Exploring the witch craze

Published: 30th October 2020

This weekend the spectre of Halloween has been in the air; traditionally a celebration of the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. Whilst we're all used to the macabre symbols of ghouls and witches, particularly at this time of year, what is the history of these supernatural figures? We've drawn together a selection of resources which explore aspects of the witch trials and witch craze of the early modern period, during which time hundreds of thousands of supposed witches were tortured, burnt or hanged in Western Europe.

  • Pamphlet: why did the prosecution of witches cease in England?
    This lucid survey of the history of witch trials in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth century Clive Holmes focuses on the question of ‘why did the formal prosecution of witches cease?' He argues that it was not because a belief in witchcraft was generally abandoned, or because accusations of witchcraft did not continue to be made, but because the problem of credible proof became insurmountable.

  • Podcast: early modern Witchcraft
    Professor Alison Rowlands of the University of Essex delves into the witch trials and witchcraft of the early modern period. She examines the sources historians use for this time period, and how they differ between regions, from the continent to England and the colonies. 

  • Article: the Occult and Witches
    Dee Cornwallis-Doran looks at correspondence between real-life Elizabethan and Jacobean practitioners of the occult and the depiction of their theatrical counterparts, with particular reference to differences between and treatment of male and female magicians. 

  • Article: why did regional variations exist in the prosecution of witches between 1580-1650?
    In this essay Robert Hodkingson explains that regional variations in the intensity of European witchhunting existed because the necessary preconditions for panic chain-reaction hunts were only constantly in place in a very small number of regions. 
  • Polychronicon: witchcraft, history and children
    Robert Poole looks back at England’s biggest peacetime witch trial, that of the Lancashire witches in 1612, and how this remarkable trial provides a wealth of evidence for many of the themes of Tudor and Stuart history: religion, politics, social tensions and family life.