Was James I murdered?

king-james1James I died in March 1625. It wasn’t long after that that Dr Eglesham suggested that James had been poisoned by his favourite – the Duke of Buckingham pictured at the start of this post.  Eglesham helpfully produced a pamphlet entitled The Forerunner of Revenge which helpfully outlined his claims. But could James’ favourite really have killed the man who raised him from comparative poverty to being one of the wealthiest men in the country – not to mention one of the most powerful.

 

James, who was not a healthy man, fell ill with tertian ague and took to his bed.  Tertian fever was a kind of malaria but it, mostly, wasn’t fatal. He was given a remedy by George Villiers that involved a drink with a restorative and a plaster.  James’ condition declined quickly after George’s remedies. The restorative was a white powder and James regretted having taken it.

george villiersIt has been suggested that Villiers (pictured right) may have had form – his wife’s brother died in suspicious circumstances making her an heiress. And apparently the Marquess of Hamilton’s corpse didn’t behave as it should have – it was described as having swelled suggesting that the marquess may have been poisoned.

2ndMarquessOfHamilton.jpgJames Hamilton, for those who are interested, came to England with James in 1603.  He was part of the anti-war faction at court.  Buckingham and Hamilton had also had a bit of a spat in 1620 when Buckingham took exception to a comment about the sale of titles and advancement of men who did not have the requisite blood lines.  Buckingham felt that the snub was aimed at him and his extended family.

 

The main problem  in terms of George’s defence was that he did not apply medicines that James’ own doctors sanctioned. He’d sought a diagnosis of his own and paid a different doctor for the cure which he administered.  Eglesham not only took umbrage from this but also from the fact that as masters of the Goldbeaters’ Company his fortune has suffered a severe setback in 1621 when the king revoked their patent under pressure from Parliament.  Parliament didn’t have a grudge against the Goldbeaters or Eglesham they were seeking to control the power that George Villers had gained from the monopolies that the king had given to him during his rise to favour.

 

Nor did it help that Eglesham, a Scot, had just lost his key patron – the Marquess of Hamilton – yes, the chap with the bloated corpse.  One of the rumours was that Hamilton had been killed as part of a Catholic conspiracy. It was even suggested that Eglesham had secretly helped to convert Hamilton to Catholicism on his deathbed. This wasn’t good news either as England was on an anti-Catholic high following the disasterous trip by Charles and Buckingham to Madrid in 1623.  Eglesham, in fear for his life, fled to Brussels – and wrote the Forerunner of Revenge which was published in English and Latin.  It was widely read.

The Spanish were delighted with the book because it gave them an opportunity to destabilise England now that Charles and Buckingham had gone to war with the Hapsburgs – think of it as an early application of fake news.

Eglesham blamed Buckingham for his misfortunes, had laid the evidence of Buckingham’s crimes out in his text and now declared that it was Charles’ job to punish crime and uphold justice because without justice the Crown would fall.

As it happened Eglesham’s work would resonate through the period.  Charles’ loyalty to Buckingham saw him trying to protect the Duke from Parliament by dissolving Parliament when it sought to impeach his friend in 1626.  He  then raised revenues by other avenues than Parliament.  These to things  led to a failure of justice in terms of the “crimes” which Buckingham had committed by his foreign policy and his continued power not to mention the failure in justice when Charles had members of the gentry imprisoned without trial for their failure to pay his forced loans.

Whether Buckingham actually did kill James is another matter entirely – but a grand read for fans of conspiracy theories. Certainly Parliament took the view that there was no smoke without fire when it came to their impeachment attempt in 1626.

Bellamy, Alastair and Cogswell, Thomas (2015) The Murder of James I  New Haven: Yale University Press

Ruigh, Robert, E.(1971)  The Parliament of 1624: Politics and Foreign Policy Harvard: Harvard University Press.

By Robert E. Ruigh

A Parliamentary Protestation

torn journal.gifParliamentary independence of thought, which may run counter to what those in charge would like to happen, is nothing new.  In 1621 James I’s third Parliament was unhappy about the turn of events – relating to Europe as it happens. They had four main grievances: monopolies, sale of honours, corruption at court and James I’s pro-Catholic foreign policy.  This post deals mainly with the last grievance.

