Witches of Warboys

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The Witches of Warboys is the name used to describe the accusation, trial and execution for witchcraft of Alice Samuel and her family between 1589 and 1593 in the village of Warboys, in the fens of England.[1]


The trials of the Witches of Warboys occurred during the sixteenth century at Warboys in Huntingdonshire. “It was a case that attracted probably more notice than any other in the sixteenth century.” [2] The first allegations were made in November 1589 by Jane Throckmorton, the 10-year-old daughter of Robert Throckmorton the Squire of Warboys when she started suffering from fits (see Initial Allegations below). She accused the 76-year-old Alice Samuel of being the cause; this was echoed by Jane’s four sisters and some household servants who began exhibiting similar symptoms. When Alice Samuel was brought forward to the children, they became more ill and had the urge to scratch her.

Robert Throckmorton was a close friend of Sir Henry Cromwell, one of the wealthiest commoners in England. In March 1590, Lady Cromwell, the grandmother of Oliver Cromwell, came to Warboys to visit. At the Throckmorton house, she interviewed Alice Samuel and what came after the interview served to confirm the suspicions the Throckmortons had. Lady Cromwell was tormented by Alice Samuel in her dreams, and after some time she became ill and died. This was enough proof to put Alice Samuel through a trial that would find her and the rest of her family guilty.

Initial Allegations[edit]

The Throckmorton Family
John, Alice, and their daughter Agnes Samuell were from the county of Huntingdonshire. Robert Throckmorton and family were from the county of Esquire, though both families were of the same town. The first allegations declaring Alice as a practicer of witchcraft were made in November 1589. Following this, there were a total of twelve maid-servants of the Throckmorton household (in addition to the five daughters) who experienced fits and the torment of Alice Samuell’s witchcraft. Jane’s fits were described as such: “Sometimes she would (neefe: scream, moan, cry?)- very loud and thick for the space of half an hour together; and evidently as one in a great trance and sound lay quietly as long, soon after would begin to swell and heave up her belly so as none was able to bend her or keep her down, sometime thee would shake one leg and no other part of her, as if the palsie (cerebral palsy?) had been in it, sometimes the other, presently she would shake one of her arms and then the other, and soon after her head, as if she had been infected with the running palsie” [3]

Jane's mother and grandmother were by the child’s side while other neighbors came to see her. When Alice Samuell came in, the child proclaimed: “Grandmother look where the old witch sitteth (pointing to Samuell) did you ever see one more like a witch than she is: Take off her black thrumbed(could mean the knitting term "thrummed", in which unspun wool is knitted into an article of clothing. This method is used to insulate from the cold) cap, for I cannot abide to look on her." Jane's mother thought nothing of this at first, thinking her child was sleep deprived and sick. However, because Jane continued to get worse, her parents sent her urine to Doctor Barrow of Cambridge, who sent medicine to Jane three separate times thinking it would heal her. It did not. After the third time, the Doctor inquired whether there were any signs of sorcery or witchcraft involved that the parents could see. Jane’s urine was then sent to a family acquaintance, Master Butler, for examination and he sent back the same remedies that Doctor Barrow had sent. Exactly a month later, on the same day almost to the hour, two more of Master Throckmorton’s daughters fell sick to the same illness that was afflicting Jane. [4]

These daughters, two to three years older than Jane, cried out: “Take her away, look where she standeth here before us in a black thrumbed cap (Alice Samuell usually wore a black cap, but she was not currently present) it is she that hath bewitched us and she will kill us if you do not take her away.” [5]
The parents were then worried, but could not understand why any such harm would come to them, for they had only moved into the town the “Michaelmas before” (September 29, 1588). Their youngest daughter, nine years old, fell sick less than a month later. Soon after this, the oldest daughter, fifteen years old, fell sick. She was sickest out of the five. Both cried out against Alice Samuell. Their eldest sister, having been the strongest, strived with the spirit, and was grievously tortured not being able to overcome it. This caused her to “(neefe), screech and groan very fearfully, sometimes it would heave up her belly and bounce up her body with such violence that she was not kept upon her bed” When sitting in a chair, her fits often caused her to break that chair.

