Salem, King James VI, Malleus Maleficarum. The world of witch hunts and witch trials sounds antiquated, relics of an unenlightened and brutal age. However, ‘witch hunt’ is heard often in the present-day media, and the misogyny it is rooted in is all too familiar today. A woman was prosecuted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act as recently as 1944.
This book uses thirteen significant trials to explore the history of witchcraft and witch hunts. As well as investigating some of the most famous trials from the middle ages to the 18th century, it takes us in new and surprising directions. It shows us how witchcraft was decriminalised in the 18th century, only to be reimagined by the 1780s Romantic radicals. We will learn how it evolved from being seen as a threat to Christianity to perceived as gendered persecution, and how trials against chieftains in Africa stoked anger against colonial rule.
Significantly, the book tells the stories of the victims - women, such as Helena Scheuberin and Joan Wright - whose stories have too often been overshadowed by those of the powerful men, such as King James VI and I and “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, who hounded them.
While this will be a history of witchcraft, the subject cannot be consigned to the history books. Hundreds of people, mostly women, are tried and killed as witches every year in Africa. ‘WITCH HUNT!’ is as common in our language today as ever it was, and witches are still on trial across the world.