The year is 1806, the famous Witch of Yorkshire is planning something incredible. She caused an uproar in England that caused people to travel from all over the country to visit her house, hoping to witness a miracle. She owned a chicken, which would lay eggs inscribed with the words “Crist is coming”, spelt without the “h”. I guess we’ve all been spelling his name wrong this whole time. She made a lot of money selling holy water to protect people from the coming apocalypse, and became a wealthy woman. However, some clever folks decided to get up early one day and spy on her house. Turns out she had been writing the message on the eggs herself using concentrated vinegar, and reinserting the eggs back into the poor hen. This is the story of the witch of Yorkshire.

Her Crime Spree Begins

Witch of Yorkshire

You probably believe that medieval times is a terrible time for an old, unattractive woman. Medieval folk can accuse an old woman of witchery and burn her at the stake based on looks alone. But, Mary negates this myth as she freely took on the title of witch and used it to it’s greatest advantages. Mary was unlikely to be under the impression she was actually a witch. She knew what she was, a trickster. Through confidence, charm and trickery she gained the trust of the desperate and then took everything they have. Mary aimed to make as much money as possible through any means necessary; she just has to make sure the police don’t catch her.

Mary grew up among gypsies and learnt many of their arts, including fortune telling. However, Mary had to enlist the help of a woman named Mrs Moore. Mrs Moore was the seventh child of a seventh child which is the source of her magical abilities. Mary would consult Mrs Moore, although no one other than Mary ever met her and she most likely didn’t exist. 

It was easy for her to take advantage of people because of the lack of education at the time. There was no media to keep people up to date on the latest scams to avoid. If you can tell a convincing tale about ghosts or monsters people are likely to believe it. Con artists have a harder time today. Most of us are aware that there’s no dragon just past Cornwall and that ghosts aren’t actually afraid of salt, because they’re ghosts not snails. But even Mary’s crimes would catch up to her eventually. 

The Biggest Con In Medieval History

Her crime spree became ever more heartless and ludicrous as time went on. After a major fire broke out in Leeds, Mary took the opportunity to roam the streets asking for donations for the victims. Unsurprisingly the victims never received this money. She then convinces a woman that her husband is having an affair and charges her money to make it stop. Mary convinces a woman that police jailed her husband and are going to execute him. But that she can stop it for some pieces of gold. However, she would go on to commit such an insane act of deceit that it would send the entire country into an uproar.

This incredible feat began when she joined a cult known as the followers of the prophetess Joanna Southcott. Joanna gave out a seal of protection to each of her followers to show that they would be ‘saved’. While a part of the sect, perhaps inspired by the prophetess she decided to become one herself, or rather create one. Except this prophet wasn’t a person but a chicken.  

Mary Hatches A Plan

Mary spread the word that her chicken had laid an egg with the words “Crist is coming” inscribed into it. This terrified the locals as the coming of Christ would signal the end times. Except her chicken scared more than just the locals. Word spread across the whole country and people began travelling from all over to witness the hen lay these eggs. Mary had actually been using acid to write the words on herself and then reinserting it into the chicken’s oviducts, so that the chicken could lay the egg later in front of witnesses.

Of course each witness would have to pay between a penny and a shilling for the honour. She also made sure to sell seals of protection so that god fearing men and women could survive the apocalypse. What form did such powerful magic seals take? Mary had simply written ‘JC’ on pieces of paper. Things were going well for Mary, she was making a fortune, and she had earned herself a great reputation. She was becoming so famous that a few years later a series of books would be written just about her. In 1811 The Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman hit the shelves. Of which, there were actually twelve editions. This shows how incredible her fame as the Witch of Yorkshire had become. 

However, this would all come to an end when a doctor revealed her fraud. He woke up early to observe the magic chicken. Mary must have shocked him, when he saw her shoving the eggs back into the chicken herself after writing on them. This put an end to her scheme and must have been a hit to her reputation. Although she didn’t suffer any legal consequences for this, perhaps as a result of there being no police force in Yorkshire. Even so, things would only get worse for Mary from here when she began poisoning a couple to death. 

Mary’s Worst Mistake

Witch of Yorkshire

A desperate man by the name of William Perigo approached Mary and begged her to save his wife, Rebecca. A doctor mistakenly concluded Rebecca’s chest pains were the result of a curse. Mary began writing letters to the Perigos giving them instructions and even telling them to burn the letters after reading them. The Perigos sent linen, silverware, cash and various other items to Mary so that she could send the items to Miss Blythe and get her advice.

Mary is making a small fortune but decides it’s time to end things before she arouses suspicion. She prescribed the Perigos pudding laced with poison to kill them off before they could throw any accusations her way as Rebecca Perigo’s condition had not improved. Rebecca died from the poison, but William was still alive, and seething. He accused Mary of poisoning his wife. A police officer begins searching Mary’s house. He finds all the of the Perigo’s items in Mary’s house, even though Miss Blyth should have them. Mary waits two months, then makes her way to York Castle Jail where she must await trial.  

Her punishment came on 20 March 1809, on a Monday, because of course it would. Most people hate Mondays, but none more than a murder in Britain. Because the executioner would always execute murderers on Monday. Between 5000 to 20,000 people attended Mary’s execution. A lot even by today’s standards. Yet it’s even more shocking when you consider the smaller population and arduous means of travel. The number of witnesses to Mary’s execution is symbolic of her legacy as the Witch of Yorkshire. But this is just a single story. If you enjoyed learning about the witch of Yorkshire, and to learn about more incredible witches check out our article on 10 Real Witches From History

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