Speculation That The ‘Windsor Witches’ Raised Energy (Part 1)
Author: Zan Fraser
Four women of Windsor, England, were arraigned in January 1579, and condemned as “notorious witches.” The judgment (based upon their apparent confessions) was that they had caused the deaths of a number of people through their “Sorceries and Inchauntementes, ” a capital crime in Elizabethan England. The four were killed (probably by hanging) on February 26, 1579: Mother Dutton, Mother Devell, Mother Margaret, and Elizabeth Stile, alias Rockingham.
(Many older women of the period possessed “aliases, ” meaning the names of previous husbands. Stile had been married to a man named Rockingham, who must have died, before she married Mr. Stile. As she is identified as a widow, Mr. Stile must have been deceased as well. It was the Elizabethan custom to call older women “Mother”; this custom seems to have super kicked in when the woman in question was perceived as a witch. English witch-accounts typically are populated with women called “Mother This” and “Mother That.”) In addition to these four, there are some four or so other individuals implicated as Windsor Witches.
A remarkable thing is that the case of the Windsor Witches is recorded in two separate pamphlet-accounts, providing two independent points-of-view with which to consider the matter. Edward White published A Rehearsall both straung and true in March 1579, based upon Elizabeth Stile’s jail statements. Richard Galis (whose father had been a mayor of Windsor and one of the men to whose magical murder the four confessed) published his A brief treatise later that year.
One text is held at the British Library, the other by the Bodleian; both are reprinted by Marion Gibson, in Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing, (New York: Routledge, 2000) . Barbara Rosen also reproduces A Rehearsall both straung and true in her collection of sources Witchcraft (New York: Taplinger Publishing, 1972) .
The striking thing is that the Windsor Witches seem to have formed a genuine magic-working group (what we would call a “coven, ” although that word is not used) . Item 6 of Stile’s statements in Galis’s account (Item 7 in Rehearsall) asserts that “father Rosimond and his daughter, mother Margarete, mother Dutton, and her selfe [Elizabeth Stile] were accustomed to make their meeting on the backside of Maister Dodges, where they used to conferre of such their enterprises as before they had determined of and practized.” The “backside of Master Dodges” would be the back of the man’s property, presumably remote and removed from traffic.
Rehearsall says that they met “in the Pittes there, ” meaning “saw-pits” or large holes dug into the ground into which felled trees would be angled, to be conveniently chopped down to size. “Conferring” and “determining” give the impression of a deliberative group that traded advice and suggestions back and forth. In Item 23 of Rehearsall, Stiles elaborates further that the group “did meete sometymes in maister Dodges Pittes, and sometyme aboute a leven of the Clocke in the night at the Pounde [pond].”
Bits of the group’s history start to emerge. Stile said that it was Mother Dutton and Mother Devell who had “enticed” her into the practice of witchcraft. Mother Dutton was apparently clairvoyant; Item 2 of Rehearsall assures that she “can tell every ones message, assone [as soon] as she seeth them approche nere to the place of her abode.” This of course implies that people frequently sought out Mother Dutton at her residence for her assistance with their problems- the “messages” that they bore.
As with a number of the English cases, there appears to have been a strong sub-current of the wise-folk traditions going on behind the scenes. The pious Address that opens Rehearsall condemns the “malicious and treasonable driftes [ways]” of witches, “of late yeares greately multiplyed” in number by Satan. It goes on to fault persons who call witches “by the honorable name of wise women” and seek them out “for the health of themselves or others.”
Father Rosimond, cited as a cohort by Elizabeth Stile, was such a cunning-man. (The fact that he is “Father” Rosimond is the male corollary to the custom of calling older, witchy women “Mother.” It does not mean that he was a Catholic priest, especially as he has a daughter.)
The Memorandum affixed to the end of Rehearsall discusses how “the Wiseman named Father Rosimonde” advised a Windsor man to break a spell of bewitchment by scratching the forehead (so as to draw the blood) of the vindictive witch (Mother Stile, as it turns out) . Item 1 of Galis’s account states that “one father Rosiman…and his daughter are witches, and that the said Rosiman can alter and chaunge him selfe into any kinde of beast that him listeth [that he desires].”
Elizabeth Stile insists in Rehearsall (Item 24) that she often found Rosimond sitting in a wood not far from his house, “under the bodie of a Tree, sometymes in the shape of an Ape, and otherwhiles like an Horse.” She goes on to reaffirm in Item 25 that “father Rosimond can transforme hym selfe into the likenesse of an Ape, or a Horse, and that he can helpe any manne so bewitched to his health againe, as well as to bewitche.”
