Witch trials

From theislandwiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Witches were not burned alive in Jersey, as they were in Guernsey

This article by George Balleine was first published in the 1939 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Belief in Witchcraft is world-wide among simple-minded folk. In China, Africa, or Arabia, if a child falls ill or a beast goes lame, it is attributed to witches. But the movement now to be described, though based on this universal superstition, was something far more concrete and dangerous. In the 16th and 17th centuries all the Governments of Western Europe, Catholic and Protestant alike, were fighting a fanatical secret society.

A mass of evidence is now available. Witch-trial records have been printed from Somerset, Dorset, Essex, Huntingdon, Lancashire, and Yorkshire, from Bute, Lothian, Forfar, Aberdeen, and Orkney, Welsh trials, Irish trials, Guernsey trials, French trials from Brittany to Lorraine, from Arras to the Basque country, Belgian trials, German trials, Spanish trials, Italian trials, trials from the Swedish copper-mines; and it has become possible to judge what it was all about.

The idea is no longer tenable that witches were harmless old hags, murdered by superstitious neighbours, because they were hook-nosed and crotchety and perhaps a trifle cracked. Many of the prisoners were men; many of the women were young; and they were drawn from all classes. In Catholic countries the leaders were often apostate priests; in Protestant lands many were schoolmasters. The boasts of the witches themselves prove that they were not victims of unfounded suspicions. Though nothing could be gained by confession, for a death sentence inevitably followed, scores of them testified with all the fervour of early Christian martyrs that the Devil was their god, and their greatest joy the midnight Sabbats in which they met to worship him.

Jeanne Dibasson, aged 29, said the Sabbat was a very Paradise, where one had greater pleasure than could be expressed. Marie de la Ralde, aged 28, said she saw no harm in going to the Sabbat, for she found far more joy and contentment there than going to Mass, because the Devil was the True God.

This Devil-worship was clearly an organised international religion with a travelling ministry. In no other way can we account for the fact that everywhere its discipline, ritual, and methods were the same. Pendle Forest in Lancashire was then the remotest, most backward corner of England. The foresters would normally know nothing of affairs in Guernsey, Orkney, or the Basque country. Yet there and everywhere the nucleus of the local organization was a committee or coven of thirteen. Everywhere the President of the Sabbat was a man, a stranger to all present, who was regarded as indexed.

To dig out a complete list of Witch Trials would mean plodding line by line through many massive volumes, written in a queer, crabbed script that is often a kind of shorthand. This would be a lengthy task, which I have not attempted. I have, however, with the invaluable help of Mademoiselle Boisset, compiled from these and other sources a list of 66 trials, which, though many must have escaped our notice, may be taken as a cross-section of the struggle here. Let me first set them down in chronological order:


