History Talk : Witchcraft in 16th century Europe

Magic Pervaded society A body of beliefs and practices of supernatural powers; a search for knowledge
*  Outside organised religion
*  Helped people cope with trials of life/misfortunes
*  Wasn’t an organised religion, not a threat to the church
*  Part of the fabric of life, widely known, part of growing-up in the society
 
Specialists in Supernatural Practices
*  Cunning Folk (women mostly) and wise men
*  White and Black witches; inherited; every 10 miles a cunning / wise man in East Anglia
*  Areas of application
    *  Medical (herbs, incantations, spells);
    *  Healing – levels of expertise similar to GPs today!
    *  Diagnosis of witchcraft
    *  Recovery of stolen property
    *  Fortune telling (astrology for the masses!)
    *  Persisted into 19th Century
 
The Church
*  Religious zeal pervasive and major influence on society
*  The church did not recognise magic as a force
*  Misfortune was a lack of trust in god
*  Church did not support counter accusation actions of witchcraft, left a void
*  Bishops influential in the introduction of laws against witchcraft
 
Witchcraft was different
*  Unlike white and black magic, Witchcraft was devilish
*  Publication of very popular book ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ by Dominican priest Heinrich Kramer in Germany which claimed status of Papal Bull in its foreward,1486
*  A scholastic treatise, learned, summarised stories from his research Conspiracy of witches, out to attack Christendom
*  Women hold banquets, abuse children,
*  Conspiring against men’s virility (penis shrinking); against crop fertility (stories of hailstones – petitions to get the witches who brought the hailstones)
*  Misogyny – sexual, irrational, vulnerable to devil seduction( dispute whether misogyny was cause of witchcraft by some – many persecutions were instigated by women; many male juries dismissed cases in England.
 
Statistics –Reliability?
*  In a Channel 5 documentary Between 1500 – 16600 50,000 – 80,000 were burned at stake in Europe:
    *  Switzerland (Geneva) 1515 – 500,
    *  Italy 1000,
    *  Germany 26,000,
    *  France 10,000.
    *  England 250 (most of the trials in 1570-1590; 90% of these in Essex);
    *  Scotland 1000; Scotland was different; Kings James 6 wrote a book Demonology which was influential, Danish link)
Resurgence in 17th Century – Matthew Hopkins, opportunist Witch finder General, 1645
 
Witchcraft – Influences
*  Religious zeal (influence of Church at home) and European influences – Malleus Maleficarum book) combined with popular superstitions – Spanish Inquisition did not participate, in 1610 a pamphlet wrote it was ‘a terrible error’; French parliament outlawed persecution of witchcraft in 1640
*  Catholic and Protestants were united in their beliefs on withcraft, despite hating each other on many other
*  Scotland – different legal system, influence of King James 6th who believed in witchcraft, wrote an influential book, Demonology; influenced by happenings in Europe, 100 people hunted down
*  Danish bride story, Anne- shipwreck blamed on witchcraft; torture was permitted; mass witch hunts took place; famous case of Agnes Sampson (Edinburgh); North Berwick Witch trials; James 6th became James 1st of England and influenced society. But he wanted evidence-based trials.
 

Witchcraft – Legal Statutes in England
*  England’s legal system was different to Europe (and Scotland)
*  Accusatory – Trial by jury
*  Cases not instigated from above
*  No Torture
*  No great waves of trials and persecutions, sporadic
*  Three laws by Royal parliament
*  1542 – Parliament passed a law; a felony to practice witchcraft, but repealed it
*  1563 – felony to invoke evil spirits
*  1604 – felony to bewitch
*  Explanation of laws – laws coincided with new regimes, – to show their mettle? 2nd Elizabethan parliament, new reign of James 1st, rather than a desire to witch hunt
*  1736 all laws were repealed; but too late for many!!
 
Explanation for origins of witchcraft
*  Two researchers Thomas and Macfarlane, who examined the cases, across Europe
*  Witches were elderly women, mostly, marginal, single
*  Always neighbours of accusers
*  Always poor
*  Quarrels – between neighbours , and marginal women
*  Gossip –could last for years A charge of death from witchcraft not uncommon to have up to four accusers per witch
*  Evidence – mole or wart on body, belief of devils teat, familiar (cat, goat); total shaving of body was preliminary to trial, often so humiliating it resulted in confession!
Why 16th Century?
 
*  Religious zeal combined with culture of superstition
*  Loss of protection from church – forbade actions of counter accusation
*  Economic hardship Little ice age 1500-1700, dip in temperatures
*  Increased competition between neighbours, survival
*  Poor laws hadn’t existed
*  Why so many in Germany – origin of reformation? Religious zeal
*  Economic – competition for resources, distrust among communities
*  Climate change – mini ice age
The Rise and Fall of Witchcraft in England
*  Most trials were 1570-1590
*  Why decline after 1590
*  The state didn’t feel threatened Reluctance by courts to prosecute – concerned that it was difficult to prove witchcraft, unless professed
*  How to distinguish between influences of witchcraft and natural causes
*  There was a requirement to produce additional evidence
*  JPs talked people out of prosecutions
*  From 17th century decline in belief – a fantasy; belief that witches didn’t have the powers even though thy thought they did
*  Isaac Newton’s laws of nature
Summary
*  Complex story; Heart breaking Story
*  Statistics are not totally reliable, in 17th century more reliable statistics
*  Speculation on its origins
*  The ignorance of 16th century society – belief in supernatural forces, devil worship; But the internet is full of witchcraft organisations you can join today!
*  The cruelty; the misogyny
*  How quickly rumours can lead to hysteria
*  All a big mistake in the end but– Why no apology? By church, By state