Witches on trial in 350-year-old notebook
A 350-year-old notebook describing the execution of innocent women for ‘consorting with the Devil’ has been published online with JISC funding by The University of Manchester’s John Rylands library.
The notebook was written by Puritan writer Nehemiah Wallington who describes how a supposed coven of witches lived in the Suffolk village of Manningtree.
Unfortunately for them, Manningtree was also home to the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, notorious for his brutality against women.
In 1645 the Witchfinder General examined one of the suspected witches Elizabeth Clarke for ‘devil’s marks’ like warts or moles.
Under torture, Elizabeth then named other women as witches including her own daughter Rebecca, who later confessed to being a witch.
19 women were eventually hanged, though Rebecca was saved thanks to her confession.
The witchcraft trial is just one of the fascinating episodes contained in Wallington's notebook, one of only seven remaining out of the 50 he wrote, which documents his attitudes to life, religion and the civil war.
Caroline Schofield, collections manager at Tatton Park Mansion which holds the notebooks, said: “Nehemiah Wallington, a turner by trade and a Christian by religion, was an intelligent working man battling with the adversities of life in the seventeenth century. At times he doubted his salvation to the degree that he suffered a mental breakdown and tried to take his own life. He began to keep his diaries in an effort to record his own sins and God’s mercies. The Wallington manuscripts are hugely important primary sources for scholars of the period.”
Last year a team of experts from the John Rylands’ Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care (CHICC) at the university of Manchester funded by JISC spent a week capturing the document on camera.
James Robinson, senior photographer at the John Rylands Library, said: “Our work at Tatton Park involved careful documentation of each and every page of this fragile and important notebook. We’re delighted the public, free of charge, will now be read for themselves the horrors of that period.”
Paula Marchionni, programme manager at JISC, explained why JISC is supporting the work: “Future generations of researchers will need more and better access to precious documents like Wallington’s notebooks so digitising them is a real investment. But even then, it’s not always easy to sustain these collections. Through the eContent programme, JISC has supported the John Rylands Library in setting up the CHICC to investigate how the right business models can help them maintain and further develop their digital assets.”
See and search Wallington’s notebooks close up
Find out more about JISC’s investment in CHICC
Visit the CHICC website