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London: 2000 years of history (channel 5)

Who let Dan Jones out? At least, as in his last outing, he is accompanied both by a historian (Suzannah Lipscomb) and an engineer (Rob Bell), narrating and illustrating almost two millennia of the city’s past.

In the first episode, we were taken through the walled city of “Londinium” being built and rebuilt after Boudicca’s revolt. Whilst Bell showed us the Kent stone from which the original Tower was built, we were told about the Ampitheatre and the remains, near Spitalfields, that include the “Lamb Street Teenager” and the slaves that helped to build the city, strategically located on the Thames. Some archaeology has resulted from the building of Crossrail.
As Roman Britain ended and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, their original city (“Londonwych”) was on a smaller scale. Viking raids followed and Alfred moved the city inside the Roman walls as “Londonburgh”, as broken glass and pottery found near Covent Garden testifies, with the previous entity further east now being known as Aldwych. Although the Vikings took the city, Ethelred II reconquered it and destroyed London Bridge as well.
The programme finished with William I’s coronation on Christmas Day 1066, followed by his rebuilding of the Tower with Norman stone, not to be confused with this historian, with the domes later added by Henry VIII.

The second episode showed us Westminster Abbey, later to be rebuilt at great expense by  Henry III, in a smaller city then separate from London, where every coronation since Harold II has taken place, followed by Westminster Hall, where Wallace, Fawkes and Charles I were all sentenced to death. Half of the evolving city’s population fell victim to the Black Death, after which Richard Whittington, younger son of a Gloucestershire knight, really did serve as Mayor three or four times under Richard II and Henry IV. The population then increased exponentially to the days of the wealthy Cardinal Wolsey, who built Whitehall Palace before falling from Henry VIII’s favour, so Henry and his successors occupied it from 1530 until the fire of 1698. This part ended with Elizabeth I knighting Drake aboard the Golden Hind.

Week three covered the Great Fire, which the trio had previously examined in much greater detail, although they did mention Pepys’ description, the probable origin in a Monument Lane bakery, the timber-framed buildings of the old city and the easterly wind that spread the fire. Although we can see the new St. Paul’s today, Wren’s original plan for the area was even more radical, featuring a Glasgow-style grid of streets. London then expanded to the west for merchants and their imports via the Thames, whilst the poor stayed in the east where gin was popular. In the nineteenth century, industrialisation caused the city’s population to rise rapidly, although smog became a factor.
London Bridge became the city’s first rail terminus, in 1836, before Euston was built and Paddington was soon added to serve Brunel’s Great Western lines. The steep hills of Hampstead were overcome through a man-made valley, as Bell showed by visiting the abandoned Highgate station, allowing London to expand to the north. Poor water hygiene caused a cholera outbreak, which Bazalgette’s civil engineering solved with pumping stations, sewers and the reclaiming of land. Heavy traffic then necessitated the strengthening of the ancient bridges. The reclaimed land (Embankment) and Great Fire site (Monument) are both remembered on the Underground map.

