Sunday, 29 January 2012

Witches of Connecticut

As I move my discussion away from the Virginia and Maryland colonies and closer to the location of the most famous North American witch trials of Salem, more pre-Salem trials can be uncovered. In Connecticut, Alse Young (sometimes written as Alice Young or Achsah Young) was the first to hang for being a witch in New England. Little else is known about the case, other than she was executed on May 26, 1647. She is believed to have been the wife of a land owner, and their daughter was accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts thirty years after her mother's death.

More is known about Mary Johnson. There are two Mary Johnson's listed in the Connecticut records. One was tried in 1647, and the other in 1648. It's not clear whether they were the same women, but the Mary Johnson of 1648, a servant, left a definite record. Her troubles began in 1646 when she was accused of being a thief. For that crime, she was whipped.

In 1648, she was brought up on charges of witchcraft which she confessed to under duress. Apparently, the devil helped her with household chores and scaring the hogs. She admitted to uncleanness "both with men and Devils."

Mary gave birth to a child in prison, who became an indentured servant to Mary's jailer until he was twenty-one. In June 1650, Mary was hanged.

Little documentation seems to remain about John and Joan Carrington, who were executed for being witches.

In 1651, Thomas Allyn killed Henry Styles when his musket bumped a tree and accidentally fired. Thomas was found guilty of the murder "by misadventure" and fined. Unfortunately for Lydia Gilbert, Styles had roomed at her house, and she owed him some money.

Two years after Styles's death, Lydia was charged with the accident by giving "entertainment to Sathan." With the devil's help, she had "killed... Henry Styles, besides other witchcrafts." No record remains, but it's presumed that she hanged.

Elizabeth Godman's troubles began in 1653. She lived in the home of Stephen Goodyear, the Deputy Governor of New Haven colony. Goodyear had inherited the estate because there were no male heirs in Elizabeth's family. Several neighbors accused her of witchly deeds, such as sickly children, a woman falling into "verey strang fitts," a "dreadful noise" that put another woman "in great feare and trembling," a chicken dying, and other instances of people having fits. Several people said that Elizabeth had lain with the devil and "Hobbamocke" (an Algonquian spirit for the disembodied souls of the dead) was her husband. For these acts, she was arrested but later released.

In August 1655, Elizabeth was again accused of witchcraft. Goodyear told her to find another place to live, so of course the plantation had many disturbances of apparitions, strange lights, and noises. On this occasion, she was released from prison with a warning, but brought before the court again in October. Even though suspicions of her being a witch remained strong, she went to live with the family of Thomas Johnson until her natural death in 1660.

I'll blog more about the Connecticut witches next time.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 22 January 2012

17th Century Beauty

Lady at her Toilette 1660 - ter Borch

In the 21st Century, we are fortunate to have multi-billion pound companies who offer women – and men – every beauty aid imaginable to stave off the encroaching years. For the more annually challenged, there is plastic surgery and Botox to make us feel good. Not all these treatments,  are enjoyable, but  pure luxury compared to what our 17th century sisters went through to improve their appearance.
In the 1600's, they believed a thick layer of filth would keep them strong and healthy, and that water  spread diseases by penetrating the pores of the skin and infecting the bloodstream. Baths were infrequent, although those who could afford to changed their linen undergarments regularly. This poor health and hygiene, together with the use of poisonous materials like white lead, meant a woman was thought to be 'past her prime at 20, decayed at four and 20, and old and insufferable at 30.'

Hannah Woolley,  a  maid-turned-writer  born in 1625, was probably the first woman to earn a living publishing  books on household management. Her manual, The Ladies' Dictionary, published in 1694, set out the rules of etiquette for women during the reign of William and Mary.

