Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy by Malcolm Gaskill - review by Selina O’Grady

Selina O’Grady

A Familiar World

Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy


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Pity the poor witches of old: they must turn in their graves at the interest they have attracted in the twentieth century and beyond. Radical feminists have espoused them as female victims of a murderous patriarchy: nine million women burnt to death, no matter that the figure was invented by a male antiquarian (50,000 is more likely), that men as well as women died, or that most witches were hanged, not burned. Modern pagans claim witches as their forebears and recently demanded an apology from the Pope (not forthcoming). Greens see them as communing with healing nature; socialist historians as pawns in the game of the ruling elite; and they have been forced into the service of every passing fad of modern historiography.

Fortunately, there is scarcely a mention of ‘gender’, little psychoanalysis and no literary theory in historian Malcolm Gaskill’s account of England’s worst witch-hunt. Between 1645 and 1647, at the height of the Civil War, nearly 300 people in East Anglia were tried for witchcraft, and over 100 were hanged. Neighbour

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