The series concluded by pointing out that road congestion was quite possibly worse in 1860 than it is now, as trains were banned from running within two miles of the epicentre at street level. The solution was to run them underground, with the Metropolitan line being started first by “cut and cover” and the Northern line, authentically bored, to follow. Residents moved out of the first engineered areas to the east, leaving Shoreditch and Whitechapel overcrowded with twice the mortality level of London as a whole. By 1890, the capital had five million residents and Charles Booth’s “poverty map” highlighted a quarter of these, with the worst cases in the East End, where “Jack the Ripper” preyed on some of them. From the maps, living conditions were addressed and the worst slums demolished. Following Edward VII’s accession in January 1901, recognisable modern buildings such as Admiralty Arch, the MI5 building and the War Office arose. Visitors could stay in hotels such as the Savoy and shop at Selfridges as we can do today. Suffragettes were active before the First World War, during which they suspended their activities and many worked in armaments manufacture, for instance at the Royal Ordnance factory known as the Woolwich Arsenal.
Air warfare came to London with Zeppelin bombs in 1915. In the remainder of the conflict, there were thirty raids killing forty thousand people, including thirty children at Poplar in 1917. Armistice Day was followed by the “Spanish ‘flu”, which was generally three times as deadly as the war itself, with some 20,000 deaths in London alone. In the following years, houses were built along the expanded Metropolitan Lane, taking in towns such as Pinner and Harrow, and advertised in a “Metroland” magazine to raise the population to 8.6 million. The Blitz brought the Second World War to London a year after the start but, importantly, after the corrugated tin structures known as Anderson shelters were made available. It happened on fifty-seven consecutive nights in the first instance and a total of two million homes were damaged or destroyed. Replacing these and housing Commonwealth immigration from 1948 was hampered by the Green Belt so that London could no longer expand outwards, only upwards. As freight expanded, containers could no longer fit into the Thames so the docks were less busy from the sixties, in favour of more coastal ports. However, Docklands regeneration was initiated in the eighties as the City was pushed eastwards to Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. In a further effort to relieve congestion, the great Crossrail project opens later this year with twenty six miles of new tunnels, forty-two metres below ground, providing a unique archaeological opportunity to view London’s past.

In conclusion, it is possible to enjoy a history programme with Dan Jones, so long as he has at least two colleagues and cannot simply indulge his prejudices against particular figures. The second half of the series was more a social and economic history, which is a further restraint.

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The Grundisburgh martyr

Today in 1558, Alice Driver and Alexander Gooch were burned on the Cornhill in Ipswich. Her trial record, particularly her testimony, shows that Alice Driver freely admitted not sharing certain Roman Catholic beliefs and this was sufficient to convict her. Both are commemorated on this monument in Christchurch Park (left) and Driver by a road in her home village.

These executions happened only thirteen days before both Mary I and Cardinal Pole died and the next monarch repealed de heretico comburendo, the law under which Driver and Gooch were put to death, such that it was last used in Canterbury on the 15th of that month. For comparison, the third Duke of Norfolk was scheduled for beheading in January 1547 but reprieved when Henry VIII died a few hours earlier.

Witchcraft (2): The Pendle Trials

Lancashire, in the early 17th Century, was one of the poorest and least populated counties of England, where even many gentry families had an income of less than £100 a year. The Forest of Pendle, which lies between Burnley, Colne, Clitheroe and Whalley in a remote corner of the county close to the Yorkshire border, has been described as ‘wild, bleak and backward.’ (1)

Pendle was not a forest in the normal sense of the word, but a former royal hunting preserve with particular customs of its own. Much of it was moorland, and most of the rest pasture of moderate quality, with little in the way of arable farming, the climate and the quality of the soil imposing severe limitations. Although in the 21st Century it is a relatively prosperous area, few of its 17th Century inhabitants were well-off. Most survived as farm labourers or servants, and many were close to destitution, particularly those who were aged or infirm. Because of the customs of the area, it was however possible to enjoy a cottage with ‘squatter’s rights’, even though that cottage might be a miserable hovel.

There was also the matter of religion. It is commonly said that Lancashire at this time was one third Catholic, but this is probably an understatement, particularly in rural areas such as Pendle. The Puritan element in Lancashire tended to be clustered in towns such as Manchester and Bolton, where many of the inhabitants were independent cloth workers. Of course, it must be understood that not all Catholics were recusants; some attended the Church of England services from time to time in order to avoid fines, and the exact religious sympathies of many families is hard to discern with assurance. It is certain that some at least nominally Protestant families had a more benign attitude to their Catholic neighbours than did others. Equally it should be understood that practically all so-called ‘Puritans’ remained full, observant members of the Church of England and were not, at this time, a separate denomination. Indeed, the Jacobean Church of England was firmly Calvinist in outlook – something which is not always recognised – and the Armenian innovations of Charles I and Archbishop Laud were still some years in the future.

