Witches of Leicester ? England from 1420AD


I thought as Christmas Time is the time for ghostly stories I thought it would be fun to write about the Witches of Leicestershire, England.

Abbot William Sadyngton, Onychomancer

William Sadyngton was made Abbot of Leister Abbey on 26th October 1420 and he died in 1442. The Abbot is probably best known for using the occult power of Onychomancy to catch the thief of a silver plate and some coinage. William did not by all accounts have a good relationship with the fourteen Canons he worked with and he accused one of them, Canon Thomas Asty of the theft. Asty refused to confess, so Sadyngton turned to occult means to prove his guilt. In September 1439, whilst at Ingarsby, he polished the thumb nail of a boy called Maurice and whilst he recited a magical incantation the boy stared at the nails surface and told the Abbot what he saw. The boy named Thomas Asty as the culprit, though it is feasible that William had told Maurice what he expected the answer to be.  Upon his return to Leicester he accused Asty again, who then sought absolution from the Abbot in the confessional, which Sadyngton refused to give.

The Bilson Boy

In 1620, another English boy, William Perry, accused an old woman, Jane Clark, of bewitching him and causing fits. This time, during the trial, the court was skeptical, most likely because of the results of the Leicester cases. The boy eventually confessed that he, like Smith, faked the fits because he also enjoyed the attention.

Perry didn’t let matters be. Not much later, he repeated the same fraudulent behavior. The Bishop of Lichfield, Thomas Morton, investigated. He saw the boy regurgitate different objects and was ready to concede witchcraft was involved when he saw Perry pass blue urine, but decided that there had to be further tests. A spy was stationed to secretly watch Perry when he was alone in his room. The boy put blue ink in his chamber pot to change the color of his urine.

Perry claimed that the devil caused him to have fits whenever the first words of the Gospel of Saint John were read. The boy didn’t have hysteria when the words were read in Greek, a language he didn’t understand. According to beliefs at that time, if this was the work of the devil via witchcraft, Perry would have comprehended the foreign tongue and acted accordingly.

What caused the phenomena was that a priest taught the boy how to vomit strange objects and other chicanery in order to pretend to be possessed. The priest hoped that by “exorcising” the boy, who was in cahoots with him, he would impress his superiors.

King James I of England held much legal influence of the witch-hunts of the late 1500’s. He greatly feared the power of witches. He believed wholly that a storm which threatened to sink his ship and drown both him and his 15-year-old wife, Queen Anne, was summoned by witches. As a result of this belief, the two women ‘responsible’ were burned at the stake (one still alive at the time).

Although James believed witches were to be destroyed, he did find some court procedures to be conscientiously objectionable. “He ended one of the most dubious forms of condemnation, that of denunciation by children at a time when the courts were prepared to accept any flight of fancy by impressionable children as evidence.” This injunction occurred after James took time to investigate two cases involving children. In the first, nine-year-old Jennet Device testified against her eleven-year-old sister and against her mother who were both then hanged in 1582. The second case regarded the young John Smith of Leicester. Smith “feigned fits and the vomiting of pins to frame old women for casting a spell on him. Nine were already hanged on his evidence when James I intervened. At the King’s behest, the boy was dispatched to the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Within weeks he broke down and confessed.” Denunciation by children would no longer be accepted in court.

In his later years, James came to realize that many witchcraft accusations were maliciously falsified.

Regardless, it was James I who authorized the translation of the King James Bible. Under his control, the soon to be oft-quoted Exodus 22:18 was changed from “Thou must not suffer a poisoner to live” to “Thou must not suffer a witch to live.”

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