James had decided that his heir, Charles, should marry a Spanish bride.  The lure of a very large dowry and the thought of being seen as Europe’s peacemaker was sufficient for James to ignore Parliamentary anxiety about Protestant England allying itself with the Catholic Hapsburgs- who were busily engaged on the Thirty Years War against Europe’s Protestants at the time including James’ own son-in-law Frederick V of the Palatinate and King of Bohemia.

Many Members of Parliament not only opposed the so-called Spanish match but wanted to go to war with Spain – preferring a sea based campaign rather than a land war . They said as much in June and repeated it less politely on the 3rd December 1621.  James told them to mind their own business given that foreign policy was a royal prerogative.

Meanwhile James did need money because his son-in- law, Frederick V King of Bohemia had been toppled from his throne by the Hapsburgs and James needed to show his support by providing cash for him to regain the aforementioned throne.  This gave Parliament leverage because they would have to grant the subsidies for James to do this. Parliament took the opportunity to assert its rights. It declared they had rights and liberties to discuss matters even if they displeased the king. James was not terribly amused and answered that parliament did not have a right to discuss whether his son should marry a Spanish bride or not since foreign policy was the King’s business rather than Parliament’s and that further more whatever rights Parliament did have were in the king’s gift to give or remove as he saw fit.

In answer Parliament filed a “Great Protestation” of its rights and privileges on 18th December 1621.  They claimed that Parliament held its rights through tradition i.e. inheritance from one generation to the next in that their rights had been given to them by previous monarchs – and that they intended to keep them rather than see them eroded because the current monarch held different views on the matter:

… concerning sundry liberties, franchises, privileges, and jurisdictions of parliament, amongst others not herein mentioned, do make this protestation following:—That the liberties, franchises, privileges, and jurisdictions of parliament are the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England; and that the arduous and urgent affairs concerning the king, state, and the defence of the realm, and of the church of England, and the making and maintenance of laws, and redress of mischiefs, and grievances which daily happen within this realm, are proper subjects and matter of counsel and debate in parliament; and that in the handling and proceeding of those businesses, every member of the house hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech to propound, treat, reason, and bring to conclusion the same: that the commons in parliament have like liberty and freedom to treat of those matters, in such order as in their judgments shall seem fittest: and that every such member of the said house hath like freedom from all impeachment, imprisonment, and molestation (other than, by the censure of the house itself), for or concerning any bill, speaking, reasoning, or declaring of any matter or matters, touching the parliament or parliament business; and that, if any of the said members be complained of, and questioned for any thing said or done in parliament, the same is to be showed to the king, by the advice and assent of all the commons assembled in parliament, before the king give credence to any private information.

 

king-james1James was not impressed not least because James had given instruction to Parliament previously and dealt, he thought, with those very same issues. He thought that Parliament was just trying to extend their role. They weren’t just saying they had the right to debate matters they were also saying that they had the right to pass laws having discussed matters first and at the bottom of it all lies the right to freedom of speech.  Furthermore James felt that Parliament were so busy trying to extend its rights that they weren’t actually doing very much that was actually useful.  He sent for John Wright who was the Clerk of the House at that time.  James then tore the record of the protestation from the Commons Journal.

charles i full lengthThe Parliament of 1621 had not been a good experience for James in that not only did they defy him over foreign policy and protest their rights but they had also sought to undermine the power base that George Villers, Duke of Buckingham (and James’ favourite) , had built up by impeaching two of the men that owed him patronage for corruption. Sir Francis Bacon was also impeached for corruption. In return for two subsidies Parliament demanded harsher penal laws. No wonder James dissolved Parliament at the beginning of January 1622 – but the tensions that would build during the early years of Charles I’s reign were already in place.

The so-called torn journal pictured at the start of this post is located in the National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/citizenship/citizen_subject/docs/torn_document.htm

Henry Hallam, The Constitutional History of England from the Accession of Henry VII. to the Death of George II. (London: Ward, Lock, & Co.)

habeas corpus versus divine right

Habeas CorpusCharles I believed in the Divine Right of Kings – that is to say the absolute power of the monarch based on the so-called Great Chain of Being which essentially placed the king at the top of the food chain, next only to God – who had, after all, placed the king in the position and everyone else in their allotted place as well.  The concept of Divine Right was written about by James I of England VI of Scotland in a book entitled The True Law of Free Monarchies in 1598 (before he became King of England).  In the book James who clearly saw himself as something of a political theorist stated:

they make and unmake their subjects, they have power of raising and casting down, of life and death.

