Rural Lancashire in the seventeenth century was a wild and lawless region: notorious for theft, violence and sexual laxity. For its inhabitants, life would have been unimaginably tough with many trying to eke out a living by any means possible. This included posing as witches offering healing treatments, begging and in some cases – extortion.
For two warring families, things would get even grimmer when one family accused the other of witchcraft following a spate of murders in the area. The year was 1612 and the events that followed would become known as the Lancashire witch trials. Of those that went to trial, ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.
The trials were over, but hysteria remained. There were still accusations and there was still an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. There was something else too. A small box. It can be seen in several portraits of Magistrates and Judges of the period. You would never notice the box sitting on the desk in the background. Because it looked like a simple wooden chest, a wine box perhaps.
It was not. It was a Judgment box of sorts, referred to as an ‘Inquisitor’ by those in the know. It was used within some local communities to determine guilt or innocence. But guilty of what? Almost anything – but most probably signs of witchcraft.
For many, their fate lay inside the strange box. Not many survived, but some did. The Inquisitor is a strange and terrifying artefact of a time long ago when a preliminary result with the device could mean the difference between freedom and the gallows.
Some say the box can tell. Place your hand inside and it will determine your fate. Don’t place your hand inside and, well that would not be a good idea either. How ironic that this innocent little box could instil such fear, and fear it was. Most citizens refused to put their hand inside, a decision they surely regretted.
Usually performed by a magistrate or elder, the ‘test’ required that the person place their hand inside the box. A wooden stock was then lowered over their wrist and they would be given a copper bit to hold while the test was administered, the Inquisitor lid was then closed and latched.
If the suspect refused to participate in the test, it was a sign that evil was close by and they would likely suffer the consequences of the court. If the subject complied and placed their hand in the box, they may feel their hand heating up as if the inside of the box were starting to burn. If the box remained cold. Well, this would be an unfortunate result, to say the least.
“If the box turns cold the gallows you will behold, if the box turns hot all charges will be forgot”
The Inquisitor 1612 is not electronic or gaffed. It uses the power of fear and suggestion and your skills as a performer to tell the story and demonstrate how it was used to determine the presence of witchcraft.
The inquisitor 1612 is heavily aged and distressed to resemble an actual item that would have been around during this period. The solid copper bit has crucifixes engraved into the ends, has also been aged with an eerie Verdigris patina and comes in an old hemp drawstring bag.
- Aged Inquisitor 1612 box with removable stock and scorched hand impression inside
- Engraved, solid copper bit
- Hemp drawstring bag
- Instruction manual with full routine
- Dark Artefacts tag
With thanks to Eddie Garland for permission to recreate this effect.
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