Nicholas Starkie of Cleworth’s grandfather was Laurence Starkie. Laurence had married Florence Atkinson, of Skipton, and their son, Edmund, was the father of Nicholas.
Laurence died in 1547, and in 1551 Florence was remarried, to Roger Nowell, of Read. Florence and Roger had a son, also called Roger, who was, therefore the half-brother of Edmund, and half-uncle of Nicholas. When Roger senior died in 1591, his son Roger junior inherited the Read estate. He prospered there, becoming first a magistrate, and in 1610, the High Sheriff of Lancashire.
|Read Hall, Lancashire|
Roger had two great uncles, both born at Read, both of them became eminent Elizabethan divines – Alexander Nowell was Dean of St Paul’s, London, Laurence Nowell was Dean of Lichfield. In addition, there were second cousins of Roger Nowell; Dr William Whittaker had been Master of St John’s College, Cambridge and Regius Professor of Divinity, John Wolton was Bishop of Exeter.
Roger’s Protestant credentials were impeccable, and he was ambitious. When James I became King of England in 1603, the ambitious would have been wise to learn the preoccupations and predilections of the new Monarch. In 1589, following a proxy marriage to Anne of Denmark, James had sailed from Leith to bring his bride home. The return journey was marked by violent storms, and the royal couple were almost lost at sea.
|The Berwick witches raising storms at sea - from Newes from Scotland 1591|
They arrived back in Scotland in May 1590, and news from Denmark reached them that Danish witches were the cause of the storms. James instigated an investigation of his own, the North Berwick Trials, and soon over a hundred suspected witches were in custody. Under torture many confessed to being in league with the devil.
|1820 reprint of Newes from Scotland 1591|
In Newes from Scotland (1591), we read how one, Agnes Sampson, was brutally tortured and eventually confessed that over two hundred witches had flown over the seas in sieves and on to the kirkyard at North Berwick, where they had met with the devil and planned to kill the King. She took the King aside and repeated, word for word, the conversation that had passed between Anne and himself on their wedding night in Oslo.
|Questioning the Witches - from Newes from Scotland 1591|
James was convinced of her guilt, and on January 16th 1590, she was taken to Castlehill, Edinburgh, strangled, and her body burned. Dr Fian (alias John Cunningham), also confessed to witchcraft and conjury, but he escaped from prison, was recaptured and, when he withdrew his confession, was also tortured.
|Dr Fain drawing a magic circle - from Newes from Scotland 1591|
His fingernails were pulled out with red-hot pincers, and needles driven into his finger-ends ‘even up to the heads.’ He was then placed in ‘the bootes’, into which wedges were hammered until “the blood and marrow spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unserviceable forever.” He still maintained his innocence, which was seen as proof of how deeply ‘the divel had entered his heart’, and he too was taken to Castlehill, strangled, and burned. It is estimated that between 2,000 to 3,000 accused witches were executed in Scotland between 1560 to 1707.
|Title Page - King James - Daemonologie 1597|
King James published a book Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogie, Diuided into three Bookes in 1597, a handbook on witch-hunting and their subsequent treatment, and that witches “… ought to be put to death according to the Law of God”, (this refers to Exodus 22:18 ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’), as agents of Satan and “… the instrumentes thereof, merits most severly to be punished.” James also changed the laws regarding witchcraft in 1604, and the punishment was raised from a year’s imprisonment to execution. Roger Nowell, well read, knew the Daemonologie, and as a Justice of the Peace knew the new laws.
On March 30th 1612, Abraham Law of Halifax brought a teenage girl, Alizon Device, before Roger Nowell at Read, with accusations of witchcraft.