Devonshire Characters and Strange Events/The Bideford Witches

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A the assizes held at the castle of Exeter 14 August, 1682, three poor old women from Bideford—Temperance Lloyd, aged eighty years, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards—were tried for witchcraft, were found guilty, and were executed on 25 August ensuing.

They had all previously been examined before Thomas Gist, Mayor of Bideford, and John Davie, Alderman, and also by the Rector. Before these worthies they had made full confession of their misdeeds, but to what an extent they had been drawn on by leading questions appears from the proces verbal of these examinations.

The worst of the three women was Temperance Lloyd, "intemperate Temperance" as she is called in one account.

According to the information of Dorcas Coleman, she had suffered from prickings in her body. She had consulted a physician, Dr. Beare, and he had told her that he could do nothing for her, as she was bewitched. When Susanna Edwards entered the room of Dorcas, the deponent was sitting in her chair speechless, but on seeing Susanna she slid out of her seat and tried to scramble towards her so as with her nails to draw blood, for by that means alone can a spell be broken that has been cast by a witch.

Grace Thomas also complained of pricking pains caused by Temperance Lloyd, "just as though pins and awls had been thrust into her body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet." Temperance was brought to confess that she had met the devil, as a little blackamoor, in a lane, and that she had gone with him invisibly to the bedroom of Grace Thomas, who lodged in the house of Thomas Eastchurch, and that she "did then and there pinch with the nails of her fingers the said Grace, in her shoulders, thighs, and legs." She further admitted that the black man had sucked her teats, and that he was about the length of her arm. She was subjected to examination by some matrons, who professed that they found suspicious marks upon her body. Before the rector of Bideford she confessed that, having assumed the form of a cat, she fetched out of Thomas Eastchurch's shop a puppet, commonly called a child's baby, and left it near Grace's bed, but she would in no way admit that she had run pins into this figure. It appears that Grace Thomas had been pricked in nine places about the knee, as though pricked by a thorn, and according to the evidence of Elizabeth Eastchurch, Temperance had confessed that she had taken a piece of leather and driven a pin into it nine times, purposing thereby to cause injury to the skin of Grace. She allowed that she had been accused of assuming the form of a red pig, but would not admit that the accusation was true. According to the evidence, the devil had appeared to her at various times, sometimes in the form of a magpie, sometimes in that of a grey or braget cat.

Susanna Edwards confessed that she first encountered the devil, dressed very respectably and gravely in a black suit, in the Parsonage Close, and that afterward, shrinking in size to a small boy, he had sucked blood from her breast. She had pricked and pinched Grace Barnes; and she stated that whilst her body lay motionless in bed, she could go to any place she liked invisibly.

Mary Trembles confessed that the devil came to her "in the shape of a Lyon" and sucked her so hard, that she was obliged to scream for pain, and that she also could travel invisibly.

Among these witches, a certain Anne Fellow was said to have been done to death by their practices. They had also bewitched cows so that they would not yield their milk; and Temperance admitted that she had caused several shipwrecks and been instrumental to the death of several persons and many cattle. They could only say the Lord's Prayer backwards. They had squeezed Hannah Thomas to death. At their trial at the assizes, all their confessions before the Mayor and Alderman at Bideford were accepted against them. There was no evidence produced to inculpate them beyond these confessions and the suppositions of women who had felt pains and pricks in their bodies. Nevertheless, the three poor creatures were sentenced to death. On the scaffold they were again questioned, and denied almost everything that they had previously been induced or frightened into admitting.

The authorities for this account are:—

"A True and Impartial Relation of the Informations against Three Witches, Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susanna Edwards … London, 1682."

"The Tryal, Condemnation and Execution of three Witches … who were arraigned at Exeter, on the 18th of August, 1682 … London, 1682." In this the names are given inaccurately.

There is also a broadside ballad on the subject. At the top are two rude woodcuts of witches, and a third of the devil dancing in the middle of a ring of witches. He holds a candle in his right hand and a broomstick in the other. Black owls are flying about; and a black cat sits hard by looking on complacently. It has been reprinted by John Ashton in his Century of Ballads, London, 1887.

It is wretched doggerel. Here are some stanzas:—

So these Malicious Women at the last,
Having- done mischief, were by Justice cast;
For it appear'd they children had destroy'd,
Lamed Cattel, and the Aged much annoy'd.

Having 1 Familiars always at their Beck,
 Their Wicked Rage on Mortals for to wreck;
It being proved they used Wicked Charms,
To Murder Men, and bring about sad harms.

The Country round where they did live came in,
And all at once their sad complaints begin;
One lost a Child, the other lost a Kine,
This his brave Horse, that his hopeful Swine.

One had his Wife bewitch'd, the other his Friend,
Because in some things they the Witch offend:
For which they labour under cruel pain,
In vain seek remedy, but none can gain.