Denbigh: Haunted Castle and Welsh Witch Execution

Take a speedy tour of Denbigh in beautiful North Wales… see the castle (do you notice anything strange about the entrance?) and the town with the gorgeous Welsh countryside in the background. Plus Denbigh is the location of the first person to be convicted and executed for witchcraft. Gwen ferch Ellis was hung in Denbigh town square in 1594.

We didn’t go into the castle so I have only the outside to show you.  The castle is allegedly haunted by a dragon that was killed on-site and a white lady,  I think the castle needs a full exploration at another time.

The town square is the location of first person executed for witchcraft in Wales.  Carry on reading to find out about poor Gwen ferch Ellis who met her demise on the gallows in 1594.

Gwen ferch Ellis

The largest witch hunt in England’s history happened in the East Anglia region, where Matthew Hopkins, the so-called “Witchfinder General”, rounded up and executed nearly 300 people accused of witchcraft. However, in Wales, there were only 42 recorded cases of witch trials, 8 convictions, and only 5 executions.  A big difference between the Catholic Welsh and the Protestant English was that the Welsh embraced the magical side of religion.

Wales had a long history of witchcraft and magic before the accusations and executions that took place in the north. The word ‘witch’ had never really existed in Wales, so no one really understood what one was.  It’s estimated that almost every village in Wales would have had one soothsayer, charmer, healer or wise woman.

In 1594, the first witch was executed in Wales at Denbigh town square. Gwen ferch Ellis had a long-standing reputation for being a charmer, or folk healer. She apparently used her powers to treat animals and children.

In her early 40s, Gwen was accused of bewitching and killing a man named Lewis ap John. Gwen made creams and sold herbs to help and protect people, but she was ultimately accused of causing death by witchcraft. She also made the terrible error of crossing someone from the landed gentry, which led to her downfall.

Lewis had been sick for some time, and the family invited Gwen over to bless him. She turned up and told the family he didn’t have long to live, accurately predicting when he might pass. When Lewis did die at this time, the family assumed it was a product of Gwen’s witchcraft.

The other thing Gwen did was to leave a charm – a written note – at the house of Sir Thomas Mostyn, a local gentleman and Justice of the Peace. Verbal and written charms were used in Wales and other parts of Great Britain, but this charm was also written in reverse, which – according to the traditions of the time – meant that it was intended as a destructive spell, rather than one for healing.

After Gwen was examined by William Hughes, the local magistrate and bishop of Saint Asaph (Llanelwy), five men and two women came forward with accusations of witchcraft against her. They said she caused the madness of a child, murdered a sick man who died shortly after being treated by her, and had a vengeful nature. All these charges were made through the use of witchcraft.

She was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. She was executed in Denbigh town square before the end of the year.


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