From broom to book: the social life of scot’s “on the discoverie of witches”

By Sarah Thompson & Olivia Varty

Image result for witches 16th century

The Social life history of Scot’s “On the Discoverie of Witches”  is complicated, to say the least. What began its life as one man’s reasoning and skepticism of the legitimacy of the witch problem, can in 2019 be read as a rare book, both in print and ideology. Also,it is an example of proto-feminism, as Scot argues it is mainly women, especially poor women, who are accused, as they do not hold power in society.

The book was scathed by King James VI of Scotland (who was obsessed with finding witches, even writing his own famous book Daemonolgie and having Macbeth tailored to his odd hobby), meaning it was not reprinted and circulated so much in the late-Stuart era. However, the copy we viewed at the Philip Robinson Special Collections still remains, and as we viewed, heavily annotated in both Latin and English. There are frequent references to religion, both throughout Scot’s original text and within these mysterious, inked scribblings. We discussed in Dr. De Rycker’s lecture, the significance of marginalia and annotations as Renaissance paratexts, how they reveal to us what Early Modern readers were thinking when they first read the book, and which parts were of importance to them. The illustrations of Scot’s book seem crude to a modern reader, but physically in this copy are some of the most fragile, suggesting they have endured wear-and-tear from eager scholars fascinated by the “tricks” and theatrical mechanisms used by supposed “witches”.

The 1584 printing of The Discoverie of Witchcraft is particularly fascinating as the information surrounding the paratext of the work is excluded from this printed version. Instead, we are provided with the provenance of the copy, which it is shown to have been placed under the ownership of the historian Robert White. It was not until 1942 that the copy was donated to King’s College the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne by Amy Potts. Although the identities of the printers are absent from the copy, we used the ESTC and the ODNB to uncover more information regarding the work’s imprinting. The copy was published by Henry Denham in 1984 for William Brome in London. This information is crucial for establishing the authenticity of The Discoverie of Witchcraft, as the printers have control over the final text. It is important to note that Henry Denham was responsible for the publishing of various religious texts from 1563-1587.

One thought on “From broom to book: the social life of scot’s “on the discoverie of witches””

  1. Your interest in the topic is clear, and you provide a nice introduction not only to the topic but also to the provenance of the particular copy that our library owns, and demonstrate how you used the ODNB and ESTC to fill in additional information about the publisher and printer of this book, and e.g. that Denham also published religious books: do you think that was why Scot chose him as his publisher? I’d have liked to have seen a bit more detail to illustrate some of the other points you’re making, e.g. the marginalia: could you make out any of it? What about the signature on the title-page, which shows an even earlier owner?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *