Florence Newton, the Witch of Youghal
With the Restoration of King Charles II witchcraft did not cease; on the other hand it went on with unimpaired vigour, and several important cases were brought to trial in England. In one instance, at least, it made its appearance in Ireland, this time far south, at Youghal. The extraordinary tale of Florence Newton and her doings, which is related below, forms the seventh Relation in Glanvill’s Sadducismus Triumphatus (London, 1726); it may also be found, together with some English cases of notoriety, in Francis Bragge’s Witchcraft further displayed (London, 1712). It is from the first of these sources that we have taken it, and reproduce it here verbatim, except that some redundant matter has been omitted, i.e. where one witness relates facts(!) which have already been brought forward as evidence in the examination of a previous witness, and which therefore do not add to our knowledge, though no doubt they materially contributed to strengthen the case against the unfortunate old woman. Hayman in his Guide to Youghal attributes the whole affair to the credulity of the Puritan settlers, who were firm believers in such things. In this he is correct no doubt, but it should be borne in mind by the reader that such a belief was not confined to the new-comers at Youghal, but was common property throughout England and Ireland.
The tale shows that there was a little covey of suspected witches in Youghal at that date, as well as some skilful amateur witch-finders (Messrs. Perry, Greatrakes, and Blackwall). From the readiness with which the Mayor proposed to try the “water-experiment” one is led to suspect that such a process as swimming a witch was not altogether unknown in Youghal. For the benefit of the uninitiated we may briefly describe the actual process, which, as we shall see, the Mayor contemplated, but did not actually carry out. The suspected witch is taken, her right thumb tied to her left great toe, and vice versâ. She is then thrown into the water: if she sinks (and drowns, by any chance!) her innocence is conclusively established; if, on the other hand, she floats, her witchcraft is proven, for water, as being the element in Baptism, refuses to receive such a sinner in its bosom.
“Florence Newton was committed to Youghal prison by the Mayor of the town, 24th March 1661, for bewitching Mary Longdon, who gave evidence against her at the Cork Assizes (11th September), as follows:
“Mary Longdon being sworn, and bidden to look upon the prisoner, her countenance chang’d pale, and she was very fearful to look towards her, but at last she did, and being asked whether she knew her, she said she did, and wish’d she never had. Being asked how long she had known her, she said for three or four years. And that at Christmas the said Florence came to the Depone, at the house of John Pyne in Youghal, where the Deponent was a servant, and asked her to give her a piece of Beef out of the Powdering Tub; and the Defendant answering her that she would not give away her Master’s Beef, the said Florence seemed to be very angry, and said, Thou had’st as good give it me, and went away grumbling.
“That about a week after the Defendant going to the water with a Pail of Cloth on her head she met the said Florence Newton, who came full in her Face, and threw the Pail off her head, and violently kiss’d her, and said, Mary, I pray thee let thee and I be Friends; for I bear thee no ill will, and I pray thee do thou bear me none. And that she the Defendant afterwards went home, and that within a few Days after she saw a Woman with a Vail over her Face stand by her bedside, and one standing by her like a little old Man in Silk Cloaths, and that this Man whom she took to be a Spirit drew the Vail off the Woman’s Face, and then she knew it to be Goody Newton: and that the Spirit spoke to the Defendant and would have her promise him to follow his advice and she would have all things after her own Heart, to which she says she answered that she would have nothing to say to him, for her trust was in the Lord.
“That within a month after the said Florence had kiss’d her, she this Defendant fell very ill of Fits or Trances, which would take her on a sudden, in that violence that three or four men could not hold her; and in her Fits she would be taken with Vomiting, and would vomit up Needles, Pins, Horsenails, Stubbs, Wooll, and Straw, and that very often. And being asked whether she perceived at these times what she vomited? She replied, she did; for then she was not in so great distraction as in other parts of her Fits she was. And that before the first beginning of her Fits several (and very many) small stones would fall upon her as she went up and down, and would follow her from place to place, and from one Room to another, and would hit her on the head, shoulders, and arms, and fall to the ground and vanish away. And that she and several others would see them both fall upon her and on the ground, but could never take them, save only some few which she and her Master caught in their hands. Amongst which one that had a hole in it she tied (as she was advised) with a leather thong to her Purse, but it was vanish’d immediately, though the latter continu’d tied in a fast knot.
