The Witch Hunts: Lucy Worsley Investigates

Tuesday: The Witch Hunts: Lucy Worsley Investigates - (BBC2, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Monday, 23rd May 2022, 5:00 pm

Lucy Worsley is one of Britain’s most famous historians – as well as being the Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and the author of numerous books, she’s also presented several successful TV series and documentaries, including Six Wives, British History’s Biggest Fibs and The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain.

In the unlikely event that she was considering a career change though, perhaps she should think about becoming a detective.

She’s looked at crime before, both in her TV series A Very British Murder and her current Radio 4 show Lady Killers, which finds her re-investigating the cases of Victorian women who were accused of murder.

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Now though, she’s using those sleuthing skills to tackle some of history’s biggest mysteries in Lucy Worsley Investigates.

Future episodes will see her looking at the causes of the Black Death, the supposed madness of King George III and one famous case that dates back to 1483, which she’s particularly keen to get her teeth into.

Lucy says: “I’m thrilled to be revisiting some of the big-hitting stories from history that just keep sucking us in, and like everyone who works at the Tower of London, I just can’t wait to share the next twist in the tale of what we think we know about the ‘murder’ of the Bloody Tower’s ‘Little Princes’.”

In each edition, she’ll assemble historical and contemporary evidence, draw on new discoveries, and call on some of the very best experts. But she’ll also be putting a modern lens on the past, asking how changing attitudes have also shaped our ways of thinking about these incidents.

Lucy says: “I also really love the fact that this isn’t just a series about the past. It’s also about what the past means today: an investigation of our own 2021 ideas about childhood, feminism, pandemics and mental health.”

So, expect some new insights as Lucy tackles her first subject – the witch hunts.

It’s a term that is still thrown around today, while the figure of the witch remains a potent one, usually associated with pointy hats and broomsticks. However, the presenter believes that the cliches have obscured the terrifying history of a period when thousands of ordinary people, most of them women, were tortured and killed.

Her investigation begins in North Berwick, where the story goes that in 1590 a coven of witches gathered to cast a spell to kill the King of Scotland, James VI. Agnes Sampson, a faith healer and midwife, was subsequently interrogated at Holyrood Castle by King James himself, before being tortured and executed.

During her torture, she revealed the name of 59 supposed accomplices, setting the model for the witch trials that would follow across England and Scotland over the next 100 years.

Yet as Lucy discovers, Agnes trial wasn’t just about black magic – it was also about hard-line Protestant reformers intent on making Scotland devout, a King keen to prove himself a righteous leader, and a new ideology that claimed the devil was recruiting women.