Sir Reginald Scot
Reginald Scot was born in Kent, England to a Sir Richard Scot- who was the youngest son of Sir John Scot, a wealthy landowner- and Mary Whetenale Scot, who was the daughter of the sheriff of Kent. There is not much known about Scot’s childhood other than he was privately educated and grew up on the family’s estate. At the age of 17, Scot attended Hart College at Oxford University, however, he left before obtaining a degree. Scot preferred the country life rather than the world of academia. He was well read and studied folklore, law, and superstitions on his own.
Scot was married twice, but only had a daughter, Elizabeth, from his first marriage to Jane Cobbe. He worked as a subsidies collector for the government and served a year in Parliament. For most of his time, he managed family estates which he inherited and enjoyed tending to the hop gardens. In 1574 Scot published his first book entitled, A Perfect Platforme of a Hoppe-Garden. This book contributed to the advocacy of hop production and culture in Kent. Soon after, Kent became the hop-producing county in England.
Scot’s most well-known and controversial literary work was a self-published book entitled, The Discoverie of Witchcraft. In this book, Scot was so brazenly skeptical and questions the belief of witches and witchcraft which was undoubtedly real during that time. Scot was angered by the atrocities innocent women were subjected to- torture or death. He believed such acts to be irrational and un-Christian. This book was written as a refutation to the witch craze movement and he attempted to disprove the belief of witches and magic with the use of contemporary beliefs of philosophy. Scot’s book was really an encyclopedia that contained 16 books dealing with topics ranging from alchemy, magic/witches, belief of spirits, belief of the devil/demons,astrology, bible excerpts, and legerdemain ( the set of techniques used by magicians during that time to deceive people by manipulating objects-cards or coins ). Scot’s book was not received well by the leading theologians and demonologists of the day and after its publication King James I of England ordered all prints of the book to be burned. Nonetheless, The Discoverie of Witchcraft gave a glimmer of hope during the 16th century to skeptics of witchcraft and became an important document in the movement away from medieval superstition.
It is believed that Scot gained his knowledge for the book from the superstition and fears from the local people- who lived in the neighboring county of Essex- who had worked on his familie’s estates. It is not really known as to why Scot became so passionate about this movement. Perhaps a group of local trials for witchcraft struck his interest. One event that is said to have possibly sparked his interest were the witch trials of St. Osyth where 14 women were accused of witchcraft and two were hanged.
Reginald Scot took a bold step to defend these innocent women and proved that witchcraft did not exist. He was a rational rebel of his time.