Witches were hanged in the market square and on the gallows of the Seigneurs of St Ouen and Samares
1 1562 Anne of St Brelade. Executed.
2 1562 Michelle La Blanche Vesrue of St Ouen. Executed on the gibbet of Hures at St Ouen.
3 1563 May Thomasse Becquet. Acquitted.
4 1583 Marion Corbel. Died in Castle before trial.
5 1585 Nov Jeanne Le Vesconte. Executed at St. Ouen's.
6 1585 Dec Michielle Bellee of St. Lawrence. Executed.
7 1585 Dec Pasquette Le Vesconte. (Had been previously tried and banished; but had returned and resumed her "tours et mallefices diabolicques.") Executed.
8 1585 Dec Jean Morant of St Clement, son of Philippe. Executed.
9 1585 Dec Katherine Orenges. Executed.
10 1591 Oct Symon Vauldin, of St. Brelade. Executed.
11 1591 Oct Beneste Jamet. Executed.
12 1591 Oct Katherine Bertram. Executed.
13 1591 Dec Michiel Alixandre of St. Peter. Executed.
14 1591 Dec Collas Alixandre of St. Peter (son of No 13). Acquitted.
15 1593 May Marie Poret of St Lawrence. Committed to Castle. Fate unknown
16 1597 July Pernelle Fallu. Jury disagreed. Released with warning.
17 1597 Oct Perronnelle Chevalier, widow of Mathieu Fallu. (Had been several times before arrested and warned). Executed. (Probably the same as 16).
18 1597 Dec Francoise Le Mestre. Jury disagreed. Released with warning.
19 1599 Jan Marie, widow of Michiel Alixandre (No 13). Executed.
20 1599 Dec Marie, wife of Richard Anley. Committed to Castle. Fate unknown.
21 1599 Dec Marie Le Four of Grouville. Unanimously acquitted.
22 1600 May Collette Amy. Executed.
23 1600 May Jeanne Hotton. Executed.
24 1600 May Phillipine Picot. Executed.
25 1602 June Marguerite Le Rues of St Ouen. Executed at St Ouen.
26 1602 Oct Marie Rogerez of St Ouen, wife of Jacques Le Breton. Executed at St Ouen.
27 1605 Dec Pasquette Guillaume of St Lawrence, wife of Jean Le Quesne. (Had been several times before arrested and warned). Executed.
28 1606 June Elizabeth Grandin. Jury disagreed. Released with warning. (See 55).
29 1606 June Marie Grandin. Jury disagreed. Released with warning.
30 1606 June Marguerite Le Quesne. Jury disagreed. Released with warning.
31 1608 Oct Michielle Bellenger of St Martin. Executed.
32 1608 Oct Andree Tourgis. Arrested for Witchcraft. In the course of her trial she confessed that she had killed her daughter Mabel's illegitimate baby. Executed.
33 1608 Oct Jeanne Tourgis (daughter of 32). Acquitted.
34 1608 Oct Marie Tourgis (daughter of 32). Acquitted, but put under care of wife of Rychard Hulvet as domestic servant, who was to report to the Court if she misbehaved. (See 45)
35 1608 Oct Margueritte Nyvet of St Martin. Jury disagreed. Released with severe warning.
36 1609 June Thomyne Le Dain. Executed.
37 1609 June Georgette Alixandre, wife of Jean Billot. Jury disagreed (19 found her guilty, 6 not guilty). Released, but ordered to leave the island within six weeks.
38 1611 Oct Collette Horman of St Clement. Executed.
39 1611 Oct Ysic (at her second trial called Isycles) Hardyne of St Clement. Executed.
40 1611 Oct Germaine Royl of St. Clement. Executed.
41 1611 Oct Georgette Alixandre (see 37), having returned from banishment and resumed her evil practices, again banished.
42 1611 Dec Perrine Alixandre, wife of Estienne Bertault, refused to accept trial by Enquete. She spent twelve months in the Castle on bread and water, and, as she still persisted in her refusal, the Court released her with a warning (Dec 1612).
43 1612 Dec Susanne Corbel. Committed to Castle. Fate unknown.
44 1613 Feb Jeanne Tourgis (see 33). Found guilty on her own confession of associating with witches. Because of her youth not sentenced to death, but banished. (The Jeanne Tourgis who was burnt in Guernsey in 1622 may have been the same girl; though she may not, for Tourgis is a Guernsey name).
45 1618 Oct Marie Tourgis of Grouville. Executed. (See 34).
46 1625 Jan Collas Lamy, son of Laurens. Discharged with a warning.
47 1625 Oct Marie Filleul, daughter of Thomas Filleul of St Clement, aged about 60. Executed at Samares.
48 1625 Oct Edouard Leonard, surnamed Locquet. Executed.
49 1625 Oct Raff Orenge of St Saviour, aged about 70. Executed.
50 1625 Oct Jeanne Orenge, daughter of No 49. Fate unknown.
51 1626 Jan Michelle Cosnefrey of St Martin, a native of Normandy, aged about 80. Banished.
52 1626 Oct Jeanne Umfrey, widow of Laurens Lamy of St Saviour and mother of No 46. A native of Normandy aged about 50. Banished.
53 1631 Oct Jeanne Grandin of St Martin. Executed.
54 1631 Oct Marie Grin. Refused to plead. Sent to the Castle. Fate unknown.
55 1648 June Elizabeth Grandin. Rearrested. (See No 28). Discharged with warning.
56 1648 June Marie Grandin, junior, daughter of No 55. Discharged with warning.
57 1648 June Marie Grandin of Trinity (a different person from 29 and 56). Executed.
58 1648 June Marie Esnouf of St John, daughter of Noe Esnouf and wife of John Le Cerf Executed.
59 1648 June Clement Le Cerf of St John, son of No. 58. Jury disagreed. Banished.
60 1648 June Thomasse Le Ruez, of St Ouen. Arrest ordered. Fate unknown.
61 1649 May Guillemete du Vaistain of St. Ouen's ; native of Normandy ; mother of No 60. Flogged and banished.
62 1650 May Jeanne Machon of St Martin. Refused Enquete; so banished.
63 1656 Nov Jean Le Riche, son of Edouard, of St Martin. Died in Castle before Trial.
64 1660 Jan Marie Jean of St Ouen, wife of Jean Le Dain. Executed.
65 1661 Oct Sara Lucette of St Lawrence, wife of Pierre Trachie. Banished.
66 1736 Oct Marie Godfray, wife of Etienne Machon, of St Saviour. Summoned before Ecclesiastical Court. Promised to abstain from witchcraft in future, and to disclose the names of any who came to consult her; notice to this effect to be given in all neighbouring churches.

