Tudor & Early Stuart Times
Lancashire was a county of paradoxes in the early sixteenth century. The duchy of Lancaster had given its name to one of the two houses contesting the throne in the fifteenth century, yet the Wars of the Roses had hardly touched the north-west. No major battle was fought in Lancashire, even though it occupied a strategic place in the disposition of crown lands. Henry VI had taken refuge in the north-west after his defeat at Hexham in 1464, and had been betrayed at Bolton-by-Bowland, but otherwise the wars did not extend to Lancashire, even though many Lancastrians fought in the royal army. When the Yorkists consolidated their position as the ruling house in the 1470s, Lancashire nobles were expected to provide troops for the King in spite of the recent civil war. The forces of Lord Thomas Stanley were eagerly awaited by Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, but Stanley’s defection to Henry, Earl of Richmond, proved Richard’s downfall. Henry Tudor, once crowned Henry VII, gave Stanley his reward – elevation to the earldom of Derby and marriage to Henry Tudor’s mother, the Lady Margaret Beaufort.
Lancashire at this time was a poor region, a fact borne out by tax returns from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries and emphasised by the small number of castles and monasteries. The considerable extent of Lancashire parishes provided an adequate income for their incumbents, but the beneficed clergy were often non-resident and their curates were poorly paid. Lancashire churches had few resources lavished on them and there was a shortage of spare money even for vestments. The county’s population, however, more than doubled between the late fourteenth and the mid-sixteenth centuries. Dr C. Haigh estimates it as about 95,000 in 1563.
The first half of the sixteenth century was marked by the growth of domestic cloth manufacture, with centres at Bolton, Rochdale and, above all Manchester. Population pressure led to the gradual clearance of former forests, such as Bowland, and the division and enclosure of common arable fields and pastures. Lancashire was still primarily a cattle county, but the demands of the woollen industry led to some increase in sheep-farming, especially in east Lancashire. Many Lancastrians left the county to obtain preferment or wealth elsewhere, but many also used their new-found prosperity to endow chantries, chapels and schools in their native towns or villages.
There is every sign of strong Catholic piety in pre-Reformation Lancashire. This showed itself, in 1537, in the enthusiasm for the Pilgrimage of Grace, a demonstration against Henry Viii’s dissolution of the monasteries. This piety was not easily diverted by the Reformation and took new life in lay recusancy and in provision and protection of Roman Catholic priests under Elizabeth. Spiritual determination also showed itself in highly active Puritanism. Legal records, however, show that these were also violent times. Although the Earl of Derby maintained overall control as the king’s lord lieutenant, he had to be very vigilant to prevent the gentry from coming to blows. As late as 1617, by which time James I had even pacified the Scottish borders, Nicholas Assheton of Downham had to go to the rescue of his aunt in Wensleydale, where she was besieged by Sir Thomas Metcalfe witlt 40 armed men. Assheton did not risk a fight, but he stayed long enough to see justice done. Three days after the initial outrage, Sir Thomas was arrested by officials from the Council of the North at York. Six of his men were arrested with him, and the rest dispersed.
Until 1541 the ecclesiastical administration of the county was divided between York and Lichfield, while the archdeacon of Richmond had wide powers, semi-independent of the archbishop of York. After 1541 Lancashire’s spiritual life was governed from Chester, but the bishops there did not find the going easy. In matters of spiritual concern they found powerful critics in the Puritan preachers of east Lancashire and the recusant Roman Catholic priests in the aftermath of the Reformation.
Life became generally more comfortable for the Lancashire gentry in the sixteenth century. Many new houses were built. Sir Richard Molyneux built Croxteth Hall about 1575. Many more, like Stonyhurst and Hoghton Tower, were rebuilt. Some, like Speke and Rufford, received considerable modernisation and additions.
Some of the changes are reflected in the development of Speke Hall, near Liverpool. The present hall was begun by Sir William Norris about 1490, and took the form of a great hail, with a dais at one end for the owner and his family and an open fire in the centre of the room. The hall had a. solar at one end where the lord would find privacy after dinner. His servants would sleep round the fire in the hall. This arrangement at Speke circa 1 500 was the standard late mediaeval arrangement. Changes were made by Sir William’s grandon, also called William, who succeeded to the house in 1524. He divided the great hall with a double partition or screen, so making a passage across the hall from the courtyard to the garden. At the same time he put a fireplace in what was left of the hall, and built on the great parlour to replace the solar. At the same time he had both rooms panelled, and put a ceiling in the hall to make it less draughty. Additional buildings occupied three sides of the courtyard. Further improvements were made by his successors throughout the sixteenth century.
