SIR JOHN SOUTHWORTH 1570 and Jane Sherbourne b 1570

Generation 7

Sir John Southworth (Knight), son of Sir Thomas Southworth (Knight) and Rosamond Lister, was born in 1570 in Samlesbury, Lancaster, England and died in 1612 in Samlesbury, Lancaster, England at age 42. Sir John married Jane Sherbourne in 1590 in Stonyhurst, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom. Jane Sherbourne, wife of Sir John Southworth, daughter of Richard Shireburne (Knight) and Isabel Wood, was born in 1570 in Stonyhurst, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom and died in 1623 in Samlesbury, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom at age 53.

Children from this marriage were:

  1. Mary Southworth (pg 93 History of Blackburn, Town and Parish)
  2. Thomas Southworth
  3. John Southworth
  4. Richard Southworth
  5. Gilbert Southworth
  6. Christopher Southworth
  7. Anne Southworth
  8. Rosemond Southworth

The Samlesbury Witches

The Samlesbury witches were three women who were said to be witches, murderers and cannibals. They were tried in the village of Samlesbury in Lancashire. Their trial on 19 August 1612 was one of a series of witch trials held over two days. It is among the most famous in English history. The trials were unusual for England at that time for two reasons. First, Thomas Potts, the  clerk to the court, wrote about it in his “The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.” Secondly, the number of people found guilty and hanged was high, ten at Lancaster and another at York. However, the three Samlesbury women were found not guilty of witchcraft. Some of the accused were burned alive and hung.

The three women were Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley. A 14 year old girl, Grace Sowerbutts, had said they used witchcraft. The women were accused of murdering children, and of cannibalism, amongst other things. In contrast, other people tried at the same time were accused of maleficium, that is causing harm by witchcraft. This included the Pendle witches. The case against the three women collapsed spectacularly when the main witness, Grace Sowerbutts, was shown by the trial judge to be the perjuring tool of a Catholic priest.

Note: The Catholic priest was Christopher Southworth, the Uncle of Jane Southworths husband.

An excerpt from the Blackburn Town and Parish history book follows:

'These references to the family of Southworth, lords of Samlesbury, will be rendered more intelligible by a few notes. The lady, Jane Southworth, who was put on trial for witchcraft, was the widow of John Southworth, Esq., eldest son of Thomas Southworth, Esq., son and heir to the Sir John Southworth whose imprisonment at Manchester for " recusancy " is referred to in the preceding chapter. John Southworth was therefore the grandson of Sir John, and the heir to the entailed estates, but he died young, and in the lifetime of his father, Thomas Southworth ; the exact date of his death is not apparent, but it was about 1611 or 1612, and only, at most, a few months before his widow was arrested and thrown into prison as a witch. She was a natural daughter of Sir Richard Sherburne of Stonyhurst, and married John Southworth about 1598 probably, for their eldest son, Thomas (eventual heir to his grandfather), was born in the 42nd Elizabeth (1599- 1600). The pair had other children, John, Richard, Gilbert, Christopher, Mary, Anne, and Rosamond. John Southworth and his wife resided at the Lower Hall, Samlesbury, and, after the husband's decease, Jane Southworth, the widow, had that house as a jointure, and continued to reside there."
page 93 of "A History of Blackburn, Town and Parish"

Samlesbury Witch Trial Proceedings

In 1612 nineteen people were in prison at Lancaster on the charge of witchcraft. Ten of these were from the Pendle Forest district, one from Gisburn in Craven, one from Windle near Prescot and eight from Samlesbury.

Of the Samlesbury so-called  witches, only three were brought to trial at the Assizes. These were Jennet Bierley, Ellen Bierley and Jane Southworth.

Standing trial for their lives, the charge against them was, that they had. “feloniously, practices, exercised, and used diverse, devilish and wicked arts, called Witchcraft, Enchantments, Charms and Sorceries, in and upon Grace Sowerbutts, so that be means thereof her body wasted and consumed“.

Grace Sowerbutts was 14 years of age and the daughter of a husbandman called Thomas Sowerbutts and it was she who was the principle witness against all three women, even though Jennet Bierley was in fact her grandmother.

Jane Southworth was the natural daughter of Sir Richard Sherburne of Stonyhurst and the widow of the grandson of Sir John Southworth, lord of the manor of Samlesbury. Whilst, Ellen Bierley was a relative by marriage of Grace Sowerbutts

At the Trial, Grace Sowbutts swore on oath that:-
For the space of some years now last past she hath been haunted and vexed with some women who have used to come to her; which women she sayeth were Jennet Bierley, the Informant’s grandmother,  Ellen Bierley, wife of Henry Bierley: Jane Southworth, late the wife of John Southworth: and Old Doewife, all of Samlesbury aforesaid. And she said, that neo lately these four women did violently draw her by the hair of the head, and laid her on the top of a Hay mowe, in the said Henry Bierley’s barn.

