Lucy Worsley Investigates, a new BBC series, will see the historian re-examine four dramatic chapters in Britain’s past.
Each episode sees her brings a contemporary perspective to the mystery at hand, exploring how changing attitudes to gender politics, class inequality, mental health and children can challenge our perceptions of the past and provide new answers.
A modern eye will be cast over the 16th century witch trials, the Black Death, the madness of King George III and the princes in the tower.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the first episode.
What happened to Agnes Sampson?
Lucy Worsley begins her investigation in North Berwick, a seaside town near Edinburgh where the first witch hunts began.
The story goes that in 1590 a coven of witches gathered here to cast a spell to try to kill the King of Scotland, James VI.
Viewing an account from the time, called Newes From Scotland, and other first-hand sources, Lucy uncovers a web of political intrigue that led to a woman called Agnes Sampson, a faith healer and midwife, being investigated.
Agnes is accused of witchcraft and interrogated at Holyrood Castle by King James himself, before being tortured and executed.
Agnes was caught in a perfect storm – hard-line Protestant reformers intent on making Scotland devout, a King keen to prove himself a righteous leader, and a new ideology which claimed the Devil was actively recruiting women as witches.
Under torture Agnes gave the names of her supposed accomplices, some 59 other innocent people, making hers the first successful large-scale witch hunt in Scotland.
Its brutal success became the model for witch trials rolled out across Scotland and England for the next 100 years.
‘Mouthy women’ treated like witches
As many as 60,000 people, mainly women, are estimated to have been accused of witchcraft across Europe during the height of the campaign, with many countries passing anti-witchcraft laws around the 16th century.
Lucy Worsley believes “the prejudices that led to witch hunts haven’t completely disappeared” and can be seen in the way modern women are treated and referred to.
Speaking to the Radio Times magazine, the 48 year old said: “The witch was a particularly dangerous fantasy. It identified members of the community who were perhaps older, single women, past the age of bearing children, who did nothing more suspicious than live in a house outside the village boundary.
“Today, ever so many people, but perhaps women in particular, feel a sense of kinship with our ancestors who were persecuted in this way. Anyone who’s ever been put down as a ‘difficult’ woman hears a distant echo of the past.
“We like to think we’re better than the people who hunted witches, but witch-hunting still happens in some parts of the world today and the prejudices that led to witch hunts haven’t completely disappeared either.
“It’s still the case that women, especially odd-seeming, mouthy ones, often feel the anger of the men whose hackles they raise.”