In 1622, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Jennings fell strangely ill. After doctors’ treatments proved useless, her family began to suspect the child had been bewitched, a suspicion that was confirmed when Elizabeth accused their neighbor Margaret Russell of witchcraft. In the events that followed, witchcraft hysteria intertwines with family rivalries, property disputes, and a web of supernatural beliefs.
Starting from a manuscript account of the bewitchment, Kirsten Uszkalo sets the story of Elizabeth Jennings against both the specific circumstances of the powerful Jennings family and the broader history of witchcraft in early modern England. Fitting together the intricate pieces of this complex puzzle, Uszkalo reveals a story that encompasses the iron grip of superstition, the struggle among professionalizing medical specialties, and London’s lawless and unstoppable sprawl. In the picture that emerges, we see the young Elizabeth, pinned like a live butterfly at the dark center of a web of greed and corruption, sickness and lunacy.