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The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century collects nine essays by Trevor-Roper on the themes of religion, the Reformation, and social change. As Trevor-Roper explains in his preface, "the crisis in government, society, and ideas which occurred, both in Europe and in England, between the Reformation and the middle of the seventeenth century" constituted the crucible for what "went down in the general social and intellectual revolution of the mid-seventeenth century." The Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution in England laid the institutional and intellectual foundations of the modern understanding of liberty, of which we are heirs and beneficiaries. Trevor-Roper's essays uncover new pathways to understanding this seminal time.
In his longest essay, "The European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Trevor-Roper points out that "In England the most active phase of witch-hunting coincided with times of Puritan pressure—the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the period of the civil wars—and some very fanciful theories have been built on this coincidence. But . . . the persecution of witches in England was trivial compared with the experience of the Continent and of Scotland. Therefore . . . [one must examine] the craze as a whole, throughout Europe, and [seek] to relate its rise, frequency, and decline to the general intellectual and social movements of the time. . . ." Neither Catholic nor Protestant emerges unscathed from the examination to which Trevor-Roper subjects the era in which, from political and religious causes, the identification and extirpation of witches was a central event.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre, is retired Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford. Among his works are The Last Days of Hitler, The Gentry, 1540–1640, The Rise of Christian Europe, the Plunder of the Arts in the Seventeenth Century, Princes and Artists: Patronage and Ideology at Four Hapsburg Courts, 1517–1633, and The Hermit of Peking.