Tag Archives: English History

Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen.

Today’s tale starts with a meeting at Greenwich palace, a now demolished royal residence – the date, September 1593. The ‘fairy Queen’ of England, Elizabeth I, awaits the arrival of a rival monarch. The two queens have been at loggerheads since 1574; since Elizabeth laid claim to the other’s land. One wonders just what was going through Elizabeth’s mind, in anticipation of this meeting. It’s easy to write these two off as an odd couple, one cultured and erudite, the other a swashbuckling adventurer – a warlord from beyond the pale. But it is also very wrong to do so. Were you to judge these two ladies by their professions, they weren’t at all dissimilar. To borrow from Ralph Waldo Emerson – quote.

“Piracy and war gave place to trade, politics and letters; the war-lord to the law-lord; the privilege was kept, whilst the means of obtaining it were changed”

Elizabeth, of course, was very much the law lord. She didn’t need to engage in piracy and war herself. Earlier, rougher ancestors had been the warlord – thuggishly climbing the crooked ladder. From child of warlords, to law-lord, Elizabeth I had no need to murder, and plunder personally – but through her edicts, a lot of blood was on her hands. Our protagonist? Well, the daughter of a warlord, she too had taken on her father’s mantle. From a wild, feudal land which required her lordship to be an enforcer at times – she had far less time for banquets, pleasantries and dressing in posh frocks while someone painted your face with Venetian ceruse. She was lord, enforcer, protector and occasionally, conqueror.

And, of course, it would turn out they had considerably more in common besides. But more on that later.

On this day Queen Elizabeth I was to meet with Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Connaught.

Grace O’Malley, aka Grainne Mhaille, was born around 1530 to Eoghan and Maeve Mhaille – or ‘John and Margaret’. Eoghan was the lord of Umhaill, in Connaught – now County Cork – Ireland. As lord he gave protection to his locals, for which he taxed them; and earned as a privateer and occasional merchant. Much of the family’s wealth came from being men of violence.
In the West of Ireland, they were well beyond the pale – the Dublin region‘s outer border – controlled by England. In his lifetime though, Eoghan saw Elizabeth’s father – Henry VIII – take more and more Irish land – till he had enough land to crown himself King of Ireland in 1542. Grace grew up a witness to the aggressive imperialism of the English – and a few changes of monarch. Henry VIII died in 1547. His crown passed, first to his 9 year old son Edward VI, who died in 1553. From there it passed to Lady Jane Grey, a grasping cousin once removed, for nine days, before she was arrested and locked up in the tower of London. The crown then passed to Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary I, known as ‘Bloody Mary’ for her persecution of the protestants. When she died of ovarian or uterine cancer in 1558, the crown of both nations passed to Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth I


Grace’s rise to power is quite different from Elizabeth’s. Eoghan had an elder son from a previous relationship, Donal na Piopa. As he was the bastard son, the title was destined to pass to Grace. No doubt this suited Donal just fine. Far from a man of violence, Donal was a well liked musician who loved nothing more than a sing-along in a local tavern. Grace, on the other hand, lived for adventure. From childhood she wanted nothing more than to be a pirate like her father. Legend has it young Grace once plead to join the crew on a mercantile trip to Spain, only to be told her long hair would get caught in the ropes by Eoghan’s bemused sailors. She cut her hair off, embarrassing her father, but leaving no excuses. As it turned out, she was a natural. and from then on would regularly sail with her father, learning the art of piracy from a master.

Aged 16 Grace married Donal O’Flaherty, the son of another chieftain. They had their first child together within a year. Compare and contrast to Elizabeth: she may have found love- for one she was probably lovers with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and son of the guy who put Lady Jane Grey on the throne for nine days – but she faced such a tangle of competing factions at the court, it was politically difficult, if not outright dangerous for Elizabeth to ever marry – at least without sparking an insurrection. Grace’s marriage was, of course, political – it was intended to be a consolidation of two feudal regions as the old chieftains passed.

Grace had two sons and a daughter with Donal, and retired from swashbuckling for a while. Her life was soon thrown into chaos – however – when Donal was killed fighting the neighboring Joyce clan over a disputed castle. A distraught Grace took revenge on the Joyces, invading the castle, on the shores of Lough Corrib, and ousting the clan. In spite of Grace‘s children, or immense talent as a military leader, Donal’s titles and land were taken from her, and passed to a male cousin of Donal’s. She returned to her family with a small militia in tow, and set up a base on nearby Clare Island. Grace O’Malley returned to piracy – something she later described to Elizabeth as ‘maintenance by land and sea’.



Grace’s following years were busy, and profitable. She grew her army to 200 fighters, who she put to work fighting both neighboring chieftains, and raiding towns along Scotland’s coast. She transported ‘Gallowglasses’, Scottish mercenaries, to Ireland when allied chieftains needed extra muscle in their blood feuds. Grace O’Malley was also involved in the resistance movement who were fighting further English encroachment on Irish lands. One story which makes it’s way to us – In 1565, a ship ran aground on nearby Achill Head, in a particularly wicked storm. Though the texts I read didn’t state if Grace was acting as a wrecker – having caused the wreck by leaving a horse near the rocks with a lantern around it’s neck (to fool the sailors into thinking they had entered a safe harbour) – or showed up as an opportunist – Grace was soon at the scene, looking to salvage whatever she could.
She found one Hugh De Lacey, shipwrecked sailor and son of a Wexford merchant. Grace took Hugh as a lover, but didn’t have him long. Hugh was murdered by the McMahon clan. Enraged, Grace took her bloody revenge on the McMahons, murdering the perpetrators and taking over their castle, Doona, on the coast of Erris. Twice unlucky in love, she was at least lucky in piracy – now controlling a choke point, from which she could control all passing ships – she was soon both extremely well known; and extremely wealthy.

Another tale tells how Grace chased one rival chieftain to a small island containing just a church, and a hermit. When the chieftain took refuge in the church, Grace besieged him, threatening to stay there till he starved to death if need be. The chief dug a tunnel to safety.

In another tale, Grace was returning from a raid one night – when she moored up for a breather at the town of Howth, near Dublin. Running low on provisions and in need of water, she called upon the local lord, St Lawrence Earl of Howth. Finding the castle gates locked, and sent packing by the porter with the message the Earl is dining and not to be disturbed – Grace left, dejected. On her way back to her ship, she come across the Earl’s grandson, and on a whim, kidnapped the boy. Days later, the distraught Earl arrived in Connaught- willing to pay any price for the boy’s return. Grace returned the child, not for money, but a promise the Earl would always leave his castle gates open to visitors. When he dined he was to always keep a chair free, for any passing travellers. His descendants continue this tradition to this day.

In 1566 she remarried, to the chieftain, Richard ‘Iron Dick’ – (he owned an ironworks, not for the other thing) – Bourke. While married to Bourke she continued to plunder and freeboot. They soon divorced, but did have a child together – known as Toby of the Ships, as he was born while Grace was at sea. The legend states a day after giving birth, their ship was boarded by Barbary pirates. These picaroons were shocked to find themselves greeted by an angry, half naked lady with a musket. It was bad enough they had the audacity to attack her ship at all, but interrupt her while she was breastfeeding? The interlopers fled for their lives.

