Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Darrel, John

DARREL, JOHN (fl. 1562–1602), exorcist, born, as is supposed, at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, about 1562, became a sizar of Queens' College, Cambridge, in June 1575, and graduated B.A. in 1578–9. He left Cambridge in 1582, and after a time went to London to study the law. He did not pursue it, however, and returning to Mansfield became a preacher. He began to figure as an exorcist in 1586, when he pretended to cast out an evil spirit from Catherine Wright of Ridgway Lane, Derbyshire. At his instigation she accused Margaret Roper of witchcraft, but the magistrate (G. Foljambe) before whom the case came detected the imposture and threatened to send Darrel to prison. Darrel lived at Bulwell, near Nottingham, and then at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where he had a small farm, but also preached. In 1596 he exorcised Thomas Darling, a boy of fourteen, of Burton-on-Trent, for bewitching whom Alice Goodrich was tried and convicted at Derby. A history of this case was written by Jesse Bee of Burton (Harsnett, Discovery, p. 2). The boy Darling went to Merton College, and in 1603 was sentenced by the Starchamber to be whipped, and to lose his ears for libelling the vice-chancellor of Oxford (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1601–3, &c. p. 292). In March 1596–7 Darrel was sent for to Clayworth Hall, Shakerley, in Leigh parish, Lancashire, where he exorcised seven persons of the household of Mr. Nicholas Starkie. In November 1597 he was invited to Nottingham to dispossess William Somers, an apprentice, and shortly after his arrival was appointed preacher of St. Mary's in that town, and his fame drew crowded congregations to listen to his tales of devils and possession. Darrel's operations having been reported to the Archbishop of York, a commission of inquiry was issued (March 1597–8), and he was prohibited from preaching. Subsequently the case was investigated by Bancroft, bishop of London, and S. Harsnett his chaplain, when Somers, Catherine Wright, and Mary Cooper confessed that they had been instructed in their simulations by Darrel. He was brought before the commissioners and examined at Lambeth on 26 May 1599, was pronounced an impostor, and, along with George More, one of his confederates, degraded from the ministry and committed to the Gatehouse. He remained in prison for at least a year, but it is not known what became of him.

One consequence of Darrel's case was the framing of the 72nd canon, deterring ecclesiatics in future from imposing on the credulity of the people as Darrel had done.

He wrote the following books: 1. ‘A History of the Case of Catherine Wright.’ 2. ‘An Apologie or Defence of the Possession of William Sommers,’ 4to. 3. ‘A Breife Narration of the Possession, Dispossession, and Repossession of William Sommers, and of some Proceedings against Mr. John Dorrell …’ 1598, 4to. 4. ‘A Brief Apoligie, proving the Possession of William Sommers,’ 1599, 12mo. These books called forth Samuel Harsnett's ‘Discovery of the Fraudulent Practises of John Darrel,’ 1599, 4to, which Darrel replied to in (5) ‘A Detection of that Sinful, Shamful, Lying, and Ridiculous Discours of Samuel Harshnet …’ 1600, 4to. 6. ‘A True Narration of the Strange and Grevous Vexation by the Devil of 7 Persons in Lancashire and William Somers of Nottingham …’ 1600, 4to. John Deacon and John Walker answered this book in ‘Dialogicall Discourses of Spirits and Divels,’ 1601, and ‘A Summarie Answere to al the Material Points in any of Master Darel his bookes …’ 1601, 4to. 7. ‘A Survey of Certain Dialogical Discourses written by John Deacon and John Walker …’ 1602, 4to. 8. ‘The Replie of John Darrell to the Answer of John Deacon and John Walker …’ 1602, 4to. 9. ‘A Treatise of the Church … against Brownists,’ 1617.

George More, minister of Calke in Derbyshire, wrote ‘A True Discourse concerning the Certain Possession and Dispossession of 7 Persons in One Family in Lancashire …’ 1600, 12mo. Harsnett mentions a ballad on the Somers case (pp. 34, 120), and alludes (p. 299) to Darrel as a married man.

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantab. ii. 380, and Works there cited; Raines's Notitia Cestriensis (Chetham Society), ii. 184; Harsnett's Discovery, 1599, passim; Fishwick in Trans. Historical Society of Lanc. and Cheshire, xxxv. 130.]

C. W. S.