angles and  Saxons began to migrate from their homelands to settle in what is now England . Soon, the town was in ruins, abandoned and decaying . The famous Anglo Saxon poem THE RUIN speaks of the abandoned Roman townsThis masonry is wondrous; Fate broke it.
Courtyard pavements lie smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate is ravaged,
chipped roofs torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen…

The Roman Era of Ratae was over with Rome’s withdrawal from Brittania; the early Middle Ages had begun. After the Romans departed the  native Britons called the place, in their own tongue,  Caer Lerion or Caerlyr; the Saxons called it Ligora-ceastre, which by Domesday became Ledecestre, and then Leicester. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed the town’s founder was King Leir (Leir-caister), and the prefix of this name may take its origins from a Celtic water deity known as Llyr.

Today, the remains of Roman buildings and artefacts  still frequently are excavated in Leicester. Some recent finds near High Cross have been of considerable importance.

The prevalence of these remains in the city is shown by the fact that when Richard III’s remains were recovered from the ruins of Greyfriars, it was initially thought he had an arrowhead embedded in his spine. As it turned out, the ‘arrowhead’ was a stray Roman nail that happened to have ended up under his body when the monks dug a hasty grave to hold him.

It is also interesting to realise that the last Plantagenet King now rests in a brick lined vault above the remains of one of Leicester’s Roman temples,  its scant  foundations discovered when restoration was made on  St Martin’s church in the late 1800’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-39738436

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.html

https://phys.org/news/2016-07-rare-discovery-late-roman-leicester.html

Roman Leicester artists impression

curse

Did Richard III choose his nephew Lincoln as his heir presumptive….?

James Laurenson as Lincoln, from The Shadow of the Tower

James Laurenson as Lincoln, from The Shadow of the Tower

The identity of Richard’s chosen heir has always been a sort-of mystery. Not to me. I have always believed he chose his sister’s eldest son, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. But then I’m stubborn, and once I have made up my mind, it takes a lot to shift me.

Lincoln seemed the obvious candidate. He was a full-grown man, brave, a soldier, of close Yorkist blood and devoted to his uncle. And he was undeniably legitimate. But Richard did not formally declare him as his heir. Granted, the fact that Lincoln was appointed Lieutenant of Ireland was a considerable signal, because so often whoever held that title was the heir to the throne. But not always. You’d think there would be some evidence to confirm him as Richard’s choice. But, up to now, it seems there isn’t.

Of course, the question became hypothetical in the aftermath of Bosworth – not because Richard was killed that day but because his army was defeated. After all, several other commanders have died during a victory in battle over the years. Wolfe at the Plains of Abraham was a case in point, as was Nelson at Trafalgar.

Wolfe

Perhaps Richard was convinced that Lincoln would only be a temporary measure, until he himself married again and produced a true heir. Why not? Richard was a young, healthy man who had children, so he wasn’t firing blanks, as the saying goes. Lincoln didn’t leave any legitimate children, and I do not know if he left any baseborn offspring, but he certainly came from a prolific family. There were numerous de la Pole brothers to provide a succession of heirs should anything befall Lincoln himself. Which it did in the end, of course, and in due course two of his brothers, Edmund and Richard, were to take up the cudgels. Richard would surely have been on to a good thing if he passed the succession to this family of boys. So I remain on Lincoln’s side as Richard’s chosen heir.

East Stoke

So why didn’t he confront Henry VII on his own account at Stoke Field in 1487? The only reason I can think of is that while there were males from senior branches of York, they were illegitimate or attainted, and he judged that his own descent through the female line was against him. He had not been formally declared Richard’s heir, and maybe the fact that he was the child of Richard’s sister was not in his favour. But he was legitimate and his father had not been attainted (see my thoughts on Warwick, below). Hmm, not a good reason, I admit, and maybe it would never have occurred to Lincoln, but I can’t do better. His reason for supporting “Lambert Simnel” will always fascinate. And maybe he did believe in the boy.

Lambert Simnel

There is a considerable school of thought in favour of Clarence’s son, the Earl of Warwick, being Richard’s heir and Rous was prominent in this. Warwick was, after all, legitimate. But he was also attainted because of his father, George of Clarence, having been executed by Edward IV as a traitor. This was why Richard III did not consider him in 1483 when the sons of Edward IV were found to be illegitimate.

