Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sir John Danvers and the Witch of Wapping

The witch of Wapping, Or An exact and perfect relation, of the life and devilish practises of Joan Peterson, that dwelt in Spruce Island, near Wapping; who was condemned for practising witch-craft, and sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn, on Munday the 11th. of April, 1652. Shewing, how she bewitch'd a child, and rock'd the cradle in the likenesse of a cat; how she frighted a baker; and how the devil often came to suck her, sometimes in the likeness of a dog, and other times like a squirrel. London : Printed for Th. Spring, 1652.

A generic pamphlet, you would think from the title. Joan Peterson had clearly acquired some local reputation for her cures, and one of the works that discusses her trial and execution describes her as a practitioner of ‘Physick’. Even this ‘witch of Wapping’ pamphlet, written to blacken her name, concedes that she was both ‘Good Witch’ and ‘Bad’: “it was clearly proved, that she had done much mischief, so there were divers that came to witnesse that she had cured them of several diseases”. A long-term migraine sufferer is mentioned. But in this account of her actions, that is to say, of her ‘witchcraft’, she falls out with one of her patients who bilks her of payment, and in this report threatened him with the witch’s usual type of effectual curse: “you had been better you had given me my money for you shall be ten times worse then ever you were”. The pamphlet asserts that after this her former patient would ‘slabber out his tongue, and walk up and down like a meer changeling’, ‘and at this instant (if he be not dead) languisheth away, and rots as he lies’.

To substantiate her witchcraft, diabolic familiars had to be found, and so there’s a confused story about the apparition of a great black cat, tenuously connected to Peterson in a bit of street gossip, while a former maid-servant gave witness that one night when she was sharing a bed with her mistress, Peterson had spent then night in conversation with a squirrel, ‘but being demanded what they discoursed on, she replied, that she heard her conference very perfectly, but she was bewitched by it, that she could not remember one word.

Peterson was a relatively young woman, who might have been pregnant at the time of her execution. Her son, aged 7 or 8, had not helped his mother by telling his schoolfriends that his mother did her cures by following the instructions given to her by the squirrel.

She was hanged at Smithfield on the 12th April, 1652.

A pamphlet published a few days before the Witch of Wapping, entitled The tryall and examination of Mrs. Joan Peterson, before the Honorable Bench, and the Sessions house in the Old-Bayley, yesterday; for her supposed witchcraft, and poysoning of the lady Powel at Chelsey: together with her confession at the bar is really about another case of a purported diabolical pact entirely, but the current case of Joan Peterson saw her take the chief billing on the title page. All this pamphlet contains is the information, given in a paragraph tacked on as a last page, that Peterson ‘a practitioner in Physick, but suspected to be a Witch’ was tried at the Old Bailey on the 7th April, charged with conspiracy with another gentlewoman to administer a potion, or posset, to the Lady Powel’. This author reports that many considered that the 80 year old Lady Powel (for so she is here described) died of natural causes, and that Peterson denied witchcraft, and denied administering anything to Lady Powel but ‘was was comfortable and nourishing’.

As this author promises, in the news pamphlet, The Faithful Scout, further details of the arraignment follow (issue for the week 2nd-9th April, 1652). Here, an unnamed gentlewoman, obviously meant to be Levingston, resorts frequently to Joan over two years. Finally, a horseman collects from Joan a ‘glass of strong waters’, Joan reportedly saying ‘The Devil rat my soul if the Lady Powel be not dead within these 3 weeks’. In this account, Lady Powel is said to have died aged 56 years, and that three weeks later Peterson said to the gentlewoman’s emissary ‘I hope the Gentlewoman will perform her promise with me’. She was, the pamphleteer reports, given half a crown as a token of the agreed sum of £24 or £25 and a cupboard of plate: a further victim, ‘a Gentleman that was of kindred to the L. Powel’ was agreed, for a fee of £50. (This gentleman is most likely the main propagator of this dirty business, Sir John Danvers.)

‘These are hideous things, yet the Jury quitted her upon the L. Powels business; and she stands convicted only upon the latter’ comments the author of the news pamphlet, who gives no indication anywhere of how the incriminating words he reports were transmitted to him.

In the subsequent issue (9th-16th April), Joan’s execution is reported: ‘the woman was condemned for Witchcraft, and seemed to be very much dejected, having a melancholy aspect: she seemed to be not much above 40 years of age, and was not in the least outwardly deformed, as those kind of creatures usually are’. ‘Her end was as miserable, as her life abominable; when the Minister exhorted her to repentance, she cry’d out, Away with this babbling fellow. After she was executed, and cut down, divers resorted about her, to take a view of the Teat which the Devil suckt, which was just under the breast, about an inch long, but as black as ink’

And so we can come to the true story of the venal-minded conspiracy that doomed Joan Peterson. Lady Powell died in 1652 after a long illness. As people in her situation tend to do, in her will, she rewarded the relative who had cared for her, Mistress Anne Levingston, and left others disappointed. The retaliation they attempted is told in the indignant pamphlet A declaration in answer to several lying pamphlets concerning the witch of Wapping being a more perfect relation of the arraignment, condemnation, and suffering of Jone Peterson, who was put to death on Munday the 22 of April, 1652. Shewing the bloudy plot and wicked conspiracy of one Abraham Vandenbernde, Thomas Crompton, Thomas Collet, and others. (1652).

First of all they tried to bribe one Joan Simpson to accuse Mrs. Levingston of having used sorcery against Lady Powell. Joan Simpson, however, ‘discovered the Plot’, and the conspirators were bound over to good behaviour. But they, undeterred, tried to bribe Joan Peterson (with £100) to make the same type of allegations, in a watered-down form, against Mrs. Levingston: that she had sold ‘certain powders, and bags of seeds, to help her in her law suits, and to provoke unlawfull love’. From this they would have proceeded to further discoveries, of course.

But Peterson refused. Fearing now what she could now testify against them, the conspirators got a warrant from a very pliable JP, a Mr. Waterton, to search Peterson’s house for the ‘Images of Clay, Hair, & Nails’. Nothing was found, but they carried her before the JP, who somehow now examined her on oath on the charge of having used sorcery and witchcraft to take away Lady Powell’s life. Joan said that she has never heard of Lady Powell, but that she had been approached to lay false witness against Mistress Levingston.

The JP, however, has Joan searched for a witch’s teat: but nothing is found on her body. The confederates arrest her again, and let her know that she can confess safely, as they only aim to accuse Mrs. Levingston. Peterson again refuses to play their game. Her obduracy in being honest makes her dangerous to them, so they move against her ruthlessly: they have brought four women along with them, and these women are commissioned to search Peterson’s body, and ‘one of which women told the Justice that there was a Teat of flesh in her secret parts more than other women usually had’. The compliant Justice commits her to prison on this basis, our indignant pamphleteer adds in a marginal note that the day before her execution, this purported ‘witch’s teat’ on her labia was pronounced normal by physicians. Subsequently rumour placed the teat beneath one of her breasts, as we have seen.

