Witch Hunting and Witch Trials
By C L'Estrange Ewen
Why this book?
This was the book that got me started over thirty years ago, and which I still turn to today. It’s an absolute mine of information, specifically relating to the written indictments for witchcraft which survive in great numbers for the Home Assize Circuit – that is, the courts that heard felonies in south-eastern England.
Ewen doesn’t provide much in the way of analysis. There is a substantial, very useful, introduction, but the really incredible thing about this book is how Ewen managed to comb through the archives, then held in the Public Records Office in London, and find almost all of the witchcraft indictments hidden there. He was an amazing researcher, who provided raw data for subsequent generations of historians.
Among many findings that can be drawn from his research are that, outside the peculiar spike in trials in the mid-1640s (the subject of my book, Witchfinders), English witch-trials peaked in the 1580s, especially in the county of Essex. We also learn that less than a quarter of indicted witchcraft suspects were convicted, suggesting considerable scepticism, at least in the value of testimonies presented as evidence in court.
I’ve chosen this book as an example of the importance of the archive for the historical study of witchcraft. My other recommendations highlight other key themes.
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