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Glanvill And Webster And The Literary War Over Witchcraft 1660-1688
James I And Witchcraft
List Of Cases Of Witchcraft 1558-1718 With References To Sources And Literature
List Of Persons Sentenced To Death For Witchcraft During The Reign Of James I
Matthew Hopkins
Notable Jacobean Cases
Reginald Scot
The Beginnings Of English Witchcraft
The Close Of The Literary Controversy
The Exorcists
The Final Decline
The Lancashire Witches And Charles I
The Literature Of Witchcraft From 1603 To 1660
Witchcraft During The Commonwealth And Protectorate
Witchcraft Under Charles Ii And James Ii
Witchcraft Under Elizabeth

The Literature Of Witchcraft From 1603 To 1660

No small part of our story has been devoted to the writings of Scot,
Gifford, Harsnett, and King James. It is impossible to understand the
significance of the prosecutions without some acquaintance with the
course of opinion on the subject. In this chapter we shall go back as
far as the opening of the reign of James and follow up to the end of the
Commonwealth the special discussions of witchcraft, as well as some of
the more interesting incidental references. It will be recalled that
James's Daemonologie had come out several years before its author
ascended the English throne. With the coming of the Scottish king to
Westminster the work was republished at London. But, while James by
virtue of his position was easily first among those who were writing on
the subject, he by no means occupied the stage alone. Not less than four
other men gained a hearing within the reign and for that reason deserve
consideration. They were Perkins, Cotta, Roberts, and Cooper.

William Perkins's Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft came first
in order, indeed it was written during the last years of Elizabeth's
reign; but it was not published until 1608, six years after the author's
death.[1] William Perkins was a fellow of Christ's College at Cambridge
and an eminent preacher in that university. He holds a high place among
Puritan divines. His sermons may still be found in the libraries of
older clergymen and citations from them are abundant in commentaries. It
was in the course of one of his university sermons that he took up the
matter of witchcraft. In what year this sermon was preached cannot
definitely be said. That he seems to have read Scot,[2] that however he
does not mention King James's book,[3] are data which lead us to guess
that he may have uttered the discourse between 1584 and 1597. His point
of view was strictly theological and his convictions grounded--as might
be expected--upon scriptural texts. Yet it seems not unfair to suppose
that he was an exponent of opinion at Cambridge, where we have already
seen evidences of strong faith in the reality of witchcraft. It seems no
less likely that a perusal of Reginald Scot's Discoverie prompted the
sermon. Witches nowadays, he admitted, have their patrons. His argument
for the existence of witches was so thoroughly biblical that we need not
go over it. He did not, however, hold to all current conceptions of
them. The power of the evil one to transform human beings into other
shapes he utterly repudiated. The scratching of witches[4] and the
testing of them by water he thought of no value.[5] In this respect it
will be seen that he was in advance of his royal contemporary. About
the bodily marks, the significance of which James so emphasized, Perkins
seems to have been less decided. He believed in the death penalty,[6]
but he warned juries to be very careful as to evidence.[7] Evidence
based upon the accusations of "good witches," upon the statements of the
dying, or upon the charges of those who had suffered ill after threats,
he thought ought to be used with great caution. It is evident that
Perkins--though he doubtless would not have admitted it himself--was
affected by the reading of Scot. Yet it is disappointing to find him
condoning the use of torture[8] in extreme instances.[9]

A Cambridge man who wrote about a score of years after Perkins put forth
opinions a good deal farther advanced. John Cotta was a "Doctor in
Physicke" at Northampton who had taken his B. A. at Cambridge in 1595,
his M. A. the following year, and his M. D. in 1603. Nine years after
leaving Cambridge he had published A Short Discoverie of the Unobserved
Dangers, in which he had devoted a very thoughtful chapter to the
relation between witchcraft and sickness. In 1616 he elaborated his
notions in The Triall of Witchcraft,[10] published at London. Like
Perkins he disapproved of the trial by water.[11] He discredited, too,
the evidence of marks, but believed in contracts with the Devil, and
cited as illustrious instances the cases of Merlin and "that infamous
woman," Joan of Arc.[12] But his point of view was of course mainly that
of a medical man. A large number of accusations of witchcraft were due
to the want of medical examination. Many so-called possessions could be
perfectly diagnosed by a physician. He referred to a case where the
supposed witches had been executed and their victim had nevertheless
fallen ill again.[13] Probably this was the case of Mistress Belcher, on
whose account two women had been hanged at Northampton.[14]

Yet Cotta believed that there were real witches and arraigned Scot for
failing to distinguish the impostors from the true.[15] It was indeed,
he admitted, very hard to discover, except by confession; and even
confession, as he had pointed out in his first work, might be a "meane,
poore and uncertain proofe," because of the Devil's power to induce
false confession.[16] Here the theologian--it was hard for a
seventeenth-century writer not to be a theologian--was cropping out. But
the scientific spirit came to the front again when he made the point
that imagination was too apt to color observations made upon bewitched
and witch.[17] The suggestion that coincidence explained many of the
alleged fulfillments of witch predictions[18] was equally in advance of
his times.

