0

One From the Archive: ‘Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts’ by Tracy Borman ****

First published in 2014.

In September 1613, in Belvoir Castle in the north-eastern corner of Leicestershire, the heir of ‘one of England’s great noble families falls suddenly and dangerously ill.  Within a few short weeks he will suffer an excrutiating death’.  His entire family then succumb to the same ‘terrifying symptoms’, and the blame is soon pressed upon a local family of women, believed to be witches.  This case is the one which Tracy Borman has decided to focus upon in her newest book, Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts, and has aimed to bring to light ‘a conspiracy that has remained hidden for centuries’.

9780099549147The widespread European ‘witch craze’ which Borman discusses within her introduction, took place between the 15th and 18th centuries.  She then sets out the often barbaric historical events which occurred during this period: in the south of Germany, for example, ’63 women were executed as witches between 1562 and 1563 for causing a violent hailstorm’.  Borman also muses upon the subject of what a witch is – a ‘deceptively simple question’, she believes – and the distinction between white (good) and black (bad) witches.

Borman writes of the way in which ‘suspected witches were believed to have caused many thousands of deaths, injuries and illnesses in England alone during the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  Little wonder that they were feared and reviled in equal measure’.  James I, who ruled England and Ireland between 1603 and 1625, was ‘one of the most famous witch hunters in history’, whose ‘personal crusade’ meant that thousands of women in both England and Scotland were murdered on suspicion of witchcraft.  Borman discusses the conditions which led to his fanaticism with regard to witches, and the ways in which he went about eradicating them.

Embroiled within this were the Manners family, who lived within Belvoir Castle.  Francis Manners, the sixth Earl of Rutland, believed that ‘wicked practice and sorcerye’ was to blame for the deaths of his two infant sons.  Their ‘alleged murderers’ were Joan Flower and her two daughters, Margaret and Phillipa, who have come to be known as ‘the witches of Belvoir’.  Borman believes that the case of the Belvoir witches has been overshadowed by the more notorious cases throughout history – that of the 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, for example.  She believes that the Belvoir trial is ‘one of the most extraordinary’ to take place during the entire seventeenth century, merely due to the ‘murderous conspiracy’ at its heart.

Witches has been split into fourteen chapters, some of which are relatively concise.  Borman has also included, as one would expect, an extensive section of notes and a thorough bibliography.  Throughout, she makes use of quotes from varied sources – those of the period, and the more contemporary introspectives which have been made into the history of witchcraft.  Borman takes into account the social standing of women at the time, and the way in which very few trial records were kept by councils across the country.  Throughout, she considers many points: the standard diet and the scarcity of food within Britain, the advent of the Plague, the tight-knit communities around the country, the nationwide growth of population, the high rates of unemployment, high death rates, superstition and how people were affected by religious change.  As well as focusing upon Britain, Borman constantly asserts the situation within the rest of Europe too.

Witches has been well received by critics, and it is easy to see why; Borman’s interesting and thorough account is really well written, and is both scholarly and easily accessible.  She has created a rich sense of history, and has put together her sources and own opinion incredibly well.

Purchase from The Book Depository

3

One From the Archive: ‘The Daylight Gate’ by Jeanette Winterson *****

Jeanette Winterson’s novels never fail to astound me.  Whilst I have most of her oeuvre yet to read, I have very much enjoyed every book of hers which I have read to date, from the heartbreakingly sad Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the quirky The Passion, to her distinct, unique and imaginative retelling of the story of Atlas and Heracles, Weight.  I wanted, therefore, to read The Daylight Gate ever since I first learnt of its publication, and was thrilled when I received a beautiful copy from my parents for Christmas.

I find the Lancashire Witch Trials absolutely fascinating (that kind of horrid which both repulses and interests me – much like the many books about the Holocaust which I tend to read), and I am so pleased that Winterson decided to turn her talented hands to writing a novel about them.

‘The Daylight Gate’ by Jeanette Winterson

Her newest offering is so atmospheric.  Winterson unfailing writes so well, and is a master at creating chills using just a simple sentence.  This was present from the outset in The Daylight Gate, and the consequent tension was marvellously built.  The undercurrents which are present in every work of her fiction are so well done here particularly, and she suggests and hints at many elements throughout without explicitly stating facts.  I love the way in which the reader is subsequently able to come up with their own interpretation at times in The Daylight Gate, almost putting their own stamp upon the novel.

The true history of the Trials is set out throughout the volume, and this gives the entirety a real sense of place and time.  Winterson is able to switch seamlessly from one narrative perspective to another, and shifts the focus between her characters accordingly.

The way in which Winterson uses the full names of her characters for the majority of the book works very well.  As each person whom she touches upon is a distinctive being in history, this technique reminds the reader continually that they were real, and it also serves to detach us emotionally from some of the crueller beings who were involved in the Trials.  Only in the more tender, emotional or pivotal situations throughout does Winterson revert to using only the given names of her protagonists.  The psychology of each and every being we meet has been well considered.

The Daylight Gate is a dark novel, far darker than I expected it to be.  The entirety is beautifully written, the prose sparse when it needs to be, and decorated with lovely descriptions.  The novel made me feel a little uneasy at times, but some of the more gruesome instances throughout built up the book’s power to wonderful heights, making it both powerful and vivid.  I admire Winterson greatly for writing about such an important historical event and bringing it back into the contemporary consciousness in such a stunning way.

