Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Flintshire (PART TWO)
by J. Gwynn Wiliams, M.A.
Journal of the Flintshire Historical Society, 1975-1976, 27, p. 5-35
The first part of this study concluded with an examination of the case of Dorothy Griffith. The next case to be considered also concerned the parish of Llanasa. It involved, in addition, some of the inhabitants of the adjoining parishes of Holywell and Whitford. Hugh ap Edward of Llanasa, yeoman, testified that his son, Charles Hughes, was undertenant to another yeoman, John Evans, of Calcoed, Holywell parish, who was, in turn, a tenant to Sir Edward Mostyn of Talacre. When Charles Hughes took the lands from John Evans it was agreed that the latter should erect three bays of building and that Charles Hughes should pay twenty shillings towards the cost thereof. Charles performed his part of the agreement but John Evans erected only two bays and refused to build the third. Charles then repaired to Mr. William Conway, steward to Sir Edward Mostyn, and took the said tenements from Mr. Conway at the same yearly rent as he had formerly taken them from John Evans. Charles thus became an immediate tenant to Sir Edward, much to the displeasure of John Evans, who, for this reason alone, according to Hugh ap Edward, now prosecuted Charles. Hugh ap Edward further declared that in or about August 1690 he himself was at the house of his son, Charles, close to John Evans's dwelling, when Gwen, the wife of John Evans, called upon him and said that Charles deserved to be punished rather than defended by him. She added that her husband had been to a fortune teller who informed him 'that it was a neighbour one end of the first tree of whose house laid upon the chymney was the person that had maimed his, the said John Evans's cattle and that she knew of noe first tree that soe laid save in the said Charles Hughes his house and that therefore she suspected that the said Charles Hughes had maimed her cattle'.
Quite apart from the obvious question of unfulfilled obligation, the case is of special interest in that it was a dispute between Catholics. Sir Edward Mostyn of Talacre, the landowner, came from the branch of the Mostyn family which remained true to the Old Faith, as we have already seen. His agent, William Conway, was listed as a recusant by the vicar of Llanasa and was in fact presented as such at the Court of Great Sessions in 1679. Hugh ap Edward, his wife and Charles Hughes were also among the thirty-three Catholics reported to Bishop William Lloyd ten years before the quarrel erupted. The fact that Gwen, the wife of John Evans, was presented as a recusant at the Court of Great Sessions in 1696 demonstrates clearly that this dispute does not in any sense reflect animosity between two rival creeds. And insofar as may be ascertained, all the sixteen members of the gentry who spoke in favour of Charles Hughes, the Catholic, were themselves Protestants.
No further action appears to have been taken against the accused. The intervention of the signatories was doubtless decisive, for they certified to the Justice of Great Sessions that they had known Charles Hughes for several years, that he was 'a laborious man and of honest demeanour and conversacion and well reputed amongst his neighbours,' that they had never heard that he had hurt the cattle of his neighbours or had been vexatious and that he had been wrongfully prosecuted by John Evans. All the sixteen cannot be positively identified. William Hanmer, esquire, of Bettisfield, who headed the list, was High Sheriff in 1691 and Thomas Eyton of Trimley, in the parish of Hope, in 1683, whilst the Thomas Lloyd who held office in 1690 and 1694 may have been another signatory. Pyers Pennant, head of the second largest household in Whitford parish in 1681, and Peter Pennant were the great grandfather and grandfather respectively of the celebrated Thomas Pennant. A further six were, in all probability, minor gentry in Whitford parish, though it is possible that Thomas Jones was the Justice of the Peace who lived in Halkyn. Thomas Mostyn is likely to be the Calcoed magistrate who was on the bench at one time, rather than the recusant from Kelston. Samuel Mostyn was a gentleman residing at Calcoed, whilst John Ffoulkes may well have been the captain of that name from Ysgeifiog. Charles Hughes, like Dorothy Griffith, had stout defenders and the Catholic yeoman's son had good cause to be grateful to the Protestant gentry who certified on his behalf that he was not guilty of the charges brought against him by John Evans, whose wife was to be punished as a recusant.
We turn next to the parish of Dyserth, where several witnesses stated in the Court of Arches in 1638 that Henry John James was a sorcerer and a conjurer and had engaged in witchcraft. The main testimony against him was that he had bewitched two oxen belonging to John Winn Edwards, the father-in-law of Ralph Hughes, of Llewerllyd, during Easter 1637. Edwards's head husbandman, according to his own testimony, had been ploughing near his master's house when one of his oxen fell down upon its knees; after being punched by the boy who drove with the goad it arose and the day's work was completed. The following day the ox and its fellow who led the team were very slack and weak; the next day they were weaker and would not eat. The only explanation the head husbandman could offer his master was that they had been bewitched. The oxen continued ill for two days and Edwards recalled that at the time they had fallen ill Henry John James had been at Edwards's house where he had quarrelled with Edwards's wife concerning money he sought for corn. Edwards feared that Henry had then injured his oxen and desired the head husbandman to go to Llewerllyd to ask Ralph Hughes to send Henry to bless the oxen, so that his charm, 'if he had any', would cease. On arrival at Llewerllyd he discovered Hughes and John Pearce, clerk, in the parlour and Hughes urged the clergyman to prevail upon Henry to return to Edwards's house. After evening prayer, Pearce did as was requested but at first to no avail. At length, Henry, when entreated by Pearce, agreed to ask God to bless the oxen, which daily began to mend and were able to work that week. The head husbandman added that according to common fame in the neighbourhood Henry was a poor man and was skilled in sorcery and witchcraft and that he himself remembered that Henry was passing by when the first ox fell upon its knees.
These events had taken place in 1637, but John Browne, of Dyserth, labourer, believed that twelve years before, Henry, 'a beggarly fellow', had similarly bewitched a hog belonging to Browne's father which had wandered into Henry's garden and had been turned out. The hog recovered following Henry's prayers to God. A miner's wife considered that Henry's powers extended to human beings and that he had bewitched Randle Peers, with whom he had fallen out and who believed that Henry was the cause of his illness, which proved fatal. A bachelor from Cwm said that Henry was a poor man of no credit or repute amongst his neighbours, that he was a liar and was reputed to be a sorcerer, and that he personally had been injured by him during the last year.
