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Wolverhampton auction of Rare 17th Century book telling the tale of a Bilston exorcism

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Cuttlestones’ Rosie Blackburn with the book
The lot will include various ephemera alongside the book

A rare early 17th century book charting the notorious case of a fake exorcism in the then Staffordshire town of Bilston, now part of the West Midlands, is set to come up for sale at Cuttlestones’ Wolverhampton sale room on Friday, 11th October 2013. 

 
Published in 1622 and authored by one Richard Baddeley, ‘The Boy of Bilson’  describes ‘A true discovery of the late notorious impostures of certaine Romish priests in their pretended Exorcisme, or expulsion of the Divell out of a young Boy, named William Perry, sonne of Thomas Perry of Bilson in the County of Stafford.’
 
The incident in question is one of a host of stage-managed exorcisms and witch trials carried out by Catholic priests during the reign of James I with the aim of encouraging belief in the Roman Catholic doctrine in England. Across the country, similar accounts of priests duping vulnerable individuals – often women and children – into acting as if demonically possessed for them to showcase their skill at casting out demons abound. 
 
In the case of the ‘Boy of Bilson’, the scam was so successful it resulted in the trial of a woman called Joan Cox on suspicion of having bewitched the boy; although by this point there was already some cynicism as to the legitimacy of the case due to William’s actions. However, during the trial itself Thomas Moreton, Bishop of Lichfield, further doubted the boy’s authenticity to the extent that the sentence was suspended and William moved to The Bishop’s Palace in Eccleshall, where he was closely observed, tested and finally declared a fake in October 1620.
 
Copies of Baddeley’s contemporary account are few and far between – an Express & Star article from 1954 featuring this very copy of the book, a cutting of which is included within the lot,  states ‘The book was printed in London in 1622 and only a handful of copies are known to exist. In 1954 there were copies at The British Museum, The William Salt Library, Stafford, two in private hands locally and one in London.’
 
The chance to own such a tome, especially one covering a topic with such local provenance, is exceptionally rare; as Cuttlestones’ books and maps expert, Rosie Blackburn, explains:
 
As soon as this book came in I knew we had something pretty special on our hands, but once I did some research and realised quite how close to home the story it covers unfolded, it became even more exciting. For a book published nearly 400 years ago, this is in exceptional condition. It has obviously been meticulously cared for; in fact, its final pages had been missing but, in 1932, photostats of the missing pages were obtained and the book rebound to include them. The invoices for this work are even included within the lot, so whoever is lucky enough to buy it can be sure of its completeness and provenance.”
 
Along with the book, the lot includes the 1954 Express & Star article covering its rediscovery, receipts for the re-binding work, and various other ephemera.
 
Expected to appeal to those keen on local history, antique book collectors and those with an interest in the history of witchcraft and exorcism, the book will come under the hammer at Cuttlestones’ Friday, 11th October Specialist Collectors’ Auction.
 
Viewing will take place the day prior to and on the morning of the sale and, for those unable to attend on the day, live online, telephone and commission bidding options are available. For further information call 01902 421985 or www.cuttlestones.co.uk.
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