Sunday, 18 December 2011

Witches of Maryland

In North America, most people think of Salem when witch trials are mentioned. I've already blogged about Virginia witches where the first such trial was held on the continent in 1626. But the neighboring colony of Maryland was known to have witch trials as well.

At least twelve people were prosecuted for being a witch in that colony. The earliest known trials were aboard ships bound for Maryland. In 1654, on the Charity from London, a storm struck at sea. Passengers aboard the ship claimed the relentless storm was caused by "the malevolence of witches." An old woman by the name of Mary Lee was found to have a "witch's mark." The crew hanged her. Her corpse and all of her belongings were thrown into the sea.

The second sea hanging involved the great grandfather of George Washington, Colonel John Washington, in 1659. He accused the owner of the ship Edward Prescott for hanging Elizabeth Richardson. Little is known as to why she was regarded to be a witch. Washington was unavailable for Prescott's trial. Prescott claimed John Greene had been in command of the ship at the time and was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

In 1665, a grand jury refused to indict Elizabeth Bennett for being a witch. Not much is known about the case, except that she was the wife of a wealthy landowner, which makes her quick acquittal understandable.

Rebecca Fowler wasn't so lucky. In 1685, she had "not the fear of God before her eyes, but being led by the instigation of the Devill certain evill & dyabolicall Artes called withcrafts charmes & sorceryes... did use practice & exercise... against one Francis Sandsbury... and Several other persons... and their bodyes were very much the worse, consumed, pined & lamed..."

Rebecca Fowler was hanged on the 9th day of October, 1685.

Similar charges had been brought against John Cowman in 1674. He was convicted "...for Witchcraft Conjuration Sorcery or Enchantment used upon the Body of Elizabeth Goodale." The governor gave him a last minute reprieve, providing the sheriff take him to the gallows and place a rope around his neck. After that he was to remain an indentured servant to the governor and Council that had spared his life.

The most famous Maryland witch is Moll Dyer. Because she was an herbal healer (a cunning woman?), she was said to have been accused of being a witch and driven out of her home during a winter night by the local townspeople and her home burned to the ground. Her body was found by a child a few days later frozen to a large stone. Unfortunately, historians have never uncovered any evidence that Moll ever existed. Even though the legend has been disregarded as a folktale, the rock where she supposedly died and left a hand print sits outside the historical society in Leonardtown.

Several other cases surfaced throughout the 17th and into the early 18th century. Katharine Pout was fined one hundred pounds of tobacco, and the last trial was held in 1712 when Virtue Violl was acquitted. Like most other areas, the majority of those accused were women, and in Maryland, those cases were 90 percent.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hortense de Mancini

Hortense Mancini
During my Restoration research, I came across another notorious but fascinating woman who lived by her own rules and scandalised Europe - Hortense de Mancini was rich and titled naturally, how else could she have got away with her outrageous behaviour?

Born 'Ortensia' in Rome on 6th June 1646 to Baron Lorenzo Mancini, an Italian aristocrat and Girolama Mazzarini, the sister of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France. Ortensia was the fourth of the five famous Mancini sisters, who along with two of their female Martinozzi cousins, were known at the court of King Louis XIV as the Mazarinettes. After her father’s death in 1650, her mother brought her daughters from Rome to Paris so Cardinal Mazarin, might gain them advantageous marriages.

Charles II proposed to Hortense in 1659, but Cardinal Mazarin believed the exiled king to have little in the way of prospects and refused the union. On Charles’ restoration, Mazarin realised his mistake and offered a dowry of 5 million livres, which Charles refused.

Hortense's hand was also requested by Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, another first cousin of Louis XIV, but failed when Cardinal Mazarin refused to include the stronghold-castle of Pigneol in her dowry. A similar situation occurred when the Duke of Lorraine offered for her also.

On 1 March 1661, fifteen-year-old Hortense was married to the twenty-nine-year-old Armand-Charles de la Porte, duc de La Meilleraye, one of the richest men in Europe, and granted the title of duc Mazarin. On the death of Cardinal Mazarin shortly afterward, he gained access to his wife's huge inheritance, which included the Palais Mazarin in Paris and its fine art collection.

