Royal Witches: Witchcraft and the Nobility in Fifteenth-Century England

Pegasus. Sept. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781643133324. $27.95. HIST
In her first book, historian Hollman reveals how allegations of witchcraft were used as political weapons against powerful women in late medieval England. Exploring the cases of queens and high-ranking nobles, Hollman demonstrates the effectiveness of such unprovable accusations in stripping women of their wealth and damaging the fortunes of their families. The life of Joan of Navarre, wife of Henry IV, is particularly illustrative, as Hollman describes how Henry V allowed accusations of the use of malevolent magic to be leveled against his stepmother in order to seize Joan’s property to finance his war for the French crown. In the case of Eleanor of Cobham, similar accusations succeeded in destroying the influence of her husband, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Rank and nobility of blood offered little protection against allegations of witchcraft, and Hollman notes how a foreign birth and widowhood made women yet more vulnerable to such plots.
VERDICT Gaps in the historical record prompt Hollman to make some questionable speculations about the women’s attributes and relationships, but for the most part this is a well-researched and enlightening look at how cultural fear was used to justify acts of misogynistic vengeance and greed.
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