Discoverie of Witchcraft
The Discoverie of Witchcraft was a partially sceptical book published by the English gentleman Reginald Scot
Reginald Scot
Reginald Scot was an English country gentleman and Member of Parliament, now remembered as the author of The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was published in 1584. It was written against the belief in witches, to show that witchcraft did not exist...

 in 1584, and intended as an exposé of medieval witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

. It contains a small section, intended to show how the public were fooled by charlatans, which is considered the first published material on magic
Magic (illusion)
Magic is a performing art that entertains audiences by staging tricks or creating illusions of seemingly impossible or supernatural feats using natural means...


Scot believed that the prosecution of those accused of witchcraft was irrational and un-Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

, and he held the Roman Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 responsible. All obtainable copies were burned on the accession of James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

 in 1603.


Scot's book appeared entitled The Discoverie of Witchcraft, wherein the Lewde dealing of Witches and Witchmongers is notablie detected, in sixteen books … whereunto is added a Treatise upon the Nature and Substance of Spirits and Devils, 1584. At the end of the volume the printer gives his name as William Brome.

There are four dedications: to Sir Roger Manwood, chief baron of the exchequer; another to Scot's cousin, Sir Thomas Scot, a third jointly to John Coldwell
John Coldwell
-Life:He was born at Faversham. He graduated B.A. at St. John's College, Cambridge in 1555, where he became a Fellow and graduated M.A. in 1558. He graduated M.D. in 1564....

, then dean of Rochester, and to William Redman
William Redman
-Early life:He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1559, gaining his BA in 1562/3 and becoming a fellow of Trinity in 1563.-Career:Ordained in 1570, he was made Archdeacon of Canterbury by Edmund Grindal in 1576. He was elected Bishop of Norwich on 17 December 1594, and consecrated on...

, then Archdeacon of Canterbury; and a fourth ‘to the readers.’ Scott enumerates 212 authors whose works in Latin he had consulted, and twenty-three authors who wrote in English. The names in the first list include many Greek and Arabic writers; among those in the second are John Bale
John Bale
John Bale was an English churchman, historian and controversialist, and Bishop of Ossory. He wrote the oldest known historical verse drama in English , and developed and published a very extensive list of the works of British authors down to his own time, just as the monastic libraries were being...

, John Foxe
John Foxe
John Foxe was an English historian and martyrologist, the author of what is popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, , an account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history but emphasizing the sufferings of English Protestants and proto-Protestants from the fourteenth century through the...

, Sir Thomas More, John Record, Barnabe Googe
Barnabe Googe
Barnabe Googe or Gooche was a poet and translator, one of the earliest English pastoral poets.-Early life:...

, Abraham Fleming
Abraham Fleming
Abraham Fleming was an English clergyman, and a prolific writer, translator, contributor to others' texts, editor and poet.-Life:...

, and William Lambarde
William Lambarde
William Lambarde was an antiquarian and writer on legal subjects.-Life:Lambarde was born in London. His father was a draper , an alderman and a sheriff of London. In 1556, he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn...

. But Scot's information was not only from books. He had studied superstitions respecting witchcraft in courts of law in country districts, where the prosecution of witches was unceasing, and in village life, where the belief in witchcraft flourished in many forms.

He set himself to prove that the belief in witchcraft and magic was rejected by reason and by religion, and that spiritualistic manifestations were wilful impostures or illusions due to mental disturbance in the observers. His aim was to prevent the persecution of poor, aged, and simple persons, who were popularly credited with being witches. The maintenance of the superstition he blamed largely on the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, and he attacked writers including Jean Bodin
Jean Bodin
Jean Bodin was a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse. He is best known for his theory of sovereignty; he was also an influential writer on demonology....

 (1530–1596), author of Démonomie des Sorciers (Paris, 1580), and Jacobus Sprenger, supposed joint-author of Malleus Maleficarum
Malleus Maleficarum
The Malleus Maleficarum is an infamous treatise on witches, written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and was first published in Germany in 1487...

(Nuremberg, 1494).

Of Cornelius Agrippa and Johann Weyer
Johann Weyer
Johann Weyer , was a Dutch physician, occultist and demonologist, disciple and follower of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. He was among the first to publish against the persecution of witches...

, author of De Præstigiis Demonum (Basle, 1566), whose views he adopted, he spoke with respect. Scot did adopt contemporary superstition, in his references to medicine and astrology. He believed in the medicinal value of the unicorn's horn, and thought that precious stones owed their origin to the influence of the heavenly bodies. The book also narrates stories of strange phenomena in the context of religious convictions. The devil is related with such stories and his ability to absorb people's souls. The book also gives stories of magicians with supernatural powers performing in front of courts of kings.


His volume became an exhaustive encyclopædia of contemporary beliefs about witchcraft, spirits, alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

, magic, and legerdemain, as well as attracting widespread attention to his scepticism on witchcraft. William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 drew from his study of Scot's book hints for his picture of the witches in Macbeth, and Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

 in his play of The Witch
The Witch
The Witch is a Jacobean play, a tragicomedy written by Thomas Middleton. The play was acted by the King's Men at the Blackfriars Theatre. It is thought to have been written sometime between 1609 and 1616; it was not printed in its own era, and existed only in manuscript until it was published by...

likewise was indebted to this source. Through bibliographies, one may trace modern grimoire
A grimoire is a textbook of magic. Such books typically include instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination and also how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels, spirits, and demons...

s to this work. The chapter on magic tricks
Magic (illusion)
Magic is a performing art that entertains audiences by staging tricks or creating illusions of seemingly impossible or supernatural feats using natural means...

 in Scot's Discoverie was later plagiarised heavily; it was the basis of The Art of Juggling (1612) by S. R., and Hocus Pocus Junior (1634). Scot's early writings constituted a substantial portion (in some cases, nearly all) of the text in English-language stage magic books of the 17th and 18th centuries.


