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King James I - Witch Hunter

When King James of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England in 1603 he introduced even harsher statutes against those practising witchcraft. His act of 1604 made it a capital offence "to consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil and wicked spirit, or to utter spells." It meant that keeping a dog or cat could have serious consequences if you were suspected of witchcraft.

But even those not keeping an animal could still be found guilty of a similar offence. The judges might find a bee or a fly in the house, which they would consider as the Devil's agent.

King James was both fascinated and terrified of witchcraft. When King of Scotland, he was convinced that witches had gone to sea in sieves and raised a storm to wreck his ship as he sailed to Norway for his bride. He personally supervised the interrogation of some of the accused women of North Berwick and this experience led James to write his book Daemonology which was published in Edinburgh in 1597.

In Daemonology he explained techniques to finding evidence of witchcraft which he described as "a treason against God". One technique was swimming suspected witches.

This was the King's theory:
"So it appears that God hath appointed, for a supernatural sign of the monstrous impiety of the witches, that the water shall refuse to receive them in her bosom, that have shaken off them the sacred water of baptism."

Anyone sinking into the water was absolved of the crime of witchcraft., but was likely to drown; anyone floating would be considered a proven witch.

Another technique the King recommended for discovering witches was to find a devil's mark on the suspect's body. It was thought the devil sealed his compact with witches by giving them a mark of identification on the body which today would simply be seen as a scar or birthmark. In the 1600's, such marks were considered the sure sign of a witch.



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