Thomas Potts's ‘dusty memory’: reconstructing justice in <i>The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches</i>

Marion Gibson

in The Lancashire Witches

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780719062032
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700150 | DOI:
Thomas Potts's ‘dusty memory’: reconstructing justice in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches

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This chapter demonstrates that “The Wonderfull Discoverie” by Thomas Potts is the clearest example of an account published to display the shining efficiency and justice of the legal system. The literary genre of witchcraft stories and their relationship with the trials of 1612 is analyzed. By comparing Potts's account with what is known of Jacobean judicial procedures, it is shown that Potts arranged the evidence in a kind of ‘mock trial’, designed to convey the impression of a transparent courtroom reconstruction at the same time as subtly manipulating the evidence. His exceptional craft appears still more clearly from the systematic reading of all the surviving accounts of witchcraft from the period. Potts's text turns out to be an unusually late and detailed example of a genre, which had been disused in England for some twenty years: the evidence-based account of witchcraft. The analysis of Potts text suggests that witchcraft itself was seen as not a fact but an impossible crime, which had itself to be constructed in the minds of all those concerned, victims and accusers alike. The construction of Potts's account provides an understanding of the construction of the trial, of the evidence, and of the crime itself.

Keywords: legal system; Jacobean judicial procedures; witchcraft; reconstructing justice; transparent courtroom reconstruction

Chapter.  8312 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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