The Tudor Society

5 July 1589 – The hanging of Joan Cunny, one of the ‘Essex Witches’

On this day in history, 5th July 1589, Joan Cunny (Cony), one of the 'Essex Witches', was hanged at Chelmsford.

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

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

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.

There are 8 comments Go To Comment

  1. R

    The Essex witchcraft trials often get forgotten about in the wake of later more famous crazes, the 1612_Pendle and East Anglia trials in the 1640s and 1650s and the Berwick Witch trials. Good article on a less well known miscarriage of justice. Thanks.

  2. K

    Thank you for linking to my article “Female power: witchcraft and gender in Elizabethan England”. I have since substantially updated this article on my website and a newer version of the same can be found at the following location

    The Essex trials of the 16th century are largely forgotten. I give talks all across Essex about “The Witches of Elizabethan and Stuart Essex” based on my research. Most of my modern-day audiences are totally unaware as to what happened in their county in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    1. C - Post Author

      Thank you so much, Kate! Yes, they are largely forgotten and it’s a real shame. I’ll email you as I’d be very interested in hearing you talk.

    2. R

      Thanks for this link, Kate. I visited your site tonight and it is a valuable resource. I would highly recommend anyone researching to visit your site.

  3. V

    I am trying to find out about a Joan who was said to have been hanged for witchcraft in 1589. However, St Olave, Silver Street is also mentioned so I wonder if she was hanged at Smithfield. Her maiden name was Allen or Allyn, She married a Mr Deacon but is also named as de Gorney Smythe, which may indicate she married twice, could the Gorney be a misreading of Coney, or Cunny one of the Essex witches? Do you know what Joan Coney’s maiden name was?

    1. C - Post Author

      There was a Joan Allen of Leigh who was accused of witchcraft in 1574. I haven’t seen the name Allen in my recent of these three Joans.

  4. C

    Is there any info on William Harris who was accused in 1566 Essex Witch Trials? I can’t find anything other than his name listed mentioning he was one of the accused. Thank you for your time!

    1. C - Post Author

      I’m sorry, I’ve had a look through my research and looked on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website and there’s only Roman Catholic priest William Harris (c. 1546–1602).

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5 July 1589 – The hanging of Joan Cunny, one of the ‘Essex Witches’