Shape-shifting appears to have been a custom with the Windsor group. Item 22 of Galis’s account informs that “their woords of charme weare [were] these, come on let us go about it, and presently they were changed into a new shape.” In addition to other things, Galis reports a supernatural attack from “a huge and mightie black Cat, ” which he took to be a transformed witch.
These are all examples of the medieval mythology that witches transformed into animals, surely inherited from shamanic Celtic/ Teutonic religions. To judge from their testimony, the Windsor Witches are pretty confident that they can handle animal-metamorphosis.
Unlike the four condemned women, Rosimond and his daughter do not appear to have been charged. Either they did not excite the alarm in their neighbors that the women did or they are an example of anti-witch misogyny, whereby authorities and townsfolk regard male and female witches in different lights.
Another detail fascinating from the modern perspective is the back-story of two women who died slightly before the local fear of the Windsor Coven (as we might call them) blew up into accusations of death and harm. Galis’s account makes clear that dread and suspicion of the group had been building well before the events reported in Rehearsall.
At one point, Mother Audrey and Mother Nelson were required to stand under the pulpit during Sunday service, in order to bring them back into the Christian fold and away from the pernicious snares of witchcraft. A short time after, both women died- we are not told how (although Galis assumes that the agony of their reawakened Christian consciousness did them in) . The event of Mother Audrey’s death is referred to several times, deemed significant because she is called “the Mistresse” witch.
It was the Elizabethan habit to esteem some witches as vastly more important and superior to other witches. Reginald Scot (writing in the 1580s) complained that a witch named Mother Bombie was held as a “principal witch, ” “being in divers books set out with authority, registered and chronicled by the name of ‘the great witch of Rochester, ’ and reputed among all men for the chief ringleader of all other witches”; a Dame Witch directs and oversees the witch-workings of Jonson’s play The Masque of Queens. Such customs may be seen as analogous to our own tradition of the High Priestess.
In the section where Galis describes how Mother Dutton “practised with her Associates his overthroowe, ” he cites as the four notable witches, Mother Rockingham (Stile) , Mother Dutton, Mother Devil (possibly his satire on Mother “Devell”) , and “Audrey the Mistresse.”
As he describes the witches being subjected to public exposure under the pulpit during services, Galis marks that a brief while after (undoubtedly due to gnawing conscience) , “Audrey the Mistresse and Mother Nelson dyed [died], after whose death the sisters left behinde…made their assembly in the pits in Maister Dodges backside.” In addition to “sisters, ” Galis refers to the witches as “Confederates” and “Associates.”
It is apparent that Mother Audrey was regarded as the Chief Witch or what we would call the High Priestess of the group. As Elizabeth Stile is recorded as being “of the age of lxv, ” or sixty-five, we might imagine that Mother Audrey was well advanced in seniority as well. One last thing- Rehearsall does not use the name “Audrey” for the Chief witch of the Windsor group. Item 26 of Rehearsall records Elizabeth Stile as calling “mother Seidre…the maistres [mistress] Witche of all the reste, and she is now deade.”
Is it possible that “Mother Seidre” is a ceremonial name or a witch-name assumed by Mother Audrey, perhaps upon her elevation to the High Priestesshood? Its apparent connection to Nordic seider, or the trance-induced revelations of prophetic women called seid-konas, causes one to wonder.
The Windsor Witches do not seem to have been an admirable lot- we would say that they were Un-Ethical in their practice. Their social relationships with the outside community appear antagonistic and their own testimony appears to admit to all sorts of misdeeds, including killing various people by torturing wax images.
They seem not to have comported themselves as would a Blesser or Blessing Witch (as the Age expressed it) ; the Blessing Witch Mother Bombie (contemporary to the Windsor Witches) appears to have been universally beloved and feared by none, whereas the Windsor Witches freak people out that they are killing them and causing harm. (For more on Mother Bombie, please see Chapter I of A Briefe Historie of Wytches/i>.)
It seems pretty much agreed upon within Windsor society that the following people constituted a confederation or an association of witches: Mother Nelson, Mother Dutton, Mother Devell, Mother Margaret, Elizabeth Stile (Mother Rockingham) , the wise-man Father Rosimond, and Rosimond’s daughter. Mother Audrey (presumably also called Mother Seidre) was the Mistress Witch or High Priestess until she died. These people would meet near a pond around eleven o’clock of the night or (apparently more often) they would assemble at the removed portion of Mr. Dodge’s property, where the saw-pits were (presumably therefore a wooded area) . Item 17 of Galis’s account refers to these meeting places when Stile claims that Mother Dutton and Mother Devil (Devell) “allured” her to “doo and exercise ye craft.”
This is the question- what did the Windsor Witch confederation “do and exercise” as “ye craft, ” when they met in the late still of night in the wooded pits of Dodge’s land?
Speculation to follow-