Earle was a wet-nurse, employed by the Hatefeild family, who became the subject of numerous accusations of withcraft by Henry Hatefeild following the death of his two children. Theories put forth by Albert Brown suggest that Earle had her child, Ann, by Hatefeild and his wife was both jealous and angered by this affair and the death of her children, which led to the numerous accusations.[unreliable source?]
There are few details to have survived about Katherine Earle's life beyond the accusations of witchcraft that were brought against her so the folk tales of Mary Brown, a local and family historian, as told by Albert Brown, her great nephew, offer the only insight into Earle's life. According to Mary Brown, the Earle family were incomers to the town in the 17th century, just like the Hatefeild family who employed Katherine Earle and her brother John Earle. [unreliable source?] It is known that Earle had a daughter, Ann Earle, but according to Mary Brown, the child was born out of wedlock, and there is a suggestion that the child's father was Earle's employer Henry Hatefeild. [footnotes 1]
In 1641, "not long after" the birth of Earle's daughter, the Hatefeild's had a daughter named Rosamund and Earle was employed as the wet nurse of the child. Earle preformed the same duty for the Hatefeild's second child, Katherine, who was born in 1644. Earle's own daughter "thrived", while the Hatefeild's two children "languished" and in the spring of 1645 both children died. Shortly afterwards, Earle and her brother were dismissed from the Hatefeild's service. [unreliable source?]
Accusations of Witchcraft
Accusations by Henry Hatefeild
Before the accusations made before the York Assize in 1654/1655, Earle was accused of blessing the plow and crops of a local farmer so that the farmer's fields prospered, while Hatefeild's were "drained of their nature". Earle was also accused of sending "hedgepigs to suckle [Hatefeild's] cows by night whereby they [became] dry prematurely". These accusations were brought before an ecclesiastical court and Earle was not convicted of being a witch.[unreliable source?]
On 11th January 1654/1655, Earle was in York in court before John Hweley, Esq. on an accusation of withcraft made by Henry Hatefeild. Hatefeild alleged that in August of the previous year Earle had struck him and his maire both on the neck with a dock stalk (or something similar). His maire was alleged to have fallen ill and died, while he was "very sore troubled and perplexed with a paine in his necke". Hatefeild also alleged that Earle's daughter told him "Doth the divell nipp the in the necke? but he will nipp the better yet." Earle was searched and a mark was found on her in the likeness of a "papp". 
Accusation Regarding the Hatefeild's Nephew
It is unknown whether the accusation that follows occurred before the trial at York Assize or after it. An apothecary from Pontefract, who regularly bought herbs and powders from Katherine Earle, was travelling to Cheesecake Farm in mid-spring, where Earle resided, and stopped at the Rose and Crown in Methley. The man became very drunk and had to be helped by the landlord and his pot-man onto his horse. As he approached Cheesecake Farm, he was startled by the sight and sounds of the Earle family around the bonfire "[t]rying to raise the devil, himself!". The man fled to Outlon and stayed in an inn there. In the morning, his tale reached the Hatefeild's by an employee of theirs. Henry Hatefeild called his employees from the fields, sent a pony to collect the apothecary, and took his neighbours to Cheesecake Hall. The Earle's and their servants were "dragged from the farm house".[unreliable source?]
Amongst the people in the house, however, was the nephew of Mrs. Hatefeild, who had been looked after by Earle. Henry Hatefeild accused Earle of having put a spell on his nephew and forcing him into the house against his will. However, the mob rejected this claim. Hatefeild then suggested that his nephew would do the "Drop of York", which involved jumping or being thrown from the top of York Minister, to prove his innocence. In the midst of the excitement, the accusations against Earle were forgotten and they were freed. Yet, Hatefeild had no intention of allowing his nephew to do the "Drop of York", instead using it buy time. Hatefeild convinced those who wanted to see the drop to return home and pack provisions for the trip and said he would provide a cart and two barrels of ale. It is suggested that Hatefeild staged a kidnapping of his nephew from the party that was travelling with him to York as when attackers came and took Hatefeild's nephew, his employees got into the way of the crowd, allowing the kidnappers to get away with their hostage. The party, now having no reason to go to York, drunk the ale and returned home.[unreliable source?]
Speculation on Cause of Hatefeild's Accusations
Albert Brown suggests several possible theories for the Hatefeild's accusations against Earle. Firstly, Brown suggests that Earle may have been blamed for the death of the Hatefeild's children and thus their anger fulled the accusations. The other theory rest on the idea that Earle's daughter Ann was fathered by Henry Hatefield: either Mrs. Hatefeild was angered by her husband's adultery with Earle or she was jealous that the child of Earle's and Mr. Hatefeild's lived and her children did not.[unreliable source?]
Accusations Regarding Mr Franke
Another accusation was also made before the York Assize that Katherine had "clapt one Mr. Franke... betwene the shoulders with her hand, and said 'You are a pretty gentleman; will you kisse mee?'" Mr Franke was said to have fallen ill before he arrived home and "and never went out of doore after" and dyed, allegedly complaining about Earle on his deathbed. Earle was found not guilty of witchcraft.
Rain's book also contains a footnote that suggests Earle had previously faced another case of witchcraft before Sir John Savile. A witness had said that "Mr Frank[[e] languished for three years" and that Earle had been examined and found to have two witch marks: a wart behind her ear and a wart on her thigh. According to Albert Brown's book, this was the first time that Earle was before a court of law and that further testimony had revealed that Mr Franke had been dead for three years when the alleged events took place. Brown also quotes one of the most serious charges brought against Earle:
She did connive with Satan to make barren wives bear children. Begot by the spawn of a Devil in the shape of a Great Oak Man who dwelleth in a hut in the garden of Cheesecake Farm, at Rhodes, Rothwell, in the said County of York, where the said Katherine do dwell.
The tale of the "Rothwell Witch" was still being told in the 19th and 20th Centuries and a book of stories about Katherine Earle, as well as other folk tales from Rothwell, was released by Albert Brown, most likely in the 1990s.
- There is a possibility that, if the Earle's were newcomers to Rothwell, there may be more information about them. The parish records at St Peter's Church, Leeds (now Leeds Minister) say that a Thomas Earle and Katherine Roth or Behl were married on 19th July 1617 and that around 1620, a daughter of theirs named Ann was baptised. This theory, however, is undermined by Brown's assertion Ann was born out of wedlock and the lack of mention of a Thomas Earle or the other children listed as those of Thomas Earle's in the parish register. It is also undermined by Katherine Earle's remarks about kissing Mr Frank, which is not simply folk knowledge. More information about the Earle Family of Rothwell can be found here.
- Note the different spelling of "Catherine". It is possible this is not the same Katherine Earle.
- Parish Registers with Catherine Earle listed on Archive.org
- Katherine Earle's case in the "Depositions from the castle of York" on Archive.org
- "Tales of Old Rothwell, Katherine Earle, The Rothwell Witch and other stories" on OpenLibrary.org
- The Earle Family of Rothwell
- Katherine Earle's first and second mention in "A History of Witchcraft in England"
- Lumb, G D. (1909) The Registers of the parish church of Rothwell Co. York. Leeds: Yorkshire Parish Register Society
- Raine, J. (1861). Depositions from the castle of York, relating to offenses committed in the northern counties in the seventeenth century. Durham: Surtees Society.
- Brown, A. Tales of Old Rothwell, Katherine Earle, The Rothwell Witch and other stories. Leeds: Albert Brown.