Reginald Scot (1538 – 1599)
Written and compiled by George Knowles
During the darkest days of the witch delusion in England, few men had the courage to make a stand against the Inquisition and call to account the atrocities being suffered by innocent people. Reginald Scot was one such man who did just that. In his book “The Discoverie of Witchcraft” (self published in 1584), Scot ridiculed and refuted many of the prevailing beliefs about witches, particularly those as promoted in the Malleus Maleficarum written by Jacob Sprenger & Heinrich Kramer (1486), and denounced the witchcraft persecutions as: “an extreme and intolerable tyranny brought on by the Inquisition”.
Scot’s book was the first book of witchcraft published entirely in English, but while it was written in defence of the innocent against persecution and would later inspire others to speak out in their defence, its initial impact had the opposite effect. King James I who was adamantly against witchcraft, ordered all copies the book to be burned and refuted his claims in his own book of witchcraft called “Demonology” (published in Edinburgh 1597). In the preface to his book King James I wrote:
“The fearefull aboundinge at this time in this countrie, of these detestable slaves of the Devill, the Witches or enchaunters, hath moved me (beloved reader) to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine, not in any wise (as I protest) to serve for a shew of my learning & ingine, but onely (moved of conscience) to preasse thereby, so farre as I can, to resolve the doubting harts of many; both that such assaultes of Sathan are most certainly practised, & that the instruments thereof, merits most severly to be punished, against the damnable opinions of two principally in our age, wherof the one called Scot an Englishman, is not ashamed in publike print to deny, that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft, and so mainteines the old error of the Sadducces, in denying of spirits”.
The Scot Family Ancestry:
Reginald Scot was born in 1538 into a family of landed gentry, a family whose ancestry can be traced back to John de Baliol (?-1269), Lord of Galloway. Baliol was a member of the Scottish regency council during the minority of Alexander III, and married to the wealthy Scottish heiress Dervorguilla who had family connections with the royal house. As an early patron of learning, in 1263 he donated land and funds to a group of scholars for the building of a school, and in 1268 was named “founder” of Balliol College in Oxford. John de Balliol died a year later in 1269. Legend has it that after his death his devoted wife Devorguilla had his heart embalmed and placed in a small casket, and wherever she went thereafter the casket went with her. After her own death, the casket was passed on into the custody of their eldest son, also called John Baliol (who later added “de Scot” to his name).
John Baliol de Scot (1250?-1314) was later made King of Scotland (1292-96). When Princess Margaret died in 1290, Baliol de Scot became a competitor for the crown, which was then being claimed by Robert de Bruce VI. King Edward I of England was the arbiter in the dispute and chose in favor of Baliol de Scot, who in turn pledged his fealty to the English Crown. However, as King of Scotland he felt his sovereignty was only nominal and resented the various indignities to which he was subjected. In 1295, Baliol de Scot made an alliance with France who was then at war with England. Hearing about his treachery, King Edward I invaded Scotland defeated his troops and took Baliol de Scot prisoner. He was then forced to surrender his Scottish crown and was exiled on the 10th July 1296. Before he was forced to leave the country, Baliol de Scot passed on custody of his father’s heart casket to his brother William Baliol de Scott (name spelt variously overtime).
William Baliol de Scott makes his first appearance as a pleader in a yearbook for 1330, and was made Serjeant-at-Law in 1334. When the Black Prince (son of King Edward III of England) was created Duke of Cornwall, he knighted de Scott in 1336 and later raised him to Justice of the Common Pleas. Sir William resided at Brabourne Lees near Smeeth in Kent, from where he acted as seneschal of the manor. It was here that he built the family’s first ancestral home “Scott’s Hall”. It was Sir William who was responsible for bringing his fathers heart casket to it’s final resting place. In the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Brabourne there is a Shrine (a slab of Bethesden Marble), containing a hollow in which the casket containing the heart is thought to have been placed. While the Church and the heart shrine still remain, the heart and its casket and indeed the old ancestral home, have long since disappeared. Sir William was also one of the first in a long line of Scott’s to have been buried in the chapel of Brabourne Church in 1350.
