Darrell (also Darrel), Reverend John

Reverend JohnDarrell (also Darrel) (16th century) : The Puritan minister John Darrell, caught in religious infighting between moderate Catholics, English Anglicans and Puritans, was convicted of fraud in May 1599, as a result of exorcising the Devil from the Demoniac William Sommers of Nottingham (see exorcism). Darrell was called to exorcise nine other people before Sommers: Katherine Wright in 1586, Thomas Darling in 1596, and seven possessed children in Lancashire in 1597. He was unsuccessful in exorcising Wright, and although a witch was accused of causing the possession, the Justice in charge refused to commit her and warned Darrell to desist from exorcisms or face imprisonment. In the case of Thomas Darling, Darrell advised fasting and prayer but was not present so as to avoid personal “glory.”

The possession of the seven Lancashire children had already led to the execution of Edmund Hartley — originally brought in to cure the children but eventually found to be the witch responsible — but the children were still having fits and convulsions. Assisted by Derbyshire minister George More, Darrell exorcised the children in one afternoon, emphasizing that the greatest value of such Puritan exorcisms was in refuting the claim by the Papists that theirs was the only true Church, since they could cast out devils.

Darrell’s last case, the exorcism of William Sommers, began in November 1597. Sommers, aged 20, suffered fits and had a lump the size of an egg which ran about his body. His behaviour was obscene, including bestiality with a dog in front of onlookers. Darrell exorcised him in front of 150 witnesses, but Sommers suffered repossessions, eventually naming witches responsible. Although Sommers did not react consistently to the various witches’ presence, Darrell had all 13 arrested. All but two were released, but Darrell claimed that Sommers’s accusations were correct, and that Sommers could probably find all the witches in England. Eventually, one of the accused witch’s powerful families charged Sommers with witchcraft, and Sommers confessed to having simulated his fits.

Fearful of the effect that talk of witchcraft had on the people, as well as the increasing power of the Puritans, or Calvinists, the Archbishop of Canterbury moved against Darrell. Katherine Wright and Thomas Darling were summoned as witnesses against Darrell and joined Sommers in confessing fraud. Wright and Sommers even accused Darrell of teaching them how to contrive fits. Based mainly on Sommers’s detailed accusations, the ecclesiastical court found Darrell to be a counterfeit and deposed him from the ministry in May 1599. Darrell languished in prison for several months but was never really sentenced.

As a result of Darrell’s conviction, the Anglican Church of England passed Canon 72 of the Episcopal Church, forbidding exorcism as a formal ritual. Some Anglican priests today practice exorcism on an informal basis with the approval of their bishops. See Possession.


  • Hole, Christina. Witchcraft in England. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1947.
  • Maple, Eric. The Dark World of Witches. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1962.
  • Summers, Montague. The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1926.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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