Trial followed on April 6th: the pamphleteer indicates who was backing the conspiracy with considerable verve: Sir John Danvers, Mr Winstanley ‘and Mrs (sic) Waterton Justice’. The Jury itself is not packed: rather, the whole legal bench is, with Sir John Danvers attending court to make sure the outcome is what he expects. Various worthless testimonies against Peterson are heard, while she produces a statement from Lady Powell’s physicians about the natural causes of death revealed from examination and autopsy, a document reproduced in the pamphlet. The case for the murder of Lady Powell by sorcery falls apart. Incredibly, the secondary case of Mrs. Peterson’s disgruntled client (Christopher Wilson) is now heard, though the pamphleteer says Wilson ‘doth not himself complain of any such thing, but the Confederates only’. The only half plausible witness for this case is a Margaret Austin, probably the same person as the maidservant who said she had heard Joan talking to a squirrel, the rest produce ‘generallities, hear-says, and most absurd and ridiculous impertinences’.

The JP Waterton has intimidated any witnesses for the defence with the word that he will send them to Newgate if they appear in court. Some do, but are jeered at from the bench by the notional officers of the court: ‘are you for a witch? And is that all you can say?’ while others are simply turned away. A passer-by comes in to tell the court that a servant to the conspirator Crompton is out in the yard offering money to anyone who will come in and bear false witness against the ‘witch’ under trial. But he absconds before he can be brought into court.

Astonishingly, despite all this, the Jury convict her of witchcraft against Wilson. Peterson was promised a reprieve if she would, at last, testify against Mrs Levingston. Peterson courageously resists, saying that ‘she could not, because it was altogether false’. The accomplice of the conspirators who has approached her with this crooked deal she punches on the nose, calling him a rascal.

On the gallows, the next day, they are still harassing her: the ‘Ordinary’, the officiating chaplain, urges her so often to confess that the very executioner tells him he ought to be ‘ashamed to trouble a dying woman so much’. He weakly responds that he was commanded to do what he was doing. Here are the circumstances behind the ‘babbling fellow’ tale.

This pamphlet describes Joan Peterson (who is dying rather than be made, under duress, to accuse an innocent woman) as having made her peace with God, listening attentively to the prayers, and herself singing the 25th Psalm ‘very Christianly and cheerfully, and so died’.

The Sir John Danvers who shows up so discreditably in this episode was the beautiful young man who had married Donne’s witty and elegant friend Magdalen Herbert, notoriously twice his age at their marriage. He would use his good looks to win the hand, and, no doubt, property of two more women. His taste was extravagant, running much to lavish gardening in the Italian manner and interior décor. Running out of money, he had successfully used his influence in Parliament to contest his brother’s will. Henry Danvers, a royalist, had left his estate to his sister; John managed to have his own son instated as heir. Politically ambiguous, he was despised by Clarendon: “Between being seduced and a seducer, he became so far involved in their [i.e. the parliamentarian] counsels that he suffered himself to be applied to their worst offices, taking it to be a high honour to sit upon the same bench with Cromwell, who employed and contemned him at once” – eventually he signed to the regicide.

The author of the ODNB entry on Danvers has not picked up on this second attempt to mend his fortunes by contesting a legacy. He had always relied on women to bring him admiration and money: how could his relative, Lady Powel, dream of leaving her estate to another women rather than to him? So he attempted her judicial murder, and would have got it but for the courage of Joan Peterson, who died rather than bear false witness.

The case is interesting mainly for the pamphlet written in the defence of Joan Peterson’s reputation, which brings to light all the circumstances surrounding her death. It shows an accusation of witchcraft being used against women, and, once more, the hazards run by ‘cunning women’. Joan’s practices were part herbalism, part ‘blessing witch’: in the case of an afflicted cow, Joan boiled the cow’s urine, and the face of the witch who has attacked the animal appears to the owner in one of the bubbles. The willingness to convict her demonstrated by a Jury who surely must have noted that the Court was completely biased might be taken to show some kind of disapproval of her professional cleverness.

Danvers is contemptible in this. His interest in the Virginia Company makes him the name behind the city of Danvers in Massachusetts, where witchcraft (at Salem) would again emerge in 1692. I found his purported image on a geneological website.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oh SHOVEL! Worthy of a better Fate

This will be my last post for a week or more: I am off with Booth junior to the Scilly Isles, for a swimming holiday.

The big early modern event in the Scilly Isles was a surprisingly fierce campaign by Parliamentary forces to dislodge the Royalist forces there, as detailed in Joseph Leveck’s A true accompt of the late reducement of the isles of Scilly published; in regard of the many false and scandalous reports, touching that service (1651).

More famous is the loss of the Association, and the death of Sir Cloudesley Shovell. I thought I knew something about this, having read Davina Sobel’s Latitude not so long ago. She repeats the story everyone knows, of the sailor having the temerity to approach his Admiral after a counsel of all the sailing masters had decided that they were in the latitude of Ushant, with his opinion that they were far to the west and heading for the Scilly Isles. For which insubordination, Sir Cloudesley had him hanged…

It isn’t true: there was a counsel on board the Association, in which one man, the sailing master of the Lennox, thought that the fleet was far to the west, but a majority view prevailed against him.

The best transcripts of contemporary documentary details of the disaster are on this website:


while on this site a partisan of the admiral is gathering information about the man and the traducing myth that got attached to him:


How and why Sir Cloudesley became the victim of this amazingly successful story would be hard to explain. It converted a well-regarded man (“No man understands the Affairs of the Navy better, or is beloved of the Sailors so well as he. He loves the Constitution of his Country and serves it without factious aim; he hath very good Natural Parts; familiar and plain in his Conversation; dresses without affectation; is a very large, fat, fair Man”) into a type of the inflexible and overbearing upper class military leader whose incompetence dooms his men. One might suppose that salient examples of that type have always been needed in England. Or it was black propaganda put out by Scillonians, heavily implicated in the robbery of Shovell’s corpse, even of his murder, craftily denigrating their victim?

