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Withes, Books & Spells

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

As a history nerd, there is one piece of history that I'm really keen to learn more about. I've only read a small mix of non-fic and historical fic books on witch trials. This was a period, most notable in the 17th century across England but also spread to the New World. I thought I would share the titles I've read and gradually grow this book rec page for those bookworms who are also interested in the topic.

Furthermore, if you have any book recommendations, do let me know!

The Ruin of All Witches - Life and Death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill

In the remote Massachusetts plantation of Springfield in 1651, strange things begin to happen. Children die suddenly. Valuable food spoils. There are whispers of witchcraft at play. People came over to the New World for a fresh start but it seems disaster and superstition have followed them across the Atlantic.

Gaskill unpicks this little pocket of history to tell the story of the inhabitants of Springfield. In particular, he explores the rumours around the mysterious Hugh Parsons and his wife, Mary. This is the first and only book I've read that explores the witch trials in what became to be the United States.

The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore

England, 1643. The women of Manningtree are very much left to their own devices. The town is depleted of men due to the ongoing conflicts across the country. A fever of Puritanism has engulfed the country.

Rebecca West has little to entertain herself within Manningtree apart from her occasional encounters with the young John Edes. Everything changes with the arrival of Matthew Hopkins. He begins poking individuals, asking uncomfortable questions about covens and the women who prefer to keep to themselves. Being a withdrawn woman can arise suspicion and bring forth uncomfortable questions. In this historical fiction, Blakemore unravels the consequences of hysteria and superstition in a small country town.

Witches - James I and the English Witch Hunts by Tracy Borman

Belvoir Castle has its special history with the English witch craze. The Earl of Rutland had to endure the sudden death of his heir. But shortly after, more of his children fall ill and die.

There can only be one explanation: witches.

By examining the Belvoir case, Borman illustrates the grim reality of the witch hunts that plagued England from the 15th to 18th century. Suspects were tortured, hanged and burned from the smallest of accusations or coincidences. This is an incredibly fascinating read and helpful introduction to the history of the English witch trials.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

A fresh change from the witch trials in England and America, this historical fiction explores a Norwegian coastal village in the 1600s.

Maren Bergensdatter lives in Finnmark, Norway in 1617. On one horrific night, forty of the villages' men die at sea. Three years later, Absalom Cornet arrives from Scotland where he oversaw the persecution of witches in the northern Isles. He brings his new young wife, Ursa to the coastal village. Ursa and Maren are drawn to one another. This book is inspired by the real events of the Vardø Storm along with the 1620s witch trials.

Hellish Nell - The Curious Case of Britain's Last Witch Trial by Malcolm Gaskill

Do you know roughly when the last person in England was convicted of witchcraft? You'd be forgiven for thinking the late eighteenth century. In reality, the last time someone was convicted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act was in 1944!

Yes, whilst Britain was consumed in the horrors of the Second World War, Helen Duncan was charged, prosecuted, and imprisoned for witchcraft. Gaskill takes us through Helen's story; her childhood and her background, and how an eighteenth-century piece of legislation was used against her.

A very informative and fascinating read - worth adding to your TBR pile.

Hopefully, this list will grow over time! If you want to follow my current reads, you can find my GoodReads here

If you like my book recommendations, I have an online bookshop with more detailed lists of different genres from feminism, my favourite page-turners, to Greek Mythology. All the commissions from this bookshop will be redirected.

All photographs are from my Instagram @readwithmims & @jemima_reads

Happy Reading!

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