Coincidence, hearsay and perhaps uncomfortable consciences formed the main basis of the charges. The very presence of Henry immediately aroused suspicion when one of the oxen fell sick, for this was not an isolated occurrence. There had been the strange affairs of the hog which had recovered and of Randle Peers who had died. Common fame told heavily against Henry, for six of the twelve witnesses had no hesitation in linking him with sorcery. He had doubtless encouraged them to believe that he possessed supernatural powers; indeed, well-attested claims could enable a poor man to extract a loaf, a jug of milk and even money when all other inducements had failed. Although reluctant to return to Edwards's house, he had involved God's blessing upon the two oxen, which had at once begun to improve, and it may be surmised that he had made the most of the coincidence. Edwards had not at first been wholly convinced of Henry's powers, but he evidently felt that they were worth testing and the results probably removed all doubt. It is significant that the clergyman responded to Ralph Hughes's request to entreat Henry to bless the oxen. His diocesan would scarcely have approved of such overtures to a person already widely believed to be a sorcerer. He may have been unwilling to displease Ralph Hughes, the most powerful man in the parish, and it is possible, in turn, that Hughes's encounters with Henry in the 1630s predisposed him to take more seriously the charges of witchcraft against Dorothy Griffith, who appeared before him in 1656, than did the principal inhabitants of Llanasa.
There are hints in the testimonies that Henry may have been unfairly treated and that those responsible had speedily associated their misfortunes with their own unsatisfactory behaviour towards him. The hog which fell sick had already trespassed in Henry's garden; Randle Peers had fallen out with Henry before his mortal illness, whilst John Winn Edwards's wife seems not to have given Henry money for corn. The sense of guilt towards the supposed witch or sorcerer is in fact far more explicitly stated in the charges against Anne Ellis of Penley, which will be considered presently. The immediate purpose of assembling these testimonies was to discredit Henry as a witness and in order to understand why such damaging statements were made it is necessary to examine the circumstances in which the case arose.
It is unlikely that the Court of Arches would ever have heard of Henry John James but for the fact that he was a witness in a dispute relating to a pew in Dyserth Church between Ralph Hughes, esquire, of Llewerllyd, and Henry ap Harry Gregor II, both of the parish of Dyserth. A glance at the family tree indicates that Ralph Hughes and Henry ap Harry Gregor II belonged to two branches of a family stemming from a common great-great grandfather. The descendants of Thomas ap William and of his brother, Piers ap William, had long been in disagreement. In 1591 the Consistory Court of St. Asaph had given judgment against Harry Gregor, the grandfather of Henry and Harry Gregor II, and for Hugh Piers, the grandfather of Ralph Hughes, in a case also concerning a pew in Dyserth Church. In James I's reign there were actions in Star Chamber between the two branches and if literal credence were given to the action and cross-action it might be supposed that Henry ap Harry Gregor I's family lived in a state of war with Hugh Piers and with at least two of his sons. But whereas it is not prudent to accept the highly-coloured Star Chamber evidence at its face value, yet there is every indication that relations were exacerbated by the success of William ap Hugh and of his son Ralph in building up an estate for themselves at Llewerllyd. Since Ralph Hughes was the Justice of the Peace before whom charges of witchcraft were made against Dorothy Griffith, there are further grounds for considering the rise of this family.
William Hughes, gentleman, as he was described in Chancery proceedings in 1673, was said to have held land worth £200 p.a. in Flintshire. In 1620 he had apparently 'obtained of Richard St. George a Pattent for a Crest . . . which was a Demi Lion Argent holding in his paws a Rose proper Issuing out of a Coronet'. Ralph, the son, had in 1634 purchased lands to the value of £120 in Llewerllyd from William Parry Gregor of Axton, gentleman, the brother of his adversary Henry ap Gregor II, whilst Ralph's daughter-in-law, Judith, had brought with her a portion of £400 upon her marriage to Eubule, Ralph's heir. As High Sheriff for Flintshire responsible for collecting Ship Money in 1639, Ralph had eagerly defended his county 'when one great mize comes in the necke of an other'. In December 1643 he and his family were given protection from plunder and in January 1646 Thomas Mytton, the parliamentary colonel, ordered that further protection should be extended to him and to his possessions. Of his actual beliefs we know little. In his will he expressed a desire 'to bee made partaker of lief everlasting with the elect in Heaven' and although he cannot be associated with the Saints during their brief period of power he was certainly one of the moderates upon whom the Commonwealth and Protectorate came to depend. In his case there was, of course, no question of compounding for delinquency, yet when he died in 1660 he was encumbered with debts 'greate for soe small estate', in the words of his heir. Ralph had apparently overstretched his resources, perhaps in the acquisition of new lands, and his mining activities had not repaired his fortunes. When Eubule died, he asked to be buried 'att the eastside of the churchyard of Disserth under an Ewe tree where the graves of my ancestors are'. (The canopied tombs of the Hughes family of Llewerllyd may still be seen today under a gnarled yew tree.) Ralph, however, asked to be buried 'within the parish church of Disserth in decent manner without unnecessary charges'. The request occasions no surprise in view of his hard fight to establish his right to the seat and burial place in the chancel of Dyserth church, a fight which began in the Consistory Court of St. Asaph and which culminated in the Court of Arches in London.
