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Today I’m on the ‘Widdershins’ blogtour, organized by The Coffee Pot Book Club.
To promote this book I have a guest post, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by a group of Lutheran swordmakers who defected from Germany to England in 1687.
Despite the Newcastle witch trials being the largest mass execution of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.
The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who left Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.
Helen is now working on her fourth novel.
Amazon Author Page
About the Narrator :
Christine Mackie has worked extensively in TV over the last thirty years in well-known TV series such as Downton Abbey, Wire in the Blood, Coronation Street, French & Saunders and The Grand. Theatre work includes numerous productions in new writing as well as classics, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy of Errors, Richard III, An Inspector Calls, and the Railway Children. In a recent all women version of Whisky Galore, Christine played three men, three women and a Red Setter dog!
IMDB Christine Mackie
Book Title: Widdershins
Series: Widdershins, Book 1
Author: Helen Steadman
Narrator: Christine Mackie
Publication Date: 25 June 2021
Publisher: Impress Books
Audiobook Length: 8.5 hours
Genre: Historical Fiction
The new audio book of Widdershins is narrated brilliantly by talented actor, Christine Mackie, from Downton Abbey, Coronation Street, Wire in the Blood, and so on.
The first part of a two-part series, Widdershins is inspired by the Newcastle witch trials, where 16 people were hanged. Despite being the largest mass execution of witches on a sin-gle day in England, these trials are not widely known about. In August 1650, 15 women and one man were hanged as witches after a Scottish witchfinder found them guilty of consort-ing with the devil. This notorious man was hired by the Puritan authorities in response to a petition from the Newcastle townsfolk who wanted to be rid of their witches.
Widdershins is told through the eyes of Jane Chandler, a young woman accused of witch-craft, and John Sharpe, the witchfinder who condemns her to death. Jane Chandler is an ap-prentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane soon learns that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world. From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.
Domestic abuse, rape, torture, execution, child abuse, animal abuse, miscarriage, death in childbirth.
Universal Buy Link
Guest Post :
Thanks very much for inviting me along to guest post on your blog today. My historical novels Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise, were inspired by the Newcastle witch trials in 1650 when sixteen people were executed for witchcraft on the same day. Now, Christine Mackie of Downton Abbey fame has brought the Newcastle witch trials to life as audiobooks.
The Newcastle witch trials of 1650 took place after the people of Newcastle petitioned the Common Council to rid them of their witches. The councillors thanked the petitioners and sent to Scotland for a witchfinder, possibly because Matthew Hopkins, England’s Witchfinder General, was recently dead. Since Scotland executed witches in much greater numbers than in England, despite having a much smaller population, this was obviously the go-to place to address nearby Newcastle’s skill shortage.
The Newcastle witch trials are not very well known about outside the north east of England. I didn’t even know there had been witch trials in Newcastle until I started researching ahead of writing Widdershins in 2011. Apart from a few meagre pieces of information in the local archives, not much is known about the Newcastle trials.
Perhaps the most useful insight comes from Ralph Gardiner’s 1655 book, England’s Grievance Discovered, which includes a deposition given under oath by John Wheeler of London, along with Elianor Lumsdel and Bartholomew Hodshon. In his testimony, Wheeler states that, in cahoots with the local bell ringer, the Scottish witchfinder arbitrarily rounded up thirty women from the streets of Newcastle, took them to the town hall and stripped them to the waist. He then proceeded to test them for witchcraft and found twenty-seven of them guilty.
What intrigued me most about Wheeler’s report was that the witch-finder was interrupted during his examination of ‘a personable and good-like woman’. The interrupter was one Lt Col Hobson, who revealed the witch finder as a fraud. As a result of Lt. Col. Hobson’s intervention, the woman being tested was declared innocent and set free. However, despite the revelation of the witch-finder being a fraud, sixteen people were still executed for witchcraft and the witchfinder was allowed to go free.
Fifteen women and one man were sentenced to death on 21 August 1650 and they were hanged together on Newcastle’s Town Moor, alongside nine mosstroopers. (These were notorious for sheep and cattle rustling along the border between Scotland and England.) There is a discrepancy in the number of ‘witches’ executed. The parish burial records for St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle list fifteen women and one man buried as witches in the graveyard. However, according to John Wheeler’s deposition, fourteen women and one man were executed for witchcraft; this list does not include the name of Jane Martin. I have erred on the side of caution and included her name in the list of those executed.
It’s odd that the Newcastle witch trials are not widely known about when they resulted in the biggest mass execution of witches on a single day in England. The 1612 Pendle witch trials are very well known, and ten people were executed on Gallows Hill in Lancashire. At the 1645 Chelmsford witch trials, nineteen people were executed in all; however, these executions did not take place on the same day, or in the same town. That said, Chelmsford and Essex more widely suffered terribly under witch trials, not least because it was the main stamping ground of the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.
Widdershins and Sunwise are works of fiction. However, the Newcastle witch trials were real, and here are the names of the people executed for witchcraft on 21 August 1650:
· Elizabeth Anderson
· Elizabeth Brown
· Margaret Brown
· Matthew Bulmer
· Jane Copeland
· Katherine Coulter
· Elizabeth Dobson
· Elianor Henderson
· Alice Hume
· Jane Hunter
· Margaret Maddison
· Jane Martin
· Margaret Muffet
· Mary Pots
· Elianor Rogerson
· Ann Watson
The bodies of those executed were buried in St Andrew’s churchyard in Newcastle. Witches were often buried near the north wall of churchyards as this was considered less holy. During some excavation work, the bones came to the surface and were subsequently reburied. On my last visit there, the graves were not marked but the new burial place was marked with a small and anonymous metal plaque, which would be easily missed. It’s a great pity that these innocent victims of the so-called witch craze haven’t been given a proper memorial.
Ralph Gardiner (1849 ) England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade. North Shields: Philipson and Hare. Ch. 53.
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