I am of an age where I have seen many presidential elections come and go and I have to say, this one, with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, is very disappointing. Apart from the Mr Trump’s rhetoric and his daily pronouncements of what he will or won’t do if he becomes the next president of America, for me, the most unpleasant aspect of this whole debate has been listening to the tone of the vilification of Hillary Clinton.
First of all, as an Englishwoman, who does not live in the US, I will obviously have a different view from an American citizen but I have followed the Trump vs Clinton election quite closely. Over the months, I have increasingly gained an uneasy suspicion that there is an underlying issue with this lady because, dare I say it, she is a woman. Not only is she a woman but a very intelligent one at that and in the world of politics, still dominated by men, that may make it easier to brand her as being ‘evil’. I hear some voices shouting, “No, that is feminist crap,” but I would ask those who say this, to look a little closer at what is being said about Hillary Clinton.
To begin with, I have never heard a male contender to the White House being called, ‘the embodiment of evil.’ Then there are the ‘hate Hillary campaigns’, where the word ‘evil’ regularly pops up. This is very disturbing.
Joanne Cronrath Bamberger writes in her book that “Clinton evokes extreme and varied emotions among voters in a way no other candidate in recent memory has.” I believe that this is largely due to her being a woman. She is, after all, the only woman that has ever stood for the presidency. If a woman is not perfect, if she is a bit tough, outspoken and not doing what a woman is ‘supposed to do’, then she runs the risk of being attacked. The best way to do that is to drag up those old finger-pointing, destructive and disgusting accusations and we all know what they are. We are back to the witch-hunting days. I think that Hillary Clinton is just a perfect target for this kind of abuse.
In the old days, it was usually women of beauty that attracted accusations of being ‘evil’ or a ‘witch’, but the equivalent today might be a powerful woman. Hillary has such capacity, in as much as she is obviously wealthy and has held a high, official offices in the USA government.
I hear those voices still calling me a feminist. Well, go on the internet and see the ‘devil Hillary images’. They are disgusting. And for Mr Trump to call this lady, any lady, the devil, is evil in itself. I believe that this language is unintelligent. But it is not just Trump who has associated Hillary Clinton with the devil.
I was astonished to read that because Hillary once said that she read a book (and found it useful) called the Rules for Radicals, whose author, Saul Alinsky, maintained that Lucifer was the original radical (I think I have this correct, not having read the book myself), she was branded as somehow being a follower of the devil. I find this unbelievable. It has been claimed by some that Alinsky was one of Hillary’s heroes and mentors and that her admiration for this man’s work somehow meant she felt admiration for Lucifer, aka the devil.
What next? Anyone reading Mein Kampf and finding something interesting in it must of course themselves be a murderous, lunatic Nazi? Alinski appears to be criticised for believing in the devil. I am confused … isn’t it the case that some major religions do so as well? Anyway, that is not my argument. I just feel that to associate Hillary Clinton with the devil via a book she did not write herself, is ludicrous.
Another story written about Hillary relates to her accepting an appointment to represent a man (in 1975) who had been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. She managed to get the rape charge reduced to ‘fondling a minor’, for which the man served some prison time. It was claimed that Hillary knew the man was guilty and that by her actions, made a choice; that being to reign in Hell rather than to serve in Heaven. These are strong words. I make no judgement on such a claim, as I do not know the truth of this case but I wonder if the words used to describe Hillary might have been written about a man, if he had done the same thing?
But the most unsettling language I have heard comes from an American radio host, who maintains that Hillary Clinton and President Obama are from hell and that they are both, literally, the devil, Hillary being a ‘psychopathic demon.’
The gentlemen states that people around her say she is so dark now and so evil and so possessed that they are having nightmares and freaking out. One piece of ‘evidence’ of this is said to be that both Clinton and Obama smell of evil and sulphur, attracting flies when no one else does. Interesting to note … one of these devils is black, the other, a woman.
So, there we have it. Only time will tell if the next president of the United States of America will be a woman and, if it is, how she will cope with the accusations of being evil, because I do not believe they will go away.
I personally think that it is fair game to make any politician accountable for their actions and I am not an expert on Hillary Clinton and her past deeds or whether or not they were good or bad. I just get concerned when the words ‘evil’ and ‘devil’ are brought into the arguments and believe they are a dangerous, backward step. Surely, we have moved on since the ‘devil woman’ times?
Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox: Joanne Cronrath Bamberger 2015 https://www.amazon.com/Love-Her-Not-Hillary-Paradox/dp/1631528068
Well, I have not done what I hoped to do, and that was write a regular blog and finish my latest book. It was not writer’s block … it was life.
I moved to France at the end of last year, along with my husband, daughter and granddaughters. It has been an epic move, a crazy experience and also, very hard, but that had nothing to do with France. It is absolutely wonderful here and one of the best things we have done in our lives. No, the logistics of uprooting our lives from the UK to here was hard and on top of that, I have been ill and also lost a beloved brother. So, lots to deal with and in a new country as well. I just had to put my latest book, Elyse, on hold.
But I am back to the keyboard now and back to my book. I am in the process of re-reading Elyse, so as to get myself back into the early 1700s and back into my story. So far, I am quite happy with it. I am always surprised at what I write (when I read it a while later) and am pleased if I do not want to put the book down … always a good sign. One hopes that others feel the same way.
On that note, I find I am also interested (I think that’s the word) in the very different views that others have about my books. It is hard to put your work out there for criticism … much harder than I ever thought it would be. But if you want to publish your work, well, you have to. You have to take the hard criticisms as well as the praise. It is still odd though, how one person can absolutely love your book, whilst another tells people not to even bother reading it! Very odd. What you have to do, I think, is be grateful for the praise and good reviews and not get disheartened or upset by the bad ones. Thankfully, I have only had one bad review on the three books I have written so far in this series. I hope that is the only one I get but who knows.
Anyway, I am hoping to finish Elyse soon and then I will be straight into Esobel. There will be two (or three … not sure yet) more books after that in this series. The funny thing is, I said some years ago (before we had definitely made up our minds to come here) that the last book in the Evening Wolves series would be based in France … and it will be.
During the English Civil War of the 1640s, a man named Matthew Hopkins proclaimed himself the ‘Witchfinder General’, although that title was never bestowed upon him officially by Parliament. His witch-hunting activities mainly took place in the eastern counties of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and occasionally in the more central counties of Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire.
Hopkins’ witch-finding crusade began in March 1644 and ended in 1647, when he retired from his busy career. During those brief three years, he and his associate, John Stearne, spread terror and death across these counties with their zealous witch- hunting and were responsible for more people being hanged for witchcraft in England than had occurred in the previous 100 or so years.
Hopkins and Stearne brought a new energy to searching out those who had made ‘a pact with the Devil’. Having sex with Satan was now seemingly rampant in the eastern counties of the country and incidences of suspected witches signing the Devil’s book with their blood, abounded, according to Hopkins and his sidekick.
When this pact is made, the witch’s souls are given to their ‘master’ in exchange for diabolical favours, such as wealth, fame, power, youth and knowledge. It is a bargain made in hell. Sometimes though, according to writings of the time, some of those who signed or marked oaths and covenants of allegiance to the Devil received nothing. One may wonder why then they should risk their eternal souls in this way.
Those who made this pact, promised Satan they would kill children or devote them to him at the moment of birth, so midwives were prime targets for Hopkins and Stearne, when, as was common in that time, babies often died at birth. Taking part in Sabbaths and having sex with demons was another activity of those who had signed the book. Once the pact had taken place, according to witch trials and inquisitions, they left a ‘diabolical mark’ where the person had been touched by the Devil to seal the agreement. Hopkins and his associate enthusiastically searched their victims for these marks as proof to determine that the pact was indeed made, so they could secure convictions and cause more innocent people to go to their deaths. If they could not find any such visible marks, they would ‘discover’ invisible ones by having the suspects pricked with knives and special needles. This spawned another industrious group of torturers called ‘witch prickers’. They shaved the victim of all their body hair so they could search for moles, birthmarks or anything that could be proclaimed as the Devil’s mark. The witch’s familiar, an animal, such as a cat or dog, drank the witch’s blood from this place.
Interestingly, torture in England during this time was actually unlawful but the ever resourceful Hopkins still managed to get away with using techniques such as sleep deprivation to gain his desired confession. Another method he used was cutting the arm of the suspect with a blunt knife. If this did not cause bleeding, then the accused was a witch. Then of course there was the old tried and tested method of ‘swimming’. As witches had supposedly renounced their baptism, water would obviously reject them. The poor suspects were tied to a chair and thrown into water. Those who floated were witches. Those that did not, basically drowned, unless retrieved in a timely manner, which was often not the case. It is said that Hopkins was warned against using this act (unless he had the accused’s permission to do so) but he seems to have ignored that and he continued to do it. Ironically, the practice of swimming was legally stopped in 1645 because of Hopkins appetite for it; although we know from records, it was done to other poor souls after this time.
