A 350-year-old notebook that documents the trials of women convicted of witchcraft in England during the 17th century has been published online.
The notebook written by Nehemiah Wallington, an English Puritan, recounts the fate of women accused of having relationships with the devil at a time when England was embroiled in a bitter civil war. The document reveals the details of a witchcraft trial held in Chelmsford in July 1645, when more than 100 suspected witches were serving time in Essex and Suffolk according to his account.
“Divers [many] of them voluntarily and without any forcing or compulsion freely declare that they have made a covenant with the Devill,” he wrote.
“Som Christians have been killed by their meanes,” he added.
Of the 30 women on trial in Chelmsford, 14 were hanged.
Wallington also recounts the experiences of Rebecca West, a suspected witch who confessed to sleeping with the devil when she was tortured because “she found her selfe in such extremity of torture and amazement that she would not enure [endure] it againe for the world.”
Her confession spared her.
Carol Burrows, who managed the notebook’s digitization, on Thursday told reporters that Wallington’s journal was important because of its connections to the civil war.
“It’s a personal account and it tells us a lot about the time — they were troubled times,” she said.
“It’s in English and it’s very easy to read so it’s going to be of interest to the general public as well as scholars,” she added.
The manuscript is one of Wallington’s seven surviving notebooks. The woodturner wrote 50 journals about religion, the civil war and witchcraft trials during the course of his life.
A team at The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care spent two weeks photographing the notebook kept at Tatton Hall in Cheshire so they could make it available online.
The notebook can be viewed free of charge at http://chiccmanchester.wordpress.com.
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