The several and damnable practises of Mother Sutton and Mary Sutton her daughter of Milton Milles in the County of Bedford: who were lately arraigned, convicted and executed.
Pliny writes of some kind of serpents that dare not approach the wild ash tree, nay, the sight of it is so terrible to them, they fly from it and will not draw near the shadow thereof, but if they be walled round with fire, they will rather run through to the confusion of themselves than endure it. If it were so with us which profess ourselves Christians and should be Christ's sons to imitate our father and Saviour in his life, which he left as a lesson to mankind his children to learn, we should then having reason (part of the inheritance of angels) be more provident of our proper good than serpents are, who to avoid the persecution of their mind will endure the affliction of the body, and to shun the very shadow of the ash tree will thrust themselves into torment of fire.
So should men, who seeing sin like a wild ash tree grow in the world and that to lurk under the shadow thereof is a whip to their conscience, when to feed on the sap is damnation to their souls, in this only like serpents avoid it for the relief of their minds, though with the painful dissolution of their bodies. But such is the deafness of our ears that, though heaven itself speak in thunder to remember us a day shall come when we must give account for our willful transgressions, we not regard it. And such the hardness of our hearts, that neither treasons, murders, witchcrafts, fires, floods — of all which the impetuous course hath been such in this age that we have cause to look our day of summons is tomorrow, if not this hour — yet we are unprepared of our account, and as if it were lawful many evils should grow (many from one and one from another) are as corn is fruitful from one seed to several ears. So from one sin we multiply to diverse, not dreading vengeance till our iniquities be numberless. As shall appear by this following discourse.
At a place called Milton, some three miles from Bedford was lately dwelling one Mother Sutton, who being a widow and of declining years had her daughter, called Mary Sutton (as it was though by her neighbours thereabouts) resident with her as a stay and comfort to her age. When she kept her but as a furtherer to her devilish practises, nay indeed to make her a scholar to the Devil himself.
This widow Sutton having been dwelling a long time in the foresaid town of Milton, and not suspected as then to have been a practitioner in this devilish exercise of witchcraft was by the townsmen (being held but poor) for her better relief chosen to be hogsherd or hog-keeper. In which service she continued long, not without commendations for her dutiful care had therein. And though many cattle oftentimes miscarried, and were taken with staggerings, frenzies and other diseases, to their confusions and impoverishing of the owners, yet she not till of late suspected to be a cause thereof, though since it hath evident been proved against her.
Continuing thus almost for the space of twenty or one and twenty years, and in that time had brought her daughter to be as perfect in her devilish charms as herself, there grew some difference between a gentleman of worship called Master Enger dwelling at Milton Milles and this Mother Sutton. On whom she had vowed to take a strange and actual revenge for the discontent she had conceived against him. Which rancour of hers, she thus prosecuted. His horses that were left well in his stable at overnight, she caused them to be found dead in the morning - some strangled, some having beaten out their brains, others dead and no cause perceived how. Besides this loss, which for strangeness bred some amazement in him, for that it happened not once but often, this also did second it: When his swine were in the fields at their troughs eating their meat, some of them would suddenly fall mad, and violently fall to tearing out the guts and bowels of their fellows. Others by ten and twenty in a company, as if they had been carried with one desire, would leave their feeding and run headlong into the mill dams and drown themselves. So that not by accidental means, but by the hellish and most damnable witchcrafts of this Mother Sutton and her daughter, many these harmless cattle and oxen, made as needful reliefs to the necessity of man were thus perplexed, and an honest and worshipful gentleman. Master Enger, from whom she oftentimes both food and clothing, damnified by her means to the value of two hundred pounds in less than two years.
In the time of these aforesaid losses happened to Master Enger, one Henry Sutton, the bastard son of Mary Sutton (for it is to be noted that although she was never married, yet she had three bastards) coming to play himself about the mill dam, fell to throwing in of stones, dirt, filth, with other such unhappiness incident to children. Of which having been often forewarned by an ancient servant of Master Engers who was then about the mills, and finding the boy notwithstanding his admonishment rather to persevere than to desist from his knavery, he came to him and giving him a little blow or two on the ear, the boy went home crying and the ancient fellow went back to his labour.
This Henry Sutton coming home began to tell his mother how a man of Master Engers (naming him) had beaten him. Whose venomous nature being soon enkindled, though he had received no hurt, she vowed to take revenge, and thus it followed.