To do him some further justice, I have transcribed the following elegy on his death (and his death alone). It isn’t one of the great maritime disaster poems, but it has its moments. The main interest in reading it is in watching how circumspect the anonymous author is about the potential embarrassments of writing a funeral elegy on a man called Shovel. The 17th century would have given in to the temptation, rejoiced in it, found no collocation of ‘shovel’ and ‘grave’ unsuitable. But, writing in an age of sentiment, the 1707 elegist manfully avoids all such frivolities:

A new elegy on the lamented death of Sir Cloudesly Shovel, rear admiral of Great Britain; and Admiral of the white squadron of Her Majesty's Royal-Navy; who was cast away on the rocks of Scilly, on Wednesday the 22nd of October, 1707. at 8 at night, as he was returning home from the streights, in Her Majesty's ship the Association

In Sable Weeds let widowed Albion mourn,

And dismal Pomp her shining Cliffs adorn;

Let want of Light on her once Glorious Shore,

In Mourning tell Great SHOVEL is no more:

While swoln Clouds their shaggy Fleeces dip,

And over Britain hang their Heads and Weep;

Oh SHOVEL! Worthy of a better Fate,

But Death’s blind stokes distinguish not the Great,

The Good or Brave when he Decrees it so,

Must with their load of Worldly Honour go;

But sure thy loss was not in Anger meant,

Heav’n is too just, and thou too Innocent.

As thro’ the Mourning Crowd I pass’d e’en now,

I mark’d a Gen’ral sadness on each Brow,

All mingle Tears, their Cries together flow

And from a hedious Harmony of Woe.

Great Neptunes Sons like lifeless Statues stand

Dropping their useless Swords from every Hand,

As if to say such Weapons useless are,

Farewell the Glory and the Hopes of War.

Oh Britain! Britain! If thou e’er dids’t Mourn,

Now thy Melancholly Weeds return:

Not Verse alone declares the heavy News,

The Winds conspire to assist my Muse:

The Tidings comes with each unwelcome blast,

For News so doleful always comes too fast,

Let the sad Sound be Born thro’ evry Sea,

And the Winds Groan while they the News convey:

Our Ships will need no other Cannon roar

Nor dreadfull sounds to terrifie the Shore.

What Grief shall not the British Sailors shew

For they have lost their joy, and Leader too:

Each do’s in Sighs his future Wishes send,

And to the Gods their SHOVEL recommend.

Say envious Stars did he deserve your Spight,

Or did the Day grudge him her Glorious Light:

T’avoid those Rocks, on which by error led,

He was by fatal Destiny Convey’d:

The bulging Ship upon the Shore struck fast

And scarce two Minutes but she struck her last:

Was quite o’re whelm’d with the next rolling Wave,

Aid and Endeavours were in vain to Save,

Whom Fate had destin’d to a Watry-Grave.

Each saw his unavoided Destiny,

Left the sad Wreek, and plung’d into the Sea:

There SHOVEL unamaz’d, by nature Brave,

Spreading his Arms Embrac’d a briny Wave,

And where he had reign’d with Honour, made his Grave

No Pomp, nor state, tho’ he deserv’d it all,

Attends on his untimely Funeral

As when the Summons of Commanding fate,

Sounds the last call at some proud Palace gate;

When both the Rich and Fair, the Great and High,

Fortunes most darling Favourites must dye;

Strait at th’Alarm the busie Heraulds wait,

To fill the Solemn Pomp, and Mourn in State:

Scutcheons, and sables then make up the show

Whilst on the Hearse the Mourning streamers flow

With all the rich Magnificence of Woe.

But SHOVEL, was deny’d those Honours due,

Or Neptune that so well his Actions knew:

Proud of that Honour, did all Pomp prevent,

And Tomb’d him in his Wat’ry Element

But Oh! I wander from the Task in Hand,

SHOVEL shou’d all my wand’ring thoughts command

Yet no Obscurity can blot his Name,

For round the World the thousand Mouths of Fame,

Shall spread his Praises and his Deeds Proclaim.

A Man, till now, that e’re was fortunate,

Precisely Good, and regularly Great:

His Soul with Native Honesty was Drest,

And a Good Conscience always fill’d his Breast:

His words were few, but of Important weight,

Mix’d with no stain of flattry or Deceit

The Bations Trust, and Sailors joy he prov’d

And still where ere he came he was belov’d:

None ever fought her Cause with more success,

None ere did more – or ever boasted less

His early Valour did Proclaim his Worth,

And help’d to set the growing Hero forth;

At Bautree, Beachy, and at Malaga,

The French too well his dauntless Conduct saw:

There you might see the Brittish Glory shine,

And SHOVEL break th’impenetrable Line.

From whom they steer’d, and wou’d be brought no more,

To tempt that fury they had felt before.

His Name was dreadful, as his Courage Great,

And Glory did on all his Actions wait.

On towring Wings, with SHOVEL in my view

How would my willing Muse the Theme pursue,

But Oh! no numbers ever can restore

The Good, the Valiant, SHOVEL is no more,

His Loss we Mourn, and if Grief e’er was just,

We ought to pay it to his Glorious Dust.

Statues are due but SHOVELS Fate alas,

Endures without those Monuments of Brass.

Nor can I in my Song forgetfull be,

T’express the Murm’rings of his Family,

His Consort unconsol’d Laments his Fate,

To which the manner adds a double weight;

Down’d near that fatal shore; she needs must Mourn,

On which she waited for his Wish’d Return

Weeping she sits, and all Chagrin appears,

To which her Children add their Dutious Tears.

The Servants in the Mournful Consort joyne

And at their Masters fatal loss repine.

His Royal Mrs. too Mourns o’re his Grave,

She knew him usefull, as she knew him Brave.

No Man his Country with more Honour Serv’d:

Or less for Interest, from his Duty Swerv’d:

Rest SHOVEL then, and let the Watry Grave,

That is intrusted with thy relicks have

This just Encomium that it holds the Dust,

Of one that was both Loyal, Brave and Just.


Ye sacred reliques buried in the Deep,

There undisturb’d by wars, in quiet Sleep:

Discharge the Trust which when it was below,

SHOVEL’s undaunted Soul did undergo,

Who was the Seas Palladium from the Foe,

Still watch thy Country’s Good, or if Above

Thou’rt Soard: regard us with thy wonted Love.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Robert Heath's 'On the cripple soldiers marching at Oxford'

I have (as everyone interested in the 17th century should, and in my own case especially after the urgings of Natalie Bennett at ‘Philobiblon’) been reading Diane Purkiss’ The English Civil War: A People’s History.


I add my tuppence worth to that book’s scholarly riches with a posting on the poet Robert Heath’s Civil War poetry. Heath presents himself in Clarastella (1650) as the man moyen sensuel, versifying some distance after Herrick, Jonson, Carew (and other writers) in the approved Cavalier manner on every opportunity literary convention or the accidents of real experience offered. So we have Clarastella’s busk, fan, the mole on her cheek, her singing, dancing. The usual stuff, just occasionally sparking into something amusing: I liked the title To Clarabella complaining of my long kisses. (The poem itself starts with an off-colour joke about women usually liking long things.)

