54 The Confessions of the Chelmsford Witches
Like Saint’s Lives, witch trials—reaching their peek between 1400 and 1600—provided loads of horrific and titillating entertainment at local trials and executions, and as written broadsides and woodblock images. This trial in England shows how much superstition, folklore, and religious iconography had been absorbed into the witch mythology at its zenith, even for the accused.
The Examination and Confession of Certain Witches at Chelmsford in the County of Essex, before the Queen Majesty’s Judges, the 26th day of July Anno 1566 (London, 1566)
(Edited from the original text by Frank Luttmer. The spelling has been modernized.)
The examination of them with their confession before Doctor Cole and Master Foscue at the same Assize verbatum as near as could be gathered, and first of Elizabeth Francis who said as here followeth.
First she learned this art of witchcraft at the age of twelve years of her grandmother whose name was Eve of Hatfield Peverell deceased. Item when she taught it her, she counselled her to renounce GOD and his word, and to give of her blood to Satan (as she termed it) which she delivered her in the likeness of a white spotted Cat, and taught her to feed the said Cat with bread and milk and she did so, also she taught her to call it by name of Satan and keep it in a basket.
When this mother Eve had given her the Cat Satan, then this Elizabeth desired first of the said cat (calling it Satan) that she might be rich and to have goods, and he promised her she should, asking her what she would have, and she said sheep for this cat spake to her as she confessed in a strange hollow voice, (but such as she understood by use) and this Cat forthwith brought sheep into her pasture to the number of twenty-eight black and white, which continued with her for a time, but in the end did all wear away she knew not how.
Item when she had gotten these sheep, she desired to have one Andrew Byles to her husband, which was a man of some wealth, and the cat did promise she should, but that he said she must first consent that this Andrew could abuse her, and so she did.
And after when this Andrew had thus abused her he would not marry her, wherefore she willed Satan to waste his goods, which he forthwith did, and yet not being contented with this, she willed him to touch his body, which he forthwith did wherefore he died.
Item that every time that he did anything for her, she said that he required a drop of blood, which she gave him by pricking herself, sometime in one place and then in another, and where she pricked herself there remained a red spot, which was still to be seen.
Item when this Andrew was dead, she doubting [fearing] herself with child with Satan to destroy it, and he had her take a certain herb and drink which she did, and destroyed the child forthwith.
Item when she desired another husband, he promised her another, naming this Francis whom she now hath, but said he is not so rich as the other, willing her to consent unto that Francis in fornication which she did, and thereof conceived a daughter that was born within a quarter of a year after they were married.
After they were married they lived not so quietly as she desired, being stirred (as she said) to much unquietness and moved to swearing and cursing, wherefore she willed Satan her Cat to kill the child, being about the age of half a year old and he did so, and when she yet found not the quietness that she desired, she willed it to lay a lameness in the leg of this Francis her husband, and it did in this manner. It came in a morning to this Francis’ shoe, lying in it like a toad, and when he perceived it putting on his shoe, and had touched it with his foot, he being suddenly amazed asked her of what it was, and she bade him kill it, and he was forthwith taken with a lameness whereof he cannot healed.
After all this when she had kept this Cat, by the space of fifteen or sixteen years, and as some say (though untruly) being weary of it, she came to one mother Waterhouse her neighbor (a poor woman) when she was going to the oven, and desired her to give her a cake, and she would give her a thing that she should be the better for so long as she lived, and this mother Waterhouse gave her a cake, whereupon she brought her this cat in her apron and taught her as she was instructed before by her grandmother Eve, telling her that she must call him Satan and give him of her blood and bread and milk as before, and at this examination would confess no more.
Mother Waterhouse of Hatfield Peverell of the age of 64 years being examined the same day confessed as followeth, and the 29th day suffered.
First she received this cat of this Francis’s wife in the order as is before said, who willed her to call him Satan, and told her that if she made much of him he would do for her what she would have him to do.
Then when she had received him she (to try him what he could do) willed him to kill a hog of her own which he did, and she gave him for his labor a chicken, which he first required of her and a drop of her blood. And this she gave him at all times when he did anything for her, by pricking her hand or face and putting the blood to his mouth which he sucked, and forthwith would lie down in his pot again, wherein she kept him, the spots of all the which pricks are yet to be seen in her skin.
Also she sayeth that another time being offended with one father Kersey she took her cat Satan in her lap and put him in the wood before her door, and willed him to kill three of this Father Kersey’s hogs, which he did, and returning again told her so, and she rewarded him as before with a chicken and a drop of her blood, which chicken he ate up clean as he did all the rest, and she could find remaining neither bones nor feathers.