“That in her Fits she often saw Florence Newton, and cried out against her for tormenting of her, for she says, that she would several times Stick Pins into her Arms, and some of them so fast, that a Man must pluck three or four times to get out the Pins, and they were stuck between the skin and the flesh. That sometimes she would be remov’d out of the bed into another Room, sometimes she would be carried to the top of the House, and laid on a board between two Sollar Beams, sometimes put into a Chest, sometimes under a parcel of Wooll, sometimes between two Feather-Beds on which she used to lie, and sometimes between the Bed and the Mat in her Master’s Chamber, in the Daytime. And being asked how she knew that she was thus carried about and disposed of, seeing in her Fits she was in a violent distraction? She answered, she never knew where she was, till they of the Family and the Neighbours with them, would be taking her out of the places whither she was so carried and removed. And being asked the reason and wherefore she cried out so much against the said Florence Newton in her Fits? She answered, because she saw her, and felt her torturing her.
“And being asked how she could think it was Florence Newton that did her this prejudice? She said, first, because she threatened her, then because after she had kiss’d her she fell into these Fits, and that she saw and felt her tormenting. And lastly, that when the people of the Family, by advice of the Neighbours and consent of the Mayor, had sent for Florence Newton to come to the Defendant, she was always worse when she was brought to her, and her Fits more violent than at another time. And that after the said Florence was committed at Youghal the Defendant was not troubled, but was very well till a little while after the said Florence was removed to Cork, and then the Defendant was as ill as ever before. And then the Mayor of Youghal, one Mr. Mayre, sent to know whether the said Florence was bolted (as the Defendant was told), and finding she was not, the order was given to put her Bolts on her; which being done, the Deponent saith she was well again, and so hath continued ever since, and being asked whether she had such like Fits before the said Florence gave her the kiss, she saith she never had any, but believed that with the kiss she bewitch’d her, and rather because she had heard from Nicholas Pyne and others that Florence had confessed so much.
“This Mary Longdon having closed her evidence, Florence Newton peeped at her as it were betwixt the heads of the bystanders that interposed between her and the said Mary, and lifting up both her hands together, as they were manacled, cast them in a violent angry motion (as was observed by W. Aston) towards the said Mary, as if she intended to strike at her if she could have reached her, and said, Now she is down. Upon which the Maid fell suddenly down to the ground like a stone, and fell into a most violent Fit, that all the people that could come to lay hands on her could scarce hold her, she biting her own arms and shreeking out in a most hideous manner, to the amazement of all the Beholders. And continuing so for about a quarter of an hour (the said Florence Newton sitting by herself all that while pinching her own hands and arms, as was sworn by some that observed her), the Maid was ordered to be carried out of Court, and taken into a House. Whence several Persons after that brought word, that the Maid was in a Vomiting Fit, and they brought in several crook’d Pins, and Straws, and Wooll, in white Foam like Spittle, in great proportion. Whereupon the Court having taken notice that the Maid said she had been very well when the said Florence was in Bolts, and ill again when out of them, till they were again put on her, demanded of the Jaylor if she were in Bolts or no, to which he said she was not, only manacled. Upon which order was given to put on her Bolts, and upon putting them on she cried out that she was killed, she was undone, she was spoiled, why do you torment m thus? and so continued complaining grievously for half a quarter of an hour. And then came in a messenger from the Maid, and informed the Court the Maid was well. At which Florence immediately and cholerickly uttered these words, She is not well yet! And being demanded, how she knew this, she denied she said so, though many in Court heard her say the words, and she said, if she did, she knew not what she said, being old and disquieted, and distracted with her sufferings. But the Maid being reasonably well come to herself, was, before the Court knew anything of it, sent out of Town to Youghall, and so was no further examined.
“The Fit of the Maid being urged by the Court with all the circumstance of it upon Florence Newton, to have been a continuance of her devilish practice, she denied it, and likewise the motion of her hands, and the saying, Now she is down, though the Court saw the first, and the words were sworn to by one Roger Moor. And Thomas Harrison swore that he had observed the said Florence peep at her, and use that motion with her hands, and sa the Maid fall immediately upon that motion, and heard the words, Now she is down, uttered.
“Nicholas Stout was next produced by Mr. Attorney-General, who being sworn and examined, saith, That he had often tried her, having heard say that Witches could not say the Lord’s Prayer, whether she could or no, and she could not. Whereupon she said she could say it, and had often said it, and the Court being desired by her to hear her say it, gave her leave; and four times together after these words, Give us this day our daily bread, she continually said, As we forgive them, leaving out altogether the words, And forgive us our trespasses, upon which the Court appointed one near her to teach her the words she left out. But she either could not, or would not, say them, using only these or the like words when these were repeated, Ay, ay, trespasses, that’s the word. And being often pressed to utter the words as they were repeated to her, she did not. And being asked the reason, she said she was old and had a bad memory; and being asked how her memory served her so well for other parts of the Prayer, and only failed her for that, she said she knew not, neither could she help it.