This ancient servant with another of his master's men were on the morrow being market day at Bedford, appointed by their master to carry a cartload of corn for the furnishing of the market. Being on their way at Milton town's end, they espied a goodly fair black sow grazing, who as they drave their team still kept pace with then till they came within a mile of Bedford. Where on a sudden they perceived her to turn twice or thrice almost as readily as a windmill sail at work; and as suddenly their horses fell to starting and drawing - some one way, some another. At last, the strongest prevailing, they drew away the cart and corn and left the wheels and axletree behind them. The horses they ran away with their load as if they had been mad, and the two fellows after the horses, the horses being affrighted half out of their strength, and the fellows as much mad to see them, down went one sack on this side the cart and another on that. The horses ran as if they would have swelted themselves, and the fellows after them breathless and sweating to make the wild jades stay. All which till the devil and the witch had played their parts would not serve their turn.
At last this tragic comedy drawing to an end, they made a stand, when the servants bringing them back and finding their axletree, pins and all things unbroken, took up their corn, made fit their cart again and the horses drew as formally as could be. And they went towards Bedford, mistrusting nothing, though they saw the sow following and grazing as they did before.
Being come to Bedford and having unloaden the cart and made sale of the corn, the one fell to driving the team home again, leaving his ancienter fellow behind him a Bedford, who happening into company, fell a carousing with boon companions like himself, and in the height of their cups, they as desirous to hear as he to tell, related unto them the manner and form how his cart and wheels were divorced as he was coming to town. Some wondered, all laughed. the company brake up and this ancient servant took his horse with purpose to overtake his fellow who was gone before with the cart. Who no sooner was out of Bedford town's end, but he might behold the same sow (as near as he could judge) grazing again, as if the Devil and the witch had made her his footman to wait upon him. But the fellow not mistrusting anything made his nag to take a speedy amble and so to overtake the cart, while the sow side by side ran along him. When he overtaking his fellow and had scarce spoken to him, but the horses (as before) fell to their old contention running one from another. Only the horses were better furnished than before, for where at first they left both wheels and axletree behind them, they how had the axletree to take their part, leaving the wheels in the highway for the servants to bring after. The horse in this manner coming home drove all the beholders into amazement, and the servants beginning to have mistrust of the black sow, they watched whither she went, whom they found to go into Mother Sutton's house; of which they told their master and of all the accidents aforesaid, who made slight of it to them whatsoever he conceived of it to himself, and saying he supposed they were drunk, they departed.
The same old servant of Master Engers within few days after going to plough, fell into talk of Mother Sutton and Mary Sutton, her daughter, of what pranks he had heard they had played thereabouts in the Country, as also what accidents had befallen him and his fellow as they had passed to and from Bedford. In discoursing of which, a beetle came and stroke the same fellow on the breast; and he presently fell into a trance as he was guiding the plough, the extremity whereof was such as his senses altogether distract, and his body and mind utterly distempered. The beholders deemed him clean hopeless of recovery, yea, his other fellow upon this sudden sight was stricken into such amazement as he stood like a lifeless trunk divided from his vital spirits, as far unable to help him as the other was needful to be helped by him. Till at length being somewhat recovered and awaked from that astonishment, he mad haste homeward and carried his mater word of what had happened.
Upon delivery of this news (for he was a man highly esteemed by him for his honest and long service) there was much moan made for him in the house. And Master Enger himself had not the least par of grief for his extremity, but with all possible speed hasted into the field, and used help to have him brought home. After which he neglected no means, nor spared any cost that might ease his servant or redeem him from the misery he was in. But all was in vain, for his ecstasies were nothing lessened but continued a long time in as grievous perplexity as at first. Yet though they suspected much, they had no certain proof or knowledge of the cause: their means were therefore the shorter to cure the effect.
But as a thief when he entereth into a house to rob first putteth out the lights according to that Qui male agit, odit lucem - he that doth evil hateth light, so these imps that live in the gunshot of devilish assaults go about to darken and disgrace the light of such as are toward and virtuous, and make the night the instrument to contrive their wicked purposes. For these witches having so long and covertly continued to do much mischief by their practises were so hardened in their lewd and vile proceeding that the custom of their sin had quite taken away the sense and feeling thereof. And they spared not to continue the perplexity of this old servant in body and mind, in such sort that his friends were as desirous to see death rid him from his extremity as a woman great with child is ever musing upon the time of her delivery. For where distress is deep and the conscience clear Mors expectatur absque formidine, exoptatur cum dulcedine, excipitur cum devotione - death is looked for without fear, desired with delight, and accepted with devotion.
