A-Z of the Accused: Agnes Duke

Name:Agnes Duke

Location:Hatfield Peverel, Essex


Accusations:Agnes’ first official step on the wrong side of the law was not actually for witchcraft. At the Brentwood Assizes on 14 March 1566, she was indicted along with William Spayne on the charge of burglary;  on 15 December the previous year, the pair had stolen goods from the house of Richard Harris in Agnes’ native Hatfield Peverel in Essex. Agnes was found guilty, but was remanded, possibly because she pleaded pregnancy. Her accomplice wasn’t as fortunate; Spayne is recorded as having died in prison, a common occurrence given the unsanitary conditions prisoners were frequently held in. 

Agnes was still in prison in March 1567, but was apparently released some time after that, as the next mention of her is not until the Chelmsford Assizes of 1584 when she was again before the courts, this time indicted for murder by witchcraft. It was said that on 7 February 1584 she bewitched John Byrde, who died 25 that same month. Agnes was found not guilty and, again, released. Finally on 13 March 1589 Agnes was again up for charges of witchcraft at Chelmsford, this time working with John Heare to bewitch Joan Hawkins in November 1588, their victim languishing until 10 March the following year. Agnes was again, surprisingly, found not guilty. 

Outcome: Despite being cleared and escaping the noose, Agnes was still listed as a gaol prisoner at the February Chelmsford sessions in 1590. The end result for Agnes is ultimately unknown as mention of her dries up in the Assize records for the period; one might hope she was released, although death in prison was, potentially, more likely. 

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