Witchcraft in seventeenth-century Flintshire

For centuries the concept of magic has fascinated society. In pre-literate societies, "white" magic was believed to provide cures and blessings not otherwise available in religion and medicine. On the other hand, "black" magic was injurious and involved the performance of a conscious act of evil such as cursing a neighbour or harming a cow.

In the middle ages a new factor emerged, developed by theologians and lawyers, the concept of the demonic pact. Witches, it was argued, acquired magical powers by direct association with the Devil. By the end of the fifteenth century, witchcraft and religious heresy were seen as objects of fear and sporadic persecutions at a local level were transformed in some areas into a determined campaign to eliminate every trace of witchcraft. Organised "hunts", primarily the persecution of women, were common during the seventeenth-century and fuelled accusations of witchcraft, torture and execution throughout much of Europe. Evidence from the gaol files of the Court of Great Sessions show that witches were persecuted in Wales, as in these cases from Flintshire.

The case of Dorothy Griffith, 1656

The first case saw William Griffith, a mariner from Picton, accusing Dorothy Griffith of Llanasa of witchcraft. The precise reason for the accusation cannot now be discovered, although it is apparent there had been a long history of ill-feeling between both families. Given here are the testimonies of William Griffith, his brother Edward, Thomas Rodgers, alehouse-keeper, and his wife Margaret Bellis. Also included is a petition in support of Dorothy, signed by thirty-one of her neighbours including prominent members of the local community.

The case of Charles Hughes, 1690

The next incident also concerns the parish of Llanasa. Charles Hughes, undertenant of John Evans and the son of yeoman Hughe ap Edward, faced allegations of maiming his landlord's cattle following a tenancy dispute. Primary sources given here include the testimony of Hughe ap Edward and, like Dorothy Griffith, a petition proclaiming his innocence, signed by sixteen members of the local gentry. No further action appears to have been taken against the accused.

The case of Anne Ellis, 1657

Penley saw allegations of witchcraft against Anne Ellis, a beggar on the margins of society, accused of acts of magic, good and bad, against livestock and children. Depositions by six of her neighbours are included along with her own testimony and that of a constable. The accused was later discharged.

Further reading

  • Larner, Christina. Enemies of God: the witch-hunt in Scotland. London: Chatto & Windus, 1981.
  • Levack, Brian P. The witch-hunt in early modern Europe. London: Longman, 1987.
  • Macfarlane, Alan. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: a regional and comparative Study. London : Routledge, 1999.
  • Sharpe, James. Instruments of darkness: witchcraft in England, 1550-1750. London: Penguin, 1997.
  • Sharpe, James. Witchcraft in early modern England. Harlow: Longman, 2001.
  • Suggett, Richard. "Witchcraft dynamics in early modern Wales." Women and gender in early modern Wales. Ed. Michael Roberts and Simone Clarke. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000: 75-103.
  • Thomas, Keith. Religion and the decline of magic. London: Penguin, 2003.

Christmas 2014 and
New Year 2015

The Library will close on Tuesday 23 December, at 6pm, and re-open on Friday 2 January, at 9.30am.

A merry Christmas to everyone

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