To What Extent Did Superstition Or Other Factors Influence The Convictions Of Essex Witches

Victoria Hulford

Page 5

In conclusion, the main factors which appear to have influenced the convictions of Essex witches during the 16th and 17th centuries are economics, superstition and religion, social factors and personal factors of the accused, such as their age, sex and marital status.

The economic situation of Essex during Elizabeth I and James I reigns seems to have played a part in the convictions of many witches, due to the fact that by looking at court records and other documents written at the time, we can see that most of the witches appear to have been poorer than their victims which could suggest that their contemporaries accused them of witchcraft as they believed that the witches were jealous of their wealth and better situation in life and therefore had reason to cast spells which would bring about the downfall of the more prosperous families in the village.

Superstition and religion appear to have been the main factors behind the accusations made against Essex witches. During the Tudor and Stuart period, Essex was an extremely religious county, containing many superstitious people. The Church taught these people about the evils of witchcraft and the devil, and it was not long before people began to believe what they heard and accuse people they knew of being witches or in league with the devil when something bad happened to them that they couldn't explain. There were also conflicts between Catholics and Protestants during this period, but unfortunately there is no evidence to suggest that people accused their neighbours of being witches because of differing religious views.

The social factors of the time also appear to have had a slight influence on witchcraft convictions, as in Essex villages during the 16th and 17th centuries, most families were related in some way and had lived in the same village for many years. This often meant that there were tensions between these families who often lived a meagre existence in close proximity to their neighbours and relations. When something went wrong in their lives, it became easy to blame their long standing enemy of being a witch who had cast a spell on them. Family factors also played a part in the accusations as members of the same family were often accused of witchcraft as people believed it was hereditary.

The last factor which frequently appears in the court records from Essex witch trials is the personal details of witches. From these details we can make the general assumption that those accused of witchcraft were usually older women who lived alone. Few men were accused. There could be many reasons for this, but the most likely is that at this time, women worked as midwives and cured the sick. Because of this they were often blamed for illness and death.

Overall, the factor which occurs the most in court records and literature about the Essex witch trials is that of superstition. I believe that the reason people were so superstitious and were willing to believe that their neighbours and family were capable of casting evil spells on them is because of their lack of education and the fact that they learnt from the church, and local gossip about the witchcraft persecutions in Europe. People learnt about the evils of the Devil and how people were in league with him and cast spells on those they disliked. In a time where life was hard, and people had to face many difficulties such as lack of money and illness, it was easy to blame an enemy for the bad things that were happening to you, even if the person was entirely innocent.

Page 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 .