Taking that as a model Charles I was clearly well inside his self-perceived rights to lock up anyone who failed to do as he asked.  Thus he did not feel it unreasonable in 1627 when he levied a forced loan to arrest the men who failed to pay. Further to this it was clearly established that a “king must live of his own,” except in case of war when taxes would be levied by Parliament to pay for the aforementioned wars. Charles believed that the State had a duty to pay for the war and in levying the loan he was merely bypassing parliament which had unhelpfully tried to impeach his foremost adviser – the Duke of Buckingham. Not only that but Charles felt grieved that Parliament had not voted him the subsidies that were traditionally granted when a new monarch ascended the throne – they had given them to him for a limited time only.  The relationship between Crown and State was changing.

The previous three posts have dealt with the Five Knights Case.  Today, bypassing Sir Edmund Hampden (who shouldn’t be confused with John Hampden who was also locked up for refusal to pay the loan) we will finish the case with a very brief look at Sir Thomas Darnel or Darnell.  The Five Knights case is sometimes referred to as Darnel’s Case. Essentially like the other gentlemen Darnel, who was from Lincolnshire, was arrested because he failed to pay the King’s forced loan.  Like the other gentlemen he was called to the Privy Council and when he refused to pay the loan was confined to the Fleet Prison from where he sought a writ of habeas corpus to test the legality of his imprisonment.

 

The reason given for  Darnel’s arrest lay in the ubiquitous “reasons of state.” Essentially it was not illegal not to pay the forced loan because it had not been enshrined in law by Parliament – because Parliament had been dissolved in order to prevent the impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham.  The judges in the case did not wish to look too closely at the way in which Charles was using a medieval Royal prerogative  but stated that the arrests were legal because the authority of the Crown was in itself sufficient and with precedent.  Lord Hyde the King’s Justice stated that he was sworn to uphold the king’s rights and if the king said that he had arrested more than seventy gentlemen across the country for reasons of state it wasn’t up to Lord Hyde to say otherwise. It should also be noted that the judiciary had previously been threatened with dismissal by Charles when they initially questioned the legality of the forced loan.

Realistically Charles couldn’t conduct the war without raising taxation of some kind or other. The fact that Lord Hyde didn’t make a judgement on the matter which would have then become part of Common Law and open to challenge but issued his verdict as a “rule of court,” caused both Charles and his administration to be regarded with suspicion by parliament and increasing numbers of his subjects who didn’t take kindly to the forced loans in any event.

Unsurprisingly when Parliament was recalled in 1628 it drew up a Petition of Right which drew on the arguments that the five knights had made referencing Magna Carta and the right of habeas corpus which states that when arrested a person has the right to be tried to test whether the arrest is legal or not. The debate that followed aired the rights and liberties of  subjects against the Crown.  In asserting those rights Parliament had removed the lid from Pandora’s box so that when Charles went on to rule for elven years without Parliament using medieval rights in order to raise revenue the reason for discontent within the state had already been rehearsed and only became more heated with the passage of time.

Sir John Heveningham, another knight and his son William – regicide.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36Sir John was born in 1577 to a Norfolk family with a colourful pedigree – the Heveninghams claimed to be descended from one of the men who guarded Christ’s tomb.  More realistically they originated from Suffolk.

Suffice it to say the Heveninghams did all the usual things associated with county gentry i.e. education (in this case Cambridge), study of the law, JP, sheriff and member of parliament.

In January 1627, John Heveningham was summoned to appear before the Privy Council for his failure to pay Charles I’s forced loan.  He was packed off to the Marshalsea.  Being a gentleman it was assumed that he wouldn’t skip town so was allowed, in July, to take himself back to Norfolk to put his affairs in order.  Having done that he was placed under house arrest in Shropshire before being moved back to London once again for a stint in the Fleet Prison.

It was from the Fleet that Heveningham petitioned the King’s Bench for a bill of habeas corpus which would have tested whether or not he was being legally detained.  The matter was not resolved legally on account of the fact that the bench had no desire to alienate the king but Heveningham and his four companions were released at the beginning of 1628.

Heveningham found that becoming a jailbird had done his “street cred” the world of good in Norfolk where the king’s forced loan was deeply resented.  He was returned to Parliament on a wave of popular support.

Sir William HeveninghamHeveningham died in 1633. He was succeeded by his son William who was returned to Parliament in 1640.  He served on the committee of the Eastern Association during the English Civil War so was in all respects a parliament man until it came to signing the death warrant of Charles I – which he refused to do in his capacity of commissioner to the high court. Despite this William did agree the execution of the king in his role as member of parliament which was sufficient to make him a regicide.

Having disposed of the king William took a back seat in the running of the country but did manage to acquire rather a lot of sequestrated estates during the Commonwealth period.  Unfortunately for Heveningham the monarchy was restored in 1660 and whilst many things were conveniently forgotten regicide was not.  Heveningham surrendered himself, was put on trial and found guilty of treason for his part in Charles I’s death.  The fact that he had not signed the death warrant itself, together with his wife’s determined petitioning saw him being packed off to Windsor Castle where he remained until he died in 1678.

If you want an interesting and unexpected historical fact then it must be that Sir John Heveningham was a trustee of the Paston estate – his wife Bridget was a Paston – as in the fifteenth century letters family- demonstrating the small pool of  landed families in each county that intermarried over the centuries to create a tight knit network or a smouldering keg of interfamilial feuding.

As for William Heveningham, he married in 1650 to Mary Carey the daughter of the Earl of Dover. The earl was John Carey, a son of Henry  Lord Hunsdon – the son of Mary Boleyn…and potentially Henry VIII.

 

https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/heveningham-sir-john-1577-1633

Walter Erle – knight

charles i full lengthWalter Erle is the second of the five knights who found themselves incarcerated in 1627.  There were only four men in Dorset who didn’t pay the forced loan demanded by Charles I in order to pay for his wars against the Spanish and the French. The other three were Sir John Strangeways, William Savidge and a man called Tregonwell. All four were arrested but none were put on trial as Charles I did not want the controversy of a judge disagreeing with his right to arrest people because they refused to lend him money. Savidge was sent to Clerkenwell Prison whilst the other three, inclusion Erle, were sent to the Fleet Prison.

Oxford educated Erle had also studied law at the Middle Temple which must have been helpful when he became  a JP and also Sheriff of Dorset. Charles I’s commissioner in Dorset, the Earl of Suffolk, might reasonably have expected Erle’s support in the collection of the loan but Erle had a reputation as a strong Parliament man ever since his election as an MP – when Charles I dissolved parliament in 1626 in order to avoid the Duke of Buckingham’s impeachment Erle was the MP for Lyme Regis.  Thus far his credentials are similar to almost any other member of the gentry.  It’s also worth noting that he invested in the Virginia Company.

Erle was one of the five knights who took a case of habeas corpus before the bench which stated that they should be tried by the court to ensure that they had been lawfully detained. Erle was released in January 1628 the judge in the case, Lord Hyde, having accepted the arrest on grounds of matters of state. The full story of  Erle’s deletion can be found in Walter Yonge’s diary.

Given his experiences it is perhaps not surprising that Erle was a Parliamentarian. He took part in the English Civil War, notably the Siege of Corfe Castle which was defended by Lady Mary Bankes.  Erle and is men took part in the looting and slighting of the castle.  Sir Ralph Bankes pursued the matter through the court once peace was restored and although Erle admitted that five or six cart loads of timber and masonry had come into his hands he denied that Bankes should expect restitution.

 

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/erle-sir-walter-1586-1665

History

Sir John Corbet – and the Five Knights Case

King-Charles-ICharles I dismissed Parliament in 1626 because it was rather keen on the idea of impeaching the Duke of Buckingham for his incompetence in the handling of foreign policy not to mention his influence over Charles I.  The king, on the other hand, wished to preserve his favourite so dissolved Parliament and its radically minded members.  Unfortunately Buckingham had dragged Charles into a war against both the Spanish and the French which was a costly exercise and which Charles could not afford – hence the need to call Parliament to raise the cash.

