Now here is an unusual case from the King’s Bench plea roll for Michaelmas term 1364. (I was looking for mayhem, but found … magic and madness).
And it goes a little something like this …
Surrey. Richard, son of Nicholas Cook of Southwark (by attorney) sued Nicholas le Clerke of Southwark, asking him to explain why he had taken and imprisoned Richard at Southwark, and kept him imprisoned until Richard lost his mind [sensum suum amisit], as a result of seeing evil spirits, diabolically summoned up by Nicholas, [per visum malignorum spirituum per coniuraciones diabolicas per prefatum Nicholaum factas suscitatorum] and other outrages, to his great damage, against the peace etc. Nicholas did not turn up, so the entry descends into procedural things, and I am yet to find any resolution.
Whatever happened, the point is that this case was brought, and entertained by the court. It is, I think, quite interesting to see the use of malign magic as part of a trespass case, and the idea that spirits could be raised and deployed in a way which could cause a man to lose his sanity. To be absolutely fair to Nicholas le Clerke, it is not quite clear that the allegation was that he was deliberately setting out to use the spirits to make Richard lose his mind. That might have been an unfortunate side-effect of his fiendish antics.
It all seems a bit matter-of-fact and low-key, doesn’t it – certainly when compared with early modern treatment of harm caused by the summoning of spirits? A good one to use as an illustration in future legal history classes on witchcraft laws, I think.