1576

Grace O’Malley’s life, and the lives of the other chieftains, took a turn for the worse in 1576. While Henry VIII laid claim to Ireland in 1542, this was largely a nominal act. At the time, he was far too busy bringing Wales, newly acquired, to heel. Henry planned to turn his attentions to Scotland next, but a costly war with France broke out in 1544. Henry put his local ambitions on the back burner, then he died. Elizabeth I allowed English expansion, into Ireland – but only made it a necessity in the wake of a threatening letter from the pope in 1570. The letter, Pope Pius V’s ‘bull Regnans in Excelsis’ excommunicated the queen, and urged her peoples to overthrow her – a Protestant – for a God-fearing Catholic. The ’Bull’ was, essentially, a call to whack the queen.

Elizabeth I started to worry a Catholic nation like Spain could capture Ireland, use the country as a base of operations, then invade England. The court discussed this as early as 1565, as war raged between Spain, and the then breakaway state of the Netherlands. Many English mercenaries were involved in the ’80 years war’. For this alone, England was on the radar of the mighty Spanish empire. Not having the cash to mount an invasion of Ireland, Elizabeth allowed takeover by mass immigration. Many arrivals were just the kind of tough guys you want to repel a Spanish Invasion, but this also meant Ireland was also overrun by a whole new class of heavies, happy to run amok and seize whatever land they wanted. In 1569 England sent military Governor – Sir Edward Fitton- to Connaught. The chieftains opposed his arrival – imported thugs were one thing, an occupying force allegedly there to bring troublemakers in line seemed the bigger threat by far. Fitton had a counterpart in Munster, Sir John Perot. The governors made plans to carve up Grace’s kingdom.

Many chieftains resisted. The MacWilliam of Mayo (the chief of chiefs), the O’Flaherty’s, Richard Bourke, and the O’Malley’s included. The MacWilliam died in 1570, and much of Connaught was lost. In 1576, the chieftains all but defeated, English Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, arrived in Connaught to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Stop fighting. Pledge allegiance to the crown. Pay tax to the queen. Abide by English laws. Return the Gallowglasses to Scotland. Establish an Irish contingent of soldiers, just in case Spain attacks. If the chieftains did all this, they could keep their titles, and some of your land would be returned. Anyone who kept fighting would be erased.
Grace met with Henry Sidney In 1577, and pledged her allegiance to Elizabeth. She also spent some time speaking with Henry’s son, the poet Sir Philip Sidney. I couldn’t say what she thought of the poet, but Philip thought Grace a remarkable figure.

Almost immediately afterward, Grace broke the law, launching a raid on the Earl of Desmond, a rival chief who sold out early to the English. This raid went badly, and Grace was consequently jailed for 18 months. In 1581 both she and Richard Bourke officially pledged fealty to Elizabeth in a ceremony, and were rewarded with British titles. This may have been the end of our tale, but for the 1584 arrival of a new, and particularly sadistic governor. Sir Richard Bingham – yes the ancestor of both June’s You Choose contestant John Bingham, Lord Lucan – and the officer responsible for the charge of the Light Brigade. Richard Bingham was determined to eradicate all opposition whatsoever. He saw Grace O’Malley as especially dangerous.

The villianous Sir Richard Bingham.



Bingham first stripped Grace of her title. Bourke died in 1583, leaving Grace, technically, a widow. English law stripped widows of their titles in favour of their children. He then went after her children – murdering her eldest son Owen, and executing two of Richard Bourke’s sons from his previous marriage for treason. He then kidnapped her beloved youngest child, Toby of the ships. Bingham Finally had Grace arrested and charged with treason. Grace’s son in law offered himself up in Grace’s place, which Bingham allowed.

Seizing the opportunity, Grace O’Malley loaded up a ship, and sailed for London. She no longer had an army to fight Bingham – but she knew Bingham had a boss – a lady who, like her had made it to the top of the ladder in a system which heavily favoured men. They were of a similar age. For their warlord- law lord divide they must have experienced similar trials and tribulations. She might just be willing to talk queen to queen.

Which brings us back to that meeting at Greenwich palace, September 1593. We don’t know the specifics of their conversation, though we know Grace spoke no English, Elizabeth no Gaelic- so the two queens spoke at length in Latin. We know Grace arrived dressed up to the nines in a gown worthy of a queen, She caused a scandal when she refused to bow to Elizabeth, and a knife was found on her ‘for her protection’. Elizabeth’s court Was horrified when she took a lace handkerchief from a lady in waiting to blow her nose -then disposed of the handkerchief in a lit fireplace.

We know she convinced Elizabeth she was a loyal subject who was being terrorized by Bingham. He murdered her family, robbed her of her title, lands, even her extensive herd of cattle. She convincingly argued Bingham was stopping the pursuit of legitimate maritime business, and holding her son captive. Elizabeth sided with Grace, ordering Bingham to reinstate Grace’s lands and title – and release Toby of the ships immediately. Grace, now well into her 60s, did return to piracy – leading to further conflict with Sir Richard Bingham. Again Grace returned to see Queen Elizabeth, in 1595. This time Elizabeth removed Bingham from his post. This was far from a happily ever after for Connaught – Bingham eventually regained his title. Things would only go from bad to worse for the Irish. Grace O’Malley, However – a warrior pirate queen who lived by the sword lived to the ripe old age – for those times – of 72, and died of natural causes in 1603 – the same year that Elizabeth I passed on.

Sophxit

(Originally titled The Deadly Sophxit of Count Konigsmarck and Princess Sophia Dorothea.)

Hi all the following tale is something I’ve had rattling round for a little while now. I have taken a few shots at writing it under the auspices of a whodunit, but I don’t think there’s any doubt who the murderers are. I then had another run – this time as a faux fairytale, an OG soap opera? I had a line from John Wilmott, Earl of Rochester kicking round in my head about his patron Charles II, and thought what about riffing off that; this is an example of what a crazy, swinging place Europe’s courts were in the late 17th Century after all… but I abandoned all of these.

Then Megxit happened; The Sussexes – Harry and Meghan – announced they were leaving ‘the firm’. In some quarters there was shock, and I understand there was an urgent family meeting. Harry didn’t get thrown into a cell in the Tower of London. There was no clandestine dash for the English channel (like the aforementioned Charles II after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651). No disguising himself as a servant. No hiding in oak trees for Harry. Public discourse re-centred on whether you wished them well, or thought them a pair of spoilt brats. This brought me back round to this tale again… Imagine you’re a deeply unhappy royal, but it is 1694. Does Sophxit play out any differently?


This tale begins on the evening of July 1st 1694. The setting, Hanover – a Germanic Duchy which would eventually be subsumed into a larger German nation, and whose first family would go on to be kind of a big deal. A handsome young man, aided only by moonlight, sails along the Leine river till he reaches the Leineschloss – the palatial riverside home of the duke and his family. He moors his boat, then cautiously enters the property. The man is Phillipp Christoph, Count Konigsmarck – an aristocratic German born Swede from a long line of mercenaries. His father had served King Gustav II Adolph in the 30 Years War, rising through the ranks to Field Marshall. Phillipp himself had fought the Turks for Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. At this point in the tale however, he was under the employ of the Elector of Saxony. Tonight he’s been summoned to met his paramour – Sophia Dorothea, princess of Celle – the very unhappy wife of Duke Georg Ludwig.


