The examination and confession of certaine Wytches at Chensforde
“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 FrancisEnglish woman tried three times for witchcraft, hanged in 1579 for bewitchment and murder by witchcraft. – 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 doggerelClumsy and awkward verse often employed for comic effect.-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.
A copy is held at Lambeth Palace Library; writing in 1981 academic Rossell Hope Robbins believes this is the only extant edition of the pamphlet.
Gibson, Marion. Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing. Routledge, 2000.
Gibson, Marion. Reading Witchcraft. Stories of Early English Witches. Routledge, 2005.
Maxwell-Stuart, Peter. The British Witch. Amberley Publishing Limited, 2014.
Normand, Lawrence, and Gareth Roberts. Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland: James VI’s Demonology and the North Berwick Witches. University of Exeter Press, 2000.
Notestein, Wallace. A History of Witchcraft In England from 1558 to 1718. American Historical Association 1911 (reissued 1965) New York Russell & Russell, 1911.
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. Girard et Stewart, 2015.
Rosen, Barbara. Witchcraft in England, 1558-1618. University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.
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