Witches of Warboys

Philip C. Almond. The Witches of Warboys: An Extraordinary Story of Sorcery, Sadism and Satanic Possession. I. B. Tauris, 2008.

This story of Elizabethan witchcraft accusations, involving ancestors of both the poet Dryden and Oliver Cromwell and shows the power of children to destroy peoples’ lives. When old Alice Samuels, said to be about 80 but probably nearer 60 years old, went to visit her rich neighbours, the Throckmorton’s to commiserate with the illness of one of their children, the said child turned round and accused her of being a witch. This was the start of a long complex story in which one after the other of the Throckmorton children developed fits and accused Alice and her husband and daughter of witchcraft, accusations which were to lead to the three of them being executed.

Almond narrates the story from its beginning to end, yet we never really understand why these accusations, which also included the bewitching to death of Lady Cromwell, a friend of the Throckmorton’s, were made in the first place. Were the children attention seekers, were they put up to some of this by adults? The Throckmorton’s were Puritans, the Samuels were rough trade. Alice seems to have been a natural victim, abused by her husband and treated like dirt by her daughter. Was she seen as easy game by the children?

Part of the problem with this account is that essentially it relies on a single source, a contemporaneous pamphlet. with some family background taken from the parish registers, so much of the background is missing. Perhaps if Almond had been able examine all available documents from the period relating to Warboys, more might have been discovered. -- Peter Rogerson

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