Saturday, August 29, 2009

The witches of Husbands Bosworth

There is a good village trail leaflet (pdf) available for Husbands Bosworth, but it barely mentions the building above. It is the Roman Catholic chapel next to Bosworth Hall.

I do not know if it is open to the public, but I explored it today. Unfortunately, there was a wedding on, which prevented me studying the interior. Really, if they are going to keep holding services in churches it will make things very difficult for me.

Bosworth Hall brings to mind the darkest episode in the village's history - the execution of nine witches in 1616. John Smith, the young grandson of Erasmus Smith who then owned the hall, was possessed by demons and the women had been called in to exorcise them. When they failed they were sentenced to death.

Were the women blamed for causing the boy's illness all along or were they wise women called in to heal him who were only suspected after he failed to recover?

Later that year a further six women from Husbands Bosworth were sentenced to hang, but they were reprieved. Five were released but the sixth had already died in prison in Leicester.

To the modern reader it sounds as though the boy was suffering from epilepsy, but a website on paganism and wicca tells a different story:

King James I heard about this while he was traveling through Leicester and had the boy brought to him so he could question the juvenile accuser. Smith confessed that he feigned the fits because he liked the attention.

The King asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to further question the boy in order to validate that no witchcraft was involved and that Smith told him the truth. The Archbishop agreed with both. Five women were released; one died in jail.

King James was enraged at the judges who presided over the trials, Sir Randolph Crew and Sir Henry Winch, and publicly condemned them for their decisions. The monarch gave Ben Johnson, a famous contemporary playwright, permission to write about the judges to further rebuke them. The play was titled The Devil is an Ass.

This resulted in other judges becoming wary of accusations of witchcraft without corroboration, especially when the complainants were children.

This posting is dedicated to Charlotte Gore.


Anonymous said...

Simultaneously wonderful and horrifying at the same time.

Thank you very much for this :)

David said...

The credibility of children when accusing adults of vile practices is clearly an old, vexed one.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Is there any way of finding out the names of the women accused of being witches at all please?

Thanks, Nick

Jonathan Calder said...

Afraid not. The women appear to be anonymous in contemporary accounts

MummyLeMummy said...

Is there any way of knowing the names of the 9 women who were hanged?

Also, is the current hall the original site?

Thanks you for any help. I live close by and am very interested.

Jonathan Calder said...

Thanks for your interest.

Husbands Bosworth Hall is on its original site, but I still can't find the names of the nine women anywhere online.