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

e 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.