How, then, were real cases of bewitchment to be recognized? The best
assurance on such matters, Cotta answered, came "whensoever ... the
Physicion shall truely discover a manifest transcending power."[19] In
other words, the Northampton physician believed that his own profession
could best determine these vexed matters. One who has seen the sorry
part played by the physicians up to this time can hardly believe that
their judgment on this point was saner than that of men in other
professions. It may even be questioned if they were more to be depended
upon than the so superstitious clergy.

In the same year as Cotta's second book, Alexander Roberts, "minister of
God's word at King's Lynn" in Norfolk, brought out A Treatise of
Witchcraft as a sort of introduction to his account of the trial of
Mary Smith of that town and as a justification of her punishment. The
work is merely a restatement of the conventional theology of that time
as applied to witches, exactly such a presentation of it as was to be
expected from an up-country parson who had read Reginald Scot, and could
wield the Scripture against him.[20]

The following year saw the publication of a work equally theological,
The Mystery of Witchcraft, by the Reverend Thomas Cooper, who felt
that his part in discovering "the practise of Anti-Christ in that
hellish Plot of the Gunpowder-treason" enabled him to bring to light
other operations of the Devil. He had indeed some experience in this
work,[21] as well as some acquaintance with the writers on the subject.
But he adds nothing to the discussion unless it be the coupling of the
disbelief in witchcraft with the "Atheisme and Irreligion that overflows
the land." Five years later the book was brought out again under another
title, Sathan transformed into an Angell of Light, ... [ex]emplified
specially in the Doctrine of Witchcraft.

In the account of the trials for witchcraft in the reign of James I the
divorce case of the Countess of Essex was purposely omitted, because in
it the question of witchcraft was after all a subordinate matter. In the
history of opinion, however, the views about witchcraft expressed by the
court that passed upon the divorce can by no means be ignored. It is not
worth while to rehearse the malodorous details of that singular affair.
The petitioner for divorce made the claim that her husband was unable to

consummate the marriage with her and left it to be inferred that he was
bewitched. It will be remembered that King James, anxious to further the
plans of his favorite, Carr, was too willing to have the marriage
annulled and brought great pressure to bear upon the members of the
court. Archbishop Abbot from the beginning of the trial showed himself
unfavorable to the petition of the countess, and James deemed it
necessary to resolve his doubts on the general grounds of the
divorce.[22] On the matter of witchcraft in particular the king wrote:
"for as sure as God is, there be Devils, and some Devils must have some
power, and their power is in this world.... That the Devil's power is
not so universal against us, that I freely confess; but that it is
utterly restrained quoad nos, how was then a minister of Geneva
bewitched to death, and were the witches daily punished by our law. If
they can harm none but the papists, we are too charitable for avenging
of them only." This was James's opinion in 1613, and it is worthy of
note that he was much less certain of his ground and much more on the
defensive about witchcraft than the author of the Daemonologie had
been. It can hardly be doubted that he had already been affected by the
more liberal views of the ecclesiastics who surrounded him. Archbishop
Bancroft, who had waged through his chaplain the war on the exorcists,
was not long dead. That chaplain was now Bishop of Chichester and soon
to become Archbishop of York. It would be strange if James had not been
affected to some degree by their opinions. Moreover, by this time he had
begun his career as a discoverer of impostors.

The change in the king's position must, however, not be overrated. He
maintained his belief in witches and seemed somewhat apprehensive lest
others should doubt it. Archbishop Abbot, whom he was trying to win over
to the divorce, would not have denied James's theories, but he was
exceedingly cautious in his own use of the term maleficium. Abbot was
wholly familiar with the history of the Anglican attitude towards
exorcism. There can be little doubt that he was in sympathy with the
policy of his predecessor. It is therefore interesting to read his
carefully worded statement as to the alleged bewitchment of the Earl of
Essex. In his speech defending his refusal and that of three colleagues
to assent to the divorce, he wrote: "One of my lords (my lord of
Winchester) hath avowed it, that he dislikes that maleficium; that he
hath read Del Rio, the Jesuit, writing upon that argument, and doth hold
him an idle and fabulous fellow.... Another of my lords (my lord of Ely)
hath assented thereunto, and maleficium must be gone. Now I for my
part will not absolutely deny that witches by God's permission may have
a power over men, to hurt all, or part in them, as by God they shall be
limited; but how shall it appear that this is such a thing in the person
of a man." This was not, of course, an expression of disbelief in the
reality or culpability of witchcraft. It was an expression of great
reluctance to lay much stress upon charges of witchcraft--an expression
upon the part of the highest ecclesiastical authority in England.