King James I saw witches as his enemies, not least because of the alleged attempt of the so-called North Berwick witches to drown him and his wife on their way back from Denmark. His obsession with witchcraft led him to write a book on the subject.  After the Gunpowder Plot, he had a similar view of Roman Catholics. Any magistrate who wanted to win the King’s approval could do no better than to crack down on supposed witches and Catholics. As far as witches were concerned, a great deal of firm evidence was not necessarily required. After all, a sovereign capable of believing that witches were able to sail the sea in sieves (as the North Berwick witches were supposed to have done) was not short of credulity in this matter. The best “evidence” (if it could be procured) was the confessions of the alleged witches themselves. The techniques for obtaining such confessions were not necessarily fair or pretty. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act was still far away in the future.

In Pendle there were two rival families of alleged witches, each headed by an elderly grandmother. In the red corner, so to speak, were Anne Whittle (alias Chattox) and her daughter, Anne Redfearn. In the blue corner, Elizabeth Southerns (alias Demdike) with her daughter, Elizabeth Device, and grandchildren, Alison Device, James Device, and Jennet Device. These people somehow eked out a living by a combination of begging (sometimes with threats), casual labour on farms, possible “outwork” for the local textile trade based in Colne and, doubtless, “healing services” for local animals and people. In an age before vets, farmers often relied on the local wise woman to heal their sick animals. Also, such doctors as existed were well beyond the pockets of the poor, who could only make use of herbal remedies or prayer if they fell ill.

It is quite possible that some of the alleged “incantations” of the “witches” were nothing more sinister than mangled versions of Latin prayers. In The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy describes the use of such prayers in Chapter 8, Charms, Pardons, and Promises. What was once seen as a harmless request for God’s assistance, was now seen as, at best, a form of superstitious magic and at worst an appeal to the Devil. The fact that Catholic belief still had a grip in rural Lancashire, and that “official” Christian ministry was rather thin on the ground in the area may also have contributed to the continuation of ancient traditions.

Matters came to a head in March 1612. Alison Device, who was visiting the Trawden area, either begging or procuring supplies from farms, or both. On the edges of Colne she met a pedlar, one John Lawe of Halifax, and asked him for pins. (It appears these were of the type used to fasten cloth “pieces” onto wooden frames, which demonstrates that the family were probably involved in the textile trade.) Unfortunately Mr Lawe, after a long journey with his pack on his back, was more interested in getting into the pub for a drink than making a small sale. Some sort of argument developed – possibly Alison set her dog on him – and a few moments later Lawe collapsed in the road. In all probability from a stroke. Locals carried him into the nearby Greyhound Inn. Alison took a last look at him and then departed in some haste.

There, had all things been equal, the matter might have ended. Unfortunately for Alison her reputation as a “witch” went before her, and when Lawe’s son arrived in Colne to see his father (who was paralysed on one side) the locals let him know of her history. Abraham Lawe went at once to the “Malkin Tower” (the Device family’s grandly-named residence) to confront Alison and take her to Colne to face his father, who accused the girl of bewitching him. Alison (who may genuinely have believed in her own power) admitted that she had, and begged John Lawe to forgive her, which he did.

Despite John Lawe’s generosity of spirit, Alison was hauled off to Read Hall (several miles away) and put in front of the local J.P., Roger Nowell. Her mother and brother were also brought there.

Somehow, and by whatever means, Nowell extracted a string of confessions from these people that involved Alison, her grandmother and the rival “Chattox” and her daughter and made up a juicy case of alleged witchcraft.

Alison’s grandmother “Demdike”, along with “Chattox” and the latter’s daughter, Anne Redfearn, were brought before Nowell on the basis of Alison’s evidence. Surprisingly (you might think) both “Demdike” and “Chattox”, both elderly and more or less blind, made full confessions, both admitting they had sold their souls to the devil. Anne was more reticent, but was accused by “Demdike” of making clay images of people with intent to injure them by witchcraft. All three, plus Alison, were committed for trial at Lancaster Assizes.

