“The examination and confession of certaine Wytches at Chensforde” is the shortened title given to the 1566 chapbook on witchcraft. Published by William Powell on behalf of another printer, William Pickering, during August 1566, the octavo pamphlet’s full title is “The examination and confession of certaine Wytches at Chensforde in the Countie of Essex before the Quenes Maiesties Judges the XXVI daye of July anno 1566.”
It is the first pamphlet produced covering witchcraft in England. Published in three parts, two on 13 August with a follow-up on 23 August 1566, it gives an accurate reflection of the indictments held at the Public Records Office. Carefully illustrated, it recounts the details of three accused women from Hatfield Peverel, a small village five miles (8 km) from Chelmsford: Elizabeth FrancisElizabeth Francis was an English woman tried three times for witchcraft and hanged in 1579. – sometimes given as Fraunces, Frauncis or Frances, – Agnes WaterhouseElderly Essex woman convicted and hanged for witchcraft at Chelmsford in 1566. and her daughter Jone (or Joan) together with information on a victim, twelve-year-old Agnes Browne.[a]In Scotland and England during the sixteenth century spelling was haphazard leading to many words, places and names having several variations. Modern-day texts often use an anglicised version.
The first part comprises an ‘epistle to the reader’ together with two pieces of doggerel type verses; the poems and preface, partly penned by John Phillips, are described by modern-day academic Barbara Rosen as having a “serious claim to consideration as the worst poet of the entire Elizabethan era”. The epistle, like the accompanying verses, makes no reference to witchcraft. Ecclesiastically framed, it leads with the word God then culminates with Amen; the text is a simply worded, kindly discourse.
Details of the pre-trial documents of the accused women, starting with that of Elizabeth Francis, follow supported by some commentary from the creator of the pamphlet. A section is also devoted to the testimony supplied by Agnes Browne. The final part, entitled ‘end and last confession’ records the execution of Agnes Waterhouse, the only one of the accused women at that trial to be punished with the death penalty.