How far can the trial and release of Jane Wenham in 1712 be seen as the key turning point in belief in the power of witchcraft in England in the years c1580-c1750?

The belief in the power of witchcraft had taken a steady but noticeable decline between the years 1580 to 1750, most notably down to the sceptism that grew across England, from normal people, to the church, including higher powers where it had reached the monarchy. The Jane Wenham case of 1712 can be seen as the turning for the belief in witchcraft, however there are other factors. These factors also include earlier trials such as the Boy of Burton, which influenced legislation, as well as the sceptism that grew leading to changes. However, there was still continuity over the time period which could argue against the Jane Wenham case of being the most significant factor for changing beliefs.

The Jane Wenham trial in 1712 can be seen as the turning point in the belief in the power of witch hunts for many reasons. The case was the last formal trial in England, notably due to changing attitudes in addition to growing sceptism, which was remarkable due to government officials calling for an end to legal witch trials and hunts, despite Wenham having a long-standing reputation of a witch. Regardless of 16 people testifying against and accusing Wenham of bewitching and other witch-relating accusations, once arrested she supposedly made a full confession. She was released with only being charged of conversing with the Devil in the shape of a cat. The involvement of the judiciary in the form of the judge, Sir John Powell had a remarkable effect which ultimately led to his sceptism of the evidence given against her, such as remarking there was no law against flying. Although found guilty, Powell requested a royal pardon which in turn led to her acquittal. At this point within the time frame, witchcraft convictions were rare, yet Powell’s sceptism from recent publications and cases led to a more rational way of dealing with the evidence and the case, such that accusations were mere personal grudges, and not hard evidence which could be used to convict her. Jane Wenham represents a change during that time due to being granted a royal pardon by Queen Anne in 1714, in which a monarch had intervened to issue a decree, which was rare at the time, considering the national consensus of witches. However, unlike Anne, her predecessors, such as James I and Charles I and II, were more susceptible to the concept of witches, such that James I became actively involved in the searching of witches before they were put on trials. However, the limitations are that the case of Jane Wenham is closer to the end of the time frame, therefore suggests that it was a contributory factor to the changing beliefs in the power of witchcraft in England.

Despite the changes brought about by the Jane Wenham case, many things still remained…


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