Not long after, Jennet Bierley met her near the place where she dwelled, the first appearance in her own likeness, then in the likeness of a black dog, and as she (Grace Sowerbutts) went over a stile, she (Jennet Bierley in the shape of a black dog) pushed her off, but was not hurt and went to her Aunt’s in Osbalderston, returning back to her fathers house the same night, being fetched home by her father. On her way home she told her father how she had been dealt with, both then and at sundry times before that, and before that time she had never told anyone. Being examined why she did not, she said she could not speak thereof, though she desired so to do.
She then said that upon the Saturday being the fourth of this instant April, (when) going south towards Samlesbury bote (boat) to meet her mother coming from Preston, she saw the said Jennet Bierley at a place called the Tow Brigges, first in her own shape and afterwards in the likeness of a black dog, with two legges, which dog went close by the left side of her (i.e. the left side of Grace Sowerbutts) till they came to the Pit of Water, and then the said dog spake, and persuaded her (Grace), to down herself there, saying it was a fair and easy death. Whereupon this Examinate (Grace Sowerbutts) thought there came to her one in a white sheet and carried her away from the said pit, upon the coming (of the one in the white sheet), the dog departed away: and shortly after the white thing departed also.

After she had gone further on her way, about the length of two or three fields, the black dog met her again, and going on her left side, did carry her into a barn of one Hugh Walshman, near thereby, and layed her upon the barn floor, and covered her with straw on her body, and hay on her head and the dog itself layed on the top of the straw but how long the dog  lay there she could not tell, nor how long she herself lay there, for she said, upon her lying down, her speech and senses were taken from her and the first time she new where she was she was lying on a bed in the said Walshmans housewhich (as she has since been told) was upon the Monday at night following: and she was also told that she was found and taken from the place where she lay, by some of her friends, and carried in the said Walshman’s house, within a few hours after she was laying in the barn, as aforesaid.

And she further sayeth, that upon the day following, being Tuesday, near night of the same day, she was fetched by her father and mother from the said Walshman’s house to her father’s house. And she sayeth, that at the place before specified, called the Two Brigges, the said Jennet Bierley and Ellen Bierley did appear unto her in their own shapes: whereupon (witness) fell down, and was not able to go till the Friday following; during which time, as she lay in her father’s house, the said Jennet Bierley and Ellen Bierley did once appear in their own shape, but they did nothing unto her there, neither did she ever see them since. And she further sayeth that a good while before this (she) did go with the said Jennet Bierley, her grandmother, and the said Ellen Bierley, her aunt, at the bidding of her said grandmother, to the house of one Thomas Walsham, in Samlesbury. aforesaid. And coming hither in the night, when all the household was a-bed, the doors being shut, the said Jennet Bierley did open them, but this Examinate (Grace Sowerbutts) knoweth not how: and being come into the said house (witness) and the said Ellen Bierley stayed there, and the said Jennet Bierley went into the chamber where the said Walshman and his wife lay, and from thence brought a little child, which this Examinate   thinketh was in the bed with its father and mother; and after the said Jennet Bierley set her down by the fire with the said child, she did thrust a nail into the navel of the said child, and afterwards did take a (quill) pen and did put it in at the said place, and did suck there a good space, and afterwards laid the child in bed again, and then the said Jennet and the said Ellen returned to their own house, (witness) with them. And she thinks that neither the said Thomas Walshman nor his wife knew that the said child was taken out of the bed from them.

And she saith also that the said child did not cry when it was hurt, as aforesaid; but she saith, that she thinks that the said child did thenceforth languish, and not long after died.

And after the death of the said child, the next night after the burial thereof, the said Jennet Bierley and Ellen Bierley taking (witness) with them went to Samlesbury. Church and there did take up the said child, and the said Jennet did carry it out of the church yard in her arms, and there did put it in her lap and carry it home to her house, and having it there did boil some thereof in a Pot, and some did boil on the coals, of both of which of which the said Jennet and Ellen did eat, and would have had this Examinate (Grace Sowerbutts) and one Grace Bierley, daughter of the said Ellen , to have eaten with them, but they refused to do so; and afterwards the said Jennet and Ellen did seethe the bones of the said child in a pot, and with the fat that came out of the said bones they said they would anoint themselves, that thereby they might sometimes change themselves into other shapes. And after all this being done, they said they would lay the bones again in the grave the next night following, but whether they did so or not the Examinate knoweth not: neither did she know how they got it out of the grave at the first taking of it up.

