Series 2012 - The King's War On Witches: Revealed

The King's War on Witches

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In the late 16th century Europe was in the grip of a ferocious witch hunt, where thousands were tortured and burnt at the stake. The church was fully behind this terrifying crusade against the imaginary enemies of Christianity. In France and Germany alone up to 40,000 people may have been killed as witches. But England and Scotland were almost untouched by witch persecutions until King James himself decided to launch his own, personal war on witchcraft.

In 1597 King James VI of Scotland published 'Daemonology', a handbook on how to recognise and destroy, witches. The book explored the threat that 'those Detestable slaves of the Devil', posed to James himself. It fuelled waves of witch hunting throughout Britain.

The legacy of James' 'Daemonology' continued throughout the 17th century, and led to the torture and execution of hundreds of women in a series of infamous witch trials. No-one knows exactly how many men and women died in these trials, such as the Pendle trial of 1612, or how many others were killed in cases that never came to court. The documentary reveals the purges in many areas of Britain drew directly on King James' book. Also for the first time, remarkable new archaeological evidence from Cornwall, suggests that witchcraft was actively practiced for centuries, even during the most intense periods of witch-hunting. Experimental archaeologist Jacqui Wood has excavated strange pits lined with swan's feathers, and filled with animal skins and human remains. She believes the pits were ritual offerings inspired by witchcraft beliefs.

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