The First Witch Trials and the Cat Satan
Because of religious unrest, Henry VIII thought it prudent to enact a law against Witchcraft in 1542 making the act a felony punishable by death. Ironically, even though most regarded cats as evil, the cunning Cardinal Wolsey seemed to have liked cats very much. So much so that he allowed the controversial beasts to sit next to him in his chair while he gave important audiences.
The first of the famous witch trials, referred to as the Chelmsford trials was held in a secular English court in 1556, and involved a cat. The old and frail Elizabeth Francis was accused of and confessed to practicing witchcraft in Chelmsford, Essex. Elizabeth was the descendant of a witch, her grandmother, and had been instructed in the black arts from the age of 12. Her grandmother had also given her a white spotted cat named Satan, who ate bread and milk and occasionally begged for droplets of Elizabeth’s blood as a reward for doing her bidding. At first Elizabeth only desired wealth and asked her cat to give her sheep, which he did. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, these ill gotten sheep soon all died and left her as poor as she had been before. Then she asked her familiar Satan to make Andrew Byles, a rather well-to-do man, marry her. The cat demanded that she let Byles have his way with her first, and after so doing, he refused to marry her. Much angered, she begged the cat to take away all his wealth and kill him, and this Satan did. Again she asked for a husband and the cat granted her a marriage with a not so wealthy man with whom she had a baby girl. Unhappy in her marriage and with her baby daughter, she asked Satan to kill the helpless girl. This was done, and the daughter died at 6 months of age. Next, according to Elizabeth’s wishes, her husband then became lame after the cat was said to have lain in his shoes and turned into a toad.
After keeping Satan for nearly 15 years, she gave him to Agnes Waterhouse, also known as Mother Waterhouse, who was 64 years old at the time. Agnes was the first woman to be executed for witchcraft because she had been accused of causing the death of William Fynne and of also causing the deaths of many of her neighbors’ livestock through the powers of her familiar, Satan, the cat. Agnes was eventually hanged in 1566 as was Elizabeth in 1579. Elizabeth had been continually in and out of jail for almost ten years until she was finally charged with causing the death of Alice Poole through the use of witchcraft in 1578.
Both executions took place after Queen Elizabeth I implemented a new stricter Witchcraft Act in 1563. The Queen, by no means a cat lover, had great numbers of the abused animals stuffed into an effigy of the pope and burned for entertainment at her coronation ceremony.