The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition (Paperback)
  • The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition (Paperback)

The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition (Paperback)

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Paperback 352 Pages
Published: 07/09/2023
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"Fascinating and vivid." New Statesman

"Thoroughly researched." The Spectator

"Intriguing." BBC History Magazine

"Vividly told." BBC History Revealed

"A timely warning against persecution." Morning Star

"Astute and thoughtful." History Today

"An important work." All About History

"Well-researched." The Tablet

On the morning of Thursday 29 June 1682, a magpie came rasping, rapping and tapping at the window of a prosperous Devon merchant. Frightened by its appearance, his servants and members of his family had, within a matter of hours, convinced themselves that the bird was an emissary of the devil sent by witches to destroy the fabric of their lives. As the result of these allegations, three women of Bideford came to be forever defined as witches. A Secretary of State brushed aside their case and condemned them to the gallows; to hang as the last group of women to be executed in England for the crime. Yet, the hatred of their neighbours endured. For Bideford, it was said, was a place of witches.

Though ‘pretty much worn away’ the belief in witchcraft still lingered on for more than a century after their deaths. In turn, ignored, reviled, and extinguished but never more than half-forgotten, it seems that the memory of these three women - and of their deeds and sufferings, both real and imagined – was transformed from canker to regret, and from regret into celebration in our own age. Indeed, their example was cited during the final Parliamentary debates, in 1951, that saw the last of the witchcraft acts repealed, and their names were chanted, as both inspiration and incantation, by the women beyond the wire at Greenham Common.

In this book, John Callow explores this remarkable reversal of fate, and the remarkable tale of the Bideford Witches.

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 9781350387126
Number of pages: 352
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm


Callow’s intriguing book is both a case study of the Bideford witch trail and an examination of how superstition prevailed in a time of increasing rationality… Callow’s fascinating and vivid unpicking of the English Salem is also an account of the birth pangs of the modern age. - Michael Prodger, New Statesman

Callow examines in detail the surviving evidence of the Bideford case, while also imaginatively reconstructing events to create a convincing picture of how superstition and belief in sorcery lay just beneath the surface of a mercantile society struggling to be born. - Nigel Jones, The Spectator

One 17th-century pamphlet about the Bideford trial promised "many Wonderful Things, worth your Reading"; a line that could justifiably be slapped across the cover of [The Last Witches of England]. - Tristram Saunders, The Telegraph Culture

A retelling of a 17th-century witchcraft trial that never loses sight of the women at its heart, nor the social and economic factors that contributed to their plight… There is no plain explanation for the witchcraft accusations of 1682, but then acts of evil never have a simple origin. The Last Witches of England faces that fact and marshals an intriguing story around new research on the case. - Marion Gibson, BBC History Magazine

Carrow meticulously explores the haunting tale of the Bideford witches. - Suzannah Lipscomb, UnHerd

An elegantly presented, well illustrated and readable book on how class conflict played out through witch hunting… A timely warning against persecution and intolerance. - The Morning Star

In The Last Witches of England John Callow painstakingly reconstructs the lines of three beggar women accused of witchcraft in Bideford, Devon in 1632 by trawling administrate records, parish registers and dole lists. It is a remarkable piece of scholarship…astute and thoughtful. - History Today

Vividly told, detailed and extremely moving. - BBC History Revealed

The Last Witches of England is an important work of social history that presents valuable insights into the workings of life, death, and belief in a cosmopolitan 17th-century town. - All About History

A well-researched and even-handed account of this landmark case, giving pen portraits of all the major players, and providing a comprehensive picture of life in seventeenth-century Britain. - Chris Nancollas, The Tablet

[Written] with flair and colour… Excellent local studies such as [this] bring[s] us closer to understanding the reality of witchcraft beliefs and accusations in the early modern English world than we have ever seen before. - Ronald Hutton, Fortean Times

I rarely feel deeply moved by academic publications but John Callow’s exploration of the ‘Bideford Witches’ had a profound effect on me… Callow’s work invites the reader to bear witness to the persecution of the poor and the marginalised… Callow’s work adds considerable weight to a strong moral argument. - Julie Ward, Chartist

This riveting read is important albeit uncomfortable. In this book, Callow has allowed readers to look at their shared past unflinchingly so that we may go into a less tragic future. - Hilary Wilson, The Folklore Podcast

A marvellous overview of not only the fate of three women but also of Bideford which was an important port in the 17th Century... with an in depth study of the social and political conditions surrounding the fate of ‘The last witches’ is extremely valuable for those who are interested in the historical background to Wicca, but also for understanding the recent interest in Witchcraft as a political tool. - Wiccan Rede

The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition offers a thoroughly engaging account of the lives and afterlives of Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards, and Mary Trembles, three women who were executed for witchcraft in 1682. It is a well-told narrative that will be of interest to scholars of witchcraft, as well as those working more broadly in early modern British social history - Canadian Journal of History / Annales Canadiennes d'Histoire

[Callow] brings to the Bideford episode a nuanced sense of how witches’ supposed powers were understood and experienced at different levels of early modern society. - Inside Higher Ed

The Bideford witches' story is an essential piece in England's witchcraft history. Callow has researched it properly and deeply for the first time, and his astonishing discoveries shed new light on this tragic and bizarre story. He draws the reader into the story, retelling it with vibrant characterisation. We come away with a thoughtful understanding of what it meant to be deemed a witch, tried as a witch, and to die as a witch. - Dr. Christina Oakley Harrington, Founder & Director, Treadwell's, UK

I read the book with considerable interest and enjoyment - others have written on the Bideford witches, but not in this sort of depth. John Callow has been remarkably successful in reconstructing the story of the three 'Bideford Witches' executed in 1682. He maintains an imaginative and accessible narrative grounded in the relevant documentation and the relevant historical context, which will immerse the modern reader in the tragedies and complexities of the early modern witch hunts. - James Sharpe, Professor Emeritus of Early Modern History, University of York, UK

This is a stirring and multilayered book. At its heart is a very sad story, but one that needs to be heard. The cautionary tale Callow spins here is not the war between superstition and reason, but in the ways in which we have historically vilified and marginalized those in poverty, especially women, and the lengths we go to in silencing their voices. - Dr Amy Hale, Anthropologist and Folklorist, writer of Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, USA

With 17th Century culture wars, conspiracy theories and non-science, it wasn’t just the people who spread deadly superstition. Political, religious, media, scientific and even legal establishments literally demonised vulnerable women. John Callow’s meticulous and gripping history of the Bideford Witches is unputdownable. - Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Politician, Barrister and Human Rights Activist, UK

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“An excellent read, recommended”

I always find hard to read about witch hunt and the women who were victim of that crazyness.
This is a well researched, engrossing and well written historical book that makes you understand what happened and what were... More

Hardback edition
Helpful? Upvote 5
Kid Ferrous

“A vivid account of a terrible chapter of British history”

“The Last Witches of England” paints a vivid picture of the climate of superstition that led to three unfortunate women in 17th century Bideford to be condemned as witches, seemingly due only to their poverty in a... More

Hardback edition
Helpful? Upvote 4

“A detailed study of the Bideford Witches”

Fascinating and detailed look into the people, places and events that took place around the time that the last 'witches' in England were hung.
This is a great in depth study that will never make you look at... More

Hardback edition
Helpful? Upvote 3

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