Sophia, though surprised- she never summoned him – is ecstatic over his arrival. They haven’t seen each other for weeks. She is also a little perturbed and angered at ‘that woman’s’ gall. “Well, clearly she’s still spying on us” I imagine one saying “Never mind, in a day we’ll be out of this nightmare” the other may have replied. With rather less poetic license you can imagine the rest of their night – Konigsmarck had not come to play solitaire after all, nor Sophia to play old maid. I like to imagine Sophia enfolding the count in her arms as he left and whispering “keep safe, hell hath no fury and all” but that is a little anachronistic – Congreve would not publish ‘The Mourning Bride’ till 1697.
This is the last time Sophia Dorothea would see Count Konigsmarck – in the following hours he would disappear from the face of the Earth, never to be seen again.


Joining ‘The Firm’.

To explain how Sophia Dorothea found herself in an unhappy marriage, I need to take us back a generation. The first fact worth knowing is there was no German nation in the modern sense until January 1871. People could be ethnically Germanic, but Germany was a collection of feudal states for most of it’s history. Until 1806, they were also overseen by a ‘Holy Roman Emperor’. From 1346 the Emperor was elected by a council from the Elector states – This is important to know later. The second fact is marriages of convenience were very much a thing in the 17th Century, particularly among the aristocrats. Third, this tale concerns two duchies, Brunswick- Celle and Brunswick- Luneberg, afterwards known simply as ‘Hanover’. These duchies were ruled over by two brothers. Fourth their leading citizens of the duchies wanted to see the two areas reunited one day. Now that is out of the way…

Sophia Dorothea’s father was a man named Duke Georg Wilhelm of Brunswick- Celle. Georg W had been engaged to a princess from the neighboring duchy of Rhineland Palatinate (her name was also Sophia, though she hardly gets a mention beyond this point), but he was desperate to stay a bachelor a little longer. He cancelled the engagement – passing her on to his brother, Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick Luneberg. The leading figures of Georg W’s duchy were furious, but when Georg signed a legal agreement stating he would never marry – and would pass his duchy to Ernst, (merging the duchies) on his death, all was forgiven. Georg was not exactly out of the firm, but was free to enjoy his newly acquired freedom. The problem was Cupid laid Georg W low after he crossed paths with the beautiful Frenchwoman Eleonore d’Olbreuse.

Georg immediately knew they must marry and start a family. His own duchy and brother Ernst were unimpressed, so Georg W approached Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor for permission to marry Eleonore. Leopold gave his blessing, but many years after the fact– at this stage Georg and Eleonore had a child, Sophia Dorothea, now 10 years old. There was a caveat to Leopold’s blessing – Georg W had a daughter, Ernst a son (Georg L) – the two cousins would marry, uniting the duchies. This suited all, but the two cousins themselves, who detested each other.


Complicating matters further, both Georg L and his father Ernst were openly having affairs outside of their marriages. Given what transpires it is worth mentioning Georg L’s double standards with affairs. The key fact to take on however is Ernst, Sophia’s uncle-stepdad, was involved with a lady named Countess Platen.

Countess Platen

The Konigsmarck brothers.
We’ll come back to this lot in a second, but first let’s discuss Count Konigsmarck. He has quite a fraught backstory too.
Konigsmarck was brought up at court, and knew the rest of this cast well. Both he and his brother, Karl, were sent to England in their mid teens, around 1680. They were sent off to learn courtly skills and mingle, but both brothers soon got into trouble. Phillipp’s trouble involved losing huge sums of money through gambling. Karl’s trouble was on a whole other level.
The two brothers began associating with several high society Britons- including Charles II. Karl had become smitten with Elizabeth Seymour, Duchess of Somerset. Elizabeth was – you guessed it – caught in a loveless, arranged marriage to a wealthy, cheating husband – the wealthy landowner and MP Thomas Thynne. On 12th February 1682, Thynne was travelling in a carriage through Pall Mall, when three men with pistols – Christopher Vratz, John Stern and George Borosky gunned him down. The three men were captured, and named Karl Konigsmarck as the man who hired them to make the hit. The assassins would hang, Karl walked free – but both young men were outcasts in England from this point on. Both returned to Europe and joined Leopold’s army.
Karl would be killed in action fighting the Turks in Greece in 1686. As an aside, not long after Thomas Thynne’s murder, a poem circulated through London.

Here lies Tom Thynne of Longleat Hall
Who ne’er would have miscarried;
Had he married the woman he slept withal

Or slept with the woman he married.”

Let the Dangerous Liaisons begin.
In 1688, after eight years service in the wars with the Turks, Phillipp Konigsmarck returned to the court of what was then Hanover. The ladies of the court fell for this dashing, young soldier. He became a close friend and confidant of Sophia Dorothea – a sympathetic ear who would keep tales of Sophia’s horrible husband, hideous uncle/stepdad, and terrifying mistress of uncle/stepdad – Countess Platen, confidential. Konigsmarck also began an ill advised affair with Countess Platen himself.

The young count soon realized; one, he had fallen in love with princess Sophia – and two, Countess Platen is a dangerous lunatic he should have never become involved with. He took on a new military commission and left Hanover, hoping the countess would forget about him.

On his return to the court in the spring of 1690 he began wooing the princess. The countess, meanwhile resumed her wooing of the count. When left unrequited she hired spies to follow the couple, and intercept their letters. By 1693 Countess Platen stopped even attempting to repair the broken seals on the couple’s love letters. Phillipp resumed his affair with the countess, hoping to placate her; at the very least to stop her from spilling the beans on them. Phillipp and Sophia make the decision to run away together; to start a new life elsewhere- far away from courtly life. This presented a problem for the two. Phillipp was lousy with money, and currently broke – he had not been working, while wooing two ladies. Sophia, upon marrying Georg L, ceded all her possessions to her husband.

Phillipp took a commission with the elector of Saxony, in Dresden in May 1694. Sophia sat tight and waited for Phillipp to make some money. 1st July, at the urging of a counterfeit letter, Phillipp returned to Hanover. Possibly aware it was a trap, Phillipp had saved a month’s worth of wages. Most of the court were away at their summer house at the time – Georg. L included. Tomorrow morning they would run away – and begin a new, happier life together.
The following day Count Konigsmarck was nowhere to be found. A distraught Sophia Dorothea eventually hears the scuttlebutt from the markets “the witches of Dresden…” lured Phillipp away.

So…. what happened?
Let’s work through the facts – and suppositions – of the case. There are at least five possibilities. It’s generally accepted the counterfeit letter came from the countess. She had spies watching the couple, who reported to her that the couple were planning to abscond the following day. It is established fact also that Countess Platen informed her other lover, the uncle/stepdad Ernst, of the two lovers’ plan. Ernst ordered four cavaliers to arrest Count Konigsmarck immediately. The four men caught him outside the palace, swords were drawn. When the men eventually faced trial they claimed the count had drawn his sword, a fight broke out, and the count got stabbed to death in the melee.

What happened to the body? Who the hell knows? That is the real mystery. The four suspects were never on record on this matter. One theory has his body thrown into the Leine river, or immolated, or buried on the property. There was excitement in 2016 when bones were dug up on the site, but DNA proved the bones belonged to five separate men (none Phillipp) and a selection of animals.

Possibility one is simple as this, manslaughter. Count Konigsmarck, the battle hardened soldier of fortune thought he could fight his way out of an awkward situation and the four men got the better of him. It was, at most, a case of manslaughter.

