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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Bideford Witches

The town of Bideford in Devon has it’s place firmly marked in the history of British Witchcraft. It was the home of Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards. In 1682, these 3 woman became the last people in England to be executed for Witchcraft.

Temperance was the first to be accused. A local shop keeper, Thomas Eastchurch, claimed she had used witchcraft to torment local woman Grace Thomas. After a chance meeting between to two woman, Grace took ill with severe internal pains. Temperance was also accused of conversing with the devil, who took the shape of a black man. She was also said to have sent the Devil, in the guise of a magpie, to Grace’s windowsill at night. She was accused of causing Grace’s pains by using a wax doll and pricking it with pins. An accusation based on nine marks Grace claimed to have on her knee. When Temperance admitted to pricking a piece of leather nine times her fate was made. She was sent to Exeter Assizes.

Suspicion of Mary and Susanna began merely due to them being seen in public with Temperance. When another local woman, Grace Barnes, began having fits they were quickly blamed. At the local magistrates, it was claimed that Mary had been seen loitering outside her house. Grace was physically carried into the town hall to give evidence. To add to the drama a man who was present, Anthony Jones, began foaming at the mouth, jumping around as if possessed, and shouting “I am now bewitched by this Devil.” Mary and Susanna were then sent to join Temperance in Exeter.

The three woman were held awaiting trial for over a month. Within this time public interest grew, and with it outrageousness of some of the accusations. At one point it was claimed that Temperance Lloyd had the Devil suckle at unnatural teats that grew on her body. All the women fell apart under questioning and not only admitted to the charges levied against them, but all began to blame each other. They were all found guilty.

They were sentenced to death by the judges presiding, one of which was Rodger North. The motives for this sentence are debatable. Lord North - (Rodger North’s brother) - wrote to the secretary of state following the trial. In this letter he stated that the women must be put to death, or else the country would loose faith in the capability of the legal system in dealing with cases of witchcraft. He claimed this would lead to illegal, vigilante witch hunts being carried out, outside of the legal system. Sir Francis North later completed an investigation into the case and found it to be deeply flawed.

The women were put to death at Heavitree, on the 25th August 1682. The English legal system eventually abolished the death penalty for witches in 1736.

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