In the reign of Charles I prior to the Civil Wars we have to analyze but
a single contribution to the literature of our subject, that made by
Richard Bernard. Bernard had preached in Nottinghamshire and had gone
from there to Batcombe in Somerset. While yet in Nottinghamshire, in the
early years of James's reign, he had seen something of the
exorcizers.[23] Later he had had to do with the Taunton cases of 1626;
indeed, he seems to have had a prominent part in this affair.[24]
Presumably he had displayed some anxiety lest the witches should not
receive fair treatment, for in his Guide to Grand-Jurymen ... in cases
of Witchcraft, published in 1627, he explained the book as a "plaine
countrey Minister's testimony." Owing to his "upright meaning" in his
"painstaking" with one of the witches, a rumor had spread that he
favored witches or "were of Master Scots erroneous opinion that Witches
were silly Melancholikes."[25] He had undertaken in consequence to
familiarize himself with the whole subject and had read nearly all the
discussions in English, as well as all the accounts of trials published
up to that time. His work he dedicated to the two judges at Taunton, Sir
John Walter and Sir John Denham, and to the archdeacon of Wells and the
chancellor of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The book was, indeed, a
truly remarkable patchwork. All shades of opinion from that of the
earnestly disbelieving Scot to that of the earnestly believing Roberts
were embodied. Nevertheless Bernard had a wholesome distrust of
possessions and followed Cotta in thinking that catalepsy and other
related diseases accounted for many of them.[26] He thought, too, that
the Devil very often acted as his own agent without any
intermediary.[27] Like Cotta, he was skeptical as to the water
ordeal;[28] but, strange to say, he accepted the use of a magical glass
to discover "the suspected."[29] He was inclined to believe that the
"apparition of the party suspected, whom the afflicted in their fits
seem to see," was a ground for suspicion. The main aim of his discourse
was, indeed, to warn judges and jurors to be very careful by their
questions and methods of inquiring to separate the innocent from the
guilty.[30] In this contention, indeed in his whole attitude, he was
very nearly the mouthpiece of an age which, while clinging to a belief,
was becoming increasingly cautious of carrying that belief too far into
judicial trial and punishment.[31]

It is a jump of seventeen years from Bernard of Batcombe to John Gaule.
It cannot be said that Gaule marks a distinct step in the progress of
opinion beyond Bernard. His general position was much the same as that
of his predecessor. His warnings were perhaps more earnest, his
skepticism a little more apparent. In an earlier chapter we have
observed the bold way in which the indignant clergyman of
Huntingdonshire took up Hopkins's challenge in 1646. It was the Hopkins
crusade that called forth his treatise.[32] His little book was in large
part a plea for more caution in the use of evidence. Suspicion was too
lightly entertained against "every poore and peevish olde Creature."
Whenever there was an extraordinary accident, whenever there was a
disease that could not be explained, it was imputed to witchcraft. Such
"Tokens of Tryall" he deemed "altogether unwarrantable, as proceeding
from ignorance, humor, superstition." There were other more reliable
indications by which witches could sometimes be detected, but those
indications were to be used with exceeding caution. Neither the evidence
of the fact--that is, of a league with the Devil--without confession
nor "confession without fact" was to be accounted as certain proof. On
the matter of confession Gaule was extraordinarily skeptical for his
time. It was to be considered whether the party confessing were not
diabolically deluded, whether the confession were not forced, or whether
it were not the result of melancholy. Gaule went even a little further.
Not only was he inclined to suspect confession, but he had serious
doubts about a great part of witch lore. There were stories of
metamorphoses, there were narratives of "tedious journeys upon broomes,"
and a hundred other tales from old authors, which the wise Christian
would, he believed, leave with the writers. To believe nothing of them,
however, would be to belittle the Divine attributes. As a matter of fact
there was a very considerable part of the witch theory that Gaule
accepted. His creed came to this: it was unsafe to pronounce such and
such to be witches. While not one in ten was guilty, the tenth was still
to be accounted for.[33] The physician Cotta would have turned the
matter over to the physicians; the clergyman Gaule believed that it
belonged to the province of the "Magistracy and Ministery."[34]

During the period of the Commonwealth one would have supposed that
intellectual men would be entirely preoccupied with more weighty
matters than the guilt of witches. But the many executions that followed
in the wake of Hopkins and Stearne had invested the subject with a new
interest and brought new warriors into the fray. Half a dozen writers
took up the controversy. On the conservative side three names deserve
mention, two of them not unknown in other connections, Henry More and
Meric Casaubon. For the defence of the accused witches appeared two men
hardly so well known in their time, Robert Filmer and Thomas Ady.

More was a young Cambridge scholar and divine who was to take rank among
the English philosophers of the seventeenth century. Grounded in Plato
and impregnated with Descartes, he became a little later thoroughly
infected with the Cabalistic philosophy that had entered Europe from the
East. It was the point of view that he acquired in the study of this
mystic Oriental system that gave the peculiar turn to his witchcraft
notions, a turn which through his own writings and those of Glanvill
found wide acceptance. It was in 1653 that More issued An Antidote to
Atheisme. The phenomena of witchcraft he reckoned as part of the
evidence for the reality of the spirit world and used them to support
religion, quite in the same manner as Sir Oliver Lodge or Professor
Hyslop would today use psychical research to establish immortality. More
had made investigations for himself, probably at Maidstone. In his own
town of Cambridge there was a story--doubtless a college joke, but he
referred to it in all seriousness--of "Old Strangridge," who "was
carried over Shelford Steeple upon a black Hogge and tore his breeches
upon the weather-cock."[35] He believed that he had absolute proof of
the "nocturnal conventicles" of witches.[36] He had, however, none of
that instinct for scientific observation that had distinguished Scot,
and his researches did not prevent his being easily duped. His
observations are not by any means so entertaining as are his theories.
His effort to account for the instantaneous transportation of witches is
one of the bright spots in the prosy reasonings of the demonologists.
More was a thoroughgoing dualist. Mind and matter were the two separate
entities. Now, the problem that arose at once was this: How can the
souls of witches leave their bodies? "I conceive," he says, "the Divell
gets into their body and by his subtile substance more operative and
searching than any fire or putrifying liquor, melts the yielding
Campages of the body to such a consistency ... and makes it plyable to
his imagination: and then it is as easy for him to work it into what
shape he pleaseth."[37] If he could do that, much more could he enable
men to leave their bodies. Then arose the problem: How does this process
differ from death? The writer was puzzled apparently at his own
question, but reasoned that death was the result of the unfitness of the
body to contain the soul.[38] But no such condition existed when the
Devil was operating; and no doubt the body could be anointed in such
fashion that the soul could leave and return.

