To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
‘Strange creatures, not like other men and women’ is how one Welsh Quaker described the contemporary response to his coreligionists. Mary Penington, an early Quaker convert, agreed: ‘to every class we were a by-word: they would wag the head at us, accounting us fools, mad, and bewitched [and] as such they stoned, abused and imprisoned us’. The rich literature of Quaker sufferings attests to the almost universal fear and hatred which first greeted their appearance on the stage of interregnum England. It is also an invaluable source for one particular accusation that was levelled at the Quakers with inordinate frequency, that of using diabolical witchcraft to promote the new heresy and subvert the established order. Historians of Quakerism have often noted this trend. More recently, Barry Reay has attempted to place such accusations within the wider framework of the perceived threat posed by the sect to social, religious and political order in mid-seventeenth-century Britain. Somewhat surprisingly however, historians of witchcraft have been slower to fasten on to the potential significance and meaning of this large body of evidence. In what follows, I hope to rectify this omission and to suggest possible ways in which the evidence of Quaker witchcraft might be used to shed important light on the history of educated belief in demonology in the second half of the seventeenth century. In particular, I wish to show its potential relevance to what Keith Thomas, in his pioneering work on witchcraft, has termed ‘the most baffling aspect of this difficult subject’, namely the roots of educated scepticism.
The first major critique of orthodox medical practice in England was composed as early as 1585 by the Paracelsian, Richard Bostocke, yet no attempt to implement a programme of medical reform took place until the 1650s – the years of the so-called ‘puritan revolution’. Not surprisingly, many historians have for some time assumed that the well-documented opposition to medical orthodoxy in the middle decades of the seventeenth century must have been related to some extent to the political and religious upheavals of these years. In particular, it has become widely accepted that the beliefs and values associated with the puritan movement were largely responsible for the promotion of reform, not just in medicine and natural science, but in all aspects of early modern English society. In the words of R.F. Jones, ‘the Puritans were out to reform not only Church and State in their narrow connotations, but almost everything else’.
Since Jones's statement, the ‘puritanism–science hypothesis’ has undergone numerous refinements and, in the process, attracted large numbers of adherents. In particular, the work of Christopher Hill has established beyond reasonable doubt the vogue for new attitudes to science and medicine in revolutionary England, and in 1975 Charles Webster published what is certainly the most thorough and persuasive account to date of the ‘puritanism–science’ connection in The Great Instauration.