22nd January 1735/6. Witchcraft!
In Old Testament Jewish Torah (or Mosaic Law) witchcraft was a capital offence and revived in England from 1542 until 1736; thereafter the ducking-stool sufficed.
‘After said twenty-fourth of June no prosecution shall be commenced against persons [1735/6] for witchcraft, sorcery, Inchantment or Conjuration’ (1)
It was Today in the 1735/6 Session of Parliament, (having met on the 15th), that Mr Conduit moved to repeal the Statute of King James the First intituled (sic) an Act against Conjuration and Witchcraft.
The 1735 Act for the first time recognized that Magic is impossible and an Act that now punished perpetrators as vagrants or con-artists and replaced the Scottish Act (1563) and 1604 English Act.(2)
It saw the end of traditional witchcraft as a legal offence in Britain and any accused under the Act was restricted to people falsely pretending to procure spirits such as fortune-tellers and mediums. The Act repealed both the King James Act and the Queen Mary Act.
Back in the early 17thc King James I had his obsessions against tobacco and was paranoid about witchcraft. ‘To anyone who bothered to read his crazy tract Daemonologie, it would have been obvious that this was roughly equivalent to becoming a leading authority on unicorns, but anyone hoping for the King’s favour knew how to keep such rational thoughts to oneself.’(3)
One case of hundreds was that of Joan Flower and her two daughters, arrested on a charge of witchcraft and taken to Lincoln for interrogation. Disgruntled former employees of Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland of Belvoir Castle, and one of the nation’s richest men, they had been accused of causing the death of both his sons who had sickened and died. Joan later died in captivity and her two daughters were found guilty and hanged.
A secret ointment mentioned in trials was made from wild plants such as caustic, caper spurge sap, (which acted as a vector for other ingredients to pass through skin), henbane, deadly nightshade (hallucinogen) and aconite (narcotic) along with goose grease.(4)
In the late 19thc with increased education, belief in witchcraft faded so no longer would ugly old women living on their own and capable of giving the ‘evil eye’ which supposedly caused all manner of disasters from sheep scab, child death to lame horses.
In October 1851 the Fraudulent Mediums Act of English and Wales prohibited claims to be a psychic medium or other spiritual attempts to deceive to make money. This and the 1735/6 Act was to be repealed on 26th May 2008 and replaced by the European Union inspired Consumers Protection Regulation concerning unfair sales. Very prosaic!
In 1951 the last Witchcraft Acts were repealed at the instigation of Spiritualists and Mediums and amazingly the last convicted under the 1735 Act was Jane Rebecca Yorke as late as 1944.
(1) As the 1735/36 Act said. Two dates due to the start of the New Year being indeterminate until change of Calendar in 1752.
(2) The Accession to the Journal of the Lords 1604 Bill was read for the first time on 2nd March. A new Bill was brought in on 2nd April, on the 7th May amendments were read and on 11th May were read in Commons for the first time. A month later it was passed and returned to the Lords.
(3) Quoted in Witches: A Tale of Sorcery Scandal and Seduction Tracy Borman Jonathan Cape 2013.
(4) It was these rather than the gruesome use of limbs of children, as the ‘Witch Hunters’ Manual ‘malleus maleficarum’ suggested.
Ref: guardian.org: Article: Witches and their Trials in 17thc. Nichols Lezard 30.9.2014. Review of Tracey Borman’s book re 6th Earl of Rutland.