Changing Attitudes to Witchcraft in Britain

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  • Changing Attitudes to Witchcraft in Britain
    • Sceptical Books
      • A Discovery of the Fraudulent Practices of John Darrel 1599
        • Author: Samuel Harsnett
        • The main point of the argument was that the practice of misleading people through magic is nothing new and can be traced back to ancient times.
          • It is divided into 5 sections.
          • It criticized the Catholic Church and claims that priests claim to carry out miracles as as easily as a squirrel can crack a nut
          • Their main 'trick' is done when they claim to cast out the devils through prayer and exorcism. Any casting out of the devil can only be done by God and anyone who claims to do this is a fraud.
          • Each of the sections looks into Darrel's work and discredits it, showing how fraudulent it is
        • This book led to a pamphlet war that promoted a wider debate about witchcraft and possession.
          • John Darrel himself responded to the book with the provocatively titled A detection of that sinful, shaming, lying and ridiculous discours of Samuel Harsnett in 1600
          • This pamphlet war was important, not only revealing disagreement about the honesty of Darrell's patients but in questioning the entire possibility of demonic possession and it's cure by prayer and fasting.
      • A Candle in the Dark 1656
        • Author: Thomas Ady
          • He was likely present at the witchcraft trials in Bury which were likely orchestrated by Matthew Hopkins
          • He was likely highly educated due to his son being a doctor
        • He was critical of physicians who failed to understand diseases and were too quick to blame them on witchcraft
        • He was also critical of the general population's attitude that witches were to blame for natural disasters and unexplained events.
        • It uses the bible as it's only source
          • In his main argument, Aby states that the actions of witchfinders and suspicions about witches can not be found in the bible
        • In his main argument, Aby states that the actions of witchfinders and suspicions about witches can not be found in the bible
        • He wrote the book because he heard of to many wrongful executions that had taken place as a result of witchcraft accusations.
      • The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft 1677
        • Author: John Webster
        • Similar to Thomas Ady,he believed that beliefs that are not founded in the teachings of the bible should be rejected.
        • Like many sceptical publications, this was written in response to other authors who claimed that witch hunts were legitimate.
        • His central belief was that witches do exist but they were not able to command supernatural powers
          • They did commit evil acts but they did this using their own power and did not have assistance from the devil
      • The Enchanted World 1691
        • Author: Balthasar Bekker
        • It is described as the most influential critical work on witchcraft beliefs.
        • He agrees with Reginald Scot about the impossibility of witchcraft.
        • He uses the bible as his primary source of evidence but attempts to approach it in a more reasoned and unbiased way.
        • He agues that unless the devil has a body it would be impossible for him to possess and influence people on earth.
      • The Discoverie of Witchcraft 1584
        • Author: Reginald Scot
        • It is recognises as the first major work of English scepticism.
        • He argues that the majority of supposed witches were in fact suffering from a kind of melancholia, depression or sorrowfulness and that those who were guilty were unable to cause harm themselves because they were mere tools of the Devil
        • He claims that disturbances are all too often attributed to witches where there is no evidence and other explanations possible
    • Sceptical Witch Trials
      • The Boy of Burton
        • 1596-97
        • Initial Claim: A 17 year old called Thomas Darling had experienced symptoms after falling ill and began having fits and hallucinations of green angels, and people believed he was bewitched, after having an argument in the woods with a old woman.
          • Neighbors were quick to blame one of the witches of stapenhill, either 60 year old Alice Goodridge or her mother Elizabeth Wright
          • Alice Goodridge was arrested with her mother and both searched for witches marks which were found.
            • Goodridge admitted to bewitching the boy (likely after sleep deprivation and starvation) and said she could reverse the spell but before she could explain she had a choking fit. She was found guilty but died in custody before a date could be set.
        • After the death of Goodridge, Darlings fits continued and a well-known exorcist was called John Darrell was called in.
          • He had a previously been given a warning from a judge at a witch trial for falsely accusing a woman
          • He suggested a combinations of prayer and fasting to cast out the Devil
          • He used his techniques on Darling and it had some success in 1596. After his he also went on to exorcise an apprentice called William Somer in 1597
            • Somers claimed to have been bewitched by 13 woman headed by Alice Freeman.
              • Darrell supported Somers but suspicion was growing. Somers was questioned and he confessed that his possession from the Devil was fraudulent and that he and Darrell had worked together.
        • After confessions were made Edward Anderson wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior bishop in the church of England about Darrell's case
          • Darrell and another minister he had been working with, George More were summoned to be examined  by the Archbishop and Bishop of London. Witnesses included both Thomas Darling and William Somers who both confessed their possessions and exorcisms were faked
            • Both were sentenced for a year in prison
            • Even though he never admitted to being a fraud he was unable to resume his career as a minister.
