Debates about witchcraft in England, 1650-1736
This thesis shows the evolution of educated belief in witchcraft in England from 1650, at the end of the last decade of largescale prosecution, to 1735/6, when the Jacobean witchcraft legislation was repealed. It looks at this belief as a body of ideas more or less susceptible to serious use, rather than as the property of a social group, something measurable in statistical terms. There are three overlapping areas: 1. The early chapters show how witchcraft theory had an ideological import in the years 1650-1670. For Sir Robert Filmer, witchcraft prosecution was tainted by its association with puritan politics and theology. Hobbes viewed the metaphysical underpinnings of the theory with disdain, but felt it necessary to preserve witchcraft as crime within his system. For Meric Casaubon, witchcraft theory was an ideal embodiment of the restoration of traditional belief, and a boundary condition of a religiously defined community. The third chapter shows how witchcraft belief could colour mutual perceptions of Anglo- Scottish relations. 2. Having been a useful symbol of a broadly-based, religious, but non-factional society for the Harleyite Daniel Defoe in the crisis of 1710-11, witchcraft was coopted into the party struggle during the notorious Wenham case. Subsequently, witchcraft theory was a dangerous subject for a regime which, as Walpole's did, sought to disentangle the religious and secular threads which the witchcraft issue bound together. 3. Witchcraft, factionalized, became for Defoe a satirical symbol of party rule. Elsewhere it emerged, verbally and visually, whenever ferment about Church-State relations bubbled once more to the surface. These issues are examined in chapters on the last great witchcraft debate, images of witchcraft, and on repeal of English, Scottish, and Irish witchcraft legislation. The central conclusions are chronological and causal. Witchcraft theory continued to count well into the eighteenth century; and its demise had very specific political and ideological occasions.