Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkern

1712 Hertford trial: In what was probably the last witchcraft trial in England in which a conviction was recorded, Jane Wenham, ‘the Witch of Walkern’, was tried for talking to her cat and for flying – in other words, for being a ‘wise woman’ as witches were sometimes called in that country.

Wenham was accused of bewitching Matthew Gilston and Anne Thorne of Walcorne, in the county of Hereford, was declared guilty and sentenced to death.

According to the mandatory penalty at the time, Judge Powell had no choice but to condemn her to death, but through his influence she was later given a Royal Pardon, provoking a brief pamphlet war. In 1686, Alice Molland actually had the distinction of being the last to be hanged for witchcraft in England. In 1736, the old laws against witchcraft were repealed, but people could be prosecuted for the pretended exercise of supernatural powers.

The killing times
In 1903 Robert Steele estimated that 70,000 victims were hanged in England, under the reign of James I alone. However, records indicate that between 1566 and 1685 fewer than 1,000 people were hanged. No accurate figures are available as to the carnage throughout Britain and Europe during the era of witch hunting. The Inquisition is often credited with many deaths, and indeed many people were killed for the crimes of witchcraft and sorcery, but the figures are minor compared to those executed by the Inquisition for heresy, which was its main brief. Usually, witches before the inquisitors were dismissed as mentally ill ...

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