Witchcraft account sells for over six-times estimate in Essex auction

A Tryal of Witches – £5400 at Sworders.

An eyewitness account of the trial of two elderly widows on charges of witchcraft proved one of the more successful lots in a truly Out of the Ordinary sale held in Essex on February 11.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Ian McKay

A Tryal of Witches – £5400 at Sworders.

A Tryal of Witches…, which made £5400 against a £500-800 estimate in the Stansted Mountfitchet saleroom of Sworders (25% buyer’s premium), was printed in London in 1682 by William Shrewsbury.

However, it deals with the trial of Rose Cullender and Amy Duny (or Denny) conducted 18 years earlier in Bury St Edmunds before judge Sir Matthew Hale.

In fact, one wonders whether its publication in then may have been prompted by Hale’s death that same year.

Accused by neighbours

The widows, from Lowestoft, had been accused of witchcraft by their neighbours and faced 13 charges of bewitching several young children – the youngest only a few months old and the eldest 18 – one of whom had died.

Cullender was a member of a property-owning family, but Duny was the widow of a labourer and their only link seems to have been a failed joint attempt to purchase herring from a local merchant, Samuel Pacy.

The latter’s daughters, Elizabeth and Deborah, were said to have been victims of the accused and, along with an aunt, Pacy’s sister Margaret, gave evidence against the accused women.

Tried at the assizes under the 1603 Witchcraft Act, they were found guilty on all 13 charges of using malevolent witchcraft and sentenced to be hanged.

This first-edition copy was catalogued as lacking two pages and was bound with with another book, A List of Infamous Impostors: or the Lives of several Notorious Counterfeits.

Only three other copies feature in auction records of the last 25 years or so, and the previous auction best was £650 for a copy sold by Bonhams as part of their 2014 sale of the Los Angeles Law Library.

Another A Tryal of Witches is coming up in the Dominic Winter March 11 sale, estimated at £400-600.