An inventory, dated 1624, gives a good impression of the increase in comfort that a Lancashire gentleman of modest means could expect by the beginning of the seventeenth century. By 1624 there were two parlours and a withdrawing room as well as the hail, for entertaining guests. The great parlour was the chief room of the house, with ‘the king’s arms cut in wood, hanging on the wall’, a long table covered with a green carpet, three chairs ‘covered with green and fringed with green silk’ and two little chairs covered similarly. To sit in a chair was still a great privilege, accorded only to the elderly, the sick or the most important guests. For the majority of the family and their, visitors there were 24 upholstered stools, and six cushions of Arras work. Green curtains hung in the windows. In the little parlour there was another long table and more stools. There were also three pairs of tables for cards or chess. On the wall was a map of Jerusalem.
The chief persons of the household had their own rooms. ‘My Lord’s’ was the grandest. Its main feature was ‘one standing bed with curtain rods, the tester of branched damask green and yellow, with a deep silk fringe of the same colour’. On the bed were a feather bed and a down bed, a bolster, two pillows, four blankets (three of which were Spanish), and a green silk quilt covering. Other furniture included a chair, two stools and a cupboard, and there was a window seat, with two cushions, made from cloth of silver and gold. The room was also equipped with firearms and chamber-pots. For the children there were two nurseries and a school chamber. The Norrises were Roman Catholics and a special room was set aside as a chapel.
Around the hail were the fields and woods which gave Speke its wealth. In 1624 the Norrises added up their livestock and farm implements as well as their cushions and curtains. The home farm had a dairy herd of 23 ‘much kine’ and five ‘northern beasts’ for fattening. There were 44 sheep – mainly fat wethers – and a dozen oxen for pulling carts, ploughs and harrows. The number of ordinary folk who would have wielded the spades and pitchforks was not mentioned.
The Norrises were one of the leading Lancashire families, but the most important man in the county was the Earl of Derby. As lord lieutenant, he was the monarch’s representative in the north-west. Elizabeth sent her orders to him and he carried them out as far as he could, through his own council and the justices of the peace. The earl lived like a king – indeed as Lord of Man he was virtually a king in his own right. In 1587, on the eve of the Armada, Henry Stanley, the fourth earl, had a household of 118 people when he returned from court to set up house at Lathom near Ormskirk. When he sat down to eat in the great hail there, he was attended by a page and seven young gentlemen waiters, all drawn from the chief families of the county. They were learning to take a lead in local society from the greatest man in the county. Three of the earl’s gentlemen had been abroad with him on embassies to France and the Netherlands. Such posts were a means of entering the royal service.
Lord Derby’s ‘court’ attracted a large number of different types of people. There were occasional visits from royalty, although Elizabeth did not travel so far from London. Various nobles came to stay at Knowsley, like the Queen’s favourite, Lord Dudley. On one occasion, the Earl of Tyrone, the most powerful man in Ireland, stayed with the Stanleys on his way south to see the Queen. There was a constant flow of less exalted visitors; the local gentry, both Catholic and Protestant came, curious for news of the court and anxious for favours. The Bishop of Chester came to discuss the handling of recusants and Puritans; the Mayor of Liverpool came to ensure good relations between his borough and the leading local landowner. Tenants came to discuss estate business, to pay their rents and to negotiate new leases. The poor came to the gatehouse for a share of the surplus food distributed from the kitchens.
The earl passed on instructions from the government and asked his friends for advice. He could then inform the Queen’s ministers of the state of opinion in his part of the Kingdom. His news was eagerly sifted at court, for Lancashire’s loyalty was of vital importance at a time when there were internal troubles as well as threats from Ireland, Scotland and Spain. The news from Lancashire must usually have reassured Elizabeth and her government.
Many local gentlemen were Roman Catholic, but they were not looking for trouble. By political loyalty they hoped to escape the worst of the penalties for recusancy or refusal to attend reformed church services. A fine of one shilling (5p) was levied on nonattenders, but repeated absence often led to imprisonment.
The earl was often away. He had his estates to supervise and there were the quarter sessions at Ormskirk, Preston, or Lancaster to attend. In any spare time, he went hunting, at Alport near Manchester, Lathom or Knowsley. The venison was eaten at table afterwards.
Although the earl moved around a great deal, his household did not always move with him, but tended to rotate between his four Lancashire residences of Lathom, and neighbouring New Park, Knowsley and Alport. It was a major event when the household moved. Furniture and furnishings all had to be moved too, for, in spite of his wealth, the earl did not keep all his houses furnished all the year round. This is hardly surprising when simply feeding the household cost £1,500 a year.
Nine men were employed in the kitchen, but no women – indeed the only women on the ‘chekeroll’ were the two laundresses. Only the master-cooks were allowed to dress his lordship’s meat, and all those not employed in the kitchen were banned from it at such times for fear of poisoners. The household had its own bakehouse and brewery. The servants ate a special ‘household bread’, composed of equal parts of wheat and barley, and drank a special beer made from oat malt. There was a slaughter house too. Fish for Lent was purchased at Stourbridge Fair, near Cambridge, but for the rest of the year the Derby estate was self-sufficient for its main needs.
