The Tudor Society

25 December – A Tudor witch-hunter

Happy Christmas!

On this day in Tudor history, 25th December 1587, Brian Darcy, magistrate, Sheriff of Essex, witch-hunter and contributor to the 1582 “A true and just recorde of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S Oses [St Osyth]”, died.

“A True and Just Recorde” argued for harsher punishments for those found guilty of witchcraft, and Darcy was personally responsible for a number of deaths of people accused of witchcraft.

Find out more about this zealous witch-hunter in today's talk.

The pamphlet containing his interrogations can be read at https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A14611.0001.001?view=toc

Last year, I talked about Lettice Devereux, wife of favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother of favourite Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, AND I also talked about how Tudor people celebrated Christmas:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1549 – Death of Stephen Vaughan, merchant, merchant adventurer, diplomat and administrator, in London. He was buried at London's St Mary-le-Bow. Vaughan served Sir Thomas Cromwell as a diplomat between 1524 and 1539, and moved into Henry VIII's service on Cromwell's fall. He acted as the King's Chief Financial Agent in the Netherlands from 1544 to 1546, and became Under-Treasurer of the Tower of London Mint in 1544.
  • 1553 – Birth of Thomas Thomas, Puritan printer and lexicographer, in London. He became the printer of Cambridge University in 1583, and concentrated on printing Protestant theology and education works. He is known for his Latin dictionary.
  • 1569 (25th or 26th) – Killing of Sir John Borthwick, soldier, diplomat and Protestant, near Bewcastle in Cumberland. He was killed by the Forster family as he was fighting on the side of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray and the Regent, against Mary, Queen of Scots's forces. Borthwick had served Edward VI as a diplomat, Elizabeth I as a military commander and Mary, Queen of Scots as a diplomat.
  • 1596 – Death of Sir Henry Curwen, member of Parliament, Justice of the Peace and Sheriff. He served Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I loyally.

Transcript:

Happy Christmas! I do hope you have a wonderful day if you are celebrating today!

In last year’s video, I explained about how Tudor people would have celebrated Christmas Day, so do watch that video. This year, I’m going to talk about a really Christmassy topic, NOT, a witch hunter!

Yes, on this day in Tudor history, 25th December 1587, Brian Darcy, magistrate, Sheriff of Essex, witch-hunter and contributor to the 1582 “A true and just recorde of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S Oses [St Osyth]”, died. “A True and Just Recorde” argued for harsher punishments for those found guilty of witchcraft.

Let me give you a few facts about this witch-hunter…

• Brian Darcy was the son of Thomas Darcy of Tolleshunt Darcy in Essex, and his second wife, Elizabeth Bedingfield.
• Brian was married to Brigit Corbett, daughter of John Corbett of Sprowston in Norfolk, and the couple had eight children.
• During the 1580s, Brian lived at the Darcy family seat of St Osyth Priory in Essex, and also Tiptree Priory.
• In 1581, Brian served as a Justice of the Peace at Brentwood in Essex, at the March assizes.
• In 1582, as a magistrate, he was involved in the questioning of a group of people who were suspected of practising witchcraft in the St Osyth area and who were committed for trial. Brian’s interrogations of each of them were published that same year in the work “A true and just recorde of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S Oses”, which was over 100 pages in length. The panphlet, written by the rather anonymous WW, was dedicated to Brian: “To the right honourable and his singular good Lorde, he Lord Darcey, W. W. wisheth a prosperous continuance in this lyfe to the glory of God, and a dayly preservation in Gods feare to his endlesse joye.”
• As I mentioned, Brian Darcy used this work to argue for harsher punishments for those accused of witchcraft, people he viewed as devil worshippers. He wanted the punishment of hanging to be changed to burning. He stated that a normal felon and murder is hanged and that it was a “great inequality of justice” for a witch to also be hanged, “which deserueth a death so much the more horrible, by how much the honour of God is eclipsed, and the glorye due to his inviolable name most abhominably defaced, euen to the vttermost villanie that they can put in practise.”
His biographer, Marion Gibson, explains that “The pamphlet's emphasis suggests that Darcy was particularly proud of his use of trick questions against suspected witches, and of his false promises of favourable treatment of anyone who confessed.” Perhaps he felt the end justified the means.
• Brian Darcy was personally responsible for the execution of two women, and the deaths of four other people who died while in gaol.
• His work was obviously viewed in a positive light by those in authority as he was made Sheriff of Essex in 1586.
• Brian Darcy made his will on 19th December 1587 and died six days later, on Christmas Day.

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25 December – A Tudor witch-hunter

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