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Women and Witchcraft: How Feminine Behavior in Seventeenth Century England Led to Accusations of Witchcraft

Student Amanda Thomas
Faculty Mentor(s) Dr. Sara Sewell
Department History
Course HIST 353: European Women’s History

Abstract

The topic of the paper focused on women in seventeenth-century England and how their behaviors, if not deemed acceptable within a community, could lead to the accusation of witchcraft. The thesis of the paper was crafted after much research was conducted through the use of Old Dominion University’s library and the primary documents found in old books filled with indictments of women in seventeenth-century England. The most important sources referenced for this paper included the Malleus Maleficarum, the Compendium Maleficarum, and most importantly a book filled with the majority of the indictments entitled Witch Hunting and Witch Trials: The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes Held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1359-1736. The evidence presented in these as well as the twenty other sources referenced in the paper highlight the main topics outlined in the following thesis:

In the seventeenth-century women had to lead a Christian lifestyle in order to be considered women that were following in the teachings of God. Women who followed in the teachings of the devil did not meet these standards due to the fact that interaction with the perceived devil was a sin against God. The fact that a woman would cohort with the devil and submitted to his desires deemed her a follower of the devil. Women also should have been seen by society as both good mothers and good wives. However, women accused of witchcraft often performed infanticide or murdered their husbands. Such acts were not in line with seventeenth-century feminine practices and caused many women to be condemned of witchcraft. Members of society often observed the sexual practices that women performed, and if a woman was accused of having relations with the devil, tried to justify her sexual actions with the devil as a result of his promise for stability, or were caught fornicating with the devil’s incubi, she became suspected of witchcraft. Many members of society often accused women of performing the aforementioned actions associated with witchcraft. As a result, many members oversaw the trials and deaths of the accused women because their actions did not following with the standards of acceptable feminine behavior in seventeenth-century England.

Conferences

Phi Alpha Theta Virginia Regional History Conference, Feb 2009, Bridgewater, VA

 

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