The quarrel relating to the seat went back at least to 1591, as has been indicated. The right to a seat and to a burial place in church was much coveted as a symbol of social standing and one aspect of the controversy centred upon the transmission of such rights when part of the estate was sold. At the root of the discord was the undoubted fact that the Hughes branch was rising in the world, whereas the Gregors were a good deal less successful. In 1608 Henry ap Harry Gregor I was called a husbandman and although one of his sons, William Parry Gregor, was described as a gentleman in 1634 it is also true that the latter had sold lands in Llewerllyd to Ralph Hughes in the same year. William's brother, Henry ap Harry Gregor II, was given short shrift by Ralph Hughes, who spoke contemptuously of his social status. According to Ralph, 'the appellant payeth not much more than the 15th part of the church ley or any other taxe of that I paye . . .' He went on to speak derisively of one of the cottages inherited by Henry ap Harry Gregor II from his father. In doing so he gives us a glimpse, and a rare piece of seventeenth-century documentary evidence, of the cohabitation of men and of animals:
- In these man and beast have ever lived under the same rooffe.
During the course of the hearing witnesses produced by Ralph Hughes were asked a number of questions concerning witnesses produced by Henry ap Harry Gregor II. One of the latter was Henry John James who, as we have seen, was declared by several to be ill-affected towards Ralph Hughes, to be a sorcerer and a conjurer, and to have engaged in witchcraft. Had he been previously accused of these enormities in a court of law, it would be reasonable to expect some reference to have been made to former proceedings, but there is no indication that Henry John James was prosecuted for witchcraft either before or after 1638. The object of the statements in the Court of Arches is clear enough; it was to destroy his credibility as a witness on behalf of Henry ap Harry Gregor II.
The last case to be examined arose in Maelor Saesneg and it is well documented. Between 3 and 6 June 1657 Andrew Ellis, esquire, of Bangor Iscoed, a former governor of Hawarden, a son-in-law of the Puritan peer Lord Saye and Sele and now a Justice of the Peace. examined seven persons, all of Penley, concerning charges of witchcraft brought against Anne Ellis. In order to understand the nature of the accusations it is necessary to consider each testimony in turn.
In the summer of 1654, Elizabeth Jeffreys, fearing that Anne Ellis was the cause of her child's sickness, asked Anne to see the child. Anne complied and blessed the child, who recovered. Not long afterwards, she fell ill again and indicated that her distemper always coincided with her mother's quarrels with Anne. The child died about Whitsunday 1656.
Edward Ffoulke, labourer, declared that about Michaelmas 1656 a calf of his was ill from the Monday to the Thursday. His neighbours hoped that no one had looked upon it with an evil heart and he proceeded to the house of Roger ap Shone, where Anne Ellis lodged. She was not in, but a message was left for her to go to his house. On his return, he found that the calf was well on the way to recovery and the following morning Anne arrived, blessed Edward Ffoulke and all his cattle and was given meat.
Susan Addams deposed that about mid-summer 1656 she had gone to the mill, leaving her sixteen-year old daughter to milk the cows. The daughter, however, first went to fetch fire to the house of Roger ap Shone, where she met Anne Ellis, who asked her for milk. The daughter refused because she could not spare any and on her return to the field she saw a calf, weaned long before, sucking its dam in the adjoining field. When the calf was removed, the cow fell sick and so continued for three weeks. Susan Addams, having heard her neighbours talk, suspected Anne, whose services she then sought; Anne blessed the cow, which recovered suddenly.
Margaret Barnatt swore that upon the Wednesday following Whitsunday 1657 her child had a swelling in her head and that upon the Monday thereafter she shrieked pitifully for a quarter of an hour. When she had partially recovered, the child declared: 'Dady the catt was uppon my back and hath made me bleede.' The shrieking continued for a day or two and upon the advice of neighbours she caused her husband to fetch Anne Ellis, who blessed the child several times and would have touched her, but the child turned away.
Gwen Hughes, labourer, testified that about four years previously, in 1653, she had refused to give meat to Anne Ellis, who departed in some discontent. A sucking child of Gwen Hughes's at once fell sick and Gwen, suspecting that Anne had bewitched her, engaged the services of Elizabeth Jeffreys to persuade Anne to come to bless the child. Anne refused to do so for four days, during which time the child shrieked horribly and ate nothing. When Anne arrived the child speedily improved and was soon in perfect health. However, upon the Saturday before this testimony was given, Gwen's daughter, Margaret, aged five, had eaten bread belonging to Anne, who had become exceedingly angry. The child fell sick upon the Sunday and by Monday there was a lump the size of a hen's egg under her arm. On the Tuesday, Gwen went to a Justice of the Peace for a warrant against Anne; in the meantime, Anne and Elizabeth Jeffreys had been with the child, who had been blessed by Anne and who had begun to mend.
Elizabeth Taylor stated upon oath that her son, Richard Hughes, had been playing with Anne's children in 1649. Anne had cursed him, praying that he might become lame. Six months or so later, Richard was again playing at stool ball with other children at Anne's house, she being inside the house. As he struck the ball strongly, the boy fell and could not rise without considerable help; he had been in great pain ever since and he remained very lame. Elizabeth further testified that on Christmas Day 1656, Thomas Addams, junior, of Northwood, Shropshire, who had a boy ill in his house, where Anne had recently been, sent to ask Anne to his house to knit stockings. Anne was then living at Elizabeth's house and told the messenger that she had never knit hose for Addams, blushingly adding that he must have another purpose in view. That night Anne was restless and the following morning she left Elizabeth's house and was brought by Addams's miller to his master's house. The child thereafter got better. Elizabeth further stated that after Anne had fallen out with John Birch, of Overton Foreign, the latter soon fell ill. His children and friends were advised to take some thatch from the suspected person's house and burn it under the nose of John Birch if the suspected person did not appear. Anne was requested to bless Birch and upon her refusal Birch's daughter took part of the thatch, as recommended, and burnt it under her father's nose. John Birch recovered.
