What was witchcraft?
Witchcraft was a crime that grew in importance during the early modern period. It was the offence of working with the devil and using magic to damage the lives of others.
How was witchcraft dealt with in medieval times?
Although there had been accusations of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, these were dealt with by the more lenient Church courts and were not common.
How did the Tudors react to witchcraft?
The Tudors react to witchcraft in 5 important ways.
  • Under the Tudors, laws against witchcraft became much harsher.
  • In 1542, under Henry VIII, the law changed and witchcraft became a criminal offence.
  • Queen Elizabeth I introduced tough laws against witches.
  • Times of uncertainty and unrest, such as the Reformation or the Gunpowder Plot, caused the number of accusations of witchcraft to increase.
  • King James I was a keen witch hunter. In 1597 he wrote about his views on witches in a book called Demonologie.
What did James I say about witchcraft?
There are 2 main facts to note about King James I and witchcraft:
  • James I was very interested in witchcraft.
  • He wrote a book called 'Demonologie' in 1597 before he became King of England about witchcraft that even set out how to conduct a witch trial.
What impact did James I have on witchcraft?
James I had 3 main effects on witchcraft:
  • His book, Demonologie, encouraged witch hunting.
  • It made suggestions for witch trials.
  • It suggested children could be used as witnesses in witch trials, even though this was not accepted practice in criminal law.
Who made accusations of witchcraft?
Most accusations of witchcraft were cases of ordinary villagers using another person as a scapegoat when something went wrong, like an illness or spoiled crops.
How many people were executed for witchcraft?
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries up to 1,000 people were executed as witches, most of them women.
When did concern over witchcraft end?
The last witchcraft trial took place in 1717. The final law saying witchcraft was a crime was repealed in 1736.
Why did they stop prosecuting witches?
Five reasons accusations of witchcraft had declined by 1700 were:
  • The Enlightenment had begun and it was a time of increasingly rational thinking.
  • The Royal Society was established in 1660, supported by the king. It advocated modern scientific methods and helped change people's thinking.
  • While the belief in witches didn't disappear, educated people (who were usually the judges) were less likely to believe charges of witchcraft.
  • People were becoming increasingly prosperous. This reduced tensions in the villages. The rich helped the poor more and it's likely there were fewer requests for help.
  • The political and social instability caused by religious changes and the Civil War gradually eased.
What happened to witches in the early modern period?
There were 5 ways the wiches were tried in the early modern period.
  • Witches underwent a trial by water in the early modern period.
  • This was similar to the trials by ordeal in medieval times.
  • The accused had their hands bound and were lowered into the water by rope.
  • It was believed the innocent would sink and the guilty would float.
  • If they floated, they would be examined for the 'Devil's mark' as final proof of witchcraft.
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