free ebooks

A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 17

By a year's imprisonment and the pillory


the 9th of June, about two months

and a half after its introduction, the statute passed its final reading in the Lords.[13] It repealed the statute of Elizabeth's reign and provided that any one who "shall use, practise or exercise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and wicked Spirit, or shall consult, covenant with, entertaine, employe, feede, or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or purpose; or take up any dead man, woman, or child, ... to be imployed or used in any manner of Witchcrafte" should suffer death as a felon. It further provided that any one who should "take upon him or them by Witchcrafte ... to tell or declare in what place any treasure of Golde or Silver should or might be founde ... or where Goods or Things loste or stollen should be founde or become, or to the intent to provoke any person to unlawfull love, or wherebie any Cattell or Goods of any person shall be destroyed, wasted, or impaired, or to hurte or destroy any person in his or her bodie, although the same be not effected and done," should for the first offence suffer one year's imprisonment with four appearances in the pillory, and for the second offence, death. The law explains itself. Not only the killing of people by the use of evil spirits, but even the using of evil spirits in such a way as actually to cause hurt was a capital crime. The second clause punished white magic and the intent to hurt, even where it "be not effected," by a year's imprisonment and the pillory. It can be easily seen that one
of the things which the framers of the statute were attempting to accomplish in their somewhat awkward wording was to make the fact of witchcraft as a felony depend chiefly upon a single form of evidence, the testimony to the use of evil spirits.

We have seen why people with James's convictions about contracts with the Devil might desire to rest the crime upon this kind of proof.[14] It can be readily understood, too, how the statute would work in practice. Hitherto it had been possible to arraign a witch on the accusations of her neighbors, but it was not possible to send her to the gallows unless some death in the vicinity could be laid to her charge. The community that hustled a suspicious woman to court was likely to suffer the expense of her imprisonment for a year. It had no assurance that it could be finally rid of her.

Under the new statute it was only necessary to prove that the woman made use of evil spirits, and she was put out of the way. It was a simpler thing to charge a woman with keeping a "familiar" than to accuse her of murder. The stories that the village gossips gathered in their rounds had the keeping of "familiars" for their central interest.[15] It was only necessary to produce a few of these gossips in court and the woman was doomed.

To be sure, this is theory. The practical question is, not how would the law operate, but how did it operate? This brings us again into the dangerous field of statistics. Now, if we may suppose that the witch cases known to us are a safe basis of comparison, the reign of James, as has already been intimated, shows a notable increase in witch executions over that of Elizabeth. We have records of between forty and fifty people who suffered for the crime during the reign of James, all but one of them within the first fifteen years. It will be seen that the average per year is nearly double that of the executions known to us in the first part of Elizabeth's rule, and of course several times that of those known in the last part. This increased number we are at once inclined to assign to the direct and indirect influence of the new king. But it may very fairly be asked whether the new statute passed at the king's suggestion had not been in part responsible for the increased number. This question can be answered from an examination of those cases where we have the charges given. Of thirty-seven such cases in the reign of James I, where the capital sentence was given, seventeen were on indictments for witchcrafts that had not caused death. In the other twenty cases, the accused were charged with murder.[16]


eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us

freefictionbooks.org is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 freefictionbooks.org - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us