Witch, Warlock, and Magician Part 9

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'1587, January 18th.--Rediit E. K. a Praga. E. K. brought with him from the Lord Rosenberg to my wyfe a chayne and juell estemed at 300 duckettes; 200 the juell stones, and 100 the gold.

'1587, September 28th.--I delivered to Mr. Ed. Kelley (earnestly requiring it as his part) the half of all the animall which was made. It is to weigh 20 oz.; he wayed it himself in my chamber: he bowght his waights purposely for it. My lord had spoken to me before for some, but Mr. Kelly had not spoken.

'1587, October 28th and 29th.--John Carp did begyn to make furnaces over the gate, and he used of my rownd bricks, and for the yron pot was contented now to use the lesser bricks, 60 to make a furnace.

'1587, November 8th.--E. K terribilis expostulatio, accusatio, etc., hora tertia a meridie.

'1587, December 12th.--Afternone somewhat, Mr. Ed. Kelly [did] his lamp overthrow, the spirit of wyne long spent to nere, and the glas being not stayed with buks about it, as it was wont to be; and the same gla.s.s so flitting on one side, the spirit was spilled out, and burnt all that was on the table where it stode, lynnen and written bokes,--as the bok of Zacharias, with the "Alkanor" that I translated out of French, for some by [boy?] spirituall could not; "Rowlaschy,"

his third boke of waters philosophicall; the boke called "Angelic.u.m Opus;" all in pictures of the work from the beginning to the end; the copy of the man of Badwise "Conclusions for the Trans.m.u.tion of Metalls;" and 40 leaves in 4to., ent.i.tled "Extractiones Dunstat," which he himself extracted and noted out of Dunstan his boke, and the very boke of Dunstan was but cast on the bed hard by from the table.'

This so-called 'Book of St. Dunstan' was one which Kelly professed to have bought from a Welsh innkeeper, who, it was alleged, had found it among the ruins of Glas...o...b..ry.

'1588, February 8th.--Mr. E. K., at nine of the clok, afternone, sent for me to his laboratory over the gate to see how he distilled sericon, according as in tyme past and of late he heard of me out of Ripley. G.o.d lend his heart to all charity and virtue!

'1588, August 24th.--Vidi divinam aquam demonstratione magnifici domini et amici mei incomparabilis D[omini] Ed.

Kelii ante meridiem tertia hora.

'1588, December 7th.--??eat f?e?d??p p???s?d f?? a??, a?d t??? ????e? f?? ?e ????.'[31]


[26] 'The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee,' edited by J. O. Halliwell (Phillipps) for the Camden Society, 1842.

[27] This was Sir Edward Dyer, the friend of Spenser and Sidney, remembered by his poem 'My Mind to me a Kingdom is.'

[28] The 'Monas Hieroglyphica.'

[29] The celebrated navigator, whose heroic death is one of our worthiest traditions.

[30] A warm and steady friend to Dr. Dee.

[31] This Diary, written in a very small and illegible hand on the margins of old almanacs, was discovered by Mr. W. H. Black in the Ashmolean Library at Oxford.



The secrecy, the mystery, and the supernatural pretensions a.s.sociated with the so-called occult sciences necessarily recommended them to the knave and the cheat as instruments of imposition. If some of the earlier professors of Hermeticism, the first seekers after the philosophical stone, were sincere in their convictions, and actuated by pure and lofty motives, it is certain that their successors were mostly dishonest adventurers, bent upon turning to their personal advantage the credulous weakness of their fellow-creatures. With some of these the chief object was money; others may have craved distinction and influence; others may have sought the gratification of pa.s.sions more degrading even than avarice or ambition. At all events, alchemy became a synonym for fraud: a magician was accepted as, by right of his vocation, an impostor; and the poet and the dramatist pursued him with the whips of satire, invective, and ridicule, while the law prepared for him the penalties usually inflicted upon criminals. These penalties, it is true, he very frequently contrived to elude; in many instances, by the exercise of craft and cunning; in others, by the protection of powerful personages, to whom he had rendered questionable services; and again in others, because the agent of the law did not care to hunt him down so long as he forbore to bring upon himself the glare of publicity. Thus it came to pa.s.s that generation after generation saw the alchemist still practising his unwholesome trade, and probably he retained a good deal of his old notoriety down to as late a date as the beginning of the eighteenth century. It must be admitted, however, that his alchemical pursuits gradually sank into obscurity, and that it was more in the character of an astrologer, and as a manufacturer of love-potions and philtres, of charms and waxen images--not to say as a pimp and a bawd--that he looked for clients. In the _Spectator_, for instance, that admirable mirror of English social life in the early part of the eighteenth century, you will find no reference to alchemy or the alchemist; but in the _Guardian_ Addison's light humour plays readily enough round the delusions or deceptions of the astrologer. The reader will remember the letter which Addison pretends to have received with great satisfaction from an astrologer in Moorfields. And in contemporary literature generally, it will be found that the august inquirer into the secrets of nature, who aimed at the trans.m.u.tation of metals, and the possession of immortal youth, had by this time been succeeded by an obscure and vulgar cheat, who beguiled the ignorant and weak by his jargon about planetary bodies, and his cheap stock-in-trade of a wig and a gown, a wand, a horoscope or two, and a few coloured vials. This 'modern magician' is, indeed, a common character in eighteenth-century fiction.

