For my gobbet I will be analysing on of the witch trials held at Bury St. Edmunds. This particular case involves the accused "Amy Duny" being trailed for bewitching Elizabeth who dies and William Durret recovers from his brush with the accused. The name of the author of this works has not been divulged which causes problems as we do not know the authors identification that could effect, most probably, his interpretation, like his position in society and religious beliefs and finical status.
However we are able to derive aspects about the writer from the script, like the fact that he is an educated man and his personal interest in aspects of the hunts. The date of this text is 1665, in the reign of King Charles ? and is third hand peace of evidence. The author of this was not present at the witch trials, and is basing their analysis on the notes taken from the trials. However it is debatable how long the trial note had been in the hands of the author before the text was written. This may have an effect on the motives and interpretation of the author.
The language used in the piece of text is modern English and does not prove to produce many obstacles for the historian. The only layer that may cause some issues is the word order in comparison to modern day language. This text was created with the intent to inform and to an extent, question the witch trials. This can be seen when the author addresses his target audience of "very learned men" and refers to it being "fit to be published; especially in these times". I believe that the author is trying to raise awareness among the educated elite to the question the witch trials.
He is recognising that the text may not appeal to the masses, who would have been very much taken away by the torrent of trials fulfilling their need to blame, their fear of the unknown and providing them with scapegoats and thus not wanting to question the witch trials. "… especially this being held before a judge , whom for his integrity, learning and law, hardly any age either or since could parallel. " He is recognising that a great many of the common peoples of Briton may be excluded for the topic of discussion, as they are not familiar with the legal jargon of the courts.
However, literacy levels in 1665 were on the increase and printing and publishing was becoming more and more popular with pamphlets and works being produced popularly, thus the author's target audience, however educated, would be relatively large. In 1665 the great bubonic plague was affecting large parts of Britain. With Bury St. Edmunds being a mere 120 kilometres away from London, the epicentre of the Black Death, a mass hysteria and paranoia would have already descended upon the county of Suffolk.
Witchcraft thrived in areas effected by paranoia and natural disasters, such as bad harvests where the peasantry were looking for a scapegoat, or when they try to rationalise the irrational. This rationalisation of the irrational can be seen in what seems may very well be latter fabrications to better the prosecuting case. For example the idea that the "said Amy" had previous "had undergone a reputation as a witch" may well have been a lie conjured up by the prosecutor to aid her case. Historical content.
It is stated that ; "the trial of witches hath lain a long time in a private gentleman's hands in the country , it being given to him by the person that took it in the court for his own satisfaction; but it came lately to my hands… ", Which raises several issues regarding the script. It could be argued that this was not a legal document, much like a early day equivalent for the minutes taken in meeting and court hearings today, as it appears it was originally recorded by some one for "his own satisfaction".
This may further the reliability of the text, already taking into consideration that is a third hand piece of information, the fact that it could well be a third hard piece of evidence based on an piece of interpretive text. Additionally this quote shows us that at this time the landowners were part of the judiciary system and therefore had a high level of responsibility of the people of the town stead. Not before highlighting the point that the author was not involved in the trials.
Although this may prove to further us some what from the truth it may also help us to understand the thinking of the time as the author now posses the power of hind sight, has no emotional connections to the trial allowing the author the ability to subjective in his works. Furthermore the amount of that time that the documents were kept for may have an effect on the interpretation at the time. The power of women and paranoia of the opposite sex were relevant throughout the witch-hunt period, with what can be interpreted as a patriarchal paranoid and power hungry take over of society.
This argument momentarily raises its head in this text where the accused is asked if "it were with her according to the customs of women? ". It could be argued that the court was checking that Dorothy Durrent had been through the menopause, which would signify her entering old age, which would explain the "lameness in both legs". It is my opinion that the court are verifying that it was the bewitching of Dorothy by Amy is not due to her being in a pre menopausal state, as it is stated that after Amy was found guilty, Dorothy was free of the aliments in her legs.
In conclusion to this analysis I have come to the decision that this text helps us understand the technical process of the witch trials at the is time. I believe that this source is extremely useful as the author shows no personal prejudice and seems to hold no bias on any of the trial, due to his complete emotional detachment from the events and his hindsight. To gain a greater understanding of the witch trials and society at the time it is useful to look at actual examples from the period and this piece of evidence provides us with characters to familiarise with and a turn of events, aiding us greatly in the understanding.