Margery Jourdemayne, "the Witch of Eye"

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Margery Jourdemayne, "the Witch of Eye Next Westminster" (before 1415 – 27 October 1441) was a fifteenth-century English woman who was accused of treasonable witchcraft and subsequently burned at the stake.

At some point between July and September 1441, Margery was arrested by the King's men and taken to the Tower of London. She was later found guilty of heresy and witchcraft and sentenced to death by burning at Smithfield.

Celebrated case[edit]

The case that led to the execution of Margery Jourdemayne has been well documented and discussed since the fifteenth century. Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, wife to Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, was charged with heretical witchcraft, along with four co-accused. Three of the co-accused were scholars and clerics of the Duke's court. The fourth was Margery Jourdemayne, a woman of low birth, known as a witch. Humphrey was uncle to the young Henry VI of England and, if Henry were to have died, would have been successor to the throne.

The Conjuration

Eleanor Cobham, Roger Bolingbroke, John Hume (or Home), Thomas Southwell and Margery stood accused of using witchcraft to bring about the death of Henry VI. Bolingbroke was an Oxford scholar and Eleanor's personal clerk. Thomas Southwell was a physician and Canon of St Stephen's Chapel in the Palace of Westminster, Rector of St Stephen's Walbrook, London, and vicar of Ruislip. Hume was Canon of Hereford and St Asaph and chaplain and secretary to both Eleanor and the Duke.[1] Margery, on the other hand, had for many years been known as someone who could provide spells and potions useful in advancing love and bringing about a pregnancy or ending one.

"There was a Beldame called the wytch of Ey,
Old mother Madge her neyghbours did hir name
Which wrought wonders in countryes by heresaye
Both feendes and fayries her charmyng would obay
And dead corpsis from grave she could uprere
Suche an inchauntresse, as that tyme had no peere."[2]

During the course of the 1441 trial, it was disclosed that Margery had been held for some months at Windsor Castle ten years previously for an unspecified offence concerning sorcery. In 1430, seven witches had been arrested in London and accused of plotting the young King Henry's death and were then imprisoned in the Fleet; it is possible that Margery was one of these seven.

"In any event, on 22 November of that year one of the king's serjeants-at-arms was paid to escort 'a certain woman' from the city of London to Windsor, and six days later another serjeant was reimbursed for taking friar John Ashwell on the same journey. A subsequent writ directed payment to the lieutenant of Windsor Castle, John Wintershull, for his costs for keeping Friar John and Margery Jourdemayne, and their two gaolers, from 18th November 1430 to 9th May 1432. Another writ of July 1432 authorised payment to Wintershull for his costs... for keeping Margery and Ashwell".[3]

On 9 May 1432, Margery, along with Friar John Ashwell and John Virley (clerk), was examined on charges of sorcery. Ashwell and Virley were discharged on their own recognisance, but Margery was released on condition of her future good behaviour and that she refrained from further witchcraft.

Family[edit]

Although nothing is known of her own family, her husband's family of Jourdemayne were well established and prosperous Middlesex yeomen from at least the end of the fourteenth century. The meaning of the surname is likely to have come from the Old French for a day labourer–jour de main.

Margery was married to William Jourdemayne.

Witchcraft[edit]

From the early 1430s, Margery seems to have kept the company of a number of respected and learned clerics and courtiers, somewhat unusually for the wife of a cowherd.

Eleanor Cobham admitted at her trial to having long used Margery's services. It seems that this was a relationship of at least ten years. Eleanor also stated that she had sought Margery's help in becoming pregnant by the Duke. It is likely that she and other ladies of the Court were well versed in Margery's profession.

"In 1432 her fellow prisoners at Windsor Castle included friars and clerics, one of whom, Ashwell, was proficient in astronomy and would in June 1433 successfully forecast an eclipse."[4]

Roger Bolingbroke was the best known of these scholars, described as a 'gret and konnyng man in astronomye' and 'renowned in all the world'.[5]

"Southwell, who was probably Eleanor's personal physician, was an eminent doctor of medicine, at home both at the royal court and in the city of London. He, together with Gilbert Kymer, Duke Humphry's own physician, and John Somerset, was among those who petitioned the mayor and city of London for the foundation of a college of physicians and surgeons in 1423. The following year, Kymer was Master of the college, and Somerset and Southwell were its two surveyors or wardens.[6][7][8]

There is some evidence of other notables using Margery's skills, such as Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, who is said to have consulted Margery Jourdemayne, the celebrated witch of Eye, with respect to his conduct and fate during the impending conflicts. She told him that he would be defeated and slain at a castle: but as long as he arrayed his forces and fought in the open field, he would be victorious and safe from harm.[9]

In literature[edit]

Margery appears in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, as Margery Jourdayn, along with her co-accused.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Griffiths, Ralph A. The trial of Eleanor Cobham: an episode in the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 51, 381–399 at 386–387 (1968–1969).
  2. ^ The Mirror for Magistrates ed. L.B. Campbell 435 (New York, 1960).
  3. ^ Freeman, Jessica Sorcery at Court and Manor: Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye next Westminster. Journal of Medieval History 30 343–357 (2004).
  4. ^ Freeman, Jessica Sorcery at Court and Manor: Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye next Westminster. Journal of Medieval History 30 343–357 (2004).
  5. ^ English Chronicle 57; 'Wilhelmi Wyrcester Annales' 763; Emden, Biographical Reg. Oxford, I, 214–215.
  6. ^ Emden Biographical Reg. Oxford III, 1734–1735; II, 1068–1069; Calendar of London Letter Book K ed. R.R. Sharpe 11, 41 (London, 1911).
  7. ^ Calendar of Select Plea and Memoranda Rolls, London, 1413-1437, ed. A.H. Thomas (Cambridge, 1943),174
  8. ^ Carey, Hilary M. Courting Disaster: Astrology at the English Court and University in the Later Middle Ages 145–147 (Macmillan, 1992).
  9. ^ http://www.thebookofdays.com/months/march/20.htm