From transcripts of the 16th and 17th century Middlesex County and Sessions Court Records, available at Hillingdon Local Studies, Archives and Museum Service in Uxbridge Library
In everyday life there is always a sense of mystery and coincidence. A lot of people would shrug this off as nothing and continue with their lives; others would put it down to fate and leave it. However, back in the reign of Elizabeth I, things were extremely different. There was a widespread belief in magic; any coincidence was no coincidence at all; and this made all the difference in the eyes of the law.
We have all heard the terrible things that used to happen to people who wouldn’t confess to being a witch, even under torture, and how it was almost impossible to escape an accusation. However, going into the County and Sessions records, you find that a lot of the cases in Middlesex actually ended with no real punishment.
One such case was a lady named Agnes Godfrey, who was accused of murdering three people and seriously harming a fourth. When she came to trial she pleaded not guilty, even with the dates and manners of death being strikingly similar – and having had one of these charges as a spinster, she got all of the indictments against her acquitted. She walked out a free woman and not a witch.
Magic or no magic, she was a lucky woman to have got out alive – and who knows maybe she did use a little magic to change the jurors’ minds.
By Rachel, on work experience at Uxbridge Library. (The print is not from our collections).
The Middlesex County and Sessions Court Records are also on British History Online, on the public PCs at Level 6, Uxbridge Library.