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THE FATE OF DIETRICH FLADE



187]



THE FATE OF DIETRICH FLADE.

By Professor GEORGE L. BURR, Cornell University.

When, just three hundred years ago, in the spring of the
year 1589, it was whispered abroad in Europe that no less a
personage than Dr. Dietrich Flade, of Trier, 1 city Judge of
that oldest of German towns, Dean of its juristic faculty,
ex-Rector of its university, a councillor of the Archbishop-
Elector himself, had been put on his trial for witchcraft,
men turned with a shudder of interest to watch the result.
And when, in mid-September of that year, there came the
further tidings that he had been convicted on his own con-
fession and burned at the stake, pious folk everywhere drew
a long sigh of relief that at last a ringleader of the horrid
crew of Satan had, spite of money and influence, been
brought to the fate he deserved. No voice anywhere was
raised in protest or in question. No word of pity found its
way into print.

But never again, even in Germany, did the persecution
strike so high. Though two centuries of witch-burning fol-
lowed, Dietrich Flade remains to our day its most eminent
victim in the land of its greatest thoroughness. And in
these later years of failing faith men have dared to ask
whether he was, after all, guilty of the preternatural crime
laid to his charge, and to wonder what other cause may
have brought the accusation which cost his life. Wide has
been the field of conjecture. Was he, perhaps, a martyr
who brought suspicion on himself by opposing the persecu-
tion of others ? Was he a heretic, whose politic foes found

1 Better known to us, though a German city, by its Gallicized name of
Treves, or Treves.

189] 3



4 George L. Burr's Paper. [190

it easier to burn him as a witch than as a Protestant ? Was
he only a corrupt magistrate, for whom this seemed the
most convenient method of impeachment? Did he but owe
his death to the malice of some spiteful criminal, to the
cunning of some private foe, to the greed of some heir who
coveted his wealth ? Each of these theories might be sus-
tained by contemporary hints, and either is but too sadly
plausible in the light of what we know of his time ; but the
scholars who have thus speculated as to the fate of Dietrich
Flade have been forced to add that the one document
which might have answered their question the minutes of
his trial has long been lost to research. 1

That document lies before me"; and it is upon the basis

1 What has been known about Flade is, all told, very little. Just before
the middle of the last century, Hauber, stirred to curiosity by the allusion of
Delrio, discussed his fate in the chapter of his Bibliotheca magica which has
remained the main source for all later historians of witchcraft ; but, beside
Delrio, Hauber had no materials save the bare mention by the contemporary
Cratepolius. Later in the eighteenth century, the eminent Trier historian and
Vice-Bishop, Hontheim, gave to Flade a foot-note of sympathetic appreciation ;
while the Trier jurist, Neller, on the other hand, blackened his fame by resur-
recting for a student's thesis the Elector's letter to the theological faculty (see
page 36 below). In 1817, the city librarian, Wyttenbach (in his Versuch
einer Geschichte von Trier, published as a serial in the Trierischer Adress-
kalender, 1810-22), would gladly have told more about him ; but the records
of his trial, which were known to have shortly before existed at Trier, Wytten-
bach could not find, though he found men who had read them. In 1818, how-
ever, the Echternach antiquary, Clotten, produced what seemed fragments of
them. They were printed by Mtiller (in the Trierisches Wochenblatt for 1818,
Nos. 49-51), and were afterward given to the city library at Trier, in whose
keeping they still are. When, a few years later, the two last-named historians
(Wyttenbach and Mtiller) published their edition of the Gusto. Trevirorum,
they added to its third volume (1839) a valuable note on Flade. The later
histories of Trier, including even the elaborate work of Marx, add nothing to
our knowledge of him. The article upon him, by Professor Dr. Kraus, in the
Allgemeine deutsche Biographie contributes, however, one or two fresh facts.

2 Since 1883 it has been in the possession of the President White library at
Cornell University. Glancing through an old-book catalogue issued, late in 1882,
by Albert Cohn, of Berlin, my eye lit on the title of this manuscript. I laid it
before President White, who at once, spite of an inaccuracy in the name,
divined that it was the trial of Dr. Flade, whose case he knew well through
his researches in this field. We ordered it forthwith, and were overjoyed both
to secure it and to find it what we had hoped. Of its earlier fortunes I have



191] The Fate of Dietrich Flade. 5

of this and of other papers 1 which have hitherto escaped the
historians that I wish to discuss once more the story of his
life.

