Scientists were not in general considered to be witches, though some of their activites might be viewed with suspicion. Science and superstition overlapped. For instance, 'astromony' and 'astrology' were frequently used as interchangeable terms, most elizabethans would not have seen much difference between the two. In 'Elizabethan england' Alison Plowden writes:
' It was widely believed that the planets and the signs of the Zodiac exercised a profound influence over human affairs and that men's fates and natures were governed by their stars. elizabethans were in the habit of consulting their favorite astrologer before taking any important decision in the course of their lives. medicine and astrology were still closely allied, for just as it was believed that the moon caused madness, so it was thought that the various parts of the human body were ruled by particular signs of the Zodiac.
The fortune-telling aspect of astrology was frowned on by the church, and teh Puritan writer Philp Stubbes vigorously denounced all 'astrologers, astronomers and prognosticators" Their art, he said, was based on nothing but 'mere conejctures, supposals, likelihood, guesses...conjunction of signs, stars and planets and the like, and not upon any certaing round, knowledge or truth, either of God or of natural reason.' By the end of the Elizabethan era a new mood of scepticism meant that astrology was falling into disrepute and intot he hands of charlatans and swindlers. All the same, there is no doubt that the popular passion for astrology had served to stimulate the serious study of astronomy.
Another branch of science which depended on an improved understanding of astronomy was oceanic navigation. The Engish took the lead in developing the compass. IN 1585, Robert Norman, a seman and compassmaker, announced his important discovery of the dip of the mangetic needle - the result of 20 years experience at sea. Thomas Hood of Cambridge designed a new cross-staff described as "perhpas the first natuical instrtument to measure the sun's altitude by indirect observation. William Barlow, the son of a Bishop, invented an improved compass, and Thomas Hariot designed an improved device for taking altitudes at sea. He also compiled the firs table of amplitudes - the angular distance of the sun from the orizon,which mde it possible to correct the compass daily at sea, at sunrise or sunset.
Elizabethan scientists were practical men who did not remain secluded in laboratories or studies. On the contrary, tehy frequently accompanied the explorers to test their navigational and mathematical theories in the field. Nor did they attempt to confine themselves to a single discipline. "I have taken all knowledge to be my province" wrote Francis Bacon, the great elizabethan inellectual - a claim which seemed in no way unreasonable to his contemporaries. Thomas digges the astronomer, who was among the first to come to terms with the concept of an infinite universe, did not think it beneath his dignity to apply his mathematical genius to the more mundane matters of military fortifications and ballistics. William Glibert, whose work in the field of electro-magnetism set English science on the raod to the discoveries of Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday, was also a well-known medical practitioner and President of the royal college of Physicians.
The Welshman John Dee is probably the best remembered Elizabethan scientist. Dee's obsession with astrology and the cabbalistic arts has damaged his reputation as a serious scholar, but he was in fact a man of enormous learning, another mathematical genius and an experimental and theoretical scientist second to none in his time.
Dee was an earnets and influential promoter of oceanic exploration and expansion. He was consulted by all the voyagers, especially in connection with ocean voyages and colonies in the New World. But forward-looking though he was in some respects, he also wasted time and energy down the unprofitable blind-alleys of alchemy, seraching for the elixir of life and the so-called 'philosopher's stone' which, it was optimistically believed, could turn base metals into gold.
Alechemy was founded on the false theory of matter. The alchemists assumed that all substances were composed of one primitive matter, capable of taking on different form by theimpsiiton of different qualities, such as heat, cold, dryness and moisture. It therefore seemed to follow that if these qualities could be abstracted by chemical processes, the primitve matter could be laid bare, and by further treatment transformed into whatever substance was required. Alchemy was officially illegal in England, and Dr Dee, who had been appointed royal adviser on mystic secrets, pursued his arcane researches under royal protection.'
So you can see that science in the Elizabethan era was a mixture of serious scientific research and what we would regard as superstition, astrology mingling with astronomy, and serious scientists nevertheless pursuing the quest for a way to turn base metals into gold and develop an 'elixir of life'.
Alchemy was officially illegal, but again as you can see Queen elizabeth permitted John Dee and others to practise it.
People who were persecuted as witches were not generally people who were involved ins cientific research. Generally they were people who were suspected of being in league with the devil to do harm to others. Accusations of witchcraft tended to come from people within the same community, the chruch did not generally have much to do with it. Women were more often accused, and in England it seems to have been mostly women who were prosecuted, though in europe overall about 25% of those executed for withcraft were men. In England, witches were hanged, not burned. Courts were generally reluctant to try witches, as it was very difficult to obtain proof, overall about 50% of those tried for witchcraft were acquitted. Witch hunts tended to occur in periods when social conditions were bad, i.e. during outbreaks of disease, bad harvests, or during wars.
'elizabethan England' by Alison Plowden
'Witches and Neighbours' by Robin Briggs
'Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose' by Robert W. Thurston