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Elizabeth Frances of the Chelmsford Witch Trials


Elizabeth Frances couldn't seem to stay out of trouble during late 1500s England, having been convicted of witchcraft at least twice before finally meeting her fate at the end of a rope in 1579. The details of the trials are well-documented, due to being a series of important trials in the history of witch hunts and executions. Multiple women died during what's been called the Chelmsford Witch Trials, and Elizabeth Frances was one of them. She wasn't the first to die, and she wasn't the last -- but what made her stand out from the numerous accused, convicted and executed women was that she was a noted repeat-offender. If Elizabeth Frances was truly a witch, and not one of the countless falsely-accused, then she truly didn't mind skirting the law during an era in which practicing the craft could mean the end of your life.

In the first Chelmsford trial of 1566, Elizabeth confessed to using a pet cat that she named "Satan" as a familiar in the practice of witchcraft. She admitted to using this so-called familiar to harm others before giving the cat to Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan. This ultimately led to the conviction and execution of Agnes Waterhouse during the trial, though Joan was not executed. Elizabeth was convicted but was not sentenced to death since she did not use witchcraft to commit murder or treason. She served a year in prison. 

In 1572, she was arrested and brought to trial again. This time she was accused of bewitching another woman whom had become seriously ill. However, she lucked out during this trial due to the volume of other accused witches in the system who were facing more serious charges. She was eventually convicted and spent another year in prison.

By the time she was released from imprisonment a second time, she had earned the reputation of a fearsome witch who used baneful magic to curse those who angered her. People avoided her when she was about, and she was said to not shy away from loudly hurling curses at others. A woman named Alice Poole was on the receiving end of one of these profane confrontations, when she refused to give Elizabeth a lump of old yeast in 1578. According to court documents from the time, Elizabeth cursed the woman aloud, expressing wishes for her to be harmed. Poole became desperately ill, becoming bedridden -- suffering as the twice-convicted witch demanded. Not long after Poole fell ill, Elizabeth was directly accused of using witchcraft to attack the other woman. However, nothing came of the accusations. That did change many months later when Alice Poole died as a result of her sickness. Elizabeth Frances was arrested and tried in court on suspicion that she directly caused Poole's death with witchcraft. Elizabeth, having already been convicted twice before, knew that she was facing the death penalty due to the severity of the charges against her. Still, she confessed in great detail. She was convicted a third time of practicing witchcraft, but this time she did not get a lenient sentence. She was hanged not long after her conviction.

The many witch trials of Elizabeth Frances make her sort of a rock star in the history of witch trials -- and for many reasons. Her first trial was featured in one of the first ever pamphlets published covering English witch trials. She was a rather scandalous woman, who not only confessed of using witchcraft to win the affection of men, but -- according to some feminist historians -- admitted to rendering them impotent with the same spiritual powers. 

Genealogy of Elizabeth Frances

Elizabeth Frances was married to Christopher Frances of Hatfield Peverel. In many documents their names vary in spelling as Frances, Francis or Fraunces. The genealogy of Elizabeth Frances is complicated, due to the fact that she's accused of ending one pregnancy with herbs and directly killing one child after both pregnancies proved of no real benefit to her. It is also documented that she cursed her husband and rendered him physically disabled. There are no documents, at this time, to indicate that any other children were born of Elizabeth Frances prior to her death in 1579. Because of this, it isn't possible (at this time) to trace Elizabeth's lineage.

References

A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718;Wallace Notestein ;1911

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