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Magic as a Political Crime in Medieval and Early Modern England: A History of Sorcery and Treason

Magic as a Political Crime in Medieval and Early Modern England: A History of Sorcery and Treason
Francis Young

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Treason and magic were first linked together during the reign of Edward II. Theories of occult conspiracy then regularly led to major political scandals, such as the trial of Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester in 1441. While accusations of magical treason against high-ranking figures were indeed a staple of late medieval English power politics, they acquired new significance at the Reformation when the 'superstition' embodied by magic came to be associated with proscribed Catholic belief. Francis Young here offers the first concerted historical analysis of allegations of the use of magic either to harm or kill the monarch, or else manipulate the course of political events in England, between the fourteenth century and the dawn of the Enlightenment. His book addresses a subject usually either passed over or elided with witchcraft: a quite different historical phenomenon. He argues that while charges of treasonable magic certainly were used to destroy reputations or to ensure the convictions of undesirables, magic was also perceived as a genuine threat by English governments into the Civil War era and beyond.

Author Info

Francis Young is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and gained a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He is the author and editor of seven previous books. These include English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829 (2013), The Gages of Hengrave and Suffolk Catholicism, 1640-1767 (2015), The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds: History, Legacy and Discovery (2016) and A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity (2016). He broadcasts regularly for the BBC on historical topics.


‘Francis Young’s new book is an accessible and wide-ranging narrative history of a fascinating subject: magical treason, its methods, practitioners and – supposedly – its “victims”. Atmospheric and engaging, it is notably well written.’ – Marion Gibson, Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures, University of Exeter

‘This volume makes an important contribution to the field and is a welcome counterbalance to the literature on witchcraft, which tends to view the history of magic simply as a road leading to the witch trials. It brings together the scattered literature on treasonous magic and convincingly demonstrates that magical threats interwoven with courtly politics and political intrigue were key elements in the shifting approaches to magic in early modern England.’ – Frank Klaassen, Associate Professor of History, University of Saskatchewan, author of The Transformations of Magic: Illicit Learned Magic in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance

‘While most histories of mediaeval and early modern magic have focused either on the theories and practices of magic, or on its troubled relationship with religious authority, Francis Young’s impressively argued and richly documented study offers a new area of investigation: the close links between moments of political instability, fears of sedition and treason and accusations of harmful magic. Young’s book will be warmly welcomed by all those who work on the social and cultural history of European magic and the history of ideas.’  - Stephen Clucas, Reader in Early Modern Intellectual History, Birkbeck, University of London

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.
Series: International Library of Historical Studies

ISBN: 9781788310215
Publication Date: 24 Oct 2017
Number of Pages: 256
Height: 216
Width: 138

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