Hortense was young, bright, and popular; Armand-Charles was miserly, extremely jealous and mentally unstable. He had his female servants' front teeth knocked out to prevent them from attracting male attention, and chipped off or painted over the "dirty bits" in his art collection. He forbade his wife to keep company with other men, made midnight searches for hidden lovers, insisted she spend hours a day at prayer, and forced her to leave Paris and move to the country.

Rebellious, Hortense began a lesbian love affair with the sixteen-year-old Sidonie de Courcelles. Her husband sent both girls to a convent to cure their immorality, which failed as they plagued the nuns with pranks: adding ink to the holy water, flooded the nuns' beds, and headed for freedom up the chimney. The duchess in her memoirs refutes these claims saying that when she asked the nuns for water to wash her feet she was refused, and:

'It is true that we filled a large coffer which stood in our dormitory with water, and, the boards of the floor being very loosely joined together, the water which overflowed leaked through the wretched floor and wetted the beds of the good sisters. This accident was talked about as if it had been something which we had done of design.'

Despite their differences, Hortense and her husband had four children, whom she left behind when she made her escape with the help of her brother, Philippe, Duc de Nevers, who procured horses and an escort to take her to Rome, and the refuge of her sister Marie Mancini, now the Princess Colonna.

Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, declared himself her protector as did Louis XIV and granted her a pension of 24 thousand livres. Hortense retired to Chambéry in Haute-Savoie and as Savoy’s mistress, established her home as a meeting place for authors, philosophers, and artists. After the death of the duke in 1675, she was turned out by his jealous widow, Marie Jeanne Baptiste de Savoie-Nemours, and Hortense's own husband froze her income, including the pension from Louis XIV. The English ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu, hoped Hortense would replace King Charles' current mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, and therefore increase his own standing.On January 2, 1676, the French Ambassador, Ruvigny, wrote to inform Pomponne that:

'The Duchesse de Mazarin had arrived two days previously in London, dressed as a cavalier, accompanied by two women and five men, without counting a little Moor, who takes his meals with her.'

Now 30, Hortense arrived under the pretext of a visit to her young cousin, Mary of Modena, the new wife of James, Duke of York. She cut an impressive figure, tall and beautiful in men's clothing or women's, she rode and drank hard, gambled, shot pistols, swam in rivers, took lovers of both genders, played the guitar and danced like a gypsy.Saint-Evremond, who cherished a boundless admiration for Hortense described her:

'She is one of those Roman beauties who in no way resemble your dolls of France ... the colour of her eyes has no name ; it is neither blue, nor grey, nor altogether black, but a combination of all the three ; they have the sweetness of blue, the gaiety of grey, and, above all, the fire of the black . . . there are none in the world so sweet . . . there are none in the world so serious and so grave when her thoughts are occupied with any serious subject . . . they are large, well-set, full of fire and intelligence ... all the movements of her mouth are full of charm, and the strangest grimaces become her wonderfully, when she imitates those who make them. Her smiles would soften the hardest heart and ease the most profound depression of mind  they almost entirely change her expression, which is naturally haughty, and spread over it a certain tincture of sweetness and kindness, which reassures those hearts which her charms have alarmed. Her nose, which without doubt is incomparably well-turned and perfectly-proportioned, imparts a noble and lofty air to her whole physiognomy. The tone of her voice is so harmonious and agreeable that none can hear her speak without being sensibly moved. Her complexion is so delicately clear that I cannot believe that any one who examined it closely can deny it to be whiter than the driven snow. Her hair is of a glossy black, with nothing harsh about it. To see how naturally it curls as soon as it is let loose, one would say it rejoiced to shade so lovely a head ; she has the finest turned countenance that a painter ever imagined." 

Hortense soon attracted the attention of Charles II and Nell Gwyn went into mourning, in ironical anticipation of the fall of the Duchess of Portsmouth. By mid 1676, Hortense had replaced Louise de Kerouaille in Charles II's affections and was granted a Royal pension of £4,000, considerably lightening her financial troubles, but causing poor Louise to pour out her anxiety to anyone who would listen.

