Report on Barholmew Preston, the Charmer of Swyne (HHC C DMT 5/3)
This is a moderised version. A more accurate transcription can be found at the end of this post.
Firstly. Bartholmew Preston was born at Wyton and brought up there with Margery his sister who was a bone-setter and a midwife and also suspected to be a charmer. Her married name was Ganton, but she is now dead.
Secondly. He confesses that he deals with the Fairies (or some kind of Spirits) and he will admit it, and that he gets his spells from them. He confessed as much to someone of Sutton.
Thirdly. If a man has a bewitched animal and needs the spell lifted, Preston can tell him what colour the animal is, before he is told what it is. John Ruksby a miller of Tunstall has been a regular customer for this service.
Fourthly. He can tell what has become of any thing that is stolen if he is asked about it within nine days of the theft. John Thompson of Lanthrop is witness to this, and so are others.
Fiftly. Some people in Swine have had their goods and even themselves witched and charmed by him. They offer to affirm this on oath, including Henry Moore a wright.
Sixthly. A man of Hull, had a child that Preston is accused of witching to death. The man came to Preston with a warrant to arrest him, but he and Preston came to an agreement. Willim Cob of Swine was Constable or debuty at the time, and on Friday he will bring the man’s name to your worships. (John Wormsey Hull Gaol)
Seventhly. He was sent for to a young man of Paull who was strangely visited. Preston tied a handkerchief about the young man’s neck assuring the people there of the young man’s recovery. But after he had gone, the young man cried out that the rat which was on the handkerchief was like to kill him, and so he dyed. A boatman called Wintringham affirms this to be true.
Eighth he is infamous in Hull. A gentlewoman or aldermans wife has visited his house for cure for her son, and gaves him much [?money ?credit]. Barack Newton a butcher of Hull has dealt with him for years for charms for his wife, and Rowland Savage a mariner of Hull for his son. And there are many others. He is as popular as any cunning man can be.
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I was looking for the historian Abraham De La Pryme and a search of the Hull History Centre Pryme holdings included (for no apparent reason) “The Report on the Charmer of Swyne” This turned out to have little to do with Elizabethan Hull and less to do with Pryme. Nevertheless I was unable to resist sending for it. A colleage drew my attention to a brief interpretation of the report by T Tindall Wildridge, who has for a long time been one of my top ten worst historians of all time, and so, I decided to look into it.
The document is in the class DMT. It was therefore one of the documents stolen by Wildridge during his tenure as city archivist and generously returned to the archive by bequest in his will. Or so I believed. There is apparently an alternative view, that Wildridge rescued them, having been instructed by the corporation to destroy them. I am not sure where the discredit should properly fall, both versions are equally likely.
The document is a single leaf of paper, It is fairly standard paper for Hull documents up to 1590 or after 1600. (The paper between those dates was a lot worse.) It is written on one side only, in two hands. A third hand (probably Pryme in 1699) has numbered it “615”. This is likely to have been a page or folio number, and the left hand edge shows signs that the document was at one time part of a bound volume. The main hand is not a highly educated or clerkly hand, and is corrected by a more educated hand. The corrections are however likely to be almost contemporaneous. If it was just the first hand I would date the document at 1600 plus or minus 30 years, but the second hand is slightly more seventeenth century. On the document is written “COMMONWEALTH?” in pencil. possibly by the Hull archivist Stanewell, who is usually to be trusted.
The date in the Hull History Centre catalogue was 1650-1700, which in my view is far too late. The catalogue may well have been changed by now, as I did share my opinion with the archive staff. If I had to put money on it, I would say 1620.
The report is in a bog-standard secretary hand in a bog-standard brown ink. The penmanship is perfectly reasonable but the language and the brain behind it are far from sophisticated, and someone has amended and enarged the text, also in secretary hand, but in a black ink with a thinner nib. At a guess, the town clerk sent out a man to collect evidence, but the report was poorly written, so the clerk enlarged and corrected it by questioning the man. To be wildly speculative, I can then see him making a fair copy of the result to give to the magistrates, and keeping this corrected draft as a minute (his record).
It calls itself a report. It was probably made for the Justices of Peace of Hull (The Mayor and Aldermen) with a view to charging the Charmer under the Witchcraft Act of 1604 (1 James Cap. 12). If I am wrong about the date, and it was much earlier, it would fall under the Witchcraft Act of 1563 (5 Elizabeth Cap. 16). Actually it doesn’t make much difference as the law, as it would affect the conduct reported, didn’t change.
