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Witchcraft and Witch-Trials, c. 1450-1750

2. Demons and Crimes

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about why, given the long tradition of belief in witches and witchcraft, actual prosecutions for witchcraft only began in the 16th century. In particular, we focus on: (i) the theory that trials for witchcraft were prompted by anxieties created by the Reformation; (ii) the influence of Pope Innocent VIII's papal 'Summis desiderantes' (1484), Heinrich Kramer's 'Malleus Maleficarum' (1486) and James VI's 'Daemonologie' (1599) in providing in intellectual foundations for the witch trials; (iii) the range of activities alleged of witches – their deal with the devil, the 'kiss of shame', cannibalism, infanticide, etc.; (iv) the criminalisation of witchcraft across Europe; and (v) the uneven distribution of witchcraft trials across Europe, with relatively low numbers in England and France, and higher numbers in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland and the Low Countries.


In this course, Professor Suzannah Lipscomb (University of Roehampton) explores the history of witchcraft and witch-hunting in Europe and the United States in the period 1450-1750. In the first module, we think about belief in witches and witchcraft. After that, we think about how and why mere belief in witchcraft turned into actual prosecutions (and executions) from the later 15th century onwards, before turning in the third module to consider where accusations of witch-craft actually came from. Under what circumstances might one accuse someone of being a witch? In the fourth module, we think about the extent to which the witch-trials of the period 1450-1750 were 'gendered', while in the fifth we think about the practice of using torture to extract 'confessions' from those accused of witchcraft. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about why witch trials came to an end when they did, and the extent to which belief in witchcraft and witch-hunting remains a reality today.


Professor Suzannah Lipscomb MA, MSt, DPhil (Oxon), F.R.Hist.S., FHEA, is an historian, author, broadcaster, and award-winning professor of history at the University of Roehampton. Her research focuses on the sixteenth century, both on English and French history. She works on Henry VIII and the early Tudor court, and is especially interested in the intersection of religious, gender, political, social, and psychological history. Her recent publications include The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc (2019), Witchcraft, a Ladybird Expert book (2018) and The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII (2015).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Lipscomb, S. (2021, February 26). Witchcraft and Witch-Trials, c. 1450-1750 - Demons and Crimes [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Lipscomb, S. "Witchcraft and Witch-Trials, c. 1450-1750 – Demons and Crimes." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Feb 2021,