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Joan Prentice of Sible Hedingham: Witch

Joan Prentice of Sible Hedingham: Witch

By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Spring 1998 and Rev. 6 Oct 2008
Updated Feb 2024

Hanged for talking to a ferret.

Craig R. Prentiss, a teacher of religious studies at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, MO, relates that while researching the persecution of "witches," he discovered that one JOAN PRENTICE was hanged about 1589 as a result of the "witch trials" at Chemsford, Essex County, England."

Searching with Alta Vista, we found a website containing information sent to Elizabeth Jackson by Elaine Mathews (Emath72444@aol.com) and comes from a book by C. L'Estrange Ewen called "Witchcraft and Demonianism" published in 1933 by Heath Cranton Limited, London. It was reprinted by AMS Press, New York, in 1984.

The 1589 Chelmsford victims are discussed in Ewen's book.

Joan Prentice lived in the Almshouse of Heddingham Sibble, Essex. We have no birth date for her, but from her death in 1589 we can make an estimate. If we assume she was 25-40 years of age, that would give her a birth date of c. 1549-1564.

Note: The town is now named Sible Hedingham. It lies about 3 miles NW of Halstead on Highway A604 and is about 5 miles NE of Shalford and 15-20 miles north of Chelmsford.

She confessed that the Devil appeared to her as a dunnish colored ferret with fiery eyes and asked for her soul. She couldn't give her soul because it belonged to Jesus, but gave the ferret blood from her finger and cheek. His name was "Bidd", and when she wanted him to do anything for her, she said:

"Bidd, Bidd, Bidd,
come Bidd, come Bidd, come Bidd,
come suck, come suck, come suck".

Bidd was a "familiar," or animal kept by English witches that performed evil deeds for them and was rewarded with sucking their blood from witch teats.)

Joan Prentice's trial was on 5 July 1589,and she was hanged within two hours after sentencing. (Source: Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959)

Apparently witchcraft was not uncommon. On 26 July 1566, Joan Waterhouse was the 18 year old daughter of Mother Agnes Waterhouse, 64 years old, of Hatfield Peveril, Essex. She called the familiar "Sathan" from out of her mother's shoes, expecting a toad. Instead, a great dog came to her, demanding what she would like. She asked him to haunt Agnes Brown, 12, who hadn't given her enough bread once. Agnes Brown said that a thing came to her like a black dog with a face like an ape, a short tail, a chain and a silver whistle around its neck and horns on its head. This is from "The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensford (Chelmsford)", 1566. Joan was more fortunate than was Joan Prentice; she was acquitted.

Joan Waterhouse's mother was also accused of being a witch. A transcript of the pamphlet that tells about them can be found in "Witchcraft", edited by Barbara Rosen. It's a collection of pamphlets and tracts written about various witchcraft cases. It was published by Taplinger Publishing Company in New York, in 1969.

The man we have tentitively identified at Valentine Prentice's grandfather, John Prentis (c, 1540-aft. 1597), had a sister named named Joan Prentis, born c. 1542. There were, however other Prentice families living in the general area and "Joan" was not an uncommon name.

VALENTINE was born in Felsted in 1599 and married at Chelmsford in 1626.

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