witch of Berkeley

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The medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury, writing in the 1120s, tells how, in 1065, a woman living at Berkeley (Gloucestershire) who was skilled in witchcraft was warned by her pet jackdaw that death was at hand. She begged her family to protect her body by sewing it up in a stag's hide and laying it in a stone coffin fastened with three chains, which must stand in the church for three nights, after which it could be buried. But the plan failed; each night one chain was broken by demons, till finally the Devil dragged her out of the church and set her on ‘a black horse… with iron hooks projecting over the whole of his back’; she vanished, but ‘her pitiable cries… were heard for nearly the space of four miles’.

Some elements here point towards folklore themes; the jackdaw may be an early example of a familiar, while the sinner tortured by riding a demonic horse has links with the Wild Hunt.

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