Such a bare outline of the accusations is sufficient to indicate that Anne Ellis had incurred widespread suspicion in Penley. According to Margaret Barnatt, she 'had a bad report to be a witch of all her neighbours'. Anne would doubtless have regarded herself as a conjurer, a cunning person or a white witch. In her own words, 'she hopeeth shee hath done good, for that God's blessing must doe good by those that have power and grace to speake it'. Others evidently thought differently and believed that Anne was in touch with the powers of darkness, not of light. According to Elizabeth Jeffreys, Anne had said that 'shee could goe to them that could put any desease upon any one'. In fact many demonologists considered that white witches were able to cast spells as well as remove them and several cunning people in England had found themselves accused of black witchcraft. Moreover, for many years Anne had done nothing to discourage the belief that she was to be feared. Challenged with responsibility for the lameness of Richard Hughes, Anne, far from denying the charge, had merely asked why it was that Richard had urinated down her chimney. Edward Ffoulke had heard reports that she was an ill-hearted woman. Gwen Hughes deposed that many people used to give to Anne at their doors more than to any other beggar 'out of feare' she might injure them or their cattle. Elizabeth Jeffreys averred that Anne could become extremely angry, was prone to mutter to herself and that 'when . . . displeased shee doth hurte'. It was out of fear, not love, that she had received Anne into her house and in her view 'it was better for her to keepe her then another for that shee was affrayd of her'. Indeed, Anne's movements over the years deserve attention. In 1649, she was living with her children in her own house; subsequently she had stayed with Elizabeth Taylor and later with Elizabeth Jeffreys. At one stage she had lived at Roger ap Shone's and her unexplained absence one night (to which there is reference in Edward Ffoulke's evidence) would have done little to allay suspicion in a closed community which mistrusted nightwalkers. She may, of course, have been upon her begging circuit, which certainly extended to Northwood, about eight miles away and just over the border in Shropshire. At all events, nocturnal disappearances would not be much liked by the people of Penley. Again, the curious claim by Margaret Barnatt's sick child that 'the catt was uppon my backe and hath made me bleede' must have sounded peculiarly sinister in an age which believed that witches kept a 'familiar', or devil, often in the shape of a domesticated animal, such as a cat or dog, and sometimes in the form of a toad, a wasp or a butterfly. Moreover, Anne's apparent success told against her. Anne's intervention on behalf of Edward Ffoulke's calf led to the gift of meat at his house and one of the reasons why Anne was feared, Gwen Hughes declared, was that when the cattle of the neighbourhood fell strangely sick they improved suddenly if Anne was summoned. Elizabeth Jeffreys's child recovered from her first illness after Anne's blessing, 'as is known to all the neighbours'. In short, as Keith Thomas has remarked, if the suspected person 'as a gesture of good faith . . . agreed to pray for the victim's recovery, this was only taken as the attempt of the witch to lift her spell'.
A careful reading of the case indicates that several persons felt a sense of guilt towards Anne Ellis. They had not always acted towards her in that spirit of neighbourliness which was one of the mainstays of village life and a central Christian duty. Susan Addams's daughter had refused Anne milk because she could not spare any: Gwen Hughes remembered that four years ago she had declined to give meat upon demand to Anne, who had departed discontented; Margaret Hughes and other children had eaten bread in Anne's house in her absence, that is, the bread of a person forced to beg for her living; John Birch was reputed to have fallen out with Anne. Most revealing of an uneasy conscience, perhaps, is the remark of Margaret Barnatt that when Anne came to her house for relief the previous Whitsunday she gave her some,'although not of the best'. Anne, it seems, had reasonable grounds to feel aggrieved and her antagonists some cause to feel guilty. In this background, when disaster struck child and beast, what was more natural than to suspect the person who had been refused charity and who was widely believed to be a witch?
Cases of this type were common in England and probably commonest of all in these instances where detailed information is available. To quote Keith Thomas once again: 'The important point is that, paradoxically, it tended to be the witch who was morally in the right and the victim who was in the wrong'. He draws attention to M. G. Marwick's discovery that in 60% of Cewa cases in Zambia the victim was guilty of moral inadequacy. It is probably true that the ancient custom of kindly behaviour towards a neighbour in distress was under greater pressure in such counties as Essex than in Stuart Wales. Many factors were at work, but the operation of the Poor Laws undoubtedly confused men's minds as to the proper attitude to the destitute at their doors. Public provision had by no means rendered needless the exercise of private charity, constantly urged by cleric and lay philanthropist, and in the uncertain area between the two there was a temptation and a tendency to refuse aid where formerly it might have been given. Often inner conflict upon this issue led to a demoralising turmoil of conscience. The laws of England, particularly recent additions to the Statute Book, were more widely observed in the Home Counties than in Wales. It is true that attitudes had hardened against indiscriminate almsgiving which had encouraged vagrants and beggars. Eubule Hughes, of Llewerllyd, for example, in his will of 1664 set aside forty shillings to be distributed in Dyserth churchyard 'amongst such as are really poore and not sturdye beggars'. But of formal arrangements there were few and the administration of the Poor Law was for the most part perfunctory and inadequate. Indeed, in 1681 it was baldly stated that the Act of 1601 had never operated in the whole of North Wales. This was an exaggeration because we know that collections for the poor were made from time to time; nevertheless, it is indisputable that the destitute depended for their survival in the main upon the benevolence of the well-disposed, either testamentary or, more frequently, in the form of door-to-door relief. Such, it may reasonably be supposed, was the practice at Penley, for we have no reason to conclude that the circumstances here were exceptional. Although poverty was not as severe in Penley as in parts of Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire or Anglesey, if we are to judge from Hearth Tax Returns, yet more than one in three of its householders (perhaps 36%) could be accounted poor by seventeenthcentury standards. The absence of an efficient poor-law administration meant that a widow such as Anne Ellis had to resort to begging in order to supplement her meagre earnings from the knitting of stockings, a part-time task performed probably in the house of her employer (especially if he lived some distance away) and under his hawk-like supervision. Widows and spinsters were especially vulnerable when the resources of the community were stretched to the uttermost to meet the needs of a population which had expanded rapidly during the reigns of Elizabeth and of the early Stuarts. In a community which appeared increasingly hostile and unwilling to perform those necessary acts of charity without which she would have succumbed, Anne Ellis learnt that fear was an effective economic instrument as she mumbled imprecations at the portals of the unheeding and hardhearted. She belonged, thus, to that forbidding company of women, mostly widows and spinsters, who, from generation to generation, aroused both terror and guilt in their neighbours. One such was recalled by William Lovett the Chartist, as he reflected upon his Cornish upbringing: 'Anything that Aunt Tammy took a fancy to, few who feared her dared to refuse'. And readers of Daniel Owen's Gwen Tomos will not readily forget the formidable figure of Nansi'r Nant who tyrannized the farm labourers and maid servants of the surrounding area.