There are two sorts of witchcraft here, ill-intentioned and well-intentioned. Both were criminal. The penalty for causing death by witchcraft was death (by hanging), the penalty for using witchcraft for good intent was imprisonment and pillory, but if the charge included the invocation or conjuration of evil spirits the punishment was death. Obtaining charms from the faries is probably borderline. Faries were certainly spirits, and could be inimical, causing disease in people, animals and crops and spoiling food and handiwork. They were not however usually considered as inspired or directed by the Devil. They belonged to a completely different set of beliefs. The use of charms to cure or prevent the harm that faries had caused was common, and probably no-one lived far from a competent charmer. Charmers were also known as cunning men and cunning women or collectively as cunning folk. They tended to be called witches by those who disapproved of them.
As far as I can tell in the Elizabethan East Riding there was no officially recognised physician closer than York. Medical care was in the hands of apothocaries, surgeons, midwives, bonesetters and charmers, with self-help books for the literate. and household remedies. Manuscript recipe collections for the seventeenth century include recipes for medicines, both preventative and curative, and often the occassional useful spell.
I looked for the people:
Bartholmew Preston the Charmer of Swine born at Wyton and brought up there with his late sister Margery Ganton a midwife and bone-setter. Wyton is a part of the parish of Swyne and the parish registers before 1706 are lost. This also covers Moore a Wright of Swine.
The early parish registers for Paull are also lost and therefore the unfortunate young man of Paull has not been traced nor has Wintringham the boatman who may also have been of Paull.
[Jo]hn Thompson ?of lanthroop. I haven’t identified Lanthroop.
John Raksby a miller at Tunstall looked possible at first, but the early register for Tunstall is so decayed and fragile that it is no longer produced. I was allowed to look at it under supervision but the best that I could do, on an admittedly superficial examination of a very difficult document, was:
1625 Christopher the sonne of John Rowksbie was buried the 19 Day of November (ERALS PE/42 p.33). Now this John may be the son, father, or other relation of John Raksby the miller, the man himself or no relation at all. On the page there was recorded 19 burials in 2 years including a still born child, which gives an idea of the size of the parish.
We now turn to Hull. I had previously transcribed the parish registers for the reign of Elizabeth, which had been very neatly copied into a new register up to 1598 (with who knows what loss and innaccuracy) but the chaos that followed has yet to be transcribed. I read through the burials. I have always found the burials to be the most useful when looking for a man. From burials one gets not only the man’s own death but also the death of any wives and infant children. I did not find a Wormsey, (or Wormley) or Rowland Savage, but there were at least two families of Newtons in the town; one family were of ketchmen and the other were indeed butchers.
1611 John Newton butcher buried the first of June [ERALS PE158/1 p423] and on a page shortly after there was buried Henrie Hubert potticarie (apothocary) [ERALS PE158/1 p429].
I can find no record of Preston being hanged, and the court records for Hull are lost.
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Hand one is in normal type, hand two is in bold type.
Reports of the Charmer of Swyne
Imp’ that he was born at wyton and brought up
ther with his sister a bone settor & suspected Charmer
which is now dead hir name was margere Ganton
Confessed to [blank] of Sutton [that] he delt with the [fa]yries and had his [spe]ll from them
Secondly he doth Confesse he deals with the Fares
or thes kynde of Spirits and he will avouch it.
Thirdly he Can tell any man what Coollor
his forspoken or witched beasts ar before they
name them to him John Ruksby a miller hath
had much triall of him this way he dwelle at Tunstall he hath
bene often with him.
Fourthly he Can tell of any thing that is stoln if they
Com to him within Compass of nyne dayes one
of lanthroop and divers will affirm it from him
Fiftly Som in Swyne have had ther goods witched
and Charmed by him as they say and themselves
also and this they offer to affirm upon oath one
Henry moore a wright with others more.
[Jo]hn wormsey [ ] Hull gaole
Sixtly he is Challenged to witch a Child to dead
of a mans in Hull and the man Cam to him with
a warrant to apprehend him but he did agre with him
Willim Cob of swyne was Coonstable or debuty at the tyme
and will upon fryday bryng the mans name before
Seaventhly he was sent for to a young man of pall
which was straungly visseted and he tyded a handkyrchif
about his neck assuring them of his recovery but when
he was gone From him the young man Cryed out that
the Ratt which was on [?in] the handkerchieff was lyk to kill him
and so he dyed one wintringham a boatman did
affirm this for truethe
Eyghth he is infamous in hull a gentlewoman or aldermans
wife hath ben at his house for hir son and gaves him much[ ]
and barack newton a butcher of Hull for his wyfe Certay[ne]
yeares to gether hath had to deal with him
and Rowland savag of Hull marriner for his soon with others mo
and he is as much frequented as any Can be that do
posess yt are