Trials for witchcraft were fairly common in Tudor and Stuart times: several can be found in the Yarmouth quarter sessions records, for example (Y/S 1/2). By far the biggest trial was that of 1645. Yarmouth Assembly actually invited Matthew Hopkins (the well-known ‘Witchfinder–General’) to come to the town to ‘discover and find out’ witches, and, on 10th September 1645, eleven people appeared before the court.
A gardener named Marcus Prynne was accused of bewitching a man to sicken and waste away. He was followed by two women who were both accused of ‘feeding and entertaining evil spirits’. However all three were found not guilty.
The fourth person to appear, Maria Vevey (or Verey) faced more specific charges as well as the usual ‘entertaining and feeding evil spirits’. She was accused of practising witchcraft on four named people all of whom ‘sickened, consumed and languished’. Maria was acquitted on all counts, along with a sailor called John Sparke who was the fifth person to be judged.
Next was Alice Ceipwell, charged with ‘having used practiced and exercised witchcraft, and with many evil, wicked and diabolical spirits then and there consulted and made compact and the same evil spirits with evil intention did feed and entertain’. She was followed by three more women. All four were found guilty and sentenced to hang.
The tenth prisoner was Elizabeth Bradwell. She was accused not only of sorcery and witchcraft, but also of specific offences, that she ‘diabolically and feloniously used, practised and exercised upon and against John Moulton, the infant son of Henry Moulton, hosier, from which the said child in the greatest peril suffered and languished.’ The final prisoner, Johanna Lacey, was charged with similar offences. Both were found guilty and sentenced to hang.
For some reason, the sentence on Johanna Lacey was postponed, but the other five women were hanged together. This may have happened in the centre of town, or at the gallows on the boundary between Yarmouth and Caister, where later public hangings took place.
After this trial, the jurors of Yarmouth seem to have been satisfied. Five further people were charged with witchcraft at the sessions court of the following April, but were acquitted. There were no witchcraft cases in September of 1646 and only one in April 1647. This was Maria Verey, one of those acquitted 18 months earlier: she was again found not guilty.