In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Witchcraft, Witch-Hunting, and Politics in Early Modern England by Peter Elmer
  • Jewell Homad Johnson
Elmer, Peter, Witchcraft, Witch-Hunting, and Politics in Early Modern England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016; cloth; pp. x, 369; R.R.P. £65.00, ISBN 9780198717720.

New evidence, continuing the formidable research of Stuart Clark, Ian Bostridge, and Jonathan Berry, places Peter Elmer deservedly in this seminal company. Elmer's 'product of over twenty years' labour' bears its significance through conclusions as a result of investigation into 'local and national' archives to redefine witchcraft, and its political persecutions — before, during, and post-Reformation — in England. Elmer sees witchcraft in 'two seemingly contradictory ways' in its 'integrative or consensual' role, while simultaneously acting as a 'subversive force encouraging criticism of those holding the reins of power' (p. 7). This volume, highlighting monarchs, politicians, and clergy, often includes half-page footnotes indicating further [End Page 193] mines of historical evidence. The anti-Catholic tone of Elizabeth I (in contrast to Mary), and the establishment of the Church of England, is accompanied by the archived machinations of key-figures and co-conspirators within and between the deftly researched sects of Baptists, Quakers, Puritans, and each other, which feature more prevalently than 'alchemy, sorcery, and witchcraft' ever did in contrast (p. 29). Foreshadowing what could be seen today as hypocritical evangelism, Elmer analyses early Baptists and Quakers to indicate how 'Early Friends were often charged with using a variety of diabolical practices to ensnare new recruits' and how 'their quaking fits readily reconstructed within conventional demonological lore' (p. 141). This is not to suggest that early witch hunts fail to feature here, or the larger hunts of the late 1640s and 1650s during Elmer's focus on this 'Age of Political Uncertainty'. Yet Elmer suggests the 'urge to persecute witches' would often indicate those seeking to 'acquire status and legitimacy in the hanged circumstances of the interregnum' (p. 142). Elmer's analysis confirms Reginald Scot's 'target' as being 'puritan ministers who […] threatened social, religious, and political anarchy in Church and commonwealth, and not the gentry who misguidedly supported them' (p. 220). This is introduced throughout his assessment of Elizabethan and Jacobean England, and here Elmer notes that 'rebellion is as the sin of Witchcraft' (p. 242). Noting 'the tendency of loyal Anglicans to view opposition to Church and state as a species of witchcraft and offenders as what [he] term[s] surrogate witches', Elmer provides an elegant metaphor readily suitable for a variety of interdisciplinary contextualizations. No less than Shakespeare's worlds of ghosts and spirits centuries earlier, Elmer's 'last witchfinders' of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England did not suffer from a 'decline in belief in the reality of witchcraft' despite the disappearance of witch trials, and the arrival of medicine contributions and madness. Elmer notes 'godly judge' Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676) possessed 'an avid interest in experimental science with a deep-seated belief in spirits and witches', and indicates Hale's 'remarkably moderate approach […] arguing that conduct rather than dogma should form the core of a godly church settlement' (p. 227). In this sense Hale could have inspired the character Reverend John Hale in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and his complex pursuit of justice in the Puritan colony of Salem, Massachusetts. Guided by those before him, Elmer provides flesh on the skeleton of significant research through insights as they apply not only to witchcraft in early modern England, but to the various contemporary 'other' manifesting throughout global phenomenology and material culture today. [End Page 194]

Jewell Homad Johnson
The University of Sydney


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 193-194
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.