Anne Gunter Essay

1744 words - 7 pages

The case of Anne Gunter fits the modern stereotype of witchcraft accusations and the trials that resulted from them; a young girl falsely claims that an older woman or women are causing her harm using supernatural abilities they have gained through nefarious means, sending the community into an uproar. Hysteria runs rampant through the community and the poor women are harshly punished – the formulaic story plays out similarly throughout popular media, must notably in Arthur Millers’ ‘The Crucible’. Yet in the case of young Anne Gunter from North Moreton, there is a deviation from the “standard plot” of a witchcraft trial – the women are acquitted and Miss Gunter’s subterfuge is revealed. The fact that the allegations are not only proven to be false, but a confession of such is given by Anne Gunter allows the focus to shift from the actual Gunter case to what factors played into why people were accused of witchcraft. What we can infer from the Gunter case is that people in England were accused of witchcraft because of three major things: lack of power, prestige, and plenty within society.
Generally, there is a socioeconomic disparity between the accuser and those who are accused of practicing witchcraft. The accuser is usually from a higher social class than the people that they are bringing allegations against. The power dynamic between the two parties is often weighted in favor of the person throwing out accusations. Anne Gunter came from a family that was relatively new to North Moreton, but her father, Brian Gunter, was the only gentleman in the village. Yet one of the women Anne accused of witchcraft was a member of one of the leading families of North Moreton, the Gregory’s. Elizabeth Gregory was the wife of a yeoman farmer. The leading farming families held a large concentrate of wealth, but social power within the community (Sharpe 23). The other two women who were also labelled by Anne as witches with malevolent intent towards her were Agnes and Mary Pepwell. The Pepwell women were firmly placed close to the lowest rung of the social ladder. The mother, Agnes, was known to wander around and her daughter, Mary, was rumored to be from her relationship with a lame vagrant (Sharpe 26). On their own, the Pepwell’s would not have much power being a single mother and her illegitimate daughter, but the added rumor of a lame vagrant father was another barrier to any possible gains in power within society.
This whole ordeal occurred during the reign of James I, thus the Great Chain of Being was still firmly intact. Less than forty years before, the transition between Elizabeth I and James I had been smooth, and English regicide would occur for another forty years. Thus, power and by extension, a person’s place in society was rigidly set into place by God. If a person was born into the gentry, it was because God deemed them worthy of such a position. The same reasoning would be applied to those who became part of a family of yeoman farmers or...

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