To my loving Friends and Readers in London
Beloved and courteous friends, we have to consider by this strange discourse how ready Satan is to take hold on us, if we fall from God never so little. He continually runneth up and down, seeking whom he may devour. But notwithstanding his temptations, which are great, the mercy of God is greater who never faileth to send comfort in temptation if we accept thereof.
Great are the examples both of God's mercy and might to put us in remembrance of our sins which are infinite and loathsome, where in if we continue let us undoubtedly look for the reward thereof which is an everlasting destruction of body and soul.
Let not this which is here declared seem a feigned fable unto thee but assure thyself that all such things are sent as warning for our wickedness and to put us in mind of the state of our salvation, which is an assured faith in Christ Jesus, from which pillar if we once shrink, the Tempter is ready to drive us into despair of God's mercy.
Many are the wonders which have lately happened, as of sudden and strange death upon perjured persons, strange sights in the air, strange births of the Earth, earthquakes, comets and fiery impressions, with the execution of God himself from his holy fire in heaven on the wretched man and his wife at Holnhurst in Hampshire (written by that worthy minister Hilliard) and all to put us in mind of God whose works are wonderful.
These and such like examples, good Reader, warneth us to be watchful for the day of the Lord which is at hand lest suddenly his wrath be kindled against us. Let us therefore pray to Almighty God to hold back his rod, to be merciful to us, and to forgive us that is past, that through the assistance of his Spirit we may with penitent hearts live in his fear to our lives' end.
Strange News out of Somersetshire
Upon the ninth day of September past there was a yeoman of honest reputation dwelling in the town of Dichet, which is within six miles of Bruton (the most ancient town within Somersetshire) whose name is Stephen Cooper, a man of good wealth and also well-beloved of his neighbours. Who being sick and lying in a weak state sent his wife (whose name was Margaret Cooper) upon the ninth day of September past into Gloucestershire to take order concerning a farm which he hath in a village called Rockhampton alias Rockington, at whose coming hither it seemed all things were not according to her mind. Thus continuing there one day and something more, she returned home to her husband, partly aggrieved at such things as she thought her husband might reform if God lent him life.
Now when she was come home again to Dichet, she found her husband recovered to an indifferent health, to whom she began to use very much idle talk as well concerning the same farm as also concerning an old groat which her son (being a little boy) had found about one week before. Thus she continued (as it were one that been bewitched or haunted with an evil spirit) until the Tuesday night following, which night she took her rest something indifferently until towards the morning. At which time she began with much vain speech to disquiet her husband and to use much idle talk. But her husband seeing her in such a mind and finding that she was, as it were, one that were desperate, he persuaded her to call upon God, and that being the creature of God she should not forget to call upon her Creator in the day of trouble. Wherefore he counselled her to pray with him, which she partly did.
But the devil who always doth build the chapel so near as he may to vex God's church, began to withdraw her from prayer and to put her in mind to call in most fearful sort for the groat which her son had lately found, as also for her wedding ring, desiring to see them with all speed. Her husband made no great haste thereunto but continued in prayer that it would please God to send her a more quiet spirit and to strengthen her that faith might speedily vanquish such vanity in her. But the more he prayed and persuaded her to prayer, the more she seemed to be, as it were, troubled with some evil spirit, calling still for the old groat which her husband neglected to show her. Whereat she began with a very stern and staring countenance to look on her husband in most wonderful sort, so that he was sore frighted with the same.
Then he called for her sister, for that he was not able to keep her in her bed, which when her sister and other were come into the chamber, they kept her violently down in the bed. And forthwith she was so sore tormented that she foamed at the mouth, and was shaken with such force that the bed and the chamber did shake and move in most strange sort. Her husband continued praying for her deliverance. So that within one half hour after her shaking was left, she began to tell them that she had been in the town to beat away the bear which followed her into the yard when she came out of the country (which to her thinking had no head). Then her husband and friends wished her to leave those vain imaginations, persuaded her that it was nothing but the lightness of her brain which was become idle for want of rest. Therefore her husband and friends exhorted her to say the Lord's prayer with them which she did and after took small rest.