A later heir to the estate at Brabourne was John Scott, a Yorkist, loyal to the Royal House of York that ruled England from 1461 to 1485. He was appointed Sheriff of Kent in 1460, and on the accession of Edward IV in the following year, was knighted and made comptroller of the Royal household. Edward IV gave him the castle and manor of Wilderton and Molash in Kent and the manor of Old Swinford and Snodsbury in Worcestershire, with a lifetime interest in the castle and manor of Chilham. In 1467 after severing in a number of diplomatic positions, Sir John returned to parliament for Kent, and in 1471 succeeded Richard Neville the Earl of Warwick as Lieutenant of Dover Castle, Warden of the Cinque Ports, and Marshal of Calais. Sir John died on the 17th Oct 1485, and was buried in the chapel of Brabourne Church. His arms can be seen in the north window of “the martyrdom” at Canterbury Cathedral. By his wife Agnes he left behind two daughters and an heir “William”.
Sir William Scott (1459-1524) of Brabourne was involved in the siege of Bodiam Castle during 1483/4, for which he received a pardon on the accession of Henry VII. Rising in the favour of Henry VII, he was sworn onto the Privy Council, appointed comptroller of the Royal household and created a Companion of the Order of the Bath with Prince Arthur on the 29th Nov 1489. Like his father he was also Sheriff of Kent, Lieutenant of Dover Castle, Warden of the Cinque Ports and Marshal of Calais. In 1519, Sir William attended Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and figured among the grandees deputed with Wolsey to receive the Emperor Charles V on his landing at Dover on the 28th May 1522. Sir William died on the 24th Aug 1524, and was buried in the chapel of Brabourne church.
A final member of the Scott family to note was Sir Thomas Scott (1535-1594), who was also prominent in the public affairs of Kent. He was knighted in 1571 and made deputy Lieutenant of the County. In 1575 he succeeded as heir to the manor of Nettlestead and in 1576 served as High Sheriff of Kent. He was also a Knight of the Shire in the parliaments of 1571 and 1586. During his terms in parliament he was commissioned to report on the advisability of improving the breed of horses in the country, a subject on which he is said to have written a book, he was also made commissioner responsible for draining and improving Romney Marsh, and made superintendent of the improvements of Dover harbour. At the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588 he was appointed Chief of the Kentish force and within a day of receiving his orders from the Privy Council, he personally equipped four thousand men and met with other forces of the Men of Kent at Northbourne. Renowned for his hospitality and public spirit, Sir Thomas had the family home “Scott’s Hall” rebuilt to make it one of the most magnificent manor houses in Kent. He died on 30th Dec 1594 and was buried in the chapel of Brabourne church.
Reginald Scot (1538 – 1599)
Reginald Scot was born sometime around 1538, and was a cousin of Sir Thomas Scott the then owner of the family’s ancestral home “Scott’s Hall” at Brabourne in Kent. Very little is known about Scot’s life except that he grew up on the family estate and was probably privately educated. At the age of 17 he attended Hart College at Oxford University, but left without completing his term, preferring life as a country bumpkin to that of an academic. He worked for a time as a subsidies collector for the government, was married twice and had a daughter from his first marriage. He also served a year in Parliament, and was made a Justice of the Peace in Kent. However Scot was never happier than working on the family’s estates, tending to the hop gardens. He died at the age of 61 in 1599.
In 1573, Scot wrote his first book entitled: “The Hop Garden (The Perfect Platform of a Hop-Garden, and necessary instructions for the making and maintaining thereof, with Notes and Rules for Reformation of all Abuses)”, a book that led to a growth in hop production and stimulated Kent as the as the hop-producing county of England. He is better known however for his second book: “The Discoverie of Witchcraft” (1584), a book he had to self-publish because of its controversial nature.
Aside from his brief stay at Oxford University, Scot seldom travelled far from his home, so it is thought that he gained much of his knowledge for the book from the superstitions and fears of the local people who worked on his family’s estates. It was most likely the events that occurred in the neighbouring county of Essex in 1582, which sparked off his interest in witchcraft. In that year 14 women from the village of St. Osyth in Essex had been charged with witchcraft. The charge of witchcraft was based on the doubtful evidence of children aged six to nine years, yet after a drawn-out trial at Chelmsford, two of the 14 women were hanged.