Hopkins and his accomplices were said to have been responsible for the deaths of some 300 women between 1644 and 1646. As fewer than 500 people had been executed in the whole of England over a period of 300 years (between the 15th and 18th centuries) Hopkins and Stearne’s activities accounted for something like 60 per cent of the total. In their short campaign, these cruel madmen sent to the gallows more people than all the other witch-hunters in England did over the previous 160 years.
If anyone had made a pact with the Devil and signed his book, it was Matthew Hopkins and John Sterne. Let us hope their souls are paying the appropriate price.
My agent suggested changing the cover of Elizabeth to a female’s face and eyes and I agreed that she was right. Once the cover of the next two books in the Evening Wolves series had been designed and published, we decided that it would be best to give a similar look to the first one. So, after searching for the ‘right’ image for Elizabeth, we used the beautiful face of Nic Button, whose work as a model was familiar to us. She just has those lovely eyes and that perfect stare we wanted.
This also coincides with the big summer promotion we are doing with Elizabeth next week. I am currently being re-branded and re-launched by web designer, Jane Kelly, and this involves a complete new look for me on the internet and social media. Jane is the lady who is working her magic on my new logo, new website and the ‘new’ me.
I am very excited with what she has created so far. As a complete social media illiterate (I can barely text), I am glad she has taken on this task for me. I love her ideas, her enthusiasm and her abilities. We live in the electronic age and it is a very powerful medium that I was not embracing. After my ‘make-over’, I will at last feel like I have caught up with this decade.
Our search now is for the cover of ‘Elyse’, which is the fourth book being published in the Evening Wolves series.
Still working on Elyse. I feel that I should have finished it by now but I have to stop and start my writing. There is just so much happening in my life that I am really struggling to find the time to do it. Today, I decided to read through the book again as far as I have got with it.
Because I am taking some time over getting this story written, I feel the need to go back and review what I have already done. I have gone through the first 30 odd pages and have made a few tiny changes but by and large, I am happy with the way it reads so far.
I will try and get through as much as possible tonight and then get back to it tomorrow. All I can do is grab as much time as I can to write and then get on with it. Easier said than done but I will try. This book has to be finished within the next couple of months as I have the next one in my brain.
As I head towards the end of a book I can’t wait to get started on the next. There are three or four more books in this series, so I have plenty to do.
Anyway, I will get back to my reading and editing.
On the 13th June, 1782, Anna Göldi was executed for murder in Glarus and became known as the last witch in Switzerland. Her accuser was a physician called Johann Jakob Tschudi, who Anna had worked as a maidservant for, for some seventeen years. Tschudi reported her to the authorities for putting needles in the bread and milk of one of his daughters, seemingly via devilish means. According to documents found in local archives, after the eight-year-old girl fell ill, she began to have coughing fits in which she spat up pins.
Anna was arrested and tortured, under which she admitted that she had entered a pack with the Devil, who came to her in the guise of a black dog. She withdrew this confession when the torture stopped but was still sentenced to death by decapitation.
Rather than hold a ‘witchcraft’ trial, this was avoided by her charges being stated as ‘poisoning’ and the court protocols were destroyed to wipe out all allegations of pacts with the Devil having to be used as evidence against Anna.
Following her execution, there was uproar across Switzerland and Rome, the Holy Empire.
It took over 200 years after Anna’s dreadful death by decapitation, for the Swiss parliament (in August 2008) to decide to exonerate her for this crime, on the grounds that she had been subjected to an illegal trial. Jakob Tschudi, her employer, had falsely and maliciously accused Anna of this crime after she threatened to reveal their love affair. Evil as this was, Tschudi was not alone in this violation. The authorities at the time willingly accepted his accusations and zealously acted on them.
It was Fritz Schiesser, the representative for Glarus in the Swiss parliament, who, in 2007, called for this injustice to be recognised and now there is a memorial for Anna in Glarus, consisting of two permanently lit lamps on the side of the court house.
A plaque on the building’s facade explains the lamps’ significance.
“The memorial is an expression of atonement for the injustice that took place here. It will be an eternal light for Anna Göldi.”
