Judge John Powell - Gloucester Cathedral

walwyn Sun, 11/06/2011 - 10:57
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Judge John Powell last witch trial england


This marble monument to Judge John Powell (d1714) is by Thomas Green of Camberwell. He was elected to parliament by the freemen of Gloucester in 1685. The Duke of Beaufort had opposed his election and had him removed from town clerkship of Gloucester in reprisal. However, Powell took legal action and regained his position. It is thought that Beaufort's opposition was due to Powell's willingness to support James II in his repeal of the Test Act and acceptance of the Act of Indulgence.


In 1712 Powell presided over the trial of Jane Wenham, one of the last people convicted of witchcraft in England. Jane Wenham of Walkern, in Hertfordshire, had for years been accused by her neighbours of thievery, idleness, swearing, whoring, and witchcraft. In about January 1712, at the age of 70, a local farmer called Jane Wenham a "witch and a bitch", Jane complained to the local magistrate, who instructed the local vicar to deal with the issue. The vicar ordered the farmer to pay Jane a shilling, and told Jane to be less quarrelsome.


Jane was dissatisfied with the result and said that she would "get justice elsewhere". Later a servant of the farmer had fits and Jane Wenham was accused of witchcraft. She was searched for the devil's teats, and when none were found, she was asked to recite the "Lord's Prayer", and when she faltered in her recitation she was a arrested and sent to Hertford jail to await trial.1


The trial took place on the 4th of March 1712 before John Powell, who expressed his scepticism throughout the proceedings. At one point when it was alleged that Jane Wenham could fly, John Powell said "there is no law against flying". Despite his efforts Jane was convicted by the jury, and John Powell was required to sentence her to death. However, after pronouncing the sentence of death by hanging, he ordered that she should be kept safe. He then obtained a royal pardon from Queen Anne, and her release from prison. Because it was thought too dangerous for her to return to Walkern she was given a house on the estate of Colonel Plumer at Gilston. After Plumer died she was supported by the Earl and Countess Cowper on their estate at Hertingfordbury.2