In 1661, Youghal was the backdrop for allegations against Florence Newton who stood accused of witchcraft and of enchanting Mary Longdon.It was the time of King Charles II, when anti-Catholic sentiment and witch-hunts were common across England.
So important was the trial and the publicity generated by it, that the Attorney General himself came to Youghal to conduct the trial. The actual verdict is not recorded and thus the question arises as to what happened in the end? On the basis of the accounts and assuming the trial was completed, there is little doubt that Newton would have been found guilty and burnt at the stake. However, it would seem odd that no account of the burning or of the verdict has been found, throwing open the possiblity that Newton was never actually put to death, even if she was found guilty – perhaps it is possible that given her elderly years and possibly after losing her mind from the effects of torture that the sentence was never carried out? We can only hazard a guess!
The story began when Newton, who went around begging from people and often went door to door in search of food, called to the house of John Pyne. The door was opened by a servant girl, Mary Longdon, who refused to give Newton a piece of beef ‘out of the Powdering Tub.’ Newton left, but not before grumbling some curses. A week later the pair crossed paths again, this time when Longdon was on the way ‘to the water with a Pail of Cloth.’ Newton knocked the pail from Longdon’s head and kissed her violently. Within a few days, Longdon had visions of being visited by a ‘spirit’ and Newton and tempted to in effect, sell her soul to the spirit. Thereafter, Longdon fell into fits during which ‘three or four men could not hold her’ down and she would ‘vomit up Needles, Pins, Horsenails, Stubbs, Wooll, and Straw.’
Small stones were also recorded as falling on Longdon. None of them could ever be taken away except for the few that landed in her or her Master’s (John Pyne) hands. As she lay having fits, she often cried out against Florence Newton, begging her to stop tormenting her. She told investigators that she could see Florence Newton during those fits as torturing her. In addition, when Florence Newton came came close to Longdon, the fits started or grew worse and once Newton had been imprisoned, the fits ceased.
When Longdon finished giving evidence in the trial, Newton made a guesture towards her in the courtroom and said, ‘Now she is down’ whereupon Longdon fell to the ground and into a violent fit.
Nicholas Stout gave evidence at the trial that he had tried to teach Florence Newton the Lord’s Prayer, but at no stage could she correctly recite it. Four times after the words, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, she continually said, ‘As we forgive them’, leaving out altogether the words, ‘And forgive us our trespasses’.
John Pyne, the employer of Mary Longdon, told the court he had seen bibles knocked out of Longdon’s hand by an invisible force as well as witnessing Longdon’s fits. Pyne told the court, “That the second night after that the Witch had been in Prison, being the 24th of March last, he and Joseph Thompson, Roger Hawkins, and some others went to, speak with her concerning the Maid, and told her that it was the general opinion of the Town that she had bewitched her, and desired her to deal freely with them, whether she had bewitched her or no. She said she had not bewitched her, but it may be she had overlooked her, and that there was a great difference between bewitching and overlooking, and that she could not have done her any harm if she had not touch’d her, and that therefore she had kiss’d her. And she said that what mischief she thought of at that time she kiss’d her, that would fall upon her, and that she could not but confess she had wronged the Maid, and thereupon fell down upon her knees, and prayed God to forgive her for wronging the poor Wench. “
Pyne also recounted how he had witnessed Newton in conversation with a spirit and she had confessed it was her familiar. In one test, he took a tile off the floor of her prison cell, brought it to the maid’s house and tossed it in the fire. When it was red hot, he poured some of the Maid’s water upon it and Newton promptly fell into tormet in her cell.
Edward Perry gave evidence that himself, Mr. Greatrix, and Mr. Blackwall had read of a method for testing a witch and so sent for her and sat her on a stool. A shoemaker attempted to stick an awl (pointed spike) into the stool and only succeeded on the third time – but when they went to remove it, it broke and no evidence of where it had went into the stool could be found.
Putting the awl into the maids hand, they could not pierce her hand with it so they then cut her hand with a Launce – quarter of an inch deep and an inch and a half long. But it never bled, only doing so when they cut her other hand also.
At another stage during the trial, Newton was brought into the courtroom with the usual result – Longdon fell down into a fit.
“Richard Mayre, Mayor of Youghall, sworn, saith, That about the 24th of March last he sent for Florence Newton and examined her about the Maid, and she at first denied it, and accused Goodwife Halfpenny and Goodwife Dod, but at length when he had caused a Boat to be provided, and thought to have tried the Water-Experiment on all three, Florence Newton confessed to overlooking.”
As she was imprisoned, it was also alleged by Joseph Thompson and Francis Beseley that Netwon had kissed the hand of David Jones and bewitched him. After attempting to teach her the Lord’s Prayer, she asked Jones for his hand as she could finally say the prayer and was thankful. However, she kept ommitting the line, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’ and her claim was nothing but a ruse to bewitch Jones. Elanor Jones, surviving spouse of the deceased David Jones, gave evidence that her husband had told her, ‘for she hath kiss’d my Hand, and I have a great pain in that arm, and I verily believe she hath bewitch’d me…’
Newton thus seems to have faced two charges – that of betwitching Mary Longdon and with causing the death of David Jones. The verdict of the trail was never recorded. Interestingly, nearly all of the characters lined up against Florence Newton were people of high standing who’s testimonies were never questioned, while Newton seems to have been a beggar or at least poverty stricken, old, weak and possibly suffering from the effects of witch tests and torture – which could explain her ‘confessions’.
Mr. Greatrix (Valentine Greatrakes) who gave evidence against Newton later went on to become a healer, though suspicions that he was a hoax were recorded by Increase Mather.
John Pyne and Edward Perry both served as Bailiff’s of Youghal with Perry going on to become Mayor of Youghal in 1674,
Richard Myres was Bailiff of Youghal in 1642, and Mayor in 1647 and 1660
Our thanks to Kay Donnelly for the information.