But a century earlier the magician retained some little of the 'pomp and circ.u.mstance' of the old magic, and was still the confidant of princes and n.o.bles, and not seldom the depository of State secrets involving the reputation and the honour of men and women of the highest position. So much as this may be truly a.s.serted of Simon Forman, who flourished in the dark and criminal period of the reign of James I., when the foul practices of mediaeval Italy were transferred for the first and last time to an English Court. Forman was born at Quidham, a village near Wilton, in Wilts, in 1552. Little is known of his early years; but he seems to have received a good education at the Sarum Grammar School, and afterwards to have been apprenticed to a druggist in that ancient city. Endowed with considerable natural gifts and an ambitious temper, he made his way to Oxford, and was entered at Magdalene College, but owing to lack of means was unable to remain as a student for more than two years. To improve his knowledge of astrology, astronomy, and medicine, he visited Portugal, the Low Countries, and the East.

On his return he began to practise as a physician in Philpot Lane, London; but, as he held no diploma, was four times imprisoned and fined as a quack. Eventually he found himself compelled to take the degree of M.D. at Cambridge (June 27, 1603); after which he settled in Lambeth, and carried on the twofold profession of physician and astrologer. In his comedy of 'The Silent Woman,' Ben Jonson makes one of his characters say: 'I would say thou hadst the best philtre in the world, and could do more than Madam Medea or Doctor Forman,' whence we may infer that the medicines he compounded were not of the orthodox kind or approved by the faculty. Lovers resorted to him for potions which should soften obdurate hearts; beauties for powders and washes which might preserve their waning charms; married women for drugs to relieve them of the reproach of sterility; rakes who desired to corrupt virtue, and impatient heirs who longed for immediate possession of their fortunes, for compounds which should enfeeble, or even kill. Such was the character of Doctor Forman's sinister 'practice.' Among those who sought his unscrupulous a.s.sistance was the infamous Countess of Ess.e.x, though Forman died before her nefarious schemes reached the stage of fruition.

His death, which took place on the 12th of September, 1611, was attended (it is said) by remarkable circ.u.mstances. The Sunday night previous, 'his wife and he being at supper in their garden-house, she being pleasant, told him she had been informed he could resolve whether man or wife should die first. "Whether shall I," quoth she, "bury you or no?" "Oh, Truais," for so he called her, "thou shalt bury me, but thou wilt much repent it." "Yea, but how long first?" "I shall die," said he, "on Thursday night." Monday came; all was well.

Tuesday came, he not sick. Wednesday came, and still he was well, with which his impertinent wife did much twit him in his teeth. Thursday came, and dinner was ended, he very well; he went down to the water-side, and took a pair of oars to go to some buildings he was in hand with in Puddle Dock. Being in the middle of the Thames, he presently fell down, only saying, "An impost, an impost," and so died.

A most sad storm of wind immediately following.'

It seems as if these men could never die without bringing down upon the earth a grievous storm or tempest! The preceding story, however, partakes too much of the marvellous to be very easily accepted.

According to Anthony Wood, this renowned magician was 'a person that in horary questions, especially theft, was very judicious and fortunate' (in other words, he was well served by his spies and instruments); 'so, also, in sickness, which was indeed his masterpiece; and had good success in resolving questions about marriage, and in other questions very intricate. He professed to his wife that there would be much trouble about Sir Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, and the Lady Frances, his wife, who frequently resorted to him, and from whose company he would sometimes lock himself in his study one whole day. He had compounded things upon the desire of Mrs.

