Orthodoxy versus Radicalism: Authorial Agenda in Two English Renaissance Witchcraft Texts–By Jesse Dorrington

This article advances a twin interrogation of The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches (1566) and William Perkins’ A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608).[1] The former piece is a religiously orthodox witchcraft pamphlet, while Perkins’ work represents a later more radical Puritan demonological treatise. Despite these inherent differences, however, this essay contends that the Examination and Discourse reveal a shared authorial agenda and persuasive strategy, neither of which is unique to these texts. By highlighting this parallel impetus and approach, this article seeks to present a hypothesis which can be applied to two such dissimilar texts with equal feasibility, and, moreover, in offering this as a microcosmic examination, arguably to establish this hypothesis as a suitable interpretative tool for further study in this area.

Traditionally, influential Protestant writers such as Foxe and Bale expounded the authority of their Church as true and recovered, rather than new. For these theologians, the Reformation signified a rejection of the corrupt practices embraced by post fifth-century Catholicism and a welcome return to the real Christianity of the early Church.[2] Consequently, Catholics and adherents of the old religion were increasingly marginalised, and social schisms existed even within the spectrum of Protestantism due to the presence of groups of greater zeal such as returning Marian exiles. In light of this context, this paper explores the use of the witch as a rhetorical device by the writers of the Examination and Discourse, a device which allows them to serve their own religiously propagandist agendas[3] This authorial strategy is rooted in a desire to enforce, or at least encourage, conformity of Protestant ideology within early modern England and these composers constantly strive both to highlight the value of their theological standpoint and undermine those of their Catholic and (alternatively) Protestant opponents.[4] As such the Examination , and the Discourse , are not so much anti-witchcraft, although explicitly so, as Pro-Protestant – the witches on their pages functioning as highly sophisticated literary devices employed to simultaneously instruct and lead their audiences.

The Examination, composed at least in part by John Phillips, was the first witchcraft pamphlet to be published in England. It focuses on Elizabeth Frauncis, Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Jone Waterhouse, three women tried at the Chelmsford assizes on the 26th of July 1566.[5] Although, as the title suggests, the Examination is largely comprised of legal texts relating to the official treatment of the accused witches, it contains much material which lies beyond the function of these formal documents. The work is littered throughout with leading commentary by the narrator and indeed is unique in its inclusion of a three part highly literary introduction.[6] The philosophical prose epistle and following poetic preface and “exhortacion” are all equally persuasive in nature and betray an unequivocally didactic impetus behind the creation of the pamphlet – as the speaker prays, “God defende us all, and geve us suche grace that we maye henceforthe walke in our vocation… and by thadmonition of this little boke learne in such sorte to keepe our soules… from the stinking puddle of filthy pollution”.[7]

The epistle takes the form of a simple sermon, albeit incorporating a brief parenthesised reference to “the sage philosopher Hermes”, probably in an attempt to boost its intellectual status.[8] Despite this the pamphleteer demonstrates a solid understanding of the Bible, his advice is rooted firmly in “the sacred scripture” and he even offers a New Testament style metaphorical “example” (based upon a passage in the gospel of Matthew) on the dangers of lacking “well governed conversacion… integritie, and cleanesse of lyfe”.[9] The speaker focuses on the particularly Protestant notions of grace “not of our desertes” and the value of humility above attempts to “babble and prate much of Christ and hys gospel”.[10] Furthermore he asserts his own social and religious conformity in the preface by reference to “Judges just plast in the seate,/ by our moste famous Queene:/ Judgement to give as justice leads” and begins the main body of the pamphlet by acknowledging the presence of Dr Thomas Cole the Archdeacon of Essex, at the examination of the accused witches.[11]

In presenting the evidence of Agnes Brown, the twelve year old supposed victim of Jone Waterhouse, the writer presents one of the most important religiously propagandist moments in the pamphlet. The witness states that following a visit from the dog-like familiar, Sathan, “she told her aunte of it, and then she sent for the priest, and when he came he had her to praye to god, and cal on the name of Jesus”.[12] Predictably the devil’s successive visits are cut short by the young girl’s repetition of “in the name of Jesus”, a phrase which the demon cannot abide and which vividly illustrates the power of personal prayer. Notably, the narrator re-commends this spiritual weapon in his depiction of how Wardol, another potential target of Agnes Waterhouse’s maleficium , is spared due to the fact that he “was so strong in faith that he [Sathan] hadde no power to hurt hym”.[13] In her comments on the Examination , Marion Gibson cautiously suggests that the reader may find the transcription of childish speech in this section “a little too perfect”.[14] Examining Agnes Brown’s statements from this viewpoint permits them to become even more significant in revealing the overall authorial purpose of the work, the writer possibly going so far as to fabricate or at least doctor an account in order to promote the value of his own theological beliefs.

