To years after 1560 saw an increase in trials

To what extent were religious changes the chief motivators in the witch-hunts of 1545-1662?   During the late 16th and 17th century a phenomenon that took Europe by storm developed and impacted thousands of lives; this phenomenon was the witch craze. Countries all over Europe were impacted by the witch craze, ranging from Germany to Scotland. During the early years, the witch-craze was declining but the years after 1560 saw an increase in trials and persecution, resulting in the biggest period of the witch-craze. The witch craze turned neighbours against each other and made people question the motives of others. The ideas of witches had been around for decades but during this time period they came to the forefront of society for a number of reasons. The reasons for an increased peak of witch craze during this time have been disputed over many years, usually in specific time periods as the number of persecutions against witches fluctuated over the time. Historians all over Europe have different views on what the main factors, which gave rise to the witch-crazes were. Historians such as Hugh-Trevor Roper (HTR) believe that the Religious changes at the time were important in giving rise to the witch-hunts during 1545-1662, but they are not to be seen as a stand-alone cause. Hugh Trevor Roper states in ‘The Crisis of the 17th Century’ when speaking about the revival of the witch craze that “It seems incontestable that the cause of this revival was the intellectual regression of Reformation and Counter- Reformation.” Trevor Roper was a key historian who believed that the increase of witch-hunts during the period was due to the religious changes that took place. Two of the main events he talks about are the impact of the reformation and counter-reformation, which he believes could be the base of all the witch prosecutions. Whereas other Historians such as Alan MacFarlane and Keith Thomas argue that socio-economic reasons had a large influence in the witch-hunts from 1545 to 1662. Keith Thomas in his publication “Religion and the decline of magic” offers various other explanations about the increase of witch-hunts during the period. One key focus is the socio-economic explanations for the increase in witch-hunts; Thomas states, 638 “It served as a means of accounting for the otherwise inexplicable misfortunes of daily life.” Trevor-Roper alternative stance dismisses socio-economic as the sole motivator in the increase of the witch-hunts. Historians Thomas and MacFarlane take into account the influence of other factors such as Religion and how it might have had an effect on the increase. This is due to being able to produce their work after new ideas about the witch craze surfaced and new evidence could be examined. So comparing the two historians Thomas and Macfarlane had a wider range of evidence to draw conclusions from compared to Trevor Roper, this is due to Roper writing closer to the period. It has to be taken into account that the historians discussed wrote both of their works at different time periods, so a view that was widely accepted when one view was published might have changed over the time period that the other was written, due to a multitude of reasons. Such as, there was a large revival in the discussion of the causes of the witch craze, which led many historians to revaluate evidence that that they had obtained, due to this more realistic views were uncovered that challenged previous views. An example of this are the anthropological reasons uncovered by Macfarlane and Thomas. At the time more people began to look for explanations for the increase in witch hunting during that period and due to the times many people were more inclined to look at the social and economical reasons rather than religion, which was so widely accepted beforehand. Many other factors also played a role such as the stereotype of women at the time so although these historians are debating which was the key factor in motivating the witch-hunts, it could be argued that it was not one individual factor but a combination of all. Also the view on the factor that motivated the witch-hunts over these years changed due to popular views at the time as very few people were informed on the matter, the only way that information was passed on was by heresy or by publications of certain figures views, so majority followed the view that was most accepted at the time. During the time period the reason that was accepted about the causes of the increase in witch-hunts changed. Over the time period from 1545-1662 each factor played a role in motivating the witch-hunts but it could be said at certain periods, one factor was slightly more significant than the others.  The 16th and 17th centuries were a period of time that saw many religious changes taking place, such as the impact of the reformation and Counter Reformation of the church. An example of this is Scotland, which went through a massive religious power struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants beginning in 1560, which had an immense effect on the country. With so many changes taking place all over Europe, there were bound to be some repercussions. The changes caused a lot of division among the people as everyone had their own views and this caused some clashes of opinion. Various Historians believe that religious factors were the main motivators in the witch-hunts or have stated that they all lead back to the religious changes of the time. A key historian who believed that the witch-hunts were directly linked to the religious changes of the time was Hugh Trevor-Roper. He believes that the witch hunts that took place during the 16th and 17th could ultimately be linked back to the religious changes. Religion could be seen as a motivating factor as during the period of time, as it was a very important aspect of everyday life.    