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WITCHCRAFT IN EARLY MODERN SCOTLAND - James VI's Demonology and the North Berwick Witches

By Lawrence Normand and Gareth Roberts, published by Exeter University Press at £16.99. 454pp. ISBN: 0-85989-388-X. (Reviewed by Brian Hoggard)

This book is an incredibly thorough case-study of the North Berwick witch-trials of 1590/1. This witchcraft trial was comprehensively documented at the time as it was the focus of royal attention in the shape of James VI of Scotland and his Privy Council - so here we have much more detail than is usual in witchcraft trials (as was the case in James Sharpe's excellent study of the case of Anne Gunter - reviewed WD issue 27). This large quantity of documentary evidence is fully utilised by Normand and Roberts who are both clearly very experienced historians. Not only is this evidence well used however, but much of it is published as appendices in the book making this book the best possible kind of resource for anyone interested in this case or Scottish witchcraft history in general.

The book takes witchcraft trial depositions and James I's (VI of Scotland) treatise on witchcraft, Demonology, and discusses them within the context of every other relevant influence at the time. The influences covered include religion - which was obviously going through many changes at this time, popular culture and beliefs, changes and differences in law between Scotland and England and elite ideas. The investigative work which went into the book to test the claims made against witches is first-rate and here you will find probably the best published analysis of the case of the North Berwick witches in existence. The actual documents published in this book are also a joy to read and make it absolutely clear from where the authors generated their conclusions.

The analysis of James I's Demonology reveals much about it's author and a great deal about elite ideas concerning witchcraft at this time. The chapters here give us a greater understanding of James' ideology and how it came to be - providing us with a much fairer picture of James than is usually presented.

If you have an interest in witchcraft in Scotland at all then this book is definitely worth purchasing despite it's very narrow focus on this short period of time. For a broader view of Scottish witchcraft history Christina Larner's book about witchcraft in Scotland is very well worth buying (a modern classic) - but for the fly on the wall documentary this book by Normand and Roberts is it! Despite the narrow focus of this book it should be pointed out that much of the information in it is so well explained and the research so meticulous that it has relevance far beyond its stated period. The fine analysis of James' Demonology is particularly useful for any witchcraft history student as the book's influence went far beyond the time of its writing. In conclusion: a great book written well and with fascinating documents and context!