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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > March 2017 > Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts

When (and why) did people stop hunting witches?

TOIL AND TROUBLE From 1484 until around 1750, some 200,000 ‘witches’ were tortured, burned or hanged in western Europe

An early-modern woodcut of a white witch and a black witch, representing good and bad magic
GETTY

The western world has had a conflicted relationship with magic, with the notorious witch-hunting craze of the 1600s providing its violent climax. But while vengeful hags became the stereotype, for centuries communities consulted folk healers or ‘wise women’ for medical advice – sometimes turning on them in times of uncertainty, even if their

‘powers’ had only done good before. Largely, terror faded as ‘enlightened’ ideas undermined the popular beliefs in magic and established religion. Candidates for the last woman convicted of witchcraft in England are Jane Wenham 1712 and Mary Hickes 1716, but lynchings of suspected witches continued well into the 1800s.

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About History Revealed

Discover the real King Arthur with our exclusive article from archaeologist Miles Russell, who believes that the legendary figure was in fact a Dark Age warlord. Elsewhere, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell go head to head, take a look at life on the Thames in the Victorian era, and learn about the forgotten storyteller who wrote one of our most-loved fairytales.