Charles dealt with his problem by raising Forced Loans.  Essentially wealthy folk were required to dip into their pockets and “lend” the king money.  It was generally accepted that loan was an euphemism for taxation.  The king could not have managed this himself. He used the administrative system that had been in place since before the Norman Conquest i.e. the county administrative system based on sheriffs and justices of the peace.  During the first year of the loan in excess of £250,000 was raised.  It is perhaps unnecessary to say that the loan and the commissioners who raised the money were not terribly popular.

Seventy-six gentlemen across the country refused to pay and were carted off to their local jails as an example to the rest of their peers.   Sir John Corbet, a moderate sort of Puritan who represented Great Yarmouth in Parliament, took exception to the forced loans and was rather vocal in his objections.  He also refused to pay the £20.00 that his rateable value suggested that he could afford. This may have caused some familiar difficulty as his cousin Sir Andrew Corbet of Moreton Corbet was the commissioner in Shropshire collecting the taxes on behalf of the Earl of Northampton who was President of the Council for the Welsh Marches.

Sir John found himself in prison without any charges being drawn up against him.  This was strategic in that the king wanted some examples of what would happen if you weren’t loyal to the Crown but he was also bothered by the idea that if one of the gentlemen ended up in a courtroom that the judge might side with the accused. Thus the gentlemen sat in their cells at the king’s convenience.

Five of the imprisoned men – the five knights of the title brought a writ of habeas corpus.  One of them was Sir John Corbet. Essentially, habeas corpus is the writ which requires someone under arrest to be brought before a judge to demonstrate that their arrest is legal. Magna Carta was used as the precedent amongst other things during the trial to prove that the five knights detention was illegal.  The case did not go in the knights’ favour although the judges were sympathetic and refused to rule conclusively saying that the law required further clarification but that they could do no more because both James I and Elizabeth I were prone to arresting people without charges being drawn.  (Interestingly they were also prone to chopping off various bits of their prisoners’ anatomies but History does not record them as tyrants whilst Charles did none of the above and got labelled a tyrant – just a thought.)

Corbet was released at the beginning of January 1628 but died three weeks later from small pox contracted whilst in prison. As for Sir Andrew, he would vote for the  Petition of Rights when Parliament sat in 1628 and he would eventually lose faith in the Crown. In died in 1637.

King James and Ireland

king-james1Where do I begin? I suppose considering James’ view would be as good a starting point as any.  James was king of England, Scotland and Ireland.  They were three separate kingdoms – i.e. they had parliaments and laws of their own.  The union within the person of James as monarch was an imperfect one, unlike Wales (and I apologise in advance – I’m stating James’ point of view  not mine) which was a perfect union because it had no parliament. Its laws were those of England – Edward I and Henry IV had seen to that. James also began with the view that Ireland was just like his other two kingdoms in that he believed that it had a hierarchical system that worked on a pyramid principle with the king at the top, then the nobility. He was of the view that the nobility were essential for the sound governance of the regions – the only thing was that the Irish hierarchy didn’t work in quite the same way as the English and Scottish systems (more on that shortly).

The Anglo-Norman arrival in Ireland during the medieval period was an invasion but it wasn’t a conquest.  Various Plantagenet monarchs invested men and money in Ireland but the effect was to create independent Anglo-Norman magnates who married the locals and ruled from Dublin in an area known as the English Pale.  They did not take kindly to royal interference.

The sixteenth century saw a change in the Anglo-Irish relationship because suddenly the English were officially Protestant whilst the Irish remained Catholic.  Ireland became a potential jumping off point for a Spanish invasion.  Henry VIII negotiated with the Irish with no understanding of the way land was viewed or the way in which people elected new chieftains — who weren’t always the son of the previous one. The English began to try to impose their will on the Irish.  Inevitably there was a rebellion which only escalated under Elizabeth.  1594-1603 saw The Nine Years War and Sir Humphrey Gilbert who would have found himself at the Hague being found guilty of war crimes – he had the path to his tent lined with the decapitated heads of men, women and children.

