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Wikimedia Commons // iStock

5 British Witch Trials

Wikimedia Commons // iStock

The Salem witch trials of 1692 to '93 might be among the most famous in history but they were by no means alone—nor was the paranoia that surrounded the grim witch hunts of the 17th and 18th centuries unique to New England. Witch trials were being carried out all across Europe right through to around 1800. Here are the stories behind five witch trials from across Great Britain.

1. BIDEFORD, DEVON

The Bideford witch trial that took place in Devon in the far southwest of England in 1682 was one of the last in England to lead to an execution. The three women involved were Temperance Lloyd, a local widow (who had already been acquitted of the murder of a man by witchcraft in 1671), and two beggars, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, who had allegedly been spotted conversing and begging for food with Temperance. Together, the three were suspected of causing the illness of a local woman, Grace Thomas, by supernatural means—although the full list of accusations thrown at the trio included a claim that a demonic figure in league with Temperance had transformed himself into a magpie and flown through Grace’s window to peck her while she slept; Grace later reported that she had suffered “sticking and pricking pains, as though pins and awls had been thrust into her body, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet.”

Despite a great deal of the evidence brought against the women being little more than hearsay, all three were found guilty and executed on August 25 at Heavitree, outside Exeter. A plaque commemorating the women on the wall of Exeter’s Rougemont Castle, where the trials were held, is dedicated to “the hope of an end to persecution and intolerance.”

2. WARBOYS, CAMBRIDGESHIRE

In 1589, a young family named the Throckmortons moved into the manor house beside the church in the tiny rural English village of Warboys, 20 miles north of Cambridge. Soon afterwards, one of the family’s young daughters, Jane, began suffering seizures and fits, which the local doctors found impossible to ease or cure. Then one day the Throckmortons’ neighbors—John and Alice Samuel, and their daughter Agnes—happened to pay the family a visit, but as soon as Alice arrived and took a seat by the fire, Jane’s condition suddenly worsened, and she began to point wildly at Alice, screaming, “Look where the old witch sits!” The mother quickly rebuked Jane and thought nothing more of it. But as more of the children began showing similar symptoms and a respected physician was unable to discover the cause, suspicions returned to the Samuels.

Even Lady Cromwell, the wife of Oliver Cromwell’s grandfather and a close friend of the Throckmortons, once confronted Alice about her apparent crimes; when Lady Cromwell died a little over a year later, her “murder” was added to the list of crimes of which the Samuel family were eventually accused. Imprisoned and tried before the Bishop of Lincoln, Alice, John, and Agnes Samuel were all found guilty of witchcraft and hanged in April 1593.

3. NORTH BERWICK, EAST LOTHIAN

The North Berwick witch trials of the late 16th century are notable not only for the sheer number of people involved (over the two years from 1590 to '92, around a hundred supposed witches and warlocks were implicated in the case), but because the trials were, for much of their duration, personally overseen by the king himself, James VI of Scotland. James was convinced that a local coven of witches had together raised a storm to wreck the ship on which he and his new bride, Anne of Denmark, were returning home from their wedding in Norway. Once suspicions were raised, one of the first to be accused was Geillis “Gelie” Duncan, the young servant of a local chamberlain, who confessed under torture to practicing witchcraft when her apparent gift for healing the sick aroused suspicion. Duncan implicated three further people in her confession, who each implicated several others, who were all then in turn brought in for questioning. One of the accused, Agnes Simpson, a local midwife and healer, was even taken before the king himself for questioning; after confessing to more than 50 crimes brought against her—including relieving the pains of a woman in labor by suffering them herself, and even baptizing a cat—Simpson was executed in January 1591. Another, Euphame MacCalzean, was burned alive without being granted the “mercy” of being hanged first, an astonishingly severe sentence even for the 16th century. In all, a total of six supposed witches were executed.

Eventually, the supposed network of witchcraft James and his court uncovered led him to believe that his cousin Francis Stuart (or Stewart), 5th Earl of Bothwell, had been behind the entire plot, and had worked with the coven to plot to kill the king and secure the throne for himself. In 1593, however, Bothwell staged a short-lived coup in James’s court and took the opportunity to have himself acquitted of the charges against him. After James retook control, Bothwell fled into exile and died in Naples in 1612.