Meals at the Stanley table were both large and varied. William ffarington described the ordinary weekly consumption of the household as ‘about one ox, a dozen calves, a score of sheep, fifteen hogsheads of ale, and plenty of bread, fish and poultry’. The earl sat at the high table with his wife and family, and everyone was served in strict order of rank. The high table was served by gentlemen waiters.
Henry Stanley, the fourth earl, was entertained by his fool also called Henry. There may have been musicians too, although none except the trumpeters are mentioned in the roll. Lord Strange – the earl’s eldest son and deputy when he was away – had his own company of players. They did not perform exclusively at Lathom or Knowsley. In 1581 they provided the Queen’s New Year’s entertainment at Court, by ‘sundry feats of tumbling and activity’. On other occasions they performed short plays. Every few months a company of visiting players came to entertain the earl. The most regular visitors at the time of the Armada were the Queen’s Players. It is possible that William Shakespeare appeared before Lord Derby with one of these companies. On Sundays and special days the earl heard sermons in chapel from his chaplain.
The standard of living of the Earl of Derby and the gentry was in marked contrast with that of the vast majority of Lancastrians in the sixteenth century. While the gentry lived in their newly extended manor-houses, the cottages of the people remained as they had been for centuries. Most still lived in dwellings erected on the cruck system, with a pair of oak timbers set up at either end and secured by collar and tie beams. The walls were still made of wattle and daub, and the roofs were still thatched, with a hole to let out the smoke. Yet changes were on the way, at least in the homes of yeomen and farmers. Extra rooms were being pushed out at either end of the dwelling to provide separate or additional cooking and sleeping accommodation. Upper floors were being added, too, which meant the need for fireplaces and chimneys. Screens, passages, porches, built-in cupboards and long mullioned windows were introduced in farmhouses in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Brick and stone were much more frequently used. Stone slabs or ‘Lancashire slates’ were even beginning to replace thatch. Yeomen’s homes were now more spacious, healthier, more durable and being of brick or stone less susceptible to fire. Labourers’ cottages were eventually influenced by these changes, too. By the eighteenth century the wood and mud cabins of earlier days were being replaced by two-roomed stone cottages, particularly in the upland areas where building stone was most accessible.
During the sixteenth century the gradual rearrangement of many of the townfields into compact blocks accelerated. This process of voluntary enclosure had begun as early as the thirteenth century in Lancashire. One suggested reason for this is that many common fields were small and only shared by a few farmers. Some common cultivation of arable townfields however, survived on the Lancashire plain. Hence in 1612, ‘all and every freeholders and occupiers of the Townfields’ in Leyland were instructed to ‘remove and take all their cattle out of the said Townfields yearly at or before the feast day of the Annuncon (Annunciation) of the blessed virgin Mary, commonly called Lady Day in Lent (25 March)’, according to ancient custom and in time for the spring sowing. Large amounts of moorland and peatmoss remained unenclosed, for the use of all, until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although there was a good deal of reclamation of marginal land by individual freeholders.
Holdings were small – rarely over 30 acres. The small farmers and yeomen lived off their animals, mainly cows and a few sheep, and, where the land was suitable, they planted oats. In south-west Lancashire more wheat was grown. Little is known of the systems of crop rotation. The use of ‘outfields’ to give the ‘infields’ a rest after a number of years of intensive cultivation may have been common.
Domestic cloth-making was an important subsidiary industry. The principal raw materials were flax from west Lancashire, and later Ireland, and wool from the Pennines. These were bought from dealers or chapmen, if not available locally. At Hoole the Shuttle-worths grew flax and their tenants spun it into yarn. Wives and children usually did the spinning, while husbands wove the yarn into cloth on the loom. With the growth of the yarn trade in the sixteenth century, the farmer-weaver came to rely on yarn put out to him by a clothier from one of the towns. The cloth would be made up for a certain day of the week, and either collected by the chapman or taken into the clothier’s warehouse by one of the family. In the course of the eighteenth century the domestic system became more specialized, and a great variety of goods was produced. Some weavers came to concentrate wholly on their weaving and acquired loom-shops where they employed others, but for the most part this domestic system survived with little basic alteration until the hand-loom was replaced by the power-loom in the course of the nineteenth century.
Although the cloth trade had a variety of local centres, the regional capital of both the linen and woollen industries was Manchester. It is difficult to ascertain if the skills of weaving and finishing cloth had been taught to Mancunians by foreign immigrants. What is certain is that Manchester could only benefit from the arrival of victims of religious persecution in the Netherlands and elsewhere in the sixteenth century. The importance of Manchester as a cloth market was acknowledged in 1565 when Parliament appointed ‘aulnagers’ to stamp woollen cloth once it was ready for sale. This assured minimum quality and measurements in each piece of cloth. Only a year later Manchester’s governing body, the Court Leet, was issuing a standard version of weights and measures to ensure uniformity of products. Linens, such as ‘Preston cloth’ and ‘Stockport cloth’, were mainly for the home market, but, by Elizabeth’s reign, Lancashire woollens were being exported, with Rouen as the chief continental market.
