Witches at Guildhall Library…


(Link): The Witch of Edmonton

Admittedly, I cannot recall having seen any women, or men, in tall black hats in the reading room. Nor have I come across toads in the book stacks, or cats asleep on book cases. Nevertheless, Guildhall Library holds a number of printed sources for those interested in researching witch mania over the centuries.

Let us start with the Witch of Endor, possibly the oldest documented witch. The Old Testament (1 Samuel 28:3–25) describes how King Saul, the first king of Israel, disguised himself and visited a female sorcerer to ask her to conjure up the spirit of the prophet Samuel to tell his fortune. The spirit foretells that Saul and his three sons will die in battle and that the Israelites will fall to the Philistines. Here Lodowick Muggleton claims to have a true interpretation:

A true interpretation of the witch of Endor: Spoken of in I Sam. 28. begin. at the 11. verse. Link: Witch of Endor
Muggleton, Lodowick, 1609-1698
Published London, 1669

The next work I have chosen to highlight is Malleus Maleficarum (c. 1486). This weighty theological and legal tome was regarded as the standard ‘handbook’ on witchcraft well into the eighteenth century. In fact, there were more than 28 editions of the Malleus between 1486 and 1600. We hold an Incunabula, or Early English book dating from 1492-1493 images from which can be seen at the link: Malleus

Guildhall Library also holds a twentieth century translation. The Malleus was the work of two Dominicans: Johann Sprenger, dean of the University of Cologne in Germany, and Heinrich (Institoris) Kraemer, professor of theology at the University of Salzburg, Austria, and Austrian inquisitor. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the bull Summis Desiderantes, in which he lamented the spread of witchcraft in Germany and charged Sprenger and Kraemer with its eradication.

Part one of Malleus emphasizes the reality and the depravity of witches. Any disbelief in demonology is condemned as heresy. Because of the nature of the enemy, any witness, no matter what his credentials, may testify against an accused. Part two is a compendium of fabulous stories about the activities of witches—e.g., diabolic compacts, sexual relations with devils (incubi and succubi), transvection (night riding), and metamorphosis. Part three is a discussion of the legal procedures to be followed in witch trials. Torture is sanctioned as a means of securing confessions. Lay and secular authorities are called upon to assist the inquisitors in the task of exterminating those whom Satan has enlisted in his cause.

An extract from Malleus Maleficarum which claims to explain why women are more superstitious and prone to witchcraft than men gives the general flavour of the work;
1. They are more credulous; and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he attacks them.
2. They are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit; and that when they use this quality well they are very good, but when they use it ill they are very evil.
3. They have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know; and, since they are weak, they find an easy and secret manner of vindicating themselves by witchcraft…All wickedness is but little compared to the wickedness of a woman.
4. Since they are feebler in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft.
5. Women are intellectually like children.
6. The natural reason is that she [woman] is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations.

Link: Malleus Maleficarum

Let us move on now to a sceptical view of witchcraft.  Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft was first published in 1584 and was reprinted in 1651, 1654, and 1665. Scot wanted to discredit the Démonomanie of Jean Bodin (1580) and Johann Weyer, author of De praestigiis daemonum (1566). Scot argued that there were no witches and that all those executed for witchcraft were innocent; he even asserted that he had been unable to find anyone who would offer him instruction in witchcraft. He claimed that none of the terms used in the Bible which had been translated as ‘witch’ had that meaning in the original languages, thereby undermining the claim that there was a biblical sanction for the execution of witches; thus earning himself a place in the history of biblical criticism. For Scott, witchcraft was an impossible, because it was nothing more than words. He implied that there was separation between mind and matter, a radical idea for the time. He contended that where curses or spells were followed by unpleasant events the link between the two was entirely coincidental.

Guildhall Library’s copy published in 1930 retains the spelling of the 1584 edition: The discoverie of witchcraft

Link: The discoverie of witchcraft

Richard Hathaway accused Sarah Morduck of being a witch. He claimed that Sarah bewitched him so he was unable to eat. He accused her of making him ill and making him vomit nails; he claimed to recover after scratching her; it was thought that the act of drawing blood from a witch would break any spell she had made. A local doctor heard of his accusations and induced him to scratch another woman’s arm pretending that the arm belonged to Sarah Morduck. Hathaway scratched the women he presumed to be Sarah Morduck and declared himself well again. However, the people were dissatisfied with this unveiling of the imposter and Sarah Morduck was obliged to leave Southwark and move to the City. Hathaway followed her to London with soldiers and broke into her house. In London the woman and her friends sought help from an Alderman thinking they would get justice; however, the Alderman ordered Morduck to be carried upstairs and searched to see if she had any teats or other signs of a witch and permitted her to be scratched by Hathaway and then committed her for a witch.
The woman was brought to trial at Guildford Assizes and was acquitted; Hathaway was committed for a cheat. While in custody Hathaway pretended to fast but in reality was heartily eating the food a maid had smuggled into his chamber.

The tryal of Richard Hathaway: upon an information for being a cheat and imposter, for endeavouring to take away the life of Sarah Morduck, for being a vvitch, at Surry assizes, begun and held in the burrough of Southwark, March the 24th, 1702 …, to which is added a short account of the tryal of Richard Hathaway, Thomas Wellyn and Elizabeth his wife, and Elizabeth Willoughby, wife of Walter Willoughby, upon an information for a riot and assault upon Sarah Morduck, the pretended witch, at the said assizes. 

Link: The tryal of Richard Hathaway

In the treatise below the author calls upon scripture and reason to argue that witchcraft did not exist and that it was irrational and heathen to believe in witches. He cites the case of Jane Wenham who was found guilty of associating with the devil in the shape of a Cat, making a young woman who could not walk without being led, leap over a Five Bar gate and run as swift as a greyhound. Jane Wenham was the last person convicted of witchcraft in England; however, she was later pardoned.

The impossibility of witchcraft: plainly proving from scripture and reason that there never was a witch; and that it is both irrational and impious to believe that there ever was

Link: The impossibility of witchcraft

There are further works to explore among Guildhall Library’s collections of course, but I hope this blog has served to whet your appetite for witchy research…

By: Isabelle Chevallot, Assistant Librarian


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