The case of Ann Izzard (1765–1838) demonstrates that despite the Witchcraft Act of 1735Sometimes dated 1736, an Act of Parliament that repealed the statutes concerning witchcraft throughout Great Britain, including Scotland. having repealed all laws against witchcraft throughout Great Britain, those accused by their local communities of causing harm by witchcraft – maleficiumAct of sorcery, historically usually performed by a witch, intended to cause harm or injury. – remained subject to persecution well into the 19th century.
Ann lived in the small village of Great Paxton in Huntingdonshire. Court records reveal that over two nights in May 1808 she and her husband were attacked by a group of the village’s residents, who subjected her to prickingMethods used to identify witches. with “Pins and other Sharp Instruments”, believing her to have bewitched their children. Much of what is known of the case comes from the contemporary accounts published by the curate of the parish that included Great Paxton, the Reverend Isaac Nicholson.
Ann’s troubles began on 17 February 1808, when a young woman, Alice Brown, fell through the ice while attempting to cross the River Ouse. Although Alice survived, she became subject to convulsions and unable to work. Alice’s friend, Fanny Amey, had also succumbed to fits a few months earlier, and soon afterwards a third woman, Mary Fox, began to display similar symptoms. Believing that his daughter has been bewitched, Alice Brown’s father, placed a bottle “filled with a particular fluid”[a]Possibly urine. and sealed with a cork pierced with pins into an oven, to expose the malefactor. On Sunday 12 April Ann Izzard told the Reverend Nicholson that by the use of such devices her neighbours had concluded that she was a witch, and responsible for the condition of the three young women; to prove her innocence, she offered to be weighed against a BibleMethods used to identify witches. . Following the usual Sunday service, Nicholson warned his congregation of the consequences of taking any action against Ann on the basis of their belief that she was a witch.
But argument, explanation, and remonstrance, were in vain; the mania had taken full possession of them, and was only to be cured, or restrained by the powerful arm of the law
— Reverend Isaac Nicholson
Matters came to a head in May 1808, when after accusing Ann of causing a cart to overturn on the way home from St Neot’s market, villagers broke into her home and dragged her naked from her bed. She was then beaten and scratched with pins, in the belief that drawing blood would weaken her power. Ann was subsequently taken in and cared for by a neighbour, Alice Russell, which resulted in Alice also being accused of witchcraft, a charge that caused her so much upset that she had a seizure and died a few days later.
Ann’s beating was repeated on 17 May, after which nine of the villagers involved were arrested, four men and five women.[b]The population of Great Paxton was recorded as 217 in 1801. Tried at the Court of King’s Bench on 23 November 1809, all nine were found guilty, despite the testimony of Alice Brown’s father that her fits had ended once she had drawn Ann’s blood; the sentences passed included various terms of imprisonment and fines.
Just a month before the trial, Ann Izzard appeared before the local justice of the peace to complain that she had been assaulted and scratched by another two residents of the village, Judith Day and her daughter Elizabeth; both were arrested and jailed the following day.
Perhaps surprisingly, Ann and her family remained in Great Paxton until at least 1813, when villagers were once again fined for accusing her and her daughter Ruth of being witches. The family then finally decided to move to St Neots, but stories of Ann’s alleged witchcraft followed her. Children would call her names, and it was said that she could be seen riding her broomstickBroomsticks smeared with flying ointment were supposed to give witches the power of flight. over Eynesbury churchyard.
Ann Izzard died in St Neots in1838, and was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, in an unmarked grave.
The Witchcraft Act of 1735Sometimes dated 1736, an Act of Parliament that repealed the statutes concerning witchcraft throughout Great Britain, including Scotland. marked a reversal in British attitudes towards witchcraft, which by then had come to be seen by the authorities as an impossible crime. But the events of 1808 demonstrate a schism in belief between the elite and non-elite elements of society.
The 1692 case of the Salem Witches in colonial Massachusetts bears some resemblance to that of Ann Izzard, but with at least one significant difference: the attitude of the authorities. In the case of Salem, they were willing to see the work of the Devil, whereas in Huntingdonshire the ecclesiastical and judicial authorities moved swiftly to end what they viewed as a hysterical episode.