|A witch being tortured. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)|
Witches are everywhere. In fairytales, fantasy and satire, they appear time and again as a versatile synonym for evil and transgression. But, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, men and women of both high and low status believed in witches ubiquity in a far more disturbing way. Lord chief justice Anderson noted in 1602: “The land is full of witches… they abound in all places” – not as a symbol or figure of fun, but as a deadly threat to life, livelihood and divine order.
|Sir Edmund Anderson (Photo: Wikimedia.org)|
The actual numbers are far lower, but still striking: between 1482 and 1782, around 100,000 people across Europe were accused of witchcraft, and some 40–50,000 were executed.
Neither were witches (with the exception of some targeted by the Spanish Inquisition) generally persecuted by the church. Although belief in witches was orthodox doctrine, following Exodus 22.18, “You shall not allow a asorceress to live.“ the 16th and 17th-century witch trials were the result of witchcraft becoming a crime under law, and witches were prosecuted by the state. In England, witchcraft became a crime in 1542, a statute renewed in 1562 and 1604. As such, most witches across Europe received the usual penalty for murder – hanging (though in Scotland and under the Spanish Inquisition witches were burned).
Nevertheless, because women were believed to be morally and spiritually weaker than men, they were thought to be particularly vulnerable to diabolic persuasion. Most of those accused were also poor and elderly; many were widows, and menopausal and post-menopausal women are disproportionally represented among them.
Although witchcraft trials happened in every county in the country, the best evidence survives from three major witch crazes in the British Isles – in 1590s Edinburgh; 1612 Lancashire; and 1640s Essex and East Anglia, and we focus on those.
|Diabolical Act Of Persuasion Art Print By Jon Macnair (Photo: keyword-suggestions.com|
Above all, we have tried to consider the perspective of the victims – that is, those who were accused of witchcraft. We consider the circumstances in which alleged witches were accused, and the power of both neighbourhood accusation and elite sanction (James VI and I’s book on the subject of witchcraft, Daemonologie, published in 1597, is a case in point).
|James (right) depicted beside his mother Mary (left). In reality, they were separated when he was still a baby. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)|
It is a sad, sorry and often harrowing tale – but it is one that needs to be heard.
Daemonologie — in full Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Books: By the High and Mighty Prince, James. Was written and published in 1597 by King James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England) as a philosophical dissertation on contemporary necromancy and the historical relationships between the various methods of divination used from ancient Black magic.
|The title page from James VI and I, Daemonologie (London, 1603). (Photo: english.cam.ac.uk)|
It included a study on demonology and the methods demons used to trouble men while touching on topics such as werewolves and vampires. It was a political yet theological statement to educate a misinformed populace on the history, practices and implications of sorcery and the reasons for persecuting a witch in a Christian society under the rule of canonical law. This book is believed to be one of the primary sources used by William Shakespeare in the production of Macbeth.
|Title page Rare Books Keywords: Witchcraft (Photo: Wikimedia.org)|
We examine the way that torture – though illegal in England – was employed in late 16th-century Scotland and during the upheaval of the Civil War. We explore the role of the witchfinder, but also the willing collaboration of ordinary people in ridding the land of witches. And we look at what someone accused of witchcraft experienced as their fate.
Story source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by HistoryExtra . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.