The number of Manchester merchants who dealt directly with continental buyers was small, but there was a growing group of cloth merchants whose wealth could rival that of the local gentry. Their activities extended from ‘putting out’ yarn to country weavers and ‘taking in’ the cloth for bleaching and finishing, to sending off consignments of cloth and smaliwares (such as tapes and ticking) by packhorse to the great fairs of Stourbridge, near Cambridge, or St Bartholomew in London. James Chetham, who died in 1571, sold his wares to agents at the ports of Hull, Liverpool and Chester. From the early seventeenth century such exports included fustian, an increasingly popular type of cloth made from a mixture of Irish flax and ‘cotton wool’ (raw cotton) imported from the Levant.
The clothiers were not as rich or powerful in Manchester as in the West Country, and most of them lived in quite modest town houses. Yet their wills indicate that they often owned considerable personal possessions as well as land and cottage property both let for rent. When Isabel Holland, the widow of a Salford merchant, died in 1598 she left pieces of silver plate and a silver pot, and, to her son Richard, she bequeathed her ‘best standing bed’, with a feather mattress and a whole set of bedding. Her home was evidently furnished as well as Speke Hall. Some Manchester merchants, like Nicholas Mosley, were becoming men of more than local importance.
Looking after the London end of his family business he became alderman and Lord Mayor of London in 1599. In 1596 he bought the manor of Manchester for X3,500 from a London mercer, John Lacy and built Hough End Hall at Chorlton-cum-Hardy.
Manchester was a small but growing town in Tudor times with a population, along with neighbouring Salford, of only a few thousands. Many of the tradesmen and weavers still had land outside the town as well as a shop in Cateaton Street or Smithy Door. Dr Dee, warden of the Collegiate Church at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, was sent 17 cattle by his Welsh relations to graze on the college fields. Those engaged in textiles used the surrounding fields as ‘tenters’ or bleaching grounds at certain times in the year. An Act of Parliament of 1540 referred to this practice, and travellers passing through east Lancashire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were still remarking that the fields were white with cloth slowly bleaching in the sun.
The town was governed by the Court Leet which met twice a year and which ‘all and every the inhabitants and householders of the town of Manchester’ were summoned to attend. In fact few of them did so, and decisions were made by the dozen or so jurors who were chosen by the steward from the leading local families. The court belonged to the lord of the manor, but the lords de la Warre who held the manor until 1579 were usually absentees in the south of England, having given their manor house in Manchester as a home for the college of priests in 1423. In the 1560s their steward was the Earl of Derby who sometimes presided, but more often left the chair to a deputy, usually a lawyer. With the help of the jurors, disputes between local people were settled, and, with the help of its officials, the court supervised the sale of goods, regulated weights and measures, and tried to enforce certain standards of public hygiene and behaviour. In 1573 John Skilliescorn, a plumber, was brought before the court as a common ‘easing dropper (eavesdropper), a naughty person, such a one as doth abound in all mysorders’. He was to be ‘avoided the Town and have such punishment as unto such doth appertain’.
Hygiene was primitive. Manchester relied for its fresh water supply on a wooden conduit leading from a spring in Spring Gardens to the market place. The Court Leet tried to protect its use. It appointed two men to keep the market place clean and tried to make the neighbouring householders responsible for its upkeep. In 1579 the court restricted the use of the water, by having the conduit covered and locked between 9 pm and 6 am and by insisting that the women who carried the water should queue up in turn and only fetch as much water as they could carry. In 1585 housewives were ordered not to do their washing or their washing up in the conduit or to wash the ‘meats of beasts’ there. No doubt they did so when the market officials were not looking, or went down to the river instead. The rivers Irk and Irwell had all manner of rubbish tipped into them, including carrion.
Such conditions encouraged the spread of disease. ‘Sickness’ or plague was a constant visitor to Elizabethan Manchester. The 1581 outbreak was the natural consequence of the poor harvest of 1580. Again in 1586, a bad harvest brought serious shortage, bread doubled in price and the ‘sickness’ followed. Plague struck again in 1590, and 70 people died in April alone. So bad was the outbreak of 1604-5 that six acres of wasteland at Collyhurst, outside the town, had to be set aside for the wooden cabins of the plague sufferers and the pits where 2,000 victims were buried. In better years the townspeople kept their geese and pigs at Collyhurst, although so many also kept pigs at home that in 1567 the Court Leet appointed a swineherd to drive them out of town in the morning and bring them back at night. Archery contests had also been held there but, by the late sixteenth century, archery had been largely superseded by football as the favourite sport of the apprentices.
