Seven in Lancashire Possessions

Seven in Lancashire Possessions
English case of possessed children and adults, involving John Dee and the Puritan minister the REVEREND JOHN DARREL. The case bears similarities to the children in the THROCKMORTON PossessionS, in that the children probably faked fits in order to avoid religious studies and attending church and perhaps to gain attention. An accused witch was executed. Accounts of the case were written by Darrel and another minister who performed the Exorcisms, George More, and were published in 1600.

The Seven in Lancashire case began in 1595 in the household of Nicholas Starkie of Cleworth, Lancashire. His two children, Ann, 10, and John, 12, began having fits and convulsions. Starkie spent 200 pounds—a huge sum of money—trying to cure the children, to no avail. He consulted a priest—his wife had been a Catholic—but the priest had no instructions for exorcism. Starkie then turned to a cunning man, Edmund Hartley, and hired him at the annual salary of two pounds. Hartley was skilled in herbal remedies and charms. Shortly after the arrival of Hartley in the household, three other children who were being raised by Starkie became possessed. So did a maid, Jane Ashton, and a poor relative, Margaret Byrom, 33.

The behavior of the Demoniacs conformed to that of other Demoniacs. They screamed, howled, and writhed. They went into fits whenever Scripture was read, and they burst out with foul language during church services. John Starkie ranted for hours on sin and the wrath of God. One of the girls made a hole in her wall to let her Demon enter.

Hartley successful calmed the Demoniacs for about 18 months, using Charms and herbs. Oddly, he was subject to fits himself.

By autumn 1596, Starkie, perhaps wishing for more dramatic results, consulted Dee, who was famous for his contact with spirits and who had had an experience with a possessed woman in his employ. Dee recommended calling in some “godly preachers” and treating the children with fasting and prayer, common Protestant remedies for Possession.

Starkie then consulted Darrel and More. Darrel interviewed Hartley and criticized his approach. The children had no fits for three weeks.

Hartley fell under suspicion. Dee’s curate, Matthew Palmer, identified him as a witch because he could not say the Lord’s Prayer without stumbling—a common test for discovering witches that was employed in witch trials. Hartley was accused of bewitching the Demoniacs by kissing them. He was brought to trial in March 1597 and was found guilty. However, the court had no grounds for execution. Conjuring spirits was against the law and punishable by death, but there was no evidence that Hartley had done so.

Then Starkie “remembered” an incident. He said that prior to his consulting Dee—and the reason for it—he had been with Hartley in a wood. The cunning man had made a circle on the ground with “crosses and partitions” and asked Starkie to walk it. He allegedly said, “Now I shall trouble him that troubled me, and be meete with him that sought my death.”

Hartley denied this, but it was all the court needed to dispatch him, and he was hanged for conjuring. The rope broke, giving Hartley a chance to make a confession and repent, but the court had him hanged again, this time successfully.

The Demoniacs seemed mollified by his death, but Starkie called in Darrel and More to exorcise them just the same. When the preachers arrived, the Demoniacs resumed their fits and even rejoiced in the death of Hartley. They made a terrific show of screaming blasphemies and convulsing for a day. Then, all were dispossessed. All but one were never to be troubled so again. The maid, Jane Ashton, continued to suffer fits and went to live with a Catholic uncle, who sent her to priests to be exorcised.


– Walker, D. P. Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.