The note 'fate unknown' placed against six cases means that we have the record of their committal to the Castle, but there seems no entry of any subsequent proceedings. Two explanations are possible. Perhaps, like 4 and 63, they died in prison before trial. Perhaps (which was not uncommon in those days) friends bribed the warders to connive at their escape.

One point obvious even from this incomplete list is that witchcraft ran in families. Five of the accused were Alixandres, not counting Judith Alixandre of Jersey, who was brought to trial in Guernsey; five were Grandins; three were Tourgis. Nos 13 and 19 were husband and wife, 49 and 50 father and daughter; 52 and 46, 58 and 59 mother and son, 32,44 and 45 mother and daughters. Another point is that, where the parishes are mentioned, seven of the accused came from St Ouen, six from St Martin, five each from St Clement and St Saviour, four from Grouville and St Lawrence, three from St Peter, two from St John and St Brelade, one from Trinity. They were of all ages. Michelle Cosnefrey was about 80, Raff Orenge about 70, Jeanne Umfrey about 50, but her son, Clement Le Cerf, cannot have been much over 30, and, since Marie Grandin 42 years later was said to be leading an immoral life, at the time of her first trial she must have been quite a young girl. Jeanne Tourgis was spared the death sentence ayant esgard a la jeunesse d'icelle.

Their social standing also varied. Two of the prisoners were accused of begging, but Marion Corbel left enough property to make it worth her heirs' while to fight a lawsuit to try to recover it. The Richard Anley whose wife was arrested was one the leading men in St Peter. His father had been Constable. Marie Esnouf was grand-daughter of a former Rector of St John. Nine of the prisoners were men.

Legal procedure

To follow these trials we must understand the old legal procedure. A person charged with a crime that might involve a death sentence was first brought before the Constable of the parish, who called in six sworn men (six Sermentés] as an informal jury. If these decided that the accused seemed plutot coupable qu'innocent, he or she was arrested and indicted before the Cour de Cattel (the Bailiff and three Jurats). Here he was asked whether he would of his own free will (volontairement et liberalement) submit his case to the Grande Enquete du Pays, a jury of 24 landowners, eight from his own parish and eight from each of the adjoining parishes. If he agreed, he was sent to Mont Orgueil till the next sitting of the Court. The jurors were chosen by the Attorney-General; but to make things fair the prisoner might challenge as many as he wished.

