This young man was one Richard Dugdale. He’s in his preferred costume as ‘the Surey demoniack’. ‘Surey’ in this case has nothing to do with the county of Surrey. ‘The Surey’ was in Lancashire, near Whalley (and present day Stonyhurst College). It was a large barn that seems to have been a kind of early modern village hall: ‘the Surey was a common Receptacle for all the young ladies in the Neighbour-hood to come on Spinning at; a custom used in the North’, a building the landlord allowed to be used for communal work and the festivities associated with local ‘rushbearings’.
We are in very late 17th century Lancashire, my informant about this is the trenchant Zachary Taylor, the Samuel Harsnett of his day, who gave a full account (in The Surey imposter being an answer to a late fanatical pamphlet, entituled The Surey demoniack, 1697) of what went on. This he did initially with what might reasonably be taken for a good humour born of confidence that his insights and documentary evidence would explode these follies. In his subsequent work on this matter, the obstinacy of his opponents leaves him exasperated and angry (this is in his Popery, superstition, ignorance, and knavery, very unjustly by a letter in the general pretended but as far as was charg’d, very fully proved upon the dissenters that were concerned in the Surey imposture, 1698).
I am not aware of any comparable 17th century English depiction of a demoniac. Taylor must have had the woodcut made because, to his mind, Dugdale’s use of costume is amongst the evidence which shows that the ‘demoniac’ was perfectly aware of himself and the effect he was making:
“Another argument that R. was sometimes sensible in his pretended Fits, and only play’d the Knave, is the odd Dresses that he affected to habit himself in: I will give you an account of one, which is thus. R. takes a large coarse Blanket, and Mantles himself in it; one of the Corners he so orders, that as occasion is, with a nod he may drop it over his Face, or with a toss back fling it like a Monks Cowl upon his Shoulders; the opposite Corner he reserves for a long Train to trail after him as he frisk’d it about. In this fantastick Garb, he traverseth the Barn, and comes pretty close up to whom he thought it would more powerfully affect, and gives a nod with his Head, and flap goes a Corner of the Blanket on his Face; then he gives another toss of it back again, stands upon his Tip toes, and stares and heaves, as he would fly away. Whisk about then he turns to another, so to a third, &c. Thus he keeps the People in Fears, and expectation of what’s to be done…”
Taylor’s faintly indulgent amusement at Dugdale and his antics does not extend to the demoniac’s major dupes, a group of ‘fanatic’ dissenting ministers who, like John Darrel before them, were determined to show that the Protestant church can exorcise the possessed effectively, that they can carry out by godly prayer and fasting what the Catholic church claimed exclusively for itself, and attempted (as they saw it) via superstitious ritual. In Taylor’s persuasive analysis of what was really going at stake, the six errant ministers were not just the dupes of Dugdale and his family, but, more dangerously, the Dugdales were actually being run by two Catholic priests. The elaborate set-up in this late contest between the two churches, ritual against prayer, involved Dugdale as a fake demoniac, who would fail to respond to Protestant exorcists: the Catholic exorcists would then sweep in and show that their rite of exorcism was effective where Protestants had failed. There’s a rather guileless moment in the pamphlet written by one of the deceived ministers, Thomas Jollie, when the clerics, fatigued by their recurrent fasts and the physical and mental rigours of their attempted exorcisms, and seeing no improvement, round on Richard and his family:
“On Jan. the 9th, Was a Fast-day for him at the Surey, the Ministers dealt plainly, and particularly with Richard, and them, where he lived, suspecting that the success of their endeavours was hinder’d by their little sense or improvem[en]t of this sad Judgment…”
The family were (the frustrated ministers said) not sorrowful enough about the judgment visited on them in Richard’s possession, and this was protracting the process of exorcism. They were also suspected of suppressing other material facts to the detriment of the rite: “by their slowness in confessing all they knew of a more full Contract with Satan, than what had been discover’d”. Worst of all, “there were reports of their Corresponding with P. and H. Popish Priests, which however they denied”. After this showdown, Richard complied, with a show of improvement. The ingenious Dugdale family were in a position to exploit both sets of potential exorcists, and were probably ready, in the end, to sell the moment of dispossession to the highest bidder.