Also she confessed that falling out with one Widow Gooday she willed Satan to drown her cow and he did so, and she rewarded him as before.
Also she falling out with another of her neighbors, she killed her three geese in the same manner.
Item, she confessed that because she could have no rest (which she required) she caused Satan to destroy the brewing at that time.
Also being denied butter of another, she caused her to lose the curds two or three days after.
Item falling out with another of her neighbors and his wife, she willed Satan to kill him with a bloody slice, whereof he died, and she rewarded him as before.
Likewise she confessed that because she lived somewhat unquietly with her husband she caused Satan to kill him, and he did so about nine years past, since which time she hath lived a widow.
Also she said that when she would will him to do anything for her, she would say her Pater noster in Latin.
Item this mother Waterhouse confessed that she first turned this Cat into a toad by this means, she kept the cat a great while in wool in a pot, and at length being moved by poverty to occupy the wool, she praised in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy ghost that it would turn into a toad, and forthwith it was turned into a toad, and so kept it in the pot without wool.
Also she said, that going to the Breakstead a little before her apprehension, this Satan willed her to hie her home, for she should have great trouble, and that she should be either hanged or burned shortly, more at this time she would not confess.
Joan Waterhouse, daughter to the mother Waterhouse, being of the age of 18 years, and examined, confessed as followeth
First, that her mother this last winter would have learned her this art, but she learned it not, neither yet the name of the thing. She sayeth she never saw it but once in her mother’s hand, and that was in the likeness of a toad, and at that time coming in at a sudden when her mother called it out to work something withall, she heard her to call it Satan, for she was not at any time truly taught it, nor did ever exercise it before this time as followeth.
Item she confessed that when her mother was gone to Breakstead, in her absence lacking bread, she went to a girl, a neighbor’s child, and desired her to give her a piece of bread and cheese, which when she denied and gave her not, or at least not so much as would satisfy her, she going home did as she had seen her mother do, calling Satan, which came to her (as she said) she thought out of her mother’s shaw from under the bed, in the likeness of a great dog, demanding what she would have, wherewith all she being afeared, said she would have him to make such a girl afeared naming this girl, then he asked her what she would give him, and she said a red cock, then he said no, but thou shalt give me thy body and soul, whereby she being sore feared, and desirous to be rid of him, said she would: And herewith he went to this girl in the likeness of an evil favored dog with horns on his head, and made her very much afeared, and doth yet haunt her, now cannot these witches (as they say) call him in again because they did not let him out. And more (sayeth she) she never did, but this her doing was the revealing of all the rest.
The second examination and Confession of mother Agnes Waterhouse and Joan her daughter, upon her arraignment with the questions and answers of Agnes Brown the child, on whom the spirit haunteth at this present . . . .
The Confession of Agnes Waterhouse the 27th day of July in Anno. 1566 at Chelmsford before Justice Southcoat and Master Gerard, the Queen’s Attorney.
First being demanded whether that she were guilty or not guilty upon her arraignment of the murdering of a man, she confessed that she was guilty, and then upon the evidence given against her daughter Joan Waterhouse, she said that she had a white Cat, and willed her cat that he should destroy many of her neighbors’ cattle, and also that he should kill a man, and so he did, and then after she must go two or three mile from her house, and then she took thought how to keep her cat, then she and her cat concluded that he the said cat would become a toad, and then she should keep him in a closed house and give him milk, and so he would continue till she came home again, and then being gone forth, her daughter having been at a neighbor’s house thereby, required of one Agnes Brown, of the age of twelve years or more, a piece of bread and cheese, and the said Agnes said that she had none, and that she had not the key of the milkhouse door, and then she said Joan went home and was angry with the said Agnes Brown, and she said that she remembered that her mother was wont to go up and down in her house and to call Satan, Satan she said she would prove the like, and then she went up and down the house and called Satan, and then their came a black dog to her and asked her what she would have, and then she said she was afeared and said I would have thee to make one Agnes Brown afraid, and then he asked her what she would give him and she said she would give him a red cock, and he said he would have none of that, and she asked him what he would have then, and he said he would have her body and soul, and so upon request and fear together she gave him her body and soul, and then said the queen’s attorney, How wilt thou do before god. O my lord, I trust god will have mercy upon me, and then he said, thou sayest well, and then he departed from her, and then she said that she heard that he made the said Agnes Brown afeared.
