October 28, 2020

Agnes Waterhouse: The First Woman Executed for Witchcraft in England

History remembers Agnes Waterhouse as one of the most dominant witches during the Tudor dynasty. She was the first woman to be put to death for witchcraft in England.

In 1566, Agnes Waterhouse was accused of witchcraft and two other women; Elizabeth Francis and Joan Waterhouse, Agnes’ 18-years old daughter. The three women were residents of the same village, Hatfield Peverel. She was locally known as Mother Waterhouse, which probably suggests her position in society as a single woman with compassion. Although there is little to nothing documented regarding her early life, it is believed her life was calm and normal until the age of 63, when she was accused of witchcraft.

The trial of Agnes

Agnes was put on trial in Chelmsford and was charged with causing illness and killing Wiliam Fynne, killing livestock, and killing her husband using witchcraft. Her 1566 trial information is recorded in a pamphlet entitled “The examination and confession of certaine Wytches at Chensforde in the Countie of Essex before the Quenes Maiesties Judges the XXVI daye of July anno 1566.”

Reverend Thomas Cole and Sir John Fortescue appeared and her first examination, while queens attorney, Sir Gilbert Gerald, and justice of queen’s bench, John Southcote, appeared during the second examination. The presence of these dignitaries suggested that her case was of unusual significance.

Elizabeth was the first to be examined, and she confessed to having owned the familiar, white-spotted cat, which she received from her grandmother when 12 years old. Elizabeth was taught witchcraft by her grandmother. The demon cat apparently spoke to her with a strange hollow voice and did anything she wanted upon receiving a drop of blood. According to Elizabeth, this demonic cat told her what herbs to drink to terminate her pregnancy. After 15 years of keeping the cat, she gave it to Agnes in exchange for a cake.

When Agnes went on trial, she confessed the demon cat killed her pig to prove its powers. Because of the cat’s problems, Agnes allegedly kept it in a pot lined with wool and later changed the cat into a toad to re-purpose the wool. Sathan also killed the livestock of other villagers who disagreed with Agnes.

Evidence against Agnes was provided by Joan, her daughter, who was the third on this trial. Joan told how she invoked the toad’s help, and it promised help upon surrendering her soul, which she did. The toad haunted Agnes Brown, a neighbor’s child who denied Joan bread, in the form of a dog with thorns. Agnes Brown narrated the story of the demon, which was the chief evidence. The dog even threatened to kill her later.

Confession and execution

According to the pamphlet, Agnes repented immediately before her execution, asking God for forgiveness. She confessed to having used witchcraft and attempting to use Satan to hurt a neighbor from another village. However, it was successful because the man was strong in faith. Agnes said she prayed in Latin because the cat couldn’t allow her to pray in English.

Agnes Waterhouse was convicted of causing death and executed by hanging on 29 July 1566. The first woman executed for witchcraft in England.

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