But Heath soon gives up on ‘passionate love’, writing a poem to say farewell to it, and (if we assume a general compositional sequence, which does seem to be implied) embarks on what he published as ‘Occasional Verses’. Many of them are prompted by the war. Here we have elegies on the inevitable casualties: Nænia: Upon the death of my dear friend T.S. Esquire, slain at the first fight at Newbery, 1645, Upon the Death of the truly valiant Sir Bevil Grenvil slain (Diane Purkiss tells Grenvil’s story), Elegie Upon the death of that thrice valiant Lord, the Lord Bernard Stewart, slain in the fight near West-Chester (the dashing leader of the King’s life-guard: Charles saw him die in a sally from Chester ‘and bore it with extraordinary grief’). Heath is elegist to a civilized tradition he sees dying as those who sustained it perish. On the Death of that most famous Musician Mr W. Lawes, slain in this unhappy Civil Warr reflects, with a multiple pun:

But e’r sin'
Our Lawes expir’d, this Common-wealth hath bin
Quite out of tune

This elegy concludes, hyperbolically, but with some feeling too, that “earth hath lost her harmonie”.

Heath writes with little political rancour. Apparently a non-combatant, he makes conventional noises about the bravery of Royalists who have died, but is just as engaged, maybe more engaged artistically, with the smaller disasters of war:

On the loss of Mr N.W. his three fingers cut off at the battle of Edgehill, he being both a Poet and a Musician.

By some it hath been said,
That the best Music is by discord made;
But here, (I grieve to see)
By discords we have lost our harmony.
How cruel was that hand
Depriv’d thee of thy cunning fingers? and
At one unhappy blow
Cut off an Orpheus, and a Poet too?
How sadly the strings rest
E’r since those fingers which before exprest
On them such lively art,
Were thus dissected from their constant part?
Yet though these joints be gone
To quiet ease, two fingers still are on,
Which with dexterity
Can write the Epitaph o'th' t'other three.
And though you cannot play;
Yet still both sing, and versify you may.

Like almost everybody else, he wishes it were over, and yearns for the end of hostilities. These lines from To a Friend wishing peace capture (in my view) the kind of quality of life issues Diane Purkiss writes about and documents. Heath is imagining peace, when

… wee
Enlarged as the winds may breath
Each where, and as in Jubilee
Live free from fear of sudden death.

In the Kings highway then we’ll ride,
(Not skulking lest we should be spi’d
In private lanes or by-ways cut
By hardy Pioneer) a gentle pace,
In stead of marching to a hut
Or hedge, unto some warmer place.

O'th' week-days then we’ll bowl and chat
Of our dear loves, and you know what,
But not one syllable of State,
Amidst our pleasant mirth…

- a little glimpse there of the civilian population, traveling in furtive dashes along the obscurest routes.

But the main poem which I wish to exhume in this post does not show a sympathetic side to our poet. Heath wrote in a tradition of wit which produced such poems in poor taste as Beaumont’s elegy on Lady Markham, http://www.people.ex.ac.uk/pellison/BF/poems/markham.htm or Cleveland on the drowning of Edward King: poems where the writer lose sight of the human loss in the manic desire to show off. Vindice-poems, you might say. Here, Heath has seen something remarkable, that I do not think Diane Purkiss picked up: late in the Civil War, Charles’s bedraggled regiments in Oxford, and, still on the muster, and still ready to fight, the men crippled at Edgehill:

On the Cripple soldiers marching in Oxford in the Lord Treasurer Cottington’s Company.

Stay Gentlemen! and you shall see a very rare sight;
Soldiers who though they want arms, yet will fight:
Nay some of them have never a leg but only Will:
Their Governor, and yet they’ll stand to it still.
The birds call’d Apodes they resemble, and seem
To be without either wing or leg, like them.
Oh the courage of a drunken and valiant man!
For each will be going when he cannot stand!
Then room for Cripples! here comes a company,
Such as before I think you ne’er did see: 10
Here’s one like a Pigeon goes pinion’d in spite
Of old Priapus, the birds to affright:
Another limps as if he had got the Pharse,
With his half leg like a Goose close up to his arse.
Yet mistake me not! this is no Puppet play;
You shall only see the several motions to day.
Ran: tan: tan: with a Spanish march and gait
Thus they follow their Leader according to his wonted state.
A Snail or a Crablouse would march in a day
If driven as led with the white staff as far as they, 20
What I should call them I hardly do know,
Foot they are not as appears by the show:
By the wearing of their Muskets to which they are tied,
They should be Dragooners had they horses to ride.
And yet now I think on’t, they cannot be such;
Because each man hath his rest for his crutch,
To these their Officer need not to say at alar’ms,
‘Stand to your Colours’, or ‘Handle your arms’:
Yet that they are Soldiers, you safely may say,
For they’ll die before they will run away: 30

Nay, they are stout as ever were Vantrumps,
For like Widdrington they’ll fight upon their very stumps.
They have keen Ostrich stomachs, and well digest
Both Iron and Lead, as a Dog will a breast
Of Mutton. But now to their Pedigree;
That they are sons of Mars, most writers agree;
Some conceive from the Badger old Vulcan they came,
Because like him they are Mettle-men and lame,
The moderns think they came from the Guys of Warwick; and
Some think they are of the old Herculean band: 40
For as by his foot he was discover’d, so
By their feet you their valour may know.
And though many wear wooden legs and crutches,
Yet, by Hercules, I can assure you, such is
Their steeled resolution, that here
You’ll find none that will the wooden dagger wear.
They’re true and trusty Trojans all believe me,
And stride their wooden Palfreys well: t’would grieve me
To see them tire before they get
Unto the Holly-bush; but yet 50
If they should faint, at that end of the town,
They may set up their horses and lie down.
Most of these fighters, I would have you to know,
Were our brave Edgehill Myrmidons awhile ago.
Who were their limbs like their looser rags
Ready to leave them at the next hedge, with brags,
That through the merit of their former harms,
They die like Gentlemen though they bear no arms.
Now some will suspect that my Muse may be,
'Cause she is so lame, of this Company: 60
And the rather, because one verse sometimes,
Is much shorter then his fellows to hold up the rhymes;
I confess before Cripples to halt is not good:
Yet for excuse she pleads, she understood
That things by their similes are best displayed,
And for that cause her feet are now Iambic made.

The ODNB entry on Cottington explains that he was left to oversee the surrender of Oxford in June 1646. Behind Heath’s incongruous jesting (he is reminded of the infamous heroic-bathetic couplet about Witherington in the unsanitised version of the ballad of Chevy Chase at l.32), the picture is grim. The defeated in the stronghold, disabled fighting men keeping up the numbers in the depleted regiment, led by a trusted civil servant summoned to service from his retirement.

l. 5: Apodes – see http://www.commonswift.org/2996Whitechapel.html for Philemon Holland recounting some lore about the swift.

l. 13 ‘Pharse’, clearly a colloquial word for an obscene ailment, is not in the OED.

l. 31 Maarten van Tromp was the Dutch Admiral celebrated for a victory against the Spanish fleet in 1642, he would later lead the Dutch fleet against Blake, and die at Texel. l.48 The soldiers are on wooden horses or ‘palfreys’: their crutches.

l. 50: This is the entry on the Holly Bush Inn, Oxford, on that helpful and sometime scabrous website, ‘Beer in the Evening’: http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/27/27270/Holly_Bush_Inn/Oxford

(The point is that the Holly Bush is very close to the city centre.)