Simply following a different religion placed the individual at stake of various accusations. The battle between the two religions was very prevalent during this time period; it affected many countries spread across Europe. Due to the constant battle between religions it led to the Thirty Years War, which started as a religious dispute between was mainly fought in Germany. The impact of the reformation and the counter-reformation coincided with an increase in the amount of witchcraft that took place; so many historians assumed that they had a direct link to the increase. The dispute between Catholics and Protestants was not the only reason that religion was linked to the witchcraft, there are many other reasons such as the fear of the devil, and the relation the bible had in context to witchcraft and the ideals of a godly state. Due to religious changes that had taken place in the years beforehand such as the reformation, it increased the European’s fear of the devil. As ideals Luther and Calvin portrayed stressed the presence of the devil in the everyday society, this drew people wanting to blame anyone that had an association with the Devil. This led many people turning to the people who were seen as the devil’s agents, these were the witches. The Protestants had established the bible as ‘the sole source of religious truth’ during the reformation. This then led to an increased insistence on the literal interpretation of scriptures, one of which was related to witches. This meant that many people who followed the bible at the time felt the need to directly relate to the scripture, for example the scripture ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’. Preachers and judges used this scripture to justify campaigns against witchcraft, as they believed that it had direct links to the ideals of witchcraft. Furthermore the ideals of a godly state contributed, as after the reformation there was a determination to create a godly state. This then led to the Catholics pursing witches in an effort to purify society and promote their image as the defenders of the Christian values.   The image on the left is ‘The execution of Urbain Grandier, 1634’ It depicts a man being burnt at the stake for witchcraft accusations in France, although it breaks the stereotype of women being the only gender accused of witchcraft. It shows that involvement of the church was present during the time, which is shown in the top right hand corner by the drawing of a traditional church. Furthermore the man to the left of the man is in garments that resembled what many priests or people involved in the church might wear. This shows that religion and the church played a large part in the witch craze during these years, as when the artist was producing the image they believed that the religious battles in France were prevalent. The message that the source is portraying to a historian is that if the church uncovers any acts of witchcraft in their local community it will end in a persecution. This could be due to various pieces of scripture that the bible contains against the idea of maleficent magic and witches. A source such as this can be of value to a historian as it shows direct links with the church. Additionally the source could be used to favour the fact of religion over misogyny as the source shows a man rather than a women but it does have significant links to religion due to the presence of the priest like man and the church. Not to mention, King James VI of Scotland published ‘Daemonologie’ in 1597 and again in 1603; it is structured as a dialogue between two people, designed to inform readers about the reality of witchcraft. King James VI states  “No doubt, for there are three kinde of folks whom God will permit fo to be tempted or trouble; the wicked for their horrible sinnes, to punish them like in the like measure; the godlie that are sleeping in great sinnes or infirmities and weakness in faith, to waken them up faster by such an uncouth forme: and even some of the best that their patience may be tried before the world.”Although majority of the work is based on religion and its relation to witchcraft. It also had social implications as a publication by a prolific figure (The King) might have argued to magnetised the texts influence. As by having such a high profile figure expressing their views on witchcraft, it will then cause a large amount of the population to follow suit in his beliefs, which led to an increased motivation towards witchcraft persecutions as not many people wanted to go against the views of their king. However since the work was backed up by religious beliefs many historians tended to lean towards religion being the motivating factor as if influential figure such as the King were leaning towards believing in the link between the two, it would seem like a more likely factor compared to other ones at the time. The source can be seen as value to a historian as it was a source that was written and published at the time, so it portrays many of the thoughts that people had which allow the historians a greater knowledge on the mood and actions of the people of the time. Furthermore the tone of the publication is very negative towards witches, which would benefit historians such as Hugh Trevor- Roper form a solid opinion on how people reacted to the idea of witches and witches at the time. It can be seen as a motivating factor as during the period of 1545-1662 due to the religious divides and other issues, increased witch-hunting occurred as people believed that the prosecution of witches would benefit them in a religious way. Religion was a major contributor in motivating the witch-hunts but it is not to be seen as a stand-alone cause.    