Hertford Witches (d. 1606) Two women executed for crimes committed by witchcraft in royston, England. Joan Harrison and her daughter were widely believed to practice malevolent spells and bewitchment, including deaths.
At the time of Joan Harrison’s arrest in the summer of 1606, she had long been regarded as a local witch. Her house was searched and incriminating evidence was found—human bones and hair and a drawing on parchment of a human body and heart. Harrison readily confessed that she used these items to cast spells. By pricking a body part on the drawing, she could cause torment, even death, to a person at a distance. She was aided by two familiars, she said, one for spells against people and one for spells against cattle.
She confessed to tormenting a neighbor with whom she had argued and who had called her an “old hag.” She promised revenge, and soon he fell ill with great bodily pain, as though he were being tortured. Believing himself to be bewitched, he visited Harrison and drew her blood by scratching her (see blood), which brought an end to his torment.
Harrison turned the tables on him by having him arrested and charged for battery. She won her case in court and was awarded five pounds and her trial costs. The man paid her and then suffered a relapse of pains and died.
Later, Harrison was out in a street and passed a house where a young woman was washing clothes with her baby next to her in a cradle. The woman dumped her rinse water just as Harrison was passing, and some of it fell on her. The woman apologized, but Harrison said she would have revenge for the offense. Within a short time, the cradle overturned and shattered, and the woman’s baby was killed.
Harrison bewitched a young woman into sickness. The spell was broken by her brother. In revenge, Harrison killed all of his cattle. The brother died soon thereafter.
One of Harrison’s final bewitchments was against a drunk at an alehouse who argued with her and called her vile names. After she departed, he felt ill and blamed her. He tracked her down and attacked her, nearly scratching out her eyes.
Soon after this incident, Harrison was arrested, along with her daughter. Harrison was charged with other crimes against people besides the ones recorded. records do not give the daughter’s name or details of her alleged crimes. mother and daughter were tried in Hertford and were executed by hanging on August 4, 1606.
- Rosen, Barbara, ed. Witchcraft in England, 1558–1618. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.