Tracy Borman’s account of a 1613 witchcraft scandal is a beautifully researched social historyAlong with shooting and fishing, witch‑hunting has often been a popular rural sport. James I, credulous and obsessed with the need to assert himself over his new English subjects, had a particular fondness for demonising women.It was during his reign that Henry Manners, the heir to Belvoir castle, “did lingring, lye tormented longe” before dying of unknown causes in September 1613. Shortly afterwards, the Mannerses’ second son, Francis, also fell ill. A local woman, Joan Flower, and her two daughters, Margaret and Philippa, fell under suspicion. Part of the evidence against Joan was that she was a widow, had once worked for the Belvoir household, and was not a church-goer. According to her accusers she had apparently sold her soul to the devil for the price of a blood sacrifice, and had set about revenging herself on the Manners family for sacking her.When Francis’s condition worsened, all three Flowers were arrested. Joan demanded bread, a substitute for the Eucharist, claiming that any food that had been blessed could never be safely consumed by a witch. She died choking on the first mouthful. Margaret and Philippa were interrogated …read more

Via: The Guardian | Books