Witchcraft and Whigs

The life of Bishop Francis Hutchinson, 1660–1739

Author: Andrew Sneddon

Historians who have written about Francis Hutchinson have tended to study a small part of his life and his literary output as part of larger studies on other subjects. Bishop Hutchinson is thus many things to many historians. To some he represents the archetypal eighteenth-century Protestant bibliophile, to others the type of clerical, social and economic improver and antiquarian that flourished in Ireland in the early eighteenth century. Despite this interest in his life in Ireland, most academics have been drawn to his life and work on account of his seminal, sceptical witchcraft tract, the Historical essay, published in London in 1718. Their interpretations of why Hutchinson rejected traditional witchcraft beliefs in this book reflect the changing face of the historiography of decline in educated belief in witchcraft. The book suggests that Hutchinson dedicated his life firstly to protecting the position of the established Church within society, and secondly to forging and maintaining the political hegemony of the Whig and Hanoverian regime, first in England and then in Ireland. It is suggested that the way he defended these ideals and institutions was in the manner of a moderate, principled, career-minded, Latitudinarian-Whig reformer. Furthermore, it was this outlook that fuelled his third main concern in life, the social and economic improvement of Ireland.

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