Northampton Witches (d. 1612) Five men and women who were arraigned and tried on charges of witchcraft and who were all executed by hanging on July 22, 1612, in Northampton, England. The chief evidence against most of them seemed to be public opinion that they were wicked, evil people, and led wicked lives—and so had to be witches.
Several cases were tried separately, but the convicted were all executed on the same day, probably for the convenience of the town.
Agnes Brown and Joan Vaughn or Varnham.
Agnes Brown and her daughter Joan Vaughn (also given as Varnham) lived in Guilsborough, Northamptonshire. They were poor and uneducated and Joan was unmarried. They were regarded by their neighbors as ill natured and ill mannered, completely without grace.
Their downfall began one day when Vaughn encountered a gentlewoman, mistress Belcher. Apparently she was rude, for Belcher struck her. Vaughn retorted that she would remember the injury and would avenge it. Belcher replied that she was not afraid of Vaughn or her mother.
Vaughn went home and told Brown about the incident. It is unknown whether the two vowed revenge. However, Belcher soon fell seriously ill and took to her bed. Her friends blamed Vaughn, and soon Belcher was crying out that her affliction was caused by Vaughn and Brown.
Belcher’s brother, master Avery, came to visit his sister while she was sick. He found that he could not enter the house, as though some malevolent force held him back. After several attempts, he gave up and returned home.
Avery then became tormented with fits like those suffered by his sister. He too blamed his condition on the witchcraft of Brown and Vaughn. He complained to the authorities. A knight, Sir William Saunders of Cottesbrooke, apprehended the women and brought them to the Northampton jail.
Belcher and Avery were convinced that if they could scratch the women and draw blood (see bloodIng), they would be cured. They went to the jail and as soon as they blooded the women, their afflictions ended. The cure was not lasting, for as soon as brother and sister were out of sight of the women, their fits and torments returned, more violent than ever.
On their way home in their coach, Belcher and Avery passed a man and woman riding together on a black horse and acting oddly. The strangers called out a Curse that either Belcher and Avery or their horses should presently have an accident. The coach horses immediately fell dead.
Once home, Belcher and Avery were cured. The strange occurrence was blamed upon the witchcraft of the jailed women; the horses received the brunt of the Devil’s mischief.
Brown and Vaughn were charged with bewitchment of Belcher and Avery and also of bewitching a child to death. They pleaded not guilty. Among the testimonies against them was an account that Brown was seen with two other “witches,” Katherine Gardiner and Joan Lucas, all riding on the back of a sow to visit mother rhodes, an old witch. rhodes died before they arrived, but did call out that three of her friends were coming to visit, but too late.
A jury found Brown and Vaughn guilty. While they waited in jail to be executed, neither was heard to pray to God, but only to curse and vilify those who had sealed their doom. This too was taken as proof that they were witches.
Arthur Bill was described as a “wretched poor man” of the town of raunds, whose parents were both known to be witches. Like Vaughn and Brown, he was believed to live an evil life and to bewitch cattle. In may 1612, Bill was accused of bewitching a young woman, Martha Aspines (alias Jeames), to death.
The local authorities apprehended Bill and his parents and subjected them to the swImmIng test by binding their hands and feet and tossing them into deep water. All three floated, which meant they were guilty of witchcraft. Son Bill was arrested on may 29 and sent to jail.
Fearing that his father would testify against him, Bill sent for his mother and the two bewitched the father so that he was temporarily unable to speak. He did recover his speech, however, and became the leading witness against his son.
His mother feared that she would be hanged as a witch. Her neighbors urged her to throw herself on God’s mercy. Instead, she committed suicide by cutting her own throat, allegedly at the command of her Familiar.
Bill was charged with several other crimes besides murder. At his trial, he was said to have three familiars, named Grizel, Ball and Jack. He pleaded innocent to all crimes, but was found guilty. Bill cried out that the law of the land had convicted an innocent man. He maintained his innocence all the way to the gallows and to his last breath. Nothing is recorded of the fate of his father. His life might have been spared in exchange for testimony against his son.
Helen Jenkson of Thrapston was widely regarded as a witch who bewitched cattle and caused other mischief. She was accused of bewitching a child to death and was pricked and found to have an insensitive Witch's Mark upon her body. The woman who pricked Jenkson, mistress moulsho, then had an odd thing happen to her laundry. The maid discovered moulsho’s smock to be covered with images of toads, snakes and other “ugly creatures.” moulsho immediately went to the home of Jenkson and threatened to scratch her eyes out if her linen was not made clean of the foul spots. When she got home, the spots were gone. Jenkson was arrested and imprisoned on may 11, 1612. She pleaded innocent at her trial, but was found guilty. She too maintained her innocence right up to her death.
No one had anything but the vilest of words to describe Mary Barber of Stanwick, so perhaps it was inevitable that the cloud of witchcraft would eventually fall upon her. She had “mean parents” and was “monstrous and hideous both in her life and actions.” She was licentious, wanton, barbarous, rude and violent. Barber was accused of bewitching cattle and of bewitching a man to death. She pleaded not guilty. An account of her trial notes only that “good evidence” was presented against her, and she was found guilty.
- Rosen, Barbara, ed. Witchcraft in England, 1558–1618. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.