Witchcraft and Witch Trials in Wales - Sarah Woodbury

Witchcraft and Witch Trials in Wales

Exiles in TimeA discovery in Tuscany might indicate an incident where a witch was killed in Tuscany:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2041671/800-year-old-remains-witch-discovered-graveyard-Tuscany-Italy.html#ixzz1Z6Q83H34

They found “the 800 year old remains of what archaeologists believe was a witch from the Middle Ages after seven nails were found driven through her jaw bone . . . ”  The evidence isn’t conclusive, but it is surely suggestive.

I have ancestors who were both accused witches, and the accuser of witches in the Salem trials 350 years ago in the late 1600s.  That fear of witchcraft seems to have been widespread during that era. What’s interesting is that it was far more widespread then than in the Middle Ages. In fact, nobody was accused of witchcraft in Wales in the 13th century, and there is essentially no mention of it in the historical record. 

“The development of witch trials and the witch craze is seen has developed slowly  throughout Christianity’s domination of Europe. These range from Augustine of  Hippo’s belief that witches were impossible to Thomas Aquinas’ belief that  demons attempt to corrupt humans. Common historical theory has it that a witch  craze exploded in the 15th century and spread like wildfire across the  continent.

All witch trials and witch hunts were contained by English common law. A  witch was first defined in 1542. There were accusations prior to this date, but  such accusations were not recognised legally. This was then revoked in 1547 and  then re-instated in a new guise in 1563. The English crime of witchcraft was not  demonological (an alliance between man and the devil) but maleficious (of having  mysterious powers).

It is clear that as these trials, even those of Matthew Hopkins, were bound  by English law. This meant that torture could not be used as an interrogation  method. Furthermore, the prosecutor in the trial had to provide material  evidence to prove their case. In addition, the accused would be allowed to  provide eight “compurgators” who would testify as to the accused good  character.”
Read more at Suite101: Most English Witch Hunts Failed | Suite101.com http://www.suite101.com/content/most-english-witch-hunts-failed-a359588#ixzz1ZCOyXfXx

A new book states, however, that because of the tradition of druidry in Wales, “it was a relative haven for paranormal practices, sparing the pointy-hatted pagans from hanging, drowning and other unhappy endings. In “Pembrokeshire Witches and Wizards,” author Brian John claims the Welsh druidic tradition lent a tolerance to the cause of witchcraft which still persists.  ‘Only three witches in Wales went to trial, in 1656,’ says John. ‘And that was at an English court in Chester.'”  http://www.celticattic.com/contact_us/the_celts/celtic_nations/wales/legends_of_long_ago.htm

An article from the BBC supports this position:  “Stories about witches are found all over the world – during the 16th and 17th centuries a “witch craze” in Europe saw over 100,000 people, mainly women, accused of witchcraft and executed by secular government and the church.  Yet there were relatively few witch trials in Wales, with only five Welsh witches being executed for their supposed crimes. With great reliance placed on the power of the wise man or the wise woman, witchcraft in Wales had long been connected to healing . . .

“Witchcraft comes into the historical record in 1594,” comments historian Richard Suggett, “when Gwen ferch Ellis from Bettws is indicted and subsequently executed for witchcraft. It’s the first recorded instance of what, I suppose, you can call black witchcraft. She was a healer but for some reason she was persuaded by another woman, called Jane Conway, to leave a charm at Gloddaeth, the home of Sir Thomas Mostyn, a sworn enemy of Jane Conway.” Gwen was convicted of murder by witchcraft and duly hung. There were many other accusations of witchcraft – but proving them was another matter. Most of the women spent brief periods in prison before being released when the case against them collapsed.”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/waleshistory/2010/03/welsh_witches.html

“There are historical records for 228 executions for witchcraft between 1000 and 1684 in England.  This is approximately one guilty verdict every three years. Witch trials peaked  in the country between 1550 and 1650; with most occurring during the English  Civil War. This means whole decades went by without witch trials in the  Kingdom.  Marc Carlson has brought together incomplete records of trials in England.  The Home Circuit saw 456 trials, Essex saw 290, York 117, Norfolk 15 and the  Western Circuit 52. We know that only 23.9 percent of trials in the home circuit  ended in conviction. 23 out of 267 trials in Essex ended with guilty verdicts  while Norfolk saw no successful convictions. Meanwhile, in the West Country  there were 7 convictions, with one overturned on appeal. There are no statistics  for York.”  http://www.suite101.com/content/most-english-witch-hunts-failed-a359588

This site goes even further and state that “not a single witch lost their life in Wales.”

More resources:

Carlson, Marc, 2004, Witches and Witchtrials in England, the Channel  Islands, Ireland and Scotland, Tulsa University(link)

Burr, George L, ed, 1898-1912, The Witch Persecution at Wurzburg, Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania (link)

Garland, Anna, 2003, The Great Witch Hunt: The Persecution of Witches in  England, 1550-1660, Auckland University Law Review (link)

Read more at Suite101: Most English Witch Hunts Failed | Suite101.com http://www.suite101.com/content/most-english-witch-hunts-failed-a359588#ixzz1ZCPkARIf

7 Replies to “Witchcraft and Witch Trials in Wales”

  1. Could this be a possible clue to a story arc in the next Cilmeri book? After all, until now we only seen the positive effects of Arthur’s legend on David as well as Morgana’s reputation as a healer on Anna, but now…are we going to see the dark side? That would be quite a sight to see, wouldn’t it? 😉

    1. You just keep guessing, Venkata, and I’ll keep not telling 🙂 But in this case, it was more in response to a book review telling me that Meg would have been accused of witchcraft and burned, making Daughter of Time ‘unrealistic’. After I finished laughing, I wrote this …

  2. Sarah – that previous comment looks as though it failed to register the link I tried to post correctly. If it’s wrong then you can delete it if you like. sorry.

  3. We had a witchcraft related incident locally in 1827. We know about it through records of the magistrates court. At a farm on the slopes of the Deri an elderly woman was attacked by a local farmer, a bailiff and the parish constable. They knocked her down and beat her with a thorn branch, taking care to aim the blows at her head, particularly her forehead, and had struck her several times, drawing blood, before her daughter and son in law managed to intervene. The 3 attackers were accused of common assault and used their belief that the woman was a witch and that she had cursed them as a defence. The blows to her head were due to the local belief that a curse or spell could be undone by drawing blood from the witch ‘above the breath’, ie above her mouth and nose. The magistrate gave them short shrift and ordered them to pay the costs of the trial and bound them over to keep the peace. There’s no record that they either compensated or apologised to the old lady they attacked.
    Odd to think how such beliefs can hang on in country districts.

    1. People believe those most amazing things . . . and of course, a whole sector of people in the 21st century calls themselves ‘witches’ and believe that magic is real.

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