Discoverie of witchcraft: wherein the lewde dealing of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected.…

Born about 1538, Reginald Scot entered Hart Hall (Hertford College) at the age of 17, studied law but left Oxford without a degree, and lived the remainder of his life as a country gentleman. Scot managed inherited property, likely served as a justice of peace, and handled affairs for his uncle, Sir Thomas Scot, who encouraged his studies. His uncle is one of the gentlemen to whom Scot dedicated Discoverie of Witchcraft.

In 1581, Scot participated in the trial of Margaret Symons, who was found not guilty of witchcraft. That experience and the trial and execution of the thirteen supposed witches of S. Osyth’s prompted Scot to write Discoverie of Witchcraft, which denounced belief in witches and their supernatural powers. One sort of said-to-be witches “are women which be commonly old, lame, bleare-eied, pale, fowle, and full of wrinkles; poore, sullen, superstitious, and papists.” Another sort are “absolutelie cooseners” that “take upon them, either for glorie, fame, or gaine, to doo anie thing, which God or the divell can doo.” Scot took pity on the former and exposed the tricks of the latter.

Scot’s skepticism was based on common sense and religious arguments. In his comprehensive study of witchcraft—to include astrology, alchemy, conjury, and divination—he cites 224 “forren authors” and 23 English sources. Scot debunked witchmongers, concluding that “he that attributeth to a witch, such a divine power, as dulie and onelie apperteineth unto GOD (which all witchmongers doo) is in hart a blasphemer, an idolater, and full of grosse impietie.” With the help of a French magician, John Cautares, Scot wrote sections on conjury, which demonstrated (including a few illustrations) that illusions were the work of skilled performers and not the devil. The information was reused in essentially all 17th– and 18th-century books on magic tricks.

King James VI of Scotland believed that he was the target of a witches’ plot in 1590–1 and published his treatise Daemonologie (1597) in Edinburgh. He identified Scot as a heretic in the preface and set out to refute his “damnable opinions.” As King James of Great Britain, he enacted even stricter laws against witchcraft, and two London editions of Daemonologie were published in 1603. Allegedly copies of Scot’s book were ordered to be burned. The present copy is a survivor, perhaps because most of the preface pages and all of the index materials at the end had been removed (now replaced in facsimile).  

Chrzanowski 1584s *

STC 21864

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675