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Read on for the “true discourse”of        a murderous sorcerer
who appeared in the “likenes of a Woolfe”

Scholars have often made the case for a connection between the religious uncertainty triggered by the Protestant Reformation and rise of superstition, fears of devil worship, and the witch hunt craze which reached its peak in the early modern era.

As we mark the anniversary of the Reformation, we explore another quirk of the Early Modern era: an increase in anxieties about alternatives to Catholicism in Europe and England. This anxiety coupled with the printing press made it possible to circulate numerous books designed to help people spot daemons, specters, witches, apparitions, possessions, disturbances, and other wonderful and supernatural delusions…” Handy reading for Halloween.

 If you’re ready to dig in on your own, consider starting with these:

1. The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches

Need some pointers on identifying and catching local bad eggs? Here’s a primer that walks you through the whole process: from apprehension and getting that all-important confession through to the inevitable outcome. These three were “Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex, the 5. day of Iulye, last past.

Author: Anon.  Date: 1589 Reel position: STC / 952:19 Copy from: Lambeth Palace Library

2. A true discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked sorcerer

Now here’s a problem neighbor. Stubbe Peeter was “a most wicked Sorcerer, who in the likenes of a Woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this diuelish practise 25. yeeres, killing and de|uouring Men, Woomen, and Children.” Spoiler alert: he was captured “and executed the 31. of October last past in the Towne of Bedbur neer the Cittie of Collin in Germany.

Author: Anon.  Date: 1590 Reel position: STC / 1010:05  Copy from: British Library

3. A faithful narrative of the wonderful and surprising appearance of Counsellor Morgan’s ghost

Some people just don’t know when to stop talking. Take Counsellor Morgan, for example. Dead as a doornail, but his ghost shows up “at the meeting of the independent inhabitants of the city and liberty of Westminster, last Friday night being the first of August: Giving a full and true account of the behaviour of the club upon that fearful occasion.” Not only did only did he startle and frighten them, he arrived “with a genuine copy of the speech he made to them.” (who wants to hear that twice?) And the kicker? He was “without his Head.” [London] : Printed by J. Appleby, in the Strand, [1746]

Author: Anon. Date: 1746  Reel position: Tract Supplement / D2:1[79]

4. Strange and true news from Long-Ally in More-Fields, Southwark, and Wakefield in Yorkshire

Wouldn’t local news be more interesting if it reported a bit like Long-Ally in More-Fields, Southwark, and Wakefield in Yorkshire 1? Among the headlines: there was a “wonderful and miraculous appearance of the ghost of Griffin Davis (at the house of Mr. Watkins in Long-Ally) to his daughter Susan Davis” (heartwarming!). 2. And near the Faulcon, an “appearance of the ghost of Mr. Powel.” (Maybe someone owed him money?) 3. “The heavy judgment of God shewed on Jane Morris a widdow near Wakefield in Yorkshiere [sic].” (Uh oh…) Think this might be fake news? No way – “the truth hereof is averred by Sir. Rich. Keys, Mr. Hare, and several other persons of quality” 

Author: Anon. Date: 1661 Reel position: Wing / 2296:18  Copy from: Cambridge University Library

5. The kingdom of darknes (1690)

And this sounds just wicked good (plus it has pictures!). “The kingdom of darkness: or the history of daemons, specters, witches, apparitions, possessions, disturbances, and other wonderful and supernatural delusions, mischievous feats, and malicious impostures of the Devil Containing near fourscore memorable relations, forreign and domestick, both antient and modern. Collected from authentick records, real attestations, credible evidences, and asserted by authors of undoubted verity. Together with a preface obviating the common objections and allegations of the sadduces and atheists of the age, who deny the being of spirits, witches, &c. With pictures of several memorable accidents.”

