A woman came into the house of a grazier when mutton was scarce and demanded some of his, he denied her to find a few days later that thirty of his sheep had been killed, he then burned one of his sheep according to the advice of the town and the witch appeared, he cut her thinking by popular opinion that taking her blood would take away her powers, she said she’d have him arrested and demanded money and set his house on fire later, she was apprehended, first pleaded guilty, and then confessed, she began to swell and mentioned the devil came to suck on her in the form of a rat, she was hanged.
In 1674, an unknown writer in London published a pamphlet describing the accusation and conviction of an elderly woman named Ann Foster for consorting with the devil and using witchcraft against her neighbor. The full title of this pamphlet is as follows: “A Full and True Relation of the Tryal, Condemnation, and Execution of Ann Foster, (Who was Arrained for a Witch) on Saturday the 22nd of this Instant August, at the place of Execution at Northampton. With the Manner how She by her Malice and Witchcraft set all the Barns and Corn on Fire belonging to one Joseph Weeden living in Eastcoat, and bewitched a whole Flock of Sheep in a most lamentable manner, and betwitching all his Horses, with his other Cattle, to the utter Ruin and undoing of the said Joseph Weeden. And also in what likeness the Devil appeared to Her while she was in Prison, and the manner of her Deportment at her Tryal”.
The pamphlet begins as an almost academic argument about the existence of witches and witchcraft. The writer reveals that he had previously not believed in such things, until he witnessed the damage Ann Foster had done. This tale is set in a town called Eastcoat in Northampton Shire in April.
It was the time of year in which mutton is scarce and precious. However, Joseph Weeden, referred to as the Grazier, choose to slaughter a sheep for his family. Knowing this, Ann Foster appeared at his house, asking for some charity. She did not want to pay the full worth of any of the meat, and thus Weeden declined. Elderly and already possessing the reputation of talking to herself, Ann left muttering threats. A couple days later, Weeden finds thirty of his sheep dismembered in their pasture.
The Grazier was so “amazed at the strangeness of the spectacle” that he called several of his neighbors over. They agreed that he was probably bewitched, and that burning one of the sheep carcasses would summon the witch who had cursed Weeden. Ann came running almost as soon as the sheep was on the fire. It was also general knowledge that “fetching the blood” from the witch would drain her of her powers. Thus, the Grazier also cut her above the hand. An infection formed within the cut, and Ann threated to have him arrested. Wanting to avoid trouble, Weeden offered to pay for her to go to a healer. The old woman took the money, claiming it to be “the Divils mony” and that it would allow her to punish him.
The next month (May), Weeden’s house and barns caught fire and could not be contained. One barn burned down completely and some of his wheat was lost. Foster was seen watching the blaze and telling the townsfolk that they would not be able to put out the fire. The townsfolk then brought these occurrences to the local Justice of the Peace and claimed Ann Foster was a witch and consorting with the devil.
Foster originally claimed she was not guilty, but confessed after hearing witness statements. “Seeing that Sentence of Death was past upon her”, the woman then tried to ask God and Weeden for forgiveness and asked that her life be spared. When it became clear that she was going to be executed, she asked to be burned at the stake. However, the court executed her in its usual manner, by hanging.
In this case, it appears that Ann Foster, an elderly and unpopular member of the community, may have practiced, or claimed to have practiced, witchcraft as a means of social power. When she does not get her way, she threatens Joseph Weeden. She threatens him with magic and legal action on two separate occasions and invokes the Devil’s name in her arguments. However, such evidence was done publicly and backfired for her when the villagers had her arrested. Here, Ann confesses, but claims to see God’s light and attempts to talk her way out of execution. Unfortunately for her, it does not work. As my research continues, it would be interesting to see if there are other instances in which women practice, or claim to practice, witchcraft in order to exert some power through intimidation or fear in their communities.