On the other hand, there were many social and economic changes that took place during the same time such as a population increase or the break up of the traditional village community. Historians Alan Macfarlane and Keith Thomas believe that when looking at the witch-craze the key reasons that it became a widespread phenomenon was due to these socio-economic issues that became widespread at the time. The population increased rapidly over the time period, which caused a lot of issues, as there were more people to cater for than before. An example of this is England’s population, which doubled between the years 1540 and 1660. Although the population increased the standard of living decreased which meant large sections of the population were struggling to survive in their community. The population increase is just one small economic change that affected Europe at this time. Other issues such as the increase in prices and decline of real wages, the growth of towns and the break-up of the traditional village community affected the amount of witch persecutions that took place during the years 1545 and 1662. Many of the social and economic changes caused a sense of anxiety among the people as the poorer parts of the community, who were largely affected by the change in living standards began to crave informal charity. Since the richer parts of the community were reluctant to give this type of charity it led to conflicts within the typical village community. Historians Thomas and Macfarlane revealed the stresses and anxieties that took place within the community of the village, which typically led to the making of accusations of witchcraft. Keith Thomas states in his work ‘Religion and the decline of magic’ that the accusations of witchcraft ‘There was virtually no type of private misfortune which could not thus be ascribed to witchcraft’. It could be seen as due to the stresses and anxieties that people felt within their community was eased by the accusations they made as they saw it as someone to blame for the problems occurring. Much like in the case of religion, people began looking for someone to burden with each issue. An example of this is within the class conflict that occurred as witches were claimed to be ‘scapegoats’ according to an American anthropologist, Marvin Harris. They were used to divert the public anger at the times of economic disruption, this shows that people were consistently looking for someone to blame as during the time there were large economic and social issues that prompted people to accuse witches of everything going wrong. In the village community, there were ‘scolds’ who were defined as ‘troublesome and angry women who doth break the public peace’ and ‘witches’; majority of the time scolds got confused for witches. Furthermore issues such as poor harvests and disease contributed considerably to the anxiety that was felt, which therefore led to an increased amount of accusations. An example of this is in Geneva where increased numbers of death for witchcraft increased due to the accusations of spreading the plague. The effect of poor harvests, famine and disease varied throughout Europe. Furthermore in England when a plot was uncovered to kill Queen Elizabeth and two of her advisors by maleficent magic in 1578, there was a general anxiety among the people and the issue made them aware of the threat of witches. Due to this general anxiety the number of witch persecutions increased after this plot was revealed. Although some countries may have seen an increase in the amount of witchcraft prosecutions others did not, so it purely depended on the situation in the country. The socio-economic factors could also been seen as motivating factor in the increased witch-hunting during the years 1545-1662, as each had an effect in the country that they were present. Socio-economic was as large motivating factor as during a period of time that people began to question the increase in witch-hunts as new anthropological models were being used and people tended to believe more in social and economical reasoning rather than religion. It can be seen as a largely motivating factor but it cannot be seen as a stand-alone cause for the increase in witch prosecutions.  However, during the period of 1545-1662, the prejudice against women was growing considerably. The prejudice grew into what we would call a stereotype; that assumed women as morally weaker than men; this meant they would be more likely to succumb to diabolical temptation. The publication of the popular novel ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, further established the stereotype among women. The work published also gave the impression that women were more ‘gullible, carnal and prone to infidelity and carnality’. This then furthered the opinion that women were more likely to fall under the influence of the devil and commit acts of witchcraft. The ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ was first published in 1486 even if this was before the time it still had a large impact on spreading the views and stereotypes of witchcraft. Before 1660 it was published a further 29 times, this meant that the text was readily available throughout the period. Which meant that people were able to form quite strong opinions on the matter. The publication would be of use to historians as it was written at the time so it allows them to get an idea of the thoughts and feelings of the time and compare it to other interpretations of witchcraft that were around at the time. Furthermore by the reprinting it meant that it was consistently influencing people’s views and spread the stereotype of women at the time. The emergence of the printing press had a large impact on the spreading of opinions. During the years 1520 to 1560 there was a decrease in the amount of witch-hunts that took place, but that soon changed. This was due to the printing of several witchcraft texts such as Jean Bodin’s “On the demon-mania of witches”. This shows that the printing press had a large impact on spreading the views of witchcraft and at the time the stereotype against women.   