For at least three generations the Flades had been loyal
servants of the Electors of Trier. Before the close of the
fifteenth century Hupert Flade had left his Luxemburg
home at St. Vith to enter the archiepiscopal Kanzlei ; and
he had received more than one substantial recognition of
his worth as a secretary before he found himself snugly

been able to learn only that it was for a time in the possession of the well-
known Coin bookseller, Lempertz, who offered it in a catalogue of 1874.
Whence it had come into his hands he could in 1886 no longer remember. It
was bought from him by a Coin collector, at the dispersion of whose library
it drifted to the shelves of the Berlin dealer. Wyttenbach's words as to its loss
are : " Bis auf unsere Zeiten waren die Originalpapiere dieses Prozesses auf-
bewahrt worden ; aber sie sind entkommen, man weiss nicht wohin. Ich habe
sie nie gelesen ; aber man sagt mir, dass darin der Doctor der Zauberey selbst
gestandig gewesen." It is possible that, with so much else, they went astray
during the French occupation. I hope to print the manuscript as an appendix
to my forthcoming catalogue of the President White collection on witchcraft.
It is a folio, neatly written in a Kanzlei hand familiar to the contemporary
records at Trier. Of its original 126 leaves, the first is detached and sadly
worn ; the second is wholly gone (I have fortunately been able to supply its
contents from the fragments at Trier), while ff. 105, 106 (a part of Flade's
confession the later Urgicht suggests their substance) have been rudely cut
out, their stubs remaining. Else the document is complete, beginning with
the first calling together of the court, and ending with the execution. The
Clotten fragments (see last note), still preserved at Trier, were never a part of
it, but are rather the original papers from which this final protocol was drawn
up. They comprise : (i) Most of the Fath report, in what I believe the hand-
writing of that commissioner ; (2) all the miscellaneous reports therewith sub-
mitted to the court by the Elector (see note on page 32 below) ; (3) the minutes
of the proceedings connected with Flade's arrest, in the handwriting of the
court clerk, Wilhelm von Biedborgh ; (4) three more or less complete reports
of the first examination of Flade, partly in the handwriting of Biedborgh,
partly in a Kanzlei hand resembling that of our own protocol. These could
not have been what Wyttenbach's informant had seen, for they contain nothing
of Flade's confession, nor indeed of his trial proper. A brief account of our
own manuscript, by Dr. William H. Carpenter, now of Columbia College, was
published in the library bulletin of Cornell University in April, 1883.

1 Of these the most important are : (i) The annual reports, manuscript and
printed, of the Trier Jesuits ; (2) the remains at Trier of the judicial records
of the witch-trials ; (3) the significant passages of Brouwer and of Binsfeld.
There has been, indeed, hitherto no attempt at investigation of the case.



6 George L. Burrs Paper. [192

established as Cellarer, or Steward, of the Electoral estates
at Pfalzel, on the Moselle, just below Trier. 1 His son,
Johann,* the father of Dietrich, rose to the responsible posi-
tion of town clerk of the neighboring city itself.

When Dietrich Flade was born, or where he gained his
education for the law, does not appear. Inheriting position
and wealth, he would seem to have early devoted himself to

1 Thus, on December 31, 1495, the Elector "verschreibt dem Hupert Flade
eine iahrrente von 4 malter frucht und 4 ohm wein " ; on June 25, 1499,
he " giebt seinem kanzleischreiber Hupert Flade von St. Vyt und dessen
ehefrau Margaretha Kellners von Ellenz anstatt einer weinrente von 4 ohm,
auf lebenszeit einen wingert zu Fankel" ; and on June 28, 1499, ne " belehnt
denselben Hupert Flad mit 4 wingerten zu Ellentz " (Goerz, Regesten d, Erzb.
su Trier). These last gifts were, perhaps, on the occasion of Hupert's mar-
riage. Both Fankel and Ellentz are on the Moselle, near Cochem, whence the
deeds of gift are dated. That Dietrich was a grandson of Hupert, there can,
I think, be little doubt. In the Neue Zeitung of 1594 (see note on page 45
below), the ill-fated judge is himself spoken of as " von Kochheim an der
Mosel." That Hupert Flade became later Electoral Cellarer at Pfalzel, we
know, on his own testimony, from a paper (in codex 1753 of the Stadt-Biblio-
thek at Trier), dated " anno 1504 more Trev.," drawn " durch mich Huprech-
ten Flade von Sant Vyt Kelner zu Paltzel," and signed " Hupt Flade."
That Dietrich Flade, too, held property at Pfalzel is known to Dr. Kraus (see
his article on Flade in the Allgemeine deutscht Biographic) from the Pfalzel
church records.

