Lincoln Witches (d. 1618) Three women accused of deadly witchcraft against an earl and his family in rutland, England. mother Joan Flower died before trial, but her daughters Margaret and Philippa confessed to murder by witchcraft and were executed. The case is especially interesting for the details of folk spells described by the accused.
Like many accused witches, the Flower women were believed by their neighbors to be evil witches long before their official trouble. Joan especially was known for her ill temper, rude manners, uncouth behavior, oaths and Curses. The women worked as domestic servants and, around 1613, Margaret managed to get employment at Belvoir Castle, the home of Sir Francis manners, the sixth earl of rutland. Margaret did the laundry and looked after the chickens. She evidently was a poor servant. She stole from the castle, taking things home to her mother, and she also engaged in lewd behavior with men in the castle.
Philippa, meanwhile, fell in love with a man named Thomas Simpson, and bewitched him into loving her—or so he said later.
Margaret fell out of favor with the earl’s wife, who fired her and gave her an overly generous severance pay of 40
shillings, a bolster and a mattress of wool. Margaret went home unhappy. According to their later confessions, the Flower women decided to take revenge on the earl and his family by witchcraft. The Devil appeared to them and promised that if they would serve him, he would send them familiars and they would be able to “easily command what they pleased.” They agreed.
Joan sent Margaret back to the castle to obtain the right-handed glove of the earl’s oldest son, Lord Henry rosse (also given as roos), a small child. Margaret found it in a dunghill. Joan boiled the glove, pricking it often with a knife. She took it out and rubbed it on the back of her cat, rutterkin—her familiar—instructing the spirit to go and harm the child. She then buried the glove in the yard. Soon the boy fell ill and died and was buried on September 16, 1613. (At a second examination, Margaret said she found the glove on rushes in the castle nursery. Her mother did not bury the glove, but threw it in the fire and burned it at the end of the spell.)
The witches then gleefully bewitched the earl’s next son, Lord Francis, who fell severely ill. Francis died, but not until 1619 or 1620. The witches also caused the earl’s only daughter, Katherine, to fall seriously ill. They obtained her handkerchief, boiled it and then rubbed it on rutterkin and ordered the cat to harm her. Katherine managed to survive, marry and have children. Finally, the witches put a curse on the earl and his wife to have no more children. Joan obtained a pair of their gloves. She put the gloves and some of the wool from the mattress into warm water, added some blood (records do not say whose blood), stirred and rubbed the wool and gloves on the belly of rutterkin while she muttered the curse. The couple in fact had no more children.
The earl suspected the Flower women of witchcraft and ordered them to be arrested around Christmastime 1617 and brought to jail in Lincoln. Before she was taken, Joan undertook a traditional ordeal, to eat bread and butter and swear that it should not pass through her if she were guilty. She did so, did not speak again and fell down and died before she could be taken to jail. Her daughters were arrested and imprisoned.
Margaret confessed that she had two familiars, one white and one black with spots. The white spirit sucked under her left breast and the spotted spirit sucked “within the inward parts of her secrets,” or vagina. While in jail, she said that on the night of January 30, 1618, four Devils appeared to her around 11 p.m. or midnight. One had a black head like an ape and stood at the foot of her bed, muttering to her unintelligibly. The other three were rutterkin, Joan’s familiar, and Little robin and Spirit, presumably her own familiars.
Philippa confessed to seeing rutterkin leap onto Joan’s shoulder and suck at her neck. She said she had her own familiar in the form of a white rat (see rodents), which for three or four years had sucked at her left breast. Philippa said that when it first came to her, she promised it her soul in exchange for causing Thomas Simpson to love her.
The earl left the women for trial, asking God to have mercy on their souls. They were executed by hanging on march 11, 1618, in Lincoln.
Three other women were examined on charges of witchcraft at about the same time as the Flower women: Joan Willimott, Anne Baker, and Ellen Green (also Greene). Baker testified that she had been told that the death of young Lord Henry was due to witchcraft and that as his glove rotted in the ground so did his liver.
Willimott said that she had met with Joan and Margaret and had gone to their house, where she saw two familiars, one like a rat and one like an owl. One of them sucked under her right ear. Joan told her that the spirits said she would neither be hanged nor burned. Willimott also said that Joan took some dirt, spit on it (see Spittle) and put it in her purse, saying she could not hurt the earl himself, but could harm his son.
Green said she had an association with Willimott. All three confessed to having familiars and performing various acts of maleficia.
- Rosen, Barbara, ed. Witchcraft in England, 1558–1618. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.