Witchcraft in England
The Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries

Witchcraft persecutions really began in England in 1563 with the statute of Elizabeth I, much later than elsewhere in Europe, but did not really become fully developed until the reign of James I. Various estimates have been given of the number of persons hanged as witches in England during the period of laws against witchcraft ( 1542-1736) but the probable number is around 1,000. The first person definitely known to be hanged for witchcraft in modern times was Agnes Waterhouse at Chelmsford in 1566, the last was Alice Molland at Exeter in 1684. The last person to be found guilty of the crime of witchcraft was in 1712 when Jane Wenham, the Wise Woman of Walkern. She was reprieved.

English witchcraft trials took a different direction from those of Europe. In England there were generally no elements of extreme torture, such as those used by the Inquisition, nor were witches burned at the stake as was the universal practice elsewhere. Under English law burning was the penalty for treason and those witches who were burned in England suffered this fate because they were convicted of the crime of “Petty Treason”, usually for murdering their husbands.

Nor were there mass executions in England such as those in France and Germany. The largest groups in England were nineteen witches hanged at Chelmsford in 1645, and the nine Lancashire witches sent to the gallows in 1612.

Peculiarly English features of witchcraft trials were the concepts of “pricking” to locate the devils mark and the use of “possessed”children as accusers, a feature that was to recur in the Salem trials in America. The relative simplicity of English trials and the absence of many of the satanic features of their continental counterparts was probably due to the absence of a centralised persecuting body such as the Inquisition. In England too there was open debate about, and opposition to, the concept of witchcraft which acted as a restraining influence.

Click on the images to enlarge in a new browser window. Links (in red) also open new browser windows.

Certainty of the worlds of spirits

BAXTER, Richard
The certainty of the worlds of spirits: fully evinced by unquestionable histories of apparitions and witchcrafts, operations, voices, &c.: proving the immortality of souls, the malice and miseries of the Devils and the damned, and the blessedness of the justified ...
London: Printed for T. Parkhurst ... and J. Salisbury ..., 1691.
The Theatre of God's judgements...

BEARD, Thomas
The Theatre of God’s judgements, revised and augmented ...
London: [s.n.], 1631
Complete guide for justices of the peace...

BOND, John
Complete guide for justices of the peace, according to the best approved authors
London: Printed by T.B. for Hannah Sawbridge, 1685

A copy of a rare text by the 17th century lawyer John Bond. It is another example of a legal guide, written along the lines of those by Bernard and Potts, whose work he cites, to assist magistrates and local justices. Like other guides, it also includes sections on the procedures for the discovery and trial of witches.


BOVET, Richard
Pandaemonium. [1684]. Introduction and notes by the Rev. Montague Summers
Aldington, Kent: Hand & Flower Press, 1951.

A Discourse proving by scripture and reason...

A Discourse proving by scripture and reason ... that there are witches and how far their power extends to the doing of mischief
London: Printed by J.M. and sold by John Weld, 1686

An example of a very rare text of which only four copies are still known to exist. The work is pro witch in its outlook and repeats many of the stories and accusations of previous works.

A Tryal of witches at the assizes held at Bury St Edmonds...

[BROWNE, Thomas]
A Tryal of witches at the assizes held at Bury St Edmonds ... 1644. Before Sir Matthew Hale ...
London: Printed for William Shrewsbery, 1682
Of credulity and incredulity in things divine and spiritual

Of credulity and incredulity in things divine and spiritual ... as also the business of witches and witchcraft
London: Printed by T.N. for Samuel Lownds, 1670
A treatise proving

A treatise proving spirits, witches and supernatural observations by pregnant instances and evidences
London: Brabazon Aylmer, 1672
The Triall of witchcraft...

The Triall of witchcraft; shewing the true and right methode of the discovery, with a compilation of erroneous wayes
London: printed by George Purslowe for Samuel Rand and are to be solde at his shop ..., 1616
Advertisement to the jurymen of England touching witches

FILMER, Robert
Advertisement to the jurymen of England touching witches
London: 1680
A Dialogue concerning witches and witchcrafts 1593

A Dialogue concerning witches and witchcraftes 1593. With an introduction by Beatrice White
London: Published for the Shakespeare Association by Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931.

Gifford, together with Scot, was one of the earliest opponents of the witchcraft delusion. He maintained that sickness and death - often attributed to witchcraft - could just as easily be explained by natural causes. He rejected spectral and hearsay evidence, and argued against conviction except when the evidence was conclusive.

A blow at modern sadducism...

Blow at modern sadducism in some philosophical considerations about witchcraft. And the relation of the famed disturbance at the house of M. Mompesson with reflections on drollery and atheisme
London: E(lizabeth) Coates for James Collins, 1668

Essays on several important subjects in philosophy and religion

Essays on several important subjects in philosophy and religion
London: Printed by J.D. for John Baker ... and Henry Mortlock, 1676
Sadducismus triumphatis

Sadducismus triumphatis: or, full and plain evidence regarding witches and apparitions …
London: James Collins, 1681
A Collection of modern relations of matters of fact concerning witches...

