Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Richard Bernard, and a bad 17th century wash day

It’s a long time since I did a witchcraft post, and I haven’t been doing much haunting of the databases. Richard Bernard’s A guide to grand-iury men diuided into two bookes is a text I’ve used for quotations from which to hang examination questions. The full title gives its scope: in the first, is the authors best aduice to them what to doe, before they bring in a billa vera in cases of witchcraft, with a Christian direction to such as are too much giuen vpon euery crosse to thinke themselues bewitched. In the second, is a treatise touching witches good and bad, how they may be knowne, euicted, condemned, with many particulars tending thereunto (1627). Bernard was not a demonologist with a name to make in a crowded field, but a popular and diligent divine. As Richard Greaves describes him in his excellent ODNB life, Bernard was a near-Puritan who generally managed to conform to the established Church, and was always so zealously instructive to his congregations that his bishops tolerated his occasional signs of non-conformity. He did apparently once exorcise a devil, which aligns him with John Darrel, straying out of line with church policy.

Bernard writes as a man who has done his research: he reads the major thinkers, Bodin, Delrio, Scot and such, but also has gone through a whole array of the pamphlets about individual cases in England. He gave a deal of thought to the witches of Warboys, and it is interesting to see his understanding of that case.

Bernard’s book is a strange thing to read, in that he sets out with a very reasonable exposition of all the reasons why grand jury men should not leap to conclusions that meant an innocent would be hanged for witchcraft. Bernard writes about such things as symptoms of strange illnesses, malicious accusations, or the devil’s aim in incriminating a particular woman, so as to panic the wider community, who would end up with innocent blood on their hands. But the second part of his work is far less worried about ensuring that no innocent blood be shed: rather, it is keen to promote the hanging of evil witches, blessing witches, curing witches, in fact anyone who uses any magical means. The warnings-off in the first part, and setting-on in the second, would have seemed a puzzling mismatch to any conscientious jury-man looking for guidance.

Bernard tries, in his demonological mode, to expound, as demonologists did, what evidence can be trusted. He read The Witches of Warboys carefully. In the Throckmorton household, the girls who believed themselves afflicted by Mother Samuel’s spirits, finally drew an initially disapproving household into the ghoulish practice of scratching a witch (on the face, above the mouth, drawing blood to break her power over them). Bernard writes of scratching:

“This is a remedy which the Deuils themselues haue confessed to practise, & which the Diuell hath strengthened some to be able to do: as you may reade in the Relation of Master Throgmortons children in foure seuerall places, especially of one Mary, a little child, kneeling on her knees, who scratched the yong VVitch a big maide, whilst the child was in her fit, and said that the spirit bade her doe it; that the spirit willed her not to pity the Witches crying, that the spirit held downe the Witch to her, that it forced her to scratch, stretching forth her armes, and straining her fingers, whether shee would or no, to doe it. Is this a good and Christian remedy, wherewith the Deuill is so well pleased? Neither for all the scratching did the children amend, but were againe in their fits, and that often afterwards. Yea I haue read, that a woman VVitch willed voluntarily one to scratch her to helpe him.

... There was another triall vsed very often by M. Trogmorton, to bring his children out of their fits, which was this: to make the Witch to say, I charge thee, thou deuill, as I loue thee, & haue authority ouer thee, and am a Witch, & guilty of this matter, that thou suffer this child to bee well at this present: and by and by the child should be well.

But here note, that the Story telleth vs, that one of the spirits was the author and counsellor to this, and told one of the children in her fit, that if Agnes Samuel were made to speake these words, the child should for the present be well. What warrant they had to take the Deuils instruction, and to make her vse these words, so cursed & fearefull, I leaue to the iudgement of the wise and religious.”

That’s a substantial cop-out at the end: Bernard is precisely that, 'wise and religious'. He can’t quite bring himself to express his disapproval of the way things were conducted in Warboys. A deep attachment to the reality of the primary delusion, the existence of pact witchcraft, perhaps disinclines him to unravel purported ‘evidence’. His whole book shows, in its extended second part, his need to overwrite the inner skepticism that had partially been expressed in part one.

But here he is on women, and why they outnumber men among those accused of witchcraft (I like the word ‘tongueripe’, which the OED cites from here, ):

“Women exceed the men, and it may be for these reasons.

1. Satan his setting upon these rather then on men, since his unhappie onset and prevailing with Eve.

2. Their more credulous nature, and apt to be misled and deceived.

3. For that they are commonly impatient, and more superstitious, and being displeased, more malicious, and so more apt to bitter cursing, and farre more revengefull, according to their power, then men, and so herein more fit instruments of the Divell.

4. They are more tongueripe, and lesse able to hide what they know from others, and therefore in this respect, are more ready to bee teachers of Witchcraft to others, and to leave it to children, servants, or to some others, then men.

5. And lastly, because where they thinke they can command, they are more proud in their rule, and more busie in setting such on worke whom they may command, then men. And therefore the Divell laboureth most to make them Witches: because they, upon every light displeasure, will set him on worke, which is that which he desireth. See instances in Bodin, in his Daemonomania. l. 2. cap. 3. p. 144. 150. and the Confession of Mother Demdike a Lancashire Witch.

Finally, a bad 17th century wash-day:

"They can kill both man and beast, and blast corne, and doe many other evils and harmes: needlesse it is to take up time with instancing particulars: they can bespot linnen cloathes with pictures of Toads, Snakes, and other vermine; as the spirit of one Hellen Ienkenson did a Buck of cloathes of Mistresse Moulshow, because she had the day before helped to search the Witch, and found the marke upon her."

Bernard took this story out of The witches of Northampton-shire Agnes Browne. Ioane Vaughan. Arthur Bill. Hellen Ienkenson. Mary Barber. Witches. Who were all executed at Northampton the 22. of Iuly last. 1612. Considering Helen Jenkinson's fate, it is callous to find the encounter a funny one, but Mistress Moulshaw was clearly made of stern stuff:

"This Helen was apprehended for bewitching of a Child to death, and committed to Northampton Gaole the 11 of May last by Sir Thomas Brooke of Okeiy Knight. A little before whose apprehension, one Mistris Moulsho of the same Towne (after she was so strongly suspected) getting her by a wyle into a place conuenient would néeds haue her searched, to see if they could find that insencible marke which commonly all Witches haue in some priuy place or other of their bodies. And this Mistris Moulsho was one of the chiefe that did search her, and found at the last that which they sought for to their great amazement: at that time this Mistris Moulsho had a Bucke of clothes to be washt out. The next morning the Mayd, when shee came to hang them forth to dry, spyed the Cloathes, but especially Mistris Moulshoes Smocke to be all bespotted with the pictures of Toades, Snakes, and other ougly Creatures, which making her agast, she went presently and told her Mistris, who looking on them, smild, saying nothing else but this; Heere are fine Hobgoblins indeed: And beeing a Gentlwoman of a stout courage, went immediately to the house of the sayd Helen Ienkenson, and with an angry countenance told her of this matter, threatning her that if her Linnen were not shortly cleered from those foule spots, she would scratch out both her eyes: and so not staying for any answere went home, and found her linnen as white as it was at first."

My image is four of Bernard's little pages, where he creates a tabular parallel of God and the devil, His ape.

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