A 17th century lady was advised to use goose fat to shape up, whether to eat or smear on her wobbly bits is not specified, coupled with some non-strenuous exercise. No jogging round Green Park, such practices were considered far too undignified an activity for a lady. Crash diets are not new, for Hannah’s advice for rapid weight loss was to, ‘bathe in claret wine infused with "wormwood, calamint, chamomile, sage and squinath*". [*a kind of rush, whose flowers were used in medicines.] Another remedy was to brew up a foul mixture of chicken and goose grease, pine, rosin, pitch and turpentine in an earthenware pot, which was mixed with wax, cooled, and then applied, "to the place that Languishes, or does not equally Thrive", and allowed to set into a plaster.

Diet recommendations were strange, in that the book suggests food should be, ‘sweet and nourishing,' and to avoid anything salt, sharp, bitter or too hot. Ms Wooley recommends new eggs, veal, mutton, capon, but there is no mention of fruit or vegetables, which were considered unnecessary to good health.

However starving was not recommended."Bodies that are very Lean and Scragged, we must own, cannot be very Comely: It is a contrary Extream to Corpulency and the Parties Face always seems to carry Lent in it."

In matters of love, complimenting a woman on her décolletage may not go down to well in modern society, but was the fastest route to a lady's heart in Restoration England. Author John Gough advises men to tell their prospective lover that "Her breasts are a pair of Maiden-unconquered Worlds", or that "Her breasts are twins where Lillies grow". Or "Her breasts are the soft Pillows of love" and "Her breasts are two Ivory balls of listing pleasure".

Gough says sleeping on your back; "causes deafness, disturbs the fore-part of the brain, and procures the night-mare" He also says that amorous women are more ticklish than others, "because their skins are more loose, soft and delicate", and that women are "more craftily revengeful than men, by reason of the weaknesse of their natures; what they cannot do by force, they maintain by subtility."

Hannah Woolley’s first-date etiquette says that in answer to the question: ‘Is it proper for a Woman to yield at the first address, though to a man she love?" she says, ‘There is no such want of Man yet that thanks to our French and Irish enemies, that you Ladies should be in such great haste to yield as the First Appearance of a Foe.’ Ms Woolley disapproved of women wearing make-up: "A painted face is enough to destroy the Reputation of her that uses it." 

However, since Elizabethan times, both men and women of the court wore make-up. By the 17th century, rouge became a class indicator, as prostitutes rouged their lips and cheeks to mimic the effects of sexual arousal as a signal to their male “suitors” of things to come. And not just on their lips and cheeks, but nipples and genitals too as an enhancement to arousal for their clients.
A pale complexion indicated a lady was wealthy enough to spend her time on indoor, gentle pursuits and sometimes this was preserved by wearing masks outdoors.  To add palour to the skin, ladies would mix powdered white chalk or white lead with white of egg and vinegar. This made a smooth shiny finish, but ladies had to be careful not to laugh or the new ‘skin’ would crack.

Other advice was to: ‘wash in your own urine, or with rosewater mixed with wine, else make a decoction of the rinds of lemon.’ Samuel Pepys wife, Elizabeth was reported to have tried this.

Rouged cheeks were obtained by the application of cerise powder (white lead with red colouring), or with sheets of Spanish paper, bought dyed red to rub on the skin. Lips were reddened with fruit juice or cochineal.

A lady’s dressing room was decorated with silk hangings, with lotions and creams kept in china and clay pots stored in elaborately carved wooden boxes. Vanity was no longer a sin, but a virtue and a lady’s toilette was often carried out with an audience of callers.
Lady At Her Toilette-Utrecht School

Lead and mercury were, of course, toxic, and if used too often, would eat away the flesh. In less serious cases lead resulted in scars and blemishes. Thus it became the fashion for both men and women to wear patches on the face to disguise them. 'Patches' were cut into a huge variety of shapes and patterns, including stars, diamonds, crescent moons and even a tiny coach and horses. Seventeenth-century street peddlers used to sing this rhyme:

Heer patches are of ev’ry cut for pimples and for scarrs
Heer’s all the wand’ring planett signs
And some of the fixed starrs.
Already gummed to make them stick
They need no other sky
Nor starrs, for Lilly for to view to tell your fortunes by.
Come lads and lasses, what do you lack
Here’s weare of all prices
Here’s long and short
Here’s wide and straight
Heer are things of all sizes.
Bourse of Reformation,1640

Ladies have always liked to admire themselves, but mirrors were a rare item in the 1600’s, much prized and very expensive.  First made by the Venetians by backing glass with silvery tin or mercury; a process kept secret until it was smuggled to Paris by craftsmen working for the king of France. The craft spread throughout Europe, and George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham became patron of a mirror factory in Vauxhall, south London.

