Darrell was a sizar of Queens' College, Cambridge. In 1586 he exorcised a girl in Derbyshire, and published an account of his work. In 1596–7 he conducted further exorcisms, mainly at St. Mary's Church, Nottingham, where he was appointed curate by Robert Aldridge, but also in Lancashire and Staffordshire. Many were sceptical of these, especially when Darrell claimed that he knew of thirteen witches in the town.
Because of the intense public interest and the fierce arguments in Nottingham, John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, ordered an investigation. As a result, Darrell was accused of fraudulent exorcism. The prosecutor was Samuel Harsnett, who was to end his career as Archbishop of York. Harsnet's views about Darrell were published in A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures in 1603. Shakespeare read it, and King Lear contains the names of devils, like Flibbertigibbet and Smulkin, from the book. Darrell always maintained that there was no fraud in his activities. What he wanted to prove was that Puritans were as capable as Roman Catholics in the matter of dispossessing evil spirits.
Darrell was deprived of holy orders and sent to prison, but released in 1599.
- Benjamin Brook, The lives of the Puritans: containing a biographical account of those divines who distinguished themselves in the cause of religious liberty, from the reformation under Queen Elizabeth, to the Act of uniformity in 1662, Volume 2, J. Black, 1813, pp. 117–122
- Marion Gibson, Possession, Puritanism and Print: Darrell, Harsnett, Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Exorcism Controversy, London: Pickering and Chatto, 2006, ISBN 9781851965397.
- Peter Lake, Michael C. Questier, Conformity and orthodoxy in the English church 1560-1660, Boydell & Brewer, 2000, ISBN 0-85115-797-1, chap.2
- Diane Purkiss, The witch in history: early modern and twentieth-century representations, Routledge, 1996, ISBN 0-415-08762-7, p. 189
- J. A. Sharpe, The bewitching of Anne Gunter: a horrible and true story of deception, witchcraft, murder, and the King of England, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 0-415-92692-0, p. 148
- Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1973 ), pp. 576–80 and passim.
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