James began his reign somewhat differently to the Tudors by issuing pardons all round- remember he believed that a country needed its nobility to act as the arms and legs to the royal head- but Ulster lost its O Neil chieftain and the English declared the old Irish laws to be abolished.  Cutting a long story short,  a number of earls fled the country and were immediately declared traitors which meant that under English law their lands were forfeit to the Crown.   Sir John Davies, the attorney general in Ireland, wrote “[You] have a greater extent of land than any prince in Europe has to dispose of.” He recommended that it be planted on a large scale, because it would not work ” if the number of civil persons who are to be planted do not exceed the number of natives who will quickly overgrow them as weeds overgrow the good corn”.

James liked the idea of the Ulster Pale – it would reward men who had fought in Ireland, provide land for those turned off it in England, provide a force to keep those pesky Spanish at bay and also break the links between the Scottish Gaelic speaking highlanders and their Celtic counterparts in Ireland.  It was also be an opportunity for him to prove his Protestant credentials because ultimately he believed that the Irish would leave off being Catholics and become good Protestants if only thy were provided with education.  It would, in theory, also turn a profit for him.

In 1609 there was a survey and the land in Ulster divided into Church land and Crown property.  The Crown property was divided into estates of 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 acres. 59 Scots and 51 English landlords undertook to transport at least ten families to Ulster. They were also permitted to rent out to native Irish tenants.  These wealthy landlords were called undertakers. Undertakers were also required to build a sturdy stone house for every 1500 acres.  These were designed to keep the Irish out in the event of armed conflict.

There were also a group of men called servitors. These men had been soldiers and were being rewarded for their service.

And of course not all the settlers were men – Davies wanted growing communities to counterbalance the Native Irish.

The third group were the “deserving Irish” – who were deserving because they hadn’t recently done much in the way of rebelling.  Many Irish were relocated specifically to be closer to Protestant churches – and garrisons.  To describe the Irish as becoming increasingly disgruntled is something of an understatement. James’ representative in Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester, became ever more concerned that the rights of the native Irish were being ignored, especially when more land was acquired by the English when they claimed that inheritance through gavelkind (inheritance in equal part by all children) wasn’t an English way of doing things and only led to confusion – so confiscated property divided this way.  Davies claimed that Brehon Law which included gavelkind was a “lewd custom.”

There was also a lack of understanding about the way in which the land was farmed  and the fact that there were no walled towns which was regarded as backward.   Essentially the English were warming up to declare the Irish a bunch of barbarians in need of a spot of civilising – a legal conquest justified by a failure to recognise the way that Irish society worked.

Inevitably there was conflict between the settlers and the Irish.  In Munster the settlers were forced to flee and whilst there had been enthusiasm for resettlement in Ireland initially- it being closer to home than America- it rapidly became clear that rents and hostile locals were rather large flies in the ointment. There was also the issue that not all the land was that desirable. It wasn’t long before some of the settlers arranged themselves on land that had been designated as belonging to the Irish because it looked more appealing that the patch with which they had been issued.

All of this, is of course, a very straight forward account. It does not take account of revisionist views nor does it look at the complexities of Irish politics – or the generations of conflict that would ensue. Religious identity  of either variety would be enough to get you killed, if you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for centuries to come and its consequences still resonate.  James I changed the population of Ireland whilst the armies that followed throughout the seventeenth century did nothing to help the situation.

Fergal Keane’s 2011 Story of Ireland which is currently being repeated on television presents the brutality of Irish history alongside the resilience and creativity of its peoples.  It is a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out more.

 

The decline of witches

250px-Daemonologie1By 1619 James, according to Borman, was becoming skeptical about witches. None the less, events such as the Belvoir Witch Trial meant that witchcraft remained a topic of much interest.

 

I’ve posted about the Belvoir Witches previously but just a quick reminder, the Earl of Rutland’s two young sons died.  Blame was ultimately placed on Joan Flowers and her two daughters, Margaret and Philippa.  They had been dismissed from their posts at Belvoir accused of theft and had left muttering curses.  The family had fallen on hard times – probably because Joan’s husband, John, had died.  It was rumoured that the three women were offering a range of services to community – at any rate both daughters were described in the records as “abandoned and profligate.”  It probably didn’t help that Joan liked a good argument.