Undoubtedly, as in several Elizabethan and Jacobean witchcraft pamphlets, the most forceful verification of the writer’s Protestantism and his desire to endorse it lies in his innate anti-Catholicism.[15] In the text’s closing lines the narrator includes a short and openly intolerant condemnation of the opposing denomination through a rendition of the final questions posed to and answered by Agnes Waterhouse before her execution. In this instance the convicted witch asserts that she attends church on a regular basis and “prayed right hartely there”.[16] Despite the introduction of this would-be positive aspect of Agnes Waterhouse’s behaviour, “when she was demanded what praier she saide, she aunswered the Lordes prayer, the Ave Maria, and the belefe”, all of which she offered, “in laten”.[17] This is a far more dangerous admission and the pamphleteer immediately details the Protestant interrogators’ insistence upon the superiority of appealing to heaven in the vernacular: “it was set out by publike aucthoritie and according to goddes worde that all men shoulde pray in the englyshe & mother toung that they best understande”. [18] Naturally, the favourable inclusion of this point also serves to reiterate further the writer’s religious standpoint.

In addition, the witch’s choice of prayers is also unhelpful to her cause. Admittedly, the Lord’s Prayer and the Belief are unproblematic, provided, of course, that they be uttered in English, however, the Ave Maria as an appeal to Mary was disapproved of by the new Christians who viewed it in the light of the now prohibited medieval tradition of praying to saints.[19] As such, the author, through his incorporation of this detail, creates a definite link between Catholicism and witchcraft in the Examination , a link that certainly would not have been wasted on his readers. For him, and the questioners he quotes, Agnes Waterhouse is not coincidently Catholic but rather her status as a malignant witch is heavily dependant upon her so being. This concept is neatly portrayed in a presentation of ‘crossing’ whereby the witch “praied in the name of the father, and of the sonne, and of the holy ghost that it [Sathan] wold turne into a toad, and forthwith it was turned into a tode”.[20] Agnes Waterhouse confesses that she prays in Latin because “Sathan wolde at no tyme suffer her to say it in englyshe, but at all tymes in laten”, indeed when the witch “wolde wyl him to do any thinge for her, she would say her Pater noster in laten”.[21] These lines are especially pregnant as they not only equate the Catholic individual, and therefore the religion, with witchcraft but also startlingly, establish an association between the very demon itself and the Catholic faith.

Alternatively, the writer depicts the questioners, the judiciary and the targeted yet resilient victims as devout members of the Church, members who unite commendably to remove the threat in the local community. It is interesting that Agnes Waterhouse, the sole clear-cut example of a Catholic in the pamphlet, is the only one of the accused witches to be executed following the trial; it seems that her religious beliefs have made her punishment the exception to the court’s otherwise relative leniency. While she is convicted as a murderer and user of “execrable sorserye”, Elizabeth Frauncis “renounce[s] GOD and his worde”, kills one husband, lames another and performs an abortion on herself.[22] Consequently, Agnes Waterhouse is not the only deplorable figure available to the pamphleteer and it is possible that he has omitted material surrounding the religious beliefs of the (merely) imprisoned Elizabeth Frauncis, the released Jone Waterhouse or the fourth unmentioned woman tried at the same sitting of the Chelmsford Assizes, in order to successfully present a connection between witchcraft and Catholicism. Of course it is perhaps the very absence of such information from the testimony of these other women that helped to convince the jury of their innocence or at least to preserve their lives when handed over as guilty to the judge.[23]