Manchester’s growth had been acknowledged by the founding of the magnificent Collegiate Church by Thomas de la Warre in 1421 and by the endowment of a free school by the Manchester-born Bishop of Exeter, Hugh Oldham, in 1515. The influence of the Renaissance spirit may be seen in Oldham’s statutes, for although he paid tribute to the ‘pregnant wit’ of his fellow Mancunians, he noted with regret that they were ‘mostly brought up rudely and idly and not in virtue or cunning or good manners’. The school was designed to correct this and to ensure that the children grew up to ‘know, love, honour and dread God and his laws’. The foundation was sited between the college and the river Irk, and was well endowed with the rents from various properties and the profits of the town’s corn mills.
From Oldham’s statutes it is possible to reconstruct the kind of day that a boy would have spent at the free school in the sixteenth century. Arriving at 7 am in winter, or an hour earlier in the summer, unless a late boy for some reason, he would begin the day with the others by saying the Deus miseratur. Then the scholars would separate: the infants to one end of the long room known as ‘the school’ to be taught their ABC from a primer by one of the senior scholars: the seniors to the other end where they were taught by the master. The juniors were taught in another room by the deputy master or usher. On Wednesdays and Fridays there was a procession in church in which the scholars took part, reciting the common litany and the De Profundis for the souls of Hugh Oldham and other benefactors. This practice was altered at the Reformation, when annual commemoration of benefactors replaced bi-weekly intercession. On other days the boys would be in school all day until about 5 pm with one break in their studies for dinner. This meal was provided by the school for those who could afford it; the rest took their own food to an eating-house in the town. The break at midday was not a time for total relaxation, for Bishop Oldham insisted that Latin should be spoken at all times on the school premises. The end of the day was marked by assembly for the Magnificat and the De Profundis about 5 pm.
On special days, if the warden of the college gave his permission, ‘honest games’ could be played. These were not specified, but presumably included all games without any element of gambling or violence. Cock-fighting, so popular in many schools on Shrove Tuesday, when the master was traditionally bribed with ‘cock-pennies’, was specifically prohibited at Manchester. Offensive weapons were banned as well, although boys eating dinner in school were expected to bring their own meat-knives. Boys who caused an ‘affray’ were automatically suspended for a month. On the third offence the offender was expelled. Oldham made no mention of corporal punishment, but it was no doubt used as frequently as in other schools of the period.
If games were not part of the curriculum, they were certainly enjoyed after school hours. Football was a common sport of the time. So too also to the dismay of the Court Leet, was a game called giddy-gaddy or tipcat. Like a primitive sort of cricket, it involved flicking a ball or piece of wood tapered at both ends, off the ground and knocking it as far as possible. The Court Leet tried to restrict the game to children. Any player over twelve (later seven) years old was liable to a fine or, for a short spell, ‘to be imprisoned in the dungeon’ (built out of the ruins of an old chapel on Salford bridge).
Apart from holy days allowed by the warden, the only days on which the pupils did not have to attend the school were four days at both Christmas and Easter. The master and usher each had 20 days off a year, but they were not to be away at the same time. Probably the school was closed quite often by plague, and individual boys were not admitted if they were suffering from any ‘horrible or contagious infirmity infective, such as pox, leprosy, pestilence for the time being’.
The Reformation brought alterations in the church services and new manuals for use in schools. Latin, however, remained the language of scholars, and its teaching continued to preoccupy grammar school boys, if only because without it they would not be eligible for scholarships at the universities. In Manchester’s case there were closed scholarships at Brasenose College, Oxford. University now provided a gateway to careers in medicine and law as well as the Church. Grammar schools sprang up in the wake of Bishop Oldham’s foundation all over the county. Some were in towns, like Warrington (1520), Kirkham (1551), Clitheroe (1554) and Bury (1625). Others were set up in rural areas, such as Penwortham (later Hutton) (15 5 2) and Warton (1594). Most of these schools were conducted in the church or in buildings, like Manchester’s, erected close by. Most of the country schools concentrated on reading and writing. Town grammar schools, like Manchester or Lancaster, sent a steady stream of pupils to the universities; country ones, like Penwortham or Warton, sent hardly any.
The north-west was in the front line of religious controversy in the late sixteenth century. The county had resisted the dissolution of the monasteries and it opposed the middle path between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism which Elizabeth chose as her ecclesiastical policy. Many of the gentry clung on to the old faith and refused to attend the new church services. The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth, and devout Roman Catholics found their loyalties divided between pope and crown. From 1580 Jesuit and secular priests, trained at Rome and Douai, began their missionary activities to strengthen the recusants and to regain lost ground. Lancashire was one of their most important targets.
