Sunday, August 29, 2010

Question from Aoife - Other queens suspected of witchcraft

I've read that Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Woodville were suspected of witchcraft. Were any other queens of England suspected of this? Or was this just Tudor queens?


Susan Higginbotham said...

Joan of Navarre, Henry IV's queen, was accused of witchcraft following her husband's death. She was never brought to trial, but was kept in comfortable confinement at Leeds Castle and other locations, where she enjoyed the company of various high-status visitors. Henry V ordered her release six weeks before he died. It's thought that the charges against her were manufactured so that the government could enjoy the income that would otherwise had been hers.

Taryn said...

As an extra question-- as Anne Boleyn was suspected of witchcraft, was Elizabeth I similarly suspected-- like she'd inherited being a witch from her mother? Or were those accusations against Anne Boleyn primarily slander much later on?

Foose said...

Regarding the question of whether Elizabeth was regarded as a witch, the evidence is sort of mixed. Simon Renard, the Imperial ambassador, said she had "a spirit full of incantation," which is also rendered as "a spirit full of enchantment," which could possibly hark back to the allegations against her mother (which were contemporary and not invented after the fact).

In 1555, Dr. John Dee (later Elizabeth's astrologer) was imprisoned for allegedly showing Elizabeth her sister's horoscope, which was a very dangerous interest for the princess. "Computing the day of the sovereign's death" could end in execution and was associated with black magic. In Shakespeare Studies, Volume 22, a scholar named Lily B. Campbell is cited as pointing out that "the charges brought against Elizabeth in 1555 recall many of the details of the case against Eleanor Cobham; not only is the charge of necromancy and treason brought against a woman of high rank -- and the specific charge of calculating a monarch's nativity -- but the suspicion of entrapment is voiced in some quarters."

(Eleanor Cobham was the sister-in-law of Henry VI, who was brought to trial and found guilty of practicing witchcraft in hopes of becoming queen herself; rather pathetically, her lawyers claimed that her sorcery was procured "for to have borne a child by hir lord" -- her husband had had two wives and no child, which may throw an interesting sidelight on the possible motives behind Anne Boleyn's forays into witchcraft, if any.)

Besides Dee, Elizabeth had another associate rumored to be involved in black magic: Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. However, she doesn't see to have suffered very much from the imputation of witchcraft as queen. Witchcraft persecution was on the upswing throughout her reign, and some scholars think that it was the hardline Protestants returning from exile, who had learned continental ways of dealing with witches, who were responsible for the surge. Since Elizabeth was the figurehead of their religious program and Mary Stuart the Catholic alternative, they would have directed their witch-hunting energies well away from the queen.

However, Natalie Mears has a telling remark about Elizabeth in her Queenship and Political Discourse: "In England, Elizabeth was called a 'whore'; in Ireland, she was a cailleach (old hag) and phiseogach (sorceress). At Sir John Perrot's trial, his "contemptuous speeches" against the queen included calling her a "base-bastard piss-kitchin woman," which Christopher Highley (in Shakespeare, Spenser and the Crisis in Ireland thinks is an "English version of the gaelic word phiseogach, meaning sorceress or charm-worker ..." In his notes, he says, "Another epithet of abuse for the queen was 'Caliaghe' [cailleach], which literally meant an old woman or hag, but was a culturally charged word with connotations of magic." Perrot had been Lord Deputy in Ireland and probably picked up the terms there. It is interesting how the worst elements of Anne Boleyn's reputation attach to her daughter according to the cultural affinities of the name-caller.

Elizabeth's cousin Margaret Douglas was the niece of a condemned witch -- her father's sister, Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, was burnt in 1538 for witchcraft and attempting to poison the Scots king. I don't think any obloquy attached to Margaret or her son Darnley because of it, or even to Lady Glamis' children -- she had a lot of property that Margaret's half-brother the king coveted, and he detested his Douglas step-kin.

Taryn said...

One last question then-- what, exactly, would have constituted witchcraft? Potions and spells come to mind but if simply looking up someone's horoscope could get you in trouble I imagine it went far further than that.

Foose said...

It's a good question, but witchcraft in Tudor England is a very broad and wide-ranging subject. In the words of Ken Cartwright's A Companion to Tudor Literature " ... there may be no 'typical' witchcraft case. Tudor witchcraft was regional, situational and individual - circumstances which make generalization difficult." But boldly generalizing, Cartwright goes on to say "...a witch was most generally seen as someone who practiced evil deeds (maleficius) such as killing livestock and causing illness ... willingness and ability to work evil were the qualities that typically distinguished a witch ..."

Before 1542, witchcraft was a matter for the ecclesiastical courts. It was made a felony under a 1542 Statute of the Realm, which prohibited, among other "uses of enchantments," the provoking of "unlawful love" (which makes one wonder if the king was harking back to his unaccountable passion for Anne Boleyn).

Scrutinizing royal horoscopes was considered a variant of witchcraft, what you might call "high-end" witchcraft: necromancy, typically involving learned accomplices like Dr. Dee, well-versed in mysterious, difficult sciences like astronomy, Latin, Greek and applied mathematics - all associated with the occult - and whose services cost considerably more than the village crone's. It was especially dangerous because necromancy was closely linked with treason - it seems to have been the irresistible predilection of various heirs presumptive to the Crown, from Yorkist times on, to consult some sort of wizard (a defrocked cleric, a foreign "doctor," etc.) about the current monarch's horoscope and utilize that information to organize a plot.

Eleanor Cobham is one example; Edward IV's brother the Duke of Clarence had a try; Margaret Beaufort's pal was John Morton, alleged to have been granted a license by the Pope to practice the "black arts"; the Duke of Buckingham was executed by Henry VIII for treason, having allegedly had the king's horoscope drawn up; Elizabeth got into apparently hot water in 1555 with Dr. Dee; and Margaret Douglas was accused of keeping "witches and soothsayers" at her house in a charge sheet drawn up against her in 1562. There was a big case in 1540, when Lord Hungerford was executed for "computing the day of the king's death," too; six years earlier, the king had denied the general pardon to those found guilty of necromancy, which Krista J. Kesselring (Mercy and Authority in the Tudor State,) calls "a surprisingly potent and popular means of marshaling opposition to the king."

The temptation of checking the monarch's horoscope was apparently very difficult to resist. Moreover, it was felt that no one ever stopped there; it was just the first step toward, or the first sign of, deeper involvement in the infernal arts. Alex Ryrie, in his The Sorcerer's Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England explains that "For those who were inclined to moral panic, astrology was the magical equivalent of soft drugs; damaging in its own right, certainly, but more so because it could lure the unsuspecting and curious into much darker magics."

Foose said...

Just a correction - Eleanor Cobham was sister-in-law to Henry V, and aunt by marriage to Henry VI.