Dr Tom Webster

Senior Lecturer; History


My roots are in Grimsby and I remain a Mariners supporter. My first degree was in History and Landscape Archaeology at the University of East Anglia, followed by a PhD at Jesus College, Cambridge on puritan spirituality, sociability and politics in the Caroline period. After a short time at Lambedr, I held a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship back at UEA before moving to Edinburgh as a Lecturer in British History in 1997. In 2006 I won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award for The Encyclopedia of Puritanism.


Responsibilities & affiliations

Reader for Routledge, Varsity, Bloomsbury and Yale University Press, English Historical Review, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, The Seventeenth century. Contributor to Fair Observer, Euro News, National Collective

Undergraduate teaching

  • Making Histories: Current Theories in Writing History (3/4 MA Option)
  • Methodology of History I (3/4 MA Option)
  • Early Modern English Witchcraft (3/4 MA Option)
  • Puritanism: Piety, Society and Revolution, 1603-1689 (3/4 MA Option)
  • History in Theory
  • British History I (Pre-Hons)

Postgraduate teaching

Contributions to

  • MSc in Gender History
  • MSc in Modern British and Irish Historiography
  • MSc in Historical Methodology

Past PhD students supervised

  • Schiller, Benjamin. PhD. Self and Other in Black and White: Slaves' letters and the Epistolary Cultures of American Slavery, c1730-1865. Primary. 2009
  • Nutting, Violet. PhD. Mapping Early Modern Knowledge, The Library of John Dee in a Comparative Perspective. Primary. 2008
  • Gifford, Gregory. PhD. Royal representations in Print: Charles II and the Exclusion Crisis (1678-1683). Primary. 2006
  • Gifford, Gregory. MScR. Royal representations in Print: Charles II and the Exclusion Crisis (1678-1683). Primary. 2002

Research summary

In broad terms, my research has three strands. The first is with puritan spirituality in context and its consequent interaction with ‘politics’ in early modern England. The second is with elements of witchcraft and particularly demonic possession in the same place and period. The third is drawing upon conversations with different disciplines and approaches in ways that develop different questions, different perspectives and ways that profitably open the assumptions of the historiography to question and bring, hopefully helpful, means of gaining different perspectives to the table.

This willingness to conduct conversations with alternative outlooks as a means of providing new perspectives and asking new questions has become more explicit in my current work. I am particularly interested in the debates around and the experience of being possessed by demons, bringing together anthropology, philosophy and theology as ways into understanding the realities of possession as well as tracing the politics of the place of possession in early modern spirituality. I have mapped a host of cases of possession from the 1560s through to the 1620s, involving social backgrounds and understandings which run contrary to the existing historiography and a gradual development of associated symptoms which fundamentally shifts the expectations of homogeneity current readers would expect to find. In addition, different approaches to questions of the reality of possession, the ʻtruthʼ of the experience profitably muddies the waters of an establishment scepticism currently portrayed. Part of this has brought a profitable exchange with the historiography of medicine, showing the default position of religious historians to trust the diagnosis of early modern physicians rather than clerical physicians symptomatic of an unfamiliarity with the heterogeneity of medical discourse, as well as much more fluid boundaries between the two than has previously been examined. The developing expectations of symptoms of possession, with different concentrations varying according to gender, age and social position has been assessed within a framework of gender, humanity and bestiality. This work is completed and in the process of going through the press.

Current research interests

The generation of English ministers succeeding and from the same social and spiritual networks as those involved with possession in the 1590s and thereafter can be seen dealing with a ʻmore respectableʼ metamorphosis of possession into obsession or less confrontational spiritual crisis. This has opened a second or complementary study of aspiration to ʻdivine unionʼ in puritan spirituality, drawing upon established pastoral guidance but also drawing from clerical relations with ʻgodlyʼ gentlewomen and, amazingly, sharing much common ground with the symptoms of demonic possession. The caution over the twin fears of possession and anabaptism contributed to a rigorous discipline of practical divinity which intensified the need for a more ‘mystical’ release, often through a passive empowerment through Canticles. Through the 1630s and into the mid-century crisis, in the context of alienation from the Church and then the lessening of institutional authority, this empowerment became less controlled and potentially more dissident. This work leads on to the next generation, the heirs of major figures of practical divinity and their controversies with the early Quakers where, ironically, they employed many of the same arguments that had been used against their forebears in the 1590s against the Quakers. The responses of the Quakers, similarly, have much in common with the late Elizabethan puritans. This research links to established interests in Puritanism and its comprehension in terms of piety, practice and politics as well as an engagement with different ways of producing history.

