Famous Lasts The Last Witchcraft Trial in England Part 2

About the famous last witchcraft trial in England, history of the final witch trial.


Her trial, on Mar. 4, 1712, turned into a battle between the lawyers on one side and the clergy on the other. The lawyers refused to charge Jane with anything except "conversing familiarly with the devil in the form of a cat." The judge, Sir John Powell (whom Jonathan Swift described as "an old fellow with gray hairs, who was the merriest old gentleman I ever saw, spoke pleasing things, and chuckled till he cried again"), was openly sympathetic to Jane. When the prosecution claimed Jane could fly, he said that as far as he knew, there was no law against flying. Sixteen witnesses, three of them clergymen, appeared against her. She was convicted and sentenced to death. The outraged Powell successfully obtained a reprieve for her, and a short time later Jane was pardoned.

Jane's trial became a cause celebre, and a war broke out among pamphleteers arguing the pros and cons of the case. Bishop Francis Hutchinson visited Jane after her release, believed in her piety, and in 1718 wrote his "Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft." A devastating expose of witch-hunters and their methods, it is credited with suppressing the superstition in England.

Jane Wenham was supported by the charity of local worthies and that of an unnamed gentleman who gave her a little cottage in which she lived quietly until her death--of natural causes--in 1730.

The luckiest person of all was Anne Thorne. She continued to suffer fits and have visions of the devil as a cat until a shrewd judge ordered her to wash her hands and face twice daily and be watched over by a "lusty young fellow" until she recovered. Recover she did, and she also married the "lusty young fellow."

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