On August 4, 1717, the last indictments for witchcraft in an English secular court occurred in the town of Leicester. Jane Clarke of the village of Wigston Magna along with her son and daughter, Mary and Joseph were dragged before the court by twenty-five of their neighbors who were convinced that they were witches. The villagers accused the Clarkes of harassing them through witchcraft, causing illness and even the death of one villager, Mary Hatchings.
The witnesses told the court, presided over by Justice Ashby, how the witches’ victims were stricken with unnatural seizures. The supernatural nature of their illness was further reinforced when they began to cough up dirt and stones. At night, the witches gave their victims no peace as they manifested before them, in either human or animal form. When the local Church minister failed to break the curse, the villagers were forced to turn to a local âwhite witch’ Thomas Wood for help. Wood attempted to remove the curse and identify the witches by boiling the victims’ urine. His curious cure summoned the shades of the Clarkes into the room where they grimaced threateningly at him before vanishing up the chimney.
Once identified, the Clarke’s were set upon by a mob of angry villagers. They were stripped and searched for witch’s marks and bled to try and break the curse. Then, having decided to bring the Wigston witches to justice, the villagers decided to gather definitive evidence of their witchery by swimming them in the village pond. Each of the Clarke’s floated âlike a cork or an empty barrel, ” However, Judge Ashby was not convinced and threw the case out of court. Twenty years later, in England at least, witchcraft was off the statute books.
However, it was some 70 years before the last execution for witchcraft occurred in Europe.
Anna Goldi had a sad and unfortunate life. Born to a poor family in the village of Sennwald in the Sax district of Zurich, from the age of fifteen she worked as a maid in various village houses. Her life was hard but respectable- until Anna fell pregnant at the age of 31. The father, a mercenary left her before the baby was born. Facing life as a poor single mother must have been bad enough. However, on the first night of the baby’s life, it suffocated. Anna was accused of murdering her child. She was judged guilty and tied to the public pillory before being condemned to house arrest for the next six years
However, Anna escaped. She fled to Glarus, a separate canton a days walk away where her sentence had no effect. There Anna continued to work as a maid in various wealthy homes. In 1780, at the age of 46, she took up what would be her last post as a maid to the family of the local judge of the village of Mollis, Johann Jakob Tschudi. One morning, one of Tschudi’s daughters found needles in a drink of milk Anna had prepared. Anna was immediately sacked. Because of the status of the Tschudi’s, she was unable to obtain another position and so forced to leave the area.
Eighteen days after Anna left the Tschudi house, Judge Tschudi’s eight-year-old daughter began to vomit pins. Anna became the prime suspect when the judge accused his former maid of cursing his daughter. It seems that Tschudi had had an affair with the still attractive Anna. However, he was now afraid she would reveal it and ruin his reputation. The Judges’ position ensured that Anna was tried- even though there was absolutely no evidence against her. She denied the charges but eventually was tortured into admitting she had cursed the girl with the devil’s help. So, on June 13, 1782, Anna Goldi was decapitated with a sword in Glarus. She was the last recorded witch to be executed in Europe.
However, even as late as the nineteenth century, witches were still being pursued.
By the nineteenth century, the last vestiges of the witch craze that had taken so many lives across Europe were all but gone. Or were they? For a report in the “Bury and Norwich Post” on March 15, 1864, suggests that in the English village of Hedingham, beliefs in curses and witchcraft was still very much alive. It was a belief that was to prove fatal for one distinct, but harmless resident.
“Dummy” was a deaf and dumb man of around 80 years old who lived in a small mud hut near Hedingham. No one knew Dummy’s real name or where he came from although some believed he was French. He was an odd but harmless individual, who communicated through peculiar gestures and increased his layers of clothing, as the weather grew hotter. Dummy traveled around the district, accompanied by three or four small dogs, reading fortunes to earn a living. Some made fun of his peculiarities. However, most people treated him with kindness.
Dummy frequented a local inn run by a Mr. Smith. One evening, Dummy decided he’d rather stay the night and so gestured this desire to the landlord’s wife, Emma Smith. Emma refused. Dummy signaled his displeasure with his stick and left. However, shortly afterward, Emma fell ill. She became convinced Dummy had bewitched her. Like so many others across the centuries, Smith also believed only he could cure her. However, no matter how many times she asked him, Dummy could not or would not help.
On August 3, 1863, Emma tried one last time, imploring Dummy to lift what she believed to be his curse. The couple attracted a crowd of local people who began to push Dummy about, knocking him to the floor. Emma Smith then began to hit and kick the old man before dragging him off towards the local brook. As she went, she was heard to cry out: “You old devil, you served me out, now I will serve you out.”
Once at the brook, Smith and a local carpenter, Samuel Stammers attempted to swim dummy. He was only dragged out by Stammers when someone pointed out that Dummy “would die in a minute” if they did not. Soaked, exhausted and traumatized, Dummy died on September 4th1863 as a result of his ordeal. This time, however, the âwitch hunters” paid the price and Smith and Stammers were sentenced to six months hard labor for their parts in Dummy’s death.