Yes, but attainders could be reversed, do I hear you say? Indeed, but why should Richard do that when his own claim was true? And thus, in due course, his son’s claim would be true as well. If Warwick was thought of as the next rightful heir to the throne, Richard would have put him there. But Richard took the throne himself, thus making it clear that he thought Warwick was not the true heir. I do not believe that when Richard’s son died so unexpectedly, Richard would suddenly have changed his mind about Warwick. By doing that, he would make a mockery of his own claim.

So no, Warwick was not Richard’s choice. Nor were the sons of Edward IV, if they still breathed, because they were illegitimate. No doubt of that in Richard’s mind. So his choice was Lincoln, and a worthy choice it was too. If we could prove it, of course. Lack of evidence inevitably means coming to one’s own decision. I support Lincoln. Richard chose him too, albeit in the hope of producing more children of his own with his next queen.

My imagined version of Lincoln - courtesy of Titian, twiddled by Sandra Heath Wilson

My imagined version of Lincoln, courtesy of Titian, twiddled by Sandra Heath Wilson

Witchcraft (4): Witchcraft American Style

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A typical afternoon in modern day Salem, Massachusetts

Why do the Salem Witch Trials continue to fascinate after three hundred and twenty five years?  Why do tourists and locals, wiccans, witches, warlocks and wizards continue to walk the crowded streets of this pretty little seaside city in Massachusetts in search of magic and mayhem?  What propels them to stroll the narrow streets, licking ice cream cones and crowding into The House of Seven Gables, the Witch House and Frankenstein’s Castle?  Why do so many people take the walking tours of a city that only boasts two buildings that existed in the 17th century and never claimed Dr. Frankenstein as a resident?

When I visited in 2016, I was stopped by a nice lady wiccan who after cooing over my dog, informed me that my wire-haired terrier was an old soul who may have been one of the first victims of judiciary malfeasance.  While this may explain Dingo’s behavior, it didn’t explain why this city continues to fascinate. After all, most of the historical action took place in the nearby town of Danvers, formerly known as Salem Village.  In this bucolic town you can search for the secret grave of witchcraft-trial victim, Rebecca Nurse, who bravely declared her innocence to the end.  She is buried somewhere on her graceful homestead which is maintained to this day by volunteers – her house a picturesque bright red colonial saltbox.  Or you can walk along the lonely remains of the parsonage of  the Reverend Samuel Parris and ponder how could so much suffering and horror emerge from such a tiny dot on the landscape of Massachusetts Bay Colony?*

Better to get back to Salem and join the pirates and ghouls – where terror and death are neatly packaged and sold as tourist trinkets!

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The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

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The foundation of the parsonage of the Reverend Samuel Parris where the trouble began.

The founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in the early 17th century brought enormous financial benefits to both the new world and the old world in industries such as shipbuilding, fur trading, fisheries and lumber.  As this colony developed, it also became a midway trading point from Europe to Africa and the Caribbean.  Goods from England, Portugal, France and Spain were used to purchase West African slaves to work in the sugarcane brakes and tobacco fields.   In turn, luxurious products such as  tobacco, sugar, molasses, indigo dye, rice, rum and cotton, produced by slaves and slave masters were exported back to Europe. This is the notorious “Triangle Trade” of molasses, rum and slaves.  But for the yeoman Puritans of New England, they could only scratch out a living on a hard and rocky soil, living on the edge of enormous dark forests while enduring brutal winters and terrifying Indian raids and massacres.  It is this harsh background, along with a religion obsessed with soul-crushing Original Sin, that many historians believe produced the unhinged behavior that would eventually lead to the gallows death of 19 innocent souls on a charge of witchcraft.**

In January of 1692, two children, Betty Parris and her cousin, Abigail Williams, fell ill in the household of the Reverend Samuel Parris.  Their illnesses were unusual in that they appeared to be violent fits rather than ordinary childhood indispositions.  According to “The Witches:  Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem” by historian Stacy Schiff, “they barked and yelped.  They fell dumb.  Their bodies shuddered and spun.  They went limp or spasmodically rigid…Abigail attempted to launch herself into the air, flinging her arms and making flying noises.”  Frightened, Rev. Parris was reluctant to turn to his congregation for help.  The villagers had gone through many ministers, all of whom failed to pass muster, including the hapless Parris.