Despite the Examination ’s obvious concern with witchcraft, the work is not limited to discussion of this topic alone. As Gibson highlights, there is no specific mention of witchcraft in the epistle and although the “exhortacion” does address witches, equal attention is awarded to the spiritual damage being self-inflicted by “swearers”, “whoremongers” and “dronkardes” through the pursuit of their various vices.[24] Accordingly, the pamphlet’s introduction betrays a preoccupation with sin in general and arguably the speaker seeks to represent “witchcraft as a paradigm and focus for all other sins” assimilating the evils of murder, grievous bodily harm, abortion and even sexual depravity under the umbrella of this most notorious contemporary wrong. [25] As may be inferred from the above discussion, this concentration on immorality runs throughout the entire text and thus, the Examination , notwithstanding the writer’s integration of a significant amount of information from legal accounts, is not so much a documentary account of a historical event as an example of erroneous living and its inevitable reward. Like many of the other witchcraft pamphlets of its era, this piece is less about witchcraft and witches than religious belief and sinners. For the writer repentance and adherence to the Protestant faith is essential because, as disturbingly condensed by the author of the introduction, all those “destitute of fruyte… deserveth to be hewed downe and made meete for the fier”.[26]

This obvious distain for the lives of the wicked, is a reoccurring theme in the introduction and the writer both implores “the Lorde that he from us, / woulde witches take away” and in a bold statement against apostates claims that “Christ in heaven will them forsake, / which him in earth denye”, in the preface and “exhortacion” respectively.[27] Interestingly, however this section also exhibits a parallel genuine humanitarian concern, if one founded upon the narrator’s own sense of moral rectitude, and he concludes the epistle by mentioning Jesus’ “hevenly kingdome” and asking “to the which god for hys mercies sake bring us all”.[28]

Once more this approach is replicated in the main text of the pamphlet, and the narrator, although always eager to reproach sinful behaviour, is often not as dismissive of the actual person and their spiritual welfare. When presenting “The Confession of Agnes Waterhowse”, the narrator defends Agnes’ daughter, Jone Waterhouse, by suggesting that it was due to “requeste and feare together she gave him [Sathan] her body and soule”.[29] This interruption reveals the writer’s willingness to recognise the plight of the witch in spite of her overt wrongdoing and to award her the basic humanity that many other of the period’s witchcraft pamphleteers do not; additionally, it is worth noting that as Jone was found not guilty of harming her supposed victim by witchcraft and therefore released by the court, the speaker’s remark attracts an extra implication as a reiteration of his support of the judicial system and his overall conventional stance.

Moreover, in spite of the innate morbidity of the conclusion to the Examination , the pamphleteer describes the final moments and execution of the condemned witch in a markedly celebratory manner. In this instance Agnes Waterhouse “bewayled, repented, and asked mercy of God, and all the world forgyvenes”, acts which, while not saving her life, likely save her “sowle”.[30] The writer is not just portraying the death of Agnes Waterhouse but also her rebirth into the Protestant faith – a development which he triumphantly claims permits her to pass on “trusting to be in joye with Christe her saviour, whiche dearely had bought her with his most precious bloudde”.[31] It is in this last insertion that the narrator discloses his message most plainly. In his estimation all sin, including witchcraft, is unacceptable and must be “cast cleane away” by every person individually.[32] Orthodox Protestantism provides the only way to avoid entertaining these temptations and protect oneself from the ills they inescapably beget – in fact the alternative religion is literally aligned with such depravity. However, importantly, it is the “cruell acte” that is to be condemned and not the sinner, for as the opening speaker informs us, all those, who “pardon crave” with “his [God’s] sainctes in his kingedome,/ he will us surely place”.[33]

William Perkins’ Discourse was published posthumously in 1608.[34] This demonological treatise consists of a series of sermons offered from the minister’s pulpit and therefore reveals a similar format to the Examination , although Perkins’ impressive display of scientific and theological sophistication far surpasses the simple moralisations of the Elizabethan pamphleteer. The Discourse exhibits a parallel preoccupation with the Christian Bible; indeed the work is founded upon “the bookes of the Old and New Testament” in conjunction with the reports of trusted sources, and its publisher, Thomas Pickering, recognises “The word of God” as “that onely Oracle of truth” in the “Epistle Dedicatorie”.[35] This endorsement of the scriptures is evident throughout the treatise, and Perkins, upholding a typically Protestant prioritisation of individual faith and the necessary accessibility of the Bible for all readers, meticulously references the many verses discussed. He complements this approach by presenting a multi-page “Table of the Texts of Scripture” which details each of these citations in full and, unusually, by frequently re-phrasing already translated biblical passages to further clarify them for his audience.