Meric Casaubon, son of the eminent classical scholar and himself a well
known student, was skeptical as to the stories told about the aerial
journeys of witches which More had been at such pains to explain. It was
a matter, he wrote in his Treatise concerning Enthusiasme,[39] of much
dispute among learned men. The confessions made were hard to account
for, but he would feel it very wrong to condemn the accused upon that
evidence. We shall meet with Casaubon again.[40]

Nathaniel Homes, who wrote from his pastoral study at Mary Stayning's in
London, and dedicated his work[41] to Francis Rous, member of
Parliament, was no halfway man. He was a thoroughgoing disciple of
Perkins. His utmost admission--the time had come when one had to make
some concessions--was that evil spirits performed many of their wonders
by tricks of juggling.[42] But he swallowed without effort all the
nonsense about covenants, and was inclined to see in the activities of
the Devil a presage of the last days.[43]

The reader can readily see that More, Casaubon, and Homes were all on
the defensive. They were compelled to offer explanations of the
mysteries of witchcraft, they were ready enough to make admissions; but
they were nevertheless sticking closely to the main doctrines. It is a
pleasure to turn to the writings of two men of somewhat bolder stamp,
Robert Filmer and Thomas Ady. Sir Robert Filmer was a Kentish knight of
strong royalist views who had written against the limitations of
monarchy and was not afraid to cross swords with Milton and Hobbes on
the origin of government. In 1652 he had attended the Maidstone trials,
where, it will be remembered, six women had been convicted. As Scot had
been stirred by the St. Oses trials, so Filmer was wrought up by what he
had seen at Maidstone,[44] and in the following year he published his
Advertisement to the Jurymen of England. He set out to overturn the
treatise of Perkins. As a consequence he dealt with Scripture and the
interpretation of the well known passages in the Old Testament. The
Hebrew witch, Filmer declared, was guilty of nothing more than "lying
prophecies." The Witch of Endor probably used "hollow speaking." In this
suggestion Filmer was following his famous Kentish predecessor.[45] But
Filmer's main interest, like Bernard's and Gaule's before him, was to
warn those who had to try cases to be exceedingly careful. He felt that
a great part of the evidence used was worth little or nothing.

Thomas Ady's Candle in the Dark was published three years later.[48]
Even more than Filmer, Ady was a disciple of Scot. But he was, indeed, a
student of all English writers on the subject and set about to answer
them one by one. King James, whose book he persistently refused to
believe the king's own handiwork, Cooper, who was a "bloudy persecutor,"
Gifford, who "had more of the spirit of truth in him than many,"
Perkins, the arch-enemy, Gaule, whose "intentions were godly," but who
was too far "swayed by the common tradition of men,"[47] all of them
were one after another disposed of. Ady stood eminently for good sense.
It was from that point of view that he ridiculed the water ordeal and
the evidence of marks,[48] and that he attacked the cause and effect
relation between threats and illness. "They that make this Objection
must dwell very remote from Neighbours."[49]

Yet not even Ady was a downright disbeliever. He defended Scot from the
report "that he held an opinion that Witches are not, for it was neither
his Tenent nor is it mine." Alas, Ady does not enlighten us as to just
what was his opinion. Certainly his witches were creatures without
power.[50] What, then, were they? Were they harmless beings with
malevolent minds? Mr. Ady does not answer.

A hundred years of witchcraft history had not brought to light a man who
was willing to deny in a printed work the existence of witches.
Doubtless such denial might often have been heard in the closet, but it
was never proclaimed on the housetop. Scot had not been so bold--though
one imagines that if he had been quietly questioned in a corner he might
have denied the thing in toto--and those who had followed in his steps
never ventured beyond him.

The controversy, indeed, was waged in most of its aspects along the
lines laid down by the first aggressor. Gifford, Cotta, and Ady had
brought in a few new arguments to be used in attacking superstition, but
in general the assailants looked to Scot. On the other side, only
Perkins and More had contributed anything worth while to the defence
that had been built up. Yet, the reader will notice that there had been
progress. The centre of struggle had shifted to a point within the outer
walls. The water ordeal and the evidence of marks were given up by most,
if not all. The struggle now was over the transportation of witches
through the air and the battle was going badly for the defenders.

We turn now to the incidental indications of the shifting of opinion. In
one sense this sort of evidence means more than the formal literature.
Yet its fragmentary character at best precludes putting any great stress
upon it.

