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Yesterday evening I delivered a lecture entitled ‘Magic in English Political History’ at Birkbeck, University of London, as part of the series Renaissance: Concepts and Issues, at the kind invitation of Dr Stephen Clucas. The lecture focussed on the intersection between political history and occult traditions in medieval England, examining both the positive and negative portrayal of occult traditions in politics. I have previously written on the role of magic as a political accusation in England, but in this talk I went beyond that narrow focus to look at the origins of the politicisation of magic in the twelfth century through the figure of Merlin, and the succession of real individuals who assumed (or were perceived to assume) the mantle of Merlin as magical royal advisers throughout history. I also drew links between the medieval and early modern evidence and the contemporary phenomenon of magical acts performed against President Trump in the USA.
I am grateful to Stephen Clucas for inviting me to deliver the lecture and to the students for the stimulating discussion afterwards.