Many historical empires have passed laws outlawing the practice of Witchcraft, usually accompanying a gruesome death penalty. The Spanish Inquisition is one of the best known mandates. The Salem Witch trials are a staple of American history. The English Witchcraft Acts of the 16th and 17th Century, though lesser known, are of equal importance in tracing the persecution of followers of the Craft over the ages.
The claim to the British Throne had historically been attributed to the Divine’s will, meaning that a King’s or Queen's ascension was an act of God, not to be questioned in any which way. However, around the start of the 16th Century, new sects of Christianity and other faiths had been spreading to England, and individuals began to question the legitimacy of the King’s claim to power. While the British Monarchs had asserted their authority by imposing religion upon their subjects, the times began to change. Those who sought to practice a different religion advocated for this freedom, and the supposed Divine Monarch was losing control.
These advocates were successful to an extent, when Henry VIII excommunicated the Church of England from the Catholic Church’s Papal Supremacy, yet instead of allowing the freedom of religion, Henry VIII declared himself the Spiritual Leader and Supreme Head of the Church of England. In order to maintain control over his subjects, he passed an Act in 1542 A.D., punishing his easiest targets, Witches, making it illegal to practice the Craft by penalty of death.
Though this Act was repealed four years later, Elizabeth I had authorized a similar act in 1562, a few years after ascending the throne. This Witchcraft Act, technically called the Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments, and Witchcrafts was slightly more lenient than Henry VII’s act, yet still proved to be persecution at its finest. Witches were generally no longer burnt at the stake, and were sometimes afforded the right to be heard in a common law trial. But for the most part the result was the same. An individual who admitted to practice the Craft or study the Occult in any which way was certain to face a death penalty.
Then, in perhaps the best known Witchcraft Act in England during this time period, James I expanded the law that Elizabeth I had established. In 1604 he passed the Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and Dealing with Evil and Wicked Spirits right after claiming the throne.