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The Reverend Samuel Parris

Born in England and raised in Barbados by an English plantation owner, Samuel Parris arrived in Massachusetts from the Caribbean in approximately 1680 after failing as both a large-scale farmer and businessman.  It was there he may have acquired the slave Tituba who would play a leading role in the witchcraft drama.***  He enrolled at Harvard yet failed to acquire a degree.  In desperation, he turned to the ministry and eventually drifted to this flinty community by the sea.   He soon discovered that after chores, the villagers’ main hobbies included endless litigation over property rights, denying their pastoral leader much needed firewood and expressing displeasure at what they considered his high-handed demands****.  Nonetheless, he called in a Salem Village doctor, William Griggs, who took one look at the girls’ bizarre behavior and diagnosed “An Evil Hand” at work.  Reverend John Hale of nearby Beverly also confirmed the diagnosis of witchcraft.  Hearing that, the girls, along with a 12 year old afflicted neighbor, Ann Putnam, accused Tituba and two other women of tormenting them through supernatural means.  These women were Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne.  As is often the case with witchcraft accusations, both were considered ne’er do wells and shrews.  Goodwife Good was a near vagrant.

The phrase “all hell broke loose” has never been put to better effect.  Within a month, Ann Putnam’s father, Thomas, from a large,  litigious family and a militia sergeant during the brutal King Philip’s War, filed formal complaints against the women with local magistrates, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin.  As Mary Beth Norton notes “In the Devil’s Snare,” “the accusations moved from the religious to the legal realm” with devastating speed and ease.  So many people were accused by so many accusers that the judges were compelled to move the court from a tavern to the meetinghouse which had also served as Salem Village’s church.  When the head count exceeded thirty, Constable Joseph Herrick apparently moved the prisoners from his own home to the dank prisons of Salem Town and Boston.

salem meeting house

A reconstruction of the Salem meetinghouse which stands close to the parsonage and Rebecca Nurse’s farm.

The slave Tituba was one of the first called to testify and while refusing to call herself a witch, admitted to dabbling in witchcraft.  She testified to hellish culinary achievements such as baking a witchcake and suggested to the court she may have signed the Devil’s Book.  (Signing legal documents with Lucifer appears to have been a New England invention not an Old England one.)  She too implicated Good and Osborne and evoked fearsome images of the three of them riding broomsticks in the night as far as Boston.   Her confession was a shrewd move on her part because, invariably, those who quickly admitted their guilt escaped execution while those who did not invariably wound up on the gallows.  Both Good and Osborne denied being witches; Good was hanged and Goody Osborne died in a stinking prison awaiting execution.

Such unusual jurisprudence to our modern minds was nonetheless a consequence of colonial law which looked for guilt far more than innocence.  The highly imaginative accusations of very young girls  – demonstrated in histrionic fashion whenever court was in session – carried far more weight than the protestations of law-abiding and church-going adults.  People who quickly admitted to wrongdoing might escape with a prison sentence or be set free.  Admirably if tragically, very few of the accused admitted to consorting with the Devil.

salem witchcraft

One of the victims testifies in typical fashion

In many ways, New England witchcraft accusations and trials mirrored the trials and convictions of Common Law England.  Witches were not burned at the stake in either country and torture was generally avoided.  In both countries, accusations of witchcraft frequently arose over unexplained losses or petty disputes.  According to David D. Hall, writing in 1985 in The New England Quarterly, “this conflict emerged whenever someone rejected a neighbor’s request for aid.  Hence…the sequence of rejection, anger, guilt and accusations of witchcraft.  Guilt turned into accusations of maleficium (sorcery) when and if misfortune followed, for misfortune lent itself to interpretation as revenge by the offended party.” Thomas Putnam, father of afflicted Ann, had recent unexplained losses of livestock – a horse and cow had dropped dead without explanation.  It was he who brought one hundred and twenty accusations of sorcery to the court.  That appears to have been one-third of all accusations.  He, himself, modestly testified against only seventeen of the accused.

Although the Salem Witch trials are remembered for the wild behavior and absurd accusations of the “victims” (memorably dramatized in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”) the colonial behavior also differed markedly from the Europeans.  Firstly, the head count of the executed were puny compared to Europe.  Approximately 80 people died during the century of witch-hunting in America.  According to David D. Hall “…in the same decades that saw some 300 English witches executed, the Scottish authorities put to death an estimated 1,300 persons out of a much smaller population.”  Secondly, American witches tended to lead far duller, more constrained lives – almost puritanical in their wizardry.  They flew on broomsticks from one hick burg to another or had dull legal conferences with the devil.  Occasionally they moved furniture around households in mischievous fashion or fiddled nastily with Saturday night’s baked beans.  It must be said, though, that at the Salem trials, the accusations of spectral violence – from biting throats to choking to pricking with hot pokers and pins – far exceeded the usual witchy claims and must, in some way reflect repressed fury and depression on the part of the young women.  On the other hand, as Stacy Schiff points out: “Continental witches had more fun.  They walked on their hands.  They made pregnancies last three years.  They turned their enemies’ faces upside down and backward.”  When European witches flew, they traveled to far more exotic places than hidebound Boston.  They had lascivious encounters with the devil and his minions while sexual affairs were strictly verboten among the Massachusetts Bay sorcerers.