“John Pyne being likewise sworn and examined, saith, That about January last  the said Mary Longdon, being his Servant, was much troubled with small stones that were thrown at her [&c., as in the Deponent’s statement, other items of which he also corroborated]. That sometimes the Maid would be reading in a Bible, and on a sudden he hath seen the Bible struck out of her Hand into the middle of the Room, and she immediately cast into a violent Fit. That in the Fits he hath seen two Bibles laid on her Breast, and in the twinkling of an eye they would be cast betwixt the two Beds the Maid lay upon, sometimes thrown into the middle of the Room, and that Nicholas Pyne held the Bible in the Maid’s hand so fast, that it being suddenly snatch’d away, two of the leaves were torn.
“Nicholas Pyne being sworn, saith, That the second night after that the Witch had been in Prison, being the 24th [26?] of March last, he and Joseph Thompson, Roger Hawkins, and some others went to speak with her concerning the Maid, and told her that it was the general opinion of the Town that she had bewitched her, and desired her to deal freely with them, whether she had bewitched her or no. She said she had not bewitched her, but it may be she had overlooked her, and that there was a great difference between bewitching and overlooking, and that she could not have done her any harm if she had not touch’d her, and that therefore she had kiss’d her. And she said that what mischief she thought of at that time she kiss’d her, that would fall upon her, and that she could not but confess she had wronged the Maid, and thereupon fell down upon her knees, and prayed God to forgive her for wronging the poor Wench. They wish’d that she might not be wholly destroyed by her; to which she said, it must be another that would help her, and not they that did the harm. And then she said, that there were others, as Goody Halfpenny and Goody Dod, in Town, that could do these things as well as she, and that it might be one of these that had done the Maid wrong.
“He further saith, That towards Evening the Door of the Prison shook, and she arose up hastily and said, What makest thow here this time a night? And there was a very great noise, as if some body with Bolts and Chains had been running up and down the Room, and they asked her what it was she spoke to, and what it was that made the noise; and she said she saw nothing, neither did she speak, and if she did, it was she knew not what. But the next day she confess’d it was a Spirit, and her Familiar, in the shape of a Greyhound.
“He further saith, That he and Mr. Edward Perry and others for Trial of her took a Tile off the Prison, went to the place where the Witch lay, and carried it to the House where the Maid lived, and put it in the fire until it was red-hot, and then dripped some of the Maid’s water upon it, and the Witch was then grievously tormented, and when the water consumed she was well again.
“Edward Perry being likewise sworn, deposeth, That he, Mr. Greatrix, and Mr. Blackwall went to the Maid, and Mr. Greatrix and he had read of a way to discover a Witch, which he would practise. And so they sent for the Witch, and set her on a Stool, and a Shoemaker with a strong Awl endeavoured to stick it into the Stool, but could not till the third time. And then they bade her come off the Stool, but she said she was very weary and could not stir. Then two of them pulled her off, and the Man went to pull out his Awl, and it dropped into his hand with half an Inch broke off the blade of it, and they all looked to have found where it had been stuck, but could find no place where any entry had been made by it. Then they took another Awl, and put it into the Maid’s hand, and one of them took the Maid’s hand, and ran violently at the Witch’s hand with it, but could not enter it, though the Awl was so bent that none of them could put it straight again. Then Mr. Blackwall took a Launce, and launc’d one of her hands an Inch and a half long, and a quarter of an Inch deep, but it bled not at all. Then he launc’d the other hand, and then they bled.
“He further saith, That after she was in Prison he went with Roger Hawkins and others to discourse with the Witch about the Maid, and they asked what it was she spoke to the day before, and after some denial she said it was a Greyhound which was her Familiar, and went out at the Window; and then she said, If I have done the Maid hurt I am sorry for it. And being asked whether she had done her any hurt she said she never did bewitch her, but confess’d she had overlooked her, at that time she kiss’d her, but that she could not now help her, for none could help her that did the mishap, but others. Further the Deponent saith, That meeting after the Assizes at Cashel with one William Lap [who suggested the test of the tile, &c.].
