Thursday, November 6, 2014

'Witch Marks' Carved Into 17th-Century Estate

English archaeologists have discovered "demon traps" under the floorboards of Knole, one of Britain's most important historic houses. The estate is shown here in the year 1800.
Acquired by the Archbishops of Canterbury in the 15th century, gifted to Henry VIII and remodeled in the 17th century by the Sackville family, the house was the birthplace of poet and gardener Vita Sackville-West and the setting for Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando.

The so called witch marks emerged on beams and joists as archaeologists took up floorboards in the bed chamber prepared for King James I but also around the fireplace, considered a weak spot in the fight against witches and demons.
According to archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), the witch marks "illustrate how fear governed the everyday lives of people living through the tumultuous years of the early 17th century."

The marks date to early 1606 and the reign of King James I, a period when superstition and paranoia gripped England just after the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
At that time, a handful of English Roman Catholic dissenters planned to blow up King James I of England and both Houses of Parliament.
Government propaganda, orchestrated by James I, blamed the Catholic conspirators as being in service to Satan, paving the way to widespread accusations of demonic forces and witches at work.

The researchers believe that craftsmen working for Thomas Sackville, who at that time owned Knole, carved the marks in anticipation of a visit from the King James I, with the intention of protecting him from evil spirits.
James himself had a keen interest in witchcraft and passed a witchcraft law, making it an offense punishable by death.
King Richard III Feasted on Wine and Swans

The carvings included criss-crossed lines, interlocking V-shapes to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary, and scorch marks made by directly burning the timber with a candle.
They were intended to trap demons and witches at work.
Discovery News

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  1. Very interesting Mary. I wrote a book on architectural salvage and researched 'witchmarks' and as you say they were quite widespread, sometimes confused with the builder's construction marks, used for timber framed buildings. Another interesting superstition is the hiding of old shoes in panels beside the chimney, thought to ward off the devil, I think. Apparently there's supposed to be some link between the 'soul' and the 'soles' of shoes, but this may be untrue.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post, Geoffrey. Thanks for the support. Mary Ann