And thus she remained until the Sunday following. In which time she continued raging, as it were bestraught of her memory which came by fits, to the greatest grief of her husband, friends and neighbours. Upon the Saturday following there was good hope of recovery for that she in the night before had taken some reasonable rest. Her friends and neighbours came to comfort her, yet sometimes she would talk somewhat idly to them which came by small fits. And upon the Sunday she seemed to be very patient and conformable to reason until midnight. At which time the candle, which was set burning in the same chamber, was burned out. She then suddenly waking called to her husband and cried out, saying that she did see a strange thing like unto a snail carrying fire in most wonderful sort. Whereat her husband was amazed, and seeing the candle was clean burnt out called to his brother and sister that were in the house with other of their friends watching and sitting up, to comfort her if her extreme fit should any way molest her. Who, hearing her husband call, came in and brought a candle lighted and set it on the table which stood near where the woman lay. She began then to wax as one very fearful, saying to her husband and the rest "Do not you see the Devil?" Whereat they desired her to remember God and to call for grace, that her faith might be only fixed upon him to the vanquishing of the devil and his assaults.
"Well" quoth she "if you see nothing now, you shall see something by and by." And forthwith they heard a noise in the street, as it had been the coming of two or three carts. And presently in the chamber they cried out, saying, "Lord help us, what manner of thing is this that commeth here?" Then her husband looking up in his bed espied a thing much like unto a bear, but it had no head nor tail, half a yard in length and half a yard in height. Her husband seeing it come to the bed rose by and took a joined stool and stroke [struck] at the said thing. The stroke sounded as though he had stroken upon a feather-bed. Then it came to the woman and stroke he three times upon the feet, and took her out of the bed and so rolled her to and fro in the chamber and under the bed.
The people then present (to the number of seven persons) were so greatly amazed with this horrible sight that they knew not what to do, yet they called still upon God for his assistance. But the candle was so dim that they could scarcely see one another. At the last this monitor (which we suppose to be the devil) did thrust the woman's head betwixt her legs and so rolled her in a round compass like an hoop through three other chambers down an high pair of stairs in the hall where he kept her the space of half an hour. Her husband and they in the chamber above durst not come down to her, but remained in prayer weeping at the stairs' head, grievously lamenting to see her so carried away. There was such an horrible stink in the hall, and such fiery flames that they were glad to stop their noses with clothes and napkins.
Then the woman cried out, calling to her husband, "Now, he is gone". "Then" quoth he, "in the name of God, come up to me". And so, even upon the sudden, she was come so suddenly that they greatly marvelled at it. Then they brought her to bed, and four of them kept down the clothes about the bed and continued in prayer about her. The candle in the chamber could not burn clear but was very dim, and suddenly the woman was got out of the bed , and the window at the bed's head opened. Whether the woman did unpin the window or how it came to pass they knew not, but it was opened and the woman's legs after a marvellous manner thrust out of the window so that they were clasped about the post in the middle of the window between her legs. The people in the chamber heard a thing knock at her feet, as it had been upon a tub, and they saw a great fire (as it seemed to them) at her feet, the stink whereof was horrible.
The sorrowful husband and his brother emboldened themselves in the Lord, and did charge the devil in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost to depart from her and to trouble her no more. Then they laid hands upon her and cried to the Lord to help them in that their great need, and so pulled her in again and set her upon her feet. Then she looked out at a window, and began to say, "O Lord" quoth she, "methink I see a little child". But they gave no regard to her. These words she spake two or three times. So at the last they all looked out at the window and espied a thing like unto a little child with a so bright shining countenance, casting a great light in the chamber. And then the candle burned very brightly so that they might see one another. Then they fell flat to the ground and praised the Lord that he had so wonderfully assisted them, and so the child vanished away.
Then the woman, being in some better feeling of herself, was laid in the bed and she asked forgiveness at God's hands and of all that she had offended, acknowledging that it was for her sins that she was tormented of the evil spirit. And so, God be thanked, she hath ever since been in some reasonable order for there hath been with her many godly learned men from diverse places of the country.
These be the names of the witnesses that it is most true:
Steven Cooper, John Cooper, Alis Easton, John Tomson, John Anderton, Myles Foster. With diverse others.
[Spelling and punctuation modernized]
bestraught = distracted, distraught
monitor = person giving a warning