The website http://www.witchtrials.co.uk collects what historical data has survived but in no case is there much: generally just the name and neighbourhood of the accused plus the year of their trial; occasionally the verdict is also known. In some cases there isn’t even a name: 1599, Goodwife Watson of South Benfleet. A married woman; they didn’t need the rest of her. Mrs. Watson, Something-or-other Watson. I think I’ll call you Margery

Margery wishes she were somewhere else. From behind his pulpit the minister tells her we’ll live forever, he tells her we must do Good, he tells her about the raise in taxes: she feels a slosh of protest in her stomach and the stomachs of everyone around her, times are hard! and getting harder! but no-one grumbles out-loud: this is a church.

And anyway – Margery senses it, a spread of not mere acceptance but actual appreciation warming that frigid hall – are there not fights in need of fighting? Who would dare be so base as to put greed above the nation, the war-effort; these endless consumptive struggles against the wrongGodly Spaniards and the barbarous, dirty, Irish.

From behind the pulpit he tells her about fire and Samaritans and bread and myrrh and Daniel and fishermen and Jericho and Eve, she pretends to listen same as she pretends to understand the difference between “Protestant” and “Catholic,” all she knows for sure is that the smartest thing is to keep her head down, let them love one another in their own special way. The Right Right Reverend tells them that certain lands that had been theirs are no longer theirs although he doesn’t phrase it quite that way. The Right Right Reverend tells them to beware the snares of Satan.

Margery’s somewhere else: she occupies the future, runs through jobs that need doing, a litany of today’s tasks, a dulling mantra until: The Right Right Reverend tells them they can go.

John plod-shuffling by her side, the children pushed in front of them, they aisle out of the gloomy building, past – Margery hates this bit – their minister standing at the stone-arched doorway, amiably he asks them questions, “Yes!” she answers. She wishes she didn’t have to spend her time here but under Elizabeth’s “Act Of Uniformity” church-attendance is something you don’t get to choose.

Out into the no-less-gloomy day: Margery wraps her clothes tight around her and tells the children to do the same, she tells them to stop mucking around, they shiver past the standing-howling astrologers and their imminent apocalypses: the plague they say is His vengeance. The merely homeless can be bundled off and locked away but those that rant could be inspired of God, no-one wants to risk that wrath. Margery tells the children not to look or listen. John mutters something about seeing a man about some work, she hardly hears him, hardly notices him go: if all the time he’d spent looking for ways to earn money he’d spent earning money they’d have made their fortune years ago. But everyone wants work. Margery quickens her step, shivers the children faster forwards: another winter, sharp as knives, it takes a little more out of her every year.

Home: today’s tasks, she threads a needle and makes holes disappear, she tells the children to shut up, she makes the dirty clean and laments the leathering of her hands, she chops up carrots and potatoes, boils water, haggles a price for the milk, scrubs sheets. John returns home: “Anything?”

“No but…”

She makes a move that says: “Typical.” She sniffs for telltale hints of alcohol but he’s clean.

“The, the Browne girl, Grace Browne…” Margery gives a curious look. “She had, she had some kind of, it was like she was possessed. I…” Margery doesn’t want to hear. “I’ve never seen anything like it! I had to…” Margery turns to the overboiling pot, she…

“RROOOWWLLLRRR!” she hears that, a screech outside, she clutches a hand to her chest with an affected “Oh! …Gave me a fright!”

“YRRROWWWWLL!” – “It’s just cats,” says one of the children.

She shakes her head: “It’s not right, them sounding like that. Devils, that’s what they sound like.” “RAOAORRRRWR!” – she marches outside carrying a big tub of cold water.

John collapses muttering into his chair: no work, no money for tobacco, no-one to talk to, mad girls and devils everywhere, what a day. What a life; it’s one thing then another thing. Margery storms back into the house and throws the empty tub at him, tells him to make himself useful. Six hours later men are shouting at her, harsh and righteous men are shouting over and over at Margery: “Why did you do it?”


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