Joan Cunny was born in around 1508 and was from Stisted in Essex. She was accused of killing her neighbours and causing a great storm. Cunny had told of how she knelt in a circle and prayed to Satan to conjure her familiar and spirits. The pre-trial examination of Joan Cunny, along with those of Joan Prentice and Joan Upney, was published in 1589 as The Apprehension and Confession of Three Notorious Witches. Joan Prentice, who had a ferret-shaped familiar named Satan who had allegedly killed a child, was also hanged on 5th July, as was Joan Upney.
These three women were three of thirty-one Essex people (thirty women and one man) who were accused of witchcraft under the 1563 Witchcraft Act, full name: An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts (5 Eliz. I c. 16). According to this act, anyone who did "use, practise, or exercise any Witchcraft, Enchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroyed" was to be put to death. You can read the full text of the act at http://www.witchtrials.co.uk/act1563.html.
Joan Cunny's daughters, Avice and Margaret, were also charged with witchcraft in 1589. Avice was sentenced to hang, like her mother, but pleaded pregnancy and so was hanged in 1590 after the birth of her baby. Margaret was found guilty of two counts of bewitchment and sentenced to a year of imprisonment and six appearances in the stocks.
Further reading on the Essex Witches
- "Female power: witchcraft and gender in Elizabethan England" by Kate Dumycz - read online at http://www.witchtrials.co.uk/dumycz.pdf
- "The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches" - read this pamphlet online at http://dhayton.haverford.edu/pamphlets/category/witchcraft/page/9/
- Sharpe, James (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England, Longman.
or an updated version at http://www.essexvoicespast.com/witchcraft-and-witches-in-elizabethan-essex/
Notes and Sources
Picture: woodcut of the hangings of Joan Cunny, Joan Prentice and Joan Upney.
- Ridgway, Claire (2012) On This Day in Tudor History, MadeGlobal Publishing.
- Gibson, Marion. “Essex witches (act. 1566–1589).” Marion Gibson In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004.