cunning-man’s trial at exeter 1566…

Thanks to Marion Gibson for putting this in the book ‘Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750’ Cornell University Press

Document in Devon Record Office, Chanter MSS 855B (f. 310-312v)

Res die martis xxmo die mensis Augustii Ao 1566. {John Welshe}

there was examynd by m williams Comissary to the byshop of Exon John walshe certein inter upon wiche craft in the howse of Mr Tho Sinkler keeper of the Shereve warde in the presence of jo butler and Robert buller william blacheford and Jo bordfyld gentelmen.

John welshe beinge demondyd of his habitacion, he saythe that he dwellythe in a pishe callyd netherberry in dosett shere.

Ad secund beinge demondyd whether he were ever Sr Robert of dreatons man saythe that  he was reteininge to hem by the space of vii yeres.

Ad iii in he beinge demondyd whether he do practyse any fisike or surgerye he saythe that he do practyse bothe for the Tisikes and the agues. and that he hathe practyced this fisike by the space of vii yeres sithens his mr dyed Sr Robert of dreaton died for the sayde cases only

Ad iiii beinge demondyd of home he larnyd his fisike and surgery he answeryd that he larnyd yt of his m Robert of dreaton.

Ad v he beinge demondyd whether he doth yt by arte naturally or else {by any familiar} by any other secreat or pryvy meane use this fisike or surgery he answeryd yt he dothe yt by arte naturally practysed as he saythe and not by any other yll or secreat meanes and yt he beinge demondyd whether he knewe the naturall operacion of the herbes as whether they were whot or cold and in what degre they were so he answeryd he cold not tell

Ad vi he beinge demondyd whether he had a ffamiliar or not he answeryd utterly that he hathe none aboute hem nether in any other place of the woreld ether above grounde or under the grounde ether in any place secreat or open.

Ad vii he beinge demondyd howe he knowth when any man ys wiched he saythe that he knewe yt partlye by the feres and that there be iii kindes of ferises whit grene and blacke wch when he is disposid to use he spekithe with uppon hilles where is grete hepes of erthe namely yn dorset shere and between the howres of xii & one at none or at mydnyghte he usethe they. Wherof the glacke ferrys ys the warst also he saithe that he had a booke of his said mr whiche had greate circles yn hyt where he woolde sett too wax candels a crosse of virgyn wax to raise the famylier sprite of who he wold then aske for a thynge stolen who dyd hit and where the thynge stollen was loste and therby dyd knowe and farther by the ferrys he know howe psons ar bywitched…

…Ad xii he being demandyd whether that any of the iii kyndes of ferys when they dyd hurt whether they do hit of their owne malygnyte or of the pvocat by any wicked man he answerithe that they do hurt of their maligynty not pvoked by anye man…

The disposition of the court is either lost or not recorded. The fact that it was an ecclesiastical court(protestant, church of england) rather than a secular court means that the most that could be imposed was penance of some sort. Very few cunning-folk were tried in secular courts, although they were occasionally caught up in witch prosecutions, especially in Scotland(where the dour calvinist Covenanters held sway). It is also interesting that John Walshe or Welshe’s employer Robert of Drayton was a supporter of Catholicism, and the same was suspected of Mr. Walshe or Welshe, in fact the witch hunts and trials, as well as the prosecution of cunning-folk, were often used in Protestant countries to ‘expose’ Catholic or ‘papist superstitions’ and ‘priests magical practices’ with its’ attendant reliance on ritual and ‘magic’ items(hosts, water, candles, etc.) as well as pater nosters, ave marias, and other ‘spells’. Cunning-folk inherited a long tradition of religious elements used in their charms and incantations, and despite their practices being condemned in the various Witchcraft Acts, the fact that they didn’t or were not proved to use ‘malificium’ or maleficent magic against there neighbors, they were not perceived as witches, and consequently ended up more often in ecclesiastical courts, rather than secular courts(where death or later imprisonment were the punishment). Usually if charges of witchcraft were brought against them it was from unhappy ‘customers’, although the fact that the person who ordered the magical services or maleficent magic was considered equally guilty, meant that it was a potentially dangerous charge to make.


About drcarlsonalbion

Musician in band earth. Folklore/History/Occult enthusiast, especially about British Isles.
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