Ms Wooley didn’t confine her advice to the physical. She says: ‘It is not necessary to read many books, but to read the best. The forbidding of idle books makes young people more curious to read them’.

It appears nothing much has changed in either human vanity or youthful rebelliousness.

Resource: The Raucous Royals.  A really informative and fun website about all aspects of Historical Royal Characters

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Witch Persecutions, Women, and Social Change: Germany 1560-1660

PART FOUR, Last in a series

Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three

The late 16th and early 17th century was an era of radical social, economic, and religious change. As women had much to lose, they had reason to rebel. And they remained a threat to the new social order. Art of this period often depicted women as insubordinate and wanton: beating their husbands, swilling wine, and lustfully dragging men to bed (Merchant 133). Reformer John Knox was of the opinion that if a woman was presumptuous enough to rise above a man, she must be "repressed and bridled" (Ibid 145). This was one of the most bitterly misogynistic eras ever known.

Political and religious leaders seemed terrified by their fear that witches had organized themselves into a secret female society, as described in Kramer and Sprenger's Malleus Maleficarum and King James's Daemonologie, among other works.

During witch trials, the witchfinders obsessively tried to force the accused to describe what went on at the alleged sabbat and to name the other women she had seen there. Georg Pictorious, a physician and scholar at the University of Freiburg in Germany, believed that witch persecutions were the only way humanity might be saved from these evil women. He maintained that if all the witches "are not burned, the number of these furies swells up in such an immense sea that no one could live safe from their spells and charms" (Midelfort 59).

In the 1970s and 1980s, some feminist historians such as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English drew on Margaret Murray's study from the 1920s, The Witch Cult of Western Europe, to try to prove that there was indeed a secret society of women who practiced magic as part of an organized pagan cult. (See Ehrenreich and English's Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers)

While these speculations are very interesting, scant evidence exists to support this theory and most of it is based on torture-induced confessions.

It is, however, safe to state that people during the period of the witch persecutions sincerely believed and feared the existence of a secret female society.

Witches were believed to be a threat to both Christianity and to the middle class as it struggled to gain social authority (Hoher 46). The anti-puritan, plebian culture of lower class women stood in the way of the new values of the emerging bourgeois society. The stereotype of an organization of women out of control of society, women who cursed their enemies and mocked Christianity with their bizarre orgies, is perhaps indicative of an actual grain of reality behind the public fears. Hoher suggests that the rapidly changing society in Early Modern times, the role of the individual in a world that seemed increasingly confusing and uncertain, led to a collective insecurity--a fear that society would regress into old feudal traditions and chaos.

This fear was taken out brutally on those who would not integrate into the new order. The continuing disorder of the rural plebian culture and the refusal to conform to the new system took shape in the paranoia of the witch craze. Women, who according to Thomas Aquinas, Kramer, Sprenger, and others, were by nature weak-willed and sensual, were feared as the chief representatives of this rebellion--the chaos of uncontrolled nature and sexuality that must be subdued. Thus, it was these disorderly, uncontrollable women who were the most feared and hated. For the new order to survive, these women must be brutally exterminated (Ibid 42).

In examining the chronology of the witch trials, we see that the first trials targeted mainly poor, elderly women. As time went on and rich people and men started being accused, the witch hunts were considered to have got out of hand and they lost popular support. By this time, however, the new capitalism and religious order had been firmly established and the persecutions were no longer necessary.

