Richard Dugdale was at the centre of an infamous 17th century demonic possession case in rural northern England, says RICK HALE
As a person firmly rooted in traditional psychical research, I really don’t make ‘demonology‘ a part of my repertoire.
In fact, after 30 years of seeking ghosts and investigating hauntings, I’ve never come across anything that would make me say, “Yep, that’s a demon.”
This, however, is not to say that malignant spirit beings and possession doesn’t exist. Because at the end of the day, we really don’t know that much about the spirit realm.
When I set out to write an article on demonic possession in Britain, I really couldn’t find a lot. Nevertheless, one did stick out to me and sounded as if it was in fact legitimate.
A 17th century case that both astonished and terrified all who were involved. Leading many to believe Richard Dugdale was indeed possessed.
Possessed by a diabolical entity that threatened to destroy his very soul.
A Simple Young Man
From what we know concerning the life of Richard Dugdale, of Surey, near Walley in Lancashire, he was a relatively simple young man.
Born in 1670, Richard was the son of a domestic servant and Gardner to Thomas Lister, master of Westby Hall in Gisburn, Yorkshire.
Young Richard assisted his father in his work and never displayed any strange behaviour or violent outbursts.
All that would change when Richard was 18 and his entire personality went through a radical transformation.
The once-kind young man became an entirely different person.
The Horror Begins
In 1689, Richard travelled to nearby Whalley for a Rushbearing Festival.
For those who don’t know, Rushbearing Festivals were an old English religious festival for collecting rushes for the floor of the parish church.
While at the festival, Richard partied a little too hard and got into a drunken fight with a fellow festival goer.
When Richard returned home, his personality began to change.
The following days were strange ones for the young man. Richard gave detailed accounts of seeing dark, evil apparitions swiftly moving about his master’s house.
Richard even spoke of his door opening and watching in horror as a black mist floated through the door, attacking him in his bed.
Richard became convinced that whatever these frightening apparitions were meant to harm him. Possibly even end his life.
Doctor To The Rescue. Or Not
As the days passed, Richard’s condition became progressively worse.
Richard was now lashing out violently and having fits with his body contorting in ways that were anything but natural.
Fearing his son had gone mad, his father summoned a local doctor to look over his son.
Sadly, the doctor was unable to determine what was wrong with the young man.
All who witnessed the frightening behaviour came to the conclusion that Richard was not suffering any illness. Physical or otherwise.
Richard Dugdale was clearly possessed by a devil from the pit of hell.
With medical science not easing his son of his suffering, the senior Dugdale turned to the church.
Thomas Jollie responded to the man’s pleas and came to the home with nine other ministers prepared to do battle with the devil himself.
With the exorcism of Richard Dugdale underway, the young man ticked off all the boxes for suspected possession.
Richard predicted future events. Spoke in different languages often in multiple voices. Displayed super human strength and boldly blasphemed god.
To Jollie and his colleagues, whatever was going on was clearly the work of Satan.
Village Authorities Take Notice
News of the young man who became the Surey Demoniac, reached the ears of the local magistrate.
Lord Willoughby visited the home to see if there was any truth to this terrible business in his domain.
Pamphlets were written detailing the events in both favour and casting doubt on the Surey Demoniac. The possession of Richard Dugdale became the most divisive episode of the day.
And Just Like That…
About a year into his bizarre and violent behaviour, the demon appeared to take its leave of Richard Dugdale. And once again divisiveness reigned.
Some believed the exorcism Dugdale was subjected to worked and his soul was saved and rescued from damnation.
While others believed Richard knew the jig was up and ended the whole affair.
Whatever the case may be, fake or not, Richard Dugdale faded into history and was never heard from again.
Demons of Hell Or The Mind
Was Richard Dugdale truly the victim of a vicious possession that threatened his very soul? Or was it something else entirely? Allow me to play devil’s advocate and yes the pun is intentional.
Richard Dugdale was at the proper age, 18, when symptoms of schizophrenia can present themselves.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterised by hallucinations, disordered speech and bizarre behaviour that affects millions.
To the people of 17th century Britain, unaware of such a disease, Richard’s condition may have given the appearance of demonic possession.
The events being filtered through their strongly held belief system.
I cannot say with any certainty if Richard Dugdale was possessed or suffering from a mental illness. Obviously, I wasn’t there.
Either way demons did take over Richard Dugdale. Demons from hell or demons of the mind.