After examining the numerous ways people interpreted or manipulated possession cases in the previous three chapters, it is important to view the state of affairs a half century later. After the political and religious machinations of the John Darrell and Mary Glover trials, the sordid fraud of the Anne Gunter case, and the increasing skepticism of King James I, it would be understandable to believe possession trials would soon die out. Unfortunately, possession cases and witchcraft trials continued to occur sporadically throughout the century.
A three-day trial occurred at Bury St. Edmunds from March 10-13, 1662, which provides us with an interesting possession case quite free from the political coercion, religious rivalries, and the nefarious schemes of other trials we have examined. All we know about the trial is from a sixty-page pamphlet entitled A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes held at Bury St. Edmonds for the County of Suffolk; on the Tenth day of March 1664 (though it actually occurred in 1662). Published in London in 1682, supposedly by an anonymous spectator, this pamphlet is the sole primary source for the trial.
Though the trial occurred at Bury St. Edmunds, the events leading up to it occurred in Lowestoft, an isolated fishing town with a population of about fifteen hundred one hundred and twelve miles northeast of London and fifty miles east of Bury St. Edmunds. At the time of the trial, Lowestoft was involved with a lawsuit against the larger fishing town of Great Yarmouth over fishing rights, which involved two principal members of the witchcraft trial, Samuel Pacy and Sir Matthew Hale.
Like many witchcraft trials, the incident that initiated the trial at Bury St. Edmunds transpired when a reasonably prosperous member of the community denied a request from a poorer one. In this instance, Samuel Pacy, a wealthy fish merchant and property owner of Lowestoft, rejected several requests from Amy Denny, a widow with a reputation as a witch, to sell her some fish. According to Samuel Pacy, whose deposition is recorded in the 1682 pamphlet, immediately after he turned down Amy Denny a third time, his daughter, Deborah was taken with most violent fits, feeling most extream pain in her Stomach, like the pricking of Pins, and Shreeking out in a most dreadful manner like unto a Whelp, and not like unto a sensible Creature.
After Deborah's symptoms continued for three weeks, Pacy asked a neighbor, Dr. Feavor, for his opinion, but Feavor could not diagnose a natural cause of the illness. Though Pacy consulted a doctor, it appears he did not seek the help of the clergy, which presents a unique absence in demonic possession trials. Nor in Pacy's deposition at the trial is there any mention of employing any religious methods of dispossession.
Samuel Pacy's deposition stated that Deborah Pacy, in her fits would cry out of Amy Duny as the cause of her Malady, and that she did affright her with Apparitions of her Person. After Samuel Pacy made a formal complaint, the authorities put Amy Denny in the stocks on October 28. This, however, did not end his daughter's symptoms. According to the pamphlet, two days later being the Thirtieth of October, the eldest Daughter Elizabeth, fell into extream fits, insomuch, that they could not open her Mouth to give her breath, to preserve her Life without the help of a Tap which they were enforced to use
For the next two months, the two sisters suffered other symptoms, including lameness and soreness, loss of their sense of speech, sight, and hearing, sometimes for days. Fits ensued upon hearing the words Lord, Jesus and Christ. They also claimed that Rose Cullender, another reputed witch, and Amy Denny, would appear before them, holding their Fists at them, threatning, That if they related either what they saw or heard, that they would Torment them Ten times more than ever they did before. The sisters also coughed up pins, and one time a Two-penny Nail with a very broad head, which Pins (amounting to Forty or more) together with the Two-penny Nail were produced in Court, with the affirmation of the said Deponent, that he was present when the said Nail was Vomited up, and also most of the Pins. Allotriophagy, the vomiting of extraordinary objects, provided an observable proof of possession.
