Events Calendar
May 11
10:00 - 16:00
'Black Cats and Broomsticks': Understanding Witchcraft in C17 England
short courses

Study Day: 11 May 2019

Saturday: 10.00 – 16.00

Course code: 18TON377

This subject has previously been included in an autumn 2018 4 week course as a single seminar, and will therefore will explored in more depth as a study day.

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The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed an explosion in witchcraft trials in England. Why was this, and what was behind this disturbing phenomenon? Using contemporary documents, this study-day will explore the origins and practices of witchcraft and delve into the real-life experiences of 'witches', 'victims' and their accusers.

This study day explores the fascinating but tragic phenomenon of English witchcraft in the early modern period (1500 - 1700). Popular images of witches feature cats, toads, broomsticks and cauldrons but what was the reality? Belief in magic and witches has ancient cultural roots and during this study day we will seek to debunk some of the subsequent mythology that has grown up around the subject. We will explore the reasons why so many people genuinely believed in witchcraft, what made the English experience different to that on the continent, and how cats, hats and broomsticks have come to be so closely associated with witches. We will use a range of contemporary documents, images and records of trials to understand how innocent people could find themselves accused of malicious damage and even murder, and why such accusations were made. We will study a range of witch-related artefacts, which were frequently implicated in witchcraft accusations. We will also look at the gradual emergence of scepticism and how people tried to make sense of a frightening phenomenon which sat uneasily with their religious and intellectual beliefs.

Additional information

  • No prior knowledge is necessary but a basic understanding of English history will be helpful.
  • Suitable for all levels of interest.
  • This course allows you to spend time exploring a subject for interest, among like-minded people, without formal assessment.
  • There may be discussion activities during the course.

    Intended learning outcomes

    You will understand

    • Why witchcraft appeared to flourish in the early modern period.
    • The differences between English and continental witchcraft.
    • The particular features of English witchcraft, and its association with cats, toads etc.
    • Why witches were usually women and the role that men played in many trials.
    • Why accusations of witchcraft gradually diminished.

    You will also become familiar with

    • Individual witchcraft trials and be able to identify the behaviour which led to accusations of witchcraft.
    • Some of the artefacts that were associated with accusations of witchcraft.

    About the tutor

    Rebecca is an early modern historian, specialising in the religious history of the Britsh Civil Wars and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Her PhD focused on the English church in the 1650s. Her Masters' thesis investigated the relationship between Church and State, focusing on the city of Canterbury in the fifteenth century. She has taught several undergraduate courses at the Canterbury campus on a range of late medieval and early modern topics, and a number of courses on seventeenth century history at the Tonbridge Centre. She has given numerous papers on different aspects of late medieval and early modern religious history to academic and general interest audiences. She also has degrees in Landscape Architecture and maintains a strong interest in landscape and architectural history.


    United Kingdom



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