Accusation of Witchcraft SP16/269 f174

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Our Education Document of the Month for January is this record of the examinations of Margaret Johnson, Mary Spencer, and Frances Dickenson, women accused of witchcraft in Lancaster, 15 June, 1634. (Catalogue ref: SP 16/269 f.174)

A key component of witchcraft trials was the examination of the accused by somebody in authority, when they would be presented with a series of questions and asked to give their account. In this document the Bishop of Chester describes the answers of 3 women accused.

This document features in our upcoming Witchcraze Themed Collection, coming soon.


Owner: The National Archives UK
Source: Flickr Commons
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    The National Archives UK

    • 08/Jan/2020 10:11:57

    Transcript The Examinations of Margaret Johnson, Mary Spencer and Frances Dickenson, taken at Lancaster the 13th of June Upon Command of the right honourable the Lords of his Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council. By John Lord Bishop of Chester. Margaret Johnson widow, aged 60 years of thereabouts, says that she hath been a witch about 6 years last past, and that she was brought there upon some troubles and vexations of her bad neighbours. And, about that time walking in the highway in Marsden in the parish of Whalley, there appeared to her a man in black attire clothing trussed with black points laces or ties who said to her: if she would give him her soul, she should want nothing but should have power to hurt whom she would both man and beast. But she then refused and thereupon he vanished. In that manner he oftentimes returned to her, till at last she yielded to him, and he gave her into her hand some silver and gold (as she thought) but it vanished soon again and so knows not how, for she was ever bare and poor though he often gave her the like. And she asked his name and he called himself Mamilion and she said that most commonly at his coming to her, he hath the use of her body, and she had some lust and pleasure thereby. And after this he appeared to her in other shapes: as sometimes of a brown coloured dog, sometimes as white cat, and at other times like a hare, and as those shapes did suck her blood “at 2 duggs or papps” in her private parts, one whereof is as big (she says) as her little fingers and half as long, the other less. But since she lay in prison they have shrank up and grown less then formerly. She says that she never hurt man or woman by Witchcraft, only there was one Henry Heap her neighbour, who called her Witch (before she was one) whereupon her spirit willed her to hurt him, but she assented not to him: yet (for-getting herself) she says that Heap was dead, ere before her spirit advised her to it. She also says that there were 7 or 8 others of her Neighbours who were Witches, but most of them are dead, namely one Jane wife of Roger Cartwells of Colne, the rest she cannot name, but says they were fetched in carts to Ladyham, to the Justices ere she came to prison. And she says the rest of the Witches which are condemned and now in Gaol were unknown to her, till she was committed and she never was acquainted or in company with any of them before. And that she is in her conscience persuaded that Wilkinson and his wife now in prison are not witches (nor many others who stand now condemned for witchcraft) because he daily prays and reads and seems to her to be a godly man, as do diverse different of the rest. And that she herself did diligently frequent the Church till her soul compact with the Devil, but from thence she seldom went to any Church.

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    John of Wirral

    • 11/Jan/2020 12:57:16

    Is there any knowledge of the outcome of such an examination?

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    The National Archives UK

    • 13/Jan/2020 10:57:13

    We believe these women were accused as part of the group of 20 accused in Lancaster in 1634 by a ten year old boy, Edmund Robinson. Edmund eventually admitted to making up his accusation but the accused remained in prison. Our Witchcraze collection, which we hope will launch later this week, shows documents related to other cases with some suggestion of the outcomes of trials and accusations.