Agnes Waterhouse - The First Executed Witch 1566
Agnes Waterhouse was the first recorded person hung for charges of witchcraft in 1566. The first victim of Elizabeth I’s 1563 Act against Conjuracions Inchantments and Witchraftes. Agnes was from the village of Hatfield, and locals knew her as Mother Waterhouse. She was was said to be in her 60s and was most likely a wise women and healer in her village.
The first person to be accused of Witchcraft was Elizabeth Francis also of Hatfield. She confessed on 27th July that she had charged her familiar, which took the form of cat named Sathan, to do her bidding. The cat was given to Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan. Elizabeth Francis was sentenced to a year in prison.
Agnes confessed that she had received the cat from Elizabeth and was told that if she cared for him, he would do her bidding also. She confessed to using the cat to kill the livestock of her neighbours that had offended her. And that she would reward the cat by pricking herself and letting it suck her blood.
She was also questioned on her Church habits. She told that court that she prayed often but that she prayed in Latin, because Sathan would not allow her to pray in English. Her fate was finally sealed because of the evidence that was brought to the court by one of her neighbours. She was accused of causing disease to and then the death of a William Gynee.
Agnes was hung at Chelmsford on 29th July 1566. Records state that Agnes asked for forgiveness from God before her execution, confessing to being a witch and using sorcery for the past 25 years.
Agnes’ daughter Joan, who was just 18 years old, was also brought to the court on charges of Witchcraft. She was accused of bewitching a 12 year old girl called Agnes Brown. She was said to have sent one of hers and her mother’s imps top cause harm to Agnes Brown. The imp was said to have taken the form of a dog. Joan was found not guilty though, as the evidence against her was conflicting.
Unfortunately this was not the end of the story for Elizabeth Francis. She appeared in court two more times, secondly in 1572 where she was imprisoned for another year. And lastly in 1579, where she was finally hung, accused of the bewitching to death of a Alice Poole who had died in 1578.
The trials of these three women marked the start of a very dark time for those who were disliked by their neighbours. And the cat named Sathan continued to make appearances in stories surrounding their supposed guilt.