My image is a crude photoshop out of a Van Dyck double portrait: one of Heath’s elegiac subjects, Lord Bernard Stewart. For some reason I decided to separate him from his insipid brother.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Return of William Harrison (Part II)

I return to the Perry-Harrison case. In this posting, I touch upon one of my favourite topics, diabolic transportation (aerial transvection, rather than, say, the London underground), get a rare sighting of a 17th century woman demonologist, and, in general, illustrate the way in which witchcraft could be drawn on to supply paranormal explanations of anything not readily explicable. Demonology often seems to be an anticipation of both the detective novel (the explanation you are left with, however unusual, must be true) and forensic science (in searching the body for the crucial evidence about the crime). I can’t hold back from offering my deductions on the ‘Campden wonder’.

Overbury’s pamphlet about Harrison’s disappearance mentions that Perry’s mother was executed first, in the chance that her sons, freed from her charm by her death, might at last confess. This is where I began my last posting. The disappointment of those hopes was assuaged locally by a compensatory, substitute myth: “There was a report, that Joan Perry had bewitched a woman, that lay bed-ridden several years, who upon her executn. got up and recovered her former state of health’ (note by John Adams in Bodley ms Gough Glouc 32 (18), transcribed by Mr Peter Clifford).

The other stray reference to witchcraft in Overbury’s pamphlet occurs late on, and is dismissive (or deliberately obfuscatory): “That he was spirited (as some are said to have been) is no ways probable, in respect he was an old and infirm Man, and taken from the most inland Part of the Nation.” Overbury here seems to mix up abduction by Barbary slavers (a real hazard on the south coast, especially in the west country), and being spirited away by demonic action.

The second pamphlet on the case, also in 1662, had no hesitation about playing up on the witchcraft. This is the anonymous author’s account of Harrison’s disappearance. Notice the quasi-oral style: this is bottom of the market authorship, willing to spin any kind of sensational story (so long as it can be moralized):

“At the time of their Execution they would not confess what they had done with Master Harrison; but said that he was not dead, but ere seven years were half over they should see Master Harrison again. Now attend to this following Discourse, and you shall hear in what a condition Master Harrison was left in. This Widow Perry by her wicked Conjuration had power on Master Harrison, for no sooner had they knocked him down, and taken what he had from him, but they threw him into a pit; He had not lain long but he began to come to himself, and he apprehended where he was, but before he was come to himself fully, he was in a moment conveyed to the Sea side, and from thence in a very short time he was conveyed to a rock standing in the Sea on the coast of Turky, where he remained the space of four days bare headed, his hat being left near Cambden, where they first had knocked him down.

After his four days abode there, there came by a Turkish ship which took him in, and brought him to Turky, and there sold him. His Master that bought him was by profession a Chyrurgeon, who asked his new bought Servant what he could do, he answered his Master that then was, that he had skill in Gardening and could distil Hearbs, in which employment he was entertained in; and he so well behaved himself that he gained a great deal of love from his Master during his life.

He had not lived there above two years or thereabouts, but it pleased God his Master dyed, who out of the respect he did bear to Master Harrison, his Servant, he gave him a peice of plate, and bade him make use thereof for his Transportation into his own Country, which he did.”

I like the authenticating detail of him arriving on the rock off the Turkish coastline without his hat: a sorry plight! In granting Widow Perry the power to transport people abroad, this pamphlet follows the lead of such stories as that of the involuntary flight of Richard Burt, or the pedlar mentioned in News from Scotland, who found himself transported to a wine cellar in Bordeaux. Though this narrative does do away with the (frankly) fictitious assailants Harrison wrote of, it does have the gaping hole of Widow Perry not using this early modern EasyJet to escape her own unhappy fate.

The same publisher, Charles Tyus, also put out a ballad about the Harrison-Perry story: the author may be the same as the pamphlet, or whoever it was certainly had it to hand in composing, for it versifies (to put it kindly) the pamphlet. It is in the very best of bad styles:

One night they met him comming into Town,
And in a barbarous manner knockt him down,
Then taking all his money quite away,
His body out of sight they did convey …

Is there a dialect pronunciation of ‘gallows’ that helps this rhyme?

… If God had let her work her utmost spight,
No doubt she would have kild the man outright,
But he is saved and she for all her malice,
Was very justly hang'd upon the Gallows.

The Overbury pamphlet got into the hands of Antony à Wood, the antiquary, who annotated his copy with the following fascinating extra material:

“Richard & Joan Perry were after execution taken downe & buried under the gallowes :- Three dayes after a gentlewoman pretending to understand witches hired a man to dig up the grave that shee might search Joans body - shee being on horseback, drew up to the grave which was opened, but the horse, starting at the sight of the body in grave, ran away under the gallowes & her head hitting against Johns feet struck her off from the horse into the grave -

After Harrisons returne John was taken downe & buried - And Harrisons wife soon after (being a snotty covetuous presbyterian) hung herself in her owne house – why, the reader is to judge.”

A gentlewoman, with some pretensions to understanding witchcraft, pays to have the body exhumed, perhaps (as Mr Clifford surmises) to discover the supernumerary witch’s teat. Her fastidious distance from the grisly scene (watching on horseback as the dirty work is done) was then changed by the accident into horrific proximity. The male elite pamphleteer distances his discussion from witchcraft, but a gentlewoman was keen to apply an early 17th century test. Her tumble probably confirmed her suspicions of the devil’s work.

And, again, that suggestion that the story has an answer: Harrisons’ wife committed suicide after his return. There’s another version of this in John Adam’s note in the Gough collection: “after her dth. there was found a letter in her scrutore which she had recd. from her husband, dated before the execution of Joan & her two sons”.

Harrison’s wife knew he was alive – and it is impossible to believe that any such letter came back from TurkeyHarrison must have written to reassure his wife that he was alive from wherever his son had persuaded him to go to ground. She did not intervene in the executions. Wood implies that either she or her family had profited financially: Edward had the job, the rents Harrison had collected on the evening before his disappearance (£23: a poor take, it had been expected that a larger sum would have been gathered, but the plot was sprung at the wrong moment – if it was a Harrison plot). The Harrison’s had struck back at the Perry family for the initial robbery: I surmise that they knew that they could not prove that the Perry’s had taken the £140, but believed it to be true. On that confused August night, when the Perry’s tried another robbery, Edward Harrison realized he could take the money himself and incriminate the Perry’s, if he persuaded his father to disappear.