This chronology reveals clearly what interests were at stake. The earliest trials of the 1560s focused almost exclusively on poor, older women. In the early trials of Wiesensteig and Rothenburg, 95 to 100% of the accused fit this stereotype. As the witch hunts progressed and the accused were tortured to name other witches, more and more men and upper class people were implicated (Midelfort 179). In Ellwangen in 1615, "accusations and convictions of highly placed and undoubtedly honorable men must have shaken people into recognizing that something had gone wrong" (Ibid 105).

Slowly the caricature of the witch as an old peasant woman was breaking down, "leaving society with no protective stereotypes, no sure way of telling who might be, and who could not be, a witch" (Ibid 182). Witch hunting so thoroughly shook up normal bonds of social trust that the most respected members of the community were no longer immune. The trials began to draw more and more criticism. Finally in 1672, the council of Altdorf in Schwaben declared all accusations of witchcraft illegal (Ibid 82). By this time, the persecutions had accomplished their original goal--the subjugation of rebellious lower class women and firmly entrenching those who survived the witch hunts into a subordinate domestic role. By the late 17th century we have no more illustrations of threatening, insubordinate women asserting their power.

Why this emphasis on poor and elderly women and why the last half of the 16th and first half of the 17th century? This period was crucial for the development of modern capitalism, a stricter moral code, and the placement of women into a narrowly defined domestic sphere, with utter economic dependence on their father or husband. The women who would most likely resist, at least in the early years of the persecutions, would be the older peasant women who remembered and clung to the old ways of plebian agrarian culture, the domestic economy, and the social and economic power they enjoyed. Such women would not easily relinquish their economic independence, their right of subsistence, or their personal freedom. The young woman beating her husband with her distaff, the symbol of her economic independence, in the early 16th century, became the old woman accused of witchcraft fifty years on. Note that in the 16th century illustrations I have included here, the old witch is depicted not with a broomstick but with her distaff.

Post-menopausal women were unburdened by pregnancies and childbirth. This gave them more freedom, time, and energy to stir up trouble. The accused witches' descriptions of the sabbat sound like the witch hunters' perversion of the joys of plebian peasant culture--drinking, dancing, and uninhibited celebration and sexuality. The earthly pleasures of the older generation became the evil heresy of the next. Since the descriptions of the alleged sabbat were drawn by torture, we must be cautious when drawing conclusions, but it makes a certain amount of sense in this historical context.

The women who had been strong, economically independent, and pleasure-loving members of the previous generation would not throw away their old privileges easily, so they became the witches of the new generation, a threat to society that had to be violently subdued for the new order to become established.


Hoher, Friederike, "Hexe, Maria und Hausmutter--zur Geschichte der Weiblichket im Spaetmittelalter," Frauen in der Geschichte (Vol III) Kuhn/Rusen, (eds.). Padagogischer Verlag Schwann-Bagel, Dusseldorf, 1983.

Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1979.

Midelfort, Erik, H.C., Witch Hunting in Southwest Germany 1562-1684: The Social Foundations Stanford, 1972.

Ruether, Rosemary, New Woman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation, Seabury Press, New York, 1975.

Note: This essay was my Senior Paper I wrote in 1988 while an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. Some of the sources may seem dated, but I think most of the history still stands up.

In recent years some serious scholars have revisited Margaret Murray's contention that there was indeed a secret female society in Europe during the period of the witch persecutions. See Carlo Ginzburg's book Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath and Emma Wilby's brilliant new book The Visions of Isobel Gowdie.

This website provides an interesting and well-researched view into medieval folk magic and possible pagan survivals in evidence before the beginning of the witch persecutions.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Thirty Years War – A Beginners Guide Part 2

In my blog of October 11, I introduced you to the first phase of the Thirty Year’s War which was marked by the Bohemian revolt and the defeat of the French Huguenot cause.

A model of Heidleberg Castle in the mid 17th century
Since posting that blog, I have travelled to Germany and Austria and was thrilled to end up in Heidleberg and actually walk through the Castle, the seat of the Palatinate rulers and the home of the Winter King and Queen. As a historian it was fascinating to see "on the ground" how the history of Europe at the time tied together. Plenty of ideas for future blogs!

