With the renewed interest in the history of witches and witchcraft, this timely book provides an introduction to this fascinating topic, informed by the main trends of new thinking on the subject. Beginning with a discussion of witchcraft in the early modern period, and charting the witch panics that took place at this time, the author goes on to look at the historical debate surrounding the causes of the legal persecution of witches. Contemporary views of witchcraft put forward by judges, theological writers and the medical profession are examined, as is the place of witchcraft in the popular imagination. Jim Sharpe also looks at the gender dimensions of the witch persecution, and the treatment of witchcraft in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Supported by a range of compelling documents, the book concludes with an exploration of why witch panics declined in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century.
Witchcraft, Witch-hunting, and Politics in Early Modern England constitutes a wide-ranging and original overview of the place of witchcraft and witch-hunting in the broader culture of early modern England. Based on a mass of new evidence extracted from a range of archives, both local and national, it seeks to relate the rise and decline of belief in witchcraft, alongside the legal prosecution of witches, to the wider political culture of the period. Building on the seminal work of scholars such as Stuart Clark, Ian Bostridge, and Jonathan Barry, Peter Elmer demonstrates how learned discussion of witchcraft, as well as the trials of those suspected of the crime, were shaped by religious and political imperatives in the period from the passage of the witchcraft statute of 1563 to the repeal of the various laws on witchcraft. In the process, Elmer sheds new light upon various issues relating to the role of witchcraft in English society, including the problematic relationship between puritanism and witchcraft as well as the process of decline.
This work explores the social foundation of evidence law in a specific historical social and cultural context - the debate concerning the proof of the crime of witchcraft in early modern England. In this period the question of how to prove the crime of witchcraft was the centre of a public debate and even those who strongly believed in the reality of witchcraft had considerable concerns regarding its proof. In a typical witchcraft crime there were no eyewitnesses, and since torture was not a standard measure in English criminal trials, confessions could not be easily obtained. The scarcity of evidence left the fact-finders with a pressing dilemma. On the one hand, using the standard evidentiary methods might have jeopardized any chance of prosecuting and convicting extremely dangerous criminals. On the other hand, lowering the evidentiary standards might have led to the conviction of innocent people. Based on the analysis of 157 primary sources, the book presents a picture of a diverse society whose members tried to influence evidentiary techniques to achieve their distinct goals and to bolster their social standing. In so doing this book further uncovers the interplay between the struggle with the evidentiary dilemma and social characteristics (such as class, position along the centre/periphery axis and the professional affiliation) of the participants in the debate. In particular, attention is focused on the professions of law, clergy and medicine. This book finds clear affinity between the professional affiliation and the evidentiary positions of the participants in the debate, demonstrating how the diverse social players and groups employed evidentiary strategies as a resource, to mobilize their interests. The witchcraft debate took place within the formative era of modern evidence law, and the book highlights the mutual influences between the witch trials and major legal developments.
This book represents the first systematic study of the role of the Devil in English witchcraft pamphlets for the entire period of state-sanctioned witchcraft prosecutions (1563-1735). It provides a rereading of English witchcraft, one which moves away from an older historiography which underplays the role of the Devil in English witchcraft and instead highlights the crucial role that the Devil, often in the form of a familiar spirit, took in English witchcraft belief. One of the key ways in which this book explores the role of the Devil is through emotions. Stories of witches were made up of a complex web of emotionally implicated accusers, victims, witnesses, and supposed perpetrators. They reveal a range of emotional experiences that do not just stem from malefic witchcraft but also, and primarily, from a witch’s links with the Devil. This book, then, has two main objectives. First, to suggest that English witchcraft pamphlets challenge our understanding of English witchcraft as a predominantly non-diabolical crime, and second, to highlight how witchcraft narratives emphasized emotions as the primary motivation for witchcraft acts and accusations.
Barbara Rosen has gathered and edited a collection of documents - pamphlets, reports, trial accounts, and other material - that describes the experience, interpretation and punishment of witchcraft in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Gendering Magic in Medieval and Early Modern England
Author: Heidi Breuer
This book analyzes the gendered transformation of magical figures occurring in Arthurian romance in England from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. In the earlier texts, magic is predominantly a masculine pursuit, garnering its user prestige and power, but in the later texts, magic becomes a primarily feminine activity, one that marks its user as wicked and heretical. This project explores both the literary and the social motivations for this transformation, seeking an answer to the question, 'why did the witch become wicked?' Heidi Breuer traverses both the medieval and early modern periods and considers the way in which the representation of literary witches interacted with the culture at large, ultimately arguing that a series of economic crises in the fourteenth century created a labour shortage met by women. As women moved into the previously male-dominated economy, literary backlash came in the form of the witch, and social backlash followed soon after in the form of Renaissance witch-hunting. The witch figure serves a similar function in modern American culture because late-industrial capitalism challenges gender conventions in similar ways as the economic crises of the medieval period.