In the end, Harrisons’ wife could live with the knowledge of what had been done, but not with the sharper surmises of what had gone on after her husband so miraculously returned: not with knowing that others knew.

My image is taken from the ballad: typical generic wood blocks, but the hanging has a suitably stark crudity. In the prior post, Chipping Campden from Google earth, showing the site of Chipping Campden house, destroyed in the Civil War: it was thought Harrison's murderers might have disposed of the body in the ruins.

The Return of William Harrison (Part I)

“Some few Days after, being brought to the Place of their Execution, which was on Broadway-Hill, within Sight of Campden, the Mother (being reputed a Witch, and to have so bewitched her Sons, they could confess nothing while she lived) was first executed: After which, Richard [Perry] being upon the Ladder, professed, as he had done all along, That he was wholly innocent of the Fact for which he was then to die; and that he knew nothing of Mr. Harrison's Death, nor what was become of him; and did, with great Earnestness, beg and beseech his Brother [John Perry] (for the Satisfaction of the whole World, and his own Conscience) to declare what he knew concerning him; but he, with a dogged and surly Carriage, told the People, he was not obliged to confess to them; yet, immediately before his Death, said, He knew nothing of his Master's Death, nor what was become of him, but they might hereafter (possibly) hear.”

~ This is 1660: and still it can be credited that a witch might prevent her sons disclosing their knowledge of the crimes she has shared with them. So she was hanged first, in the belief that the power of her spell will dissipate with her death. It doesn’t work, of course.

The last, enigmatic words of John Perry signaled the exit from the world of a disturbing and enigmatic man. In this, the first of two linked postings, I will look at the primary pamphlet source about this mysterious happening, which was assembled by Sir Thomas Overbury (nephew to the more famous knight of the same name). In my next post, I will go on to discuss the secondary materials from the period, which are already web-posted at a site about’ the Campden wonder’, collected, transcribed and introduced at http://www.campdenwonder.plus.com/index.htm by a Mr. Peter Clifford, local historian (and currently writing a book about this case).

To retell the story from my own reading, on the 16th of August 1660, John Perry’s master, William Harrison, steward to Lady Campden, a man reputedly aged about 70, set off to collect rents in Charringworth, two miles away. Between 8 and 9 in the evening, his wife sent John Perry to find out what had become of him. Perry was witnessed at various points of an erratic quest for his master, but, the next day, after Harrison’s hat, band and comb were found on the highway, hacked and bloody, and Harrison’s son Edward had met Perry coming back from Charringworth, the latter was imprisoned on suspicion of having murdered his master for the rent money he had collected. It emerged that Perry had in fact twice diverted back to his master’s house, without going inside, resting once for an hour in a chicken roost till (he said) the moon had come up enough to light his journey.

As his imprisonment continued, Perry asserted that his master had been murdered: first, he said, by a tinker, then it was by the servant of a local gentleman, then, finally, and sensationally, he accused his own brother and mother of having carried out the killing.

This they vehemently denied, but Perry stuck to his story. Ever since he had got his job with the steward, they had (he alleged) nagged him to save them from poverty by letting them know when his master was in possession of rents, or was out collecting them, so that Harrison could be robbed. The story he finally told was not one that was at all calculated to save his own skin: he had informed them, and had been present when his brother Richard did the murder. He was at least accomplice to the scheme, as he described it. When he left them, they were going to throw the body in a mill pond; he had himself left the hat, band and comb beside the highway to distract any investigation.

The Perry family were probably capable of the robbery. Harrison’s house had been robbed before: while the household were at a religious meeting, a ladder was put to an upstairs window, an iron ploughshare used to lever apart the bars on the window, and £140 stolen: a substantial sum. John Perry said his brother had carried out that earlier robbery, while he had himself pretended to have been attacked locally by two unknown men in white. This invention of rogues in the vicinity he had publicized to distract investigation.

However, Harrison’s body was not found in any of the places Perry said it was to have been hidden. The stolen £140 was not buried in the garden where Perry said it was stowed for later sharing. His mother and brother continued to deny everything.

With no body found, the Perry family were not hanged for the murder, but were, after various legal twists and turns, sentenced to death for the two robberies. At one point John tried to withdraw his confession, saying that he was mad when he said what he did. The three died together on Broadway Hill, with Edward Harrison standing at the foot of the ladder. He caused John Perry’s body to be hanged in chains; Harrison then took over in his father’s job as Lady Campden’s steward.

About two years later, William Harrison reappeared in Campden.

All we know about Harrison’s misadventures comes from a letter, apparently written by him, published in the source pamphlet for this 17th century mystery: A true and perfect account of the examination, confession, trial, condemnation and execution of Joan Perry, and her two sons, John and Richard Perry, for the supposed murder of Will. Harrison, Gent Being one of the most remarkable occurrences which hath happened in the memory of man (1676).

Harrison produced a brief, near paradigmatic captivity narrative: one that raises many questions. He was returning late from Charringworth, when he was assailed by two men, unknown to him (and not the Perry brothers). They wounded him twice, mounted him pillion on a horse, fastening his arms round the rider, and covering him with a cloak. With various stops en route, by Sunday afternoon they were at Deal. Here, Harrison heard a fee of £7 being negotiated with a man called Wrenshaw, who was doubtful that the battered and elderly Harrison would survive the journey ahead of him. But he took Harrison to sea: about six weeks later, Wrenshaw announced that Turkish vessels had been sighted. Instead of a fight, Harrison and two other captives were transferred into one of the Turkish ships.

Harrison was finally sold to a physician of Smyrna, an elderly man of 87. He worked mainly in the man’s still (processing herbs for medicines?), but also picked cotton, and was even involved in taking that cotton to the port, a day’s journey away. His master allocated a silver-gilt drinking bowl to Harrison, and when the old merchant was sick and dying, he allowed him to keep it, and told him to shift for himself. Harrison got to the port, and bought a passage secreted on a boat bound for Lisbon. Left destitute there, he heard English spoken, and told his story to an English gentleman who funded his final journey home.

“MANY question the Truth of this Account Mr. Harrison gives of himself, and his Transportation, believing he was never out of England: But there is no Question of Perry’s telling a formal false Story to hang himself, his Mother, and his Brother” (says the 17th century editor).

Two elaborate stories, both told by men with (it seems) nothing to gain in telling them. One of them proved (posthumously) false: the other was doubted, but apparently remained untested.

