In 1856 William Dove, a young tenant farmer, was tried and executed for the poisoning of his wife Harriet. The trial might have been a straightforward case of homicide, but because Dove became involved with Henry Harrison, a Leeds wizard, and demonstrated through his actions and words a strong belief in magic and the powers of the devil, considerable effort was made to establish whether these beliefs were symptomatic of insanity. It seems that Dove murdered his wife to hasten a prediction made by Harrison that he would remarry a more attractive and wealthy woman. Dove employed Harrison to perform various acts of magic, and also made his own written pact with the devil to improve his personal circumstances.
The book will study Dove’s beliefs and Harrison’s activities within the rural and urban communities in which they lived, and examine how modern cultures attempted to explain this largely hidden mental world, which was so sensationally exposed. The Victorian period is often portrayed as an age of great social and educational progress. This book shows how beliefs dismissed by some Victorians as ‘medieval superstitions’ continued to influence the thoughts and actions of many people, viz most famously Conan `table tapper' Doyle.