The Sorcerer’s Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England by Alec Ryrie - review by Anne Somerset

Anne Somerset

Trust Not the Physician

The Sorcerer’s Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England


Oxford University Press 224pp £12.99

In 1544 a young nobleman called Henry, Lord Neville found himself beset with problems. Besides being unhappily married, he had run up large gambling debts, and his financial woes had been exacerbated by frequent recourse to prostitutes. He was therefore delighted when an unlicensed physician with the reassuring name of Gregory Wisdom offered to provide him with a ring which guaranteed that its wearer 'should win all that he played for' at the gaming tables. Wisdom undertook to 'work it for you by the holy angels', but it turned out that this entailed the conjuring up of spirits, a capital offence under the recently passed Act against Witchcraft, Sorcery and Enchantments. Lord Neville nevertheless authorised Wisdom to take the necessary steps and, after parting with a considerable sum of money, he also accepted Wisdom's offer to cast another spell calling upon 'the god Orpheus' to make the young aristocrat ‘play as well on the lute and virginals as any man in England'.

Not surprisingly, things did not go according to plan. The ritual invoking of Orpheus had to be abandoned after the inopportune arrival of a neighbour interrupted proceedings. As for the magic ring, it turned out to be incapable of preventing Lord Neville's gambling losses from mounting further, a failure that

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