“Mr. Wood, a Minister, being likewise sworn and examined, deposeth, That having heard of the stones dropped and thrown at the Maid, and of her Fits, and meeting with the Maid’s Brother, he went along with him to the Maid, and found her in her Fit, crying out against Gammer Newton, that she prick’d and hurt her. And when she came to herself he asked her what had troubled her; and she said Gammer Newton. And the Deponent saith, Why, she was not there. Yes, said she, I saw her by my bedside. The Deponent then asked her the original of all, which she related from the time of her begging the Beef, and after kissing, and so to that time. That then they caused the Maid to be got up, and sent for Florence Newton, but she refused to come, pretending she was sick, though it indeed appeared she was well. Then the Mayor of Youghall came in, and spoke with the Maid, and then sent again and caused Florence Newton to be brought in, and immediately the Maid fell into her Fit far more violent, and three times as long as at any other time, and all the time the Witch was in the Chamber the Maid cried out continually of her being hurt here and there, but never named the Witch: but as soon as she was removed, then she cried out against her by the name of Gammer Newton, and this for several times. And still when the Witch was out of the Chamber the Maid would desire to go to Prayers, and he found good affections of her in time of Prayer, but when the Witch was brought in again, though never so privately, although she could not possibly, as the Deponent conceives, see her, she would be immediately senseless, and like to be strangled, and so would continue till the Witch was taken out, and then though never so privately carried away she would come again to her senses. That afterwards Mr. Greatrix, Mr. Blackwall, and some others, who would need satisfy themselves in the influence of the Witch’s presence, tried it and found it several times.
“Richard Mayre, Mayor of Youghall, sworn, saith, That about the 24th of March last he sent for Florence Newton and examined her about the Maid, and she at first denied it, and accused Goodwife Halfpenny and Goodwife Dod, but at length when he had caused a Boat to be provided, and thought to have tried the Water-Experiment on all three, Florence Newton confessed to overlooking. Then he likewise examined the other two Women, but they utterly denied it, and were content to abide any trial; whereupon he caused Dod, Halfpenny, and Newton to be carried to the Maid; and he told her that these two Women, or one of them, were said by Gammer Newton to have done her hurt, but she said, No, no, they are honest Women, but it is Gammer Newton that hurts me, and I believe she is not far off. [She was then brought in privately, with the usual result.] He further deposeth that there were three Aldermen in Youghall, whose children she had kiss’d, as he had heard them affirm, and all the children died presently after.
“Joseph Thompson being likewise sworn, saith [the same as Nicholas Pyne relative to the Greyhound-Familiar.]
“Hitherto we have heard the most considerable Evidence touching Florence Newton’s witchcraft upon Mary Longdon, for which she was committed to Youghall Prison, 24th March 1661. But April following she bewitched one David Jones to death by kissing his hand through the Grate of the Prison, for which she was indicted at Cork Assizes, and the evidence is as follows:
“Elenor Jones, Relict of the said David Jones, being sworn and examined in open Court what she knew concerning any practice of Witchcraft by the said Florence Newton upon the said David Jones her Husband, gave in Evidence, That in April last the said David, having been out all Night, came home early in the Morning, and said to her, Where dost thou think I have been all Night? To which she answered she knew not; whereupon he replied, I and Frank Beseley have been standing Centinel over the Witch all night. To which the said Elenor said, Why, what hurt is that? Hurt? quoth he. Marry I doubt it’s never a jot the better for me; for she hath kiss’d my Hand, and I have a great pain in that arm, and I verily believe she hath bewitch’d me, if ever she bewitch’d any Man. To which she answered, The Lord forbid! That all that Night, and continually from that time, he was restless and ill, complaining exceedingly of a great pain in his arm for seven days together, and at the seven days’ end he complained that the pain was come from his Arm to his Heart, and then kept his bed Night and Day, grievously afflicted, and crying out against Florence Newton, and about fourteen days after he died.
“Francis Beseley being sworn and examined, saith, That about the time aforementioned meeting with the said David Jones, and discoursing with him of the several reports then stirring concerning the said Florence Newton, that she had several Familiars resorting to her in sundry shapes, the said David Jones told him he had a great mind to watch her one Night to see whether he could observe any Cats or other Creatures resort to her through the Grate, as ’twas suspected they did, and desired the said Francis to go with him, which he did. And that when they came thither David Jones came to Florence, and told her that he heard she could not say the Lord’s Prayer; to which she answered, She could. He then desir’d her to say it, but she excused herself by the decay of Memory through old Age. Then David Jones began to teach her, but she could not or would not say it, though often taught it. Upon which the said Jones and Beseley being withdrawn a little from her, and discoursing of her not being able to learn this Prayer, she called out to David Jones, and said, David, David, come hither, I can say the Lord’s Prayer now. Upon which David went towards her, and the said Deponent would have pluckt him back, and persuaded him not to have gone to her, but he would not be persuaded, but went to the Grate to her, and she began to say the Lord’s Prayer, but could not say Forgive us our trespasses, so that David again taught her, which she seem’d to take very thankfully, and told him she had a great mind to have kiss’d him, but that the Grate hindered her, but desired she might kiss his Hand; whereupon he gave her his Hand through the Grate, and she kiss’d it; and towards break of Day they went away and parted, and soon after the Deponent heard that David Jones was ill. Whereupon he went to visit him, [and was told by him that the Hag] had him by the Hand, and was pulling off his Arm. And he said, Do you not see the old hag How she pulls me? Well, I lay my Death on her, she has bewitch’d me. About fourteen days languishing he died.”
