ABSTRACT

Senior members of the English Church became involved in cases of possession and dispossession in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They sought to exonerate women accused of witchcraft, and their involvement led to the disproving of the efficacy of dispossessions performed by anti-episcopal ministers. Although a number of bishops intervened in witchcraft cases, this work was most assiduously carried out by Richard Bancroft, the Bishop of London and later the Archbishop of Canterbury. In doing so, Bancroft came head to head against the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir Edmund Anderson, and more broadly against judges and justices of the peace who accepted the veracity of cases of possessions and accusations of bewitchment. Particular cases therefore reveal themselves as occasions where episcopacy and judiciary clashed. However, these should not be read as cases of the Church versus the law. The Church was part of the law, in terms of contemporary understandings of the origin of divine positive law. But the cases do suggest that episcopal actions against dispossessing ministers created opportunities to propagandize against the episcopate and the justice it delivered via the High Commission. Accordingly, Bancroft became involved in these cases because they were opportunities for bishops to assert the authority of their order and the High Commission against their opponents' polemic, and they were a means to articulate the scope of episcopal authority.

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