Author: R. B., 1632?-1725? Date: 1688 Reel position: Wing / 2351:11 Bibliographic name / number:  Wing (CD-ROM, 1996) / C7342 Physical description: [14], 169, [9] p., [1] leaf of plates Copy from: Folger Shakespeare Library

Preoccupations with witchcraft in early modern Europe

These articles are just the beginning. Titles from Early European Books (EEB)** Collection 11 reveal a new level of interest in witchcraft and devil worship as a consequence of the Reformation. From the Wellcome Library, the Disquistionum Magicarum (1600) by the Jesuit Martin Delrio (1551-1608) is widely held to be a reworking of a landmark pre-Reformation book on sorcery, Heinrich Speyer’s Malleus Maleficarum (1487) or Hammer of the Witches. Delrio’s exposition proved hugely popular, being reprinted on numerous occasions and in various centers of early modern publishing well into the 1700s.

Originally published in 1597, a 1604 copy from The Hague of the Demonologia by James I of England demonstrates how a concern with necromancy and magic was scarcely confined to the lower orders or the poorly educated. Items from Florence, meanwhile, tend to favor the kind of titles one might expect from a national repository of a country that remained for the most part staunchly Catholic. For example, a Florence, 1638 edition of a work first published in Rome in 1602, Bernardo Davanzati’s Scisma d’Inghilterra, presents an unsurprisingly critical history of the English Reformation under Henry VIII.

And yet, this Catholic continuity does not exclude from Florence’s holdings texts which expose similar dark preoccupations with the idea of witchcraft. One of the most seminal works on witchcraft and demons from the early modern period is Strix (1523), a text originally in Latin by Giovanni Pico di Mirandola (1470-1533), the philosopher and nephew to the more famous humanist scholar of the same name (1463-1494). Collection 11 includes one of two early vernacular Italian versions of the text, published as La Strega in Pescia in 1555. 

A work like Mirandola’s helped give the persecution of supposed witches intellectual credibility, and trials and executions became highly organized and well-documented affairs not just in northern parts of Europe where the impact of the Reformation was felt most profoundly, but across southern Europe as well, in Italy, Portugal and in Spain.

Watch the video and read the Case Study by Prof. Pettegree to learn how digitization of rare materials, like the ones mentioned here, empowers researchers.

Additional resources from Ebook Central:

Apps, L., & Gow, A. C. (2003). Gender at stake : male witches in early modern Europe.

Ehrenreich, B., & English, D. (2010).Witches, midwives, & nurses : a history of women healers. 

Fontaine, J. L. (2016). Witches and demons : a comparative perspective on witchcraft and satanism.

Gibson, M. (2001). Early modern witches : witchcraft cases in contemporary writing.

Goodare, J. (Ed.). (2013). Scottish witches and witch-hunters

Pócs, É., & Klaniczay, G. (Eds.). (2007). Witchcraft mythologies and persecutions,  volume 3 : demons, spirits, witches.

Poole, R. (2003). Lancashire witches : histories and stories.

Reis, E. (1997). Damned women : sinners and witches in puritan new England.

Schulte, R. (2009). Man as witch : male witches in central Europe.

* Early English Books Online
From the first book published in English through the age of Spenser and Shakespeare, this incomparable collection now contains more than 125,000 titles listed in Pollard & Redgrave's Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640) and Wing's Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700) and their revised editions, as well as the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661) collection and the Early English Books Tract Supplement. Libraries possessing this collection find they are able to fulfill the most exhaustive research requirements of graduate scholars - from their desktop - in many subject areas: including English literature, history, philosophy, linguistics, theology, music, fine arts, education, mathematics, and science.

** Early European Books
As the definitive resource in its category, Early European Books allows unlimited access to thousands of pre-1701 books and rare incunabula printed in Europe. It embraces the two-and-a-half centuries following Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in the mid-15th century, which witnessed an unprecedented proliferation and dissemination of literature throughout Europe. In keeping with the tenor of the time, religious works dominate, but there is no shortage of secular material concerning every field of human thought and activity.

30 Oct 2017

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