By early autumn of 1692, nineteen people were led to the gallows, convicted of being witches.  (Several more died in prison.)  Some of their names come down to us in culture and history:  John Proctor, who maintained his innocence to the end became the hero of “The Crucible.”  Giles Corey, irascible and vitriolic towards the judges and accusers, was the only victim tortured to death:  pressed with larger and larger stones upon his naked body until he expired.  The seventy-one year old Rebecca Nurse was a paragon of virtue within the community until Thomas Putnam’s wife accused the old woman of engaging her in a spectral wrestling match.  Dragged in front of Judge Hathorne, she remained unruffled and quietly defiant.  Meanwhile, her large and worthy family took up her cause, bravely submitting petitions testifying to her good character.  They directly confronted the Putnam family and one sharp-eyed daughter witnessed one of Rebecca’s accusers, Goodwife Sarah Bibber, surreptitiously jabbing herself with pins to produce bloody pricks.  This was too much even for a Salem jury – Rebecca was acquitted.  At this good news, the judges flew into a fury and jurors was forced back into the jury room.  They deliberated twice more and emerged to unanimously convict her.  She, along with four other women, were sent to the gallows on July 19th, 1692.   While Rebecca Nurse maintained her dignity it is noteworthy to mention that Sarah Good did not.  Pulled and prodded up the stairs of the gibbet, she harangued her judges and added a final curse on Judge Nicholas Noyes:  “God will give you blood to drink!”  Many years later, he died during a hemorrhage, blood filling his throat.

tituba

An over-the-top depiction of Tituba bewitching the Parris household

By late autumn, the crisis had exhausted itself and accusations tapered off.  Increase Mather, a leading Puritan and president of Harvard, wrote a treatise condemning the use of spectral evidence at witchcraft trials. His writings on the subject happily influenced future judiciary proceedings.

Author Christopher Bigsby  evokes the bleak aftermath of the witch hunt: “depredations of the countryside:  unharvested crops, untended animals, houses in disrepair…the breaking of the social contract that binds a community together, as love and mutual respect binds individuals.”  Despite the cruel upheaval of the summer, life slowly resurrected itself.  Salem villagers returned to their neglected farms for harvest while others quietly buried their dead in unmarked graves.  Many of the children and teenage girls who made accusations left the village only to find they were not wanted in other villages. Several of them ended up accused of crimes such as adultery or had children out of wedlock or made abusive marriages.  Many of the them died young.  And yet one remained to tell a tale:

ann putnam

Notes:

*The parsonage was excavated in 1970 by local historian, Richard Trask.  He maintains that the town of Danvers was unhappy with the archaeological dig because it once again brought up the trial and its attendant horrors.  Mr. Trask is a descendant of John Proctor.

**According to historian David D. Hall, traditionalist Salem historian, Charles W. Upham, “insisted that Calvinism, or the Puritan version of it, perpetuated a literal belief in witchcraft that clergyman such as Cotton Mather put to devastating use.”  This has since been disputed although it is demonstrably true that the Puritan clergy of New England at this time had a very real belief in the supernatural and its attendant evils upon the populace.

***The origins of the slave Tituba have been disputed.  Many historians believe that she was a black slave from Barbados while others suspect she may have been a Native American because she was married to a man eponymously named John Indian.  All agree she was not native to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

****Parris irritated his congregants when he purchased gold candlesticks to replace the pewter ones used at the meeting house.  The candlesticks are used to comic effect in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”

Acknowledgements:

Witchcraft and the Limits of Interpretation by David D. Hall published in The New England quarterly, Vol. 58, No 2 (June., 1985), 253-281.

The Witches:  Suspicion, Betray and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff, published by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

In the Devil’s Snare by Mary Beth Norton, published by First Vintage Books, 2003.

The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Starkey, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller, published by Penguin Books, 2003.

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