History of Witches
In present day it's not clear when witches gained infamy; however, one of the earliest mentions of a witch is in the Bible in the book of 1 Samuel, reportedly written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. It narrates the story of King Saul.
Throughout history, early Christians perceived witches as evil beings in Europe, inspiring the iconic Halloween figure. Discover more about the history of witches in this blog post!
Witch hysteria became widespread in Europe during the mid-1400s, when many accused witches admitted, often through torture, to various wicked behaviors. Within a century, witch hunts gained massive popularity, and most of the accused women were killed either by burning at the stake or hanging. Hunters primarily targeted single women, widows, and other women on the margins of society.
Between 1500 and 1660, up to 80,000 suspected witches were killed in Europe. Around 80% of them were women thought to be in cahoots with the Devil and filled with lust. Germany had the highest witchcraft execution rate, while Ireland had the lowest.
Witches Trial in the UK
As witch hysteria decreased in Europe, many peoples infamy also grew in regards to witch hunting. One particular name who was proific in the UK was Matthew Hopkins.
Matthew Hopkins was an English witch hunter whose career flourished during the English Civil War. He claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament , and was mainly active in East Anglia. He is believed to have been responsible for the executions of over 100 alleged witches between the years 1644 and 1646. Although Matthew Hopkins sent many accused women to their deaths in the UK the most notable was those of the St Osyth Witches.
The St Osyth Witches is a common reference to the convictions for witchcraft Essex in 1582. A village in Essex, St Osyth was home to fourteen women who were put on trial for witchcraft, some of whom were duly convicted according to law.
The first woman to be accused was Ursula Kemp, She was imprisoned and killed at the age of 25. She was actually a midwife who provided many a herbal remedies to woman due and after childbirth.
The testimony of Ursula Kemp's eight-year-old son helped to solidify a conviction: partly because of her son's evidence and partly because of the court's promise to treat her with clemency, she confessed to the art of witchcraft, and in this confession she implicated others that she knew.
The charges brought against Kemp ranged from preventing beer from brewing to causing a death through the means of sorcery, the punishment for which was death.
When the trial ended Kemp was executed by hanging along with Elizabeth Bennet, who was found guilty of murdering four people through witchcraft and confessed to having two familiars. In preparation of Elizabeth's hanging she was also dragged from her house at the age of 80 to face judgement.