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Executed for ‘witchcraft’: harrowing tale of how Suffolk court ordered innocent pair’s death

A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes held at Bury St Edmonds is being auctioned by Sworders. Picture: SWORDERS

A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes held at Bury St Edmonds is being auctioned by Sworders. Picture: SWORDERS

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It sounds almost impossible that anyone could ever believe it - yet a Suffolk court with the highest legal brains in the land was convinced two evil witches deserved the highest punishment possible.

A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes held at Bury St Edmonds is being auctioned by Sworders. Picture: SWORDERSA Tryal of Witches at the Assizes held at Bury St Edmonds is being auctioned by Sworders. Picture: SWORDERS

In what is probably one of the worst miscarriages of justices in the county's history, Rose Cullendar and Amy Duny were brought before a court in Bury St Edmunds in 1662 accused of bewitching young children in Lowestoft.

The famous trial, overseen by eminent judge Sir Matthew Hale, heard how the elderly pair had aroused the suspicions of their neighbours because children reportedly had "violent fits" when Cullendar and Duny were close by.

In one case where a child had fits after Duny visited a house trying to buy herrings, a doctor told the court he "could not conjecture what might be the cause of the child's affliction".

Yet jurors were told she was a "woman of ill fame and commonly reported to be a witch and sorceress".

Another child was said to have died because of a curse.

The jury took just 30mins to reach a guilty verdict and the pair were "urged to confess - but would not".

Cullendar and Duny were executed a few days later.

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The harrowing tale is recalled in a rare 180-page book, A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes held at Bury St Edmonds for the country of Suffolk; on the tenth day of March, 1664 - which is being sold as part of Sworders' Out of the Ordinary auction in Stansted Mountfitchet on February 11.

Mark Wilkinson, head of Out of the Ordinary sales at Sworders, said: "There was this fear, frenzy and hearsay over witches at the time.

"It was just people accusing each other and you ask yourself: 'Where is the proof?'

"Yet the person who was in charge of the court was one of the most eminent judges at the time. There was real thought put into this judgement.

"The book is a first-hand account of the trial itself. When you think about it, 1682 is not actually that long ago - and both of these people were hung for being witches."

Mr Wilkinson suspects their fate might have been sealed by the fact East Anglia was one of the most famous areas for witch-hunting.

Cullendar and Duny's conviction followed the campaign led by Matthew Hopkins, whose witch-hunting is thought to have led to the death of 300 alleged witches.

It is hoped the book, which was first published 20 years after the trial, will raise between £500 and £800 at auction.

For more information, visit the Sworders website.


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