The case of Anne Ellis conforms in other ways to the general pattern of witchcraft in England. First, important though kinship may have been as a factor in witchcraft accusations in Africa, there are signs that kin was not of serious significance in many English cases which have been carefully scrutinized. The same is true of Anne Ellis, who does not appear to have been related in any way to those who testified against her. Secondly, it was usual for the accusers to know the alleged witch intimately well; in Essex it was rare for accusations to be made against people who lived far away and a group of individuals normally came forward as witnesses, thus indicating social rather than purely personal tensions as the determining cause. In the case of Anne Ellis, although some of those directly involved came from near Northwood, in Salop, and Overton, yet in Penley alone, if we count husbands and wives, the two witnesses with whom Anne had lived at one time or another and the children who were alleged victims, the total is fifteen, quite apart from the neighbours consulted by Gwen Hughes and Edward Ffoulke. The township of Penley consisted of 71 households and the population would be 319 (if we employ the 4.5 multiplier). Village gossip, we may suppose, would have reached its peak during the summer of 1657. A third element to note is that in English cases generally accusations did not involve rich and poor, but poor and very poor, the witch being usually of a somewhat lower social stratum than her accusers. At Penley we gather that Edward Ffoulke, Gwen Hughes and Richard Taylor (the husband of Elizabeth) were labourers and that in Hearth Tax Returns Richard Taylor, Randle Addams (the husband of Susan) and William Hughes (the husband of Gwen) were listed amongst the poor, as indeed was Anne Ellis herself.
The several misfortunes which had befallen humans and animals in Penley and its environs, the strange, minatory behaviour of Anne Ellis and the powerful amalgam of fear and of guilt had by 1657 convinced many villagers that action was necessary. One of the attractions of believing in witchcraft was that it presented a means of dealing with adversity when all else, man's medicine and God's mercy, had conspicuously failed. The presence of a witch not merely explained a succession of vicissitudes; it also offered the possibility of immediate redress. When problems are personified, remedies may be applied by dealing directly with an individual; no longer is it necessary to feel total impotence at the hands of immense, unseen powers beyond the scope of man's ingenuity to influence or to control. Thus it was that the distracted parents of Penley could no longer suffer a witch in their midst. Quite apart from the sickness of animals, which at its worst dislocated a rural economy, the illness and death of children were unendurable torments. Elizabeth Jeffreys's child who had been ill in June 1654 was again struck down around Whitsunday 1656 and died. Margaret Barnatt's child was also ill at Whitsunday 1656. Both had swellings upon their body, as had Gwen Hughes's child upon the Monday before Anne's arrest. Elizabeth Taylor's son, Richard, had been lame since 1649, whilst Thomas Addams's child fell ill at Christmas 1656. The accusing fingers pointed directly at Anne Ellis.
To guard against witchcraft in general, a wide range of preservatives was available, such as amulets, written portions of the Gospels and herbs of various kinds. A further stage was to conduct certain tests to confirm that suspicions were soundly based. One method was to burn objects with which the alleged witch was associated, in the belief that she would scurry to the scene and thus declare herself. The burning of thatch from the witch's house was a fairly widespread practice. It was, for example, resorted to by Arthur Robinson, a 'worthy justice of the peace of Tottenham', in 1621 to aid in the discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer of Edmonton, Middlesex, though we are not told whether Elizabeth arrived as expected. After Anne had refused to come to bless John Birch, part of the thatch from her house was burnt under Birch's nose by one of his daughters, in accordance with advice given by persons whom she had consulted concerning his sickness, from which he then recovered. Had Anne Ellis, who was clearly suspected to be the cause of Birch's illness, appeared when the burning took place, her accusers would have been finally convinced of her guilt and might have subjected her to the process of scratching in order to draw blood, believed to be a sure method of depriving a witch of her powers. In fact, there are no known examples in Stuart Wales of scratching, or of ordeal by water, practised in England, or of taking the law into one's own hands.
The final weapon, the only certain way of extinguishing a witch's maleficium, was to have her tried and executed. The drastic step of formal accusation would not be lightly taken, but on Tuesday, 2 June, Gwen Hughes, as we have seen, went to a Justice of the Peace for a warrant against Anne Ellis. Of the seven inhabitants of Penley who gave evidence against her, Elizabeth Taylor had taken Anne into her house in 1655, where she certainly was at Christmas 1656; at the time of her arrest Anne was living with Elizabeth Jeffreys, who clearly believed that Anne was responsible for her daughter's death. The atmosphere was highly charged and menacing and the witch of Penley was committed to the common gaol.
Precisely when Anne fled from custody we do not know. She was recaptured by 3 August and evidence was then given that she had gone to the house of Roger Pottmore, yeoman, who lived in the parish of Wrenbury, Cheshire. The explanation she gave for her escape was that she was 'terrified with the apprehension of imprisonment' and that she had been persuaded to do so by William Hughes, Elizabeth Jeffreys and a Rice Toy. The attempt to involve others, for the first two had figured in the evidence against her, was not isolated. On 3 June she had declared that it was not herself but Jane, the wife of John 'the thatcher', of Penley, who had bewitched William Hughes as well as his child, a sad, pallid example of the desperate urge to incriminate the innocent which reached such monstrous proportions on the continent where the accused were subjected to ferocious tortures happily not countenanced under English law. No doubt Anne Ellis had long observed the danger signals and sensed the general suspicion that she had crossed from the realm of white witchcraft into the dark province of maleficium. Some instances of delay on her part before responding to requests for help had not necessarily been signs of uneasiness. In the case of Margaret Hughes in 1653 the deferring of the visit for four days was likely to have been deliberate, in the hope that the child's distemper might spend itself; Anne's blessings would thus appear especially timely and efficacious. On the other hand, the refusal to bless John Birch probably stemmed from fear. Her marked disinclination to go to Northwood to knit hose at Christmas 1656 was because she evidently feared that she was being summoned to cure Thomas Addams's sick child. Elizabeth Taylor urged her to go and the following night she was described as being 'in a restless condicion and slept not'. Her agitated state was not without cause.
