This chapter focuses on the nature of those accused of witchcraft in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England and the accusations against them. As indicated previously, some of the main sources for the witch-hunt phenomenon are the contemporary court records, in particular from the Assizes, and also the contemporary pamphlets about individual trials. These sources, especially the pamphlets, will be of central importance to the discussion in this chapter. As I pointed out earlier, the records are often incomplete. In the case of Essey, however, the primary source material is unusually good and affords an opportunity to consider the details of specific cases.
Generally it can be seen that controlling the use of witchcraft became a central concern of Elizabethan and Jacobean village life (MacFarlane 1970). Once accused of using witchcraft the label of ‘witch’ was also virtually impossible to shake off. Even if a woman accused of witchcraft was acquitted, she might well be accused of another crime of witchcraft at a later date. Such was the case of Margaret Welles (or Gans) who was acquitted in 1579 after being accused of using witchcraft to cause murder. She appears in the records of the next Assizes accused of bewitching a pig, though again acquitted. Similarly Elizabeth Frauncis, accused in 1566 of using witchcraft to cause injury to a fellow villager, was imprisoned for one year. She was again accused and found guilty of causing injury by witchcraft in 1572, when she was once more imprisoned and also placed in the pillory. In 1579 she was tried for the last time, convicted of using witchcraft to murder, and hanged. (The