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The Bewitching of Anne Gunter

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The Bewitching of Anne Gunter
A Horrible and True Story of Deception, Witchcraft, Murder, and the King of England
by James Sharpe. (New York, Routledge: 2001. Pg. 238) ISBN: 0-415-92692-0.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 21, 2002

Witchcraft, and witchcraft trials, seem to hold a morbid fascination for Western readers. They were, in short, the first true crime reality 'show' that people could participate in. A person or group of people would pick their victim, and then everyone from the highest in the land, to the lowest, could join in on tormenting the poor innocent. And, as with the crassest of today's TV reality shows, spectators could join in on the fun. They could even pretend to be tormented by the 'witch' du jour, if they so desired. The Bewitching of Anne Gunter, by James Sharpe takes a detailed look at one such witch trial and its aftermath.

In 1604, Anne Gunter fell ill with an undiagnosed aliment, the doctors all agreed that it was caused by demonic possession. Upon hearing this, she straightway accused three women of witchcraft, claiming that they were her tormentors. All three of the accused were societal misfits. The accused were Agnes Pepwell who had a child out of wedlock, her illegitimate daughter Mary Pepwell, and Elizabeth Gregory. Of the three, the accusation against Elizabeth is the most telling. She was universally disliked, and worse, Anne's father was feuding with the Gregory's.

Both Mary and Elizabeth stood trial for the crime of witchcraft, but were acquitted. Agnes, being the most sensible, fled before she could be tried. Had the story ended here, Sharpe, a social historian, may not have had much to write about. However, Brian Gunter, Anne's father was not satisfied with the verdict. Consequently, he brought Anne's case to the attention of King James. James was not as gullible as many, and he saw through Anne, and her father's, ruse. In short order, she was turned over to the care of the church and proceedings where instigated against the two instigators in the infamous Court of the Star Chamber.

Sharpe's study of the case of Anne Gunter makes for fascinating reading. It also offers a compelling look at life in England at the time of the trials, and at the human foibles that can allow such nonsense to take hold of a community and turn it upside down.

In The Bewitching of Anne Gunter Sharpe offers an excellent historical narrative that provides unique insights in the mind set and day to day life during the reign of King James. His research into Anne is well documented, and the book includes a detailed set of notes and references, regarding Sharpe's research. This is a totally engrossing book that will be of interest to both historians and students of psychology.

Related Reviews:

The Witchcraft Sourcebook, edited by Brian P. Levack.
A collection of documents that detail the history of witchcraft in the West, and the reasons for, and consequences of, the charges leveled against so many individuals.

England in the Later Middle Ages, by Maurice H. Keen.
A general survey textbook on English history from 1290 - 1485.

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