Anne Jefferies and the
- A Real Fairy Tale?
A well documented and peculiar
folktale involving a human's alleged
dealings with fairies, which was also widely publicised at the time, is
that of Anne Jefferies of St Teath, Cornwall, England.
The sources for the events are a March 1647 letter in the Clarendon
Manuscripts (documents dealing chiefly with English history from 1608 to
1689) and a printed letter from publisher Moses Pitt to the Bishop of Gloucester, written in 1696. Pitt was writing from experience as he was born
in St. Teath and was the son of Anne Jefferies' former master and
Anne Jefferies was born in St. Teath in December 1626, the daughter
of a poor labourer. She was, by all accounts, a bright and curious girl
though, in common with the majority of the population at this time, she never learned to read. West Country tales of
fairies and pixies held a strong fascination for the girl and she often
ventured out after dusk searching the valleys for the Good People and
'Fairy fair and fairy bright;
Come and be my chosen sprite.'
Taken by the
When she was nineteen Anne went into
service at the home of the wealthy Pitt family. One afternoon the girl was
knitting in an arbour outside the garden gate when something so alarming
happened to her that she fell to the ground in a convulsive fit.
found by members of the family and taken up to her bedroom where she remained
ill for some time. When she finally regained consciousness the girl related an
incredible story. She said that she had been in the arbour knitting when she
heard a noise in the bushes, then six
tiny men appeared, all dressed completely in green, with unusually bright
The leader of the fairy group, who had a red feather in his cap, spoke
to her lovingly and then jumped onto her palm which she lifted up onto her
lap. The little man then climbed up her body and began kissing her neck, which
she apparently enjoyed. He then called his five companions who swarmed all
over her body kissing her until one of them put his hands over her eyes and she
felt a sharp pricking sensation, and everything went dark.
Anne was then lifted up into the air and
carried off. When she was set down again she heard someone say 'Tear! tear!'
and her eyes were opened. The girl found herself in a paradisiacal land of
temples, palaces, gardens, lakes and brightly-coloured singing birds. The
richly adorned people who lived in this magical
land were human-sized and spent their time dancing and playing, and Anne
herself was treated like royalty.
She again met her fairy friend with the red feather in his cap, but whilst
they were alone together his five companions arrived accompanied by an angry mob. In the ensuing struggle her fairy lover was wounded trying to
protect her and the same individual who had blinded her before did so again.
Anne was once more taken up into the air, this time with a great humming
noise, and finally found herself back on the ground in the arbour.
There seem to have been various side-effects of Anne's
apparent visit to fairyland. According to Moses Pitt, after the incident
she ate no food at
their house as she claimed to be nourished by the Good People
themselves. Anne also began to exhibit powers of clairvoyance and
healing, on one occasion she was able to heal her mistress's injured leg
by the placing on of her hands, and before long hordes of people from all over the country were
visiting her for her cures. Anne would also foretell the identities of
the people who would visit her, where they came from and what time they
But Anne's strange abilities soon came to the attention
of Justice of the Peace in Cornwall, John Tregeagle. In 1646 he accused
her of communing with evil spirits and had her imprisoned in Bodmin jail
without food or drink. She was subsequently kept as a prisoner at the
house of the Mayor of Bodmin, again without food. Amazingly Anne
continued to enjoy good health, being fed, as she claimed, by her fairy
In the end, perhaps because of the public furor aroused by the
case, Anne was allowed to go free and found employment with a widowed aunt of
Moses Pitt, near Padstow in Cornwall. She continued to work her cures and
subsequently married a man named William Warren. She was still alive in 1693,
living in Devon with her husband, but refused to speak about her experiences,
probably fearing further punishment. She told the brother-in-law of
Moses Pitt, Mr. Humphrey Martyn, that she did not want her life made into
'Books or Ballads' and that she would not discuss the matter 'even for five
hundred pounds'. Incidentally Humphrey Martyn was married to Moses Pitt's
sister, who as a 4 year old child had also seen Anne's fairies and had been
given a silver cup by them.
An Alien Abduction?
The case of Anne Jefferies is certainly an incredible, some
might say unbelievable one. Possible explanations vary, though perhaps one of
the most interesting is that Anne's experience is in some way related to modern day alien
abduction scenarios, which also feature strange sounds, miniature people and
the sensation of flight. However, the 'incident' in the arbour which seems to have
started the whole series of events could just as easily be attributed to daydreaming and
wish-fulfillment, especially considering the girl's attested devotion to
fairies and fairy lore. Alternatively, perhaps there was a real incident, maybe the girl was
attacked or even raped by an intruder, and she was in such a state of shock
that her mind, refusing to accept the horrible facts of what really happened,
concocted the whole fairy abduction story as a defence mechanism.
But this would not explain Anne's subsequent clairvoyance, her
power to cure, or how she was able to live without eating any food, especially
in the austere surroundings of Bodmin Jail and under the watchful eye of the
Mayor as a prisoner in his house. Moses Pitt and his family appear to have
believed Anne to have some kind of special gift, and she became well known
throughout England for her cures and her clairvoyance. It is clear that something
happened in the arbour that triggered the onset of her strange abilities, but
looking at the case more than 350 years after the events occurred it is unlikely that
we will ever know what this was.
Writing of the Anne Jefferies tale in her Dictionary of
Fairies, eminent folklorist Katherine Briggs remarks on the similarities
between Anne's diminutive fairies and the fairies of late 16th / 17th century
literature, including Shakespeare (especially A Midsummer Night's Dream),
and poets Robert Herrick and Michael Drayton. She makes the point that the
shared characteristics of Anne's fairies and those of the above mentioned
writers show that real country traditions and beliefs lay behind these fictional
Sources & Further Reading
Briggs, K. A Dictionary of Fairies. Penguin. 1977.
Hunt, R. (ed). Popular Romances of the West of England.
Chatto and Windus. 1903.
© Copyright 2006 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.