Over 80% of the accused ‘witches’ over the European witch craze were women. There were many stereotypes to a witch such as their age, marital status, personality and the social and economic status at the time. If women met many of these stereotypes then they were at risk of being charged with witchcraft. Women who were unmarried or widowed was increasing during the years, they almost made up one third of the population. Although, this number began to decrease around 1600. It could mean that the amount of witch persecutions that took place may have increased as unmarried women were viewed as being more susceptible to being seduced by the devil. Furthermore majority of women accused were over the age of 50 and portrayed signs of eccentric or antisocial behaviour, which at the time people assumed was linked to witchcraft, although their behaviour might have been linked to their age, an example of this is dementia. This shows that people at the time, jumped to the first conclusion of witchcraft due to the general anxiety that was present in most villages which was linked to the social and economic changes at the time. Majority of the women that were accused of witchcraft were also relatively poor so they turned to methods of begging, which caused resentment towards them in the village community. Having a certain amount of resentment targeted against them made the women more likely to be accused of being witches.  The feminist view on the witch-hunts is that it was a campaign led by men to oppress the developments that had occurred economically, politically and socially. Although this view can be challenged as many women were involved in generating accusations of witchcraft against other women. This was due to a multitude of reasons such as inter-female rivalries, concern over childcare and exercising their limited power in a male dominated society. It was seen as easier to accept that women were associated with witchcraft rather than men, since the stereotype was so prevalent it did not seem likely it would be challenged by many. The stereotype that was projected over society led many more women being accused and prosecuted than there would have been if there was no prejudice against women. The prejudice linked in with many other issues that increased the witch-hunting in 1545-1662, but it seems apparent that the stereotype had less effect in the later years than it did in the beginning. The stereotype against women did have an effect on increasing the witch-hunts but much like the other factors that have been taken into account, it cannot be seen as the individual cause for the rise. In conclusion, during the years 1545-1662, the amount of witch-hunts increased and decreased depending on the time. The fluctuation of the increases and decreases were due to factors such religion, socio-economic factors and the stereotype of women. Each factor had an effect on the amount of witch-hunting along with many others that were prevalent at the time. Furthermore the reprinting of various publications on witchcraft also had an effect on influencing people’s opinion, which led to an increase in persecutions. Religion had a large impact as the events such as the impact of the reformation and the Counter Reformation changes people’s opinions vastly, the fight between the two religions caused so much upset that it led to the thirty years war. Furthermore religion was a large motivator as it was a very large part of everyday life at the time so typically they followed what their specific religion specified about witches. On the other hand the socio-economic factors also played a large part in motivating the witch-hunts as issues such as poverty, decreasing living conditions and the break up of the traditional village community caused anxiety among the people. Due to the anxiety many people blamed witches as it was seen as the most reasonable at the time and it took away some of the anxiety that they felt. Coincidently the stereotype that they female gender was given during the time also motivated the witch-hunts as a lot of resentment was built up towards specific members of the community. This resentment led to increased witch prosecutions, which motivated the witch-hunts. Due to the evidence provided, I believe that religion was a very large motivating factor that did not just affect one area, it affected majority of Europe at the time. When tied together with the misogyny and social issues at the time it was a force to be reckoned with, as all three factors caused a general anxiety among the people that made many of them very weary of witches. It could be seen that the reason for the increase in the witch-hunts in the years 1545-1662 was an accumulation of all factors. However I believe that although all the factors may have had an effect on the thoughts of the people, religion and misogyny were definitely the overriding motivating factors in the increase of the witch-hunts of 1545-1662.


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