The witch of the woodlands

Brief summary:
In the woods lived a cobbler called Robin the Devill, forced to marry a woman’s daughter, got into trouble with the town and left, he got lost but found a house with an old lady in it who he then realized was a witch, he went into fits and she seduced him into bed, the next morning three witches came in seeking revenge against him, promised to marry one of them, they turned into spirits, bit, and drew blood from his throat, ‘bum’ and ‘members,’ he turned into a fox and they followed him as dogs, turned him into other animals, he broke free from their spell and headed back to London, then he became a beggar.

Fuller summary:
This pamphlet reads more as an episode of folklore than a “true and genuine” account of witchcraft—in fact it never alleges itself to be true, is accompanied with rhyming couplets, and attributes itself to an author, “L.P.” Nonetheless, it provides a vivid portrait of what constitutes a witch and magic acts. This illustrated pamphlet is twelve pages long and would have looked eye-catching on the table displays. Most of its illustrations, with the exception of the cover page, are of the male protagonist rather than the witches.

The Witch of the Woodlands begins by detailing the exploits of a cobbler named Robin especially eager to please his attractive female customers. He appreciates his “wenches” so much that he impregnates three of them—as the reader later discovers, in one evening. He misses his bachelorhood and feels overwhelmed by his fatherhood responsibilities, so he takes to London to work until his children reach adulthood. On his way, however, he gets lost in “the Woodlands” (emphasis already in place).

“Robin the Cobler” in search of refuge meets an elderly woman, one of whom the reader can immediately tell is a witch by the descriptions of a “staffe in her hand,” and her physical traits: “long nos’d,” “wry mouth’d” and “bow-legg’d.” She offers for them to sleep together “as the Devill hugg’d the Witch” and out of starvation, Robin falls to his knees and agrees.

When Robin wakes up, he finds that the old woman has found three witch friends, who expose his “whoring” habits. The old woman had imps, one of whom took the form of a black cat, and informed her of the women Robin had exploited.

The three witches seek revenge and turn into animal form: a black cat, a bear, and a wolf. They bite his entire body, including his “members.” Three days of torture ensue, all emasculating and with maleficent properties. On the first day, Robin turns into a fox who must run from angry dogs. The second day, as a nag, he must literally permit the witches to ride him all day, tearing his flesh. The witches transform robin into an owl on the last day, plucking at his body parts. When the witches withdraw their spells, they perform one last act of subordination, forcing him to knell and kiss their entire bodies.

Robin is restored as a full human being but now he is witchlike in completion; his eyes are sunken, his skin pale, his nose lengthened. He returns to London in poverty, but finds the mercy of a fellow beggar. He “lay[s] lovingly” with this beggar and they become relatively successful beggars together. When his beggar partner dies, Robin inherits his money and gives it to his former wives, wenches and children.


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