Why did the number of trails for witchcraft grow to a peak in the mid 17th century

Topic: Business Law
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Last updated: November 4, 2019

Witchcraft persecutions really began in England in 1563 with the statute of Elizabeth I but a law was passed to declare witchcraft to be a crime in 1542, but they did not really become fully developed until the reign of James I. the number of trails peaked in the mid 17th century because of the religious changed from Catholic to Protestant through out a long period so the church was unsettled. Witchcraft did not suddenly start in the 16th Centaury, before the Tudors the crimes against witchcraft was dealt with the church courts, but in the 16th century it became a crime punishable by execution.

Radically the English population grew which left little chances to gain work and therefore resulting in people having little money to buy bread and essentials etc. this lead the less fortunate such as the older, sicker women to beg to the wealthier people in the village for milk or bread or any other types of good that would be handed out. But if turned away by a fellow neighbor, the poor may curse or even mutter words under their breath. If this was heard and a sickness would occur in the family etc. this may lead to the suspicion of witchcraft. Even if anyone showed a slight oddness in their behavior the Puritans in the village would become paranoid that even one person would be going to hell, so this also lead to a lot of witchcraft accusations in England.

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In England, witches were only hung if the following court believed that they used there powers to kill and harm others in the community also if they were damaging property but under the English law burning was the penalty for treason and those witches who were burned in England suffered this fate because they were convicted of the crime of “Petty Treason”, usually for murdering their husbands.There were not as many mass executions in England such as those in Scotland. The largest groups in England were nineteen witches hanged at Chelmsford in 1645, and the 226 in Essex.Peculiarly English features of witchcraft trials were the concepts of “pricking” to locate the devils mark and the use of “possessed” children as accusers as they have suddenly become ‘ill’ or died suddenly. Matthew Hopkins was one of these famous witch hunters; he used humiliation, torture and depriving them of sleep to force them to ‘confess’ of witchcraft.

People did this either to settle scores with arguing neighbors or for cutting down poor rate etc. the increased interest in witchcraft grew in the 17th century due to the unsettlement and inequality in village and town life, often the wealthy and better off felt threatened by the poor. As the 17th centaury went on people became more educated about ‘witchcraft’ and also the tension between the wealthy and poor loosened, this gradually lead to the last law of witchcraft being repealed in 1736.

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