Similar incidents alerted Scot to the nature of evidence and false testimony allowed in such trails, and the brutal persecution suffered by those accused. Once a person had been charged with witchcraft, the accused had little chance of escaping the barbarities of the inquisition, and many were doomed to either prison or execution. In his book Scot attempted to disprove many of the distorted beliefs about witches, and protests against the rising tide of persecution that was spreading around the country. In concluding his book, he sums up his own findings and beliefs by stating:
“Witchcraft is in truth a cousening art, wherin the name of God is abused, prophaned and blasphemed, and his power attributed to a vile creature. In estimation of the Vulgar people it is a supernaturall worke, contrived betweene a Corporall old woman and a spirituall divell. The maner thereof is so secret, mysticall and strange, that to this daie there hath never beene any credible witnes thereof. It is incomprehensible to the wise, learned or faithfull, a probable matter to children, fooles, melancholike persons and papists”.
Scot argued that beliefs in witches ran counter to earlier Christian views as given in the Canon Episcopi, which stated that belief in witches and demonic magic was a delusion, and that witches were not working in league with the Devil but were rather deluded persons who needed guidance in the ways of religion, rather than death and torture. He also discusses at length the illusion of witchcraft and magic, and states that God alone, not Devils or witches, control the elements and that he alone dictates the fate of men. In this way he attempted to throw doubt on the belief that a mere witch, even with an alleged pact with the Devil, did not have the ability to inflict evil and death on the unsuspecting populace.
To counter the witch-hunting craze of the inquisition, Scot ridiculed the texts of the leading demonologists and theologians of the day, and also attacked the Catholic faith in general for its superstitious practices, stating that witchcraft was contrary to the dictates of reason as well as of religion and placed the responsibility for many of the atrocities firmly at the door of the Roman Catholic Church. He also railed against the self-seeking greed and prejudices of the witch-mongers (inquisitors) stating:
“…And because it may appear unto the world what treacherous and faithless dealings, what extreme and intolerable tyranny, what gross and foolish absurdities, what unnatural and uncivil discourtesy, what cankered and spiteful malice, what outrageous and barbarous cruelty… what abominable and devilish inventions, and what flat and plain knavery is practiced against these old women, I will set down the whole order of the Inquisition, to the everlasting, inexcusable, and apparent shame of all witch-mongers”.
While arguing against the abuses of witchcraft and the witch trials, Scot covers in detail such subjects as: charms, demons, angels, words of power, conjuring tricks, astrology, alchemy, divination, spells, rituals, sabbats, biblical quotations and more, all of which he argues as evidence of the witch delusions. He also devotes a small section of the book to the magical art of legerdemain (sleight of hand), which in general he considers to be harmless entertainment. Scot uses the art and other tools of the magician to reveal some of the methods used to fool and deceive unsuspecting people, and to explain how inquisitors using similar techniques of misdirection and manipulation, encouraged the belief of a witch’s ability to accomplish impossible feats. Scot was guided in writing about legerdemain by John Cautares, a 16th century French sleight-of-hand artist who made his living as a labourer while living in London.
Scot’s book however was met with hostility from the leading demonologists and theologians of the day, and later his work was condemned and ordered burned by King James I of England. Nonetheless, Scot’s book gave hope to some in the 16th century who were sceptical about such beliefs as witches and demonic pacts, and today remains a much-quoted primary source for those interested in the early history of witchcraft.
As to the family’s estate and ancestral home “Scott’s Hall”, where Scot had devoted and spent most of his life, it continued to be passed down through future generations of the Scot family. The last Scot to occupy it was Francis Talbot Scott (1745-1787), apparently fifth in descent from Sir Edward Scott (d. 1644), the fifth son of Sir Thomas Scott (1535-1594). On the death of Francis Talbot Scott, the estate was sold to Sir John Honywood of Evington. Finally the old mansion house known as “Scott’s Hall” was pulled down in 1808 and nothing now remains.
To be posted later.
Written and compiled on the 25th January 2008 © George Knowles
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