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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Agnes Waterhouse

Agnes Waterhouse (also known as Mother Waterhouse) was the first person in England to receive the death sentence for witchcraft from a secular court.
She stood trial alongside two other women, her daughter Joan Waterhouse and Elizabeth Francis. This trail marked the first of the Chelmsford witch trials, that took place in Essex in the late 16th century.

Agnes was accused of consorting with Satan in the form of a white spotted cat. The cat was given to her by Elizabeth Francis, who also instructed her on how to care for him in order to gain things she desired. Agnes was said to have first used the cat, who she openly called Satan, to seek revenge on neighbours she had disputes with. This usually took the form of killing their livestock. Example of this mentioned at the trial include killing some pigs belonging to a Farther Kersey, and drowning a cow belonging to a Widow Gooday. She confessed to rewarding Satan for his help by feeding him chicken and drops of her blood.

She also faced the very serious accusation of causing death through the use of witchcraft. She was said to have called on Satan for help ridding her of a neighbour and his wife with whom she had had a disagreement. She was also accused of having Satan dispatch with her own husband.

As well as taking the form of a cat, Satan was said to have later taken the form of a toad at Agnes's request. When Joan gave evidence she said that he had come to her in the form of a black dog.

Agnes also testified that Satan had foretold she would meet a death of burning or hanging.

Although Joan Waterhouse confessed to calling on Satan to help her scare a neighbour she had fallen out with, and being aware of her mothers use of him, she was found not guilty. Elizabeth Francis confessed to being the original owner of Satan and was found guilty of practising witchcraft, she received a sentence of one year imprisonment. However, in 1579 she was brought back to court on further charges, for these she was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Agnes was found guilty and sentenced to death. On they day that she was due to be hung she made a further confession. Shortly before going to gallows she told how she had tried to kill another neighbour, Wardol. She said she had sent Satan to kill him but Satan had returned to her and said he was unable to do so. When she asked Satan why he told her that it was due to Wardol's strength of faith in God. Agnes went to meet her death repenting and calling on God for forgiveness.

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