It all began with a visit to a reference library in town.
I was doing some research into the local history surrounding the village where I live and came across an article in an old newspaper cutting, which talked of the village pond being used for ducking witches, back in to 1600s. The pond is fairly shallow now but back then, it was reportedly much bigger (which I knew from old maps), and also, much deeper.
I looked for more information about this but couldn’t locate any. During my search however, I found a number of accounts describing the trials and executions of witches across the county. I sat mesmerised, and then appalled, as I read these reports. The events were recorded so matter-of-factly and yet they involved hundreds of poor souls who suffered dreadful deaths; mostly women, a few men, and even children.
Most of the victims were hanged but some were burnt to death, no doubt after horrendous torture, including being crushed by stones or ducked … this often causing death by drowning anyway. I left the library that day feeling rather depressed.
I have been interested in the obsessive witch-hunting that occurred right across Europe during the 1600, 1700, and even into the 1800s for many years, but reading these accounts brought the reality of it all to me, and not in a pleasant way. It also got me thinking about a story that had been swirling around in my head for some time, so I decided to get on and write it. That was ‘Elizabeth’.
I enjoyed writing this book and also doing the research for it. I am not a native of Yorkshire, which is where the story is located but I have visited it a few times. I did a fair bit of reading to find out more about the region and also the dialect in Yorkshire in the 1950s. ‘Elizabeth’ is set during this time.
I chose to place the story in Yorkshire for a number of reasons. My ancestors came from there; my paternal family name being from the region and also, even in the 1950s, there were still some very remote villages and communities where the happenings in my book might well have occurred.
Elizabeth was only intended to be fairly short, one-off story but my daughter liked it so much, she wanted more. So the ‘Evening Wolves’ series was born and I began to write the prequels; we decided that my books should go back in time to where it all began. The write-up for the book gives more of an outline to the story, so I will not set it out here.
In Elizabeth, there is the first mention of the rich and powerful Addington family, as they are known in later books. The lives of this dynasty are intrinsically entwined to hers and to those of her ancestors throughout the following stories in the Evening Wolves series. Toby, a son from this family, is Elizabeth’s first love but their relationship is doomed and short-lived. Why this ended as it did is revealed in ‘Eve’s’ story, which is the next book in the series.
‘Eve’ is the story of Elizabeth’s grandmother (Mother Eve). I enjoyed writing Elizabeth and did a fair bit of research for it but I had to do much more for Eve. Her story spans almost 100 years and some very dramatic events in history. I wanted to get my facts straight to sensibly incorporate them into the book. I wrote the whole story in about 6 months, even though it is 3 times larger than Elizabeth. I am a quick writer and the narrative flowed fairly easily. I have to say, I got thoroughly immersed in this book and found it difficult to put the writing of it down from the very first page.
I do not do much pre-planning for my books. I have a rough idea of a story, but I let the direction develop as I am writing it. I know the end … that’s about it really. I let the characters pop up, introduce themselves to me and if I think they belong in the story, I include them. I rarely change much in a chapter once I have written it, although of course I do editing after it is finished. At this point, I might remove or change sentences or add more. This is probably normal for other writers, I do not know, as I have never studied what anyone else does. I have my own way of doing things and stick to it. I am also a fairly lazy author, as I should write down all the dates, characters, their details and actions etc., and most of the time, I do not. I rely on my memory, which is rubbish at times. I am trying to do more recording of details with the books I am currently writing though, as I am sure it must save time not having to keep looking back and refreshing my mind on names, dates and story lines. I also, in each book, set the scene for the one that follows. Because they are prequels, this can be a bit tricky. As I am writing a book, I have to consider the main character and some content of the next one in the series. It is a challenge but interesting, all the same.
The book I wrote after Eve is almost ready to be published. I finished it earlier this year but have had a lot of things to deal with in my life, so publishing has been delayed. It is called ‘Elisa’. She is Eve’s grandmother … yes, there is a theme happening here. I am going back to grandmothers each time I tell a story in this series. This usually takes me back quite a few decades, which is important for the stories and also creates a fairly large time gap. I am now dealing with periods where there actually wasn’t a great deal of change in the communities or even in the world at large, apart from during Eve’s time, and keeping the story alive is not always easy.
