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Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern

by janet on 24 November 2011 · 6 comments

The Trials of Jane Wenham

Janet Woodall

Jane Wenham (abt 1642-1730) was the subject of what is commonly but erroneously regarded as the last witch trial in England. She was 70 years old when brought to trial and her case appears to have been typical in that she was reputed to be a wise-woman, but poor to the point of starvation. She had been married twice but appeared to have been deserted by her second husband Edward Wenham, who sent word around Hertford by the “crier” to the effect that he had separated from her. Not long afterwards, in 1699, he died, and her neighbours began to suggest that his death had been brought about by Jane?s use of witchcraft. Her first husband, Philip Cooke, had also met with a suspicious and unpleasant death (buried at St Mary’s on 27th November 1696), and within a couple of months Jane had married Edward Wenham (February 1697), thus fuelling the rumour mill.

On New Year?s Day in 1712 things came to a head. Matthew Gilson, a labourer on the farm of John Chapman was asked by Jane for a handful or two of straw, possibly for her to sell to straw plaiters: she had asked him once before and he again refused her request. She walked away, muttering as she went. Matthew reported that he then felt strangely compelled to run to Munders Green (near Wood End, Ardeley) and collect straw from a dung heap. Farmer John Chapman, was incensed by this apparent bewitching of his farmhand, and having been suspicious for some years that Jane had been bewitching his livestock, he publicly heaped abuse and threats upon her, and accused her of being a ‘witch and a bitch’.

Henry Chauncy

Jane, who seems to have been rather feisty, went to see the local magistrate Sir Henry Chauncy of Ardeley Bury, to bring a charge of defamation against the farmer and ask for protection. It is ironic that it was Jane herself who initiated events leading to her trial. Sir Henry laid the matter before Revd Godfrey Gardiner, the Rector of Walkern, and Gardiner tried to make peace by suggesting that Chapman award Jane with a shilling, advising her to be less quarrelsome. But she was not content and left angrily, saying that she would have justice “some other way”, words that would be misconstrued and later be used against her.

At Jane?s trial much was made of next supposed victim of Jane’s sorcery.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen Hearn February 10, 2019 at 9:59 pm

Interesting history nice to meet some relations.

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Caron Judge January 28, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Hello, I’m looking for any information on Jane Wenham’s daughter for reserch purposes. Also any drawings of Jane Wenham and her daughter would be greatly appreciated, as there must have been sketch artists at such a high profile case. If you could help in any way I would be most grateful.

Kind regards Ms C Judge.

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samantha evangelista December 26, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Susannah Harvey
1668–1730
BIRTH 1668
DEATH 1730
8th great-grandmother

This was my 8th great grandmother I believe would love to hear from anyone and so sorry to Jane wenhams family!!

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Philip Wright September 22, 2018 at 1:06 am

What a sad and misleading set of events that built up to accuse Jane Wenham that she was a witch. I suppose we can all take great heart that it was the pressure of the Christian church and the Royal families of Europe that needed the power by the misuse of the religious teachings by casting back into the past the religions that had been going for some 10 to 15,000 years, such as Paganism, and Druidism, Druidism being eradicated about 300 years AD by the Romans, when on ordered by the “Holy Roman Empire” The Druids were to be eradicated. It was done, it was done so efficiently that the British tribes and later the British people lost their religious franchise ans the Druids passed on their craft by word of mouth and re-enactment, nothing was written. Thank you the “Holy Roman Empire”, so kind and thoughtful of you. Then you have the Spanish Inquisition, bourne agains all non Catholics in the most horrific way and disgusting methods, and by whom is the question? A heirachy of vastly over zealous idiots whos religious egoism lays blatently in the open for all to see that the self promotion to positions of high authourity and being able to commit the most heinous crimes against humanity in the “Name of God”, useing the threat of being discomunicated from the Catholic church and sufferring eternal fire and brimstone for non compliance. The simplest question to ask is this; Was it Gods will that he gave free reign to pursue that horrific and abhorrent course of action and persecution, in Gods name? Rather, it was a bunch of power crazy zealots to grasp power and to hang on to it whilst subversively putting the people down with dastardly deeds and threats. Then we have the two infamous German monks in 1486, Heinrich Insistoris Kramer and Jacob Sprenger produced the “MALLEUS MALEFICARUM” or “WITCHES HAMMER” for the treatment of witches. When the book was submitted to the Theological Faculty of the University of Cologne and the majority of the professors refused to have anything to do with it. So, Kramer and Sprenger forged the approbation of the whole faculty, a forgery that would come to light in 1898. So, once again, these two monks forged the authority of the church and due to religious hysteria it is assumed that a total number of “So Called” Witches, to the tune of 9,000,000 (Nine Million) were hung or torchured to death, and that’s from just 2 German Monks forging the permission document which they were refused.
So, in conclusion, we can say that The desire to rule a nation by destroying their religion and belief system, and by over zealous idiots who misused and abused their positions in the church, and that two German Monks can totally disregard their peers and go on to cause such mayhem and cruelty, “AL DONE IN THE NAME OF GOD”.
One has to ask; If witches were persecuted for their interest in nature and the use of herbs and herbal remedies, why wasn’t “Hildegard
von Bingen” also persecuted for doing the same thing.
What is also funny is, Mid summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, Whitsun, Easter, and a number of other Christian celebration days are taken from the Pagans, which begs the question, Christianity is only 2000 years old and is man made, whereas, Paganism and Druidism were here in these British Isles for at least 10 to 15,000 years and the people were totally in tune with the land and the seasons and respected death as just a small part in a long journey.
In conclusion, your 8th Great Grandmother, although brought to trial, suffered the humiliation and was not convicted. These things have taken many hundreds of years and affected millions of lives in the process. Nothing can be done now to right all those wrongs, but we can be very happy that in 1951 Sir Winston Churchill signed the Witchcraft Bill to bring it to an end. Try meditating with Jane Wenham and let her know that you’re thinking and feeling for her.

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Josephine Dunn May 14, 2015 at 5:17 pm

One of Jane’s accusers was Suzanne (Susan) Aylott nee Harvey, she was a distant ancestor of mine. The Aylott family are also intermarried with the Thorn family, AnneThorn being another accuser of Jane. I’m looking for historical documents and living descendants of the Aylott (variousspellings) family. Public tree on Ancestry ‘Josephine Salt Family Tree 27 April 2015’ . Aylott also in Albury & other villages in Herts, and in Cambridgshire.

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Peter Wonnacott July 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

There are some Aylott descendants i believe possibly still residing in and around the town of Buntingford, Herts, George Aylott was the head of this well respected family & farmed some of the land in and around the town outskirts & villages, I knew his sons, I have compiled a short picture/text slideshow covering some of my fond youthful memories of spending time with them during my residence there. https://youtu.be/jQ-9xxhBDNM

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