If one were to include all the references to witchcraft in the drama of
the period, this discussion might widen out into a long chapter. Over
the passages in the playwrights we must pass with haste; but certain
points must be noted. Shakespeare, in Macbeth, which scholars have
usually placed at about 1606, used a great body of witch lore. He used
it, too, with apparent good faith, though to conclude therefrom that he
believed in it himself would be a most dangerous step.[51] Thomas
Middleton, whose Witch probably was written somewhat later, and who is
thought to have drawn on Shakespeare for some of his witch material,
gives absolutely no indication in that play that he did not credit those
tales of witch performances of which he availed himself. The same may be
said of Dekker and of those who collaborated with him in writing The
Witch of Edmonton.[52]

We may go further and say that in none of these three plays is there any
hint that there were disbelievers. But when we come to Ben Jonson we
have a different story. His various plays we cannot here take up.
Suffice it to say, on the authority of careful commentators, that he
openly or covertly ridiculed all the supposedly supernatural phenomena
of his time.[53] Perhaps a search through the obscurer dramatists of the
period might reveal other evidences of skepticism. Such a search we
cannot make. It must, however, be pointed out that Thomas Heywood, in
The late Lancashire Witches[54] a play which is described at some
length in an earlier chapter, makes a character say:[55] "It seemes then
you are of opinion that there are witches. For mine own part I can
hardly be induc'd to think there is any such kinde of people."[56] The
speech is the more notable because Heywood's own belief in witchcraft,
as has been observed in another connection, seems beyond doubt.

The interest in witchcraft among literary men was not confined to the
dramatists. Three prose writers eminent in their time dealt with the
question. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy[57] admits that "many
deny witches at all, or, if there be any, they can do no harm." But he
says that on the other side are grouped most "Lawyers, Divines,
Physitians, Philosophers." James Howell, famous letter-writer of the
mid-century, had a similar reverence for authority: "I say ... that he
who denies there are such busy Spirits and such poor passive Creatures
upon whom they work, which commonly are call'd Witches ... shews that he
himself hath a Spirit of Contradiction in him."[58] There are, he says,
laws against witches, laws by Parliament and laws in the Holy Codex.

Francis Osborne, a literary man whose reputation hardly survived his
century, but an essayist of great fame in his own time,[59] was a man
who made his fortune by sailing against rather than with the wind. It
was conventional to believe in witches and Osborne would not for any
consideration be conventional. He assumed the skeptical attitude,[60]
and perhaps was as influential as any one man in making that attitude

From these lesser lights of the literary world we may pass to notice the
attitude assumed by three men of influence in their own day, whose
reputations have hardly been dimmed by time, Bacon, Selden, and Hobbes.
Not that their views would be representative of their times, for each of
the three men thought in his own way, and all three were in many
respects in advance of their day. At some time in the reign of James I
Francis Bacon wrote his Sylva Sylvarum and rather incidentally touched
upon witchcraft. He warned judges to be wary about believing the
confessions of witches and the evidence against them. "For the witches
themselves are imaginative and believe oft-times they do that which they
do not; and people are credulous in that point, and ready to impute
accidents and natural operations to witchcraft. It is worthy the
observing, that ... the great wonders which they tell, of carrying in
the air, transporting themselves into other bodies, &c., are still
reported to be wrought, not by incantations, or ceremonies, but by
ointments, and anointing themselves all over. This may justly move a man
to think that these fables are the effects of imagination."[61]

Surely all this has a skeptical sound. Yet largely on the strength of
another passage, which has been carelessly read, the great Bacon has
been tearfully numbered among the blindest leaders of the blind.[62] A
careful comparison of his various allusions to witchcraft will convince
one that, while he assumed a belief in the practice,[63] partly perhaps
in deference to James's views,[64] he inclined to explain many reported
phenomena from the effects of the imagination[65] and from the operation
of "natural causes" as yet unknown.[66]

Bacon, though a lawyer and man of affairs, had the point of view of a
philosopher. With John Selden we get more directly the standpoint of a
legal man. In his Table Talk[67] that eminent jurist wrote a paragraph
on witches. "The Law against Witches," he declared, "does not prove
there be any; but it punishes the Malice of those people that use such
means to take away mens Lives. If one should profess that by turning his
Hat thrice and crying Buz, he could take away a man's life (though in
truth he could do no such thing) yet this were a just Law made by the
State, that whosoever should turn his Hat thrice and cry Buz, with an
intention to take away a man's life, shall be put to death."[68] As to
the merits of this legal quip the less said the better; but it is
exceedingly hard to see in the passage anything but downright skepticism
as to the witch's power.[69]

It is not without interest that Selden's point of view was exactly that
of the philosopher Hobbes. There is no man of the seventeenth century,
unless it be Oliver Cromwell or John Milton, whose opinion on this
subject we would rather know than that of Hobbes. In 1651 Hobbes had
issued his great Leviathan. It is unnecessary here to insist upon the
widespread influence of that work. Let it be said, however, that Hobbes
was not only to set in motion new philosophies, but that he had been
tutor to Prince Charles[70] and was to become a figure in the reign of
that prince.[71] Hobbes's work was directed against superstition in many
forms, but we need only notice his statement about witchcraft, a
statement that did not by any means escape his contemporaries. "As for
Witches," he wrote, "I think not that their witchcraft is any reall
power; but yet that they are justly punished for the false beliefe they
have that they can do such mischief, joined with their purpose to do it
if they can."[72] Perhaps the great philosopher had in mind those
pretenders to diabolic arts who had suffered punishment, and was so
defending the community that had rid itself of a preying class. In any
case, while he defended the law, he put himself among the disbelievers
in witchcraft.