And being further sworn and examined, she deposed and saith, that about half a year ago, the said Jennet Bierley, Ellen Bierley and Jane Southworth and this (witness) (who went by the appointment of the said Jennet, her grandmother) did meet at a place called Red Banck, upon the north side of the waters of the Ribble, every Thursday and Sunday at night by the space of a fortnight, and at the waterside there came unto them, as they went thither, four black things going upright and yet not like men in the face; which four did carry the said three women and (witness) over the Water, and when they came to the said Red Banck they found something there that they did eat. But (witness) saith she never saw such meat; and thereafter she dare not eat thereof, although her said grandmother did bid her eat, And after they had eaten, the said three Women and (witness) danced every one of them.

(Witness) further saith upon her oath, that about ten days after her Examination taken at Blackburn, she being then come to her Father’s house again, after she had been certain days at her Uncle’s house in Houghton, Jane Southworth, widow, did meet (witness) at her Father’s house door and did carry her into the loft and there did lay upon the floor, where she was shortly found by her Father, and brought down and layed in bed, as afterwards she was told; for she saith, that from the first meeting of the said Jane Southworth she (witness) had her speech and senses taken from her. but the next day, she saith, she came somewhat to herself, and then the said Widow Southworth came again to (witness) to her bed-side and took her out of bed, and said to )her) that she now would have to do to her, and thereupon put her upon a hay-stack standing some three or four yards high from the earth, where she was found after a great search made by a neighbour’s Wife near her dwelling, and then layed in her bed again where she remained speechless and senseless as before, by the space of three days.

And being recover within a week after, she saith that the said Jane Southworth did come again to (witness) at her father’s house, and did take her away, and laid her in a ditch near to the house upon her face, and left her there, when she was found shortly after and laid upon her bed, but had not her senses again for a day and a night or thereabouts.

And she further saith, That upon Tuesday last before the taking of this her Examination the said Jane Southworth came to (witness’s) Father’s house, and finding (witness) without the door, took her and carried her into the Barn and thrust her head amongst a companie of boards that were there standing, where she was shortly after found and laid in a bed, and remained in her old fit until the Thursday at night following.

On being further examined touching her being at Red Banck, she saith, That the three women by her before named, where carried back again over the Ribble by the same black things that carried them thither; and saith that at the said meeting on the Red Banck, there did come also divers other women, and did meet them there, some old some young, which (witness) thinketh did dwell upon the north side of the Ribble, because she saw them not come over the water, but (she) new none of them; neither did she see them eat or dance, or do anything else that the rest did, saving that they were there and looked on.

It was then the turn of Thomas Walshman to testify and he swore on oath:- “.…he had a child died about Lent twelvemonths who had been sicke by the space of a fortnight or three weeks, and was afterwards buried at Samlesbury Church; which child when it died was a year old, and how it came to the death of it (witness) knoweth not. And he further said that about the fifteenth of April last, or thereabouts, the said Grace Sowerbutts was found in (his) father’s farm, laid under a little hay and straw, and from thence was carried into (his) house, and there laid until the Monday at night following, during which time she did not speak, but lay as if she had been dead.”

Another witness, John Singleton, a yeoman, a few days before the Assizes, made a deposition to Robert Holden of Holden Hall, and Justice of the Peace, swearing that he had, “…..often heard his old master, Sir John Southworth, knight, now deceased, say touching the late wife of John Southworth (his grandson) now in the gaol, for suspicion of witchcraft, that the said wife was as he thought an evil woman, and a witch, and he said that he was sorry for his kinsman, for he thought she would kill him”

John Singleton then declare:- “…. that the said Sir John Southworth, in his comings and goings between his own house at Samlesbury and the town of Preston, did for the most part forbear to pass by the house where the said wife dwelled, though it was his nearest and best way; and rode another way, only for the fear of the said wife, as (witness) verily thinketh.”

William Alker, another Samlesbury yeoman, corroborated this statement as to the grandfather of Jane Southworth’s husband believing her to be a witch. Alker swore, “…..that he hath seen the said Sir John Southworth shun to meet the wife of John Southworth, now Prisoner in gaol, when he came near where she was; and hath heard the said Sir John Southworth say that he liked her not, and that he doubted she would bewitch him.”