The Discourse also shares the Examination ’s instructive and persuasive tone, once again to an elevated degree. Perkins admonishes sinful living, insisting alternatively that “it behooueth vs rather to get vnto our selues the precious gifts of faith, repentance, and the feare of god, yea to go before others in a godly life and vpright conuers[…]tion” and that “the Apostle [Paul]…wisheth men to labour for the best gifts, which are faith, hope, and loue”.[36] In “a caueat to all students” the demonologist urges them to “imploy themselues in the searching out of such things, as may most serue for the glorie of God” and notably “the good of his Church” – a sentiment which is echoed in Chapter VII where Perkins praises the “publishing and embracing of the Gospel” as a practice proven capable of destroying Satan’s “kingdome” and revealing “Gods glorious will”.[37] Moreover, and akin to the earlier pamphleteer, the Discoursepromotes the Protestant ideal of “the couenant of grace” which “was made with our first parents in Paradise” and places mankind “in a better and surer estate then before” Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, through Jesus’ self-sacrifice.[38]

Despite these similarities, however, the Discourse contains an altogether more radical authorial agenda than the essentially conformist Examination . As a Puritan writer, Perkins imbues his treatise with a (necessarily respectful and careful) dissatisfaction regarding the extent of change ushered in by the Reformation Church, and the impact of this change on the religio-legal issue of witchcraft. Therefore, while he does not oppose the Church in the sense that the Catholics of the period do, he certainly seeks to encourage further ‘improvement’ of the institution and the governmental bodies it inevitably affects. This intention is apparent from the very opening segment of the text where Pickering, acknowledging the objectives of the demonologist, addresses the treatise to “the right honovrable, Sir Edward Cooke, Lord chiefe Iustice of His Maiesties Court of Common Pleas”.[39] Interestingly then, in contrast to the Examination , the Discourse does not include a legal authority in order to outline the composer’s religious orthodoxy but to highlight his theologically informed wish for legal reform; as a figure whom Perkins, and his publisher, hope to influence rather than merely mention, Sir Edward Cooke inherits a key role in the text, functioning as an indicator of the inherent impetus which lies behind it.

Consequently, the entire treatise denotes a call for harsher judicial measures against witches including even “the healing and harmelesse Witch”.[40] The Discourse portrays the “precepts of Witchcraft” as the “very chiefe and most notorious” of Satan’s ordinances, “For by them especially he holds vp his kingdome”.[41] As such the witch is upheld as an immense threat in English Protestant society, a symbol of evil through whose representation Perkins implores his audience to condone the new grounds for defining, and thus detecting and prosecuting, these figures, outlined in the text. These proposed amendments of the legal system, or at least of judicial attitudes within this system, are based upon the contemporarily infallible “perpetuall”, “Iudiciall law” of Moses, which Perkins urges, “flatly enioyeth all men, in all ages, without limitation of circumstances, not to suffer the Witch to liue”.[42] This focus on biblical, “Iudiciall law” is mirrored throughout the text, simultaneously highlighting Perkins’ firm justification of his appeal for the more extreme official treatment of witchcraft and the appeal itself.[43]

Remaining true to his hardline Puritan approach, the writer also rejects the notion of an absolute defence against witchcraft, such as that depicted in the case of Agnes Waterhouse’s failed attack on Wardol in the Examination. Admitting that “the godly man… is a thousand folde more free from the power thereof [witchcraft]” he concludes that “no man in the earth can absolutely assure himselfe of safetie and protection from the Deuill”.[44] Moreover Perkins also condemns the use of “the name Iesus” as a remedy when the user believes that “the name vttered in so many letters and sillables, is powerfull to cast out out Deuills, and to helpe and those that are bewitched” (as opposed to merely praying for divine aid), a practice which receives no such obvious denunciation in the 1566 pamphlet.[45] For this demonologist, victims of a witch’s wrath “must patiently beare the present annoyance” and “submit themselues vnto God”, clinging to the comfort that “either in this life, at the appointed time, or the end of this life, by death they shall be eternally deliuered”.[46]