As the Throckmorton family at nearby Warboys had done seventy years earlier, the parents relocated the sisters to the homes of relatives seven weeks after the initial illness in hope of a cure on November 30, 1661. While the girls lived at Margaret Arnold's house, their aunt who believed they might be faking their symptoms, she subjected them to an experiment. She removed all the pins from the children's clothes, yet, notwithstanding all this care and circumspection of hers, the Children afterwards raised at several times at least Thirty Pins in her presence, and had most fierce and violent Fitts upon them. Margaret Arnold soon became convinced that something supernatural was causing the girls' afflictions, as well as believed the girls' allegations that bees and flies forced pins and nails into their mouths.
While the children continued their fits and hallucinations at their aunt's house, an ominous event occurred when an unnamed, daughter being recovered out of her Fitts, declared, That Amy Duny had been with her and that she tempted her to Drown her self; and to cut her Throat, or otherwise to Destroy her self. These visions could be seen as signs of severe stress and possible mental illness, as the child affirmed her belief that spectral images were directing her to commit suicide.
The trial itself occurred on March 10, 1662. By then, the afflictions had spread to three other girls, neighbors of the Pacys: Ann Durrant (probably between the ages of 16-21), Jane Bocking (14 years old), and Susan Chandler (18 years old). Deborah Pacy and Jane Bocking were too ill to attend the trial. Though Elizabeth, Ann, and Susan did not testify (family members spoke for them), they were present and affected the courtroom atmosphere. The three arrived
After these dramatic events, parents of afflicted children outside the Pacy home testified. They were Edmund Durrant, father of Ann, apparently no relation to Dorothy; Diane Bocking, mother of Jane; and Robert and Mary Chandler, parents of Susan. They swore that their children suffered afflictions similar as to those of the Pacy children, specifically, fit, seeing spectral images, and vomiting crooked pins. They brought to the court several pins as evidence. In a deposition strikingly similar to that of Samuel Pacy, Edmund Durrant, about who nothing is known other than his deposition, described the afflictions of his daughter, Ann:
Dr. Thomas Browne, a respected physician who lived relatively close by, testified next. He affirmed that witchcraft existed, specifically mentioning similar events that had occurred in Denmark. Despite mentioning possible medical explanations for the girls' afflictions, namely the mother, Browne noted that the Devil could intensify symptoms. Though he believed that the girls were bewitched, he did not specifically state that Denny and Cullender had afflicted them. Browne testified:
After Browne's testimony, the court carried out several experiments to test the accused witches and their accusers. In contrast to the Mary Glover case, no burning occurred to test the hands for insensibility. Here, the fists of the girls, while afflicted, remained tightly closed, as yet the strongest Man in the Court could not force them open; yet by the least touch of one of the supposed Witches, Rose Cullender by Name, they would suddenly shriek out opening their hands, which accident would not happen by the touch of any other person.
Three respected members of the aristocracy, Lord Charles Cornwallis, a member of Parliament in attendance as a county magistrate, Sir Edmund Bacon, a justice of the peace for the county, and Sir John Keeling (who became Chief Justice of the King's Bench three years after the trial, to be succeeded by Hale in May 1671), one of the three serjeants, a post secondary to the judge, tested Elizabeth next. While they supervised, a blindfolded Elizabeth Pacy touched Amy Denny and another woman. When Elizabeth reacted similarly to both women, the Gentlemen returned, openly protesting, that they did believe the whole transaction of this business was a meer Imposture. Samuel Pacy replied That possibly the Maid might be deceived by a suspicion that the Witch touched her when she did not.
Though Pacy's explanation for the test result helped convince the jury of Denny's guilt, other factors also played a role. As the author of A Tryal of Witches acknowledged, many people believed that these girls were not capable of counterfeiting:
Depositions by John Soan, Robert Sherringham and Nicholas Pacy (Samuel's father or brother), followed. Significantly, all had civil suits against a John Denny during the 1640's and 1650's. By the time of the trial, Ann Denny's husband, John, was deceased. As there were two John Dennys in Lowestoft at this time, with dozens of civil cases against one or both men, it is impossible to prove that this was the same John Denny.
