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Witches of Belvoir

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Witches of Belvoir

Memorial to Henry & Francis Manners in Bottesford
Memorial to Henry & Francis Manners, the heirs to the 6th Earl and Countess of Rutland that the 'Witches of Belvoir' were accused of killing.

The Witches of Belvoir were three women, a mother and her two daughters, accused of witchcraft in England around 1618.[1] The mother, Joan Flower, died while in prison, and the two daughters, Margaret and Philippa, were hanged at Lincoln.


  • The Flowers of Bottesford 1
  • Charge of Witchcraft 2
  • Others accused 3
  • Aftermath and legacy 4
  • References 5

The Flowers of Bottesford

Joan, Margaret and Philippa Flowers were 'known to be herbal healers' and came from a local family which 'had fallen on hard times'.[2] They accepted employment as servants with the 6th Earl and Countess of Rutland, at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, Lincolnshire, when additional staff were needed for an upcoming visit by King James I.[2] But the sisters, and their mother, were unpopular with the other staff, and there were suggestions of theft, and misdemeanors.[2] All three were dismissed and only Joan was given a payment of severance amounting to '40 shillings, a bolster (pillow), and a mattress of wool'.[3]

After the sisters were dismissed, the Earl and Countess fell ill, suffering from 'vomiting and convulsions'.[3] Their son and heir, Henry, Baron de Ros,[4] died, and was buried on 26 September 1613.[5] Their younger children, Francis, and daughter Katherine, suffered similarly [1] and Francis, also, later died,[2] in 1620, and was buried on 7 March 1619 old style (1620 new style)

Charge of Witchcraft

Three years after Henry's death, on 16 July 1616, nine women were hanged as witches in

  • Thomas Wright (1852). Narratives of Sorcery and Magic, from the Most Authentic Sources. Redfield. p. 420. 
  1. ^ a b c d Andrews (Editor), William (Leicestershire, hull & London). Bygone Leicestershire. F. Murray, W. Andrews & co., Simpkin, Marshall & Hamilton, Kent, & co. pp. 91–92. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "'"Witches of Belvoir 'may have been framed. BBC. 2013-10-31. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  3. ^ a b "The Witches of Belvoir Castle". This Was Leicestershire. 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  4. ^ a b Bob, Sparford. "The Bottesford Witches, Introduction". Bottesford Living History. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Miller, William E. (1959). "Samuel Fleming, Elizabethan Clergyman". The Library Chronicle XXV. University of Pennsylvania. pp. 61–79. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  6. ^ Briscoe, J. Potter; Andrews (Editor), William (Leicestershire, hull & London). "Witchcraft In Leicestershire". Bygone Leicestershire. F. Murray, W. Andrews & co., Simpkin, Marshall & Hamilton, Kent, & co. pp. 126–130. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  7. ^ a b Notestein, Wallace (1911). A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718. Washington: American Historical Association. p. 133. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Chambers, Robert (1869). "March 11th". The Book Of Days. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  9. ^ a b Bathurst, Bella (2013-08-25). "Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction by Tracy Borman – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  10. ^ a b c Bob, Sparford. "The Bottesford Witches, The Wonderful Discovery of the Witchcrafts of Joan, Margaret and Phillipa Flower". Bottesford Living History. Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  11. ^  


In 2013, historian Tracey Borman suggested that the Flowers women may have been framed by a favourite of Villiers went on to marry the Rutland's sole heir Katherine on 16 May 1620.[11]

In 1953, Hilda Lewis published a historical romance, The Witch and the Priest, which consists of a series of conversations between Samuel Fleming, the clergman who oversaw the Flowers' examinations, and the ghost of Joan Flower.[5]

"In 1608 he married ye lady Cecila Hungerford, daughter to ye Honorable Knight Sir John Tufton, by whom he had two sons, both of which died in their infancy by wicked practises and sorcerye"[4]

The Earl and Countess remained so convinced that their son had been killed by the effects of witchcraft that they had it inscribed on their monument at Bottesford church. It reads, in part:

Later that year a ballad, Damnable Practises of Three Lincolnshire Witches Joane Flower and Her Two Daughters, printed by 'G. Eld for John Barnes' appeared.[5]

Margaret and Philippa Flowers were tried before Henry Hobart, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Edward Bromley, a Baron of the Exchequer, and found guilty.[5] They were hanged in Lincoln castle on 11 March 1619.[2]

Images of memorial text at Bottesford
'died in their infancy by wicked practises and sorcerye' - part of the memorial at Bottesford.

Aftermath and legacy

Greene claimed that she had accompanied Willimot into a wood where she said Willimot had conjured up two spirits in the form of a kitten and a "moldewarp" (mole) which had climbed on her shoulders and sucked at her ears. Greene sent these familiars to kill a man and woman with whom she had argued and both died within a fortnight. Baker also confessed to possessing a familiar in the form of a white dog, but most of her testimony concerned the visions she had witnessed.

"She never hurt any body, but did help divers persons that were stricken or fore-spoken (bewitched): and that her Spirit came weekly to her, and would tell of divers persons that were stricken and fore-spoken: and she saith that the use which she had of the Spirit, was to know those did which she had undertaken to amend and she did help them by certain prayers which she used."[10]

All three women were taken for examination and revealed that they too had visions and consorted with familiar spirits.[10] Willimott said her familiar was called Pretty and had been blown into her mouth by her former master in the form of a fairy, later reappearing in the form of a woman who asked her to give up her soul. Willimott testified more as a cunning woman than a witch, and insisted Pretty only helped her to inquire about the health of people she had attempted to heal:

During the examination, they revealed the names of other women who had aided them, Anne Baker of Bottesford; Joan Willimot of Goadby; and Ellen Greene of Stathern.[10]

A contemporary sketch of three other women accused: Anne Baker, Joan Willimot & Ellen Greene.

Others accused

At Lincoln, Margaret was to accuse her mother of witchcraft, while Phillipa admitted to witchcraft on behalf of herself, Margaret and Joan.[5] The sisters said they had entered into communion with familiar spirits that had assisted them with their schemes. The mother's familiar was a cat named Rutterkin.[8] The women admitted that they stole the glove of Lord Ross and gave it to their mother, who had dipped it in boiling water, stroked it along Rutterkin's back, and pricked it.[8] Combined with some incantations this supposedly caused Lord Ross to become ill and die. An attempt to harm Lady Katherine, the Earl's daughter, had failed when it was found that Rutterkin had no power over her. The women had also taken some feathers from the quilt of Rutland's bed and a pair of gloves. By boiling these in water mixed with blood they cast spells to prevent the Earl and Countess from having any more children.[8] Both women admitted to experiencing visions of devils and that their familiar spirits visited them and sucked at their bodies.[8]

When arrested Joan Flower professed her innocence. She was not known to be a Church-goer, but at Ancaster, en route to the prison at Lincoln,[1] she asked for bread as a substitute for the Eucharist.[9] She claimed that something so blessed could not be consumed by a witch but she was to choke and die, after the first bite.[9]

[8].gaol Lincoln the women were to be taken to [5]

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