It’s hard to believe we are in November already, with Halloween behind us. At the weekend, I was in Whitby, North Yorkshire at the Goth Festival, and there were plenty of witches to be seen dressed in the familiar pointy black hat and black clothing. So why are witches portrayed as wearing black pointy hats. Well, that’s down to religious intolerance.
Yes, that’s right. It boils down to religion, and what was happening at the time of the witch-hunts in Europe after Pope Paul VIII took the first step to eradicate the canker within the Catholic Church as small breakaway churches were being formed. In 1534, Henry VIII had stepped away from the Catholic Church and set himself up as the Head of the English Church in place of the pope, even though the church still remained essentially Catholic in its theology. After Henry VIII death in 1547 Queen Elizabeth the First had to deal with a struggle between the supporters of the old Catholic faith and various schools of German and Genevan Protestantism. This led to persecution and martyrdom of Catholics and Protestants alike. In the end, Queen Elizabeth made a compromise which gave birth to the Anglican Church (The Church of England)
In 1584, Pope Paul VIII issued a Bill which made witchcraft a heresy and gave power to the Inquisitors to search out and punish all witches. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Britain was going through some huge changes both religiously and politically. In England, when Charles the first came to the throne in 1625 he was unable to reconcile the new Puritan ideas of the rights of the people against his belief in his own “divine right”. He dismissed Parliament in 1629 because it disapproved of the things he wanted to do. For eleven years he tried to rule without a parliament until he ran out of money because he was unable to collect taxes without their approval. The Long parliament was called in 1640-59 to show the King that he needed them, and they then drew up a number of Bills to restrict his powers. By 1642 the gulf between the King’s supporters and the Puritans widened causing a civil war to break out. The King’s Supporters joined the King in Nottingham while the Puritans (aka Roundheads) soldiers in East Anglia organised by Oliver Cromwell.
Within the Elizabethan church, many Protestants came under the foreign influences while in exile during the Catholic reaction of Queen Mary’s reign. Two main Puritan groups which emerged first under Thomas Cartwright of Royston, One-time Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. It was from this branch that the Presbyterian church developed under Robert Browne
Who were the Puritans: They sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and should become more Protestant. Like most Christians, Puritans believed in the active existence of the devil and demons. These evil forces could possess and cause harm to people, and persons could be in league with the devil. Unexplained phenomena such as the death of livestock, human disease, and hideous fits suffered by young and old might all be blamed on the agency of the devil or a witch.
Puritan pastors undertook exorcisms of demonic possession in some high-profile cases. Exorcist John Darrell supported by Arthur Hildersham in the case of Thomas Darling. Samuel Harsnett, a skeptic on witchcraft and possession, attacked Darrell. However, Harsnett was in the minority, and many clergy, not only Puritans, believed in witchcraft and possession.
In the 1640s, Matthew Hopkins, the self-proclaimed “Witchfinder General”, whose career flourished during Puritan rule, was responsible for accusing over two hundred people of witchcraft, mainly in East Anglia. Between 1644 and 1647, Hopkins and his colleague John Stearne sent more accused people to the gallows than all the other witch-hunters in England of the previous 160 years.
Now you have a better understanding of what was going on at the time of the witch-hunts and how this reflected badly on the Puritans. It’s clear to see why pointy hats and black dresses and skirt are worn by witches and old hags in the caricature of this time and have been passed down through the centuries, warts and all to us.
Now the end of the year is in sight, it’s a good time to think about what I hope to achieve next year. Of course, I want to keep pushing my writing up to the next level. There are enough unfinished novels sitting on my computer, but do I want to continue writing in the same genre or try something different. My dear friend and mentor, Ivy (aka Maggie Ford) always wanted to write a crime novel, but her publisher rather wanted her to continue writing the same type of books because she had established herself as a writer of East End family sagas. Ivy said, “Once you are established, your reader will expect the same type of book from you.”
I enjoy writing crime/mystery type books. There are so many crossovers type books on the market these days that it would be easy to add a new element into my novel, if I wanted, too. Seeking the Dark did have a tiny element of a love interest between two of the characters, but not enough to call it a romance. The same with The Phoenix Hour as my main character Dr Louise Brimstone falls in love with Sir Charles Aldringham resulting in dire consequences.
Martha Wenlock (As the Crow Flies) is more of a Time-slip historical crime novel. Martha Wenlock will be an aid to the past as Dave and Joan uncover local crimes, set in the surrounding villages and towns where I live. It will be interesting to find out what local historical facts and myths I can weave into my plot lines. As I have said on here before, in 1566 the first major witchcraft trials in England took place in Chelmsford, Essex. Chelmsford was a market town when I was growing up, but recently became a city. The accused were Agnes Waterhouse, her daughter Joan Waterhouse and another woman who was known to them called, Elizabeth Francis. They all came from the village of Hatfield Peverall which isn’t far from where I live now. The women were accused of colluding together in witchcraft.
Elizabeth Francis was a wife of a yeoman, Christopher Francis, but her story begins before she was married to him. Elizabeth had been in love with a man called Andrew Byles and hoped he would marry her, but he refused. It was said, that with the aid of a cat, Elizabeth had inherited from her grandmother when she was twelve years old, she first wasted Byles’ goods and then caused his death. Next, she concocted a recipe of wild herbs to abort his unwanted baby she was expecting. Elizabeth then set her sights on Christopher Francis and won his heart. Once they were married, within six months she was aborting his baby, so it is difficult to understand why Elizabeth wanted to marry him in the first place.
Once again, Elizabeth was said to ask the help of her cat called ‘Sathan’ to cause harm to her husband by turning into a toad and jumping into his shoe. Her husband went to kill the toad and as his foot came in contact with it, he became lame. Then in the court record it said that Elizabeth traded her cat for a cake with Agnes Waterhouse. This is how the three women became friends.
Agnes felt she had a real bargain, once Elizabeth explained to her how powerful Sathan was and all he needed was a drop of her blood to grant her wishes. Agnes wasted no time in setting her new acquisition to work and commanded it to kill one of her pigs. Once the job was done, she rewarded him with a drop of her blood and a chicken. Agnes grew tired of her husband, so he was next on her hit list, along with a few of her neighbours. Agnes’ daughter Joan who was eighteen at the time decided to set the cat to work for herself and asked Sathan to punish a twelve-year-old girl called, Agnes Brown.
It was Agnes Brown’s testament which had the three women hung for witchcraft. Her evidence was accepted without question. Many of the witch trials throughout the country were brought about on the testament of children of any age, even against their parents. Quite frightening to think if you had told your children off or refused to buy them the latest toy, they could turn on you, and accuse you of witchcraft with no real evidence.
Anyway, so I shall be investigating past wrongdoings, along with Martha Wenlock in and around my local area. I shall enjoy creating new characters and interesting plot line in a hope of developing a series of unusual crime books. I hope you will join me on my new adventure into the past.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Chat again soon.
What a tragic ending for these three women. Good luck with Martha Wenlock’s story, Paula!
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I know. It was the same for hundreds of other people across the country who died in witch-hunts. I’m getting my head down and focusing on Martha’s novel. Deep research is needs in some areas as my story unfolds.
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As to changing genres, I wonder how many books it takes before an author is established in a particular genre. If I only have one novelette, one novella, and a handful of short stories, and I jump to romance (eek, shivers, not me!), would anyone notice other than the few readers who’ve read my short pieces?
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Yes, it is interesting. My friend had thirty books published. I won’t be writing romance either.
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What a wonderfully witchy blog full of amazing history. Looking forward To Martha Wenlocks series.
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Thank you 😊