Witches A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction
September 1613. In Belvoir Castle, the heir of one of England's great noble families falls suddenly and dangerously ill. His body is 'tormented' with violent convulsions.
Within a few short weeks he will suffer an excruciating death. Soon the whole family will be stricken with the same terrifying symptoms. The second son, the last male of the line, will not survive.
It is said witches are to blame. And so the Earl of Rutland's sons will not be the last to die. Witches traces the dramatic events which unfolded at one of England's oldest and most spectacular castles four hundred years ago.
The case is among those which constitute the European witch craze of the 15th-18th centuries, when suspected witches were burned, hanged, or tortured by the thousand. Like those other cases, it is a tale of superstition, the darkest limits of the human imagination and, ultimately, injustice - a reminder of how paranoia and hysteria can create an environment in which nonconformism spells death. But as Tracy Borman reveals here, it is not quite typical.
The most powerful and Machiavellian figure of the Jacobean court had a vested interest in events at Belvoir.He would mastermind a conspiracy that has remained hidden for centuries.
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Staff Reviews Utilising a wide range of primary and secondary sources, Tracy Borman gives us an intriguing insight into how the social, religious and political beliefs during the mid 15th century to the mid 18th century led to the cruel persecution of those accused of witchcraft. Throughout Europe this persecution saw an estimated 100,000 trials with over half of that number, mostly women, executed often after being tortured and abused in horrific ways.
James VI of Scotland (from 1603 James I of England) had an obsession with witchcraft and in 1597 he published a treatise on the subject "Daemonologie" in which he argued that God would not permit an innocent person to be accused of witchcraft meaning that any accusation was seen as proof of guilt. As Borman goes on the say, "little wonder that under his direction the witch hunts gathered such terrifying momentum, and the atmosphere of fear and suspicion within local communities soon reached fever pitch"
It is from this scenario that the particular case of the Belvoir witch trial surfaces and the author examines the details of the case involving Joan Flower and her daughters Margaret and Phillipa. The events take place in and around the seat of the Earl of Rutland, Belvoir Castle. In 1619 the Flowers women were finally accused of having used witchcraft to kill the Earl's eldest son, Henry, in 1613 and against the younger son, Francis who was to eventually die in 1620 after years of illness. The rumours of their guilt had been circulating in the local community since Henry's death. The text looks at the process and inevitable outcome of their trial alongside the strong possibility of there being an entirely different explanation for the death of Francis. The author examines the case for suggesting the involvement of the powerful King's favourite, George Villiers, Marquess of Buckingham who, it is apparent from the author's revelations, had a strong vested interest in the demise of Francis.
As with all the best conspiracies, it is better to read the facts and decide for yourself but I think we will probably agree that it wasn't the "witches".
For anyone fascinated by witchcraft and life in Jacobite England this is a brilliant overview of a dark side of British history brought about by firmly held beliefs that are hard for us to comprehend 400 years on.
Michael Parker, Retail Manager