How Jersey became 'the witch-hunting capital of Europe'

The Channel Islands have been described in the history books as 'the witch-hunting capital of Europe'.

Between the 16th-17th centuries, when Jersey had a population of around 10,000 people, there were at least 65 witch trials that came before the Royal Court.

Of those, 33 led to execution and eight to banishment.

The process of bringing individuals to trial in Jersey either required a confession, proof ‘as clear as day’ or a parish indictment - with parishioners deciding whether there was a case to answer.

Those charged with 'sorcery' would have been held at Jersey's Mont Orgueil Castle until their trial. Credit: ITV Channel TV

If there was a case to answer then the accused was invited to submit to an inquiry by 24 men. A five out of six majority was required for a guilty conviction punishable by death.

Often whilst waiting for a confession or inquiry the accused would be held in prison for up to a year.

It was common practice in Jersey to hang those accused of witchcraft and then burn the body, rather than burn the individual alive.

Linda Romeril is the director at Jersey Archive. She explained: "The Jersey people who were accused of sorcery were always hung and their bodies were burnt until basically, the wording in the court record is, that they were burnt until they became cinders, so effectively making sure that they couldn't come back."

It was common practice in Jersey to hang those accused of witchcraft and then burn the body, rather than burn the individual alive . Credit: ITV Channel

  • The Tourgis Family (as researched by Jersey Archive's Linda Romeril).

Witchcraft appears to have been prominent in certain families. In 1608 Andrée Tourgis and her daughters appeared a number of times in the courts accused of 'sorcery'.

Andrée’s daughter Mabel had an illegitimate child and at her trial for witchcraft, Andrée confessed that she had killed the baby. Andrée was executed but her two other daughters, Jeanne and Marie were acquitted.

Jeanne and Marie both appeared in the courts again, Jeanne in 1613 when she was found guilty of associating with witches and banished from the island, and Marie who was brought to trial in October 1618.

The court record states Marie confessed to the Centenier of Grouville that she had killed a child and bewitched a woman so she was taken to Mont Orgueil Castle to await trial.

An inquest was carried out and records show Marie was found guilty of the 'abominable crime of sorcery'. She was sentenced to be hung until she is dead and then her body reduced to ashes. All her goods are forfeit to the Crown.

Jersey Archive records tell the stories of many men and women who were charged with what is described as the 'diabolical crime of sorcery'. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Marie’s crimes left a deep impression on those living in the east of the island.

Writing in the 1930s Balleine recounts that even at that time, over 300 years after Marie’s death, parents would say to naughty children, ‘If you are a bad girl I will send for Marie Tourgis'.

The last recorded witch trial in Jersey took place in 1736. It is thought they began to disappear as people became more tolerant of the crime.

Linda Romeril from Jersey Archive has been researching Jersey's witch trials for many years and uncovered much on the subject. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Linda added: "What's wonderful is the records survived to tell us these stories, this particular record of stories actually starts in 1504, so it's an amazing story and I suppose it's a story of people and what happened to them."

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