Even this was not the end of it. On Good Friday 1612 there was an alleged gathering of witches at the Malkin Tower, and a conspiracy was hatched to blow up Lancaster Castle and rescue the prisoners. The main evidence for this came from Alison Device’s brother and sister, the latter a girl of about eight. No one seems to have asked the obvious question – how on earth were a group of poor people supposed to obtain and transport sufficient gunpowder to blow up a castle?

On 27th April Nowell and his fellow J.P. Nicholas Bannister, on the basis of reports of this meeting, committed a further eight persons for trial: Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston. The “odd one out” among this group was Alice Nutter, a woman of some local consequence.

In fairness to the “legal system” of the time, such as it was, it must be said that not all witches sent for trial were convicted. Indeed, the three so-called Salmesbury witches, before the court at the same time as those from Pendle, were acquitted. Even Anne Redfearn was acquitted of the first  murder charge brought against her, but was immediately brought back and found guilty of another murder.

The star witness for the prosecution was the young child, Jennet Device. As for the rest of the accused, apart from Alison, found guilty of harming John Lawe by witchcraft, nearly all were found guilty of murdering one person or another by witchcraft. The exceptions were “Demdike” who died in prison awaiting trial, and Alice Grey, who was acquitted.

All were hanged; though Jennet Preston, a resident of Yorkshire, was both tried and executed at York.

It is strange to record that in later years James I began to have doubts about “witchcraft”. This was because his own examinations of sundry “witches” and their accusers had revealed examples of fraud that were obvious even to him. However, this change in his attitude came far too late to help the “Pendle Witches”.

(1) Bull, S., The Civil Wars in Lancashire, p.15.

Sources:

The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy, John A. Clayton.

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, Rossell H Robbins.

Website: http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/  (This contains several of the alleged confessions and much detailed information about the case that cannot be included in so short a post as this.)

North Berwick Witch Trials: http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/trials_north_berwick.html

A Yorkist chronicler under Henry VII’s nose?

“Hearne’s Fragment” is a relatively little-known source on late fifteenth century England. It is mysterious in origin, missing in part and not entirely accurate in detail, perhaps using old-style years?

To begin with, it gives Edward IV’s birth year as 1440 and errs in those of his brothers as well, although there is another possible explanation for this. It describes Edward’s early life and first reign at some length but says little about Richard’s “constitutional election” (Gairdner) and reign. It also relates how history is being destroyed and rewritten during Henry VII’s reign (Chapter 16): “Oftimes it is seen that divers there are, the which foresee not the causes precedent and subsequent; for the which they fall many times into such error, that they abuse themselves and also others, their successors, giving credence to such as write of (from) affection, (partiality) leaving the truth that was in deed. Wherefore, in avoiding all such inconveniences, my purpose is, and shall be, [as touching the life of King Edward the Fourth] to write and shew those and such things, the which I have heard of his own mouth. And also in part of such things, in the which I have been personally present, as well within the realm as without, during a certain space, most especially from the year of our Lord 1468 unto the year of our Lord 1482, in the which the forenamed King Edward departed from this present life.”

This source writes about Hearne’s Fragment and names the most likely writer: Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Howard was born in 1443 and served the Yorkist cause from before the 1469 rebellion. He was given the courtesy title of Earl of Surrey in 1483 and accompanied his father to Bosworth, after which he was imprisoned but restored only to the Earldom in 1489 to undertake various diplomatic duties, such as attending the new King’s daughter’s marriage to James IV. Ironically, he led the English army at Flodden only ten years later, when James was the principal casualty, and was rewarded with the restoration of the family Duchy. He died in 1424 but not before accompanying Henry VIII’s other sister to France for her wedding and presiding over Buckingham’s trial.

As for the absence of material about Richard’s reign, the explanation is surely obvious?

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