The other challenge in using a lineage of females is changing the ‘characters’ of the characters, so to speak. Making Eve different to Elizabeth was easy, as the changes in the world from the middle 1800s to the 1950s were huge and thus affected the people’s lives in the stories quite dramatically. Women in the late 1800s would have had a very different education, family role and other expectations from those in the 1900s. That period saw vast changes across all aspects of life and of those living through that time, my characters included.
Making the character of Elisa significantly different from Eve’s required some thought. I had created Eve as a strong, virtuous woman; an almost saintly type of a character. I decided therefore to make Elisa less virtuous and certainly not as ‘good’ as her granddaughter. She is still strong but in a different way to Eve. She is also more ruthless. Going further back in time again, required deeper research. Elisa is born in 1813 into a very different world to that of her granddaughter, Eve. My story had to reflect this. Life was simpler but harder, darker and more fragile. My research unearthed some pitiful aspects of living in this time and I incorporated them into my story. I enjoyed writing Elisa and developing a slightly more sinister main character. It was fun.
I am currently working on the prequel to Elisa, called ‘Elyse’. She is a different character again from her granddaughter and as this story begins in 1746, the world she inhabits is unlike Elisa’s in many aspects, although there are of course similar threads of existence that run through the 1700 and 1800s. Even greater historical research is required for this story. I am currently on chapter eleven and I have no idea how large this book will be, just as I did not plan the size of the others in this series. I just tell a story and it finishes where it ends. Like all the main characters in the Evening Wolves books, Elyse faces her own difficulties and traumas. She is a gentler female than her granddaughter, Elisa, and not so ruthless. However, she is just as powerful.
I am taking longer to write this than the other three books, as there is still a lot going on in my life and I have not been able to put the time in on this novel. Because I had to put the work down for a while, I am currently re-reading it to pick up the story so far. However, I hope to finish chapter eleven this week and begin writing in earnest from now on.
I will let you know how I get on.
Amelia Moore is an author who writes fictional stories surrounding the topic of witchcraft. All set in the past, her narratives draw on historical facts. Using her background in research, she studies the witch-hunting obsession across Europe during the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s. Amelia uses this material to support the characters and events in her tales. For her reader’s interest, she writes articles on the witchcraft trials and their tragic consequences. She believes that we must not forget these terrible episodes in our past as they can still tell us much about humanity, even today.
This is the story of the Bideford Witches
On the 25th August 1682, three women were hanged for witchcraft at Heavitree gallows, in Bideford, North Devon. The women became known as The Bideford Witches. Their names were Temperance Floyd, Susanna Edwards and Mary (Floyd) Trembles. They were reportedly the last known people to be executed for witchcraft in England, although there are reliable accounts of executions happening around the country much later than this date.
There is a memorial tablet in the gatehouse of Rougemont Castle, Exeter, marking this dreadful event and on it there mentions a fourth woman, Alice Molland. It is not clear if Alice was actually put on trial and executed at the same time as the other three women or, as has been suggested in some writings, she was tried and sentenced to death for witchcraft some 3 years later. There has been no record found of what actually happened to her.
The story of this trial is preserved in The Book of Bideford, which was written in 1792 by John Watkins, a local historian of that area. It is the first historical account of the Bideford witchcraft trials of 1682. He maintained that these unfortunate women were the victims of ignorance and hatred and the evidence against them was no more than malicious rumour and hearsay. Watkins wrote, “there was always some poor devil, either on account of an unlucky visage, sour temper, or wretched poverty, set up as the object of terror and universal hatred.”
After the 1600’s witch-hunting craze in England had somewhat abated, most witch trials actually ended in acquittal. The Bideford trials were therefore exceptional, and on two counts. Bideford was a reasonably cultured town, not some isolated, rural village where ignorance and superstition had seen most of the witchcraft ‘events’ occurring. Secondly, these trials ended in execution.
So how did this tragedy happen?
It all began one Saturday in July 1682, with a local shopkeeper by the name of Thomas Eastchurch. He informed the town’s constables that he suspected Temperance Floyd of using witchcraft on Grace Thomas, another local, causing her to become sick. Why he did this is not known. The accusation made against Temperance was that she used magical arts upon the person of Grace Thomas. She was arrested and charged with this offence, plus another of communicating with the Devil in the shape of a black man.
Following Eastchurch’s accusation, other people in the community came forward and added more to the list. One in particular came from Anne Wakely, who reported that she had seen a magpie fly into Grace Thomas’s bedroom window. She said that Temperance had previously told her that she was sometimes visited by a bird, which changed into the likeness of a black man. Eastchurch then added that he heard Temperance confess once that a black man had persuaded her to go to Grace’s house to ‘pinch and prick’ her.
