Newton, Florence (ca. mid-17th century) One of the most important witch trials of Ireland was that of Florence Newton, the “Witch of Youghal,” who was tried at the Cork assizes in 1661. Newton was accused of bewitching a young girl, Mary Longdon, into fits, and of bewitching one of her jail sentries, David Jones, to death. Unlike many of the witch trials conducted at the time on the Continent, the trial of Florence Newton involved no torture. Some important people were involved in the trial, including the mayor of Youghal, who gave sworn testimony, and Valentine Greatrakes, a noted Irish healer.
Newton was arrested and jailed after Mary Longdon, a maid of John Pyne, claimed Newton had bewitched her. Longdon said Newton had become angry when Mary refused to give her some of her master’s beef. Newton “went away grumbling.”
A week later, Longdon encountered Newton, who threw herself upon the maid and violently kissed her, saying, “Mary, I pray thee let thee and I be friends; for I bear thee no ill will, and I pray thee do thou bear me none.” A few days after the encounter, Mary woke up and saw Newton standing beside her bed with a “little old man in silk cloaths,” whom she took to be a spirit. The spirit told Longdon to “follow his advice and she would have all the things after her own heart,” to which Longdon replied she would have nothing to do with him, her faith being with the Lord.
A month after being kissed by Newton, Longdon fell ill with “fits and trances.” She had shaking fits so violent that three or four men could not hold her down. She repeatedly vomited needles, pins, horsenails, stubbs, wool and straw (see AllotrIophAgy). She was pelted with mysterious showers of stones that followed her from room to room in her house, and outdoors, from place to place (see Lithoboly). most of the stones vanished when they hit the ground. Longdon grabbed one with a hole in it, knotted a leather throng through it and stuck it in her purse. The stone vanished, but the knot remained in the thong.
Longdon said that during her fits, she saw Newton, who stuck pins in her arms so deeply that men had difficulty getting them out. The maid also said she was levitated out of her bed and carried to the top of the house (see leVItAtIon).
Newton was summoned by the authorities. Whenever Longdon was in the accused witch’s presence, her fits and discomfort grew worse. Newton was removed to Cork for trial. During the proceedings, whenever Newton was restrained “in bolts,” Longdon seemed to be fine; if Newton was let out of bolts, Longdon fell ill, even if she were not in the presence of Newton.
Newton at first denied bewitching Longdon, describing herself as “old and disquieted, and distracted with her [own] sufferings.” She mumbled about Longdon suffering, supposedly at the exact times the maid was having fits.
There was a prevailing belief at the time that witches could not recite the Lord's Prayer, so the court asked Newton to do this. The old woman stumbled over the prayer, omitting “and forgive us our trespasses.” She said the omission was due to her bad memory, but the court was skeptical and appointed a man to try and teach her the prayer; however, she was unable to utter the one line.
Nicholas Pyne, a Youghal townsman, testified that he and two other men had visited Newton in jail and she had confessed her crimes to them. She told them she had not bewitched Longdon but overlooked her with the Evil Eye, and that there was a vast difference between the two. Newton implicated two other Youghal women, whom she said had the same supernatural powers as she, and she suggested that perhaps one of them had harmed the maid.
Pyne testified that during the visit, they heard noises like a person in chains and bolts running up and down the cell but could see nothing. The next day, Newton confessed the noise was made by her Familiar, which had the shape of a greyhound and went in and out the window.
The famous healer Valentine Greatrakes and two other men gave Newton a test for witchcraft. They sat her on a stool and had a shoemaker try to stick an awl into the stool; he could not do so until the third try. When he attempted to pull the awl out, it broke. There was no mark in the stool where it had been pierced. Then they brought in Longdon and put another awl in her hand. “. . . [O]ne of them took the maid’s hand, and ran violently at the witch’s hand with it, but could not enter it, though the awl was so bent that none of them could put it straight again.” Finally, the men lanced one of Newton’s hands with a cut 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4-inch deep, but the hand did not bleed. Newton’s other hand was similarly lanced, and then the two hands bled.
Newton said she was sorry for casting the Evil Eye on Longdon and causing her harm. The mayor of Youghal rounded up the two women Newton implicated as witches, but before he could subject all three women to the swimming test (see swImmIng), Newton confessed to overlooking the maid. Longdon said the two women were not guilty, and they were released.
While Newton was in prison, one of her sentries was David Jones, who attempted to teach her the Lord’s Prayer. One night she called Jones to her cell and announced she could recite the entire prayer. Once again, she omitted “and forgive us our trespasses.” Jones taught the prayer to her again, and Newton, in gratitude, asked to kiss his hand. When Jones went home, he complained to his wife that he had a great pain in his arm and that it was the result of being kissed by the witch.
For the next 14 days Jones grew progressively ill, complaining that the pain was shooting up his arm into his heart, describing symptoms that sound like angina. He told a friend that the hag Newton was pulling off his arm. “Do you not see the old hag, how she pulls me?” Jones said. “Well, I lay my death on her, she has bewitched me.” At the end of a fortnight, Jones died.
The surviving records of Newton’s trial do not indicate her fate. Longdon apparently covered.
- Seymour, St. John D. Irish Witchcraft and Demonology. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co., 1913.