The Richard Dugdale show, while it ran, was a sensation: the local landlord complained about the gathering crowds trampling his crops, and Thomas Jollie (one of the credulous ministers) reports of one occasion “there being that Night about or above a Thousand People, labouring to throng into the Barn”.
This large gathering of people seems to have created its own air of licence: the extreme disinhibition of Dugdale’s performance was apparently contagious. In the 1634 play of The Late Lancashire Witches, a ‘satanical sisterhood’ meets at a barn, in a sabbath of jollity and feasting, rather than anything orgiastic. The Surey barn ‘Satanalia’ (to coin a word) turned more overtly sexual, if Zachary Taylor is to be believed: “the neighbourhood affirm, that there was never such Whoring heard of, as whilst the Ministers kept up these Meetings, they scarce being able to go into the Fields, but they found Men and Women Trading almost under every Hedge”. The exorcising Protestant ministers were themselves unimpressed with the moral character of the locals, who were “all professed Protestants, tho' they had been Popishly brought up, and lead profane lives in a place, where Iniquity did so abound, as some Judgment might justly be expected upon, or among them”.
The other members of the Dugdale family were all mobilized to assist Richard in his physical antics and his moments of oracular prescience: “His Sisters, as I am well inform’d, were constantly plying about to bring in Informations”, says Taylor. He also remarks that Dugdale’s performance area in the barn had hiding places where objects could be left for him to pick up, convey to his mouth (this would have been most easily done when he was hidden by his blanket), and then disgorge.
As for Richard himself, he was in his element. Taylor produces remarkably relevant testimonies from men who had been at school with Richard – for they had seen it all before, or things even more extreme, from a young man they vividly remembered as (in modern terms) a hyperactive attention-seeker. At school, the young Richard often “Turned in the Sight of his Eyes, and nothing but the Whites appear’d; he would have stirred the Skin upon his Skull to and fro, without any motion of the Head; the hair on his Head seeming thereby to stand on an end: By the management of his Tongue, he would have made many and several kinds of hideous and unusual Noises, like Dogs, Cats &c to me often seeming as if it were quite below the throat. I have seen him in several of his Fits, but then saw nothing done by him, but what he much exceeded when a School-boy.” I suppose every schoolteacher is bound to meet with this type of pupil, given to freakish behaviour.
Taylor’s unnamed correspondent also recollects that Dugdale used to claim to have had regular encounters with a witch who taught him these various alarming tricks: “He often said, he met an old Witch in his coming and going betwixt his Fathers House and the School, which he called Sadler’s Wife; and that she had Tew’d him (as he calls it) in his coming or going, as made him sweat extreamly”. ]I think ‘Tew’d’ must mean ‘tutored’.]
Richard Dugdale could imitate the sounds and movements of animals (his act as horse even extended to eating equine provender), he could dance with tireless energy while on his knees, ventriloquise, and do contortions: “he oft stretch’d out his Neck to a prodigious length towards the Ministers that prayed”. One thing that very much impressed those who testified to the truth of the possession (as cited by Jollie), was his ability to seem either very light or very heavy (he probably had family assistants working among the witnesses who experienced this supernatural effect, and either covertly lifting or weighing him down). His sisters, gossiping purposefully with their female friends, could pick up all kinds of news from across the region, which he could produce, as if it were Satan’s knowledge of all that pertained to him.
One major performance type Richard would have seen was the clergyman in the pulpit, and so Dickie had Satan, residing within him, deliver long homilies. Jollie guilelessly reports that “here Satan described much of the nature and sorts of Hell Torments, at a more lively and terrible rate than ever the By-standers knew done by Mens Books or Sermons, insomuch that many things then spoken by the Devil about Hell, being afterwards collected, and so far as clear Scripture proof for them was found, formed into a Discourse.” Dugdale would also impersonate gentlemen playing bowls or cards, and like demoniacs before him act out their sins, making a moral commentary, while disclaiming all conscious knowledge of how to play.