Grace then claimed that on the night of the 1st June, she suffered:
“Sticking and pricking pains, as though pins and awls had been thrust into her body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, and she lay as though it had been upon a rack.”
Grace claimed to have suffered a further attack on the 30th June and not long after, saw a cat go into Eastchurch’s shop; the cat being another manifestation of the Devil.
At first, Temperance denied using witchcraft to harm anyone. However, when Grace insisted she had marks of nine pin pricks in her knee, it is recorded that Temperance became confused. No doubt this was more terror than confusion but none-the-less, she apparently admitted to driving a pin into a piece of leather nine times. Two more women then came forward, Grace Barnes and Dorcas Coleman, also claiming to have suffered at the hands of Temperance and her magic. The wretched woman eventually admitted to all of these charges. She also admitted to causing the deaths of three other inhabitants of Bideford and blinding another in one of their eyes. Temperance Lloyd was subsequently sent to Exeter gaol on the 8th July 1682.
Two more local women, Mary (Floyd) Trembles and Susanna Edwards were then denounced by their neighbours. It was reported that they had both been seen in the company of Temperance, begging for food in the town. So, they too were arrested and incarcerated, with her, on the 19th July.
By the time the justices arrived at Exeter, the whole city was gripped with curiosity about the so-called witches, and tales of their magical acts and Devilish goings-on abounded. By the time the trial began, the good people of Exeter were almost hysterical and ridiculous claims of what the women had done whipped up a fanatical resolve in seeing them punished by death. The brother of Lord North, the presiding judge at the trial, claimed that, “the country people would have committed some disorder if they (the women) were acquitted.”
With this ominous backdrop, the trial of the three accused took place on 19th August. Like all witchcraft trials in England, it was not conducted in the usual legalistic manner. Witchcraft was considered to be a crime apart from all others and suspicion alone was adequate grounds for accusation and charging. Being absent from the scene of the crime was not considered to be an alibi and even children were allowed to act as witnesses for the prosecution. All that was required for a conviction was ‘proof’ of some kind, such as an unnatural mark on the suspect’s body, an accusation being made by another witch, or testimonies from those who had witnessed the suspect making a pact with the Devil. (The latter could be in the form of a simple encounter with an animal).
All of these factors were put forward in the trial of the Bideford women as evidence of their guilt. Temperence was accused of having unnatural teats on her body for the Devil to suckle. This was not required to be proven however, as she, like the other two women, admitted their guilt. Sir Thomas Raymond, one of judges sitting, actually allowed these ludicrous accusations and guilty statements to stand in his court and raised no objection to the jury finding the suspects guilty of all charges made against them. What is disturbing about this account is that none of the women even attempted to deny the charges made against them. Instead, according to Watkin’s writings, they seemed somewhat weary of the whole episode and resigned to their fate. No doubt they were terrified and possibly, in their ignorance, actually began to believe they were indeed witches. Whatever was the case, Roger North, the judge’s brother, commentated, “they (the women) had a great skill to convict themselves. Their description of the sucking devils with saucer-eyes was as natural that the jury could not choose but believe them.”
Any possibility of a reprieve was also quashed. Lord North wrote to the Secretary of State, who had the power to save the lives of the three women, and advised him to rule that the executions go ahead. He warned him that if they did not, there might actually be a public uprising. There was also the law to consider. If these women were not executed, then the judiciary could be accused themselves of denying the existence of witches. This might then give rise to the old practice of illegal witch-hunts. So the State, for political reasons, allowed these poor, ignorant women to be put to death.
Their executions took place on 25th August 1682. As they stood next to the gallows, each woman denied all of the charges made against them. It was as if they suddenly found their voices. Nothing was going to prevent their dying so horribly however.
Susanna Edwards was the first to be hanged, followed by Mary (Floyd) Trembles and then Temperance Floyd.
May their souls be at peace for this grave injustice made against them.