The most famous of the Jesuits was Edmund Campion. After a brilliant career at Oxford and various universities on the continent, he joined the party of 14 priests who landed in England in the spring of 1580. After a few months in London and the Welsh borders, he moved into Lancashire in January 1581, travelling from one recusant’s house to another, celebrating Mass and preaching to large gatherings of neighbours. His itinerary is by no means certain, but, among other places, he stayed at Blainscough with the Worthingtons, Salesbury with the Talbots, Samlesbury with the Southworths, Aughton with the Heskeths, and Rossall with the sister-in-law of William Allen, the founder of the English colleges at Dovai and Rome, and who became a Cardinal in 1587. Government agents were searching for Campion, and he had to make use of what hiding-places his hosts could provide. On one occasion he narrowly escaped arrest by being pushed into a pond by a servant.
Edmund Campion was caught soon after he left Lancashire. He was taken to the Tower of London, tortured on the rack, tried at Westminster Hall, and executed at Tyburn on 1 December 1581. To Elizabeth’s government he and his fellow Jesuits were ‘a sort of hypocrites . . . a rabble of vagrant friars, whose principal errand was to creep into the houses of men of behaviour and reputation, to corrupt the realm with false doctrine, and, under that pretence, to stir up rebellion’. Yet Campion’s mission was not political. He was remembered in Lancashire for his ministry to the Roman Catholic faithful and was canonized in 1970.
Other priests and Roman Catholic laity suffered too. In 1581, by Act of Parliament, the fine for saying Mass was increased to 200 marks (£133.33) and one year’s imprisonment, and the penalty for hearing it was almost as steep. The fine for non-attendance at the parish church on Sundays and holy days was put up to £20 monthly per person. Schoolmasters, who were often priests in disguise, were to be fined £10 a month for non-attendance, forbidden to teach and imprisoned for a year. Under the terms of this Act Dr Chadderton, Bishop of Chester, was instructed to root out the recusants and priests in his diocese. In January 1584 a list was made of 38 Roman Catholics who had been tried at Manchester and committed to Salford gaol. They included 12 priests, 3 schoolmasters, various gentlemen, and a few yeomen and craftsmen. A special imposition was laid on the Convocations of York and Canterbury for their upkeep. Elsewhere in the county committals were more difficult to obtain. Recusants frequently received rough treatment from those searching for them. Some fled, others were put in prison. Sir John Southworth, a former sheriff of the county, and John Towneley, brother-in-law of the Protestant Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s, were kept in the New Fleet Prison at Salford. Lady Southworth, as one of Burghley’s informers reported, was not deterred by her husband’s fate: ‘At the lodge in Samlesbury Park there be Masses daily, and seminaries (priests) divers resort thither, as James Coupe, Harrison, Bell and such like’. This was the most advanced form of recusancy. Yet there were even wives and families of supposedly Protestant magistrates who did not attend church and were either known or suspected papists.
While Roman Catholicism was strengthened by the like of Edmund Campion and the Southworths, the reformed religion began to make progress in south-east Lancashire. The important cloth centre of Manchester, fed by the surrounding villages and towns, and sending goods to London and abroad, became the capital of Lancashire Puritanism, from where literature and ideas could spread along established trade routes. The propagandists were the Puritan clergy who had attended those colleges at Oxford and Cambridge most influenced by Protestant theology. Having proceeded to university from the new grammar schools, these young men returned to Lancashire with the same enthusiasm as their Jesuit opponents, anxious not only to engage in the war against ungodliness and popery, but also to win over the local laity.
Puritanism was characterized partly by an emphasis on the sermon as the teaching part of the service, partly by the attack on all remaining ‘rags of Rome’ such as the surplice and the sign of the cross at baptism. To show their liberation from popish ‘superstition’, Puritans regarded it as unnecessary to kneel at Communion or to remove hats in church. Religious zeal was not confined to church. Puritans held meetings for prayer and bible study, and attached great importance to family devotions. The Puritan household, like its Roman Catholic counterpart, had to be a model of the godly community. Such households welcomed Puritan preachers as enthusiastically as Roman Catholic households welcomed the missionary priests.
Puritanism established its bases in the parish churches of east Lancashire and gradually fanned out from there. From the 1580s schemes to provide extra preachers. and ministers to serve in the vast Lancashire parishes were financed by the Puritan laity. Even Elizabeth, who bitterly resisted the Puritans where they challenged the god-given authority of herself and her bishops, found no alternative but to extend the sphere of puritan preaching in 1599 by endowing four Queen’s preachers with salaries of £50 a year, to supplement the work of the parish clergy in a county where the established Church had insufficient resources for its task. The main contribution, however, was from the leading laymen. More churches were desperately needed. Some were provided in rural areas where there was no previous building, such as Much Hoole, near Preston, endowed in 1629 by Thomas Stones, a London haberdasher. Others were provided in growing towns, such as the chapel at Salford, established in 1634, by Humphrey Booth, a local gentleman clothier. By the reign of Charles I the puritans had established themselves as the most powerful and vigorous element in the Church in Lancashire.