From these opinions of the great we may turn to mark the more trivial
indications of the shifting of opinion to be found in the pamphlet
literature. It goes without saying that the pamphlet-writers believed in
that whereof they spoke. It is not in their outspoken faith that we are
interested, but rather in their mention of those opponents at whose
numbers they marvelled, and whose incredulity they undertook to shake.
Nowhere better than in the prefaces of the pamphleteers can evidence be
found of the growing skepticism. The narrator of the Northampton cases
in 1612 avowed it his purpose in writing to convince the "many that
remaine yet in doubt whether there be any Witches or no."[73] That
ardent busybody, Mr. Potts, who reported the Lancaster cases of 1612,
very incidentally lets us know that the kinsfolk and friends of Jennet
Preston, who, it will be remembered, suffered at York, declared the
whole prosecution to be an act of malice.[74] The Yorkshire poet and
gentleman, Edward Fairfax, who made such an ado about the sickness of
his two daughters in 1622 and would have sent six creatures to the
gallows for it, was very frank in describing the opposition he met. The
accused women found supporters among the "best able and most
understanding."[75] There were, he thought, three kinds of people who
were doubters in these matters: those who attributed too much to natural
causes and who were content to call clear cases of bewitchment
convulsions, those who when witchcraft was broached talked about fairies
and "walking ghosts," and lastly those who believed there were no
witches. "Of this opinion I hear and see there be many, some of them men
of worth, religious and honest."[76]

The pamphlet-writers of James's reign had adjusted themselves to meet
opposition. Those of the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth were prepared
to meet ridicule.[77] "There are some," says the narrator of a Yorkshire
story, "who are of opinion that there are no Divells nor any witches....
Men in this Age are grown so wicked, that they are apt to believe there
are no greater Divells than themselves."[78] Another writer, to bolster
up his story before a skeptical public, declares that he is "very chary
and hard enough to believe passages of this nature."[79]

We have said that the narrators of witch stories fortified themselves
against ridicule. That ridicule obviously must have found frequent
expression in conversation, but sometimes it even crept into the
newspapers and tracts of the day. The Civil Wars had developed a regular
London press. We have already met with expressions of serious opinion
from it.[80] But not all were of that sort. In 1654 the Mercurius
Democritus, the Punch of its time, took occasion to make fun of the
stories of the supernatural then in circulation. There was, it declared,
a strange story of a trance and apparition, a ghost was said to be
abroad, a woman had hanged herself in a tobacco pipe. With very broad
humor the journal took off the strange reports of the time and concluded
with the warning that in "these distempered times" it was not safe for
an "idle-pated woman" to look up at the skies.[81]

The same mocking incredulity had manifested itself in 1648 in a little
brochure entitled, The Devil seen at St. Albans, Being a true Relation
how the Devill was seen there in a Cellar, in the likeness of a Ram; and
how a Butcher came and cut his throat, and sold some of it, and dressed
the rest for himselfe, inviting many to supper, who did eat of it.[82]
The story was a clever parody of the demon tracts that had come out so
frequently in the exciting times of the wars. The writer made his point
clear when he declared that his story was of equal value with anything
that "Britannicus" ever wrote.[83] The importance of these indications
may be overestimated. But they do mean that there were those bold enough
to make fun. A decade or two later ridicule became a two-edged knife,
cutting superstition right and left. But even under the terribly serious
Puritans skepticism began to avail itself of that weapon, a weapon of
which it could hardly be disarmed.

In following the history of opinion we must needs mention again some of
the incidents of certain cases dealt with in earlier chapters, incidents
that indicate the growing force of doubt. The reader has hardly
forgotten the outcome of the Lancashire cases in 1633. There Bishop
Bridgeman and the king, if they did not discredit witchcraft,
discredited its manifestation in the particular instance.[84] As for
William Harvey, he had probably given up his faith in the whole business
after the little incident at Newmarket.[85] When we come to the time of
the Civil Wars we cannot forget that Stearne and Hopkins met
opposition, not alone from the Huntingdon minister, but from a large
party in Norfolk, who finally forced the witchfinder to defend himself
in court. Nor can we forget the witch-pricker of Berwick who was sent
a-flying back to his native northern soil, nor the persistent Mrs.
Muschamp who tramped over Northumberland seeking a warrant and finding

The course of opinion is a circuitous one. We have followed its windings
in and out through more than half a century. We have listened as
respectfully as possible to the vagaries of country parsons and
university preachers, we have heard from scholars, from gentlemen, from
jurists and men of affairs, from physicians and philosophers. It matters
little now what they thought or said, but it did matter then. We have
seen how easy a thing it was to fall into the error that a middle course
was nearest truth. Broad was the way and many there were that walked
therein. Yet even those who travelled that highway found their direction
shifting. For there was progress in opinion. With every decade the
travellers, as well those who strayed aside as those who followed the
crowd, were getting a little nearer to truth.

[1] "Printed by Cantrel Legge, Printer to the Universitie of Cambridge"
(1608, 1610).

[2] See Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, ch. VII, sect. I.

[3] His literary executor, Thomas Pickering, late of Emmanuel College,
Cambridge, and now "Minister of Finchingfield in Essex," who prepared
the Discourse for the press (both in its separate form and as a part
of Perkins's collected works), and who dedicates it to Sir Edward Coke,
is, however, equally silent as to James, though in his preface he
mentions Scot by name.