As the acts and enterprises of these wicked persons are dark and devilish. so in the perseverance of this fellow's perplexity, he being in his distraction of body and mind, yet in bed and awake, espied Mary Sutton (the daughter) in a moonshine night come in at a window in her accustomed and personal habit and shape, with her knitting work in her hands, and sitting down at the bed's feet, sometimes working and knitting with her needles, and sometimes gazing and staring him in the face as he grief was thereby redoubled and increased. Not long after she drew nearer unto him and sat by his bedside (yet all this while he had neither power to stir or speak) and told him if he would consent she should come to bed with him, he should be restored to his former health and prosperity. Thus the Devil strives to enlarge his kingdom and upon the neck of one wickedness to heap another. So that Periculum probat transeuntium raritas, pereuntium multitudo - in the dangerous sea of this world the rareness of those that pass over safe, and the multitude of others that perish in their passage sufficiently prove the peril we live in. In the ocean sea, of four ships not one miscarries. In the sea of this world of many sowers, not one excapes his particular cross and calamity; yet in our greatest weakness and debility, when the Devil is most busy to tempt us and seduce us from God, then is God the strongest in the hearts of his children and most ready to be auxiliant and helping to save and uphold them from declining and falling. God's liberality appears more than his rigour, for whom he draws out the Devil's throat by faith he would have to trample him down by virtue lest he should only have fled not foiled his enemy.
This is made shown in his miraculous working with this fellow, for he that before had neither power to move or speak had then presently by divine assistance free power and liberty to give repulse to her assault and denial to her filthy and detested motion, and to upbraid her of her abominable life and behaviour, having before had three bastards and never married. She upon this (seeing her suit cold, and that God's power was more predominant with him than her devilish practice) banished and departed the same way she came.
She was no sooner gone but, as well as he could, he called for his master, told him that now he could tell him the cause of this vexation. That Mother Sutton's daughter came in at the window, sat knitting and working by him, and that if he would have consented to her filthiness, he should have been freed from his misery, and related all that happened.
His master was glad of this news, for that the means found out, the matter and manner of his grief might be the easier helped and redressed, yet was he distrustful of the truth and rather esteemed it an idleness of his brain than an accident of verity. Nevertheless, he resolved to make proof thereof.
The next morrow he took company along with him and went into the fields where he found her working and tending her hogs. There Master Enger speaking to her, she was a very good huswife and that she followed her work night and day. No sir, said she, My huswifery is very slender, neither am I so good a follower of my work as you persuade me. With that he told her that she was, and that she had been working at his house the night before. She would confess nothing, but stood in stiff denial upon her purgation. Insomuch as the gentleman by fair entreaties persuaded her to go home with him, to satisfy his man, and to resolve some doubts that were had of her. She utterly refused, and made answer she would not stir a foot, neither had they authority to compel her to go without a constable. Which Master Enger perceiving and seeing her obstinacy to be so great fell into a greater dislike and distrust of her than he did before, and made no more ado but caused her to be set upon a horse-back to be brought to his house. All the company could hardly bring her away, but as fast as they set her up, in despite of them she would swerve down - first on the one side then on the other - till at last they were fain by main force to join together, and hold her violently down to the horse-back, and so bring her to the place where this perplexed person lay in his bed.
Where being come and brought by force to his bedside he (as directions had been given unto him) drew blood of her, and presently began to amend and be well again. But her assiduity and continual exercise in doing mischief did so prevail with her to do this fellow further hurt, that watching but advantage and opportunity to touch his neck again with her finger. It was no sooner done and she departed, but he fell into as great or far worse vexation than he had before.
The report of this was carried up and down all Bedfordshire, and this Marie Sutton's wicked courses being rumored as well abroad as in Master Enger's house, at last it came into the mouth of Master Enger's son (being a little boy of seven years old). Who not long after espying old Mother Sutton going to the mill to grind corn, and remembering what speeches he had heard past of her and her daughter followed the old woman, flinging stones at her and calling her witch, which she observing conceited a rancour and deadly hatred to this child, and purposed not to suffer opportunity pass to be revenged. As soon therefore as she had dispatched at the mill, she hasted homewards and could not be quiet till she had grumbled to her daughter what had happened and how the child had served her. The conferring how Master Enger had used Mary Sutton the daughter, and how his little son had used the mother, they both resolved and vowed revenge. This conference and consultation of villainy was had and concluded in the presence of Henry Sutton (the bastard of Mary Sutton) little thinking that his fortune should be to give in evidence to break the neck of his own mother and grandmother.