While Roman Catholic priests and Puritan preachers campaigned to bring their versions of the Gospel to the people, popular religion remained a mixture of magic and superstition. Largely unprotected from the ever-present threat of sickness to humans and animals alike, and with insufficient medical knowledge to provide a basis for informed remedies, men and women looked to charms for protection. Most villages probably had charmers, wise men or women, who were regarded as having special powers of divination and prediction and who could command life, death and disease. Their remedies might consist of a charm or a herbal potion. The powers of wizards were regarded as a gift and were often viewed as hereditary. Henry Baggilie, examined at Chadderton near Oldham in 1634, confessed to the Lancashire magistrates that he always used a charm which his father had been taught by a Dutchman.
It was believed that such powers could be used for both good and evil. The sudden death of adults, children and animals alike was the experience of every family. Medical symptoms were sometimes recognized, but there was no-one to diagnose them. Although the divine will was an explanation for the educated, evil spirits, fairies or witchcraft seemed more satisfactory to the majority. Sometimes, the blame might be placed on some unpopular section of society such as the Roman Catholics. For example, William Brettergh, a Protestant who lived near Liverpool, in an area largely inhabited by Roman Catholics, unquestioningly attributed the death of his horse and cattle by night to ‘seminary priests and recusants that lurked thereabouts’.
Witchcraft was a popular explanation for misfortune. It was encouraged by the revival of academic interest in magic and astrology in sixteenth-century England. The magicians denied a separation between natural and supernatural phenomena and believed that everything was explicable in terms of a universal soul. The age-old interest in astrology was now supplemented by the magical belief that man could divert astral influences by the use of talismans and spells. Although such beliefs were regarded with suspicion by the Church they were often held side by side with an orthodox Christian faith. Perhaps the most famous English astrologer was Dr John Dee, the friend and protégé of Queen Elizabeth, whom she made Warden of Manchester Collegiate Church in 1595. All kinds of stories were told about his dealings with spirits, including one that with his assistant, a man called Kelly, he had evoked the spirit of a dead person in the churchyard at Walton-le-Dale. Magicians were frequently misrepresented, and there is probably little truth in many of these stories about Dr Dee.
Puritan teachers were active in condemning both magic and witchcraft. They saw the world of the spirit divided between the embattled powers \of Christ and Anti-Christ (or the Devil), just as the material world was divided between Protestants and Roman Catholics. In this battle between good and evil, militant Protestants associated their opponents not simply with error, but frequently with active Devil-worship. Like James I, Puritan ministers in east Lancashire identified witchcraft along with the Roman Catholic Church as the work of the Devil and indeed these Puritan ministers were so active in the work of ‘dispossession’ or exorcism of troubled spirits that the practice was expressly forbidden in the Church’s Canons of 1604.
It was not sufficient for witches to be condemned as magicians or charmers; they had to be identified as agents and instruments of the Devil. Elizabeth Southerns, or ‘Old Demdike’ as she was generally known, was the head of a family of witches in Pendle, and was described by Thomas Potts, clerk to the judges at her trial, as: ‘a very old woman about the age of fourscore years and had been a Witch for fifty years’. She was also branded as ‘a general agent for the Devil in all these parts’. Blamed by her grand-daughter for having made her a witch and accused by her daughter, she was examined by Roger Nowell, a local magistrate, at his home, Read Hall, on 2 April 1612. She confessed what was expected of a witch. On her way home from begging 20 years before, she had met, near a stonepit, in Goldshaw in Pendle: ‘a Spirit or Devil in the shape of a boy, the one half of his Coat black, and the other brown, who bade (her) stay, saying to her that if she would give him her soul, she would have anything that she would request’.
The spirit’s name was Tibb. Later he appeared to her ‘in the likeness of a brown Dog, forcing himself to her knee, to get blood under her left Arm’. Birth marks and other unexplained marks on the body of a suspected witch were always regarded as evidence of intercourse with the Devil. The Devil came in a variety of likenesses – the Pendle witches of 1612 had seen spirits in the form of a man, a dog, a hare and a bear, with a variety of names: Tibb, Fancy, Ball and Dandy. Ann Whittle or ‘Chattox’, another witch, confessed to have eaten and drunk at a diabolical meal with Demdike and the spirits Tibb and Fancy, but though they ate well ‘they were never the fuller nor the better for the same’. Today we tend to explain such stories as creations of the hysterical or deranged mind. Possibly they were fabricated by those who felt that by confessing the existence of pacts with the Devil, they were only living up to what was expected of them and were thus maintaining a certain status, even if it led to death. The confessions were treated seriously enough at the time (especially when supported by the sinister accusations of children), even though some judges were sceptical and, during the course of the seventeenth century, it became harder and harder to find judges who would convict. To maintain that all confessions of consorting with the Devil were fabricated may sound over-sceptical to some, but it must be borne in mind that modern scholars such as Keith Thomas have found no trace of organized Devil-worship in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.