John Soan accused Rose Cullender of bewitching his three carts, making them unusable for a day. Robert Sherringham blamed her for the loss of four horses and several cows and pigs, as well as his lameness and his suffering a great Number of Lice of extraordinary bigness. Following their testimony, the wife of Amy Denny's landlord, Ann Sandeswell, deposed that Denny complained that her chimney might collapse, which it did a short time later. Additional testimony by Ann concerning the loss of geese and fish ended the depositions.
After these witnesses spoke, Hale had the opportunity to verbally review the evidence for the jury, which he had done in past cases. He did not recapitulate in this case, least by so doing he should wrong the Evidence on the one side or on the other. Instead, according to the writer of A Tryal of Witches, Hale instructed the jury:
What generates special interest and significance in the 1662 trial at Bury St. Edmunds is the personal integrity, intellectual acumen, and professional achievements of some of the main participants. Renowned and respected even to this day, Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, presided over the trial, and Dr. Thomas Browne, knighted 1671, a celebrated author and physician, testified. Both were known for their incorruptibility and tolerance, qualities that undoubtedly helped them to not only survive, but also to prosper during these turbulent times in English history.
Sir Thomas Browne, a resident of nearby Nottingham, was at the height of his career in 1662. The author of a half dozen major works, his eclectic interests ranged from his candid personal views on religion as a physician (Religio Medici, 1643), to natural history (Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646) to ancient funeral rites (Hydriotaphia, 1658). At times skeptical, anti-dogmatic, mystical, erudite, witty, moderate, and curious, Browne and his works had many admirers. Though he dabbled with some scientific experimentation (both he and Hale wrote about magnetism, for instance), Browne, like Hale, also firmly believed in Satan and witchcraft. He believed evil was a part of God's universe, and to doubt the existence of witchcraft opened the door to atheism. Two decades before the trial, in probably his greatest work, Religio Medici (1643), Browne had written:
Sir Matthew Hale, four years Browne's junior, also wrote prodigiously. Unlike Browne, Hale chiefly wrote for his own edification and enjoyment. Although he published only a few works, his posthumous History of the Common Law of England (1713) and Histroia placitorum coronae (1726) were highly regarded for centuries. Principally interested in religion and the law, Hale, like Browne, commented on natural history and the relationship between Christianity and reason. Both men typified the culture of the Oxford-educated, successful, well read, and well-respected Englishman at the top of his chosen profession.
Sir Matthew Hale
Dr. Browne of Norwich appears in only one paragraph of A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes held at Bury St. Edmonds. Unfortunately, neither Browne nor Hale was alive at the time of publication to review and possibly refute the pamphlet. Since neither man mentioned the experience at Bury St. Edmunds in any of their voluminous works or personal correspondence, it is impossible to discern their views towards the events.
Sir Matthew Hale and Sir Thomas Browne are examples of highly intelligent people, at the apex of their respected professions, who sincerely believed in witchcraft. Hale probably presided over at least one other witchcraft case that ended with an execution. In England, however, the era in which it was possible to prosecute and execute witches was ending. Educated justices found executing poor, elderly, and outcast women based on the testimony of children problematical. As the belief in witches slowly died out, the ability to prosecute them died out even more quickly.
In 1693, when Reverend Cotton Mather published his Wonders of the Invisible World, he enclosed a chapter entitled A Modern Instance of Witches: Discovered and Condemned in a Trial Before That Celebrated Judge, Sir Mathew Hale. Mather begins, It may cast some Light upon the Dark things now in America, if we just give a glance upon the like things happening in Europe. We may see the Witchcrafts here most exactly resemble the Witchcrafts there. After stating that the trial was much considered by the Judges of New England, Mather summarized A Tryal of Witches in the next nine pages of his book.
Cotton Mather, like Browne in his testimony at Bury St. Edmunds, believed that the Devil could stir up and excite humors, especially in children and females. Describing the afflictions of Mercy Short, whose possession occurred within a year after the Salem trials, Cotton Mather wrote Another Brand Pluckt Out of the Burning. Emulating Browne's testimony, Cotton Mather wrote: