The Elizabethan Period - Elizabethan Witchcraft and Witches
The Elizabethan Period and the intellectual era of the Renaissance introduced English persecution of Elizabethan Witches and Witchcraft. Ironically, this period of great learning brought with it a renewed belief in the supernatural including a belief in the powers of witchcraft, witches and witch hunts! Ironically the introduction of the printing press, one of the greatest tools in increasing knowledge and learning was responsible! Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press c1456. The first printed books were bibles or contained religious themes. Unfortunately many of these books promoted ideas about witches and witchcraft which in turn led to the intensified witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries! Additional new renaissance thinking and books about Astrology, Alchemy and Magic increased the interest in witchcraft, witches and witch hunts even further. The 1562 Elizabethan Witchcraft Act was passed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was an act 'agaynst Conjuracions Inchauntmentes and Witchecraftes'. The Elizabethan Belief in Witches
During the Elizabethan era people blamed unexplainable events as the work of witches. There were frequent outbreaks of the deadly Black Death (Bubonic Plague) for which there was no cure. The fear and anger about this terrible disease had to be directed at someone - witches were the obvious target. When people died from terrible diseases, when animals died, when there was a bad harvest, when houses were burnt down in fires even when foods curdled - witches were the obvious targets. During the Elizabethan era there was limited medical knowledge or facilities and there was no form of insurance. Such events as those described above were devastating and there was no means of minimising their terrible effects on the lives of Elizabethans - someone had to be blamed - witches were the obvious targets. Who were the people accused of being Elizabethan Witches?
Women were those most often accused of being witches! There were 270 Elizabethan witch trials of 247 were women and only 23 were men! Those accused of witchcraft were generally: Old
Single women or widows (many kept pets for company - their 'familiars') During the Elizabethan era men were all-powerful. Women had few rights and were expected to obey men. Elizabethan women totally relied on the male members of the family. Society and the culture of England was changing. The convents had been closed. The number of poor was increasing and people were far less charitable. Old, poor, unprotected women needed to be supported - and this was resented by other Elizabethans. Access to doctors and medicines was minimal. Women were expected to produce cures for most ailments as part of their house keeping. 'Wise women' also used herbs for this purpose. The use of herbs and plants such as mandrake, datura, monkshood, cannabis, belladonna, henbane and hemlock were common ingredients in brews and ointments for medical purposes. As the fear of witches and witchcraft increased in Europe the Catholic Church included in its definition of witchcraft anyone with knowledge of herbs as 'those who used herbs for cures did so only through a pact with the Devil, either explicit or implicit.' Possession of such herbs, many of which did have psychedelic effects, resulted in execution by burning in Europe. Queen Elizabeth and the Punishment of Elizabethan Witches
The hysteria and paranoia regarding witches which was experienced in Europe did not fully extend to England during the Elizabethan era. Queen Elizabeth I passed a new and harsher witchcraft Law in 1562 but it did not define sorcery as heresy. Witches convicted of murder by witchcraft were to be executed but the punishment for witches in England was hanging, not burning at the stake which was the terrible death that was inflicted on French and...