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

‘Witches: James I and the English Witch-Hunts’ by Tracy Borman ****

In September 1613, in Belvoir Castle in the north-eastern corner of Leicestershire, the heir of ‘one of England’s great noble families falls suddenly and dangerously ill.  Within a few short weeks he will suffer an excrutiating death’.  His entire family then succumb to the same ‘terrifying symptoms’, and the blame is soon pressed upon a local family of women, believed to be witches.  This case is the one which Tracy Borman has decided to focus upon in her newest book, Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts, and has aimed to bring to light ‘a conspiracy that has remained hidden for centuries’.

The widespread European ‘witch craze’ which Borman discusses within her introduction, took place between the 15th and 18th centuries.  She then sets out the often barbaric historical events which occurred during this period: in the south of Germany, for example, ’63 women were executed as witches between 1562 and 1563 for causing a violent hailstorm’.  Borman also muses upon the subject of what a witch is – a ‘deceptively simple question’, she believes – and the distinction between white (good) and black (bad) witches.

Borman writes of the way in which ‘suspected witches were believed to have caused many thousands of deaths, injuries and illnesses in England alone during the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  Little wonder that they were feared and reviled in equal measure’.  James I, who ruled England and Ireland between 1603 and 1625, was ‘one of the most famous witch hunters in history’, whose ‘personal crusade’ meant that thousands of women in both England and Scotland were murdered on suspicion of witchcraft.  Borman discusses the conditions which led to his fanaticism with regard to witches, and the ways in which he went about eradicating them.

Embroiled within this were the Manners family, who lived within Belvoir Castle.  Francis Manners, the sixth Earl of Rutland, believed that ‘wicked practice and sorcerye’ was to blame for the deaths of his two infant sons.  Their ‘alleged murderers’ were Joan Flower and her two daughters, Margaret and Phillipa, who have come to be known as ‘the witches of Belvoir’.  Borman believes that the case of the Belvoir witches has been overshadowed by the more notorious cases throughout history – that of the 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, for example.  She believes that the Belvoir trial is ‘one of the most extraordinary’ to take place during the entire seventeenth century, merely due to the ‘murderous conspiracy’ at its heart.

Witches has been split into fourteen chapters, some of which are relatively concise.  Borman has also included, as one would expect, an extensive section of notes and a thorough bibliography.  Throughout, she makes use of quotes from varied sources – those of the period, and the more contemporary introspectives which have been made into the history of witchcraft.  Borman takes into account the social standing of women at the time, and the way in which very few trial records were kept by councils across the country.  Throughout, she considers many points: the standard diet and the scarcity of food within Britain, the advent of the Plague, the tight-knit communities around the country, the nationwide growth of population, the high rates of unemployment, high death rates, superstition and how people were affected by religious change.  As well as focusing upon Britain, Borman constantly asserts the situation within the rest of Europe too.

Witches has been well received by critics, and it is easy to see why; Borman’s interesting and thorough account is really well written, and is both scholarly and easily accessible.  She has created a rich sense of history, and has put together her sources and own opinion incredibly well.

Purchase from The Book Depository

7

‘The Daylight Gate’ by Jeanette Winterson *****

Jeanette Winterson’s novels never fail to astound me.  Whilst I have most of her oeuvre yet to read, I have very much enjoyed every book of hers which I have read to date, from the heartbreakingly sad Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the quirky The Passion, to her distinct, unique and imaginative retelling of the story of Atlas and Heracles, Weight.  I wanted, therefore, to read The Daylight Gate ever since I first learnt of its publication, and was thrilled when I received a beautiful copy from my parents for Christmas.

I find the Lancashire Witch Trials absolutely fascinating (that kind of horrid which both repulses and interests me – much like the many books about the Holocaust which I tend to read), and I am so pleased that Winterson decided to turn her talented hands to writing a novel about them.

‘The Daylight Gate’ by Jeanette Winterson

Her newest offering is so atmospheric.  Winterson unfailing writes so well, and is a master at creating chills using just a simple sentence.  This was present from the outset in The Daylight Gate, and the consequent tension was marvellously built.  The undercurrents which are present in every work of her fiction are so well done here particularly, and she suggests and hints at many elements throughout without explicitly stating facts.  I love the way in which the reader is subsequently able to come up with their own interpretation at times in The Daylight Gate, almost putting their own stamp upon the novel.

The true history of the Trials is set out throughout the volume, and this gives the entirety a real sense of place and time.  Winterson is able to switch seamlessly from one narrative perspective to another, and shifts the focus between her characters accordingly.

The way in which Winterson uses the full names of her characters for the majority of the book works very well.  As each person whom she touches upon is a distinctive being in history, this technique reminds the reader continually that they were real, and it also serves to detach us emotionally from some of the crueller beings who were involved in the Trials.  Only in the more tender, emotional or pivotal situations throughout does Winterson revert to using only the given names of her protagonists.  The psychology of each and every being we meet has been well considered.

The Daylight Gate is a dark novel, far darker than I expected it to be.  The entirety is beautifully written, the prose sparse when it needs to be, and decorated with lovely descriptions.  The novel made me feel a little uneasy at times, but some of the more gruesome instances throughout built up the book’s power to wonderful heights, making it both powerful and vivid.  I admire Winterson greatly for writing about such an important historical event and bringing it back into the contemporary consciousness in such a stunning way.

Purchase from The Book Depository