Two, when Ernst August sent the cavaliers out to stop Konigsmarck, did he give the order to murder him before the elopement uncovered his dalliances, causing him embarrassment? He may have wanted him out of the way for this reason. Besides personal embarrassment, Hanover had only just been appointed an elector state, who help choose the Holy Roman Emperor. A scandal involving their royals may have jeopardized that position.

Three, well that ‘hell hath no fury’ motive is also out there. Countess Platen was jealous, and involved in high level stalking behaviour. She had laid this trap for the couple, does it not make sense to go that one step further. Did she kill Count Konigsmarck, solipsisticly to say ‘if I can’t have him, no-one can’?

Four, did Georg Ludwig know of the affair, and order the assassination? An elopement certainly would have left him a cuckold. Working counter to this, Georg L seemed unaware of the affair till after the affair was exposed. As soon as he heard, he divorced Sophia Dorothea. He exiled her to house arrest in Ahlden Castle, another family possession. She was kept prisoner until her death 32 years later. Here’s my reason to doubt Georg as the mastermind – he divorced and imprisoned her six months after Count Konigsmarck disappeared. Perhaps Georg was an endlessly patient man? I doubt it.

Now, I want to put a fifth suspect on the table – I said I would not mention her again – but I need to in order to tie this to the Sussexes at the very least. Ernst August’s wife, Sophia the elder, scorned by Georg W, and in what one would imagine as unhappy a marriage as anyone else in this tale – Her husband was cheating on her with Countess Platen after all – well she had a dream.

Discontent with her lot in life, married to a petty duke of a tiny duchy, she daydreamed of a time when herself, or her son would run the larger archipelago to the north-west. This did not seem such a crazy daydream. Her grandfather had been James I of England. In 1685 Charles II died leaving 14 illegitimate children, but no heirs. The crown passed to his brother James II, who was deposed in the ‘Glorious Rebellion’ of 1688. This saw a joint rule by James II’s daughter Mary, and the Dutch Import William of Orange. The line of succession had gotten a little complicated of late, and Sophia the elder’s daydream was seeming less and less blue sky thinking, more a genuine possibility – just so long as a giant scandal didn’t break out about her cheating husband, cheating daughter in law, and surrounding rogues gallery. I can’t count her in, but I certainly can’t ignore she too has a motive.

By 1702 both Mary and William of Orange had died. The crown passed to Mary’s sister – Anne. Anne fell pregnant 18 times – and suffered six miscarriages, five stillbirths, and none of her remaining children lived beyond two years of age. When Anne died on August 1st 1714, the crown passed to one Georg Ludwig, of an obscure German duchy, henceforth known as George I of England, whose family sit on the throne of England to this day.

How do I feel about the Sussexes and Megxit? Well, I am glad for the couple that it is 2020, not 1694 – and I wish them well.

Charles Lennox Richardson and The Namamugi Incident.

Hey everyone just a quick foreword. The blog and podcast are going to slightly different places over the next month, as, in an effort to buy myself a little free time to work on polishing the podcast up a little I am running shows on Altamont and Spring Heeled Jack – two topics I have blogged about earlier. For the next few weeks I am going to blog a few short tales which interest me but are mostly too short to make into a podcast episode.

Today’s tale owes a huge debt of gratitude to New Zealand singer songwriter Emma G. Back in August she posted a meme to her personal Facebook profile along the lines of some text “So in the middle of the Civil War someone was like “You know what this country needs? A delicious steak sauce” followed by a close up on a bottle of A1 steak sauce, est. 1862. This did catch my imagination for a second, for what little I did know about this – and I started to wonder, like seriously.

I knew that pre Civil war, America’s favourite meat was pork, post war it became steak. Much of this did come down to the very land that the union and confederate states were arguing over in the lead up to the war. To simplify, many confederates felt they should have the option to settle in the land the union had acquired through land purchases, war and genocide… and bring their slaves with them. The union wanted these states not to be slave states. After the war of course much of the land got seized at way more than the 160 acres per person guaranteed by Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead act… coincidentally also of 1862… by the ‘Beef Barons’.
Please note I am glossing over something here with way more moving parts than I make it out to have… But I wondered was there some underlying political motive? Some social phenomenon I had not come across before? Some eminent historian I had not even heard of before with a book about how the war was fought over cattle, not slavery?

Well…. Before too long I found that was the wrong question. A1 Sauce was invented in Britain. What was happening in Britain in 1862 you might ask? I did. Quite a bit, but today I want to look at the story I had never heard of before. Thanks Emma for leading me towards it – That of Charles Lennox Richardson and the Namamugi Incident.


When in Rome…
“When in Rome do as the Romans do”. If anyone has ever wondered where the old proverb comes from, it came from the pen of 4th Century AD ‘Doctor of the Catholic church’ St Augustine, recalling the advice of the older priest St Ambrose- probably some time around 387AD. It’s origins are nothing earth shattering.
He arrived at a new job, teaching rhetoric to the wealthy kids of Milan. When he observed to Ambrose how odd it was in Rome they fasted on a Saturday, but in Milan they didn’t Ambrose uttered something similar to the proverb. It changed wording slightly over hundreds of years, till, in 1777 a book of letters by Pope Clement XIV were published with the exact phrase ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’. I think we all understand what it means right? If you’re holidaying in Amsterdam it is OK to partake in a little weed at a cafe. If in Tehran, say, sorry women, headscarves and cover those pins out in public. Be like the locals, for their joyous excesses or for their bronze age prudishness. Be a respectful guest. I think most travellers do their best on this count… but then we also get our share of Westerners- these days often social media influencers are the ones we hear of – who fail at this in a major way. The first thing I should say is if Charles Lennox Richardson was around in 2019 I think he may well have been a Logan Paul type character.

So… who was Charles Lennox Richardson?


I really couldn’t find much on our protagonist, but all sources say Charles Lennox Richardson was born in London, England on 16th April 1834. He came from enough money to launch a career for himself as a merchant in his late teens, and in 1853 he moved to Shanghai, China. His product of choice was Chinese export ceramics. The Chinese had been exporting their porcelain for hundreds of years, largely with Central Asia and the Near East, before Europeans discovered their intricate – extraordinarily difficult to imitate pottery – the first pieces to reach Europe having first come to Europe via Istanbul in the 15th Century. In the 17th century it was in hot demand in Europe – the Dutch East India Company – the VOC- brought in an estimated 35 million pieces between 1600 and 1685. In Richardson’s time it was still crazy popular and in 1862, a 28 year old Richardson announced he had made his fortune, was retiring and would be headed back to England with his takings. On the way back he planned to stop in Yokohama, Japan.


Now it should be pointed out that Yokohama was a ‘Treaty Port’ in 1862. One way of describing a treaty port is to say they were cities who were open to trade with the ‘Occidental’ nations of the west. Another way of putting it is to say they were bullied into ‘unequal treaties’ with occidental powers; the victims of ‘gunboat diplomacy’. In other words the Chinese and Japanese had seen it in their best interests to let European powers establish little enclaves on their land and trade largely by their terms because option B would have been a hiding from the better armed Europeans. Treaty ports had sizeable enclaves for the Occidentals too, little slices of European life for them too – European looking buildings, clubs, churches, restaurants… race courses even. The occidentals had an easy life in these ports in many respects…Even people who would have been doing modestly in Europe could afford comfy lodgings, and servants to look after their every need. Inside the treaty port ‘When in Rome…” did not apply. You were governed by European rules, and no expectation existed to not treat the locals like garbage. Rules outside the treaty port? Well we’ll come to that. Japan did finally shake off the burden of treaty ports in 1899, after an incredibly fast modernization process meant they no longer had to put up with them.


