Essex Witch Trials

Witch Persecutions of Essex, England in 1645
                                                                   Essex County
As mentioned in the Suffolk Cases section of the site, Essex was also grouped into the pro-parliament section in England at the time. This region would be presumed to have wanted to put into place many different social and political changes and break away from their counterparts to the west. Matthew Hopkins was considered to be part of this pro-parliament movement and would have have support in his push for social reform. This could help explain many of the accusations of witches in the county of Essex as the region looked to move in a new direction. Throughout 1645, there were about thirty-six suspects who were all women were imprisoned or tried for witchcraft. Of that total number nineteen were executed, nine died from Gaol Fever (Typhus), six were imprisoned until 1648, and only one was acquitted of the charges against her.1 As mentioned, Matthew Hopkins, along with his "witch hunter" partner John Sterne, took part in many of these trials. These two men were able to gain support for their accusations with assistance from about ninety-two witnesses that came from all levels of society, including three clergymen. The information that was given by the clergymen helped corroborate some of the accusations of the use of familiars by the suspected witches.2
Witchcraft Trials in Essex
This True and Exact Relations of Informations, Examinations, and Confessions of late Witches is a pamphlet that details the witchcraft trials that took place in areas within the county of Essex. The pamphlet provides information from many witnesses about the accusations of each of the individuals being tried as a witch. Accused individuals were arraigned and executed in Essex. Readers will also find information from Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne who were considered to be witch hunters of the time. These trials are interesting in that many of cases and confessions implicate other individuals within the community. The pamphlet outlines confessions from some of the accused that provides for detailed cases in which there are different reasons for why each witch may be on trial. The condemned were said to have committed devilish acts against men, women, and children. The time frame in which these cases took place was March 1645  to May 1645. However, each confession or testimony of those involved are from different times throughout the months mentioned before as each would have provided their statements at different times. Below there is information from some of the cases that were described in this particular pamphlet.3 One of the cases to may specific attention to is Case 4 because one of the woman, Rebecca West,  was released for being a key witness for the Crown4.
Case Analysis
*All of the accused witches were arraigned and executed in Essex.
Case 1:
Accused Witch: Elizabeth Clarke
  • Mother and other kin of the accused were put to death because of accusations of witchcraft
  • Lived in Manningtree 
  • Information is from March 1645
  • John Rivet accused Elizabeth of bewitching his wife as she fell ill.
  • Elizabeth confessed to having intercourse with the devil in the shape of a gentleman several years before, according to the testimony of Matthew Hopkins. 
  • Imps were involved in Elizabeth's dealings in witchcraft, one was called Vinegar Tom and was in the form of a long legged greyhound.
  • Other confessions dealt with the killing of a man and a horse.
  • A question from Master Stearne dealing with if she was afraid of the imps she responded with "what doe yee thinke I am afraid of my children?"
  • Further examination of Elizabeth led to more names of possible witches that may have been connected to her.
    After hearing the examination and confessions from this case, the information helped to strengthen the argument of Clarke being a witch. From providing a background  to her family's history and  Clarke not denying any of the accusations against her it was apparent that she believed herself to be a witch as well. There is also a sense of emotional connection to the impes that were used to commit devilish acts against others. Finally, Elizabeth Clarke's case provides a good example for instances when other women or men were brought up in confessions in an attempt to condemn others.
Case 2:
Accused Witch: Elizabeth Gooding
  • Wife of Robert Gooding
  • Lived in Manningtree
  • Information is from April 1645
  • Elizabeth Clarke mentions Gooding as an accomplice.
  • Robert Tayler of Manningtree is a shop owner and accused Gooding of killing one of his horses.
  • Gooding was denied cheese that she was looking to purchase and went away muttering words under her breathe.
  • The same night of this event one of Tayler's horses fell ill and died, blaming Gooding of bewitching the horse.
  • Tayler also mentions that he heard Elizabeth Clarke and Anne Leech (mentioned later) also accused Gooding of witchcraft in their confessions.
