From buying guitarists’ souls to impregnating Mia Farrow, the Devil has always kept himself busy. Personally, I cannot speak much for his talents, but one might want to take a note from his parenting skills. Consider, for example, the case of unruly English teenager Joseph Boxford. According to a pamphlet published in London in 1645, Joseph was a fifteen-year-old boy who lived in Bow, a village in the county of Devon. Joseph’s father John sent him to the town of Crediton to become a weaver’s apprentice, but after a month of work, Joseph wanted to do something else.
Without telling his father, Joseph decided to trade the excitements of weaving for the life of a soldier. As this was a decision made during the First English Civil War, when the Parliamentarians were engaged in fighting King Charles I and his Royalist supporters, this was not the best idea. Joseph spent his summer in the king’s army, being such a general ne’er-do-well that he ended up dressed in rags.
When the broken boy went back home for support, his father gave him new clothes and recommended that he return to his apprenticeship. As teenagers are wont to do, Joseph refused to listen to common sense. John, furious, threatened that he’d apprentice the boy to the Devil.
In the morning, John announced to his son that they were going to Crediton. A rebellious Joseph insisted that he’d rather be apprenticed to the Devil. This was not what John actually wanted, so he beat the boy until Joseph agreed to leave the house. As father and son approached Crediton, with the former hitting the latter, and the latter swearing at the former, the Boxfords came across a man in a carriage pulled by four horses. The argument caught the driver’s attention, so he asked John why he felt the need to be so violent. John answered with a rant, complaining about Joseph and his refusal to do anything responsible.
Taking pity on the poor boy, the driver offered to take Joseph along and find him a good employer. John came to an agreement with the carrier; if Joseph didn’t like the work the carrier found him, then he’d be sent back to Bow within eight days. With both Boxfords satisfied, John turned back home and left his son with the stranger and four horses. I suppose, if this were a YA novel, this would be the part when the benevolent stranger would reveal that Joseph was actually a great wizard or hero or something, and that he’d come to start the misfit boy on his destiny. Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out.
Instead, the stranger immediately morphed into a ugly, dark horse, snatching Joseph up and taking flight into the sky. Riding on the horse’s back, Joseph was so high up that big cities like London looked “no greater than small cottages.” The teenager rode past the moon and Neptune, dropping into a cave in the earth that brought him to Hell. Now in the safety of his home, the Devil rid himself of his disguise. Saying that Joseph could see some of his old Royalist war-buddies, the Devil summoned an army of ghosts who howled, suffered, and vocally regretted taking up the Royalist cause.
Scanning over this collection of ghosts, Joseph noticed a politician named Sir Peter Ball, whose eternal damnation was rather creative. The sinner’s legs and feet were engulfed in flames, while his buttocks were burned on a gridiron, his back and shoulders were cooked in a frying-pan, and his face was boiled in a kettle. Next to Ball were two spots reserved for “Greenvile” and “Goring,” references to the Royalist military-men Bevil Grenville and George Goring. These two gentlemen, once they were ready, would be punished by having hot aconites shoved down their “belching throats.” Goring’s sister “Lady Scot,” on the other hand, received the honor of being hanged by the tongue on scalding tenterhooks.
All this horrible torture was too much to bear for Joseph Boxford. He begged to leave, and since they were there long enough, the Devil whisked the teenager away to a place in Devon called Cannon Lee. A pair of servants later spotted Joseph under a hedge, where his “hands and legs (were) strangely distorted, his haire of his head singed,” and “his Clothes all be smeared with pitch and rosin and other sulfurous matter, which yeelded an odious stench.” Since Joseph was in bad shape, and couldn’t manage to speak, the men took him to their master’s house.
Once he recovered, Joseph bared his misadventure with the Devil, a tale the owner of the house found creditable. His father was called, and John picked the boy up and forgave him for their disagreement. According to Jonathan Gainwell, a minister who heard Joseph tell his story, the former juvenile delinquent became reformed. To make for an even happier ending, the Devil was also seen that day, back in his carrier-with-horses disguise. A group of Royalist soldiers passing by took a fancy in the horses, and as they were in the middle of stealing them, the Devil and his entourage disappeared in an inferno. Three of the Royalists caught fire and died, and the rest took off running for their lives.
Despite the pamphlet’s over-the-top claims, despite the fact that I can’t trace a place called Cannon Lee, and that Sir Peter Ball died many years after the end of the English Civil War, I believe there are some valuable lessons here. Children should obey their parents, parents should love their children, and nobody who pledges allegiance to the King of England should be allowed into heaven.
If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by pre-ordering my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. If you’re up for something strange and morbid, be sure to check the book out when it hits Kindle on September 23.