Harrison’s story has its scarcely credible aspects: those who assailed him, got an elderly, wounded man from Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire to Deal (Kent) in less than three complete days. That’s 186 miles, with two of the men on one horse. I could have believed Bristol – but Deal - far enough away to deter investigation, I surmise. They then quickly found and negotiated with a man who seems to have trade in selling abductees to the Turks. (Was it really the case that if you were reluctant to commit murder in the 17th century, you could find middlemen who would arrange for your victim to be carried off into slavery?) Over in Turkey, Harrison reports himself employed in what seem to be positions of something like trust, as if his experience of employment made him reproduce something which resembles his role as steward (is the silver-gilt cup an imagined equivalent to a steward’s chain?). His merchant, he says, had been in England at Crowland in Lincolnshire: but this doesn’t really cover the absence of language difficulties in his account. He just falls into place in Turkey as though it were all familiar.

Perry and the Perry family were perhaps guilty of the first robbery at Harrison’s house. Perry confessed to having told his brother where the money would be, where the ladder was kept, etc. If he didn’t know where the stolen money was stowed, then maybe he was convinced that his brother had carried out the second robbery (and murder), and was determined that Richard would not get away with it this second time, but would die with him. Perry’s wanderings about on the night of the abduction were those of a man who knew something was going on, and didn’t actually want to witness in fact what he later alleged he had witnessed.

The question of who benefited did strike the 17th century inquirers: “Some therefore have had hard Thoughts of his [Harrison’s] eldest Son, not knowing whom else to suspect; and believe the Hopes of the Stewardship, which he afterwards (by the Lord Campden’s Favour) enjoyed, might induce him to contrive his Father’s Removal; and this they are the more confirmed in from his Misbehaviour in it: But, on the other Side, 'tis hard to think the Son should be knowing of his Father’s Transportation; and, consequently, of these unhappy Persons’ Innocency, as to the Murder of him, and yet prosecute them to Death, as he did.”

Nobody sought to corroborate any part of Harrison’s story. Who was going to travel to Deal to inquire about a Wrenshaw and his activities, or find out if a Turk had ever been known in Crowland, Lincolnshire? There was no-one to do it, unless Lord Campden had ordered a clever servant to travel across the country and investigate.

I deduce that the Harrison’s, father and son, were acting together. The earlier robbery was being paid back on the Perry family, whose bungled conspiracies played into Edward Harrison’s hands. Edward also bullied his father into (in effect) handing over the job: it was difficult to refuse the reversion to the son of the man presumed murdered. Harrison senior was removed from the scene, in a semi-voluntary way. I still cannot quite account for the items of Harrison’s clothing, unless Perry planted them (he was back at the house and might have got in to pick them up) in his first panicky conviction that his brother had attacked his master.

It isn’t ‘The Return of Martin Guerre’. But it was written up 14 years after Harrison’s return, as “One of the most remarkable Occurrences which hath happened in the Memory of Man”. Everyone told their remarkable stories, and everyone kept their silence. For the rest, who heard, and surmised, they were helpless. No-one seems to have sought any corroborating evidence for Harrison’s story (not even looking for scars from the attack on his body). Evidence is accidental, rather than systematically gathered: Richard Perry drops an ‘inkle’ of linen tape: “One remarkable Circumstance happened in these Prisoners Return from the Justice of the Peace's House to Campden, viz. Richard Perry (following a good Distance behind his Brother John) pulling a Clout out of his Pocket, dropped a Ball of Inkle, which one of his Guard taking up, he desired him to restore it, saying it was only his Wife’s Hair-lace; but the Party opening of it, and finding a Slip-knot at the End, went and shewed it unto John, who was then a good Distance before, and so knew nothing of the dropping and taking up of this Inkle; but being shewed it, and asked whether he knew it, shook his Head and said, Yea, to his Sorrow; for that was the String his Brother strangled his Master with.” Didn’t it occur to him to dispose of a line-tape noose, just in case it was exploited as suspicious?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Placebo Effect, early modern style

“Fourthly, these charms are mere mockeries, and gross abuses, both of God, and Men his creatures, I will give you a taste of one or two, whereby you may judge of the rest, for they came all out of one shop, and are fashioned in one forge, and have the same workman or Artificer. An old woman craving help for blear eyes, had delivered a Billet of Paper to wear about her neck, in which was written, The Divell pull out thine eyes, and recovered.”

~ An illiterate old woman buys what she thinks is a charm, and it works like a charm. But the magical amulet she had been prescribed was just a curse on her, penned by the insolent practitioner. So, was she cheated, or not?

This Jonsonian moment comes from A. Roberts’ A treatise of witchcraft Wherein sundry propositions are laid downe, plainely discovering the wickednesse of that damnable art …With a true narration of the witchcrafts which Mary Smith, wife of Henry Smith glover, did practice (1616). The rest of this post describes what is, I think, one of the less well known 17th century English works on the subject of witchcraft.

Roberts, a well read clergyman, is aware of the Weyer-Scot understanding of confessed witchcraft as mental delusion, and so he buttresses his account of Marie Smith’s admitted malefice with nine lengthy ‘Propositions’ arguing the veracity of pact witchcraft. Among authors prompted to a work of demonology by witnessing a local accusation of witchcraft (we are in King’s Lynn, Norfolk), he stood in a position of some confidence: the woman accused had confessed, repented, and then insisted on being hanged without delay. Even so, there is something hectoring about the parade of pro-demonological ‘Propositions’, as though a minority voice of dissent had to be drowned out, in case he still heard it in himself.

Mary Smith was clearly quite ill-natured and unruly. Sudden vehement quarrels with neighbours, typical enough of village life, were (by the initial coincidence of those she had fallen out with becoming ill) in her case changed into evidence of her being a witch. These incidents were followed by others, impressionable people who had heard these stories fancying themselves also to be supernaturally afflicted. Perhaps Smith also came to believe in the efficacy of her curse, and that she had some connection with the devil. For she finally confessed to this, repented under the spiritual guidance of “sundry learned and reverend Divines, who both prayed for her conversion, carefully instructed her in the way to salvation, and hopefully rescued her from the Divell”, and expedited her own execution. Even so, Roberts still gives the impression that she had got away with something. He seems to think that she had committed other crimes, and that she urged her own execution to prevent further inquiries ever being made. But, as he concludes his account of her pact and final recantation, he summons up some magnanimity:

“she in particular maner confessed openly at the place of execution, in the audience of multitudes of people gathered together (as is usuall at such times) to be beholders of her death. And made there also profession of her faith, and hope of a better life hereafter … And being asked, if she would be contented to have a Psalme sung, answered willingly that she desired the same, and appointed it herselfe, The Lamentation of a Sinner, whose beginning is, Lord turne not away thy face, &c. And after the ending thereof thus finished her life: So that in the judgement of charity we are to conceive the best, and thinke shee resteth in peace, notwithstanding her heynous transgressions formerly committed: for there is no maladay incurable to the Almighty Physitian”

The four maledictions she was both accused of and confessed to read like a studied and deliberate sample of typical cases. First, there was John Orkton, a sailor: he struck her son, she caused his fingers to rot off, and though he continued to go to sea after the amputations, none of his voyages produced any profit for him or his master: like the sailor in Macbeth, he lived ‘a man forbid’, dwindled, peaked and pined under a witch’s curse.

