Witch hunt for lost portrait
Press release, March 2013
Walkern History Society are hunting for the only known portrait of the notorious Witch of Walkern, Jane Wenham, and would appreciate any information that readers can offer.
In 1712, Jane Wenham, who had been accused of bewitching several of her fellow Walkern villagers, and after suffering several witch-finding ordeals, was sent to trial at Hertford charged with ?Conversing with the Devil in the shape of a cat?. The jury found her guilty and she was sentenced to death. Fortunately she was immediately reprieved by the sympathetic Judge Powell, who then obtained a Royal Pardon for her. The events caused a sensation, with pamphlets being printed for years afterwards either insisting that the evidence proved she was a witch, or ridiculing witchcraft and proclaiming her innocent.
After her Royal Pardon, and not being able to return to Walkern, she was given refuge firstly in Colonel Plummer?s estate at Gilston Park, and for the final ten years of her life at Hertingfordbury at the estate of Lord Cowper. She died in 1730 aged around 90 years old.
Her portrait is believed to have been painted at the request of Lady Cowper, and was sold when the Cowper estate at Tewin Water was sold at auction in 1841. The Hertfordshire Mercury and Reformer on 2nd January 1841 reported ?Amongst the paintings is a portrait of Jane Wenham, a native of Walkern, who was convicted at Hertford Assizes in 1713 [sic] of witchcraft and sentenced to be hanged, but afterwards reprieved. We are told that it was taken at the instance of Mr Cowper?s grandmother, who took great interest in the fate of the unfortunate woman, and was instrumental in obtaining her reprieve.? It was later reported that ?the portrait of “The Witch” was sold for 18 guineas.?
Nothing more is known of the painting, and the newly formed Walkern History Society, who have recently been awarded