On 28 September Anne was amongst the prisoners who appeared at the Court of Great Sessions at Flint before John Bradshaw, appointed Chief Justice of Chester in 1649, and Thomas Fell, both of whom had tried Dorothy Griffith in 1656. There were four indictments against her. On the first she was accused of bewitching a cow belonging to Susan Addams; on the second of bewitching Jane, daughter of Elizabeth Jeffreys, who languished until 31 May 1656; on the third, that 'not havinge the feare of God before her eyes but by the instigacion of the Divell . . . did use, practise and exercise certayne wicked and divillish arts called witchcrafts, inchauntments, charmes and sorceries in and upon one Margarett Hughes . . . being then an infant of the age of one yeare in the peace of God and the publiqe peace . . . [so that] . . . her whole body was much pined, wasted and consumed'; on the fourth, of having bewitched Richard Hughes who ''was and yet is' much wasted and lamed. Anne was brought to the bar by the High Sheriff, Henry Conway: she denied that she was guilty of these felonies and 'putt her selfe upon the countrey'. She bailed herself in £200 to be of good behaviour and in April 1658 she appeared before the Spring Session of the Court. The Grand Jury having found that the first two were not true bills and a Petty Jury having acquitted her of the third and fourth charges, she was discharged. Thereafter, she vanishes from our ken, apart from a brief appearance amongst the paupers of Penley in 1670.
The scope of this study and the sources upon which it is based have already been considered in a previous article. It is confined to an examination of witchcraft in Flintshire during the seventeenth century only. The principal conclusion reached is that there were very few prosecutions for witchcraft and the fundamental question to be asked is why this was so.
Where two religions coexisted, one might, on the surface, have expected such a degree of tension as to prompt accusations of witchcraft. In various parts of Europe, as has been noted, the identification of witchcraft with heresy was a powerful spur to prosecution. The number of recusants in the Flintshire presentments of the Court of Great Sessions is indication enough that the Old Faith retained a powerful hold upon its adherents. Prosecution tended to be sporadic and we do not know how extensively fines were imposed or paid. Yet the very process of indicting recusants in the courts inevitably created bad feeling and a sense of insecurity. For example, Thomas ap Shone, of Bettisfield, one of the High Constables of Maelor Saesneg, suspected that he had been assaulted by a Mr. St. Johns in 1641 either because the latter disliked the assessment he had made upon him for Ship Money or because he had presented him for recusancy. But there is no evidence that antagonism thus generated was sufficiently acute to cause neighbours to prosecute each other for witchcraft. At least four members of the Grand Jury who had presented Hugh ap Edward, Charles Hughes and Gwen, the wife of John Evans, as recusants in 1696 were among the Protestant gentry who had sprung to the defence of Charles Hughes against the charge of maiming cattle. Thirty-three men of varying religious affiliations showed their readiness to exonerate Dorothy Griffith of Llanasa in 1656. In the cases known to us religious hostility played no part whatsoever, and it is almost certainly true to say that Catholic and Protestant were living together in an atmosphere free from perpetual strife and recrimination. Whether Defoe actually visited Holywell is open to doubt, but his account of priests in disguise in Holywell suggests that his information was authentic:
- . . . almost all the houses are either publick houses, or let into lodgings; and the priests that attend here, and are very numerous, appear in disguise: Sometimes they are physicians, sometimes surgeons, sometimes gentlemen, and sometimes patients, or any thing as occasion presents. No body takes notice of them, as to their profession, tho' they know them well enough, no not the Roman Catholicks themselves; but in private, they have their proper oratory's in certain places, whither the votaries resort; and good manners has prevail'd so far, that however the Protestants know who and who's together; no body takes notice of it, or enquires where one another goes, or has been gone.
We have already seen that Macfarlane was unable to accept Trevor-Roper's correlation of witchcraft prosecutions with religious conflict in Essex. 'The atmosphere of fear and hostility within which accusations were nurtured . . . had little to do in a direct way with particular religious creeds'. This is certainly true of Flintshire (and most probably of Monmouthshire, where Catholicism also remained strong). Nevertheless, there is an important sense in which religion influenced men's attitudes to the supernatural, and this aspect must now be examined.