The said Agnes Brown was then demanded and called for, and then she came in, and being asked what age she was of she said she thought she was twelve years old, and then the queen’s attorney asked her what she could say, and then she said that at such a day naming the day certain that she was churning of butter and there came to her a thing like a black dog with a face like an ape, a short tail, a chain, and a silver whistle (to her thinking) about his neck, and a pair of horns on his head, and brought in his mouth the key of the milkhouse door, and then my lord, she said, I was afeared, for he skipped and leaped to and fro, and sat on top of a nettle, and then I asked him what he would have, and he said he would have butter, and I said I had none for him and then he said he would have some or he went, and then he did run to put the key into the lock of the milkhouse door, and I said he should have none, and he said he would have some, and then he opened the door and went upon the shelf, and there upon a new cheese laid down the key, and being a while within he came out and locked the door and said that he had made flap butter for me, and so departed, and then she said she told her aunt of it, and then she sent for the priest, and when he came he bade her to pray to God, and call on the name of Jesus, and so the next day my lord he came again to me with the key of our milkhouse door in his mouth, and then I said in the name of Jesus what hast thou there, and then he laid down the key and said that I spake evil words in speaking of that name, and then he departed, and so my aunt took up the key for he had kept it from us two days and nights, and then we went into the milkhouse and there we did see the pint of butter upon the shelf, and then within a few days after he came again with a bean pod in his mouth and the queen’s attorney asked what that was, and so the other Justices declared, and then she said my lord in the name of Jesus what hast thou there and so then he laid it down and said I spake evil words and departed and came again by and by with a piece of bread in his mouth, and I asked him what he would have and he said butter it was that he would have, and so he departed, and my lord I did not see him no more till Wednesday last, which was the twenty-third day of July.
Why said the queen’s attorney was he with thee on Wednesday last, yea she said, what did he then to thee said he, my lord said he came with a knife in his mouth and asked me if I were not dead and I said no I thanked god, and then he said if I would not die that he would thrust his knife to my heart but he would make me to die, and then I said in the name of Jesus lay down thy knife, and he said he would not depart from his sweet dame’s knife as yet, and then I asked of him who was his dame, and then he nodded and wagged his head to your house mother Waterhouse, then the queen’s attorney asked of the said Agnes Waterhouse what she said to it, then she demanded what manner knife that it was, and Agnes Browne said it was a dagger knife, and I have none such in my house, but a great knife, and therein she lieth, yea, my lord, quote Joan Waterhouse she lieth in that she sayeth that it had a face like an ape, for this that came to me was like a dog, Well said the queen’s attorney well, can you make it come before us now, if ye can we will dispatch you out of prison by and by, no sayeth said Agnes Waterhouse I cannot, for in faith if I had let him go as my daughter did I could make him come by and by, but now I have no more power over him, then said the queen’s attorney, Agnes Waterhouse when did thy Cat suck of thy blood never said she, no said he, let me see, and then the jailer lifted up her kercher on her head and there was diverse spots in her face and one on her nose, then said the queen’s attorney, in good faith Agnes when did he suck of thy blood last, by my faith my lord said she, not this fortnight, and so the jury went together for that matter.
The end and last confession of mother Waterhouse at her death, which was the twenty-fourth day of July. First (being ready prepared to receive her death) she confessed earnestly that she had been a witch and used such execrable sorcery the space of twenty-five years, and had done many abominable deed, the which she repeated earnestly and unfeignedly, and desired almighty God forgiveness in that she had abused his most holy name by her devilish practices, and trusted to be saved by his most unspeakable mercy. And being demanded of the bystanders, she confessed that she lent her Satan to one Wardol, a neighbor of hers, being a tailor (with whom she was offended) to hurt and destroy him and his goods. And this her Satan went thereabout for to have her done her will, but in the end he returned to her again, and was not able to do this mischief, she asked the cause, and he answered because the said Wardol was so strong in faith that he had no power to hurt him, yet she sent him diverse and sundry time (but all in vain) to have mischiefed him. And being demanded whether she was accustomed to go to church to the common prayer or divine service, she said yea and being required what she did there she said she did as other women do, and prayed right heartily there, and when she was demanded what prayer she said, she answered the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave Maria, and the belief, and then they demanded whether in latin or in english, and she said in latin, and they demanded why she said it not in english but in latin, seeing that it was set out by public authority and according to God’s word that all men should pray in the english and mother tongue that they best understand, and she said that Satan would at no time suffer her to say it in english, but at all times in latin: for these and many other offenses which she hath committed, done and confessed she bewailed, repented, and asked mercy of God, and all the world forgiveness, and thus she yielded up her soul, trusting to be in joy with Christ her savior, which dearly had bought her with his most precious blood. Amen.