John Watkins – The Book of Bideford (1792)
Devon Life – The Bideford Witches of North Devon, Devon’s fascinating history (2010)
Devon History Society – Bideford: Watkins and witches (2014)
Nicky Joy (2011)
We read about the witch trials of the 1500s and 1600s that occurred in our country, and we are shocked and appalled. We read about how, when events happened that people living in those times did not understand and/or had no explanation for, someone, usually a woman (over 80% of accused witches were female), was blamed for causing it. All it took was suspicion to be laid at their feet by a spurious connection or by an accusation from another person, even if made by a child or extracted from some poor soul by torture. This would then be taken up by the authority figures in the village or town and there you had it; a normal, average, law abiding subject of the crown (usually a poor peasant) suddenly became an evil follower of Satan. A ‘guilty’ outcome was almost always a surety, followed by devastatingly cruel torture and the punishment metered out for this ‘crime’; mostly some form of hideous execution.
How could we have been so ignorant to have acted in this manner we ask? How could we have accused innocent people, especially women, of doing some of the dreadful things they were charged with; killing and eating babies, amongst many, many other ghastly acts? Were tens of thousands of women so different a few hundred years ago from the females of today?
We console ourselves with the fact that this all happened a long time ago, when we did not have the education and knowledge that we now possess, and state with some certainty that this kind of unjust treatment of women could not happen again, not now, not in this century and not in a highly civilised western country such as ours.
Unfortunately, I believe, on some levels it can and does. Not the extreme act of eating babies of course, but our society is capable of accusing innocent people (mostly women, again) of killing their own babies, and then punishing them for this crime. Such acts give rise to an uncomfortable feeling of similarity to our old witch hunting days.
There is much material available to examine, and a great deal of study has been undertaken into maternal filicide, defined as child murder by the mother, infanticide, the killing of an infant, and neonaticide, a term used to describe the killing of a newborn baby. According to some researchers, hundreds of such killings (neonaticide) by mothers go undetected every year. How can this be true? If neonaticides were/are not detected, then how would anyone know they actually occurred?
There is no suggestion in this article that maternal filicide, infanticide and noenaticide do not occur; it would be a senseless and stupid remark to make. What is suggested however is that there should be more diligence and caution in our medical and judicial system when dealing with these tragic, traumatic and harrowing events.
In the UK, there were some high profile cases in the late 1990s and early 2000s, of women being wrongfully accused and imprisoned for killing their own babies’, one such woman was imprisoned wrongly for 11 years. It is not the purpose of this article to identify and discuss the individual details of these women, or their cases. This has been written elsewhere by some who are far more expert and knowledgeable than me of these tragic occurrences and the legal issues involved with them.
The point of this piece is to add my concern to the existing voices of how these women’s lives, and those of their families, have been irrevocably damaged (in some cases destroyed) because of the miscarriages of justice they suffered. Yet, some (not all) of their accusers are apparently allowed to continue with their careers and lives without censure. The heartbreaking deaths of these infants, in the case of the women referred to here, were often, in the first instance, attributed to being ‘cot deaths’ (SIDS), which stands for sudden infant death syndrome. This diagnosis is given when an apparently healthy baby dies without any warning and no other obvious reason can be found. With around 300 cot deaths in the UK every year, SIDS sadly remains the most common cause of death in newborn babies. The woman who spent 11 years of her life behind bars before having her conviction overturned, was found guilty of ‘shaken baby syndrome’ (SBS).
At some point during the investigations of all the women wrongfully imprisoned, the fatalities of their babies were blamed on them, the mothers. In each case, these women were accused of murder, largely because no other cause could be identified for the babies’ deaths, other than foul play. This is in spite of the fact that our medical experts do not completely understand the full reasons for cot deaths (SIDS), and shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is being questioned for its safety in convicting parents of babies that die from brain abnormalities (see site listed 4 below). Yet our society and judiciary have convicted, and possibly will in the future, mothers of killing their own baby based on this limited knowledge and understanding. As a woman, I find this deeply disturbing.
Anyone who reads the case notes of the innocent women acquitted since the late 1990s of murdering their baby or, in some cases, babies, should be very, very concerned. These women could be your wives, sisters, daughters or your granddaughters. The women accused and convicted of killing their own offspring did not belong to one particular social ‘class’ nor were they from any specific ethnic background. This crime has been levelled at women from across the class divide and from different cultural origins. Apparently, no mother is safe. And what of the hundreds of women who are still incarcerated for this crime? I only hope that all of their cases have been judged fairly and thoroughly. It would be a disaster and a complete travesty of justice should we see another rash of overturned convictions in the years ahead of those having been accused and imprisoned, if/when they are eventually found to be innocent of this crime. These are lost years for the female victims and their families that can never be replaced or compensated for.