Viewed in this light, the Discourse is a powerfully propagandist work composed to promote a distinct reformation of both England’s legal system and societal attitudes towards witchcraft in line with its author’s own Puritan ideology. Despite this however, the writer, unlike his Elizabethan counterpart, who is unequivocal in his desire to unite the masses under the banner of mainstream Protestantism, is considerably more ambiguous in relation to the scope of his intended audience. Historically, Perkins possessed several Calvinist leanings including an advocacy of predestination.[47] This theological conviction is evidenced in the Discourse by his several references to “the Elect”, an elitist term which renders it unclear as to how much of the population he hopes to reach, affect and thus unify in support of his showcased beliefs.[48] Nevertheless, Perkins includes a brief, albeit surprisingly tolerant and optimistic, statement in the closing section of the piece: “All Witches iudicially & lawfully conuicted, ought to haue a space of repentance granted vnto them… For it is possible for them to be saued by Gods mercie, though they haue denied him”.[49] This passage introduces a familiar humanitarian aspect into the treatise, one which suggests that Perkins perhaps means to inspire harmony as well as change through his focus on the witch.[50]

As is the case in the Examination , the most striking confirmation of the writer’s pro-Protestantism (or more specifically pro-Puritanism) lies in his criticism of other religions. Notably, Perkins goes a step further than the Elizabethan pamphleteer by refuting fellow Protestants in his attempts to sanction the legitimacy of his beliefs. He dismisses “the curious conceits of reuelation” claimed by “the Anabaptists” and “the familie of loue” as “strong Illusions”, the members of these sects “beeing corrupted by a doctrin meerely carnall, howsoeuer maintained with pretense of great holynes”.[51] This religious condemnation is further expanded through an attack on the “Maniches”, whose “damnable opinions” were circulated “to the great disturbance of the peace of the Church” and the Jews who, weak in faith, “would not receiue the word preached by Christ, vnlesse he shewed them a signe from heauen” and included a number of “Sorcerers and false Prophets” in their ranks during Old Testament times.[52]

In detailing the key points of Perkins’ following treatise, Pickering depicts “the Miracles of the Popish Church at this day” as “either no Miracles, or false and deceitfull workes”.[53] He develops this statement by dismantling the miracles “which are pretended to be wrought by Saints in that church” and firmly avowing that “Miracles therefore, auouched by them, to be wrought at the Tombs & Statues of Saints, and by their reliques and monuments, are but mere Satanicall wonders, seruing to maintaine Idolatrie and superstition”; Perkins later assures us that “By this kind of delusion the Church of Rome… hath taken great aduantage, and much encreased her riches and honour”.[54] Pickering’s assertions vigorously reiterate the more subtle disregard for the “Inuocation of… Saints” expounded in the Examination and are aligned with an even more forceful commentary on the consequences yielded “when corruption began to creep into the Papacie”: “the Canons, Decrees, Sentences… with other Laws and Constitutions, preuaied aboue the Scriptures; then began Satan againe to erect his kingdome, and these workes of iniquitie [witchcraft] to be set abroach”.[55] Consequently, although choosing not to present specifically individual witches as Catholic (except, perhaps, for the accusations against certain popes below), the Discourse in fact adopts a more revolutionary approach than the earlier pamphlet in closely associating witchcraft and the demonic with Catholicism. The “Epistle Dedicatorie” portrays the rival faith as not only aligned with, but literally responsible for, the spread of the “wicked Arte” – an insistence which pervades the text as a whole.[56]

Perkins surpasses this claim by linking the Papal seat itself with the occult. In Chapter I he asserts that “certain Popes of Rome… who for attayning of the Popedom (as histories record) gave themselues to the deuil in the practise of witchcraft”.[57] What is perhaps most significant about this excerpt is that the writer proposes that he is merely offering an example of an individual living “in base and low estate” who aims “to releeue his pouerty, and to purchase to himselfe credit and countenance amongst men”.[58] Any number of figures from almost any number of situations could be considered here with little difference being made to the overall conclusion, except to omit a derision of Catholicism of course, and, consequently, the demonologist has deliberately tailored his argument to include admonishments of the opposing denomination. In addition to this, Perkins directly censures the belief that “dead men doe often appeare and walke after they are buried”, which he opines “is indeede the opinion of the Church of Rome”, and openly dismisses the findings of the “Inquisitions of Spaine & other countries” in relation to witchcraft.[59]

