Most people are familiar with the notorious “Salem Witch Trials” of 1692 to 1693 where 141 people were arrested, 19 were hung and one was pressed to death.
What the majority of people might not know is that the “Salem Witch Trials” were not the first witch trials.
An earlier witch trial took place in Esssex, England in 1589. Considered by some to be the first case of adults being accused of witchcraft by minors, the “Warboy Witches Trial” resulted in the hanging of three people.
The “Warboy Witches Trial” makes a poignant statement about society, class, religion, politics and the judicial system of the period.
After reading the “Warboy Witches” story one can’t help but make comparisons to persecutory events in other periods in history, up to an including present day.
The writer of this article shall make no further expressed or implied comparisons to other world events, thus allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions on the matter.
The accused in this case were Mr. Samuel, his wife Alice and their daughter Agnes. Considered to be of common class, the Samuel family was the next door neighbor to their more wealthy accusers, the Throckmortons.
It should be noted that up until the accusations started, the Throckmortons were known to be benevolent when it came to their less fortunate neighbors.
Furthermore, it appeared that the two families actually got along well as the children and wives of each family would frequently socialize with one another.
For reasons only speculated upon, all this changed in 1589 with the accusations of one of the Throckmorton’s five children.
Squire Robert Throckmorton of Warboy and his wife had five daughters who were all in close age to the Samuel’s 10 year old daughter Agnes. The Throckmorton girls were named Joan, Elizabeth, Mary, Grace and Jane.
Jane was the first of the Throckmorton children to accuse the Samuel family of witchcraft and subsequent possession. Afterward, the other children followed Joan’s lead. Within two months all of the children were claiming possession by the Samuel family.
Once all the children claimed to be bewitched by the Samuel’s the children started predicting that other people within their household would also befall the same fate.
Sure enough, at least 12 female servants who were in the Throckmorton’s employ all began claiming that they too were being bewitched and possessed by the Samuel’s.
The supposed bewitching then spread out to include a prominent visitor to the Throckmorton household, one Lady Cromwell.
Lady Cromwell was the wealthy landlord of the Samuel family and the second wife of Sir Henry Cromwell. Sir Henry Cromwell was the grandsire of Sir Oliver Cromwell.
The Cromwell’s were a family of wealth political types and many members of the family held high public offices.
It is said that one day while Mrs. Alice Samuels was visiting the Throckmortons, Lady Cromwell also came calling.
Upon seeing Mrs. Samuels in the Throckmorton residence, Lady Cromwell promptly engaged her in a verbal altercation that turned physical with Lady Cromwell allegedly believed to be the clear aggressor.
It was that incident that provided the final impetus that resulted in the “Warboy Witches Trial.”
After her altercation with Mrs. Samuel, Lady Cromwell claimed that Mrs. Samuel was bewitching her.
Unfortunately for Mrs. Samuel, at about the same time the accusations started, Lady Cromwell became sick with an unknown illness and eventually died. The Cromwell’s and Throckmorton’s claimed to the court that the Samuels alleged bewitching was the cause of Lady Cromwell’s death.
The Warboy Witches Trial and Aftermath
The “Warboy Witches Trial” took place on April 5, 1593 under the guidance of Judge Edward Fenner. The Samuels were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging just after five hours of jury deliberation.
The Samuel’s deaths however did not bring an end to the matter. Under England’s “Witchcraft Act of 1563” of which the Cromwell’s were familiar, they sued and received all of the Samuel’s assets as a form of restitution for Lady Cromwell’s alleged wrongful death.
Sir Henry Cromwell used the monies awarded to him to fund an annual anti-witchcraft sermon at his beloved church from 1593 up until 1812.
His family members also went on to participate in the writing of the “Witchcraft Act of 1604” that provided additional, harsher punishment of convicted witchcraft practitioners.
Furthermore, Judge Fenner and several of his cohorts also profited from the Samuel’s deaths through the publication of a book on the trial.
Those wishing to learn more about the families involved with the “Warboy Witches” story can find a plethora of information about them online.