22 July 1612 – Mary Barber

If you thought Salem was hot on witch trials at the end of the 17th century, Britain was at it way beforehand, from the end of the 1500s onwards.

So, let us take to you Northampton at beginning of the 1600s where Britain was in the throes of persecution.


James I was pretty anti-witchcraft, having been convinced that he was the target of a spell up in Scotland. So, in 1604 he conjured up a rewrite to the laws, and in doing so, he upped the ante in terms of penalty.

As a result, Mary Barber was one of nine people who were eventually sentenced to be executed for witchcraft – crimes from putting spells on pigs to murder in Northampton.

While Barber didn’t commit murder, she was still found guilty of sorcery and the sentence for this crime was to be hanged together with five others.

Job lot

The execution en masse took place at Abington Gallows in Northampton and she was strung up alongside Agnes and daughter Joan Browne, plus Helen Jenkenson and Arthur Bill. The collective became known as the Witches of Northamptonshire uninspiringly and were the forerunners for a spate of trials in Pendle, up in Lancashire.

In a final twist to this tale, Giles Corey’s roots started off in Northampton round about this time – he was to emigrate to America where he eventually died aged 80, a victim of the Salem trials across the pond. But more of him later in the year…

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