Sowhen outside Yokohama?


Well, let’s say Charles Lennox Richardson did not get much of a chance to reflect on the words of St Ambrose.
On 14th September 1862, Richardson, alongside three other British subjects; Woodthorpe Charles Clark, William Marshall and Margaret Borradaile, rented some horses and went sightseeing. Their intended destination was the temple of Kawasaki Daishi. While picking up the horses the party was instructed that things were different outside the treaty port, and to ‘do as the Romans do’. In 1862, at the tail end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (please check out my blog on Yasuke the African samurai for more on earlier in the shogunate here), local warlords – Daimyo – ruled, in a feudal system with similarities to medieval Europe. The local daimyo was one Shimazu Hisamitsu. It was made very clear to the party, should you meet the Daimyo, you get off your horse and bow to the man.


The party were travelling along the Tokaido road, through the village of Namamugi, when they met the Daimyo coming the other way – carried on a palanquin (a litter carried by several men) and surrounded by a bodyguard of samurai. At this point Richardson could have been like St Augustine among the people of Milan… of he could have been like Czech fitness models Soloina Dolezalova and Zdenk Slouka- who disrespected a Hindu temple in Ubud, Indonesia in 2019 after ‘frolicking’ in the holy water. Dolezalova and Slouka did get away with a public apology, and having to attend and pray at the purification ceremony. Richardson wasn’t so lucky. In spite of repeated warnings he rode towards the palanquin, some reports stated boasting he had lived for years among the Chinese and he ‘knew how to deal with these people’ He was cut to shreds by the bodyguards. Marshall and Clark were also seriously injured in the incident.

So…. What happened next?


Well… his body was recovered, and brought back to Yokohama to be buried. In spite of word having preceded his arrival among the enclave of his arrogance, and mistreatment of the Chinese in Shanghai, and word his own uncle allegedly (I could only find this statement in Wikipedia, not other sources and well… Wikipedia… take it with a grain of salt) laying the blame for the incident squarely on Richardson’s foolhardiness and arrogance, the British needed to demand restitution. If you have bullied your way into ports all around the region you cannot be seen to do nothing over a challenge to your authority. The traders got this, they had been bastards to the locals, and the locals have yet to revolt because Britain carried a big stick. Not to act put their lives in danger.

Britain demanded a huge settlement (of which £25,000 would eventually be paid) and the arrest and prosecution of the killers (which never did). The daimyo stalled, so Britain, in August 1863, sent in a squadron of warships, to Kagoshima, the Daimyo’s capital, and proceeded to bomb the living daylights out of the place. Now if you were looking at casualties, the death count in what they called the Kagoshima bombardment, and the Japanese called the Anglo- Satsuma war, they were small. The Japanese had time to move the civilians out, leaving several men to fire back at them from their boats, equipped with around 80 cannons. All up 3 British warships were damaged, 3 Japanese ships sunk. British casualties ran to 20 with a further 53 wounded, while the Daimyo lost 5 men with 20 more injured. The British inflicted heavy property damage to the capital however, destroying 500 buildings. So much destruction arose out of the arrogance of one young English merchant.


And…. there we have it. Probably safe to file this one under ‘Tales of History and Imagination are all around us’ one of those odd tales you come upon by happenstance. Please feel free to drop a comment, maybe a like? What do you think? – should we ‘do as the Romans’? Would Charles Lennox Richardson have been a star of Instagram if he were around in 2019? Were some Japanese right to be angry over the ‘Treaty ports’ they had forced upon them since Commodore Perry’s famed arrival and Convention of Kanagawa in 1854?


I’ll be back next week, this time looking at something which happened in Central Asia several centuries earlier. Keep an eye out for new posts and stuff on our Facebook page.
Simone.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Part Two

Hi everyone welcome back to part two of the script for Episode 1 of the podcast. You can catch the episode here! https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-3dtwh-bf85d9

Check out the previous post , last week for part one of this essay.

ill met by moonlight, John Law…

In March 1612 Justice Roger Nowell was visited by a pedlar named John Law. Law claimed he had been hexed by a witch, causing him to fall ill.
On the 21st March, Law was travelling through Trawden Forest when he crossed paths with Alison Device, a young woman of repute in the area as the granddaughter of Elizabeth Southerns – an elderly wise woman known as ‘Old Demdike’. Her whole family were outsiders, presumed to be witches. Device asked Law to sell her some pins. Law refused – maybe because metal pins in 17th century England were expensive and he didn’t believe she had the money, or maybe because witches used pins to cure warts, for divination, and to cast love spells.

Whatever the reason Law told Device it was not worth the bother of unpacking half his bag on the roadside for so small a sale. They argued for a while, Alizon claiming Law called her a thief, then went their separate ways. Seconds later Law collapsed. John Law struggled back to his feet and stumbled into a nearby inn.

The best guess these days is he suffered a minor stroke, but to add context it was almost half a century before a Swiss doctor called Johan Wepfer began to unravel what caused these apoplexies- as they were then called. There was no real understanding among experts, let alone everyday people to explain what happened to John Law.. so magical thinking did not seem unreasonable. At first John Law didn’t believe he had been hexed, but in the following days his son Abraham convinced him this is exactly what had happened.

Alizon Device, on the other hand needed no convincing. From a family of wise women, folk healers with a magical edge, she truly believed she had supernatural powers, and that day had caused the devil to strike John Law down. When Abraham Law came round and took her to see John. Alizon broke down and confessed to hexing him, and begged him for forgiveness.

On the 30th March 1612 Alizon, her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James were summoned to appear before Justice of the Peace Roger Nowell.

Now if you’re thinking poor Alizon and her family, about to face some Kangaroo court over this nonsense… well… fair enough, but what unfolded next might stretch your sympathies a little. The Demdikes are not the easiest of families to warm up to.

At the summons Alizon fessed up to hexing John Law, stating immediately after their fight, the devil appeared to her in the form of a black dog and asked what he should do?

“What canst thou do at him?” she asked the dog.
The dog answered “I can lame him”. Alizon thought this was a fantastic idea… then 300 yards down the road John Law fell.

Alizon went on to implicate her grandmother, Old Demdike, in the killing of a cow through witchcraft. Her brother James added to their troubles, claiming Alizon had bewitched a young child. Elizabeth mostly stayed silent but when pushed admitted Old Demdike had a strange mark on her, of the type the devil leaves when he sucks your blood.

Next Alizon, maybe hoping to take the heat off of her, maybe out of revenge for a previous dispute turned in another family of wise women from the town, the Chattoxes.

Ten years earlier a member of the Chattox family had broken into the Devise home and stolen from them. Under questioning Alizon accused the matriarch of the family, Anne Whittle, of the murder of 4 men, including her own father, John Devise.

On 2 April 1612 Old Demdike, Anne Whittle and her daughter, Anne Redferne were brought in. Demdike and the elder Chattox quickly confessed to being witches. Redferne refused to say anything, but old Demdike claimed she’d seen Anne Redferne making clay figures, something like voodoo dolls. Another witness, Margaret Crooke, backed this up, claiming Anne Redferne killed her brother by witchcraft after an argument.