Louise de Kerouaille Duchess of Portsmounth

Obtusely, Hortense began a lesbian relationship with Anne Lennard, Countess of Sussex, a girl half her age and the king's illegitimate daughter by Barbara Palmer.  Gossip about the two was salacious and Lady Chaworth wrote to her brother Lord Roos in December, 1676:

"Lady Sussex and Madame Mazarin have privately learnt to fence, and went downe into St. James Parke the other day with drawne swords under theire night gownes, which they drew out and made severall fine passes with, to the admiration of severall men that was lookers on in the Parke."

Anne's husband subsequently ordered his wife to the country, where she refused to do anything but lie in bed, repeatedly kissing a miniature of Hortense.

The introduction to Aphra Behn's ‘The History of the Nun’ has been taken as a suggestion that Behn too had romantic relations with Hortense, who also infuriated Charles II by beginning an affair with Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco. Charles cut off her pension, but almost immediately repented and restarted the payments, though this behaviour signified the end of her position as the king's favourite. She and Charles remained friends, and Louise de Kerouaille returned to her role as the King's mistress.

A few days before Charles II’s death in 1685,  the diarist John Evelyn wrote:

the King sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleveland, and Mazarin [Hortense] Six days after, all was in dust.

Hortense was well-provided for by the next king, James II, possibly due to her kinship with the new queen, Mary of Modena. Even when James fled England and William and Mary came to power in 1688, she remained in London, albeit with a reduced pension, where she presided over such as Charles de Saint-Évremond, the poet and epicurean, who brought to her door all the learned men of London.

Evelyn recorded her eventual death in 1699 at the age of 53:

......... born at Rome, educated in France, and was an extraordinary beauty and wit, but dissolute, and impatient of matrimonial restraint, so as to be abandoned by her husband, and banished: when she came to England for shelter, lived on a pension given her here, and is reported to have hastened her death by intemperate drinking strong spirits.

With the exception of Marguerite de Valois, Hortense and her sister, Marie Mancini, were the first women in France to put their memoirs into print, possibly to record for posterity the cause of separation from their abusive husbands. Hortense may have committed suicide, keeping her life dramatic until the very end. Her creditors seized her corpse, but her husband, the only man rich enough to redeem it, claimed her body and carted it around on his travels in France, before finally allowing it to be interred by the tomb of her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Pendle Witches and Their Magic: Part Two

Blacko Tower, a Victorian folly (ca 1890) near Malkin Tower Farm, Lancashire

The crimes of which Mother Demdike and her fellow witches were accused dated back years before the 1612 trial. The trial itself might have never happened had it not been for King James I’s obsession with the occult. Until his reign, witch persecutions had been relatively rare in England compared with Scotland and Continental Europe. But James’s book Daemonologie presented the idea of a vast conspiracy of satanic witches threatening to undermine the nation. Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth, which presents the first depiction of a witches’ coven in English drama, in James I’s honour.

To curry favour with his monarch, Lancashire magistrate Roger Nowell of Read Hall arrested and prosecuted no fewer than twelve individuals from the Pendle region and even went to the far fetched extreme of accusing them of conspiring their very own Gunpowder Plot to blow up Lancaster Castle. Two decades before the more famous Matthew Hopkins began his witch-hunting career in East Anglia, Roger Nowell had set himself up as witchfinder general of Lancashire.

What do we actually know about Mother Demdike? At the time of her trial she appears as a widow and matriarch, living in a place called Malkin Tower with her widowed daughter Elizabeth Device, and her three grandchildren, James, Alizon, and Jennet. Her clan was very poor and supported themselves by a combination of begging and by the family business of cunning craft. The trial transcripts mention that local farmer John Nutter of Bull Hole Farm near Newchurch hired Demdike to bless his sick cattle. Interestingly John Nutter chose not to testify against her family in the trial.

Demdike’s family at Malkin Tower had a powerful rival in the form of Chattox, another widow and charmer, who lived a few miles away at West Close near Fence. Chattox allegedly bewitched to death her landlord’s son, Robert Nutter of Greenhead, for attempting to rape her daughter, Anne Redfearne. For social historians it’s interesting to see how having a fearsome reputation as a cunning woman could be the only true power a poor woman could hope to wield.