The daughters could not see, hear or feel while in these fits. They accused Mother Samuell, asking for her to be taken away. These fits would sometimes last for half a day and happened up to six or seven times a day. They believed that God freed them of this sorcery and afterwards, the sisters remembered nothing of what they had been saying.

Lady Cromwell
In March 1590, Lady Cromwell and Alice had a discussion regarding the accusations made against Alice. During this conversation, Lady Cromwell reportedly grabbed a pair of scissors and cut a lock of hair off Alice, and gave it to Mrs. Throckmorton to burn (a folk remedy believed to weaken a witch's power). That night, Lady Cromwell had nightmares, became ill and later died in 1592.[6]

The Trial[edit]

Following the death of Lady Cromwell, a local parson convinced Alice to admit to witchcraft, to which she retracted the very next day. However, she confessed again when she was brought before the Bishop of Lincoln, and taken to Huntingdon where she was imprisoned with her daughter and husband. The family was tried in April 1593 for the murder by witchcraft of Lady Cromwell. Alice’s words to Lady Cromwell ("Madam, why do you use me thus? I never did you any harm as yet") were used against her at the trial, and all three were found guilty and eventually hanged .[1][6]

The Aftermath[edit]

The scholar George Kittredge called the Warboys trial

“...the most momentous witch-trial that had ever occurred in England,” partially because it had “... demonstrably produced a deep and lasting impression on the class that made laws.” He makes a case that the Warboys trial influenced the passage of the Witchcraft Act of 1604.

Following the hangings, Robert Throckmorton left Warboys hastily, his wife allegedly dying shortly before his departure. [7]


  1. ^ a b The Most Strange and Admirable Discouerie of the Three Witches of Warboys Arraigned, Conuicted, and Executed at the Last Assises at Huntington, for the Bewitching of the Fiue Daughters of Robert Throckmorton Esquire, and Other Persons (1593), Reprint. BiblioBazaar. 2010. 
  2. ^ Rosen, Barbara, Witchcraft in England 1558-1618. Amherst: U of Massachusetts, 1991. Print.
  3. ^ Anonymous, The most strange and admirable discouerie of the three Witches of Warboys. London. 1593.
  4. ^ Anonymous, The most strange and admirable discouerie of the three Witches of Warboys. London. 1593.
  5. ^ Anonymous, The most strange and admirable discovery of the three Witches of Warboys. London. 1593.
  6. ^ a b Matin, Luke. "The Witch Trials - Witches of Warboys Witch Trials". Luke Matin. 
  7. ^ DeWindt, Anne. "Witchcraft and Conflicting Visions of the Ideal Village Community." Journal of British Studies 34 (1995): 427-63. JSTOR. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.

External links[edit]

  • [1] Page by page photos of complete pamphlet "The Most strange and admirable discoverie of the three witches of Warboys, arraigned, conducted and executed at the last Assises at Huntingdon, for the bewitching of the five daughters of Robert Throckmorton Esquire, and divers other persons, with sundry Devellish and grievious torments: And also for the betwitching to death of Lady Crumwell, the like hath not been heard of in this age". 1593. original in the collection of The Norris Museum, St Ives, Cambridgeshire, UK. [This version is currently incomplete]
  • The Witches of Warboys in Possession & The Courts 1593-1692: Salem in Context by William W. Coventry . Accessed June 2007
  • Witches of Warboys account at the Wayback Machine (archived August 14, 2007). Accessed June 2007

Additional Reading[edit]

  • Tatem, Moira Witches of Warboys pub by Wholesaler Uniques from Gardners (1993) ISBN 1-870724-33-X
  • Lea, Henry Charles & Howland, Arthur C. Materials Toward a History of Witchcraft
  • Wright, Thomas The Witches of Warboys pub by Kessinger Publishing (December 2005) ISBN 1-4253-7244-9
  • Westwood, Jennifer & Simpson, Jacqueline A Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys - ISBN 978-0-14-102103-4
  • The Witches of Warboys: A Bibliographical Note Author: Almond, Philip C. Notes and Queries, Volume 52, Number 2, June 2005, pp. 192–193(2) Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Robbins, Russell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959
  • Almond, Philip C., 'The Witches of Warboys: An Extraordinary Story of Sorcery, Sadism and Satanic Possession (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008).