Anne Turner, to make the said Sir Robert Carr calid _quo ad hanc_, and Robert, Earl of Ess.e.x frigid _quo ad hanc_; that his, to his wife the Lady Frances, who had a mind to get rid of him and be wedded to the said Sir Robert. He had also certain pictures in wax, representing Sir Robert and the said Lady, to cause a love between each other, with other such like things.'


Lady Frances Howard, second daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, was married, at the age of thirteen, to Robert, Earl of Ess.e.x, who was only a year older. The alliance was dictated by political considerations, and had been recommended by the King, who did not fail to attend the gorgeous festivities that celebrated the occasion (January 5th, 1606). As it was desirable that the boy-bridegroom should be separated for awhile from his child-wife, the young Earl was sent to travel on the Continent, and he did not return to claim his rights as a husband until shortly after Christmas, 1609, when he had just pa.s.sed his eighteenth birthday. In the interval his wife had developed into one of the most beautiful, and, unfortunately, one of the most dissolute, women in England. Naturally impetuous, self-willed, and unscrupulous, she had received neither firm guidance nor wise advice at the hands of a coa.r.s.e and avaricious mother. Nor was James's Court a place for the cultivation of the virtues of modesty and self-restraint. The young Countess, therefore, placed no control upon her pa.s.sions, and had already become notorious for her disregard of those obligations which her s.e.x usually esteem as sacred.

At one time she intrigued with Prince Henry, but he dismissed her in angry disgust at her numerous infidelities. Finally, she crossed the path of the King's handsome favourite, Sir Robert Carr, and a guilty pa.s.sion sprang up between them. It is painful to record that it was encouraged by her great-uncle, Lord Northampton, who hoped through Carr's influence to better his position at Court; and it was probably at his mansion in the Strand that the plot was framed of which I am about to tell the issue. But the meetings between the two lovers sometimes took place at the house of one of Carr's agents, a man named Coppinger.

At first, when Ess.e.x returned, the Countess refused to live with him; but her parents ultimately compelled her to treat him as her husband, and even to accompany him to his country seat at Chartley. There she remained for three years, wretched with an inconceivable wretchedness, and animated with wild dreams of escape from the husband she hated to the paramour she loved.

For this purpose she sought the a.s.sistance of Mrs. Anne Turner, the widow of a respectable physician, and a woman of considerable personal charms, who had become the mistress of Sir Arthur Mainwaring.[32] Mrs.

Turner introduced her to Dr. Simon Forman, and an agreement was made that Forman should exercise his magical powers to fix young Carr's affections irrevocably upon the Countess. The intercourse between the astrologer and the ladies became very frequent, and the former exercised all his skill to carry out their desires. At a later period, Mrs. Forman deposed in court 'that Mrs. Turner and her husband would sometimes be locked up in his study for three or four hours together,'

and the Countess learned to speak of him as her 'sweet father.'

The Countess next conceived the most flagitious designs against her husband's health; and, to carry them out, again sought the a.s.sistance of her unscrupulous quack, who accordingly set to work, made waxen images, invented new charms, supplied drugs to be administered in the Earl's drinks, and washes in which his linen was to be steeped. These measures, however, did not prove effectual, and letters addressed by the Countess at this time to Mrs. Turner and Dr. Forman complain that 'my lord is very well as ever he was,' while reiterating the sad story of her hatred towards him, and her design to be rid of him at all hazards. In the midst of the intrigue came the sudden death of Dr.

Forman, who seems to have felt no little anxiety as to his share in it, and, on one occasion, as we have seen, professed to his wife 'that there would be much trouble about Carr and the Countess of Ess.e.x, who frequently resorted unto him, and from whose company he would sometimes lock himself in his study a whole day.' Mrs. Forman, when, at a later date, examined in court, deposed 'that Mrs. Turner came to her house immediately after her husband's death, and did demand certain pictures which were in her husband's study, namely, one picture in wax, very mysteriously apparelled in silk and satin; as also another made in the form of a naked woman, spreading and laying forth her hair in a gla.s.s, which Mrs. Turner did confidently affirm to be in a box, and she knew in what part of the room in the study they were.' We also learn that Forman, in reply to the Countess's reproaches, averred that the devil, as he was informed, had no power over the person of the Earl of Ess.e.x. The Countess, however, was not to be diverted from her object, and, after Forman's death, employed two or three other conjurers--one Gresham, and a Doctor Lavoire, or Savory, being specially mentioned.

