Posted in Crime and Punishment

The persecution of witches: The King who believed in werewolves and influenced Shakespeare…

In 1597 a Royal pamphlet was published about werewolves, the classification of demons, witches and black magic. It explained and endorsed the reasons for persecuting witches in a Christian society under the rule of  law. It included methods of discovering witches and told the ‘misinformed populace’ of the practices, the implications and dangers of sorcery.

The dissertation was called, ‘Daemonologie’ and it was written by King James VI of Scotland. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots who later became James I of England after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603.

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Daemonologie (1597)

William Shakespeare used James’s book as a source for his Scottish play ‘Macbeth’. He used quotes and rituals found inside the book for his three witch characters ‘the weird sisters’.

James generally sought to justify witch trials in his work and encourage the punishments which he felt a practitioner of the dark arts merited. In James’s view, this meant death. He sought to prove the existence of witchcraft to other Christians through biblical teachings.

Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches in Shakespeare’s famous Scottish play

According to the British Library website the book: …includes ideas such as the witches’ vanishing/invisible flight, their raising of storms, dancing and chanting, sexual acts, their gruesome potion ingredients and the presence of animal familiars.

Suspected witches kneeling before King James; Daemonologie (1597)

Book one compares necromancy  (the prediction of the future by communicating with the dead) and witchcraft. He explains the use of charms, circles, astrology, conjurations and the Devil’s contract with man. Book two includes the path of a sorcerer’s apprenticeship and the curses and role of Satan. It explains the times and forms which devils appear. In the third book King James gives a description of all kinds of Spirits and Spectres that trouble humans and  their corpses.

Before this pamphlet was published persecution of witches in the British Isles was rare. As James succeeded the throne of England, as well as being King of his native Scotland, witch hunting became more prevalent and spread to the colonies.

Read the pamphlet here:



Sharpe, James (2001) Witchcraft in early modern England

King James. Daemonologie (2016) A Critical Edition. In Modern English.  

Hopkins, Matthew (1647). The Discovery of Witches.


I love Tudor history and my bookshelves seem to groan a bit more every year...

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