[4] Ibid., ch. IV, sect. I. See also ch. II.

[5] Ibid., ch. VII, sect. II.

[6] Ibid., ch. VI.

[7] Ibid., ch. VII, sect. II.

[8] Ibid., ch. VII, sect. II.

[9] James Mason, "Master of Artes," whose Anatomie of Sorcerie
("printed at London by John Legatte, Printer to the Universitie of
Cambridge," 1612), puts him next to Perkins in chronological order,
needs only mention in passing. He takes the reality of sorcery for
granted, and devotes himself to argument against its use.

[10] ... Shewing the True and Right Methode of the Discovery. Cotta
was familiar with the more important trials of his time. He knew of the
Warboys, Lancaster, and York trials and he probably had come into close
contact with the Northampton cases. He had read, too, several of the
books on the subject, such as Scot, Wier, and Perkins. His omission of
King James's work is therefore not only curious but significant. A
second edition of his book was published in 1625.

[11] See Triall of Witchcraft, ch. XIV.

[12] See ibid., p. 48.

[13] Ibid., 66-67.

[14] See ibid., ch. VI. Cotta speaks of the case as six years earlier.

[15] Ibid., 62, 66.

[16] A Short Discoverie, 70.

[17] Triall of Witchcraft, 83-84.

[18] A Short Discoverie, 51-53.

[19] Triall of Witchcraft, 70.

[20] Roberts's explanation of the proneness of women to witchcraft
deserves mention in passing. Women are more credulous, more curious,
"their complection is softer," they have "greater facility to fall,"
greater desire for revenge, and "are of a slippery tongue." Treatise of
Witchcraft, 42-43.

[21] "In Cheshire and Coventry," he tells us. "Hath not Coventrie," he
asks (p. 16), "beene usually haunted by these hellish Sorcerers, where
it was confessed by one of them, that no lesse than three-score were of
that confedracie?... And was I not there enjoyned by a necessity to the
discoverie of this Brood?"

[22] For the whole case see Howell, State Trials, II.

[23] See article on Bernard in Dict. Nat. Biog.

[24] See below, appendix C, list of witch cases, under 1626.

[25] See Guide to Grand-Jurymen, Dedication.

[26] Ibid., 11-12.

[27] Ibid., 53.

[28] Ibid., 214.

[29] This he did on the authority of a repentant Mr. Edmonds, of
Cambridge, who had once been questioned by the University authorities
for witchcraft. Ibid., 136-138.

[30] Guide to Grand-Jurymen, 22-28.

[31] He was "for the law, but agin' its enforcement."

[32] Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft
(London, 1646).

[33] Ibid., 92.

[34] Ibid., 94, 97. That Gaule was a Puritan, as has been asserted,
appears from nothing in his book. If he dedicated his Select Cases to
his townsman Colonel Walton, a brother-in-law of Cromwell, and his
Mag-astro-mancer (a later diatribe against current superstitions) to
Oliver himself, there is nothing in his prefatory letters to show him of
their party. Nor does the tone of his writings suggest a Calvinist. That
in 1649 we find Gaule chosen to preach before the assizes of Huntingdon
points perhaps only to his popularity as a leader of the reaction
against the work of Hopkins.

[35] Antidote to Atheisme, 129.

[36] Ibid., 127-130.

[37] Ibid., ch. VIII, 134.

[38] Ibid., 135.

[39] See p. 118. This Treatise was first published in 1655. Four years
later, in 1659, he published A True and faithful Relation of what
passed ... between Dr. John Dee, ... and some spirits. In the preface
to this he announced his intention of writing the work which he later
published as Of Credulity and Incredulity.

[40] In passing we must mention Richard Farnworth, who in 1655 issued a
pamphlet called Witchcraft Cast out from the Religious Seed and Israel
of God. Farnworth was a Quaker, and wrote merely to warn his brethren
against magic and sorcery. He never questioned for a moment the facts of
witchcraft and sorcery, nor the Devil's share in them. As for the
witches, they were doomed everlastingly to the lake of fire.

[41] Daemonologie and Theologie. The first, the Malady ..., The Second,
The Remedy (London, 1650).

[42] Ibid., 42.

[43] Ibid., 16.

[44] See the Introduction to the Advertisement.

[45] Filmer noted further that the Septuagint translates the Hebrew word
for witch as "an Apothecary, a Druggister, one that compounds poysons."

[46] London, 1656.

[47] In Ady's second edition, A Perfect Discovery of Witches (1661),
134, Gaule's book having meanwhile come into his hands, he speaks of
Gaule as "much inclining to the Truth" and yet swayed by traditions and
the authority of the learned. He adds, "Mr. Gaule, if this work of mine
shall come to your hand, as yours hath come to mine, be not angry with
me for writing God's Truth."

[48] "... few men or women being tied hand and feet together can sink
quite away till they be drowned" (Candle in the Dark, 100); "... very
few people in the World are without privie Marks" (Ibid., 127).

[49] Ibid., 129.

[50] In giving "The Reason of the Book" he wrote, "The Grand Errour of
these latter Ages is ascribing power to Witches."

