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Response to Review no. 585

I would like to thank Peter Jones for his thoughtful and generous review of my book. I do not have much to say in response to most of it, but his comments on the book’s final chapter have prompted me to think a bit more about the issues that he raises. I am happy to accept his suggestion that the fifteenth-century medical texts that I looked at may not have been representative of what most medical writers of that period thought about magic—this is more Jones’s area of expertise than mine. My survey was not intended to be comprehensive; rather, these were the medical writers that I came across who discussed magically-caused impotence at length, though perhaps I should have looked more widely.

Jones is also right to point out that several of the medical writers whom I argue responded to the first witch trials in the fifteenth century had personal links to the trials. One, Antonio Guaineri, claimed to have witnessed witch trials in northern Italy, while another, Giovanni Michele Savonarola, had links to circles interested in church reform, in which ideas about witchcraft were spreading at this time. It would be interesting to examine these and other writers’ differing responses to the first witch trials in more detail, especially in the light of work done on the mixed responses of other educated fifteenth-century men to witch trials. I am thinking particularly of Sandrine Strobino’s Françoise sauvée des flammes? (Lausanne, 1996) which discusses a sceptical lawyer who defended a Swiss woman accused of witchcraft in 1467. However, among learned writers who did not come into direct contact with new ideas about witchcraft in this way, I can well believe that attitudes to magic, and magically-caused impotence, did not change. At least, they probably did not change so radically or so early; it would be interesting to compare the fifteenth-century writers with the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century medical writing on magically-caused illnesses (1), to see how later physicians responded to the more numerous and widespread witch trials of this period.

Jones has also pointed out some other areas where it would have been nice to extend the book’s research: into visitation records and church courts, to see how far the theoretical discussions of canon law, theology, or confession manuals influenced how the church dealt with magic in practice. This would complement the thrust of Magic and Impotence (which focused on how popular magic influenced canon law and theology, rather than the other way round), but would require another book in itself. In fact, it is something that I am planning to look at in my future research.


  1. On these see S. Clark, ‘Demons and Disease: The Disenchantment of the Sick (1500–1700)’, in Illness and Healing Alternatives in Western Europe, ed. M. Gijswijt-Hofstra, H. Marland, and H. de Waardt (London, 1997), 38–58. Back to (1)