When this sifting was complete, and both sides had accepted the jury as free from suspicion of partiality (purgé de saon), the evidence was laid before them, and at least 20 had to return a verdict of guilty before the prisoner could be condemned. Five were sufficient for acquittal. If, however, the prisoner refused to submit his case to the Enquete, the authorities were apparently helpless. They could do nothing but send him back to the Castle, until he changed his mind. Guillemete du Vaistain, for example, (No 61), was first before the Court on 1 June 1648, and was brought up again and again, till at last, on 24 May 24 1649, the Court lost patience, and tried her on a lesser charge of immorality, which did not involve a death sentence, and so required no Enquete, and sentenced her to be "flogged from the door of the Court to the March high-tide mark, till blood ran, and banished for ever from the Island as a good-for-nothing , vicious, and pernicious member of Society". Perrine Alixandre (No 42) held out so stubbornly that at last she was released without trial.

Our list begins in the reign of Elizabeth. The first two cases come from the Chroniques de Jersey, a book written in 1585. "At this time," it says, (and the last date mentioned was October 1562), "two witches were burnt, one named Anne of the parish of St Brelade, the other named Michelle la Blanche Vestue. The said Michelle was burnt at St Ouen on the gibbet of Hures, for all criminals living on the Fief Haubert of St Ouen must be executed on that Fief, which has the right of High Justice, and their goods and property are forfeit to the Seigneur of St Ouen."

This differs from both printed versions of the Chroniques, which run "En ce temps la il y eut deux sorcières brulées, l'une à St Helier, nommée Anne Michelle de la Paroisse de St Brelade, l'autre nommée la Blanche Vestue; laquelle Michelle fut brulée à St Ouen." But this does not make sense. It first says that Michelle was burnt at St Helier, and then that she was burnt at St Ouen; nor is there any reason why a resident at St Brelade should be within the jurisdiction of the Fief Haubert. The version above is a translation of an old manuscript copy of the Chroniques in the possession of the Société Jersiaise. The Court records for this year are incomplete.

Later trials show how rigidly the Seigneurs of St Ouen and Samares claimed this grisly right.

Our third case ended in acquittal; but one cannot help wondering whether Thomasse was related to the Guernsey Becquets, who 50 years later formed a famous witch dynasty there.

Property lawsuit

We only hear of Marion Corbel (4), who died in the Castle before trial, through a lawsuit about her property. Her heirs claimed that, as she died uncondemned, her goods could not be forfeited, but the Court made a famous decision, recorded in innumerable manuscript Books of Precedents, that death does not stop forfeiture incurred by the commission of crime.

Case 5 brings our first formal sentence of the Court. I will translate it as typical of many that follow:

"2 November 1585. Whereas common report has long suspected Jeanne Le Vesconte of the diabolical art of Witchcraft, charging her with constantly using spells and wicked devices, sometimes against people, sometimes against their goods, making some ill, and curing others; and whereas complaints and scandals have so multiplied, that she has been arrested; she has voluntarily submitted the question of her guilt or innocence, her life or death, to an Enquere du Pays. The said Enquere of twenty four, having been sworn and purged of suspicion, as custom requires, has unanimously voted for her condemnation to death; according to which verdict she is sentenced to be hanged, till death ensues, and in detestation of her crime to be reduced to ashes, and all her goods, chattels, and property confiscated to the Crown or the Seigneur to whom it belongs. Whereupon the Procureur of Sir Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen, has demanded that the execution shall take place on the Fief of the said Seigneur, and this claim has been allowed in virtue of the fact that he has the right of High Justice, and that she was one of the tenants of the manor. The Viscount is to see this sentence carried out."

More interesting, however, are the confessions. Six of the prisoners frankly admitted that they practised witchcraft. Michielle Bellée (6) was condemned by the Jury "because of what they had heard from her own mouth". Pasquette Le Vesconte (7) who had "previously been arrested for witchcraft and banished for ever from the island, but had returned contrary to the said sentence, and continued to use diabolical devices and spells", was rearrested, and "confessed that she had entered into partnership with the Devil, and by his help perpetrated innumerable crimes and homicides."