            • He likely did all of this to boost his reputation and possibly make a profit from faking exorcisms
      • The Pendle Swindle
        • 1634
        • Initial  claim: 10 year old Edmund Robinson was in the woods and saw two greyhounds who he claimed turned into two different people in front of him. One then turned into a horse and Edmund was forced to ride him to the Hoarstones house. Here he found a gathering of witches, both men and women
          • Edmund's farther found his son in a distressed state and was told the story. However he waited three months before he told the local magistrates. These magistrates were led to a number of churches where Edmund pointed out the witches he had seen. This was a total of 25 people
            • 17 people were found guilty but the trial was sent to the privy council due to the sceptical attitude of the presiding magistrates. The were begins to have doubts of both the written evidence and spoken testimony  and wanted some of the women investigated
              • Both the father and son along with 4 suspects were sent down to London to be interrogated.  The women were examined by surgeons and midwives for the devil mark, which was not found.
                • King Charles got involved and questioned the accused and William Harvey was one of the surgeons
                  • After being split from his father, Edmund confessed that his entire story was faked and he was forced to tell it by his dad.
                    • It was found out that his father started this whole thing after getting into a dispute with Frances Dickinson over the price of a cow.
        • It was found out that the whole case was made by the father blackmailing people for money otherwise he would get his son to name them as a witch. This is how the ended up with 2 new cows
          • It was found out that his father started this whole thing after getting into a dispute with Frances Dickinson over the price of a cow.
      • The Demon Drummer of Tedworth
        • 1662
        • Early accounts reported that in 1661 a local landowner, John Mompesson, owner of a house in the town of Tedworth had brought a lawsuit against an unlicensed vagrant drummer William Drury, whom he accused of collecting money by false pretences.
          • After he had won judgment against the drummer, the drum was turned over to Mompesson by the local bailiff. Mompesson then found his house plagued by nocturnal drumming noises. It was alleged that the drummer had brought these plagues of noise upon Mompesson's head by witchcraft.[2] Drury was said to have been associated with a band of gypsies.
        • Skeptics, of which there were many, dismissed the entire thing as a hoax. They suggested that Mompesson himself may have been behind it, either to profit from those who came to see the spirit, or to decrease the value of the house
          • Another possible culprit was Mompesson's servants, who seemed quite pleased at the travails of their master, and who often taunted him by pointing out that he could never fire them because no one else would agree to work for him under such conditions.
      • The Case of Jane Wenham
        • 1712
        • This was the last witch trial to take place in England
        • Initial claim: Wenham had brought a charge of defamation against a farmer, in response to an accusation of witch-craft, but the matter was resolved by a rector. She was awarded with a shilling, though advised to be less quarrelsome.
          • The farmer claimed that Wenham then bewitched a servant, as she had supposedly done before, and that this was responsible for his ill luck. It was reported that she had said she would have justice "some other way", and that after she made that statement her adversary's daughter sickened and his livestock died.
            • A warrant for Wenham's arrest was issued by Sir Henry Chauncy, who gave instructions that she be searched for "witch marks". She requested that she undergo trials to avoid being detained, such as a swimming test, however, she was asked to repeat the Lord's Prayer, as it was believed that no witch could do so. During the recitation, she apparently stumbled and subsequently admitted to the charge. When her lodgings had been searched, a potion, believed to be magical, was discovered under her pillow.
              • The accused was brought before Sir John Powell (1640-1713) on 4 March 1712. When an accusation of flying was made, the judge remarked there was no law against doing so.
                • She was convicted, but the judge set aside her conviction, suspending the death penalty, and seeking a royal pardon from Queen Anne.
    • The influence of Sir John Holt
      • 1689-1710
      • He served as Lord Chief Justice from 1689 to 1710.
        • He had acquitted almost a dozen witches as a result of his his critical approach to evidence and his suspicion of supernatural events
          • He was not the first judge to become renowned for his scepticism.
            • Sir George Mackenzie was a Scottish Lawyer who became concerned at the legitimacy of witch trials after the Scottish witch hunts of 1661-1662
        • He made a name for himself as a rational and sympathetic judge
      • He oversaw at least 11 possibly 12 trials concerning witchcraft and each ended with a acquittal of the accused
        • Example: 1691, Holt acquitted two women who had been accused of bewitching a girl who had fallen ill. The girl recovered despite he acquittals
        • Most famous case would be the case of Sarah Murdock in 1701. Holt was prepared to put the accuser on trial showing how serious he was about scepticism.
      • He was likely  influenced by the changing intellectual climate and although there is no evidence that he read sceptical works the works of Webster and Beaumont would have been known to him
        • Despite his efforts there was still a widespread belief in witchcraft and his predecessor, Matthew Hale was willing to accept dubious testimonies in order to secure convictions for witchcraft




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