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A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

And Shadwell must be used by the student


For

the study of the period to be covered in this monograph there exists a wealth of material. It would perhaps not be too much to say that everything in print and manuscript in England during the last half of the sixteenth and the entire seventeenth century should be read or at least glanced over. The writer has limited himself to certain kinds of material from which he could reasonably expect to glean information. These sources fall into seven principal categories. Most important of all are the pamphlets, or chapbooks, dealing with the history of particular alarms and trials and usually concluding with the details of confession and execution. Second only to them in importance are the local or municipal records, usually court files, but sometimes merely expense accounts. In the memoirs and diaries can be found many mentions of trials witnessed by the diarist or described to him. The newspapers of the time, in their eagerness to exploit the unusual, seize gloatingly upon the stories of witchcraft. The works of local historians and antiquarians record in their lists of striking and extraordinary events within their counties or boroughs the several trials and hangings for the crime. The writers, mainly theologians, who discuss the theory and doctrine of witchcraft illustrate the principles they lay down by cases that have fallen under their observation. Lastly, the state papers contain occasional references to the activities of the Devil and of his agents in the realm.

justify;">Besides these seven types of material there should be named a few others less important. From the pamphlet accounts of the criminal dockets at the Old Bailey and Newgate, leaflets which were published at frequent intervals after the Restoration, are to be gleaned mentions of perhaps half a dozen trials for witchcraft. The plays of Dekker, Heywood, and Shadwell must be used by the student, not because they add information omitted elsewhere, but because they offer some clue to the way in which the witches at Edmonton and Lancaster were regarded by the public. If the pamphlet narrative of the witch of Edmonton had been lost, it might be possible to reconstruct from the play of Dekker, Ford, and Rowley some of the outlines of the story. It would be at best a hazardous undertaking. To reconstruct the trials at Lancaster from the plays of Heywood and Brome or from that of Shadwell would be quite impossible. The ballads present a form of evidence much like that of the plays. Like the plays, they happen all to deal with cases about which we are already well informed. In general, they seem to follow the narratives and depositions faithfully.

No mention has been made of manuscript sources. Those used by the author have all belonged to one or other of the types of material described.

It has been remarked that there is current a large body of misinformation about English witchcraft. It would be ungrateful of the author not to acknowledge that some very good work has been done on the theme. The Reverend Francis Hutchinson, as already mentioned, wrote in 1718 an epoch-making history of the subject,


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