To place this last evidence in context is to realise that these trails took place in 1612 and that Sir John Southworth died in 1595; this was seventeen years before the trails took place.  In addition, Sir John’s will shows that, six weeks prior to his death, his grandson, John, the husband of the lady accused of witchcraft, was still unmarried. Indeed, the said John, whose widow, Jane was the one on trial, was only about 14 years of age when Sir John Southworth died in 1595. The will clearly stating the giving of certain property to the wife of his son, Thomas, “… or to such wife as Johne Southworth, sonne and heir apparent of the said Thomas shall marrie.”

Sir John Southworth did not believe his grandsons wife was a witch even just prior to his death because his grandson was not married. Neither would he avoid passing the house of the lady who was to become his grandsons future wife as his will suggests he had no idea who his grandson would marry. Where Jane Southworth did live, was at Lower Hall Samlesbury and her husband, John, had died a few months before the accusations were made against his wife Jane. The cause of such mischief appears to have been religious differences that had developed within the family.

As the only evidence against the three women other than the story told by Grace Sowerbutts was the evidence of two potential perjurers. Its is when we turn to the evidence of the Thomas Sowerbutts that the real story behind the conduct of Grace Sowerbutts may be surmised, when Thomas said that he had found, “….the wench upon the hay in one of her counterfeit fits.”

The Judge then demanded what answers the prisoners had to make and, “… humbly upon their knees with weeping tears desired him for God’s cause to examine Grace Sowerbutts, who set her on, or by whose means this accusation came against them.”

The suggestion that they had been, set on”, caused the witness to start a quarrel with each other and then they started to accuse each other. The Judge then took on the task of personally examining Grace Sowerbutts, “… who could not for her life give any direct answers, but strangely amazed, told him she was put to a master to learn, but he told her nothing of this.”

Her father was then re-examined as to, “….what master taught his daughter,  but he denied every question upon the point.” Some of those in court then stated that Grace Sowerbutts, “….had gone to learn with one, Thompson, a Seminary priest, who had instructed and taught her this accusation against them, because they were only obstinate Papists and now come to church.

The record then reveals that in her evidence, “Jane Southworth saith, she saw Master Thompson, alias Southworth, the Priest, a month to six weeks before she was committed to the gaol: and had conference with him in a place called Barn-hey Lane, where and when she challenged him for slandering her to be a Witch: whereupon he answered that what he had heard thereof her heard from her mother and her aunt; yet she, this Examinate (Jane Southworth) thinketh it in her heart it was by his procurement, is so moved to think, for that she would not be persuaded from the (Protestant) Church.”

Evidently, Master Thompson, alias Southworth, was Christopher Southworth, the fourth son of Sir John Southworth, and therefore the uncle of Jane Southworth’s husband. He was a Roman Chatholic priest, and had been imprisoned in Wisbeach Castle during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The Southworths were staunch Roman Catholics, Old Sir John Southworth himself having suffered imprisonment at Manchester. In the reign of  the catholic, Queen Mary Tudor, Sir John was made High Sheriff of Lancashire. In the last year of Mary’s reign (1557) he was commended for his desire to go on supporting the Queen with his hundred men. He remained Sheriff of the County  into the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st.  But about 1568 was imprisoned for speaking against the Book of Common Pray, part of Protestant doctrine.  He only gained his liberty on the payment of £500.

Recently having enter the Protestant Church, Jane Southworth had become a religious pawn. Hence, the court came to accept that it had been subjected to sinister suggestions aimed at the destruction of these three women, especially Jane Southworth. Doing this by inciting the 14 year old girl, Grace Sowerbutts, to accuse them of witchcraft and thereby seeking their destruction. As this was a charge more easily proved than disproved in those days, it was a diabolical act but one of a type so frequently practised by the so-called world religion and their counter-part, the extreme political movements of the 20th. century.  Let us hope that at least Lancashire has learned its lesson.

To conclude this story of the Samlesbury. Witches, we see that the judge ordered Grace Sowerbutts to be taken out of her father’s care and placed her with a Mr. Chisnell, a religious preacher along with two Justices of the Peace, for her to be carefully examined.

This resulted in Grace Sowbutts stating that her accusations of witchcraft against the prisoners was false and that she had been taken to Master Thompson to learn her prayers. Master Thompson was of course, Christopher Southworth, and it was he who counselled and advice and then persuaded her to make these charges  against her grandmother and her aunt and Mrs Jane Southworth.

This resulted in the acquittal of the three women but there are no records of anyone being held to account for attempting to judiciously murder them.

However, there is little doubt, that the so-called  Samlesbury Witches were in a higher social bracket to those of the Pendle Witches and this is certainly the reason why more care was taken to get at the truth.


Samlesbury Hall