Chapter Witchcraft and power in early modern
ByEngland: the case Margaret Moore Malcolm Gaskill
Pages 87

A :witch-hunt. instigated by Matthew Hopkins. the self-appointed Witchfinder-General. took place in East Anglia in the years 1645-7. and claimed the lives of around two hundred women and men. 1 This chapter examines the case of just one victim of the trials. in the light of some of the ideas which have emerged from historical studies of witchcraft in early modern England. Typically. these studies have sought to explain the rise and fall of prosecutions between about 1560 and 1680. among which the most popular explanation remains. in short. that the deterioration of social cohesion in communities raised fears of innocent villagers using witchcraft against those who denied them traditional charity. It will be suggested here that because witchcraft accusations arose from a wide variety of interpersonal conflicts. and because some accused witches believed in their own magical powers. in certain cases individuals might be seen to play out struggles in an imaginary supernatural arena. This chapter does not seek ecological causes for witchcraft accusations. Instead. it explores the possible meaning of a single supernatural occurrence in the broader context of popular beliefs and mentalities. with a view to understanding how ordinary people might perceive power - its limitations and its extension - in an extraordinary manner.