To the same cause, about the same period, we may impute the trial of the Duchess of Gloucester, wife of the good Duke Humphrey, accused of consulting witches concerning the mode of compassing the death of her husband's nephew, Henry VI. The Duchess was condemned to do penance, and thereafter banished to the Isle of Man, while several of her accomplices died in prison, or were executed. But in this instance also, the alleged witchcraft was only the ostensible cause of a procedure which had its real source in the deep hatred between the Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort, his half-brother. The same pretext was used by Richard III., when he brought the charge of sorcery against the Queen Dowager, Jane Shore, and the queen's kinsmen ; and yet again was, by that unscrupulous prince, directed against Morton, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, and other adherents of the Earl of Richmond. The accusation, in both cases, was only chosen as a charge easily made, and difficult to be eluded or repelled.
But in the meanwhile, as the accusation of witchcraft thus afforded to tyranny, or policy, the ready means of assailing persons whom it might not have been possible to convict of any other crime, the aspersion itself was gradually considered with increase of terror, as spreading wider and becoming more contagious. So early as the year 1398, the University of Paris, in laying down rules for the judicial prosecuting of witches, express their regret that the crime was growing more frequent than in any former age. The more severe enquiries and frequent punishments, by which the judges endeavoured to check the progress of this impious practice, seem to have increased the disease ;—as, indeed, it has been always remarked, that those morbid affections of mind which depend on the imagination are sure to become more common, in proportion as public attention is fastened on stories connected with their display.
In the same century, schisms, arising from different causes, greatly alarmed the Church of Rome. The universal spirit of enquiry which was now afloat, taking a different direction in different countries, had, in almost all of them, stirred up a sceptical dissatisfaction with the dogmas of the church,—such views being rendered more credible to the poorer classes through the corruption of manners among the clergy, too many of whom, wealth and ease had caused to neglect that course of morality which best recommends religious doctrine. In almost every nation in Europe, there lurked, in the crowded cities, or the wild solitude of the country, sects who agreed chiefly in their animosity to the supremacy of Rome, and their desire to cast off her domination. The Waldenses and Albigenses were parties existing in great numbers through the south or France. The Romanists became extremely desirous to combine the doctrine of the heretics with witchcraft, which, according to their account, abounded especially where the Protestants were most numerous ; and, the bitterness increasing, they scrupled not to throw the charge of sorcery, as a matter of course, upon those who dissented from the Catholic standard of Faith. The Jesuit Delrio alleges several reasons for the affinity which he considers as existing between the Protestant and the sorcerer ; he accuses the former of embracing the opinion of Wierus, and other defenders of the devil, (as he calls all who oppose his own opinion concerning witchcraft,) thus fortifying the kingdom of Satan against that of the church.*
A remarkable passage in Monstrelet puts in a clear view the point aimed at by the Catholics, in thus confusing and blending the doctrines of heresy and the practice of witchcraft, and how a meeting of inoffensive Protestants could be cunningly identified with a Sabbath of hags and fiends.
" In this year , in the town of Arras, and county of Artois, arose, through a terrible and melancholy chance, an opinion called, I know not why, the Religion of Vaudoisie. This sect consisted, it is said, of certain persons, both men and women, who, under cloud of night, by the power of the devil, repaired to some solitary spot, amid woods and deserts, where the devil appeared before them in a human form, save that his visage is never perfectly visible to them—read to the assembly a book of his ordinances, informing them how he would be obeyed—distributed a very little money and a plentiful meal, which was concluded by a scene of general profligacy—after which each one of the party was conveyed home to her or his own habitation.
* Delrio, de Magia. See the Preface.
" On accusations of access to such acts of madness," continues Monstrelet; " several creditable persons of the town of Arras were seized and imprisoned, along with some foolish women and persons of little consequence. These were so horribly tortured that some of them admitted the truth of the whole accusations, and said, besides, that they had seen and recognised in their nocturnal assembly many persons of rank, prelates, seigneurs, and governors of bailliages and cities, being such names as the examinators had suggested to the persons examined, while they constrained them by torture to impeach the persons to whom they belonged. Several of those who had been thus informed against were arrested, thrown into prison, and tortured for so long a time, that they also were obliged to confess what was charged against them. After this, those of mean condition were executed and inhumanly burnt, while the richer and more powerful of the accused ransomed themselves by sums of money, to avoid the punishment and the shame attending it. Many even of those also confessed being persuaded to take that course by the interrogators, who promised them indemnity for life and fortune. Some there were, of a truth, who suffered with marvellous patience and constancy the torments inflicted on them, and would confess nothing imputed to their charge ; but they, too, had to give large sums to the judges, who exacted that such of them as, notwithstanding their mishandling, were still able to move, should banish themselves from that part of the country." Monstrelet winds up this shocking narrative by informing us, " that it ought not to be concealed that the whole accusation was a stratagem of wicked men for their own covetous purposes, and in order, by these false accusations and forced confessions, to destroy the life, fame, and fortune of wealthy persons."