The list below is a subset of the information held on the University of Edinburgh PURE system, and includes Books, Chapters, Articles and Conference contributions. For a full list, including details of other publication types (e.g. reviews), please see the Edinburgh Research Explorer page for Dr Tom Webster.

Books - Authored

Webster, T. (forthcoming) Demonic Possession in Early Modern English Protestantism. Boydell Press

Webster, T. (forthcoming) Divine or Demonic: Controlling and Testing Spirits in Godly Spirituality. Boydell Press

Webster, T. (forthcoming) Spiritual Wrestling: The Making of Demonic Possession in Early Modern English Protestantism. Boydell Press


Webster, T. and Shaw, J. (2001) Sixteenth Century. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature, 85(1), pp. 48-66DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8314.00083


Webster, T. (2016) Protestantism and the Devil. In: Smuts, M. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the Age of Shakespeare.Oxford University Press, pp. 418-436DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199660841.013.24

Webster, T. (2011) Preaching and parliament, 1640-1659. In: McCullough, P., Adlington, H. and Rhatigan, E. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 404-422

Webster, T. (2011) On shaky ground: Quakers, Puritans, possession and high spirits. In:  The Experience of Revolution in Stuart Britain and Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 172-189

Webster, T. (2008) Early Stuart Puritanism. In: Coffey, J. and Lim, P. (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 48-66

Webster, T. (2008) (Re)possession of dispossession : John Darrell and diabolical discourse. In: Newton, J. and Bath, J. (eds.) Witchcraft and the Act of 1604: Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions: History, Culture, Religion, Ideas. Leiden: Brill

Webster, T. (2006) (Repossession of dispossession: John Darrell and diabolical discourse, proceedings of 'The Witchcraft Act of 1604 conference'. In: Newton, J. (ed.) The Witchcraft Act of 1604. Brill

Webster, T. (2006) A model puritan: an analysis of the uses of English historiography in studies of Scottish religion, proceedings of 'Scotland in the Seventeenth Century conference'. In: Sharon Adams, J. (ed.) Scotland in the Seventeenth Century.

Webster, T. (2006) Early Stuart Puritanism (8, 000 words). In: Lim, J. (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Puritanism.Cambridge University Press

Webster, T. (2006) to be added. In: T Webster, F. (ed.) Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: a comprehensive Encyclopaedia. ABC-CLIO

Webster, T. (2005) Piety of practice and practice of piety. In: Francis Bremer, L. (ed.) The World of John Winthrop: essays on England and New England 1588-1649. Northeastern University Press, pp. 111-146

Webster, T. (2004) Article on Jeremiah Burroughes. In:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press

Webster, T. (2004) Article on John Beadle. In:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press

Webster, T. (2004) Article on John Sprint. In:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press

Webster, T. (2004) Article on Matthew Newcomen. In:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press

Webster, T. (2004) Article on Samuel Stone. In:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press

Webster, T. (2004) Article on Stephen Marshall. In:  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press

Webster, T. (2004) The Diary of Samuel Rogers, 1634-1638. In: T Webster, K. (ed.) Church of England Record Society 11. Boydell Press

Webster, T. (2003) Religion in Early Stuart Britain. In: Coward, B. (ed.) A Companion to Stuart Britain: Blackwell Companions to British History. Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Webster, T. (2002) 'Kiss me with the kisses of his mouth': gender inversion and Canticles in godly spirituality. In: Betteridge, T. (ed.) Sodomy in Early Modern Europe. Manchester University Press, pp. 148-63

Webster, T. (2001) Land and Landscape. In: Swain, A. (ed.) Tudor England: an encyclopaedia. Garland Publishing, pp. 419-420