In 1465, Robert Hikkes and John Cans of Norfolk were arrested for using witchcraft to aide in treasure-hunting. Court documents say that the two men cast a spell and summoned a spiritum aerialem (also known as an air spirit). It was alleged that this so-called air spirit pointed out a direction for the two men to look, and they did find over 100 shillings amid a hidden trove of treasure. 

Robert and John told their confessors that they made a pact with the demonic spirit, promising to give it a sacrifice of a “Christian man” in exchange for its help. However, they didn’t go through with their end of the deal. Instead, John Cans and Robert Hikkes slaughtered a rooster and gave it a “Christian name,” in order to trick the spirit. Documents from the era do not elaborate on what name they gave the rooster.

The court found both men guilty of using witchcraft — but they also convicted them of unlawfully taking goods as treasure without regard to “royal ownership.” In other words, this was the court’s way of telling the men that any randomly buried or hidden goods were property of the King of England, and they were thieves for finding and taking ownership of it. Both men were executed for their crimes by impaling.

Genealogy of Robert Hikkes and John Cans

Robert Hikkes did exist and was executed for his involvement in witchcraft during the mid 15th century. However, his name can be found on no other documents from the era at this time. It is unknown if he had a spouse or children at the time of his execution, and therefore it impossible to trace his lineage.

The same can be said for John Cans. He is named in no other documents from the era, having only been named once in the witchcraft trial involving himself and Robert Hikkes. He had no known natural children, and therefore it is impossible (at this time) to trace his lineage.


Devil: In Tudor and Stuart England;Darren Oldridge; 2011

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