The Case of Charles Tilbrook

On the 16th of June 1862, Mary King took her grandson Charles Tilbrook to court to be prosecuted for attempted murder after he attacked her with a razor and a stick. Charles Tilbrook himself was not accused of being a witch, but his defense was that his grandmother Mary was a witch and connected with the devil and that’s why he cut and beat her.

The case begins with Mary stating that the attack was indeed attempted murder rather than just a stabbing or battery by saying that she “had had no quarrel with my grandson, but a week or two before, when I was talking about May-day, he said that I should not be alive on May-day”. At the time, she did not recognize this as a life threatening remark, but after the attack she realized her grandson’s intentions.

Her grandson responds by saying that he wasn’t trying to murder his grandmother, rather, he was only trying to “draw some of her blood”. His defense as to why he was drawing her blood is because “It is evident she is connected with the devil. There have been persons connected with the devil who have done things of witchcraft, though it is not believed in at this day… she should not have that power over me which she has done with her arts”

This trial resulted in Charles being sentenced to a life of penal servitude. But this case shows how even long after the era of the original witch trials, there were still violent incidents occurring on the basis of the belief in women having evil supernatural powers.

In “A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition” Scaife says that “Superstition generally decreases in proportion to mental development”. This quote relates back to the case of Charles Tilbrook because according to Charles’ grandmother, Mary, he was mentally unstable. She says that “he is strange in his mind—people have said that he is out of his senses, and it seems a good deal like it by what he says”.

I agree with Scaife’s reasoning towards superstition. Also, I agree with an assertion from Ankarloo and Clarke. They said that “Witchcraft delusions, were in short, the malady of weak minds”. I believe that the further we go on our journey towards enlightenment we become less superstitious and less likely to believe in some of the supernatural explanations that people used during the time of the witch trials to explain occurrences. Back then people claimed that ordinary people were witches for all sorts of reasons, to ruin reputation, for money and property, or in the case of Charles Tilbrook, for an excuse to attack. At least in this case the accuser was prosecuted rather than the supposed “witch”.



3 thoughts on “The Case of Charles Tilbrook

  1. This is good, but you only cited Scaife. If you could just slip in a quote from Ankarloo and Clarke it’ll be all good. Sorry about the late notice; I’ll give you a little leeway on getting it back in because that was totally our fault.

    Grade: U (for now)

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