Hanged for witchcraft: book gives rare insight into 17th Century witch trials

A rare book giving an insight into the witch trials of the 17th century in East Anglia is going up for auction this week.

A Tryal of Witches gives a first hand account of the trial in Bury St Edmunds of two women accused of witchcraft.

It highlights the shaky evidence used to convict and execute those believed to be witches.

It's up for auction at Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex. Credit: ITV News Anglia

In 1645 18 people were hanged en masse in Bury St Edmunds, believed to be a witch.

At that time 200 people were waiting to appear in Bury's court on the charge of witchcraft, the majority having been sought out by the witch finder general Matthew Hopkins.

This book, A Tryal of Witches, tells the story of two elderly women from Lowestoft- who were charged with bewitching children- Rose Cullender and Amy Denny in 1662.

Thingoe Hill was one of three execution sites in the town. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Rose and Amy were said to have wanted to buy some herring from a merchant but were refused. The book states they put a curse on the merchant's family which caused his daughters to fall ill.

By the time they came to trial, more victims of their alleged witchcraft had come forward. The book records that spectral evidence was accepted in court - evidence based on the victims' dreams or visions of the accused.

Rose and Amy were hanged - the book states their victims recovered from their illnesses within half an hour of the trial ending.

The book gives a rare insight into witch trials.

"It's basically what you would call unsupported cause and effect, so someone says can I have some bread, someone says no, they say I hope your chimney falls down, and someone's chimney falls down and there's your witch. And these two women would have been a burden on their community at the time, as is the case a lot of the time with witchcraft it's a slightly cynical way of disposing with communal problems that aren't a benefit to the whole."

Alex McWhirter, Heritage Officer, Moyses Hall Museum