To effect their devilish purpose to the young child of Master Enger, they called up their two spirits, whom she called Dick and Jude: and having given them suck at their two teats which they had on their thighs (found out afterward by enquiry and search of women) they gave them charge to strike the little boy and to turn him to torment. Which was not long in performing, but the child being distract was put to such bitter and insupportable misery as by his life his torments were augmented and by his death they were abridged. For his tender and unripe age was so enfeebled and made weak by that devilish infliction of extremity as in five days, not able longer to endure them, death gave end to his perplexities.
The gentleman did not so much grieve for the loss and hindrance he had in his cattle (which was much) nor for the miserable distress that his servant had endured (which was more) as that the hopeful days of his young son were so untimely cut off (which touched his heart most of all). Yet did his discretion temper his passions with such patience that he referred the remembrance of his wrongs to that heavenly power that permits not such iniquity to pass unrevealed or unrevenged.
As he was thus wrapped in a sea of woes there came a gentleman, a friend of his, forth of the North, that travelling towards London sojourned with him all night. He perceiving Master Enger to be full of grief was desirous to know the cause thereof, and he was as unwilling by the discourse of his misfortunes to renew his many sorrows, till at last his friend's urgent importunacy persuaded him not to pass it over with silence. Upon Master Enger's relation of what had happened, the gentleman demanded if he had none in suspicion that should do these wrongs unto him. Yes (quoth Master Enger) and therewithal he named this Mary Sutton and her mother, and told him the particulars of his losses and miseries. His friend understanding this advised him to take them, or any one of them to his mill dam, having first shut up the mill gates that the water might be highest, and them binding their arms cross, stripping them into their smocks, and leaving their legs at liberty, throw them into the water; yet lest they should not be witches, and that their lives might not be in danger of drowning, let there be a rope tied about their middles so long that it might reach from one side of your dam to the other, where on each side let one of your men stand, that if she chance to sink they may draw her up and preserve her. Then if she swim, take her up and cause some women to search her. Upon which if they find any extraordinary marks about her, let her the second time be bound, and have her right thumb bound to her left toe, and her left thumb bound to her right toe, and your men with the same rope (if need be) to preserve her and be thrown into the water, when if she swim, you may build upon it, that she is a witch. I have seen it often tried in the North country.
The morrow after Master Enger rode into the fields where Mary Sutton (the daughter) was, having some of his men to accompany him, where after some questions made unto her, they assayed to bind her on horseback when all his men being presently stricken lame, Master Enger himself began to remember that once rating her about his man, he was taken on the sudden in the like perplexity. And then taking courage and desiring God to be his assistance, with a cudgel which he had in his hand, he beat her till she was scarce able to stir. At which he men presently recovered, bound her to their Master's horse and brought her home to his house. And shutting up his mill gates did as before the gentleman had advised him. When being thrown in the first time she sunk some two foot into the water with the first fall, but rose again and floated upon the water like a plank. Then he commanded her to be taken out, and had women ready that searched her and found under her left thigh a kind of teat, which after the bastard son confessed her spirits, in several shapes, as cats, moles, &c., used to suck her.
The was she the second time bound cross her thumbs and toes, according to the former direction, and then she sunk not at all, but sitting upon the water, turned round about like a whale, or as that which we commonly call a whirlpool. Notwithstanding Master Enger's men standing on each side of the dam with a rope tossing her up and down to make her sink, but could not.
And then being taken up, she as boldly as if she had been innocent, asked them if they could do any more to her. When Master Enger began to accuse her with the death of his cattle, the languish of his man, who continued in sorrow both of body and mind from Christmas to Shrovetide, as also the death of his son. All which she constantly denied and stood at defiance with him till being carried towards a Justice, Master Enger told her it was bootless to stand so obstinately upon denial of those matters, for her own son, Henry, had revealed all, both as touching herself and her mother, and of the time and manner of their plotting to torment his little boy. When she heard that, her heart misgave her, she confessed all; and acknowledged the Devil had now left her to that shame that is reward to such as follow him. Upon which confession, the mother also was apprehended and both being committed to Bedford Gaol, many other matters were there proceeded against them of long continuance (for they had remained, as before, about twenty years) in the prosecute of these lewd and wicked practises. But for this matter of Master Enger at the last Assizes the evidence of the bastard son, and the confessions severally taken both of old Mother Sutton and her daughter Mary found them guilty in all former objections.
So that arraigned at Bedford on Monday the thirtieth of March last past, they had a just conviction, and on Tuesday the next after they were executed.
[Spelling and punctuation modernized]
swelt = to perish or faint.
toward = dutiful, well-behaved (the opposite of froward).
gaol = jail