Widdershins: 1600’s Witchcraft trails

Morning all, I hope you enjoy your weekend – I know I did! Lots of things have been going on in my life, so it’s nice to finally sit down and blog!

Today, I am part of the ‘Widdershins’ tour. Debut author Helen Steadman sees her novel Widdershins published this Saturday (July 1st), which uncovers the story of the Newcastle witch trials of the 1600’s, following apprentice healer Jane Chandler who uses herbs to cure the sick.


Was the Newcastle witch-finder the earliest example of local authority performance-related pay?

The common council of Newcastle, in perhaps the earliest incidence of local authority performance-related pay, is said to have paid the witch-finder twenty shillings per witch.

Things were just as grim down south, where Aldeburgh spent over one-seventh of its annual budget on witch-finding. They had to pay for the witchfinder general, Matthew Hopkins, and a special tax was put in place to raise money.

But it seems that either inflation set in, or prices rose further north. When the Scottish witch-finder fled Newcastle following the trials, John Wheeler stated that he went ‘went into Northumberland, to try women there, where he got of some three pound a-peece’.

Dr Fian engaged in necromancy (Source: Newes from Scotland)

According to John Wheeler, Henry Ogle a former MP seized him, but the witch-finder got away again, this time mostly likely back to his native Scotland. There is a record of him there being paid six pounds for ‘brodding ’ a woman called Margaret Denham at Burncastle near Lauder. In addition to this eye-watering fee, it seems Kincaid also charged a further four pounds for ‘meat and drink and wyne’. More worryingly, two men were also paid forty-five pounds for guarding Margaret Denham for a month. It seems that the witch-finding industry was a most profitable one. Not least, because Margaret Denham was a wealthy woman who had to pay for her own testing and execution, which still left sixty-five pounds following her death.

Sources
Hugo Arnot’s Criminal Trials, appendix, in J. Sands (1881) Sketches of Tranent in the Olden Time, Chapter 3 ‘Witchcraft, 1591’.
Ralph Gardiner (1849 [1655]) England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade. North Shields: Philipson and Hare. Ch. 53.
Newes from Scotland (1591) ‘Declaring the damnable life of Doctor Fian a notable sorcerer, who was burned at Edenbrough in Ianuarie last.’ London: William Wright (in Special Collection Ferguson Al-a.36 at Glasgow University).

Be sure to take a look at the previous stops on the tour – they’re fab’ hosts! My review of Widdershins will be on the blog soon!


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