What followed has left a dark and shameful stain on the record of the reign of James I. The King personally interfered on behalf of his favourite, and resolved that Ess.e.x should be compelled to surrender his wife. For this purpose the Countess was instructed to bring against him a charge of conjugal incapacity; and a Commission of right reverend prelates and learned lawyers, under the presidency--one blushes to write it--of Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, was appointed to investigate the loathsome details. A jury of matrons was empanelled to determine the virginity of Lady Ess.e.x, and, as a pure young girl was subst.i.tuted in her place, their verdict was, of course, in the affirmative! As for the Commission, it decided, after long debates, by a majority of seven to five, that the Lady Frances was ent.i.tled to a divorce--the majority being obtained, however, only by the King's active exercise of his personal influence (September, 1613). The lady having thus been set free from her vows by a most shameless intrigue, James hurried on a marriage between her and his favourite, and on St.

Stephen's Day it was celebrated with great splendour. In the interval Carr had been raised to the rank and t.i.tle of Earl of Somerset, and his wife had previously been made Viscountess Rochester.

A strenuous opponent of these unhallowed nuptials had been found in the person of Sir Thomas Overbury, a young man of brilliant parts, who stood towards Somerset in much the same relation that Somerset stood towards the King. At the outset he had looked with no disfavour on his patron's intrigue with Lady Frances, but had actually composed the love-letters which went to her in the Earl's name; but, for reasons not clearly understood, he a.s.sumed a hostile att.i.tude when the marriage was proposed. As he had acquired a knowledge of secrets which would have made him a dangerous witness before the Divorce Commission, the intriguers felt the necessity of getting him out of the way.

Accordingly, the King pressed upon him a diplomatic appointment on the Continent, and when this was refused committed him to the Tower. There he lingered for some months in failing health until a dose of poison terminated his sufferings on September 13, 1613, rather more than three months before the completion of the marriage he had striven ineffectually to prevent. This poison was unquestionably administered at the instigation of Lady Ess.e.x, though under what circ.u.mstances it is not easy to determine. The most probable supposition seems to be that an a.s.sistant of Lobell, a French apothecary who attended Overbury, was bribed to administer the fatal drug.

For two years the murder thus foully committed remained unknown, but in the summer of 1615, when James's affection for Somerset was rapidly declining, and a new and more splendid favourite had risen in the person of George Villiers, some information of the crime was conveyed to the King by his secretary, Winwood. How Winwood obtained this information is still a mystery; but we may, perhaps, conjecture that he received it from the apothecary's boy, who, being taken ill at Flushing, may have sought to relieve his conscience by confession. A few weeks afterwards, Helwys, the Lieutenant of the Tower, under an impression that the whole matter had been discovered, acknowledged that frequent attempts had been made to poison Overbury in his food, but that he had succeeded in defeating them until the apothecary's boy eluded his vigilance. Who sent the poison he did not know. The only person whose name he had heard in connection with it was Mrs. Turner, and the agent employed to convey it was, he said, a certain Richard Weston, a former servant of Mrs. Turner, who had been admitted into the Tower as a keeper, and entrusted with the immediate charge of Overbury.

On being examined, Weston at first denied all knowledge of the affair; but eventually he confessed that, having been rebuked by Helwys, he had thrown away the medicaments with which he had been entrusted; and next he accused Lady Somerset of instigating him to administer to Overbury a poison, which would be forwarded to him for that purpose.

Then one Rawlins, a servant of the Earl, gave information that he had been similarly employed. As soon as Somerset heard that he was implicated, he wrote to the King protesting his innocence, and declaring that a conspiracy had been hatched against him. But many suspicious particulars being discovered, he was committed to the custody of Sir Oliver St. John; while Weston, on October 23, was put on his trial for the murder of Overbury, and found guilty, though no evidence was adduced against him which would have satisfied a modern jury.

