To deal with the subject of witchcraft in general, with its psychology or with the many strange items which it included, would be out of place in a work exclusively devoted to one particular country, nor indeed could it be adequately dealt with in the space at our disposal; it is necessary, however, to say a few words on the matter in order to show by comparison how much pain and unhappiness the people of Ireland escaped through the non-prevalence of this terrible cult amongst them.
In the first place, to judge from the few witch-trials recorded, it may be claimed that torture as a means of extracting evidence was never used upon witches in Ireland (excepting the treatment of Petronilla of Meath by Bishop de Ledrede, which seems to have been carried out in what may be termed a purely unofficial manner). It would be interesting indeed to work through the extant Records for the purpose of seeing how often torture was judicially used on criminals in Ireland, and probably the student who undertakes the investigation will find that this terrible and illogical method of extracting the truth (!) was very seldom utilised. Nor is it at all clear that torture was employed in England in similar trials. Dr. Notestein1 thinks that there are some traces of it, which cannot however be certainly proved, except in one particular instance towards the end of the reign of James I, though this was for the exceptional crime of practising sorcery (and therefore high treason) against that too credulous king. Was its use ever legalised by Act of Parliament in either country ?
In Scotland, on the other hand, it was employed with terrible frequency ; there was hardly a trial for witchcraft or sorcery but some of the unfortunates incriminated were subjected to this terrible ordeal. Even as late as 1690 torture was judicially applied to extract evidence, for in that year a Jacobite gentleman was questioned by the boots. But Scotland, even at its worst, fades into insignificance before certain parts of the Continent, where torture was used to an extent and degree that can only be termed hellish ; the appalling ingenuity displayed in the various methods of applying the " question extraordinary " seems the work of demons rather than of Christians, and makes one blush for humanity. The repetition of torture was forbidden, indeed, but the infamous Inquisitor, James Sprenger, imagined a subtle distinction by which each fresh application was a continuation and not a repetition of the first ; one sorceress in Germany suffered this continuation no less than fifty-six times.
1 Notestein, op. cit.
Nor was the punishment of death by fire for witchcraft or sorcery employed to any extent in Ireland. We have one undoubted instance, and a general hint of some others as a sequel to this. How the two witches were put to death in 1578 we are not told, but probably it was by hanging. Subsequent to the passing of the Act of 1586 the method of execution would have been that for felony. On the Continent the stake was in continual request. In 1514 three hundred persons were burnt alive for this crime at Como. Between 1615 and 1635 more than six thousand sorcerers were burnt in the diocese of Strasburg, while, if we can credit the figures of Bartholomew de Spina, in Lombardy a thousand sorcerers a year were put to death for the space of twenty-five years.1 The total number of persons executed in various ways for this crime has, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, been variously estimated at from one hundred thousand to several millions ; if the latter figure be too high undoubtedly the former is far too low.
In the persecution of those who practised magical arts no rank or class in society was spared ; the noble equally with the peasant was liable to torture and death. This was especially true of the earlier stages of the movement when sorcery rather than witchcraft was the crime committed. For there is a general distinction between the two, though in many instances they are confounded. Sorcery was, so to speak, more of an aristocratic pursuit; the sorcerer was the master of the Devil (until his allotted time expired), and compelled him to do his bidding : the witch generally belonged to the lower classes, embodied in her art many practices which lay on the borderland between good and evil, and was rather the slave of Satan, who almost invariably proved to be a most faithless and unreliable employer. For an illustration from this country of the broad distinction between the two the reader may compare Dame Alice Kyteler with Florence Newton. Anybody might become a victim of the witch epidemic ; noblemen, scholars, monks, nuns, titled ladies, bishops, clergy—none were immune from accusation and condemnation. Nay, even a saint once fell under suspicion; in 1595 S. Francis de Sales was accused of having been present at a sorcerers' sabbath, and narrowly escaped being burnt by the populace.1 Much more might be written in the same strain, but sufficient illustrations have been brought forward to show the reader that in its comparative immunity from witchcraft and its terrible consequences Ireland, generally deemed so unhappy, may be counted the most fortunate country in Europe.
1 Français, L'eglise et la Sorcellerie.
1 Fran$ais, op. cit.
In conclusion, we have not considered it necessary to append a bibliography. The books that have been consulted and which have contained no information relative to Ireland are, unfortunately, all too numerous, while those that have proved of use are fully referred to in the text or footnotes of the present volume. We should like however to acknowledge our indebtedness to such general works on the subject as Sir Walter Scott's Demonology and Witchcraft, C. K. Sharpe's History of Witchcraft in Scotland, John Ashton's The Devil in Britain and America, and Professor Wallace Note-stein's History of Witchcraft in England, 1558-1718 (Washington, 1911) ; the last three contain most useful bibliographical notices. Much valuable information with respect to the traditional versions of certain incidents which occurred in Ulster has been gleaned from Classon Porter's pamphlet, Witches, Warlocks, and Ghosts (reprinted from The Northern Whig of 1885). For a good bird's-eye view of witchcraft on the Continent from the earliest times we can recommend J. Français' L'église et la Sorcellerie (Paris: Nourry, 1910).