The discoverie of witchcraft,
Wherein the lewde dealings of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected...
London, [Henry Denham for] William Brome, 1584
The discoverie went well beyond even the arguments made in Johann Weyer's earlier De praestigiis damonum (1566) to refute the foundation for the belief in witches. Chiefly Scot maintained that all those who had been executed so far in England were innocent, attributing manifestations of supposed witchcraft to imposture and cheap tricks. Books 13 and 14 are largely given oven to an exposÃ© of these illusions and cozening devices. Scot also asserted that none of the terms translated in the Bible as 'witch' held that meaning in the original tongue, undermining the key justification for the prosecution of witchcraft as a crime against God.
In demonstrating that belief in witchcraft and magic has no basis in religious or rational thought, Scot listed 212 authors of Latin works and 23 authors in English, including Thomas More, John Bale, and John Foxe, who informed his attack on 'witchmongers', those who sought 'to pursue the poore, to accuse the simple, and to kill the innocent.' Instead he explains the phenomenon as resulting from sociological causes: poor women, often lying-in maids, blamed for the deaths of infants under their care. A remarkably modern assessment which chimes with current academic thinking. 'As far as Scot was concerned, those who confessed to being witches were either deluded or the victims of torture, while much of what Bodin had taken to be evidence for the existence of witchcraft in different eras and diverse cultures, Scot was prepared to dismiss as mere fable and fiction' (ODNB).
The work however proved controversial, and was not licensed by the Stationers Company, likely because it attacked an officially recognised belief. According to Norman, Scot's views did have some positive effects, yet many responded in vigorous defence of the old superstitions. Among Scot's detractors was James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) who described Scot's opinions as 'damnable' and supposedly ordered the text to be burned upon his accession to the English throne â although this claim is now disputed. It is certainly the case that the King lambasted Scot in his Daemonologie (1597) as 'an Englishman, who is not ashamed in publike print to denie that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft'.
It is also widely believed that Shakespeare was familiar with this work â the witches in Macbeth, the mock trial of King Lear, and magical elements in A Midsummer Night's Dream are all thought to derive in part from Scot's writing.
First edition; 4to (19.5 x 13.3 cm); black letter, with some Roman and italic, woodcut headpiece to title, woodcut illustrations, including 4 full-page on *1-2, large woodcut floral and historiated initials and other ornaments, title washed and repaired at head with some loss to ornament, some marginal repairs (not affecting text), minor worming to margins, repaired tears to E3 and H2-3 without loss, lightly washed; early-19th-century brown crushed morocco, arms gilt-stamped to covers within panel triple-ruled in gilt with corner flourishes, spine gilt with 5 raised bands, inner dentelles gilt, all edges gilt, slightly rubbed; , 352, , 353-360, pp; collation: A8 B6 C-V8 Aa-Dd8 *2 Ee-Ss8.
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