4. PENDLE HILL, LANCASHIRE

The Pendle Hill witch trials of 1612 are amongst the most famous in British history, partly because their events are so well documented, partly because a number of those involved genuinely believed that they had supernatural powers, and partly because so many of the accused were eventually executed: Only one of the dozen individuals implicated in the case, Alice Grey, was found not guilty, and one, Margaret Pearson, was sentenced to being pilloried, but was spared the gallows.

The trials began when a young woman named Alizon Device, from Pendle in Lancashire in northwest England, was accused of cursing a local shopkeeper who soon afterwards suffered a bout of ill health, now believed to have probably been a mild stroke. When news of this reached the authorities, an investigation was started that eventually led to the arrest and trial of several members of Alizon’s family (including her grandmother, Elizabeth Southerns, a notorious practitioner of witchcraft known locally as “Demdike”), as well as members of another local family, the Redfernes, with whom they had reportedly had a long-standing feud. Many of the families’ friends were also implicated in the trial, as were a number of supposed witches from nearby towns who were alleged to have attended a meeting at Elizabeth Southerns’s home on the night of Good Friday 1612.

The first to be tried (in a different but related case) was Jennet Preston, who was found guilty and executed in York on July 29; the last was Alizon Device herself, who, like her grandmother, was reportedly convinced that she indeed had powers of witchcraft and freely admitted her guilt. In all, 10 men and women were hanged as a result of the trials.

5. SAMLESBURY, LANCASHIRE

Following the arrest of Alizon Device in Pendle in 1612, the discovery that witchcraft was being practiced in Lancashire caused a wave of paranoia that swept across the county and eventually implicated three women—Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and her daughter Ellen (or Eileen) Bierley—from the neighboring village of Samlesbury. Tried at the same Lancashire hearing as the Pendle witches, the trio were suspected of witchcraft by Jennet’s 14-year-old granddaughter, and Ellen’s niece, Grace Sowerbutts. Her grim testimonial accused the women of everything from shape-shifting (Jennet had reportedly transformed herself into a dog right before Grace’s eyes), to cavorting with demons (“black things going upright, yet not like men in the face,” as Grace described them), to cannibalism (the three women had supposedly abducted a young baby from a local merchant, Thomas Walshman, and drank blood from its navel; when the baby died a few days later, they were accused of robbing the grave and cooking the remains).

Unlike the trial of the Pendle witches, however, the Samlesbury trial was quickly turned on its head. With the evidence against them concluded, Jane, Jennet and Ellen were finally given the chance to speak and immediately pleaded with the judge not for clemency or mercy, as might have been expected, but to force Grace to tell the court who had coerced her into making the accusations against them. Grace’s immediate look of guilt raised the judge’s suspicions, and he ordered her to be taken from the court and interrogated by two justices of the peace. When they returned, it emerged that the entire grim story had been concocted by a local priest who—at a time of considerable religious upheaval in Britain—had strong-armed Grace into incriminating her Protestant relatives. All three women were acquitted.

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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presidents
George Washington’s Incredible Hair Routine

America's Founding Fathers had some truly defining locks, but we tend to think of those well-coiffed white curls—with their black ribbon hair ties and perfectly-managed frizz—as being wigs. Not so in the case of the main man himself, George Washington.

As Robert Krulwich reported at National Geographic, a 2010 biography on our first president—Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow—reveals that the man “never wore a wig.” In fact, his signature style was simply the result of an elaborately constructed coiffure that far surpasses most morning hair routines, and even some “fancy” hair routines.

The style Washington was sporting was actually a tough look for his day. In the late 18th century, such a hairdo would have been worn by military men.

While the hair itself was all real, the color was not. Washington’s true hue was a reddish brown color, which he powdered in a fashion that’s truly delightful to imagine. George would (likely) don a powdering robe, dip a puff made of silk strips into his powder of choice (there are a few options for what he might have used), bend his head over, and shake the puff out over his scalp in a big cloud.

To achieve the actual ‘do, Washington kept his hair long and would then pull it back into a tight braid or simply tie it at the back. This helped to showcase the forehead, which was very in vogue at the time. On occasion, he—or an attendant—would bunch the slack into a black silk bag at the nape of the neck, perhaps to help protect his clothing from the powder. Then he would fluff the hair on each side of his head to make “wings” and secure the look with pomade or good old natural oils.

To get a better sense of the play-by-play, check out the awesome illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton that accompany Krulwich’s post.

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