This, of course, is only the Greffier's version of what she said, and perhaps the "infinys crimes et homicides" were an exaggeration; but we can accept the fact that Pasquette acknowledged that she was a Devil-worshipper. Jean Morant (8), "having been so forgetful of his salvation as to make a contract with the Devil, confessed with his own mouth his dealings with the Devil by mark and pact, confirmed by pledge and gift of one of his members, by means of which he had committed infinite mischiefs, crimes, and homicides".

The mark (merche) mentioned is the famous merche du Diable, an indelible sign stamped on the flesh of each new member of the sect. Sometimes it seems to have been branded. One French girl declared that, when the "Devil" marked her shoulder, she "felt a great heat, as if a fire had burnt her". More often it was tattooed. Again and again witches said that the Devil pricked them, till blood ran, and then rubbed the place. The result was generally a blue spot, though in some districts it took the form of a hare's foot or a crapaud. The other point in Morant's confession, the sacrifice of a limb, perhaps a finger-joint, is almost unique. It was usual for the neophyte to offer a few drops of blood as a sacrifice, but the only parallel I know to the offering of a limb is the evidence of one of the Bute witches: "The Devil took her by the middle finger of her right hand, which he almost cut off".

Black cat

Symon Vauldin (10) confessed that he "had at divers times held familiar intercourse and talks with the Devil, who appeared as a cat and then as a crow". The cat disguise was common in France. One Guernsey witch declared that the dance was led by a black cat, that one of the women gave the ritual kiss on its posterior, while the others knelt before him in worship. "They assembled before the said cat four times a week, and they adored the said cat, and the cat gave them dark bread which he bade them eat." The crow, the bird of ill omen, is a disguise I have not met elsewhere. Marie Tourgis (45) "confessed that she had caused the death of a child and bewitched a woman". Edouard Locquet (48) "voluntarily confessed that he was guilty of the execrable and diabolical crime of witchcraft, having been and still being a servant of the Devil."

And when we remember that these confessions were not extorted by torture, nor made with any hope of escaping the gallows, we can only suppose that this was the Greffier's bald and unsympathetic record of how the prisoners boldly testified to the faith that was in them. It will be noticed, however, that they do not disclose the names of their associates, nor reveal their meeting-places. Tradition declares that one of the latter was the Witches' Rock at St Clement.

The Court struck not only at the witches, but at their clients also. Jacques Le Brocq's daughter fell ill. Two of her family, Mathieu and Jean Le Brocq, went to seek a cure for the girl from a woman suspected of witchcraft. For this (6 October 1585) they were committed to the Castle, and Jacques, the father, was sent with them for allowing improper steps to be taken to heal his daughter. In 1591 the Court issued a Proclamation:

"Whereas many have in days gone by committed the heinous sin of seeking aid in time of trouble from warlocks and witches, a thing contrary to the honour of God and His express command, and a grievous insult to the Christian Faith, and to those whose duty it is to administer Justice; and whereas Ignorance is no excuse for Sin, and no one can tell what depravity and danger may ensue from such practices; in order that henceforth all may turn from these wicked and devilish cures, the use of which merits by God's Law the same penalty as is inflicted on warlocks and witches themselves, and that God's Wrath may be averted, which now threatens the Officers of Justice, because of the impunity with which these crimes are committed; all who dwell in this island are strictly forbidden to receive aid or advice in trouble from warlocks or witches or anyone suspected of witchcraft under pain of a month's imprisonment in the Castle on dry bread and water, with the reservation that they must declare in Court their excuse for such effrontery, and, according as this shall appear reasonable, be dealt with as God's Law directs."

The struggle went stubbornly on under James I, Charles I, and through the Civil War. It mattered not whether for the moment Roundheads or Royalists were in power, both alike felt it their duty to suppress the Witches. Since the Devil notoriously encouraged his disciples to do evil, it is not surprising to find that many of the arrested Devil-worshippers had previously been in trouble with the police. Marie Filleul (47) had been forbidden by the Court in 1608 "to break down the plants or fences of other people under pain of being put in the stocks". Jeanne Orenge (50) in 1625 had been publicly flogged for lewdness.

