Put To Question: The Thumbscrews
Torture was not allowed under English law without permission from the king
but the thumbscrews or pilniewinks crushed even the strongest will.
“. . . in 1596, the son and daughter of Aleson Balfour, who was accused of witchcraft, were tortured to make her confess her crime in the manner following: Her son was put in the buits where he suffered fifty-seven strokes; and her daughter about seven years old, was put in the pilniewinks . . .”
Since 1093, Lancaster Castle has protected the north of England from a Scottish invasion. Built on the site of an old Roman fort, it was confiscated by the Crown following an unsuccessful rebellion against King Henry I. Today it belongs to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Lancaster Castle has a long history of dealing with criminals. The first Assizes (law courts for serious cases) began in 1166 and were held twice each year. And although the castle is still used as a Crown Court today, it recently stopped serving as a prison in March, 2011.
The trials of the Lancashire Witches took place within these walls on two days of August, 1612. According to local legend the prisoners endured horrific conditions while imprisoned in the dungeons of the Well Tower. One of the matriarchs – Old Demdike – did not survive her incarceration. It is also estimated that around 200 official executions took place here over the centuries.
Lancaster Castle is a fascinating tourist attraction for anyone interested in medieval history, crime and punishment, witch hunts, religious persecutions, and British heraldry. Yet children growing up in the area were told, No one comes out of that place the same way they went in – most of the prisoners supposedly turned mad.
Today, the gray, daunting castle still dominates the quaint city of Lancaster from its perch on the top of the hill.
And within its chilly walls lie many dark, unspoken wonders.
Champness, John. Lancaster Castle: A Brief History (Lancashire: Lancashire County Books, 1993)
Curses As Revenge?
“We never pray against a soul – but if we’ve aught against folk
then we ourselves take vengeance!”
(Picture: Gerard van Honhorst)
The Witch Test #9
For the ninth test, they’ll prick you with a bodkin or a knife!
If you feel no pain when poked –
or if you fail to bleed –
or if that spot’s cold to the touch –
they’ll claim that’s proof of witchcraft!
Witch Test #8
If you are suspected of being a wise woman or cunning man, they may try WITCH WATCHING:
The townsfolk will keep you awake
and watch for familiar spirits.
If a demon appears in animal form –
then you are in league with Satan!
The Witch Test #7
The seventh test they’ll try is PRICKING THE WITCH!
If you’ve a birth mark, flea bite, spot, or scab – they’ll say it’s where the devil suckles.
It’s the sign of a pact made with Satan.
If they prick it, you’ll feel no pain and neither will you bleed!
The Witch Test #6
The sixth test is the LAYING ON OF HANDS.
If you touch someone throwing a fit –
and they suddenly stop –
they’ll claim you are the cause of their affliction!
The Witch Test #5
The PRAYER challenge is the hardest.
If you can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer correctly –
without any error or stumbling –
then you must be a witch!
Witch Test #4
Do you send out a ghost in SPECTRAL FORM?
If a familiar spirit –
or spectral self –
or apparition from you is seen by the villagers . . .
then you are a witch!
Witch Test #2
If the villagers think you are a witch –
and you make a free and voluntary confession to that effect –
then you may indeed be considered a witch.