Extending the relationship between Catholicism and the witch illustrated by the Examination , the Discourse also reproaches the use of several “Remedies” by those who are bewitched.[60] Perkins denies the efficacy of exorcism and the widespread use of “charmes”, including “the Scratching of a Witch to discouer the Witch”, a practice, which the demonologist sardonically adds, “is not vnknowne to the more ignorant sort, who are better acquainted with these than with the word of God”.[61] Furthermore in the penultimate section of the treatise, he proffers a thorough examination of the “vunlawfull… meanes” which “they of the Popish Church haue prescribed against the hurts that haue come by Witchcraft”.[62] Here he discusses, amongst others, the “The signe of the Crosse” and “Hallowed creatures”, heralding the former as “plaine blasphemie” and defiantly challenging “any Papists” to show him “one letter or sillable in all the Booke of God, commanding the vse of a creature for any such ende” in the case of the latter.[63] For Perkins, all of these solutions are specifically Catholic, or at least in existence due to the medieval Church’s reluctance to condemn such “superstitious practise”, and intrinsically linked to Satan.[64] Therefore, both witchcraft and its cures are to be condemned, as while occasionally delivering the body, these remedies always damn the soul – to quote Perkins’ maxim: “For no man may doe euill, that good may come of it”.[65]

The Examination and Discourse , as a relatively short pamphlet and elaborate treatise respectively, are two vastly varied texts in terms of genre, tone, style, and contemporary social status. Moreover they were composed by authors who exhibit significantly distinct intensities of Protestantism and apparently seek mutually exclusive ends – the pamphleteer in promoting a conventional Protestant status quo and Perkins in advocating a puritan theology based legal reform. Despite these differences, however, these works possess an identical core purpose, revolving around the elevation of Protestantism and the uniting of society, or at the very least, the authoritative members of society (as is possibly the case in the Discourse ), within their ideological camp. This shared underlying intent reveals a great deal about the writers and the historical context in which they wrote, and, more intriguingly, perhaps offers us an insight into the innate motivations which lie behind all of the period’s witchcraft texts.

Jesse Dorrington received his B.A. and M.A. from the National University of Ireland, Cork. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at this institution. His research interests include: witchcraft writings, ranging from the classical period to the late Renaissance; the social and cultural effects of the Reformation and; religious propaganda in early modern English texts.

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Orthodoxy versus Radicalism: Authorial Agenda in Two English Renaissance Witchcraft Texts by Jesse Dorrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