HALE, Sir Matthew
A Collection of modern relations of matters of fact concerning witches and witchcraft upon the persons of the people ...
London: for John Harris, 1693

Hale was one of England’s most famous judges and the most celebrated lawyer of his time. By his legal decisions he was a major factor in the continuance of the belief in witchcraft. The most famous trial over which he presided was that of Rose Cullender and Amy Dunn, the witches of Bury St Edmonds.


HALLYWELL, Henry (1640-1703)
Melampronea : or, a discourse of the polity and kingdom of darkness: together with a solution of the chiefest objections brought against the being of witches
London: Printed for Walter Kettilby, 1681
The di scoverie of witches

HOPKINS, Matthew
The Discoverie of witches In Summers, Montague
The Discovery of witches: a study of Master Matthew Hopkins, commonly called Witch-Finder Generall; together with a reprint of .... from the rare original of 1647.
London: Cayme Press, 1928

True and exact relation of the several informations...

[HOPKINS, Matthew]

True and exact relation of the severall informations, examinations and confessions of the late witches arraigned and executed in the county of Essex … 29 July 1645
London: John Russell Smith, 1838
Desiderata curiosa

PECK, Francis

See M.Hopkins

Desiderata curiosa ...
London: [s.n.], 1723-1735

JAMES I, King of Great Britain
Daemonologie : in the form of a dialogue, divided into three books ...
London: Printed by Arnold Hatfield for Robert Waldgrave, 1603
Eirenarcha, or, Of the office of the justices of the peace...

Eirenarcha, or, Of the office of the iustices of the peace ...
London: Printed for the Companie of Stationers, 1610
A brief description of the notorious life of John Lambe...

[LAMBE, John]
A brief description of the notorious life of John Lambe, otherwise called Doctor Lambe
Amsterdam: 1628 [London: circa 1800]
Concerning the possibility of apparitions and witchcraft...

MORE, Henry (1614-1687)
Concerning the possibility of apparitions and witchcraft, containing the easie, true and genuine notion, and consistent explication of the nature of a spirit …
London: printed MDCC
Discourse of the damned art of witchcraft

PERKINS, William (1555-1602)
Discourse of the damned art of witchcraft. In
The Workes of that famous and worthy minister of Christ in the Universitie of Cambridge, Mr William Perkins
London : Printed at London by John Leggatt, printer to the University of Cambridge, 1616-1618.
The Wonderful discoverie of witches...

POTTS, Thomas
The Wonderful discoverie of witches in the countie of Lancaster: with the arraignment and triall of nineteene witches ...
London: Printed by W. Stansby for John Barnes, 1613
A Treatise of witchcraft

ROBERTS, Alexander
A Treatise of witchcraft : wherein sundry propositions are laide down, plainely discovering the wickednesse of that damnable arte ...
London: N.O. for Samuel Man, 1616
The discovery of witchcraft

SCOT, Reginald
The Discovery of witchcraft: proving that the common opinion of witches contracting with divils, spirits or familiars and their power to kill, torment and consume the bodies of men, women and children ...
London: Printed for Richard Cotes, 1651.

This is a copy of the second edition of 1651, first published in 1584, almost no copies of the first edition are known to survive.

The discovery of witchcraft

SCOT, Reginald
The Discovery of witchcraft
London: John Rodker, 1930

A modern reprint of Scot’s work which, along with other seminal texts, was reissued in the 1930’s.

A question of witchcraft debated...

A Question of witchcraft debated, or, a discourse against their opinion that affirm witches ...
London: Printed for Ed. Millington, 1671

Wagstaffe, in this book, The Question of Witchcraft debated, makes full use of his predecessors’ appeals to commonsense, but he goes beyond them by also appealing to secular scholarship and erudition. He sketches the history of religious persecution, and argues that, from the days of Maxentius and Theodosius onwards, the church has endeavoured to suppress heresy, solely in order to extend its own sovereignty.

The displaying of supposed witchcraft

The Displaying of supposed witchcraft: wherein is affirmed that there are many sorts of deceivers and imposters ... but that there is a corporeal league betwixt the Devil and a witch ... is utterly denied and disproved
London: Printed by Jonas Moore, 1677
Wonderful discoverie of the witchcraft....

Wonderful discoverie of the witchcraft of Margaret and Philip Flower ... together with the severall examinations and confessions of Ann Baker, Ioan Willimot and Ellen Greene, witches in Leicestershire
London : Printed ... by G. Eld for I. Barnes, 1619; Greenwich : H. S.Richardson, 1840.

back next