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Whole trial and examination of Mrs. Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth is a pamphlet printed in London during 1716. Labelled by historians and academics as a piece of journalistic invention, it tells the story of Mary Hicks, sometimes spelt as Hickes, and her nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, claiming that they were tried and convicted of witchcraft at Huntingdon Assizes and executed on 28 July 1716.

The writing style of the anonymous pamphleteer resembles that of two earlier tracts printed in 1705, both with fabricated narratives. These were signed by Ralph Davis, purportedly covering the trial of two witches, Elinor Shaw and Mary Phillips, at Northamptonshire.

Narrative


Eighteenth-century authors of witchcraft tracts habitually began by attempting to thwart any disbelief or doubts readers may hold about the existence of the Devil and the black arts. This pamphlet is no exception, beginning by stating: “it hath been a great Controversie among Learned Men, about the possibility of Men and Women being Wizards Witches or no, some affirming such they may be, and others to the contrary”.[1][a]Millar reproduces the quote from page 2 of the pamphlet.[2]

The narrative goes on to describe Mary Hicks and her nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth being accused by Mary’s husband – a farmer who was the father of the child – of selling their souls to the Devil.[3] The accusations arose after he became suspicious of his daughter’s actions on a trip to Ipswich. According to her father, after she had noticed a small sailing craft out at sea, she began stirring a container of water to generate a storm in an attempt to sink the vessel. He was convinced if he had not stopped her, the boat would have sunk. Later, as they were heading home, Elizabeth declared she could “consume all this corn in the twinkling of an eye” when they travelled alongside a well grown cornfield. He challenged her to demonstrate that she was capable of performing her claim; he then witnessed the field full of stubble. When Hicks asked Elizabeth how she had acquired such magical skills, she asserted that she had been taught the methods by her mother.[4]

According to the pamphlet, other evil deeds committed by the mother and daughter duo included inducing villagers to vomit pins, causing the death of neighbours by magic and destroying crops. They also conjured up a storm by removing their stockings.[3][5]

Comparison to other pamphlets fabricating witch trials


The full title is The whole trial and examination of Mrs. Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth, but of nine years of age, who were Condemned the last Assizes held at Huntingdon for Witch-craft, and there Executed on Saturday, the 28th of July 1716 . . . the like never heard before; their Behaviour with several Divines who came to converse with ’em whilst under their sentence of Death; and last Dying Speeches and Confession at the place of execution. The author is unknown but the writing style resembles two earlier pamphlets from 1705. These were signed by Ralph Davis, purportedly covering the trial of two witches, Elinor Shaw and Mary Phillips, at Northamptonshire; like the Mary Hicks trial, both are fabrications. Printed in London during 1716, a copy of the Hicks tract is held at the Bodleian Library. Historian Wallace Notestein considers the same pamphleteer penned an earlier contrived tract dated 1700 narrating a tale supposedly recounting the details of a case of four witches condemned at Worcester.[6]

Phrases and terminology not commonly found in authentic witchcraft pamphlets are used within the fabricated title pages and narratives. The Hicks report of 1716, the tract of 1700 and the second publication of 1705 include “verbal resemblances” which are “nothing less than remarkable.”[7]

Modern interpretations


Modern-day historians and academics, such as Owen Davies and Phyllis J. Guskin, categorically state Jane Wenham Jane Wenham was the last person to be condemned for witchcraft in an English court, when she was found guilty at Hertford in 1712. was the last person to be condemned for witchcraft in an English court when she was found guilty at Hertford in 1712.[8][9]

For more than a century, specialist witchcraft researchers have concluded the pamphlet to be a fabrication stating the story of Mary Hicks and her daughter Elizabeth is a work of fiction. These include Notestein and Cecil L’Estrange Ewen, who according to Guskin undertook “the most detailed and accurate modern accounts” of Jane Wenham’s case. The evidence collated by Notestein concerning the narrative in the pamphlet led him to consider it “not substantiated”.[10] L’Estrange Ewen writing in Witchcraft and Demonism states: “1716. Huntingdonshire. A pamphlet generally regarded as spurious is entitled The Whole Trial and examination of Mrs Mary Hicks and her daughter ……” He goes on to add: “The convictions and executions, which would have led to an enormous outcry in the country, may be ruled out as journalistic invention.”[3] Montague Summers considered it as “almost certainly spurious”.[11]

Notes[+]

Citations



Bibliography


Davies, O. (2004). Wenham, Jane (d. 1730). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/29042
Ewen, C. L. (2003). Witchcraft and Demonism (Reprint of 1933 edition). Kessinger.
Guskin, P. J. (1981). The Context of Witchcraft: The Case of Jane Wenham (1712). Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15(1), 48–71.
Linton, E. L. (1861). Witch Stories. Chapman and Hall.
Millar, C.-R. (2017). Witchcraft, the devil, and emotions in early modern England. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Notestein, W. (1911). A History of Witchcraft In England from 1558 to 1718. American Historical Association 1911 (reissued 1965) New York Russell & Russell.
Summers, R. M. (1926). The History of Witchcraft and Demonology.