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‘My relation was stabbed as a witch’

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National Archives

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Emily Ward-Willis found out accusations of witchcraft in her circle of relatives

It’s Halloween and the malls are filled with make-believe witches and ghosts.

But Emily Ward-Willis has a extra non-public connection.

Her analysis into her circle of relatives historical past discovered an ancestor accused of being a actual witch, 150 years in the past this week in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Such was the suspicion and whispering marketing campaign round her great-great-great grandmother that her neighbours stabbed her.

They concept that 57-year-old Jane Ward have been sending headless ghosts down chimneys and appearing witchcraft that was harming their households.

Her neighbour, John Davis, believed that tips on how to elevate a witch’s curse was to attract her blood – and subsidized up by way of a few of his circle of relatives, he stabbed her within the face.

‘Horrifically painful’

“I don’t think she was an actual witch,” says Emily.

“My mental image of her is as an old woman who had lived a hard life. She might have been slightly eccentric.”

The deep knife wound “would have been horrifically painful for her”.

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Dr Jessica Nelson takes care of the legitimate state data of witch trials on the National Archives

To trendy eyes, this seems like the harassment of an remoted and prone lady. Or the Victorian model of faux information.

For months ahead of the assault, Jane Ward have been shouted at and referred to as a witch. The allegations escalated and she or he was accused of the usage of evil powers to make ghosts seem, transfer furnishings round and overturn the chair of a disabled kid.

‘Very difficult lifestyles’

“She had a very tough life, she’d lost numerous children as babies and her eldest son was in trouble himself and her other son moved away, so she was on her own and then her husband dies,” mentioned Emily.

“She’d plunged further and further into poverty.”

Emily was ready to learn about her ancestor’s tale as a result of her assailant was charged and given 18 months onerous labour – with the court docket data to be had on the National Archives in Kew.

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Not all witches have been girls – about one in 5 accused of witchcraft was male

But what may appear sudden about this witchcraft tale is that it came about as past due as the 1860s.

Dr Jessica Nelson, a head of collections on the National Archives, says it is very onerous to understand what folklore ideals about witchcraft persevered into the 19th Century, specifically amongst those that weren’t literate.

Hundreds completed

In phrases of the prison place, the witchcraft rules that had observed masses completed within the 16th and 17th Centuries have been overturned within the 1730s, with the presumption that witchcraft didn’t truly exist.

Instead the rules have been towards folks claiming to have such supernatural powers.

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Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible used witch-hunting as a picture of political persecution

This model of witchcraft regulation, towards folks pretending to be witches or with the ability to summon spirits, was used into the 1940s.

But the assault on Jane Ward means that such previous ideals concerning the lifestyles of witches ran deep.

And there turns out to were a constant development of remoted and impoverished girls being the perhaps to be accused.

These have been the archetypal scapegoats, accused of anything else that went incorrect.

“Witches could be accused of everything from huge natural disasters to someone’s cat dying,” mentioned Dr Nelson.


10 myths about witches, from Dr Jessica Nelson on the National Archives

  • Pointy hats. Not truly. Those accused of witchcraft wore a wide variety of hats or none.
  • Broomsticks. Witches have been claimed so that you could fly, however now not at all times on broomsticks. They may just additionally fly on their very own or on horses. And that they had different animals, together with canine, now not simply black cats.
  • Always girls? No. About 80% of accusations have been towards girls. But males might be accused of witchcraft as neatly.
  • Always previous? Older, remoted folks have been extra liable to such claims, however younger folks have been additionally accused.
  • Were males referred to as wizards? No. Male witches have been simply referred to as witches as neatly.
  • Were folks accused of being witches at all times discovered accountable? No. Perhaps about three-quarters accused of witchcraft have been acquitted.
  • Ducking stools in village ponds. These weren’t utilized in checking out for witchcraft.
  • If they sank they have been blameless however drowned anyway? This was now not truly a commonplace apply. But folks accused of being witches have been “swum”, which supposed being tied up and put into water and in the event that they floated it was proof of being a witch. But they have been pulled again directly to land in the event that they went beneath water.
  • Burning on the stake? No, much more likely to were hanged. Lesser offences had prison sentences or being put within the pillory.
  • Halloween and witches. Modern pop culture has created a “bit of a myth” concerning the hyperlink between Halloween and witchcraft, a lot more so than the historic file.

“They were certainly scapegoated within their communities for things like sickness, women having difficult pregnancies, livestock dying, crop failures, raising storms.”

Dr Nelson has been researching waves of witch-hunting and accusations in Pendle in Lancashire within the 17th Century.

Child witch-hunters

The witch finder in probably the most Pendle circumstances was a 10-year-old-boy, who started to spot witches amongst native folks.

Dr Nelson says the boy turns out to were inspired by way of his father, who noticed this as a means of constructing the circle of relatives some cash.

Under scrutiny, and when the accused have been taken clear of the witch hysteria and delivered to London, the allegations fell aside, with the boy admitting he had made up the claims.

But even if folks have been acquitted there remained a stigma.

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Women accused of witchcraft being crushed in entrance of James I in 1610

“I’m sure it really did blight people’s lives,” says Dr Nelson.

“Often those accusations are popping out of very small communities, all of the folks concerned know each and every different.

“In some circumstances you get accusations and counter-accusations made inside households. You every now and then get, as within the first Pendle witch trials, youngsters accusing their oldsters.”

Folk reminiscence

Centuries later the theory of a “witch hunt” nonetheless turns out to have a grip at the creativeness. It’s nonetheless a part of trendy political language.

“There does stay this folks reminiscence of folks leaping at the bandwagon of accusations and it now not truly mattering whether or not the ones accusations have been true or now not,” says Dr Nelson.

“If anyone was accused of being a witch within the 17th Century, it did not truly subject whether or not they have been or now not, that they had that taint.

“I suppose we still see that today sometimes. It doesn’t really matter if some accusations are true or false, they can be very damaging.”

But what took place to Jane Ward?

“She survived the attack and she continued to live at home with her daughter,” says Emily.

“We have her within the 1871 census, however after that, her lifestyles is a little bit of a thriller.

“After checking all of the data, I am beautiful positive that someday I will come throughout her.

“But maybe she was a witch and she might still be alive… so who knows?”

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