Walter de Chepe

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Walter de Chepe (fl. 1232) was an early 13th century magician who, according to Gilbert Norrell, was much interested in "labyrinths, magic pathways, spells which may be affected by certain steps and turns - things of that sort"[66]. Despite being an Aureate however in modern times de Chepe has been little regarded; Jonathan Strange for example was at first of the opinion that he was "a very minor scholar without an original thought in his head"[66] (though he had evidently taught his three pupils a little about him, as they know of at least one of his spells[50]). This low opinion of de Chepe perhaps came about because the only good description of his work is in the Instructions of Jacques Belasis, the sole surviving copy of which was owned by Mr. Norrell and kept close at Hurtfew Abbey. In fact it is to de Chepe that Mr. Norrell turns for the creation of the labyrinth protecting his library at Hurtfew, a piece of magic which first confuses John Segundus's usually faultless sense of direction[1] and much later successfully baffles the attempt of Henry Lascelles to find his way about the house alone[63]. The labyrinth is only finally broken by Jonathan Strange, who promptly re-builds it in a manner to suit himself[66].

Despite Strange's low opinion of him de Chepe was clearly an alert and perspicacious man, as is shown by his action in 1232 in unmasking the shape-changer Joscelin de Snitton. De Snitton had used magic to transform himself into a cat, and in that guise had foisted himself as a pet on an unsuspecting noblewoman, Cecily de Walbrook. De Chepe observed the cat following the lady in the street one day, and his suspicions being at once aroused he enlisted the aid of two other magicians to force de Snitton to reveal himself in his true shape[48].

The efficacy of de Chepe's magic is further proved by events which happened in 1280 in the city of Bristol. As part of the city's defences a spell of his, Prophylaxis, was cast over it to protect the inhabitants from the spells of their enemies. Unfortunately the effects were drastic. All movement within the city walls ceased; people and animals became like living statues and life itself appeared suspended, so that the very flames on the hearth froze in their motion. This unhappy state of affairs continued for a month, until John Uskglass came in person from Newcastle to put an end to it[50].