Unfortunately this could also backfire as it did with Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, who exchanged angry words with a pedlar outside Colne in March, 1612. Moments later the pedlar collapsed and suddenly went stiff and lame on one half of his body and lost the power of speech. Today we would clearly recognise this as a stroke. But the pedlar and several witnesses were convinced that Alizon had lamed her victim with witchcraft. Even she seemed to believe this herself, immediately falling to her knees and begging his forgiveness. This unfortunate event triggered the arrest of Alizon and her grandmother. Alizon wasted no time in implicating Chattox, her grandmother’s rival, and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfearne.

The four accused witches were interrogated by Roger Nowell, and then force-marched to Lancaster Castle, walking over fells and moorland. Both Demdike and Chattox, whose real name was Anne Whittle, were frail and elderly. It was amazing they survived the journey. In Lancaster they were handed over to the sadistic Thomas Covell, the gaoler who reputedly slashed the ears off Edward Kelly, friend of John Dee, when he was arrested on the charge of forgery. The women were chained to a ring in the floor in the bottom of the Well Tower. Although torture was officially forbidden in England, gaolers were allowed to starve and beat their prisoners at will. Being chained to a ring in the floor and kept in constant darkness would certainly feel like torture for those who had to endure it.

On Good Friday following the arrests, worried family and friends met at Malkin Tower to discuss what they would do in regard to this tragic situation. Constable John Hargreaves came to write down the names of everyone present and later Roger Nowell made further arrests, accusing these people of convening at Malkin Tower on Good Friday for a witches’ sabbat, something he would have read about in Daemonologie. The arrests didn’t stop until he had the mythical thirteen to make up the alleged coven. Twelve were kept at Lancaster and one, Jennet Preston who lived over the county line in Gisburn, Yorkshire, was sent to York. Apart from Chattox and Demdike and their immediate families, none of these newly arrested people had previous reputations as cunning folk. It seemed they were just concerned friends and neighbours who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kept in such horrible conditions, Demdike died in prison before she came to trial, thus cheating the hangman. The others experienced a different fate.

The first to be arrested, Alizon was the last to be tried at Lancaster in August, 1612. Her final recorded words on the day before she was hanged for witchcraft are a moving tribute to her grandmother’s power as a healer. Roger Nowell, the prosecutor, brought John Law, the pedlar she had allegedly lamed, before her. Again Alizon begged the man’s forgiveness for her perceived crime against him. John Law, in return, said that if she had the power to lame him, she must also have the power to heal him. Alizon regrettably told him that she wasn’t able to, but if her grandmother, Old Demdike had lived, she could and would have healed him.

Mother Demdike is dead but not forgotten. By the mid-17th century, Demdike’s name became a local byword for witch, according to John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson’s Lancashire Folklore. In 1627, only fifteen years after the Pendle Witch Trial, a woman named Dorothy Shaw of Skippool, Lancashire, was accused by her neighbour of being a “witch and a Demdyke.”

History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. Long after her demise, Mother Demdike and her fellow Pendle Witches endure, their story and spirit woven into the living landscape, its weft and warp, like the stones and the streams that cut across the moors. Enthralled by their true history, I wrote my novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, dedicated to their memory. Other books have been written about the Pendle Witches, but mine turns the tables, telling the story from Demdike and Alizon Device’s point of view. I longed to give these women what their world denied them—their own voice. Their voices deserve to finally be heard.


Owen Davies, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History (Hambledon Continuum)
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (Yale)
Malcolm Gaskill, Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy (John Murray)
John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson, Lancashire Folklore (Kessinger Publishing)
King James I, Daemonologie, available online
Jonathan Lumby, The Lancashire Witch-Craze (Carnegie)
Margaret Murray, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, available online
Edgar Peel and Pat Southern, The Trials of the Lancashire Witches (Nelson)
Robert Poole, ed., The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (Manchester University Press)
Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, available online
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin)
John Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (Ams Pr Inc)
Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits (Sussex Academic Press)
Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr. Dee (Flamingo)