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty” bringing it back to Bertrand Russell. Would people, in a simpler time be a little terrified at these alleged serial killers turning each other in like this? Honestly, crazy as it all seems now, I could see fear directing a judge into an atrocious ruling. We’ll come to this, but first let’s take a quick ad break.

(Short excerpt from Ishtar’s ‘Space Radio’)

Hi folks welcome back. Where we left off Alizon Device, old Demdike, old Chattox and Anne Redferne had faced justice Roger Nowell on what began as a single charge of witchcraft, and quickly indicted themselves in multiple acts of murder and malice. On April 10th 1612 friends and family got together to discuss what to do now, and the suitably witchy sounding Malkin Tower.

I come Malkin Towers…


The name Malkin tower immediately makes me think of witchcraft. My reasoning there’s a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth where one of the witches calls to her familiar “I come Greymalkin”. Truthfully grimalkin is a medieval word for cat, and malkin can mean cat, a woman from a low born family, a weakling or even, a mop. I Google image searched Malkin tower and come across a lone tower on a windswept looking hill. Desolate and spooky it looked exactly like the kind of place where wise women would brew potions … then I began to dig a little to find it was a Victorian folly called ‘Blacko tower’ Malkin tower, the home of Alizon’s grandmother old Demdike was demolished long ago, was probably a normal old cottage, the exact location lost to history.

On the 10th April Alizon’s mother Elizabeth called friends and family to malkin tower to plan to save their loved ones. The meeting could have gone unnoticed but for James Device stealing a neighbour’s sheep to provide food. The neighbors reported the theft, and meeting to justice Nowell…who concluded the meeting must have been a coven of witches. He arrested eight more people for witchcraft, following an inquiry on April 27th 1612. Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston were all brought in. Preston would be tried separately – she lived across the border and fell under the jurisdiction of York.

A digression into being buried alive…


Jennet Preston faced the courts first, at the York Assizes on 27th July. Presiding judges were witch hater James Altham and the desperate to re-locate Sir Edward Bromley. Preston had previously beaten a charge of using witchcraft to kill a child in 1611. She was now charged with the murder of a nobleman, Thomas Lister, four years earlier.
On his death bed, surrounded by family and friends, Lister had cried out

“Jennet Preston lyes heauie vpon me, Preston’s wife lies heauie vpon me; helpe me, helpe me“


What damned Jennet Preston was when she was viewing Lister’s body, laid out in state, he began to bleed profusely. Superstition has it if a corpse bleeds in someone’s presence the deceased is pointing out their murderer from the other side.

Now keep in mind the test for death at this time was to listen for a heartbeat and check for signs of breathing, and this was rarely done by an actual doctor, we shouldn’t be too surprised people occasionally got buried alive… well possibly more than occasionally – we mostly know just the near misses. A few decades after Thomas Lister in 1661, Lawrence Cawthorn, a butcher from London was accidentally buried alive. He had fallen ill and, his landlord knowing he would inherit Cawthorn’s possessions if he died in his property – sent him off to be buried. As the last sod of earth was loaded on the coffin all in attendance could hear Cawthorn screaming so quickly dug him back up, but not quite quickly enough – they opened the coffin to find he had shredded his shroud and beaten his face to a pulp trying to break the coffin open with his head.

Alice Blunden of Basingstoke was buried in 1674 and was far luckier. A group of children heard her screams, and people were able to dig her out in time. The Irish philosopher John Dun Scotus was accidentally buried alive in 1308, only discovered years later from deep scratch marks on the inside of the lid. I digress but to me at least it makes sense the rumours of Mr Lister’s death were greatly exaggerated, and it makes none that he bled on command to indict his killer.

It also strikes me as odd this incident only came up in 1612. Jennet Preston strongly proclaimed her innocence but was found guilty. She was executed by hanging on 29th July 1612. The others all went to trial at the Lancaster Assizes on the 18th – 19th August 1612.

The Pendle witches weren’t the only witch trial that day; The Salmesbury Witches were charged with using witchcraft to murder, and with cannibalism. Sir Edward Bromley was presiding judge. The court clerk was a man named Thomas Potts. Potts would gain fame from the book he wrote on the trial, The wonderful discoverie of witches in the countie of Lancaster – to this day the main source of information on the Pendle and Salmesbury Witches.

The Salmesbury Witches.


The Salmesbury Witches were three women – Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley – who were accused of murdering and eating a baby. Their accuser was a 14 year old relative of the Bierleys, Grace Sowerbutts. They were also accused of using witchcraft to make Grace’s life hell. They all proclaimed their innocence.

Their trial began with a prepared statement from Grace Sowerbutts. Grace claimed her grandmother, Jennet, Aunt Ellen and Jane Southworth could transform themselves into dogs. That they had “haunted and vexed her”, in her own words, for years. These vexings took the form of magically picking her up and dropping her atop a haybail by her hair, and hypnotically convincing her to drown herself.

Grace had also claimed they took her to the house of a Thomas Walshman and his wife, taking their baby outside, then sucking the child’s blood. The baby died the following night. Grace claimed her grandmother and aunt had then stolen the child’s corpse, to cook and eat the body.

Thomas Walshman took the stand, and confirmed he had a child who died suddenly. There was an uproar from the public gallery.

“If what this girl says is true then we need to know more, bring her back up and examine her further”

Under further examination Grace lost it and broke down. Her tale unravelled and a distraught Grace finally started to tell the truth. The Salmesbury witches had all been Catholic, but converted to the Anglican church. They were much happier with the church of England. Jane Southworth’s uncle, Christopher Southworth, sometimes aka Christopher Thompson, was a Catholic priest, who covertly ran his own church. When the ladies converted they had a falling out, and he began to plot revenge on them. His plan, to get 14 year old Grace to make the accusation.
Why Grace went along with it isn’t clear, and what happened to her and Christopher has been lost to history, but the Salmesbury Witches were released without charge.

The Pendle witches were not so lucky. They, for one had their own accusatory minor to deal with – 9 year old Jennet Device – Alizon’s sister- was called as a key witness. Even in 1612 the evidence of a child so young was banned, except, thanks to James I, in the case of witch trials. A number of the accused were known Wise Women – pagan folk healers.. Of course a number of guilty pleas had been made already too. Old Demdike, in her 80s when taken into custody, died before the trial started.

The Pendle Witch Trials…

First up was Anne Whittle. Accused by Alizon of murdering four men she pled not guilty on the charge of killing Robert Nutter. Unfortunately she had made a confession earlier, which was read out to the court. A boarder at her house was also called to the stand. He stated he recalled Nutter claiming she turned his beer sour before he died. A tearful Anne broke down in court, admitted guilt, and begged God’s forgiveness.

Elizabeth Device, Alizon’s mother, was accused of the murders of two men by herself, James and John Robinson, and of helping Old Demdike kill Henry Mitton. She plead not guilty. 9 year old Jennet Device was called in to give evidence and Elizabeth lost all composure and had to be escorted out, screaming at Jennet to stop what she was doing before she signed the family’s death warrant. Unfortunately no one challenged the child’s evidence – Jennet told the court Elizabeth had been a witch for 3 or 4 years, and had a familiar – a brown dog called Ball, who she called on to hex her victims.

