Northamptonshire Witch Trials

Northamptonshire Witch Trials

The Northamptonshire Witch Trials mainly refer to five executions carried out on July 22 1612 at Abington Gallows, Northampton. In 1612 at the Lent Assizes held in Northampton Castle a number of women and a man were tried for witchcraft of various kinds, from murder to bewitching of pigs. There are two main accounts of these witches being tried. However they differ on how many witches were tried, who they were and exactly what they were supposed to have done.

One account is a manuscript of unknown authorship referenced as B.L. (British Library) Sloane 972 (f. 7) in which the writer shows an interest in the two witches' victims, Mistress Elizabeth Belcher and her brother Master William Avery. It names Agnes Browne and daughter Joan Browne (or Vaughan), Jane Lucas, Alce Harrys, Catherine Gardiner, and Alce Abbott and states they were jointly indicted for harming Belcher and Avery. Arthur Bill, Helen Jenkenson and Mary Barber are not mentioned, but does mention three women of the Wilson family. The text of the manuscript is reproduced here in full [Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750, Marion Gibson, Continuum London, 2003, p54]

The second source comes from a pamphlet of 1612 titled The Witches of Northamptonshire (London, 1612) [Early Modern Witches by Mary Gibson] also an unknown author reproduced here [Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing by Marion Gibson, p159] . Who details the immoral lives of the witches and the godliness of their victims and misses out a few actual facts of the Belcher/Avery story and recants gossip rather than having a personal acquaintance with the trial.The pamphlet focuses on Agnes Browne and her daughter Joan Browne(or Vaughan), Arthur Bill, Helen Jenkenson and Mary Barber. Bill, Jenkenson and Barber were unconnected to the murder case of Belcher/Avery and came from a different part of Northamptonshire.

It maybe possible that the witches were arranged on different days, by different juries, and that each writer was only present at some of the trials. The Belcher/Avery cases was quite sensational at the time with its well-born but strangely afflicted victims, whilst other witch trials being secondary. This was because their cases were everyday or because they were less directly involved. Some witches may have been acquitted and so less important to reporters and readers. [Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750, Marion Gibson, Continuum London, 2003]

They may have been a precursor to the Pendle witch trials which began some weeks later, ending in executions in August of the same year.


Those executed at Northampton were: [Robbins, Russell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft andDemonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959]

* Arthur Bill of Raunds
* Mary Barber of Stanwick
* Agnes Browne of Guilsborough
* Joan Browne/Vaughan (daughter of Agnes) of Guilsborough
* Helen Jenkinson of Thrapston

The trials may also refer to two women: Elinor Shaw and Mary Philips, who were burned at Northampton in 1705 for witchcraft. They reputedly made a jailor dance naked in the courtyard for a full hour [Marshall, F. (1866) A brief history of witchcraft with especial reference to the witches of Northamptonshire: Collected in great part from original sources. UK: J. Taylor & Son] .

Others accused

Although the above were recorded in the original tracts of the time [L'Estrange Ewen, C. (1970/1977) Witchcraft and Demonianism: a concise account derived from sworn depositions and confessions obtained in the Courts of England and Wales. UK: Frederick Muller Ltd & UK: Heath Cranton Limited] , subsequent tracts have also mentioned the following women as accused in 1612, but without evidence that they were ever executed:

* Katherine Gardiner
* Joan Lucas
* Alice Harris
* Alice Abbott
* Three 'Wilsons'

In addition, Arthur Bill's mother and father are also said to have been dunked and both floated, condemning them as witches. Ewen explains that the tracts suggest they both committed suicide in prison although there is an alternate story in the same book which says that the father renounced his family to save his own neck after which the mother slit her throat rather than stand trial.

This was the first recorded use of "water-ordeal" in England in order to test witches. [Geography of Witchcraft By Montague Summers]

Finally there is mention of one Mother Rhodes who lived just outside Ravensthorpe [Renton, E. L. & Renton, E. L. (1929/2000) The Records of Guilsborough, Nortoft and Hollowell. UK: T Beaty Hart Ltd. Available from Guilsborough village shop.] , the next village up from Guilsborough. There is further reference to her in the folklore of Guilsborough.


A Brief Abstract of the Arraignment of nine Witches at Northampton, July 21st 1612 - [] Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550-1750 By Marion Gibson

The Witches of Northamptonshire - [] Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing By Marion Gibson

Witchcraft in England, 1558-1618 by Barbara Rosen []

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