Back to the Thirty Year's War!

At the end of 1625 we had left the situation as following: 

Frederick V, Elector of Palatine and one time King of Bohemia is in exile, the Catholic Habsburgs are in full control of Bohemia, Holland and the Palatinate. The French Catholics, who are unaligned to the Habsburgs are in control of France. The Protestant cause is now resting in Holland, Denmark and Sweden (and over in the East where Transylvania has triumphed) and an uneasy peace is ensuing.

We now move to phase 2 of the Thirty Year’s War – the interventions by Denmark and Sweden. You may wonder why these two States became involved. While the defence of the Protestant Religion was certainly a reason, it was in their economic interest to keep the Baltic German States Protestant and friendly.

Round 3:  The “Emperor’s War” or the Low Saxon War (1625 -1629)

While the Bohemian War raged, the Lutheran (protestant) King Christian IV of Denmark had come to the aid of the protestant forces in Lower Saxony. Christian IV had one important commodity – money. Due gleaned from tolls on the Oresund (the strait separating Denmark from Scandanavia) and war reparation from Sweden. With aid from England (and, rather surprisingly, France), Christian raised a substantial force of 20,000 mercenaries.

Unknown to Christian, Ferdinand II had recruited Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian nobleman who had profited enormously for supporting the winning side in the Bohemian revolt. When Christian invaded Lower Saxony in 1626 he found his little force up against a force of up to 100,000 soldiers. He was forced to retire and Wallenstein marched north and occupying Denmark as far as the capital itself.

Christian IV was forced to sue for peace and in 1629 the Treaty of Lubeck was signed which allowed Christian to keep Denmark as long as he stayed out of the German States. Denmark was out of the war.

End of Round 1:  Denmark is out. In the next 2 years the Emperor assumes more German territory and the death of Gabriel Bethlan, the protestant ruler of Transylvania, marks the fall of the Protestant cause in the East.

Round 4:  Sweden to the rescue! (1630 - 1635)

King Gustavus Adophus of Sweden
The warrior king, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden is a blog subject in his own right. His intervention in the wars, turned the tables on the Emperor’s ambitions and ensured Sweden remained a major influence in European affairs until well into the eighteenth century.

Like Christian IV of Denmark, Gustavus Adolphus was subsidised by France and by the Dutch and in 1630 Swedish forces entered the arena through the Duchy of Pomerania, defeating the Catholic League at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. With an army composed mainly of German and Scottish mercenaries, he marched south, virtually unopposed.

The Emperor was forced to once again call on the aid of Wallenstein, whom he had dismissed in 1630 and did not entirely trust. The Swedish defeated Wallenstein at the Battle of Lutzen in 1632 but Gustavus Adolphus was killed in that battle.

Wallenstein became involved in trying to broker a peace between the two sides and in 1633 Ferdinand fearing Wallenstein would switch sides, arranged for his arrest but Wallenstein was killed by one of his own officers when he attempted to contact the Swedes.  With Gustav Adolphus dead, the Swedes were defeated at the battle of Nordlingen in 1634 and driven out of the south of Germany.

In 1635 the Peace of Prague was signed in which an amnesty was granted to those who had sided with the Swedes. It was agreed that the Lutheran rulers of northeast Germany would be protected, the armies of the German states were assumed into the Imperial army and the German princes were forbidden from treating with each other.  

The Peace of Prague did not involve the Swedish who still occupied the northern states of Germany and nor did it satisfy the French because of the power it gave to the Habsburgs.

End of Round 4:  The Swedish forces are in occupation in the northern part of Germany. The Habsburgs still control Bohemia, Austria, Spain and the Low Countries.

The Swedes and the French came together for the final phase of the Thirty Year’s War.