Then Henry Manners, Lord Ros died. The doctors had been unable to decide what his illness might have been.  Shortly after that the Earl of Rutland’s other son also died. Initially the earl and his wife Cecilia (incidentally a Tresham of Gunpowder Plot connections) didn’t believe that the deaths were witchcraft but ultimately the Flowers women were arrested and taken off to Lincoln for trial where they inevitably confessed.

However, times so far as James were concerned, were changing.  When the Leicestershire witch trials took place James was on progress and interrogated the women and their accusers.  They were released.  James was beginning to develop skepticism.  When he wrote a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer he made no mention to the existence of evil in the form of witches – as he lost interest so the number of witch trials declined. It was becoming more common to make jokes about witches rather than to string up hapless little old ladies who had the misfortune to be poor, ill looking cat owners. This was unfortunate for witch hunters who were usually paid by result which probably accounts for the fact that once one was discovered several more popped up in the same place.

Some of the women accused of witchcraft now took the opportunity to take their accusers to court.  One of them Agnes Fenn, a Norfolk widow of mature years, went to the Star Chamber and named the men who’d set upon her, beaten her, forced her to sit on knives and set off gunpowder in her face in an effort to make her confess to being a witch. Despite having been terrorised and stabbed in the face the Norfolk gentlemen who had carried out the attack declared themselves innocent of the accusation and Agnes received no further redress – demonstrating that being old and poor wasn’t a good starting point from which to hope for justice.

By the 1630’s killing witches was almost a thing of the past – but then the English Civil War came along and with one thing and another witch hunting once more became a popular pastime.

Which witch- some Jacobean witch trials

king-james1The History Jar’s previous post showed that James’ witchcraft trials were no respecter of rank, although it is telling that Francis Stuart survived the encounter.  When James became king of England as well as Scotland he carried his interest in witches with him- not that trials were a new phenomena- between 1560 and 1701 there were 279 trials for witchcraft in Essex and those are only the ones that made it into the record books.

Like James, Henry VIII had thought that witches were plotting against him. And let’s not forget the rumour concerning Anne Boleyn. It was suggested that she carried the “devil’s mark”  in the form of a mark on her neck and in the existence of a sixth finger on her right hand.  Elizabeth introduced a law against witches in 1563.  James was simply able to dust the law down and remind folk that practising witchcraft and consulting with them was an offence punishable by death.

Probably the most famous English case during the reign of James I was that, in 1612, of the Pendle Witches where three generations of one family found themselves on the wrong end of the swimming test (that’s the one where if you sink and drown you’re not a witch but if you bob to the top of the water having had your hands tied to your feet then you were a witch and having been hauled out and dried off could be burned.) To be honest it’s the case that springs to mind when thinking about Jacobean witch trials.  Yet, in Scotland between 1603 and 1624 there were approximately 420 witchcraft trials a year which is a lot of elderly crones when all is said and done, even if only half of them were executed.

There were many fewer trials in England, Notestein suggests somewhere between forty and fifty, but they did tend to have a much higher profile and were mostly at the start of James’ reign.  Take for example the scandalous affair of Francis Howard, Countess of Somerset and the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury in the Tower.  Francis  was said to have gained poisons from her friend Anne Turner who had a reputation for being a wise woman and it it was discovered had associated with Simon Forman who had predicted his own death.  Even worse, if possible, Cunning Mary (a name with which to conjure) told the court that Francis had promised her a £1000. Anne was executed for her part in the murder whilst Francis who pleaded guilty was quietly pardoned and released.

Other notable cases were as follows:

1606

  • Royston in Hertfordshire, Joanna Harrison was found to have in her possession the bones of a man and a woman. Her property was searched after she made a man ill simply by looking at him.

1607

  • The Bakewell Witches demonstrates that it paid not to get on the wrong side of anyone. “A Scotchman staying at a lodging-house in Bakewell fell in debt to his landlady, who retained some of his clothes as security. He went to London, concealed himself in a cellar, and was there found by a watchman, who arrested him for being in an unoccupied house with felonious intent. He professed to be dazed and declared that he was at Bakewell in Derbyshire at three o’clock that morning. He explained it by the fact that he had repeated certain words which he had heard his lodging-house keeper and her sister say. The judge was amazed, the man’s depositions were taken down, and he was sent to the justices of Derby.” The writer (Wallace Notestein) added that there was little evidence for this but that a number of women were hanged in Bakewell on charges of witchcraft at this time.