In its fully-developed form, Protestantism presented the individual with an austere and daunting challenge. The rejection of ecclesiastical magic meant that there was no place for counter magic against the maleficium which tormented men and beasts. Catholicism, on the other hand, whilst condemning supernatural powers which stemmed from the Devil, believed in the possibility of supernatural acts provided they had divine sanction. The Catholic had at his disposal a whole panoply of remedies, denied to the Protestant, which included the sign of the cross, holy water and the invocation of the Virgin Mary and of the saints, and it was thus especially tempting to the Protestant to turn to the wizard and the cunning man for deliverance from misfortune. Herein lies the significance of Reginald Scot's observation that the medieval saints were replaced in the sixteenth century by the wise women of the countryside. Only a small proportion of the population of Flintshire would have been deeply touched by Protestantism before the end of the seventeenth century and many official Protestants remembered with gratitude the blessings traditionally bestowed by St. Winefride and would not hesitate to peregrinate with Catholics to Holywell to be restored to health in her healing stream. Men and women of all degrees, from near and far, resorted without intermission to this premier place of pilgrimage in North Wales. Many cures in Stuart times have been recorded and St. Winefride was not loath to aid Protestants, provided they came in faith, 'which is alwayes necessary for the obtaining of supernaturall favours'. The cure of a Quaker and an Anabaptist in 1667 must surely have been regarded as a remarkable demonstration of miraculous powers, if not of a truly ecumenical spirit. Government concern manifested itself in prohibitions and mandates of various kinds, such as the wretched order of 1637 requiring the removal of the iron bars to which pilgrims clung as they descended into the icy waters of the Well, an order, incidentally, which found no favour with several moderate Protestants. But the Well of St. Winefride flourished exceedingly and her help was sought when all other remedies had been found wanting. Particularly significant is the case of Edward Thomas of Manafon, Montgomeryshire, who was in service with a husbandman of Cherbury when he was struck by a disabling weakness in his knees in 1652. He consulted first a wise woman, 'in all probability a witch', we are told, who indicated that he would never get better. Though greatly cast down in spirit, he nevertheless resolved to go to Bath with only a staff to help him. Much enfeebled, he remained there for three fruitless weeks before accepting the advice of an old gentleman to visit Holywell. After journeying, in part in carts and barrows, he eventually reached the sacred fountain, where he was bathed between two women. Their ministration, in addition to the intervention of St. Winefride, enabled him within six months to undertake the duties of an ostler in an inn in the town, and here he resolved to live and die. Edward Powell, the son of a Monmouthshire esquire. suffered from a dangerous fistula and was advised to see a certain woman, famous in that neighbourhood, who claimed great skill in surgery. Although he feared that her powers were derived from witchcraft, yet he followed the command of his spiritual director, who induced him to consult her. Some relief resulted, but 'it was observed that if she stay'd from him longer then the time by her appointed, he found himselfe immediately thereafter in griviouse torment, which was no smale argument of what he suspected, as also that at last she stole away and quitted that country'. This experience was followed by a 'vehement desire'to go to Holywell and after many tribulations and three visits to the Well he was made whole in August 1657.
These examples are important because they clearly demonstrate that, quite contrary to Reginald Scot's view, one medieval saint, at least, had not been replaced by the wise woman of the countryside and that for Protestant as well as Catholic St. Winefride exercised powers superior to the conjurer or witch. And having acknowledged the primacy of her Well, it is proper to recognise that innumerable other medieval saints continued to attract the devotion and affection of a people whose Protestantism for the most part remained superficial and untutored until the eighteenth century.
A further reason why there were so few accusations of witchcraft in Flintshire was the prevailing sense of social solidarity at parish level. To suggest that there were few conflicts or pressures would, of course, be absurd. It would also be unwise to be beguiled by the reports of some High Constables of a total absence of crimes in their hundreds at various periods. The simple explanation is that local officials were on such occasions either unable or unwilling to detect and to present lawbreakers and we certainly cannot assume that harmony and peace reigned undisturbed in the countryside. What may be said with some confidence is that Flintshire did not suffer that degree of tension which precipitated so many witchcraft prosecutions in Essex or in parts of Scotland. In demolishing the notion that the Essex trials 'were nothing but a monstrously dramatic form of religious persecution' Macfarlane stressed that they must be seen 'in perspective, as moments of crisis in small communities, generated by the quarrels between neighbours that come from the incidents of every day'. Dr. Mitchison says of Scotland:
- Most parishes in the late seventeenth century produced accusations of witchcraft, a fact that tells a lot about the atmosphere and suspicions of rural life. And there were the broken men, those without ties in allegiance or land. who moved about the country; there were people who had failed as farmers and been evicted; there were those who had backed the wrong side politically or ecclesiastically, and who could not conform to the standards of Calvinist discipline, or who had outcast themselves by volunteering for the army.
In Flintshire the sense of belonging to a community was deeply rooted. In 1552, when Elis Gruffudd of Gronant was completing in Calais his history of the world, which was almost two thousand five hundred pages long, he wrote, 'This I caused to write down that the matter be not forgotten in Llanasa', to which he had not returned for thirty-three years. The genuine paternalism of a Flintshire squire finds expression in Thomas Davies of Gwysaney's letter home from the Low Countries, where he was fighting in James I's reign. Casualties had been heavy and there was need to recruit replacements, yet he was anxious that Flintshire men should not be further punished:
- . . .if you meete with any mad felowes desyre to see blows, send them hither, so they be not Flintshire or Cheshire men . . . I have had many dead, but non I am sure wanted my care; tell my unckell Ravenscroft John Thomas Parry is dead.
Pennant evidently considered that the ancient custom of putting out the children of the gentry to nurse in neighbouring farmhouses, as he himself had been, created life-long bonds of 'affection and connection', but he added that by the end of the eighteenth century the practice was 'almost extinguished' in Wales, though still retained in many parts of Ireland. His remarks on the relief of the poor are also worthy of attention:
- In the beginning of the present century poor rates had not taken place. Collections were made in the church for the sick and the aged. Filial piety had at that time full possession of the breasts of the children, or great affection on the part of more distant relations, and the pangs of poverty were as much as possible alleviated. There was also a laudable pride in them, which made them above suffering their friends to be a burden to their fellow parishioners; all this gradually ceased and the warmth of natural affection soon quite disappeared.
