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Witchcraft and Witch-Trials, c. 1450-1750

4. Gender

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the extent to which the witch-trials of the period 1450-1750 was a gendered phenomenon, focusing in particular on: (i) the stereotypical view of the witch as a poor, elderly crone, often with some physical deformity – a crippled leg, hunchback or harelip; (ii) the extent to which the historical record of witch trials confirms this stereotype; (iii) the view of feminist critics such as Andrea Dworkin and Anne Llewelyn Barstow that the witch-hunts represented a form of 'gynocide', in which female witches were the passive victims of the male establishment; (iv) the views of the more recent critics such as Diane Purkiss, Deborah Willis, Lyndal Roper, and Robin Briggs, who have complicated this picture; (v) the misogynistic view of women contained in works such as the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) that made them susceptible to accusation; (vi) the concept of witches as 'anti-mothers'; (vii) the phenomenon of male witches, especially in particular regions, e.g. Estonia, Russia, Normandy, Iceland; and (viii) the cases of Thomas Holt, the musician from Coventry who sold his soul to the devil, and Peter Stumpf, who confessed to becoming a werewolf and cannibalising two pregnant women and fourteen children.


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 - Gender [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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