Within a few years the witchcraft debate became heated. Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey
Gabriel Harvey was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, though his reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe...

 in his Pierce's Supererogation’ 1593 wrote:
‘Scotte's discoovery of Witchcraft dismasketh sundry egregious impostures, and in certaine principall chapters, and speciall passages, hitteth the nayle on the head with a witnesse; howsoever I could have wished he had either dealt somewhat more curteously with Monsieur Bondine [i.e. Bodin], or confuted him somewhat more effectually.’

Many writers, particularly Protestant clergy, then defended the contemporary beliefs on witches. After George Gifford
George Gifford
George Gifford was a Puritan preacher at Maldon, Essex.-Life:Gifford was born in Dry Drayton, near Cambridge and attended Christ's College, Cambridge, graduating BA in 1570 and MA in 1573. He afterwards lived at Maldon, but was discharged from the priesthood for refusing to subscribe to Archbishop...

 in works published in 1587 and 1593, Henry Holland
Henry Holland (clergyman)
-Life:He was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1580. He was instituted to the vicarage of Orwell, Cambridgeshire, on 21 November 1580. In 1583 he commenced M.A., and on 13 February 1594 was instituted to the vicarage of St. Bride, London, on the presentation of...

 in Treatise of Witchcraft (1590), and William Perkins, had sought to refute Scot, James VI of Scotland repeated the attempt in his Dæmonologie (1597), where he described the opinions of Weyer and Scot as ‘damnable.’ On his accession to the English throne James went a step further, and ordered all copies of Scot's Discoverie to be burnt. John Rainolds
John Rainolds
John Rainolds , English divine, was born about Michaelmas 1549 at Pinhoe, near Exeter.He was educated at Merton and Corpus Christi Colleges, Oxford, becoming a fellow of the latter in 1568. In 1572-73 he was appointed reader in Greek, and his lectures on Aristotle's Rhetoric laid the sure basis of...

 in Censura Librorum Apocryphoru (1611), Richard Bernard
Richard Bernard
Richard Bernard was an English Puritan clergyman and writer.-Life:Bernard was born in Epworth and received his education at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1592, obtained his BA in 1595, and an MA in 1598. He was married in 1601 and had six children...

 in Guide to Grand Jurymen (1627), Joseph Glanvill
Joseph Glanvill
Joseph Glanvill was an English writer, philosopher, and clergyman. Not himself a scientist, he has been called "the most skillful apologist of the virtuosi", or in other words the leading propagandist for the approach of the English natural philosophers of the later 17th century.-Life:He was...

 in Philosophical Considerations touching Witches and Witchcraft (1666), and Meric Casaubon
Méric Casaubon
Méric Casaubon , son of Isaac Casaubon, was a French-English classical scholar...

 in Credulity and Uncredulity (1668) continued the attack on Scot's position, which was defended by Thomas Ady
Thomas Ady
Thomas Ady was an English physician and humanist who was the author of three sceptical books on witchcraft and witch-hunting, using the Bible as the source. His first and best known work,...

 in Candle in the Dark: Or, A Treatise concerning the Nature of Witches and Witchcraft (1656), and by John Webster
John Webster (minister)
John Webster , also known as Johannes Hyphastes, was an English clergyman, physician and chemist with occult interests, a proponent of astrology and a sceptic about witchcraft. He is known for controversial works.-Life:...

 in The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (1677).

Keith Thomas
Keith Thomas (historian)
Sir Keith Vivian Thomas is a Welsh historian, best known as the author of Religion and the Decline of Magic and Man and the Natural World.-Biography:...

 considers that Scot's statement of the sceptical position remained authoritative for this debate. It was employed by others, such as Samuel Harsnet and the astrologer-physician John Harvey
John Harvey (astrologer)
-Life:He was baptised at Saffron Walden, Essex, 13 February 1564, the son of John Harvey, master ropemaker, and younger brother of Gabriel Harvey and of Richard Harvey. He matriculated as a pensioner of Queens' College, Cambridge, in June 1578 .In 1587 the university granted him a license to...

, in their own writings; and was known to typical lay sceptics such as Henry Oxinden. On the other hand, the sceptics were a minority over the period when the controversy raged, and they were outnumbered in the professions, and within those of some education generally, where belief in witchcraft was still entrenched.

Later editions

Abroad the book met with a good reception. A translation into Dutch, edited by Thomas Basson, an English stationer living at Leyden, appeared there in 1609. It was undertaken on the recommendation of the professors, and was dedicated to the university curators and the burgomaster of Leyden. A second edition, published by G. Basson, the first editor's son, was printed at Leyden in 1637.

In 1651 the book was twice reissued in London in quarto by Richard Cotes; the two issues slightly differ from each other in the imprint on title-page. Another reissue was dated 1654. A third edition in folio, dated 1665, included nine new chapters, and added a second book to ‘The Discourse on Devils and Spirits.’ In 1886 Brinsley Nicholson edited a reprint of the first edition of 1584, with the additions of that of 1665.

Further reading

  • Leland L. Estes, Reginald Scot and His "Discoverie of Witchcraft": Religion and Science in the Opposition to the European Witch Craze, Church History, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Dec., 1983), pp. 444–456.

External links

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