‘Utter Bedlam’-A Story of Women’s Mental Health



‘Utter Bedlam (Elizabeth)’  and ‘Utter Bedlam (Janet)’ 

Elizabeth Clarke was the first woman in Britain to be persecuted by the Witchfinder General and was hanged in 1645. Janet Horne was the last person to be executed for witchcraft and was burned to death in 1727.

‘Utter Bedlam’ (Elizabeth)
‘Utter Bedlam (Janet)’

These two paper cuts were inspired by my research concerning the treatment of women accused of witchcraft in the Seventeenth Century Witch Trails and later the treatment of female patients in the Hospital of ‘St Mary of Bethlehem’ in London, which came to be known as ‘Bedlam’.

What is particularly poignant about these pieces is the strange movement of the women’s hair. In the book, ‘Witch – The Wild Ride From Wicked To Wicca’, author Candace Savage writes, “In the iconography of witchcraft, the strange forward movement of the hair had been used as a sign of the Devil’s unnatural powers. In 1811, the same symptom reappeared in a scientific text on hysteria”.  The Elizabeth and Janet paper cuts come from illustrations found in a scientific paper at the ‘Bibliotheque Nationale de France’, of a female patient considered to be suffering from Hysteria.  

Hysteria, was later disproved by Sigmund Freud who viewed the symptoms as a physical manifestation of the unconscious mind, including repressed desires. No wonder then, that the Seventeenth Century Witch Trails seemed to coincide with the rise of the Puritan faith as hundreds of women started showing signs of “Hysteria” or “Devil Possession” (according to the Puritans). In the Puritan faith, women were treated harshly and were viewed as instruments of Satan.

“All wickedness is but little

to the wickedness of a woman”.

Ecclesiasticus XXV

Judge Pierre de Rosteguy, Sieur de Lancre was appointed by King Henry IV of France as Witchfinder General in 1608. He also had a mistrust of women believing them to be in league with Satan. His Lordship was particularly concerned about women’s hair. “The way it flowed across their shoulders and shimmered in the light, as violent as a sunburst in a stormy sky. The way it framed their eyes – such fascinating eyes – as dangerous in love,” he tells us, “as in witchcraft” (from Witch – by Candance Savage)

From being burned as witches to experimented on in Mental Health Institutions, women have surely suffered greatly at the hands of those, who pretty much, sent them insane in the first place!