Then followed Elizabeth Hancocke: Smith accused this girl of stealing her hen. The girl suffered violent fits “as if the very flesh had beene torne from the bones, by the violent paine whereof she could not refraine, but tore the haire from off her head, and became as one distraught, bereaved of sence, and understanding: And the same night the bed whereon she lay, was so tossed, and lifted up and downe, both in her owne feeling, and in the sight of others then present beholders of her extreamities, by the space of one houre or more”.

An afflicted sailor, a possessed adolescent girl: what follows augments this impression of reading an anthology of typical malignancies. Elizabeth Hancocke was temporarily cured after her father consulted a wizard. Roberts disapproves, but still recites the clichéd mira this village wizard produced: the father “went to one for his advice (whose fact herein is no way justifiable, and argued but a small measure of religion, and the knowledge of God in him) who first tolde unto him the cause of his comming, that is, to seeke help for his daughter, and then added, that she was so farre spent, that if hee had stayed but one day longer, the woman who had wrongd her, would have spent her heart, and so become unrecoverable, and thereupon shewed him her face in a Glasse; and further, opened the beginning cause of falling out, which was for a hen, which before this, Drake neyther knew nor heard of”.

This wizard tells the father how to make a witch cake, and how to use it: “and then gave his counsell for remedy, which was the matter sought for & desired, & that was in this order. To make a cake with flower from the Bakers, & to mix the same instead of other liquor, with her own water, and bake it on the harth, wherof the one halfe was to be applyed and laid to the region of the heart, the other halfe to the back directly opposit; & further, gave a box of ointment like triacle, which must be spread upon that cake, and a powder to be cast upon the same, and certaine words written in a paper, to be layd on likewise with the other”.

Treated with this nearly palpable low-magic version of a consecrated host, Elizabeth recovered. After her recovery, she soon got married, and, continuing the quarrel, her husband tried to kill Mary Smith’s great cat (run through twice with a sword, and hit over the head with a pike, the cat still managed to escape the sack it has been bagged up in for disposal, and was never seen again). Elizabeth again lost her health, and Roberts says she has never fully recovered it again, despite Smith’s conviction.

Mary Smith’s third victim followed a quarrel between herself and another woman of low social status, Cicely Balye, a servant. She afflicted her with a supernatural weight-loss programme (one that would make the new age practitioner a fortune these days):

Mary Smith began to pick a quarrell about the manner of sweeping, and said unto her she was a great fat-tail’d sow, but that fatnesse should shortly be pulled downe and abated. And the next night being Sunday immediatly following, a Cat came unto her, sate upon her breast, with which she was grievously tormented, and so oppressed, that she could not without great difficulty draw her breath, and at the same instant did perfectly see the said Mary in the chamber where she lay, who (as she conceived) set that Cat upon her, and immediately after fell sicke, languished, and grew exceeding leane.”

Finally, the last big dispute brings us close to early modern business studies: Edmund Newton was her competitor in the local cheese selling business. He cornered the local market, so she afflicted his body, leaving him intermittently bedridden, and also sent her ‘Toad and Crabs’ into his workplace. The toad, caught and dropped in his fire, caused Mary Smith to suffer intolerable pain while it burned. Newton was persuaded to try ‘scratching’ the witch (again, the steadily pious Roberts, who argues throughout that faith in God will protect you from witchcraft, disapproves):

“And by the councel of some, sending for this woman by whom hee was wronged, that he might scratch her (for this hath gone as currant, and may plead prescription for warrant a foule sinne among Christians to thinke one Witch-craft can drive out another) his nailes turned like feathers, having no strength to lay his hands upon her.”

~ I had not seen a case where the witch’s powers were able to defeat ‘scratching’.

Altogether an interesting pamphlet, not much cited in the scholarship on English witchcraft cases, mingling (as these things tend to do) trivial quarrels and obvious antagonisms with the impenetrable mystery of the accused woman’s state of mind.

My image is a composite from two pages of the original: Roberts' scoffing passage about misplaced faith in magic, and then a passage from the dedication of the treatise to the Recorder and Aldermen of King’s Lynn, where either Satan or Roberts’ wavering syntax tripped the compositor into a misprint. It reads:

“I haue at your appointment and request (for whom I am most willing to bestow my best labours and euer shall be) penned this small Treatise, occasioned by the detection of a late witch among you, whose irreligious care, and vnwearied industry, is not to be defrauded of deserued commendation, and by mature deliberation, and discreete search, found out her irreligious and impious demeanour, and also discouered sundry her vnnaturall and inhumane mischiefes done to others.”

Eye-slip picked up ‘irreligious’ from late in the sentence, and applied it to the aldermen.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Antonio Vivaldi and early music

Away for the weekend, to experience some Cotswolds rain for a change, and therefore away from the wilds of EEBO and the 17th century. So, as a musical interlude, something to make you feel happy for a hundred years, the Allegro Molto from Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto in C major for Diverse Instruments’, R.558:


This was originally scored for two violins ‘in tromba’, two recorders, two mandolins, 2 salmoè, two theorbos, cello, strings and harpsichord. (I just love that general feeling you get with Vivaldi of ‘Right, who’ve we got this morning? OK, off I go…’, though actually this was a very special piece presented to Prince Friedrich Christian of Saxony on his visit to Venice in 1740).

I’ve read Eleanor Selfridge-Field’s piece, ‘Vivaldi’s Esoteric Intruments’ (Early Music, 1978), which explains the ‘violini in tromba marina’, while the website below publishes a whole study of the instrument Vivaldi was somehow treating the violins to sound like (the ‘tromba marina’ was apparently a monochordal stringed instrument (usually), where the bridge for the string was not rigidly fixed, but was allowed to vibrate against the sounding board at one side, producing a trumpet-like blare of sound).


Selfridge-Field suggests that Vivaldi loved to explore all kinds of sonorities, and would utilize otherwise obsolete instruments for that purpose; she even suggests that Venice enjoyed an early music revival in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (after all, was there anywhere that had better early music?).

In this performance, the theorbos (or arch-lutes) have been swapped for harps, the salmoè for bass oboe, recorders for flutes, while trumpets take the ‘tromba marina’ parts, with violin, cello, and harpsichord (that’s Leonard Bernstein at the harpsichord, no less, making it trill like an electric bell). Available in less hissy form (no doubt) on


My mp3 is called 'vivaldiloudversion' because is one of my stupid moments, I thought a lower setting might result in a smaller file size (D'Oh!). The image is by Hans Memling, of ‘angel musicians’. The Web Gallery of Art explains all the esoteric instruments, and a ‘tromba marina’ appears second left.