Grandin family

The Grandins were a typical bad family of the period. In 1597 Philippe Grandin had been hanged for theft. In 1606 Marie and Elizabeth Grandin (28 and 29), then quite young girls, were arrested as witches; but the jury disagreed, and they were released with a warning "not to gad about the island, nor to threaten or speak evil of anyone, under pain of being rearrested and punished for the crime with which they had been charged". The Bailiff urged them in a fatherly way "to walk in the fear of God, to attend Divine Service regularly, to live in peace and concord with their neighbours, and to labour faithfully to earn their own living, and so by honest and upright conduct to gain such a good character that their bad reputation would be forgotten".

In 1618 Barthelmy Grandin was hanged for larceny. In 1631 Jeanne Grandin (53) was hanged and then burnt for witchcraft. In 1648, 42 years after her first trial, Elizabeth Grandin (28 and 55) was rearrested for "living a lewd, wicked, and scandalous life". She was again warned to live in the fear of God, not to slander or speak ill of her neighbours, nor to unstop the cotils (destouper les coutils) under pain of banishment. (This trick of removing the bundles of furze that blocked the gates of the cotils, so that sheep might stray, was a form of spite that appears in other trials of the period). Her illegitimate daughter Marie was also arrested and warned. In the same year a third Marie Grandin (57) was arrested for having "by diabolical spells caused many persons to die, and others to fall into a decline, and also much cattle".

At her first appearance three Jurors were absent, and were ordered to be sent to the Castle "by force, if they resisted." In the following week the Court reassembled. Marie strenuously denied her guilt to the bitter end, but Chevalier tells us (journal 558) that 70 or 80 witnesses appeared against her, and that in prison her head had been shaved and examined by surgeons, and a mark found, which bled on one side and not on the other, which was assumed to be the fatal merche du diable. She was unanimously found guilty, and condemned to be led to the stake in the Market Place, (now the Royal Square) with a rope round her neck, and there strangled, and her body burned.

All these executions attracted much morbid interest. When Marie Esnouf (58), grand-daughter of a former Rector of St John, died, Chevalier tells us that the town was filled to overflowing. The churchyard walls and the Town Hill (where Fort Regent now stands) were thronged with men and women, lads and girls. Such crowds had not been seen since the Prince came to Jersey. She too denied her guilt, but refused to submit to the Enquete, and was kept a long time a prisoner in the Castle. When at last she yielded, more than 60 witnesses "charged her with villainous and detestable things" and a black mark was found on her palate (a very unlikely place for a genuine merche du diable). The jury was not unanimous, but 20 considered her guilty, and she was put to death in the Market Place.

Jersey more humane than Guernsey

In two respects Jersey was more humane than Guernsey (though Guernsey retorts that the savagest sentences were passed by Bailiffs from Jersey). Guernsey often ordered the witches "to be tied to a stake and burnt" (estre artachées a un posteau, puis ards et brulés), and other evidence shows that they were burnt alive. In Jersey the sentence always was "to be hanged and strangled by the public executioner till death ensues, and after that, her body to be burned and entirely consumed". The burning was merely a gesture of horror (en detestation dudit crime) and to prevent honourable burial; for in other cases the corpses of criminals were handed to their families. Moreover, in Guernsey the use of torture was habitual. We constantly meet the phrase, "having been put to the torture she confessed". Often the witches were tortured again after their condemnation: "To make them reveal their accomplices it is ordered that they be tortured before being executed". From beginning to end of the Jersey trials there is no hint of torture being once employed.

