The Windsor Witches

Speaker: Helen Parish

Tue, 4 Jun 2024

About the lecture:

‘Leude, malitious, and hurtfull’: the witches of Windsor and the representation of witchcraft in early modern England.

In February 1579, four women from Windsor were found guilty of witchcraft in the Abingdon Assizes.

The events that brought them to trial are outlined in detail in two contemporary printed pamphlets, from which we can glean insights into the events that led up to the trial, and the culture of belief that provided the context in which anxiety about witchcraft could flourish. Evidence is presented of harmful magic, animal familiars, shapeshifting, and diabolical tyranny, forming a complex picture of witchcraft as it was conceived in this period.

We will start by exploring the content of these pamphlets, and consider the polemical force of these printed narratives and the story that their authors sought to tell. Witchcraft was in many respects an imagined crime, but it was one that was informed by the society and environment inhabited by the accused, the intersection of occult knowledge and demonic magic, the characterisation of the female witch, and the political and theological context which provided the backdrop to the story and fate of the Windsor witches.

Our lecturer: Helen Parish


Helen Parish is a Visiting Professor in History at the University of Reading, and Senior Tutor at Worcester College, Oxford.

Her research and teaching explore the history of belief, broadly understood, in the late medieval and early modern period, particularly the history of the European Reformations, church and clergy, as well as ideas about magic, witchcraft and the supernatural, and the connections between religion and natural history.

Published work includes book-length studies of clerical celibacy and marriage, debates over miracle and magic during the English Reformation, and a recent textbook on the history of the Reformation in Europe. More recent work has focused on the intersection of the natural and the supernatural in late medieval and early modern Europe, including an article on witches and familiars which draws heavily upon the accusations made against the Windsor witches.

She has written several short articles for The Conversation and makes regular guest appearances on BBC local radio discussing the history of customs and practices associated with religious festivals and the calendar.