1612

  •  Witches discovered in Northamptonshire. Eight women were accused of  torturing a man and his sister as well as causing lameness in the neighbourhood. One of them Agnes Brown had a wart that was taken to be the devil’s mark. She and her daughter already had a dubious reputation.  Another was suspected because a child looked at her in church and when he got home went into convulsions.
  • Arthur Bill and his parents were accused of bewitching Martha Aspine.
  • The Pendle witch trials which was essentially two families at feud with one another.  Sixteen women found themselves locked up in Lancaster Castle on witchcraft charges.

 

1613

  • In Bedford Mother Sutton and her daughter,Mary, fell foul of the local landowner who was called Enger. Enger claimed that on moonlit nights Mary was in the habit of manifesting herself at his side.  She would sit and knit and tell him that if he agreed her terms that he would be restored to full health.

1616

  • The Leicester witch hangings.  A boy had fits and claimed that they were caused by witches. As a result nine women were executed and six more were saved by James who was on progress and found that the boy was lying.

1618

  • The Earl of Rutland claimed that both his sons had been killed by witches.  The Belvoir witches were tried in Lincoln. Joan Flower and her two daughters were dismissed from Belvoir Castle and when the second of the earl’s sons died it was realised that not only had he been killed by witchcraft but so had his sibling who had died several years earlier. It should be noted that Joan and her daughters had been dismissed some five years before the boy died. I’ve posted about the death of the earl’s sons earlier. https://thehistoryjar.com/2018/01/20/witchcraft-scandal-and-the-duke-of-buckingham/

 

1620

  • The saw called Bilston Boy case. Essentially thirteen year old William Perry craved attention and got it by having fits. He accused Jane Clarke of causing the fits and the case went to trial.  It was only thanks to a very perceptive bishop that Jane didn’t hang.

1622

  • The Fairfax case in York saw six women accused on the testimony of children.

 

Notestein, Wallace (1909) A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718.

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31511/31511-h/31511-h.htm#Footnote_115-3_42

Sir Walter Raleigh’s treason

William_Segar_Sir_Walter_Raleigh_1598On Thursday 17th November 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh was tried at Winchester for his part in the Main Plot. The jury took 15 minutes to arrive at their verdict and even Lord Coke the attorney general was taken by surprise at the speed of the delivery – he was still taking a stroll round the gardens when the jury returned.  No one was particularly surprised by the outcome, probably least of all Sir Walter, but the consensus was that he had arrived in Winchester one of the most disliked men in the kingdom but departed as one of the most pitied.

Essentially Sir Walter was caught up by the Main Plot which conspired to kill James and his children and replace them with Arbella Stuart having been financed by the Spanish and the Hapsburgs. Much of the evidence against Raleigh was based on Lord Cobham’s evidence.

The King’s Sergeant when introducing the case announced that Cobham revered Raleigh and that the former was a simple untravelled man whilst Raleigh was much more worldly.

Raleigh defended himself ably and with humour noting that the entire content of his trial was based on hearsay by one man and that man had received a letter from his wife telling him to pin it on Raleigh.  He went on to say that under a law dating from the reign of Edward III that two men were required to condemn a man.  Coke, objected saying that horse thieves used that stratagem to avoid condemnation and that to argue against the king’s court on a point of law suggested treasonable intent in itself.

He continued to observe that he was not charged with the Bye Plot which was to kidnap James I – and that if he was part of the conspiracy why hadn’t he been trusted to take part in that particular hare-brained scheme.

Raleigh also made the very good point that the Spanish had never been his friends and that they didn’t look particularly kindly upon him in any event so to accuse him of being in cahoots with the Spanish verged upon the absurd.  He continued in that particular vein picking holes in the evidence and observing that he had thought that Lord Cobham was offering him a pension to work for peace- something that Cecil himself had accepted- so it was hardly treasonous.

Looking at the trial transcripts it is clear that under today’s laws the case would have been thrown out.  Somewhat ironically James and Cecil needed Raleigh out of the way so that they could make peace with the Spanish.