Her son James also gave evidence against Elizabeth, though accused of being a witch himself, pleading not guilty to the murders of Anne Townley and John Duckworth. Jennet took the stand again to accuse James. Elizabeth and James Device were both found guilty.

Anne Redferne, daughter of Anne Whittle, also known as Chattox was found guilty the following day of the murder of Robert Nutter’s father, Christopher, based on the evidence of the now deceased Old Demdike. The Bulcocks, Jane, and her son John were up next. They were dragged into this mess because they had attended the Malkin tower meeting- something they denied. Again 9 year old Jennet Device gave evidence against them and they were found guilty of the murder of a woman called Jennet Deane.

Alice Nutter, who had come to the malkin towers meeting to support the family found herself entangled with the murder of Henry Mitton. She was also found guilty. Katherine Hewitt and Alice Grey, both also attendees at the Malkin towers meeting were accused of killing a child called Anne Foulds. Hewitt was found guilty, while Grey was let go, found not guilty.

Finally it was Alizon Device’s turn. The woman who started the whole witch hunt off by wishing ill on the pedlar John Law. This was pretty much a non event. Device sincerely believed she had harmed Law and tearfully confessed to hexing him that day in the forest. She was found guilty. All but Alice Grey were sentenced to hang, a sentence carried out the following day. When I mentioned to my mum I was doing a podcast on the Pendle witches she was particularly interested in the testimony of young Jennet, and said she learned at school Jennet Device gave evidence to get in with the in crowd… sold out her family to be popular. It backfired, she was shunned the rest of her life. I couldn’t find this in the sources, maybe it had become a cautionary tale not to dob your parents in for stuff? Who knows? It does seem very possible though.

There is evidence though a Jennet Device faced a witch trial herself in 1634. Accused by a ten year old boy, Edmund Robinson, she was found guilty of the murder of Isabel Nutter…. The same Nutter family who allegedly lost several family members to the older Devices…. The boy’s evidence was later found to be false, but she seems to have spent the rest of her life in jail regardless. Sir Edward Bromley’s work did please the king, and he got his promotion in 1616.
Conclusion.

So that was the tale of the Pendle witches, I hold to my interpretation that it was the result of a combination of primitive superstition, political opportunism, petty revenge, and possibly a need by some young, unreliable witnesses to fit in and/ or be agreeable to authority figures. While, in my opinion there was all kinds of crazy in play here it is also worth noting that in 1998 when it came before parliament to pardon the Pendle Witches, British Home Secretary Jack Straw refused to do so.

On 27th August 2008 the Swiss Parliament ruled the 1782 beheading of Anna Goldi – generally accepted as the last execution for witchcraft in Europe – a miscarriage of justice, and exonerated her. This prompted supporters of the Pendle witches to try again, but yet again the British Government refused to overturn the convictions.

I hope you found this episode interesting. Please subscribe to our podcast, give us a positive review on whatever podcaster you are listening in on. Please share our podcast round with anyone you know who likes history and strange tales. Please follow us on the Tales of History and Imagination podcast Facebook page, more social media pages coming soon – and drop me a line. Music has been provided by Ishtar, who incidentally had a song about Pendle Hill in their set in the mid to late 2000s, research, writing and all that production stuff by me. Thanks for listening, and I will see you in two weeks for more tales of History and Imagination.

[Outro music- ‘Space Radio’ by Ishtar]

This Tale is part two of a two part series. To read the rest of this story click here.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Part One.

Hey everyone go check out https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-3dtwh-bf85d9 for the First of our Podcasts! The internet tells me people like choice, so I am posting the transcript on here for the readers out there. It’s long so I’m posting in two parts.

Hi folks and welcome to Tales of History and Imagination, my name is Simone. Today’s tale is about a woman named Alizon Device, and her untimely death on 20th August 1612. This is a tale of witchcraft, allegations of murder and of 10 executions. On the teaser for this podcast I quoted the philosopher Bertrand Russell…


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”


Irrational fear definitely helps explain this story, but it really is only one element. Political opportunism and scapegoating are factors, not to mention the lengths a young outsider will go to just to fit in with the crowd. I should also point out, while witch hunts took a massive number of lives in Europe – the figure I was told when younger of 600,000 dead is now thought an exaggeration, the ballpark is still in hundreds of thousands- In England only around 500 people were executed for witchcraft. That a single case lead to 2% of the countries’ total executions makes the story of the Pendle Witches significant.

We’ll get to the case but first today I’m going to spend a little time looking at how we got to the witch trials in England – and while I want to mention a few European milestones, I’m not jumping into the witch trials at Navarre, and Wurtzburg and such.. it is too deep a rabbit hole. I should also say up front – do I believe in witches? Well, I believe many witches were folk healers with pagan beliefs. And, yes I believe some witches wished people misfortune- but that leaves you a long long way from proving anything supernatural. I do believe the witch hunts were an atrocity.. so, without further ado. Welcome to episode 1, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

[Theme music plays, an excerpt from Ishtar’s ‘The Enemy Within’]

Witches in Antiquity.

So, by way of background.. Tales of Witchcraft go all the way back to antiquity. The old testament of the bible mentions witches. In 1 Samuel, written possibly as early as the 10th century BC, King Saul calls on the witch of Endor to summon the ghost Samuel to help the Israelites defeat the Philistines. The witch instead prophesied the deaths of Saul and his sons, which is what the bible says happened. It should not surprise anyone the writers of the bible didn’t love witches… in Exodus, just after dealing with the 10 commandments, the book states “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”. If you were to sum up early responses to witches, early people viewed them as frightening, mysterious, but at times useful.

Stories of persecution and execution of witches go way back in antiquity in a number of civilizations – as do stories of turning to witches for assistance. In Ancient Greece for example anyone who was anyone would travel to the Oracle of Delphi for advice on matters of importance. On the flipside you get stories such as the public execution of Theoris of Lemnos and her family in Athens for practicing witchcraft in the 4th century BC. What she did exactly was not recorded by the statesman Demosthenes, but she was believed to practice folk healing, and may, possibly have poisoned someone. Nearly 200 years later Plato would write in his ‘Symposium’ that he saw practitioners of magic as maleficent beings, but tied their powers to the God Eros.

Some earlier philosophers actually courted public belief in their magical powers. Pythagoras had some believing he could be in two places at once, could make predictions, and could bite poisonous snakes before the snakes could bite him. Thales of Miletus surely was risking life and limb a little when he predicted a solar eclipse, and used this knowledge to bring about a truce with the warring Medes in 585 BC. The Medes, thinking it was an open from the gods to cool it stopped. Empedocles was so intent on proving himself supernatural to the locals he jumped into the volcano at Mt Etna, thinking when he disappeared the people would think he flew into the heavens and was a God. When his sandal got thrown back out somehow the people just realized he’d jumped into a volcano, and burned to death… but, we are getting off track a little… so.

In Ancient Rome it was a capital offense to use witchcraft to blight crops, or destroy one’s flocks or herds, but a great many Patricians would privately consult witches for political or military advice. The writer Plutarch is one example of a guy who believed in omens, even if he was suspicious of witches and magicians. Some apparent folk healers and the like of course pitched themselves as miracle workers and messianic types in the Roman empire. One gets the sense Jesus was one of many, presuming his reality, plying a trade in healing the sick, casting out demons, and flashy shows of magic.

