Joseph Blagrave of Reading (1610-1682) was an astrologer and physician.
In his book, Blagrave’s Astrological Practice of Physick, published in 1671, he demonstrated the effectiveness of his methods by providing examples of some of the patients he claimed to have cured.
One such person was a young girl from Basingstoke who he claimed was possessed by the ‘devil’.
Blagrave tells us that a man named “Alexander, a Turner by trade, living at Basing-stoke in the county of Southampton” had a daughter who was “bewildered with very strong fits”.
Her daughter’s seizures usually began about nine o’clock at night and lasted about twelve hours, “during which, with much screaming and screaming, and through extreme torment, she was brought so low, both in body and mind, that she couldn’t move. or move any part of her body or limbs from the middle down… she was most sadly distressed, making many kinds of noises, like sometimes crying, scratching, screaming, also sometimes using actions and gestures strange parts of her body, such as twisting and coiling herself, sometimes crawling around the room”.
From the time the fits left her in the morning until noon, she was possessed with a strange supernatural power that allowed her to give the correct answer to questions about people who were complete strangers, by stating the names of their grandparents, what disease they died of. and where they were buried.
In one case, a man had a bag of maize stolen from him at the market.
She was able to name the person who stole it and that he had hidden it under his staircase.
The man went to the person and found the corn exactly where she said.
By the time Blagrave came on the scene, the girl had been suffering from seizures for about twelve months.
Her father had spent a lot of money on several doctors, none of whom could cure her.
He had even asked for help “from the minister of the parish, whose name was Mr. Webb, reputed to be a very honest, pious and learned man.”
Mr Webb was either Ambrose Webb, vicar of Basingstoke until 1648, or Stephen Webb, alias Evered, who was vicar from 1648 to 1660.
Mr. Webb visited her twice trying to heal her through prayer and devotion, each visit lasting about three hours, but without success.
Finally her father, having heard “what great cures I had made”, asked Blagrave to see if he could cure her.
Based on the timing of her seizures, Blagrave created an astrological chart that told her she was either bewitched or possessed.
Since she was unable to say “God” or “Jesus Christ” or “Deliver us from evil” in response to his questions, but instead “would be tormented, falling into strange fits”, he knew that she was possessed by the Devil.
Blagrave made a perfume of frankincense, myrrh and rosemary for his room and made him drink the distilled waters of marigolds, rosemary and angelica, “being all three under the dominion of the Sun, and united at the good planetary hours” .
Blagrave had to ask the girl’s father to help hold her down, as she, with the devil in her, “being wonderfully strong”, struggled to get away from him while he prayed for her, repeating the words, “By this High and Mighty Power and Name Tetragrammaton [the ancient Hebrew name of God]and in the Name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I command and command the Devil and the unclean Spirit to come out of this Maid, and leave her in Peace, and not to molest her or to disrupt. After”.
Despite this, the Devil would not come out.
Blagrave explained, “I find that any demons or evil spirits, when in someone’s possession, will not want to come out of their dwelling; more particularly, when they have been long established in the Corps”.
He made several attempts to cast out the devil by praying and repeating the words, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I charge you to come out” over and over again until finally, “the devil came out, but invisible, with a great hideous cry and noise, raising a sudden gust of wind, and so disappeared”.
Immediately after the devil left her, the girl started talking.
She never had a seizure again and after a few weeks on “Diet Drinks, Baths and Ointments” she regained the use of her legs and made a full recovery.
An abridged version of Blagrave’s account was published in 1691 as a cheap pamphlet, The Evil Spirit Cast-out, in 1691, probably for sale by itinerant travelers at fairs.
Mr Alexander was probably Richard Alexander who is recorded as having two households in the 1665 Household Tax Assessment for Basingstoke.
Unfortunately Basingstoke’s baptismal records didn’t begin until 1638, so we can’t be sure the devil-possessed maiden was his daughter.
It is possible that she was and that her name is Mary.
A Mary Alexander married a shepherd called William Snuges in Basingstoke in November 1656.
Their marriage didn’t last long, and neither did she.
On September 21, 1657, “the wife of William Snuges” was buried in Basingstoke.
William Snuges seems to have taken to burying his wives.
On February 9, 1654, a former wife of William Snuges was also buried at Basingstoke.