Thursday, 28 July 2016

ACCUSED: British Witches Throughout History by Willow Winsham

5 GOLD stars

Non-fiction: British witches throughout history

On Amazon UK (published on July 30) HERE
On (not available until Nov 2) HERE
On Goodreads HERE

This an incredibly well researched and cleverly put together book, and fascinating with it.  Accused is a series of studies of just a few of the witches of our history, each one explored in great depth, giving details not only of the accusations levelled against the so-called sorceress in question but also her life.  Each paints the picture of the woman and the time in which she lived, providing insight into the social structure of the time (such as how a woman might be demoted from the title 'Mistress' to that of 'Goodwife'), the effects of economic instablity, fears of divine retribution ~ and, sadly, how easily events could be manipulated by those higher up the social strata for their own benefit, as in the case of Joan Flowers.  She was accused of causing the deaths of the two heirs to the title Earl of Rutland, but others suggest that the deaths were caused by the man who sought the hand in marriage of their sister, who would, thus, bring the lands with her as a dowry if her brothers were no more.

Willow Winsham talks of the swimming of witches, the ducking stools, the rarity of burning in this country, and of corsned, something I hadn't heard of before, which involved the 'witch' eating consecrated bread to see if she could swallow it.  Then there is Isobel Gowdie and her Scottish coven, the case of Welsh witch Gwen fetch Ellis, and possibly the most well-known English witch, Jane Wenham.  

The book moves into the 18th century, when belief in witchcraft itself was outlawed, leading to more support for anyone, like Susannah Sellick, who was accused ... and then to the case of spiritualist Helen Duncan, in 1944, who strikes me as being little more than a charlatan aiming to make money from people who had lost loved ones in the war.  However, one thing I noticed about this books is that, to a certain extent, Ms Winsham leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind as to whether or not certain whisperings of the supernatural kind might have been present at any one time.  I liked that.

I read the hardback edition of this book, which is definitely worth getting.  The middle includes many pictures of the locations mentioned, of the indictments of the witches of hundreds of years ago, and the art and literature of the time based on the belief of the existence of witches.  Finally, the author suggests that in these modern times, other groups of people have risen to be victimised in the place of the witch, people who, in the eyes of the common man, threaten 'to consume all that is held dear'.  In other words, nothing changes....

A stunning and admirable piece of work, highly recommended.

I received a review copy of this book from the publishers, Pen and Sword books, the receipt of which has not influenced my assessment.


  1. Fascinating topic, Terry, particularly to someone who grew up not far from Salem. Good review and quite enticing!