It must not be supposed that all the prisoners were indiscriminately executed. Only half the trials on our list ended in a death sentence. Jersey Law offered the witch many safeguards against injustice. First the Constable and the six Sermentés had to be convinced of her guilt. Then the Law Officers of the Crown had to agree to prosecute. Then there was unlimited right to challenge hostile jurors. Then five votes out of 24 were sufficient for acquittal. Pasquette Le Vesconte (7) was only hanged because she had been previously banished, and had returned to resume her practices. Perronnelle Chevalier (17) and Pasquette Guillaume (27) had "been several times previously before the Court and received divers reproofs and warnings" before their final condemnation. Collas Lamy (46) was found not guilty of witchcraft, but "because he was an idler and disturber of the peace, which caused him to be suspected, he was ordered to hire himself out in service within three months under pain of corporal punishment". His mother, Jeanne Umfrey (52), Michelle Cosnefrey (51), and Clement Le Cerf (59) were banished, "because it is necessary to purge the Island of such dangerous and worthless persons". In some cases, as we have seen, the Court simply gave a fatherly warning to live henceforth in the fear of God.

Marie Tourgis

The case of Marie Tourgis (34 and 45) is interesting. She was a young witch from a bad home. Her mother had been a witch before her, and had been hanged for murder. Her sister had had an illegitimate baby. At her first trial the Court, to use a modem expression, merely put her on probation.

"It is ordered that Marie Tourgis shall be placed in the care of Guillemyne, wife of Rychard Hulvet, and shall obey her in all her domestic regulations in the fear of God, and shall withdraw from all bad companions; and that, if she does not amend her ways, the said Guillemyne shall complain to the Court, which will administer such correction as her faults shall seem to deserve."

But Marie did not amend. Ten years later she was arrested again. The bald Court Record merely declares that "having been accused of many abominable deeds wrought by the diabolic art of witchcraft, and having confessed that she had caused the death of a child, and bewitched a woman, she was condemned to go to the ordinary place of execution, and there be hanged and strangled till death ensued, and her body reduced to ashes."

But she evidently left a deep impression behind her; for even today in the eastern parishes, if a small child is naughty, her mother will say, "Si tais si maychante, j'envisthai cherchi Marie Tourgis". (If you're such a bad girl, I'll send for Marie Tourgis). Until I found this entry of her trial, probably no one could have said who Marie Tourgis was; but for 300 years her's has remained a Name of Terror in the district in which she lived.

One of the last criminal cases on the list I found in St Martin's Church Register:

"25 November 1656. Jean Le Riche, son of Edouard, was buried having been (something illegible) before his time. He was committed to prison, and indicted as a criminal on a charge of witchcraft by the Constable and Officers of the Parish. The Officers of the Court had caused many witnesses from different parishes to be called, who accused him of this despicable crime, and he was committed to the Castle as a criminal, till the next meeting of the Cour de Cattel. He was found dead in prison."

It is interesting to note that the Rector did not refuse him Christian burial.

18th century

By the 18th century Devil-worship as an organized Religion was dead; but belief in witchcraft still lingered in Jersey. The Bad Books (les mauvais livres) still circulated in secret, Le Grand Albert and Le Petit Albert, with their recipes for love philtres, their spells, and cabalistic squares. Still there were women of whom their neighbours said in an awed whisper, "Elle a du scin" (She has the hidden knowledge). And still, it is said, some Jersey families took secret pride in the fact that they had "le grand sang" in their veins, supernatural blood, for an ancestress of theirs had been begotten at a Witches' Sabbat, when her mother had intercourse with the devil.

Against this the Ecclesiastical Court continued to wage war. Here is one extract from its Minute Book:

"4 October 1736. Marie Godfray, wife of Etienne Machon of St Saviour, for dabbling in the Forbidden Arts and unveiling things that are hidden. The said Godfray has promised to abstain from such practices in future, and moreover to disclose the names of any who approach her for this purpose. Neighbouring parishes are to be informed of this by the reading of this Act of the Court after the Nicene Creed."

Even today this form of witchcraft is not quite dead in Jersey; but there are no more midnight meetings round the Witches' Rock, and no suspicion that the Wise Woman is a sworn servant of the Devil.

Personal tools
Donate

Please support theislandwiki.org with a donation to our hosting costs