The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Tryal of Witches at Bury St Edmonds, March 10, 1665

The Lowestoft Witchcraft Trials were one of the most infamous judicial proceedings to have taken place in East Anglia. They are covered in great detail elsewhere at and has been the subject of several books including 'A Trial of Witches - a Seventeenth-century Witchcraft Prosecution' by Gilbert Geis and Ivan Bunn [Routledge, London, 1997].

In October 1877, the Bury Free Press printed an extract from the report of the trial that gives a good flavour of the trial, and its extraoardinary absurdity

Bury Free Press October 13th 1877.

The Lowestoft Witches

From “Suffolk Notes and Queries in Ipswich Journal )

In vol, vi of Howell’s “State Trials” pp, 647-702 is a reprint of a “Tryal of Witches at Bury St Edmonds, March 10, 1665, before Sir Matthew Hale.
(The complete original title has already been given by J.W. in Note 31, I, so I need not repeat it here)

This is one of the fullest and most valuable records of Suffolk folklore two centuries since, the following extracts will serve, I think to show.

At the Assizes and General Delivery, held at Bury St Edmonds, Rose Cullender and Amy Dunny, widows both of Leystoff in the County aforesaid, were severally indicted for bewitching Elizabeth and Anne Durent, Jane Bocking, Susan Chandler, William Durent, Elizabeth and Deborah Pacey and the said Cullender and Duny, being arraigned upon the said indictments, pleaded Not Guilty, and afterwards, upon a long evidence were found Guilty and thereupon had Judgement to die for the same.”

“Three of the parties above named, viz, Anne Durent, Susan Chandler and Elizabeth Pacey and the said Cullender and Duny, being arraingned upon the same indictments, pleaded Not guilty: and afterwards upon a long evidence, were found Guilty, and thereupon had Judgement to die for the same”.

Three of the parties above named, viz, Anne Durent, Susan Chandler and Elizabeth Pacey were brought to Bury to the assizes and were in reasonable good condition; but that morning they came into the hall to give instructions for the drawing of their bills of indictments, the three persons fell into strange and violent fits, shrieking out in a most sad manner, so they could not in any wise give any instructions to the court who were the course of their distemper, and that although they did after a certain space recover out of their fits, yet they were every one of them struck dumb, so that none of them could speak neither at that time, nor during the assizes until the conviction of the supposed witches.

As concerning William Durent, being an infant, his mother Dorothy Durent sworn and examined deposed in open court, that about the 10th of March nono Caroli Secundi, she having special occasion to go from home, and having none in her house to take care of her said child (it being suckling) desired Amy Duny her neighbour, to look to her child during her absence, for which she promised to pay her a penny:

But the said Dorothy Durent desired the said Amy not to suckle her child; and laid great charge upon her not to do it…

Nevertheless after the departure of this deponent, the said Amy did suckle the child; and after the return of the said Dorothy, the said Amy did acquaint her that she had given suck to the child, contrary to her command. Whereupon the deponent was very angry with the said Amy for the same; at which the said Amy was much discontented and used many high expressions and threatening speeches towards her, telling her, that she had as good to have done otherwise than to have found fault with her, and so departed out of her house, and that very night her son fell into strange fits of swounding; and was held in such terrible manner, that she was much affrighted therewith and so continued for divers weeks.

And the said examinant farther said, that she being exceedingly troubled at her child’s distemper, did go to a certain Dr Jacob who lived at Yarmouth, who had a reputation in the country, to help children who were bewitched; who advised her to hang up the child’s blanket in the Chimney-corner all day, and at night when she put the child to bed, to put it in the said blanket, and if she found anything in it, she should not be afraid, but throw it on the fire.

And this the deponent did accordingly to his direction; and at night when she took down the blanket with intent to put the child therein, there fell out of the same a great toad which ran up and down the hearth, and she having a young youth only in the house, desired him to catch the toad, and throw it on the fire, which the youth did accordingly, and held it there with the tongs; and as soon as it was on the fire it made a great and horrible noise; and after a space (there was a flashing in the fire like gun-powder, making a great noise like the discharge of a pistol ), and thereupon the toad was no more seen nor heard.

It was asked by the court, if that was the noise and flashing, there was not the substance of the toad seen to consume the in fire ?. And it was answered by the said Dorothy Durent, that after the flashing and noise, there was no more to be seen than if there had been none there.

The next day there came a young woman, a kinswoman of the said Amy, and a neighbour of this deponent, and told this deponent, that her aunt (meaning the said Amy) was in a most lamentable condition, having her face all scorched with fire, and was sitting alone in the house in a smock without any fire.

And thereupon this deponent went into the house of the said Amy Duny to see her, and found her in the same condition as was related to her; for her face, her legs, and thighs, which this deponent saw, seemed very much scorched and burnt with fire, at which this deponent seemed much to wonder. And asked the said Amy how she came into that sad condition? And the said Amy replied, she might thank her for it, for that she this deponent was the cause thereof, but that she should live to see some of her children dead, and she on crutches. S.L.G.


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