King James I (c. 1566-1625), when it comes to odd folklore, is best known for his ideas on witchcraft and evil forces. Yet, while studying and writing about these topics, King James also stumbled across topics that had nothing to do with demons or witches. He slipped a few these gems of non-witch folklore into the pages of his Demonology (published 1597), often using them to explain or elaborate on other theories that did pertain to witchcraft. One instance in which James did this was during his discussion of the infamous witch swimming (or dunking) trials, where the accused would be thrown into water and condemned if they floated. After elaborating on how a witch’s body supposedly interacted with water, King James segued to what folklorically would happen if a murderer came into contact with a victim’s blood.
According to King James, the body of a murder victim could provide investigators with more than mere forensic evidence. In his opinion, to solve the crime of murder, the authorities would need only to have all of the possible suspects touch the victim’s body and a miraculous sign would appear to pin the crime on a specific person. Regarding this peculiar sign, King James I wrote, “in a secret murder, if the dead carcass be at any time thereafter handled by the murderer, it will gush out of blood, as if the blood were crying to the heaven for revenge of the murderer” (Demonology, Book III, Chapter VI). Hopefully, few murder trials were solved through such evidence.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image of King James I meeting with Puritans, from a book by Henry Davenport Northrop (1836-1909), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Demonology of King James I (Book III, chapter VI), edition of Donald Tyson (Llewellyn Publications, 2011).