Dugdale, a born performer, dancer, and physical clown, had a large audience at last, and seems most of all to have wanted to display his dancing. The exorcists went along with this, in that they were eager (as puritan-minded dissenting ministers) to push a story that Satan had entered into Richard after an unusual version of the Faustian pact, in which Richard had given himself to the devil in return for becoming a good dancer: “Said the Minister, What Wish and Vow was that? Satan answered, Dicky wisht he might be a good Dancer, saying, He’de give himself to the Devil, might he but excel others in Dancing; upon which many of the By-standers struck with wonder, declared how they heard Richard speak those words, when he having a mind to dance with a Young Woman, because he could not dance well, another that could dance better, was prefer’d before him; Dancing then being much labour’d after, and prided in their way as a rare Accomplishment.” Obviously men like Jollie would view dancing as part of the immorality of the region, and seek to make Dugdale a moral example of what became of you if you went in for clog-dancing. Zachary Taylor says that Dugdale told him that he never said any such thing as the words reported, though it seems to me quite likely that Dugdale knew he was a very athletic dancer, and wanted to make dancing central to his fits via this convenient lead-in.
Despite the grueling schedule of his one man show, Richard was thriving. Thomas Jollie finds it miraculous that “Richard being tossed so by Satan, and dasht against the ground, had not his Head split in pieces, his Bones broken, his Spirits spent, or Body more disorder’d, but seem’d rather bigger and more plump, and in far better liking, when out of his Fits, then ever he was before”. Pleased with himself, and enjoying enormous amounts of attention, not in the slightest bit ill (no hysteria, no epilepsy, no lockjaw), and perfectly in control of the situation, Richard could not stop himself manifesting some contempt for his clerical dupes.
He made a speciality of spitting with extraordinary accuracy at the minister John Carrington. A spitting demoniac was not a new thing, of course, and there were local Lancashire examples which might have helped prompt him. But Dickie Dugdale was (unsurprisingly in the light of his other physical accomplishments), extraordinarily good at it:
“at last the Daemoniack threw his head so among the People that were betwixt him and one of the Ministers, as that a Ball of Flegm strangely glanted among them without weting any, till it slap’d on his Shoulder, and thence flash’d o’re his Face, and all down his Cloaths, Richard’s Tongue and Eyes being inactive herein, as abovesaid; whilst this flowed from his Breast, What amazing hideous sounds were heard in or from him all along! Sometimes as of Swine, or Water-mills, or as if a Bear and other Wild Beasts had joyned their several Notes to mix up a dreadful peal of Noises.”
These were scenes that did little for the dignity of the cloth. The clerical participants report it all with undiminished good faith: they believe that ‘Richard’ (as Jollie persists in calling him even at this point) cannot see them, with his eyes rolled back in his head, but although everyone struggles to protect the leading minister, he is still bespattered with diabolic accuracy:
“Upon which the Demoniack most furiously raged, threatened to tear him in pieces, struggled most vehemently to get at him, being Six or Seven Yards distant from him, hurled Rolls of Foam still on his Face; and tho' Hats and Aprons were held up betwixt them, to hinder his annoying of him, yet he was hurled so high, or so low, or sideways, that the Balls of Foam which came from him still hit him on or about the Face; notwithstanding the uselessness of Richard’s seeing or speaking Organs herein.”
It’s hard not to think that, locally, there was enough knowledge of the type of tricks Dugdale had played at school (in which he would take a subversive delight in involving a schoolteacher mystified at his freakish antics) for some observers to have been half in on the joke. There is also that barely concealed Lancashire Catholicism: how many were taking great pleasure in watching Richard insult Protestant clerics, and getting away with it splendidly? Meanwhile, after scenes like this, the local population, gathered together in unusual numbers, swived merrily away in the hedge-bottoms.
The Surey demoniac is not mentioned in Marion Gibson, or Dijkhuizen, the pamphlets are not in Philip Almond’s anthology of such texts. It’s very late 17th century, but Zachary Taylor is aware of exorcism cases in Lancashire running through the entire century, as Catholic priests and Jesuits sought to make conversions in a county that was only superficially Protestant. I have noted before very late witchcraft pamphlets as unduly neglected, here’s a case of possession which was very fully investigated by the astute Zachary Taylor, it’s amusing – and it’s illustrated.