12 May 2018



Witches looked and sounded like everyone else, so how could they be detected? This is the first history of the careers of those who believed they were able to identify a witch during the Renaissance - the great age of witch hunting.

Witch hunters were often respectable members of the community. Priest to judge, doctor to fraud, Peter Maxwell-Stuart charts the claims of these driven zealots, and provides an insight into the world which they perceived as evil and sought to expose. Whether the accused had tried to kill or cure by magic made little difference. It was all witchcraft.

From Pierre de Lancre, responsible for the burning of at least 600 suspected witches, to John Kincaid, professional pricker, the fascinating lives of these individuals are intimately explored.
- Inner Front Cover Blurb

Identifying a witch is not easy.
- First Sentence, Introduction

He then began to vomit. The objects taken from his mouth included the flap from a shepherd's breeches, flintstones, little balls of thread, long strands of hair, needles, strips of cloth and a peacock's feather. William blamed an unknown woman he had met by chance one day. She breathed on his face, he said, and thence came his demonic illness.
- Page 84/5, Patrick Morton: The Problem Of Demonic Possession.

SOURCE ... A charity shop buy.


  • Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018; 5 of 12 books.

MY THOUGHTS ... Unlike many of the other books I've come across on this subject this concentrates not on Salem (though there is mention of it) so much as on incidents from across England and Scotland with a smattering from Europe.

Introducing six infamous individuals (Martin Del Rio, Pierre de Lancre, Battista Codronchi, Patrick Morton, John Kincaid and Elizabeth Jameson), chapter by chapter, individual by individual, the author touches on various topics including 'the problems of demonic possession' and 'implicating one's neighbours'.

What is essentially an interesting book. I may well have even rated it as more than OK if it wasn't for the fact that alas I found the writing stilted; as if, well, as if written for one of his lectures (the author is a history professor with what I believe is a special interest in this subject) which, don't get me wrong, delivered as a lecture (with perhaps some slides and maybe some 'audience' interaction), I think I'd have found it fascinating but, as it was, I found reading it a bit of a chore.


Kelly said...

My first thought was "how fascinating!" until I read your comments. Still... I won't write it off since I honestly don't mind history/non-fiction being a little dry - especially on an interesting topic.

Brian Joseph said...

As I may recall I have read several books on witch persecutions fairly recently. I also tried to read beyond Salem.

When it comes to history books, a dry, lecture like style is somewhat common. A few rise above this.

Literary Feline said...

That is too bad about the writing style as I am intrigued by the subject matter. I would love to know more about these people.

nightwingsraven said...

I am sorty that the writing
style made the book such a
chore for you. Even though
keeping in mind your criticism.
I would perhaps consider to add
the book to my list.

Suko said...

Tracy, thanks for sharing your honest thoughts about this book. The subject does sound awful and fascinating though: witch hunters during the Renaissance.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I don't think I've read much about witch hunts in places other than Salem...how interesting!! Sorry the book was a bit dry to read though.


Melliane said...

even if it's interesting if it felt a bit like a chore it's not a really good thing...

Sherry Ellis said...

Too bad it was written like a lecture. It would have been fascinating if it had read more like a story. Thanks for the review.

Natasha said...

I love this kind of thing, but like you I think I'd probably enjoy it more as a lecture as I can imagine there's a lot to take in, but I'll definitely have to keep an eye out for it - so fascinated by this topic! - Tasha

Gina R said...

You're right...a lot of books on this topic are centered around Salem, so it was refreshing to hear this author used another setting....but yeah, the lecture to book translation situation doesn't always sort itself out. Sometimes it needs the give and take to make it flow properly. Great post!