Round 5:  The French connection (1635 -1648)

You would think that the French, being Catholic, would have supported the Imperial cause, but France (notably Cardinal Richlieu) felt threatened by the rising power of the Habsburgs whose territories now bordered France on all sides. In 1635 Richelieu declared war on Spain and in 1636 and the Holy Roman Empire in 1636. France aligned with Sweden and opened the offensive in the Low Countries and Germany.

Initially the French suffered disaster with the Imperial forces entering French territory and threatening Paris itself but with the aid of the Swedes they pushed the Spanish back and began to regain the lost German territories. At the second battle of Breitenfeld (outside Liepzig) in 1642, the Swedish general Torstenson, inflicted a massive defeat on the Imperial army, forcing Ferdinand III, now the Holy Roman Emperor (following the death of his father in early 1637).

In 1643 Denmark re-entered the war, but this time on the Imperial side. Torstenson and the Swedish navy made short work of the Danes, neutralising them. Over the next few years Torstenson drove through Germany, driving the Imperial army before him and culminating in the battle of Jankau near Prague in 1644. Meanwhile the French under the Duke de Conde defeated the Bavarian forces at second battle of Nordlingen in 1645. In 1648, the Swedes entered Prague and the Thirty Years War was over. Over the next few months a series of treaties were signed, known collectively as the Peace of Westphalia.

The fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire following the Peace of Westphalia
End Round 5:  Only Austria/Bohemia remains in the Habsburg hands, the remainder of the Holy Roman Empire is fragmented into individual states. France and Spain remain at war for another eleven years.

The Human price of the War:  It is estimated that the population of Germany by 15-30% with some parts (such as Westphalia) losing 75% of its population to disease and famine.

Involvement:  This graph illustrates the complex involvement of the European powers in the struggle.

Directly against Emperor
Indirectly against Emperor
Directly for Emperor
Indirectly for Emperor

This is very much a simplistic overview of what was an extraordinarily complex political and religious scenario. It has, however, helped me clarify what the major issues and movements were in the period and I hope you have found it interesting.

For further reading, I commend you to good old Wikipedia which just abounds in resources on this subject.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Hoydens New Year!

While the Hoydens all share a burning passion for all things seventeenth century sometimes our writing takes away from our first love and we would like to take this opportunity to recap our 2011 and look forward to 2012 (and beyond) with some exciting new stories coming from these talented writers.

2011 New Releases from the Hoydens:

Culloden SpiritTrencarrow Secret

Anita Davison celebrated the release of two new books in June and September:  Trencarrow Secret and Culloden Spirit:   both Victorian "gothic" novels.

Alison Stuart released a collection of her published short stories:  Tower of Tales


Coming in 2012:

Mary Sharratt's latest book ILLUMINATIONS about the extraordinary nun, Hildegard of Bingen will be released . Mary writes "...My new book ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN will be published in October 2012 to coincide with Hildegard's upcoming canonization and her elevation to a Doctor of the Church. There are only thirty-three Doctors of the Church and only three have been women, so this is a major step forward to recognizing Hildegard's legacy as a great woman of ideas. Hildegard was a 12th century abbess, composer, theologian, scientist, visionary, and healer."

Sandra Gulland will be launching her own e-book imprint, Sandra Gulland Ink. All Sandra's books will be made available in e-format through this new imprint.

And looking further into the future:

In Spring 2013 Sandra Gulland will release a new book, the  (as yet unnamed) true story of a maid, Claude des Oeillets, the daughter of itinerant actors who rose to become the confidential attendant to the most powerful woman in the 17th century French court of the Sun King: Madame de Montespan, mistress of the charismatic King Louis IV. 

In the meantime: 

Kim Murphy has been working on a sequel to The Dreaming  and her first non-fiction title A Fate Worse than Death:  Rape During the Civil War. We have been following her research trips to the archives with interest! 

Alison Stuart is keeping her fingers crossed and hoping that her hard work of 2011(her first year of writing full time) will result in some good news in the new year. 

Wishing all our followers a happy and successful 2012!

Alison, Mary, Anita, Kim and Sandra