Pennant was seventy when The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell was printed in 1796. Old men forget and sometimes sentimentalise a distant past, but we should not lightly cast aside this acute observer's views upon the social cohesion of an earlier age. As we have already seen, the inhabitants of Stuart Flintshire were not in a position to shuffle off the traditional responsibilities of charitable neighbourliness upon an impersonal poor-law administration and they continued, as Pennant states, to alleviate 'the pangs of poverty' at a personal level of benevolence. Such a society had fewer fissures and conflicts of conscience than those communities in which witchcraft prosecutions proliferated. The decisive intervention of the gentry on behalf of Dorothy Griffith and Charles Hughes are striking instances of responsible, corporate initiative to avert grave miscarriages of justice. And it is not altogether amiss to quote the author of The Life of St. Wenefrede, who was so evidently impressed by the help given to a lame boy from near Cardigan town to reach Holywell in 1673 that he had this to say: 'His Relations were indigent, and having no other Means, he was recommended to the Charity of good People, from Door to Door, on a Hand-barrow.' and he added: 'The Welsh distinguish themselves from other Nations, by a cheerfulness in assisting those in great Necessity'. It would not have been easy to write those words at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
When the Witchcraft Act of 1604 was repealed in 1736, few, if any, of the leaders of Flintshire society would have deplored its passing. In 1656 it is true that the principal inhabitants of Llanasa had not denied the possibility of witchcraft; they had simply stated that to the best of their knowledge Dorothy Griffith was not guilty of such malignity. But as the century proceeded, educated men were bound to be influenced by the growing spirit of rational enquiry and the search for reasonable explanations of strange phenomena which led to the foundation of the Royal Society in 1665. A good example is the paper submitted by Roger Mostyn, a young law student who died at the age of twenty-one, to Dr. Bathurst, Dean of Bath and Wells, and published in 1677 in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Mostyn was concerned to present 'a Relation of some strange phenomena accompanied with mischievous effects' in the coal works of his father, Sir Roger, at Mostyn. Apparently, fire damp had caused an explosion in February 1676, 'being a Season when other Damps are scarce felt or heard of', and Mostyn gives a clear, clinical account based upon the recollections of the steward and overseer of the coalworks, of Sir Roger and of several others. During the seventeenth century, and indeed much later, coal mines were considered the haunt of supernatural beings, particularly knockers, whom Lewis Morris firmly believed to be the guardians of mines, but despite the unusual occurrences at Mostyn, where the fire-damp explosion burnt a great part of the miners' hair, beards and clothes, striking one of them down, 'in the mean time making a noise like the roaring of a Bull, but lowder', and emitting a smell worse than a carrion, yet there is no hint whatsoever in Mostyn's description that occult agencies had been at work.
The careful collecting, assembling and assessing of information, without proferring conclusions beyond what the evidence warranted, is seen at its best in the work of Edward Lhuyd. When he was told of the mysterious burning of ricks, the death of cattle and the poisoning of grass in Merionethshire, he was not prepared to accept the explanation of the rector of Dolgellau that witchcraft was the cause. 'I conclude it is a meteor or ignite vapor, and not the effect of witchcraft, for that it has operated in the same method now for two months . . .' In other words, witchcraft as an explanation did not fit the facts and should be discounted. Nor is it without significance that Richard Mostyn of Penbedw was one of Lhuyd's most valued and diligent correspondents and that the response from Flintshire to Lhuyd's parochial queries was as high as 60%, proportionately higher, in fact, than from any other county in Wales. It is possible that some of the lower clergy continued to dabble in magic in competition with the local wise woman, but as the Stuart age wore on the bishops of St. Asaph certainly became less concerned with supernatural manifestations. Bishop George Griffith had felt impelled to ask in 1662 whether 'any in your Parish take upon them to heal and cure men or cattel, by charms, spels, witchcraft, or any other unlawfull wayes or meanes? ;' Isaac Barrow, in turn, pursued the matter in his Articles of Visitation of 1671 and 1678, but William Lloyd in 1681. Edward Jones in 1702 and William Fleetwood in 1710 had more urgent questions to ask. Lloyd and Fleetwood, in particular, were especially concerned with the perils of Rome. The latter, during his active tenure of the see, found time to print some spirited animadversions, not upon witchcraft, but upon the cult of St. Winefride, which he regarded as a stubborn obstacle to the triumph of Protestantism amongst the credulous common people.
The enlightened views of the leaders of society, both lay and cleric, inevitably affected the number of prosecutions in the courts. Of Scotland, Dr. Mitchison has said that 'growth in critical and intellectual life became possible only as gentry ceased to believe that neighbours of theirs whom they disliked spent the dark hours in bed with the devil or using obscene techniques to bewitch other people and their cattle'. The directions of Lord Chief Justice Holt (1642-1710) to successive juries to acquit in cases of witchcraft influenced lower courts to follow suit, and it may well be that the scepticism of some Justices of the Peace in Flintshire actively discouraged accusations of witchcraft long before they reached the Court of Great Sessions. In comparing Scotland and England Dr. Christina Larner raises important questions. The role of clergy, magistrates and gentry in the English persecution was clearly considerable and the English villager who wished to prosecute depended quite as much upon local authorities as his Scottish equivalent. In both countries the 'prosecuting class', as she calls it, was responsible for a decline in the number of cases at the end of the seventeenth century; it had also given encouragement at an earlier period to those who believed themselves bewitched to press their accusations. Explanations of prosecutions solely in terms of social tension tend to concentrate exclusively upon the accuser and the accused, and it is in this context that special significance attaches to the championing of Dorothy Griffith and of Charles Hughes by the gentry of Flintshire, who were the recognised leaders of the community.
On the other hand, the outlook of the gentry and higher clergy in the latter half of the seventeenth century and the abolition of the Witchcraft Act in 1736 should not mislead us into concluding that belief in witchcraft withered away. John Wesley held that 'the infidels had hooted witchcraft out of the world. This may have been true of the London coffee house and of the pump room in Bath, but at the ground roots of Welsh society the witch continued to infest popular imagination for many generations. In an adjoining Denbighshire parish it was not possible to detect the first frail shoots of incredulity amongst the lower orders until the fourth or fifth decade of the nineteenth century, at least a century after Howell Harris's transforming experience, and we may safely assume that this was generally true of the rural areas of Wales and of England. In both countries, accusations of witchcraft sprang from below, not from above, as frequently happened on the continent, and the activities of professional witchfinders, such as Hopkins and Stearns in Essex, were highly exceptional. After 1736 it was not possible to prosecute and in England there are some signs of resorting to action outside the law, such as lynching, in order to deal with a suspected witch. It is most unlikely that such barbarities were extensively practised in eighteenth-century Wales, but we cannot speak with complete assurance until the records of the Court of Great Sessions have been thoroughly studied from 1736 until the extinction of the Court in 1830.
Finally, although the conclusions presented in this paper are necessarily based upon evidence relating to Flintshire alone during the seventeenth century, nevertheless it is not altogether perilous to suggest, as a working hypothesis, that a similar pattern will emerge in other areas of Wales where systematic investigation is possible.