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Oysth witch-trials of 15823), she was hung the following year after the birth of her child.4 Joan's crime, along with two other convicted Essex witches, was duly retold in a contemporary pamphlet "The arraignment and execution of three detestable witches"1.

The Cunny "family of witches" was just one small example of the witchcraft trials that took place within England at the regular county Assizes between the first Elizabethan witchcraft statute of 1563 (an "Act against Conjuracions Inchantments and Witchecraftes5") and the harsher 1604 Jacobean witchcraft act (an "Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealinge with evil and wicked Spirits6") which was finally repealed in 1736. Today, these witchcraft cases are much studied by historians and anthropologists both through official records such as the Assizes and Quarter Sessions accounts and "unofficial" accounts, such as contemporary treatises and pamphlets, in the quest to provide a picture of life and relationships within sixteenth and seventeenth century communities of England.

Contemporary people throughout England and Europe were fascinated by witches and the perception of malicious harm caused to both people and animals by people practising witchcraft. It seems that all levels of society believed in "witches" from King James I of England (who, as James VI of Scotland, wrote "Daemonologie" (1597), an influential treatise on the subject) to the victims and witnesses who reported their former friends and neighbours as witches to the authorities. In addition to the contemporary pamphlets that appeared after "notorious" and "high profile" cases such as the 1566 pamphlet describing the Hatfield Peverel witches, there were also tracts written by influential writers and contemporary clergymen. Some, such as Reginald Scot were highly sceptical about witchcraft: in 1584 he wrote "The Discovery of Witchcraft' putting over his opinion that "If it were true that

3 Harris, A; (2001), Witch-hunt: the great Essex witch scare of 1582; p63

4 Rosen, B; (1991) Witchcraft in England 1558-1618; p182

5 MacFarlane, A; (1970) Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study; p14

6 Ewen, C L'Estrange; (1929) Witch Hunting and Witch Trials : The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1559-1736; p19

witches confesse, or that all writers write or that witchmongers report, or that fooles believe, we should never have butter in the chearne, nor cow in the close, nor corne in the field, nor faire weather abroad, nor helth within doores."7 Others, such as George Gifford, the vicar of Maiden, writing in 1593 confirmed the view that witchcraft existed: "there be two or three [witches] in our town which I like not, but especially an old woman. I have bene as careful to please her as ever I was to please mine own mother, and to give her ever and anon one thing or other, and yet methinks she frownes at me now and then8.

In recent times, witchcraft in early modern England has been much studied by many eminent historians and anthropologists such as Alan MacFarlane9, Keith Thomas10, Robin Briggs11 and James Sharpe12. An explanation for witchcraft that modern historians such as Thomas and MacFarlane have put forward is that the accusations occurred when there were disputes between people. Thomas observed: "[this was a] tightly-knit, intolerant world with which the witch had parted company. She was the extreme example of the malignant or non-conforming person against whom the local community had always taken punitive action in the interests of social harmony."13 He further remarks that when there was a breakdown of the mutual help

A bewitched ship as portrayed in Reginald Scot's 1584 "The Discovery of Witchcraft"

Scot, R; (1584) as quoted in Haining, P; (1974), The witch-craft papers: contemporary records of the Witchcraft Hysteria in Essex 1560-1700; p68

Gifford, G; (1593), as quoted in Haining, P; The witch-craft papers; p78 Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England Religion and the decline of Magic Witches and neighbours

1) Witchcraft in early Modern England; 2) The bewitching of Anne Gunter: A horrible and true story of football, witchcraft, murder and the King of England, 3) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volumes 1 to 6 (Gen Ed)

Thomas, K; (1991), Religion and the Decline of Magic; p632

that many English villagers relied on during this period, accusations of witchcraft often followed.14

In addition to these socio-economic based questions, questions about gender relations within these tight-knit communities have been asked. These gender questions have ranged from the Marxist and feminist view that the witchcraft trials were "a ruling class campaign of terror against the female peasant population15" to the view that witchcraft was "something which operated with the female social and cultural spheres, or, at least, as a specifically female form of power"16. As Marion Gibson observes "The stories in the pamphlets make it hard to escape the conclusion that witch prosecution was often an expression of fears of supposed female power as well as a distaste for the uneducated, impious and criminal "worser sort" and an expression of frustration from the young to the old'17.

From the records of the witchcraft trials, can a modern day historian ask gender questions of the data such the attitudes towards women both from other females and males? Perhaps more specifically, can enquiries be made such as, if there were problems within the village and within that community was a female who lived outside the "norm" of contemporary society (for example, having illegitimate children or were fornicating with men outside of marriage), were they the type of person more likely to be accused of performing acts of witchcraft? Or, was an act of "witchcraft" one of the few ways that a contemporary female asserted her power over ibid; p662

Eirenreich, B and English D, (1973) Witches, Midwifes and nurses, a history of women healers as quoted in Sharpe, J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England p10

J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England p10

Sharpe, J. A; (2003) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 2 Early English trial pamphlets; pxi

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The ability to be able to stand on water - an example of the threat of female power? From the 1643 pamphlet, A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch.

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The ability to be able to stand on water - an example of the threat of female power? From the 1643 pamphlet, A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch.

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