On November 7 Mrs. Turner was brought before the Court. Her trial excited the most profound curiosity, and Westminster Hall was crowded by an eager mult.i.tude, who shuddered with superst.i.tious emotion when the instruments employed by Forman in his magical rites were exposed to view.[33] It would seem that Mrs. Turner, when arrested, immediately sent her maid to Forman's widow, to urge her to burn--before the Privy Council sent to search her house--any of her husband's papers that might contain dangerous secrets. She acted on the advice, but overlooked a few doc.u.ments of great importance, including a couple of letters written by Lady Ess.e.x to Mrs. Turner and Forman. The various articles seized in Forman's house referred, however, not to the murder of Overbury, but to the conjurations employed against the Earls of Somerset and Ess.e.x. 'There was shewed in Court,' says a contemporary report, 'certaine pictures of a man and a woman made in lead, and also a moulde of bra.s.se wherein they were cast, a blacke scarfe alsoe full of white crosses, which Mrs. Turner had in her custody,' besides 'inchanted paps and other pictures.'

There was also a parcel of Forman's written charms and incantations.

'In some of those parchments the devill had particular names, who were conjured to torment the lord Somersett and Sir Arthur Mannering, if theire loves should not contynue, the one to the Countesse, the other to Mrs. Turner.' Visions of a dingy room haunted by demons, who had been summoned from the infernal depths by Forman's potent spells, stimulated the imagination of the excited crowd until they came to believe that the fiends were actually there in the Court, listening in wrath to the exposure of their agents; and, behold! in the very heat and flush of this extravagant credulity, a sudden crack was heard in one of the platforms or scaffolds, causing 'a great fear, tumult, and commotion amongst the spectators and through the hall, every one fearing hurt, as if the devil had been present and grown angry to have his workmanship known by such as were not his own scholars.' The narrator adds that there was also a note showed in Court, made by Dr.

Forman, and written on parchment, signifying what ladies loved what lords; but the Lord Chief Justice would not suffer it to be read openly. This 'note,' or book, was a diary of the doctor's dealings with the persons named; and a scandalous tradition affirms that the Lord Chief Justice would not have it read because his wife's name was the first which caught his eye when he glanced at the contents.

Mrs. Turner's conviction followed as a matter of course upon Weston's.

There was no difficulty in proving that she had been concerned in his proceedings, and that if he had committed a crime she was _particeps criminis_. Both she and Weston died with an acknowledgment on their lips that they were justly punished. Her end, according to all accounts, was sufficiently edifying. Bishop Goodman quotes the narrative of an eye-witness, one Mr. John Castle, in which we read that, 'if detestation of painted pride, l.u.s.t, malice, powdered hair, yellow bands, and the rest of the wardrobe of Court vanities; if deep sighs, tears, confessions, e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.ns of the soul, admonitions of all sorts of people to make G.o.d and an unspotted conscience always our friends; if the protestation of faith and hope to be washed by the same Saviour and the like mercies that Magdalene was, be signs and demonstrations of a blessed penitent, then I will tell you that this poor broken woman went _a cruce ad gloriam_, and now enjoys the presence of her and our Redeemer. Her body being taken down by her brother, one Norton, servant to the Prince, was in a coach conveyed to St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, where, in the evening of the same day, she had an honest and a decent burial.' Her sad fate seems to have appealed strongly to public sympathy, and to have drawn a veil of oblivion over the sins and follies of her misspent life. A contemporary versifier speaks of her in language worthy of a Lucretia:

'O how the cruel cord did misbecome Her comely neck! and yet by Law's just doom Had been her death. Those locks, like golden thread, That used in youth to enshrine her globe-like head, Hung careless down; and that delightful limb, Her snow-white nimble hand, that used to trim Those tresses up, now spitefully did tear And rend the same; nor did she now forbear To beat that breast of more than lily-white, Which sometime was the bed of sweet delight.

From those two springs where joy did whilom dwell, Grief's pearly drops upon her pale cheek fell.'

The next to suffer was an apothecary named Franklin, from whom the poison had been procured. 'Before he was executed, he threw out wild hints of the existence of a plot far exceeding in villainy that which was in course of investigation. He tried to induce all who would listen to him to believe that he knew of a conspiracy in which many great lords were concerned; and that not only the late Prince [Henry]

had been removed by unfair means, but that a plan had been made to get rid of the Electress Palatine and her husband. As, however, all this was evidently only dictated by a hope of escaping the gallows, he was allowed to share with the others a fate which he richly deserved.'

After the execution of these smaller culprits, some months elapsed before Bacon, as Attorney-General, was directed to proceed against the greater. It was not until May 24, 1616, that the Countess of Somerset was put upon her trial before the High Steward's Court in Westminster Hall. Contemporary testimony differs strangely as to her behaviour.

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Witch, Warlock, and Magician Part 9 summary

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