Slander and ‘witchcraft’ in Stuart England

The following examples of slander (and an allegation of witchcraft) were found in a manorial court book, and all come from 1691.

Manor courts

The manor was Inglewood (Forest), in Cumberland. Manor courts were the lowest courts of law in England and dealt with both the preservation of the rights of the lord, and the regulation of relations between tenants.

They recorded the surrender and admission to copyhold land, held of the manor. And also dealt with disputes over hedges, the maintaining of watercourses, misuse of common land… and minor crimes.

Cases were heard by a jury of 12 elected copyholders.

Manor court books are an interesting source for family history research, if you are dedicated enough to spend a day in the relevant County Archives. Possibly for ‘thin pickings’.

You can read more about them here.

Stuart England

I’ve headed this post: slander and ‘witchcraft’ in Stuart England.The Stuart period ran (from 1603) until 1714.

The Stuart on the throne in 1691 was Mary II, ruling jointly with her husband William III. 

Slander and ‘witchcraft’

The court book of Inglewood, 1691.

A strange insult

We fine Richard Bargatt of Lazonby, for slandering Bridgett Abbot and Margaret Abbot, by calling them “sheep’s hooves (God damn them)”.

There was none abroad at that time of night, but ‘sheep’s hooves’. We fine him 3 shillings and 4 pence.

Humphrey Porter was guilty of exactly the same offence, and received the fine.

It’s not clear if Richard and Humphrey exclaimed “sheep’s hooves (God damn them)” simultaneously, or what!

A capital accusation

In the same year, John Hoad was fined 5 shillings for slandering Ann Wilson, saying she ought to be hanged (something about a husband and a cow).

Pinny talk

Comments about an apron caused strife between Ann Clarke, who accused Jane Thornborrow of slander. Jane went round saying Ann had bought this -ay apron in Penrith, for which Ann was ‘follow’d hound for’. 

Ann said she’d never owned a -ay apron in her lifetime. Jane was fined 2 shillings and 6 pence.

A family affair

Dorothy Ritson, meanwhile, was found guilty of slandering Mary Bell (wife of Andrew Bell), and Jennet Lazonby (Mary’s mother). Dorothy accused mother AND daughter of committing adultery with her husband! 

What Mr Ritson thought of all this isn’t recorded.

And ‘witchcraft’

There is another suggestion of domestic discord a year earlier.

Among the cases dealt with in 1690, there is one regarding a John Holme (bit of  guess at the name, as it looks more like ‘Hohme’). The co-respondent is an Isabell Holme.

It doesn’t say if Isabell is his wife or what.

The book does say that John had slandered her by claiming she had bewitched him.

And not in a lovey-dovey way, for he claimed she had ‘almost witched him to death’.

Witch trials did occasionally still take place in the second half of the 17th Century. It wasn’t until 1735 that a Witchcraft Act made it illegal to accuse someone of practising witchcraft.

However, the Inglewood jury in 1690 had no truck with John’s claims, finding him guilty of slander.