[51] See a recent discussion of a nearly related topic by Professor
Elmer Stoll in the Publications of the Modern Language Association,
XXII, 201-233. Of the attitude of the English dramatists before
Shakespeare something may be learned from Mr. L. W. Cushman's The Devil
and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature before Shakespeare
(Halle, 1900).

[52] About 1622 or soon after.

[53] See, for instance, Mr. W. S. Johnson's introduction to his edition
of The Devil is an Ass (New York, 1905).

[54] 1634. This play was written, of course, in cooperation with Brome;
see above, pp. 158-160. For other expressions of Heywood's opinions on
witchcraft see his Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels, 598, and his
[Greek: GYNAIKEION]: or Nine Books of Various History concerning Women
(London, 1624), lib. viii, 399, 407, etc.

[55] Act I, scene 1.

[56] In another part of the same scene: "They that thinke so dreame,"
i. e. they who believe in witchcraft.

[57] First published in 1621--I use, however, Shilleto's ed. of London,
1893, which follows that of 1651-1652; see pt. I, sect. II, memb. I,
sub-sect. 3.

[58] James Howell, Familiar Letters, II, 548.

[59] His Advice to a Son, first published in 1656-1658, went through
edition after edition. It is very entertaining. His strongly enforced
advice not to marry made a sensation among young Oxford men.

[60] Works of Francis Osborne (London, 1673), 551-553.

[61] Works of Bacon (ed. Spedding, London, 1857-1858), II, 642-643.

[62] "The ointment that witches use is reported to be made of the fat of
children digged out of their graves; of the juices of smallage,
wolf-bane, and cinque-foil, mingled with the meal of fine wheat; but I
suppose that the soporiferous medicines are likest to do it." See Sylva
Sylvarum, cent. X, 975, in Works, ed. Spedding, II, 664. But even
this passage shows Bacon a skeptic. His suggestion that the soporiferous
medicines are likest to do it means that he thinks the delusions of
witches subjective and produced by drugs. For other references to the
subject see Works, II, 658, 660; VII, 738.

[63] De Argumentis, bk. II, ch. II, in Works, IV, 296; see also
ibid., III, 490.

[64] Advancement of Learning, bk. II; ibid., III, 490.

[65] Works, IV, 400-401.

[66] Ibid., IV, 296.

[67] Selden, Table Talk (London, 1689). The book is supposed to have
been written during the last twenty years of Selden's life, that is,
between 1634 and 1654.

[68] Selden, Table Talk, s. v. "Witches."

[69] Nor did Selden believe in possessions. See his essay on Devils in
the Table Talk.

[70] See article on Hobbes in Dict. Nat. Biog.

[71] See, for example, Bishop Burnet's History of his Own Time
(Oxford, 1823), I, 172, 322-323.

[72] Leviathan (1651), 7. See also his Dialogue of the Common Laws of
England, in Works (ed. of London, 1750), 626: "But I desire not to
discourse of that subject; for, though without doubt there is some great
Wickedness signified by those Crimes, yet have I ever found myself too
dull to conceive the nature of them, or how the Devil hath power to do
many things which Witches have been accused of." See also his chapter on
Daemonology in the Leviathan, in Works, 384.

[73] He continues, "Some doe maintaine (but how wisely let the wiser
judge) that all Witchcraft spoken of either by holy writers, or
testified by other writers to have beene among the heathen or in later
daies, hath beene and is no more but either meere Cousinage [he had been
reading Scot], or Collusion, so that in the opinion of those men, the
Devill hath never done, nor can do anything by Witches." The Witches of
Northamptonshire, ... A 4.

[74] Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie ..., X 4 verso.

[75] Fairfax, A Discourse of Witchcraft (Philobiblon Soc.), 12.

[76] Ibid., 20.

[77] One notable instance must be mentioned. "H. F.," the narrator of
the Essex affair of 1645 (A true and exact Relation) not only
recognized the strong position of those who doubted, but was by no means
extreme himself. "I doubt not," he wrote, "but these things may seeme as
incredible unto some, as they are matter of admiration unto others....
The greatest doubt and question will be, whether it be in the power of
the Devil to perform such asportation and locall translation of the
bodies of Witches.... And whether these supernaturall works, which are
above the power of man to do, and proper only to Spirits, whether they
are reall or only imaginary and fained." The writer concludes that the
Devil has power to dispose and transport bodies, but, as to changing
them into animals, he thinks these are "but jugling transmutations."

[78] The most true and wonderfull Narration of two women bewitched in
Yorkshire; ... (1658).

[79] "Relation of a Memorable Piece of Witchcraft at Welton near
Daventry," in Glanvill, Sadducismus Triumphatus (London, 1681), pt.
ii, 263-268.

[80] See above, pp. 179-180, for an expression about the persecution in

[81] Mercurius Democritus, February 8-15, 1654.

[82] 1648. This must be distinguished from The Divels Delusion ...,
1649, (see above, ch. IX, note 8), which deals with two witches executed
at St. Alban's.

[83] The truth is that the newspapers, pamphlets, etc., were full of
such stories. And they were believed by many intelligent men. He who
runs through Whitelocke's Memorials may read that the man was
exceeding superstitious. Whether it be the report of the horseman seen
in the air or the stories of witches at Berwick, Whitelocke was equally
interested. While he was merely recording the reports of others, there
is not a sign of skepticism.

[84] See above, pp. 152-157.

[85] See above, pp. 160-162.

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