  1. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, (London, 1566). The edition of the pamphlet discussed here can be found in the Lambeth Palace Library, London, England. William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, (London, 1608). The edition of the treatise discussed here can be found in the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California, USA. There exists a significant amount of extremely good recent scholarship in my subject area. This criticism, however, while valuable and certainly useful for establishing a context for my sources, operates in a different theoretical space to my own research and accordingly does not undermine the feasibility or originality of this article. Diane Purkiss, who pre-empts, and therefore partially inspires, my approach by offering an in-depth analysis of a plethora of English Renaissance texts from a multitude of genres, is driven by a self-confessed feminist and humanitarian desire to uncover the truth behind the motivations for witchcraft accusations and the psychological issues at play, see The Witch in History Early Modern and Twentieth-century Representations,, (London, 1996). Marion Gibson, in perhaps even more influential circumstances as regards my reading of these texts, acknowledges the reality of authorial intention in the witchcraft pamphlets of the period yet does not link this to any specific theological bias and limits her inferences to highlighting the unreliability of the pamphlets as historical documents due to their seemingly stereotyped content, see Reading Witchcraft: Stories of Early English Witches, (London, 1999) and Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing, (London, 2001).
  2. One merely has to look at the titles of some of their works to perceive this viewpoint: John Foxe, Actes and monuments of matters most speciall and memorable, happenyng in the Church with an vniuersall history of the same, wherein is set forth at large the whole race and course of the Church, from the primitiue age to these latter tymes of ours, with the bloudy times, horrible troubles, and great persecutions agaynst the true martyrs of Christ, sought and wrought as well by heathen emperours, as nowe lately practised by Romish prelates, especially in this realme of England and Scotland. Newly reuised and recognised, partly also augmented, and now the fourth time agayne published and recommended to the studious reader, by the author (through the helpe of Christ our Lord) Iohn Foxe, which desireth thee good reader to helpe him with thy prayer,(London, 1563). John Bale,The epistle exhortatorye of an Englyshe Christiane vnto his derelye beloued contreye of Englande: against the pompouse popyshe bysshoppes therof, as yet the true membres of theyr fylthye father the great Antichrist of Rome, Henrye Stalbrydge, (London, 1544).
  3. Of course witchcraft and the witch did not suddenly appear in England during the Early Modern period, see The Laws of Wintraed(690), in which the king of Trent, impose fines on those who offer to devils; the eighth-centuryConfessionale and Poeniteniale of Ecgbert, in which the first Archbishop of York, prohibits offering to devils and witchcraft and the eighth-century The Law of the Northumbrian Priests that declares “if then anyone be found that shall henceforth practice any heathenship… or in any love witchcraft… if he be a king’s thane, let him pay X half-marks; half to Christ, half to the king” in Benjamin Thorpe, ed., Monumenta Ecclesiastica, (London, 1840), p.41, 157 and 299-303. Despite the presence of these laws, however, witchcraft was not a major legal or social concern in Old or Middle England and it was not until the reign of Elizabeth I. Alternatively, on the Continent the formal treatment of (supposed) witches had been underway since the fifteenth century. The European witch hunts lie outside the scope of this article but there are a number of excellent books on the subject, to list but a few: Brian P. Levack The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe, (New York, 1995); Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft, (London, 1998); Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages, (Cambridge, 2000). Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters, eds., Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History, (Pennsylvania, 2001), and; Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, eds., Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Period of the Witch Trials, (Pennsylvania, 2002).
  4. Admittedly, it is their “Papist” rivals who they scorn with more relish and anti-Catholicism is a major element in the texts. William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.240.
  5. In the course of the pamphlet Elizabeth Frauncis is associated with injuring or killing Andrew Byles (her lover), her unborn child, her unnamed daughter and Frauncis (her husband), see The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.11-13. Agnes Waterhouse admits to bewitching father Kersye’s, widdow Gooday’s, and an unnamed neighbour’s, animals, ruining another unnamed neighbour’s butter making and destroying yet another unnamed neighbour’s beer brewing. She confesses that she caused Sathan to kill her unnamed husband and that she attempted to murder Wardol a tailor, see Ibid., p.15-17 and 38. Jone Waterhouse confesses that she sends Sathan to frighten Agnes Browne, a neighbour who refuses the witch a piece of bread and cheese, see Ibid., p.25-27.
  6. Interestingly, while highly literary in style this section is not necessarily particularly well written, Rosen goes so far as to suggest that the “author of the preface lays serious claim to consideration as the worst poet of the entire Elizabethan era”.Barbara Rosen, Witchcraft in England 1558-1618, (Amherst, 1969), p.72.
  7. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches , p.5 and 2.Unfortunately, very little, if any, information on the reception of the Examination is currently available to the modern reader; the work as a cheap, brief, and (mostly) anonymous pamphlet largely eludes such analysis. In fact the Examination has received almost no critical attention beyond a mention or short description by a handful of recent academics and even this treatment has avoided commenting on the social impact of the piece during Elizabeth’s reign.
