9 Pretty Baby Names Inspired By Real British Witches

They were condemned to hellfire; let’s bring them back.

1. Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye

The Conjuration from Henry VI, John Opie

Your sweet baby daughter needs strong role models. Have you thought about some of Britain’s fiercest independent women, the medieval witches of yore?

Take Margery Jourdemayne, known as Old Mother Madge, for instance. Madge was so fucking badass she could resurrect the dead. She came from a humble background, but at the height of her career as a healer specialising in love spells and fertility, she counted great astronomers, doctors, and scholars as friends and colleagues.

Of course, in the 15th century they preferred their women a little meeker, a little blander. Eventually, the Witch of Eye (“Eye” = an estate in Westminster), was accused of plotting with Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, to kill King Henry VI. Old Mother Madge said she’d only cast love spells, but she was burned at the stake in London in 1441.

2. Elizabeth Clarke

Elizabeth Clarke was in her eighties and only had one leg, but despite these limitations she was found to be having insanely hot “tri-weekly copulation” with the devil.

What. A. Woman. You can only hope your tiny ray of sunshine grows up to be such a sexually satisfied pensioner.

Britain’s saddest little man, witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins, made Elizabeth confess to her ~sins~ after keeping her awake for several days in a row. Her defences weakened, she is said to have summoned her familiars: Holt the kitten, Jarmara the fat spaniel, Vinegar Tom the greyhound, Sucke and Sugar the rabbits, and Newes the polecat. All strong names for your future pets.

Elizabeth was hanged in 1645.

3. Agnes Waterhouse

Honour the 60,000 people executed for witchcraft during the early modern period by naming your angelic offspring Agnes – after Mother Waterhouse, from Chelmsford, Essex, who WAS NOT A WITCH but was nevertheless the first woman executed in Britain under the 1563 Witchcraft Act.

Agnes confessed to having a familiar, a cat named Satan, whom she fed her own blood. In return the cat killed her neighbours’ cows, geese, and hogs, and spoiled their curds.

Looking back it’s clear that either Agnes possessed Marvel-standard superpowers OR 16th-century interrogation tactics – including sleep deprivation and false promises of leniency or forgiveness – could make a woman confess to anything. Agnes was hanged in 1566 aged 64.

4. Gwen Ellis

Duncan1890 / Getty Images

Your daughter would make a GREAT Gwen. Little Gwennie, Gwendoline, The Gwenster.

You could tell her about the woman she was named after, Gwen Ellis, the first recorded woman hanged for witchcraft in Wales. Gwen was a herbalist and healer – an ancient practice that had been perfectly acceptable in Britain until the 15th century when a paranoid fear of witches began to sweep through Europe during a time of increasing religious sectarianism.

An accusation of witchcraft became an effective way to bring down a woman you had beef with. Gwen Ellis discovered a woman called Jane Conwy of Marl Hall was having an affair with a bloke called Thomas Mostyn of Gloddaeth. Out of the blue she was arrested for witchcraft, accused of murder, tried, and hanged.

Your precious little Gwennie (who will probably grow up to be a brilliant GP) can do a great show-and-tell at school about the violent oppression of women through the ages.

5. Ursula Southeil, aka Mother Shipton

The Wellcome Collection, Via ancient-origins.net

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better icon and role model for your little bundle of joy than Ursula Southeil, aka Mother Shipton. Her head was disproportionately large, her goggling eyes glowed like embers, her limbs were crooked, her cheeks were hollow, and she had boar-like tusks where her teeth should be.

In other words, she was a total babe.

Mother Shipton (whose nicknames, btw, were Hag Face and Devil’s Bastard, tag urself) was a brilliant entrepreneur, and worked as a prophet and sorcerer from her cave in Yorkshire. She even snared a hot carpenter for a husband, Toby Shipton, and the people of the time were deeply confused by her brazen levels of punching.

6. Joan Peterson, the Witch of Wapping

What could be more inspirational than a woman with the power to bewitch a child, frighten a baker, and rock a cradle in the likeness of a cat? Also, Joan is such a cute name for your baby – and her nickname could be Joni!

Joan Peterson was a healer said to have learned her powers from a talking squirrel. But after her patient Christopher Wilson refused to pay, Joan allegedly cursed him. He “fell into very strange fits”, raved and raged like a madman, and died.

Joan was also accused of poisoning a woman called Lady Powell. Powell was 80 years old when she died, and Peterson said she’d been helping to ease her pain. But the court found Joan “strange” and she was hanged in 1652.

With any luck your little Joan will turn out to be strange too. Really fucking strange, and damn cool with it.

7. Margaret Barclay

A woman wearing a “witch’s bridle” / Universal History Archive / Getty Images

At least 3,800 witches were tortured and executed across Scotland in the 17th and 18th centuries. Torture techniques included shackling women to the walls, stretching their limbs on the rack, and driving pins under their nails. The “witch’s bridle” (aka scold’s bridle) was an iron cage placed around the face, with a piece of pronged iron forced into the woman’s mouth that stabbed her tongue and cheeks.

Margaret Barclay was said to have magical powers which allowed her to control the weather so she could conjure up storms and wreck ships. Incredible! Any woman that could do that today would be rich and famous, which is why Margaret is such a strong name for your beautiful, boucing baby girl.

Incidentally, it was Margaret’s in-laws who accused her of witchcraft. She was put in stocks, and iron weights were piled on her shins. Eventually, in agony, she confessed to using her ~magical powers~ to wreck her brother-in-law’s boat. Her accomplice in the “coven” Isobel Inch threw herself off the prison tower after days of interrogation.

Margaret was strangled and burned at the stake.

8. Alizon Device

Alizon. WITH A Z! A lovely spin on an old favourite, and just perfect for your gorgeous new arrival.

Plus, it honours the Pendle witches, a group of women tried and hanged in Lancashire in 1612. Alizon, her mother Elizabeth, and her grandmother Granny Demdike, as well their female neighbours, were arrested on charges of witchcraft.

Granny Demdike was a well known healer in the area, but the family also happened to be Catholics. Of course it was irrelevant that the Protestant king would look extremely fondly on magistrate Roger Nowell for killing a group of Catholics. They were definitely magical, evil witches cavorting with the devil! Who just happened to be Catholics. IT WAS A COINCIDENCE.

The key witness in the Pendle trials was Alizon’s younger sister Jennet. She was 9 years old, and her testimony condemned most of her family and neighbours to death by hanging.

9. Bessie Dunlop, the Witch of Lynn

Bessie Dunlop was either a psychic Scottish witch who communed with the fairies of Elphame, and had the power to cure sick children and cattle…

…or she was a healer, an ordinary woman and mother, tortured by witch hunters, who slashed her mouth during interrogation until she confessed to her magic, then strangled and burned her at the stake…

…ORRRRR she was a psychic Scottish witch who communed with the Queen of Elfland, and had the power to cure sick children and cattle, and used, “sorcerie, witchcraft and incantatione, with invocation of spretis of the devill.”

Either way, your wonderful, powerful daughter Bessie couldn’t have a better namesake.

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Becky Barnicoat is writer and illustrator for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
 
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