The Middle Ages

The rise of Christianity brought changes to the view of witches especially as the religion extended out into Europe and met with pagan religions. While Christianity may have started from “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” – seen practitioners of any opposing set of beliefs as a threat, but in the 5th Century AD, St Augustine robbed witches of any perceived power by stating belief in witchcraft was primitive superstition, and witchcraft a bit of a nonsense. At a number of church synods, notably at Elvira Spain in 306 and Ankara Turkey in 314 witchcraft had been proclaimed a sin you could take a penance for, rather than something to be executed for. It became the greater heresy to believe in witchcraft than to practice anything resembling witchcraft for much of late antiquity and the early middle ages.

This is not to say there weren’t incidents. Witch hunts clearly occurred during this era, otherwise why make laws banning witch hunts? Charlemagne – the de-facto first Holy Roman emperor, crowned in 800 AD– shocked at news of a spate of recent witch hunts, proclaimed

“If anyone, deceived by the devil, shall believe, as is customary among Pagans that any man or woman is a night- witch and eats men, and on that account burn that person to death… he shall be executed”

In 1100 King Kalman of Hungary banned witch hunts stating “witches do not exist”. The Lombards, of which Charlemagne had once been king, made it clear killing witches would bring dire consequences… A number of other medieval rulers, however did come to see witchcraft as a danger. In 1080 Pope Gregory VII wrote a strongly worded letter to Harald III of Denmark demanding he stop the widespread murder of witches. King Harald had gotten it into his head witches had caused a spate of storms and crop failures. Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious called for all witches and sorcerers to be killed. In Scotland Kenneth MacAlpin – the Pictish king often thought the first king of Scotland called for sorcerers and witches to be burned to death, if they attempt to invoke spirits.

In 900AD, the Canon Episcopi, a church document dealing with Pagan beliefs re-iterated St Augustine’s views, witches don’t exist. It stated definitively the bigger crime is the heresy in believing in such things. From here on for the next few centuries though, in an effort to be consistent – the church began to prosecute witches as heretics – mostly imposing fines.

The Road to Malleus Maleficarum

From around 1300 a belief began to grow that witches were engaged in malicious behaviour; meeting in secret covens to have mass orgies, and eat babies. A Christian cult known as the Cathars had become very popular in Southern France and Northern Italy their brand of religion probably having arrived from Armenia, Persia or the Byzantine Empire via Bulgaria. Threatened, the church became less forgiving of anything considered heretical, the Cathars themselves eventually all but annihilated. From the 15th Century stories began circulating that witches made pacts with the devil and were obliged to carry out wicked deeds and spread misfortune. By this time the crusades in the Near East had opened up access to classical texts lost to the west but preserved by Islam, while some of these texts fed a rise in Renaissance occultism among the upper classes of Europe, it also reinforced negative views towards witchcraft among the scholastic movement.

Now, on occasion accusations of witchcraft were political – Pope Boniface VIII, who died in 1303 not long after being kidnapped and released by the King of France – was posthumously tried for witchcraft, among a raft of other, more serious charges. When the Knights Templar became a little too wealthy and powerful, as the first multi-national corporation to speak of and a money lender to kings – King Philip the Fair, the same pope kidnapping king of France arrested and executed them for heresy and witchcraft, on Friday the 13th October 1307. It is clear Philip 4th liked to excuse his own bad behaviour by claiming his enemies were witches.

In 1486 a Dominican monk and inquisitor named Heinrich Kramer wrote an important book called Malleus Maleficarum, “the hammer against the Witches”. It was a huge best seller, second only to the Bible throughout Europe. It laid out an argument for future, and ongoing inquisitions against witches – covens, human sacrifice, deals with the devil.

All that said, in England concerns over witchcraft were not great…. up till the era of the Stuarts. The Tudor king Henry 8th, possibly more driven by a need to enforce loyalty since making himself head of the Church of England, passed a witchcraft act in 1542 which allowed him to confiscate a witches land, and even put them to death. His daughter, Elizabeth 1st changed the law only allowing the death penalty if someone used witchcraft to murder another. These laws appear largely unused.

Daemonologie… and how to drown a cat….

King James I of England, presided over a time of a great number of witch trials, and this is the time our tale is set in. In 1589 James, then just king of Scotland, was betrothed to Anne of Denmark. In Anne’s first attempt to cross the North Sea she was almost scuttled by a violent storm. James then sailed to her with a fleet of ships. The two of them then almost drowned on the way back – with one of James’ ships was sunk on the return voyage.

The Danish admiral who had attempted the first crossing was sure the bad weather was being caused by witchcraft – he had insulted the wife of a Danish official back in Copenhagen and was sure she had hexed them. This was added to by an official investigation, which pointed the finger at Danish minister of finance, Christopher Valkendorff, for having cheaped out on the ships, but he had managed to defend himself by claiming the incident must be down to witchcraft instead. Several prominent women were tortured, eventually owning up to the attempt on Anne’s life, and twelve women were burnt on the stake as a result.

On his return to Scotland, King James called for his own tribunal, and, unsurprising when you use torture to force confession, found a number of witches. Under torture James’ alleged conspirators confessed to tying a dead man’s genitals to a cat, calling on the devil to kill the royal couple, then throwing the cat into the ocean, among other things.

The North Berwick witch trials themselves deserve an episode, especially the tale of Gellis Duncan, a maid working for one David Seaton whose accusation and torture of Gellis seems more driven out of jealousy and a need to control Gellis – who had of late taken to sneaking out of the house at night, and if you can’t openly punish her for meeting up with a paramour then why not punish her for attempted regicide instead right?

James I wrote a treatise against witchcraft, daemonology, in 1591, which though more nuanced than many of the witch trials were, did state witchcraft had been going on for as long as we have existed and advocated for witch trials. When James claimed the English throne he enacted a witchcraft act in England. But did magistrates believe witches were evil? Some yes, some were no doubt company men, willing to do what the boss asked of them. In 1605 William Shakespeare wrote one of the greatest witch hating, propaganda pieces ever in Macbeth – In the a play the virtuous Macbeth is lead astray by three witches to kill the king and take the crown. Misled by the 3 weird sisters and fuelled by ambition Macbeth sinks Scotland into a repressive tyranny, until the forces of good. children of his slain former friend Banquo, helped by a cast Scottish Thanes and English soldiers defeat him and make all well in the world again – Banquo was an ancestor of James by the way.

Now, Lancaster in the North East of England was a lawless borderland, where theft and violence was common. It was a stronghold of a number of underground Catholic churches, churches who came out of hiding briefly in the reign of Elizabeth’s sister Mary, then went underground in Elizabeth’s reign. There were a number of wise women, the types of folk healers often accused of witchcraft. There were two local judges in the area, Sir James Altham- a virulent witch hater, and Sir Edward Bromley, who was desperate to win James I’s favour and be promoted to a better position closer to London.

By 1612 James was king, and concerned Catholics particularly meant to do him harm, sent out orders to the Justices of the peace to make lists of recusants – those who refused to take part in the protestant church proceedings. In Pendle, Lancaster, this order fell on Roger Nowell.
Now this seems a good place to split this script up…

Sorry folks this is a long one… the podcasts ARE wordy. I’ll post part two next week. In the meantime please go take a listen at https://Talesofhistoryandimagination.podbean.com

This Tale is part one of a two part series. To read the rest of this story click here.