This concludes the account of Florence Newton’s trial, as given by Glanvill; the source from which it was taken will be alluded to shortly. It would seem that the witch was indicted upon two separate charges, viz. with bewitching the servant-girl, Mary Longdon, and with causing the death of David Jones. The case must have created considerable commotion in Youghal, and was considered so important that the Attorney-General went down to prosecute, but unfortunately there is no record of the verdict. If found guilty (and we can have little doubt but that she was), she would have been sentenced to death in pursuance of the Elizabethan Statute, section 1.
Many of the actors in the affair were persons of local prominence, and can be identified. The “Mr. Greatrix” was Valentine Greatrakes, the famous healer or “stroker,” who also makes his appearance in the tale of the haunted butler (see p. 164). He was born in 1629, and died in 1683. He joined the Parliamentary Army, and when it was disbanded in 1656, became a country magistrate. At the Restoration he was deprived of his offices, and then gave himself up to a life of contemplation. In 1662 the idea seized him that he had the power of healing the king’s-evil. He kept the matter quiet for some time, but at last communicated it to his wife, who jokingly bade him try his power on a boy in the neighbourhood. Accordingly he laid his hands on the affected parts with prayer, and within a month the boy was healed. Gradually his fame spread, until patients came to him from various parts of England as well as Ireland. In 1665 he received an invitation from Lord Conway to come to Ragley to cure his wife of perpetual headaches. He stayed at Ragley about three weeks, and while there he entertained his hosts with the story of Florence Newton and her doings; although he did not succeed in curing Lady Conway, yet many persons in the neighbourhood benefited by his treatment. The form of words he always used was: “God Almighty heal thee for His mercy’s sake”; and if the patient professed to receive any benefit he bade them give God the praise. He took no fees, and rejected cases which were manifestly incurable. In modern times the cures have been reasonably attributed to animal magnetism. He was buried beside his father at Affane, co. Waterford. Some of his contemporaries had a very poor opinion of him; Increase Mather, writing in 1684, alludes contemptuously to “the late miracle-monger or Mirabilian stroaker in Ireland, Valentine Greatrix,” whom he accuses of attempting to cure an ague by the use of that “hobgoblin word, Abrodacara.”
John Pyne, the employer of the bewitched servant-girl, served as Bailiff of Youghal along with Edward Perry in 1664, the latter becoming Mayor in 1674; both struck tradesmen’s tokens of the usual type. Richard Myres was Bailiff of Youghal in 1642, and Mayor in 1647 and 1660. The Rev. James Wood was appointed “minister of the gospel” at Youghal, by the Commonwealth Government, at a salary of £120 per annum; in 1654 his stipend was raised to £140, and in the following year he got a further increase of £40. He was sworn in a freeman at large in 1656, and appears to have been presented by the Grand Jury in 1683 as a religious vagrant.
Furthermore, it seems possible to recover the name of the Judge who tried the case at the Cork Assizes. Glanvill says that he took the Relation from “a copy of an Authentick Record, as I conceive, every half-sheet having W. Aston writ in the Margin, and then again W. Aston at the end of all, who in all likelihood must be some publick Notary or Record-Keeper.” This man, who is also mentioned in the narrative, is to be identified with Judge Sir William Aston, who after the establishment of the Commonwealth came to Ireland, and was there practising as a barrister at the time of the Restoration, having previously served in the royalist army. On 3rd November 1660 he was appointed senior puisne Judge of the Chief Place, and died in 1671. The story accordingly is based on the notes taken by the Judge before whom the case was brought, and is therefore of considerable value, in that it affords us a picture, drawn by an eye-witness in full possession of all the facts, of a witch-trial in Ireland in the middle of the seventeenth century.