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HIST2220 Witchcraft in England, 1542-1736

Module Overview

This module offers you the opportunity to study the history of witchcraft in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (the period during which the great majority of prosecutions and executions for that supposed crime took place). On the module you will explore a wide range of topics, including: the nature of popular witch belief in late medieval and early Tudor England; contemporary attitudes towards women and witchcraft; the passage of the first acts of Parliament against witchcraft in 1542 and 1563; the prosecution of witches under Elizabeth I; the appearance of the first ‘witch pamphlets’ in London; the notion of the witch’s ‘familiar’ (or attendant demonic spirit); representations of the witch on the Tudor and Stuart stage; the prosecution of witches under James I and Charles I; the great witch hunt of 1645-47; the decline in witch trials during the later seventeenth century; the passage of the Act of Parliament of 1736 (which directed that prosecutions for witchcraft should cease); and the remarkable persistence of popular witch-belief in the English countryside throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Develop an awareness of concepts of witchcraft and witch belief in early modern England and historiographies of witchcraft and consider how these shape interpretations of popular culture, politics and belief in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. • Gain an understanding of the varied stories of the histories of witchcraft and consider how these shed light on early modern ideas about gender, magic and culture. • Consider how the prosecution and punishment of accused witches shaped the varying narratives • Analyse and interpret early modern writings about witches and witchcraft from a range of different authors and written for a number of different purposes.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The variety of witchcraft narratives in the period 1542-1736 and the factors determining those variations
  • The historiographies of witchcraft in early modern England
  • The primary sources and testimonies that provide historical evidence for stories of witchcraft in the early modern period.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • develop orally and in writing sound and well supported arguments.
  • elaborate and express your ideas and critical reflections in essays, using primary and secondary sources.
  • gather and digest relevant primary and secondary source materials including via electronic and web resources
  • put forward your ideas and arguments in group discussions, and consider the arguments put forward by your fellow students
  • engage in independent study and research.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate and compare different genres of source text
  • Work confidently with library, archival and virtual sources as appropriate
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate differences in historiographical understandings of witchcraft in the early modern era
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the histories of witchcraft and witchcraft accusations.
  • Make analytical connections between different types of sources and theories in explaining why there were so many witchcraft prosecutions in the early modern period.


This course will cover topics including: - ‘Scolding Tongues’: Views of women and witchcraft during the late medieval and early Tudor periods. - The earliest English witch pamphlets. - Witch-prosecution under Queen Elizabeth I. - Representations of the witch on the Tudor and Stuart stage. - Witch-prosecution under King James I. - Witch-prosecution under Charles I, 1625-42. - Witchcraft during the English Civil War, 1642-46. - The Great English Witch Hunt of 1645-47. - Witch prosecution after 1660. - The growth of judicial scepticism and the Act of 1736. - The persistence of popular belief, 1736-1910.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will include: • weekly one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar • directed individual and group activities around primary sources • short presentations given by students on the module • group discussions including feedback from the tutor Lectures are designed to introduce you to key themes, historical debates and historians' approaches. Further reading and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material are designed to consolidate your knowledge and understanding. In seminar discussions you will be expected to engage in critical analysis of primary sources and to formulate and articulate arguments. And you will be encouraged to express your own ideas about a topic. Learning activities will include: • independent study, reading and research in preparation for each seminar • putting together and delivering short presentations as directed by the lecturer • in-depth study of textual and visual primary sources • participation in small group and whole seminar discussions This module, like all of the 15 credit History modules offered to second year students, will be research led and it will focus heavily on primary sources. You will study an individual source in depth each week. As such, this module will provide you with a sound preparation for the source-based work undertaken in year 3 during the Special Subject and the dissertation.

Completion of assessment task54
Wider reading or practice12
Preparation for scheduled sessions36
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

J. Sharpe (1996). Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1550-1750. 

J. Sharpe (2002). â€˜The Witch’s Familiar in Early Modern England’, in G.W. Bernard and S.J. Gunn (eds), Authority and Consent in Tudor England. 

M. Stoyle (2017-18). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart Exeter. 

H. Trevor-Roper (1947). Four Centuries of Witch-Belief. 

B.P. Levack (2006). The Witch-Hunt in early Modern Europe. 

B. Rosen (1991). Witchcraft in England, 1558-1618. 

O. Davies (1999). A People Bewitched: Witchcraft and Magic in Nineteenth-Century Somerset. 

K. Brigges (1962). Pale Hecate’s Team: An Examination of the Beliefs on Witchcraft and Magic among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries. 

P. Elmer (2016). Witchcraft, Witch-Hunting and Politics in Early Modern England. 

D. Purkiss (1997). â€˜Desire and its Deformities: Fantasies of Witchcraft during the English Civil War’. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. ,27 .

C. Hole (1986). Witchcraft in Britain. 

A.Macfarlane (1970). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England. 

M. Stoyle (2011). The Black Legend of Prince Rupert’s Dog: Witchcraft and Propaganda during the English Civil War. 

M. Gaskill (2005). Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy. 

C. Ewen (1929). Witch-Hunting and Witch Trials. 

R. Poole (ed.) (2000). The Lancashire Witches. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Exam  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (2 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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