Witchcraft, economy and society in the forest of Pendle

John Swain

in The Lancashire Witches

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780719062032
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700150 | DOI:
Witchcraft, economy and society in the forest of Pendle

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter explores economic and social history in the context of witchcraft in the Pendle area using the ‘village tensions’ approach, the most influential modern explanation of witchcraft. This model focuses upon the grassroots generation of witchcraft accusations rather than on the prosecution process. It proposes that the profound social and economic pressures of the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries tended to divide the members of parish communities against each other, and these in turn generated threats and accusations of witchcraft. Using this model, an account of the pressures on Pendle's upland ‘cattle and cloth economy’ is combined with a detailed analysis of the individual accusations in the 1612 trial. A high proportion of the witchcraft cases in Pendle involved disputes over money and property or misfortunes involving milk and cattle, arguing that social and economic pressures influenced but did not determine the events of 1612. Magical powers, offered or threatened, were themselves part of the local economy, what might be called a black economy of witchcraft.

Keywords: witchcraft; local economy; forest of Pendle; black economy of witchcraft; village tensions approach; witchcraft accusation

Chapter.  7650 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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