  • In Gooding's examination she says that she is not guilty of any of the charges that she has been accused of.
     This case introduces a new woman that was accused of witchcraft. This case is different because there is a accusation from a different member of the community that happened to have an unfortunate event take place after encountering Gooding. This information does raise some issue as to how the shop keeper would of heard of the confessions and accusations made by the other witches. There is also starting to be a connection between many of the women in the community. Having the connection with those who had already confessed to witchcraft and those with a history of the crime in their family does not help Gooding in promoting her innocence.
Case 3:
Accused Witch: Anne Leech
  • Lived in Manningtree
  • Information is from April 1645
    • Anne gives her confession before the Justices on the 14th and the informant gives his testimony after on the 23rd
  • Richard Edwards states that after walking home after attending a sermon, he notices one of his cows fall over 40 yards from Leech's home and two days later it died.
  • The next day while tending to his other cows in the same pasture, Edwards tells of another cow dying.
  • Another allegation brought up by this herder is that Leech, along with Elizabeth Gooding, was responsible for the death of a child.
  • This child was born near the households of Elizabeth Clarke and the aforesaid Gooding.
  • In Anne's confession she mentions being affiliated with Clarke and Gooding and also confessed to the killing of the cows/child.
     This particular case is very interesting in that the confession of Leech was brought to the Justices before the information of the witness. This seems to be a way for the witch hunters to ensure that there was evidence behind each confession. It looks odd because they had already received a verbal confession but also included other information to solidify and confirm it.
Case 4:
Accused Witch: Rebecca West/Anne West
  • Daughter and Mother
  • Events took place in Lawford and Manningtree
  • Informants gave testimonies in April but again there is a confession earlier from Rebecca in March
  • Rebecca's confession came before the informant's testimonies.
  • The confession also came before all of the other accusations that came about for the other women.
    • West's confession placed Anne Leech, Elizabeth Gooding, and her mother Anne all at Elizabeth Clarke's house to pray to their familiars.
  • Prudence Hart was a pregnant woman who had a miscarriage and blamed Rebecca for what happened. Hart was believed to be Rebecca's greatest enemy.
    The odd part to this case is that it appears later in the pamphlet but it occurs the earliest according to its date. It also contains a confession that brings up the names of all of the witches that had been mentioned previously in the pamphlet. Also, there is testimonies that are also dated later than the confession of the accused. This case started the hunting of these woman and the witch hunters now had a start to there investigation. It also starts the trend in the other cases of having confessions presented in front of the Justices before the testimony of the informants. Again this can possibly be attributed to the witch hunters wanting to provide that evidence to strengthen the case against the accused.
Case 5:
Accused Witch: Mary Greenleife
  • April 25th, 1645 
  • The information provided by Elizabeth Hunt and Priscilla Brigs claims that Mary had markings in her secret parts of her body after she was inspected by them.
  • The two witnesses were familiar with these "teates" as they had been employed to search and find these markings on suspected witches in the past.
  • Many of the witches they had searched before also confessed to witchcraft themselves.
  • The markings are commonly associated with "Impes" sucking upon these areas of the suspected witches.
  • Mary had no knowledge of these markings and believed that the only reason they could be there was that she was born with them.
  • She states that she is not guilty of the charges that were brought against her.
    This case is different from the other cases in that it has a different driving point to why this woman was accused of witchcraft. One of the most frequent ways some woman were accused of witchcraft is from midwives who may bring the claim against them after the birth of children. Once word spreads of these markings and teats on secret parts on women being associated with witchcraft and imps it help raise many suspicions.
    When talking of social changes that may have been taking place throughout this region of England it would be easy to assume that Hopkins looked to provide that change through witchcraft trials. Society was changing and the people knew that they needed to go along with those changes or be left behind. There can be an assumption that some may have looked to target others in the community that they could have deemed to be competition or the enemy. The spark of trials was spearheaded by these witch hunters and the ideas that were being spread throughout the county during this year.