  8. Ibid., p.1.
  9. Ibid., p.1
  10. Ibid., p.1.
  11. Ibid., p.4.
  12. Ibid., p.30.
  13. Ibid., p.31 and 38.Christopher Haigh discusses how Protestant reformers wished that the entire population would adopt this type of devout lifestyle, to hold religion as “spiritual experience not a social practice. They expected sermon-going, home catechising, and bible-reading”. Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors, (New York, 1993), p.282.
  14. Marion Gibson, Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing , p.22.
  15. To name a few: The Examination of John Walsh, (London, 1566); Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches, (London, 1612); Henry Goodcole, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Elizabetth Sawyer, a Witch, (London, 1621).
  16. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.39.
  17. Ibid., p.39.
  18. Ibid., p.39.
  19. The Book of Common Prayer, (London, 1549) openly admonishes the cult of Saints as “a fond thing vainly inuented” which is “repugnant to the Word of God” in its Articles of Religion. Moreover A. G. Dickens highlights that “the obsession with saints, shrines and pilgrimages” received constant “denunciations by the Protestants”. A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation, (Pennsylvania, 1964), p.18. Duffy comments on how the “1536 Injunctions had attacked pilgrimage and the cult of images and relics, but in a muted way” adding that the “Injunctions of 1538 are far starker, their language more dismissive of the traditional cultus”. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400-c.1580, (New Haven, 1992), p.407.
  20. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.18.
  21. Ibid., p.39; p.17.
  22. Ibid., p.37; p.9-13. Elizabeth Frauncis is taught “this arte of witchcraft at the age of xii yeres of hyr grandmother whose nam was mother Eve of Hatfyelde Peverell disseased”. On the same occasion her grandmother also gives Elizabeth her familiar, Sathan (we are provided with no further information on mother Eve). Fifteen or sixteen years later Elizabeth Frauncis gives Sathan to Agnes Waterhouse in exchange for a “cake”, thus initiating her career as a witch. Ibid., p.9, 13 and 14.
  23. Notably Jone Waterhouse accuses Agnes Browne of lying in the pamphlet possibly undermining the weight of the witness’ evidence against her. Ibid., p.34.
  24. Marion Gibson, Reading Witchcraft Stories of Early English Witches, p.160.The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.7-8.
  25. Marion Gibson, Reading Witchcraft Stories of Early English Witches, p.164.When Elizabeth Frauncis “desired to have on Andrew Byles to her husband… the cat dyd promyse she shold, but that he sayde she must fyrste consent that this Andrew shuld abuse her, and she so did”. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.11. When Andrew Byles subsequently refused to marry Elizabeth Frauncis, her familiar “promised her an other…willynge her to consent unto that Frauncis [her current husband] in fornycation which she did”.The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.12.
  26. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches, p.2
  27. Ibid., p.4; p.7.
  28. Ibid., p.2.
  29. Ibid., p.24; p.27.
  30. Ibid., p.39-40.
  31. Ibid., p.40.
  32. Ibid., p.7.
  33. Ibid., p.3; p.8.
  34. William Perkins was one of the most influential and highly regarded of the Elizabethan theologians. As a puritan (or possibly more appropriately, moderate puritan) he maintained the paradoxically double role of Church admonisher and supporter, persistently seeking further ‘Reform’ of the institution yet equally eager to defend it against other heterodox religious attackers. Perkins’ authority is most clearly observable in the extent of his widespread appeal across Europe and many of his works were translated into German, Dutch, Latin and, to a lesser extent, French and Czech.
  35. William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.3 and the Epistle Dedicatorie , p.2.
  36. William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.35.
  37. Ibid., p.87; p.227-228.
  38. Ibid., p.46.
  39. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, Epistle Dedicatorie , p.2.
  40. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.225.
  41. Ibid., p.6.
  42. Ibid., p.248; p.274.
  43. Ibid., p.2.
  44. Ibid., p.223-224; p.223.
  45. Ibid., p.239; p.240.
  46. Ibid., p.231-232.
  47. Diarmuid MacCullloch openly associates Perkins with the development of Calvinist doctrine in England and acknowledges the Divine’s commitment to the concept of “the saving faith of the elect”. Diarmuid MacCulloch,Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700, (London, 2003), p.390.
  48. William Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.145.
  49. Ibid., p.253-254.
  50. As regards the contemporary reception of the Discourse, James Sharpe highlights that while Perkins’ “book did not enjoy the international currency of some of his more mainstream writings…English adherents of witch prosecution were, for a century to come, to take comfort in the fact that so eminent a person had written in support of their position”. James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness Witchcraft in Early Modern England, (Philadelphia, 1996), p.81-82. This comfort extended to the colonies and Cotton Mather, the prominent New England demonologist, included a four-page summary of the Discourse’s key contentions in his Wonders of the Invisible World(1693).
  51. William Perkins A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.97-99.
  52. Ibid., p.98; p.37; p.93.
  53. William Perkins A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, Epistle Dedicatorie, p.6.
  54. Ibid., p.7; p.25.
  55. William Perkins A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p.25; p.8.
  56. Ibid., p.3.
  57. Ibid., p.10.
  58. Ibid., p.10.
  59. Ibid., p.115; p.27.
  60. Ibid., p.239.
  61. Ibid., p.130; p.152; p.151.
  62. Ibid., p.219; p.239.
  63. Ibid., p.244; p.245.
  64. Ibid., p.242.
  65. Ibid., p.154.



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