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Thinking with Anne Armstrong: witchcraft in the North East during the 17th century

James Sharpe, Professor of Early Modern History, University of York

Date/Time: 12th February 2015

Witchcraft in the early modern North East showed patterns very much like those in other parts of England – cases of harmful witchcraft, defined as a capital offence by the then existing laws, tried in the secular courts, numerous, and sometimes intriguing, instances of ‘good’ witches falling foul of both the secular and the ecclesiastical authorities, and one case, recorded in a contemporary pamphlet, of demonic possession leading to accusations of witchcraft. But the region also offered two unusual contributions to the history of English witchcraft. 

In 1649 – 50 Newcastle, under a Puritan regime, experienced a severe local witch craze which resulted, by English standards, in a high number of supposed witches being executed. And, most remarkable of all, in 1673 a girl named Anne Armstrong gave the Northumberland magistrates a remarkable series of accounts of her visits to witches Sabbaths, phenomena almost undocumented in English sources. So North Eastern witchcraft both confirming national patterns and shows some important regional peculiarities.

Speaker biography

Professor James Sharpe completed his BA and PhD in Modern History at Oxford University. He has well established interests in the social and cultural history of early modern England, with wider interests in witchcraft, in the history of crime and law enforcement, and in early modern judicial systems.

James’ initial research was on the history of crime in 17th century England, which resulted in the completion of a DPhil thesis which was subsequently published as Crime in seventeenth-century England: a County Study.

He has published eleven books, and over 50 academic articles and essays. His most relevant publications (on witchcraft) are:

  • Instruments of Darkness; Witchcraft in England 1550 - 1750 (1996)
  • The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: a horrible and true Story of Football, Witchcraft, Murder, and the King of England (1999)
  • Witchcraft in early modern England (2001: second edition in preparation)