That witches were much feared as well as frequently resorted to may be seen by the various anti-witch devices which were intended to protect homes against witches who might harbour some unknown grudge. Special herbs were placed above the threshold, and holed stone amulets were worn as bracelets or necklaces, or placed behind barn or house-doors to protect animals and humans alike. Witch balls like those in the Castle Museum at York were hung in windows to keep out witches and evil spirits. Witch posts, like the one at New House Farm, Rawtenstall, were covered with anti-witch devices and protected doorways. Witch bottles have been discovered at Trawden and elsewhere. These contained the hair or nail-parings mixed with the urine of the victim for whom protection was required, and it was believed that such a device would force the witch to reveal herself, as the effect of the bottle would be to prevent her from passing water. There were undoubtedly many others, but, of all protective devices, probably donkey-stoning of doorsteps – originally to trip up witches – is the one which has survived the longest.
Such devices can be regarded as usual. What was unusual was for local accusations against suspected or known witches to reach the ears of the magistrates and warrant a trial at quarter sessions or assizes. The cause of the trouble seems generally to have been some offence given to the witch by the victim. Refusal of charity was a common grievance, as shown by the case of the Pendle Witches, tried at Lancaster in 1612. The incident which set the whole legal process in motion and sent ten people to the gallows, took place on 18 March 1612 just outside Colne, when John Law, a Halifax pedlar, refused to give pins to Alizon Device, grand-daughter of Old Demdike of Malkin Tower. Alizon was angry with the pedlar, and, almost at once, he had a stroke. Abraham Law, the pedlar’s son, took the matter up with the law, and Alizon was charged with witchcraft, which she later admitted. Alizon incriminated members of her own family and that of old Chattox. As each was tried, more stories of retaliatory witchcraft emerged. Demdike, according to Alizon Device, had bewitched to death the child of Richard Baldwin of Weethead because he had not let her on his land. On being chased off she had promised to pray for him and muttered his name ‘sundry times’. When Chattox was examined she confessed to having bewitched Anthony Nutter’s cow to death, because he had favoured Demdike. The matter might have rested there had not Demdike’s family and other local witches met together at Malkin Tower in Pendle on Good Friday. News of the meeting reached Roger Nowell of Read, enquiries were made, and it was concluded that the meeting had been a conspiracy to blow up Lancaster Castle and murder Mr Cowell the gaoler. A total of 19 witches were brought to trial, including some from Samlesbury as well as Pendle. At the trial the evidence of Jennet Device, the nine-year-old grand-daughter of Demdike, was crucial. The ten found guilty of murder were hanged at Golgotha, Lancaster on 20 August 1612.
Witches were usually from the poorer section of the community. One of the condemned Pendle witches, Alice Nutter, described by Potts as a ‘rich woman’ with ‘a great estate and children of good hope’, was an exception. She was accused by Elizabeth and James Device of witchcraft and of attending the Malkin Tower meeting, and although she persistently denied her guilt, she was executed along with the rest. We know very little about her circumstances, but it is evident that there was a feud between Chattox and the Nutters, as one of the latter had tried to seduce her daughter. Alice Nutter may have been incriminated in revenge, even though Chattox and her daughter had already bewitched Robert Nutter, the would-be seducer, to death with the aid of ‘Fancy’.
Historians seek an explanation for the frequency of clashes between witches and their neighbours in such contemporary changes as the decline of the manorial system, the religious upheavals, the enclosure movement, the increase in population and greater pauperism. In the royal forest of Pendle, where the Crown’s control had traditionally been light, rents were stable, although entry fines were increased by James I. A growing population put greater pressure on available land. There were 98 copyholders (or tenants by copy of the manorial roll) in 1527; by 1662 there were 230. It is possible that the enclosure of woodland and waste may have adversely affected the poor and resulted in such tensions as the witch trials reveal, but we cannot be certain. From their frequent accounts of begging expeditions the Malkin Tower witches were obviously poor. A sceptical explanation of their meals with the spirits and the Devil’s promises of ‘Gold, Silver and Worldly Wealth’ must include the possibility that they dreamed of wealth which they had no hope of obtaining.
The Reformation had brought about major changes in the Pendle area. Not only was the church at Newchurch in Pendle built in 1544, bringing the people in closer touch with organized religion than ever before, but from the mid-sixteenth century Puritan influence became strong, through the ministers at Newchurch and the masters at the nearby grammar schools of Clitheroe, Come, Accrington and Burnley. By the time of the Civil War, the yeomen of Pendle, aggravated by James I’s interference with their copyholds and by Charles I’s interference with their religion, would be fighting alongside Colonel Richard Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe for the Parliamentary forces.