"* That Johann Flade was Dietrich's father is assumed without question by
Wyttenbach and Mliller (in their note to the Gesta Trev.), and is certainly
probable. In a manuscript still preserved in the City Library at Trier, an
account of " Wie Frantz von Sieckingen den Stiflt beschediget und . . . diess
Stat Trier belegert haitt" in 1522, compiled from the city records by order of
the Rath, and written by Johann Flade's own hand, he speaks of himself as
" mech, Johannem Flade vonn Sant Vyt der Stat Trier Secretarien." He still
held this office in 1556 (Hontheim, Hist. Trev. Dipl., ii.), but in 1559 had
given place to a successor (Peter Dronkmann).

As to the proper spelling of the name Flade, there can be no doubt ; for,
though it appears under various disguises (Flad, Fladt, Vlaet, Fladius, Vlae-
tius, Flattenus) in contemporary sources, all the autographs of the Flades agre,,
in this form. There lies before me an autograph receipt, given officially by
Dietrich Flade, June 28, 1587 (I owe it to the scholarly generosity of Dr. Con-
rad Cuppers, of Coin), in which he signs himself " Dietherich Flade doctor |
Chfl. Tr : Rhat vnd Schultes | zu Trier." The seal (Petschaft) attached bears
his arms and the initials " T. F. | L. D." (Theodoricus Flade, Legum Doctor?)
I have found among the documents of the Trier City Library only two bearing
his signature, though there are several in his handwriting. Dr. Kraus (in the
Allg. deutsche Biog.) cites two other signatures. All are written " Flade."



193] The Fate of Dietrich Flade. y

political life; and we first meet him, in 1559, as a councillor
of Johann VI., the ablest and most energetic of the Electors
of Trier in that half-century. It was the critical time of^the
Protestant attempt to introduce the Reformation into Trier,
and the young jurist was added to the important Commis-
sion charged with the suppression of the disorder. 1 A
fellow-member of that Commission, the Cathedral-Dean,
Jacob von Eltz, became eight years later the successor of
Johann VI. on the archiepiscopal throne ; and it was prob-
ably to Jacob III., whose best claim to the gratitude of pos-
terity lies in his care for the courts of his province, that
Dietrich Flade owed his appointment to one of the highest
judicial positions in the land the headship of the civil
court at Trier, which carried with it an assessor's seat on the
bench of the supreme tribunal of the Electorate at Coblenz.*
And when, a few years later, he was honored with the de-
gree of Doctor of the Civil and of the Canon Law,* a career

1 "Sexto Septembris" f I 559] sa y s Brouwer (Annales Trev., ii., p. 389),
" junxere se Principis legatis Jacobus ab Eltz templi primarii Decanus, . . .
Theodoricus Fladius, et Jacobus Henselius jureconsulti." (Yet, a little earlier,
Brouwer names the same " Theodoricus Fladius" among the members of the
original Commission a manifest inconsistency, and doubtless an oversight.)

* His appointment dates, perhaps, from the Elector's "Reformatio judicii
scabinalis Trevirensis," in April of 1569. In July of that year the edict re-
organizing the Coblenz court, names among; the assessors "Diederichen Flade,
unsern Schultheisen zu Trier, etc." (Hontheim, Hist. Dipl. Trev., iii.). The
office brought with it, too in Flade's case, at least the judgeship of the
jurisdiction of the Cathedral Provost at Trier. Thus, in a collection of " Ur-
fehden," etc., of the Domprobstei, from the years 1581-93 (codex 1500 of the
Trier Stadt-Bibliothek), an Urfehde of July 29, 1581, is in his handwriting,
and a slip of December, 1583, is addressed to "d. Ern. u. Hochgel. Heir
Dietherich Flad, als Schultbeiss der Dhom Probsteien zu Trier." Very vivid
becomes his relation to the criminal justice of the city, as one comes upon a
note to him (of May 9, 1572) announcing that the town council " sei willigh
Iren Ern : wie von alters den armen gefanghenen menschen mil seiner urgicht,
so ihn Sant Simeons Thorn [the old Roman Porta Nigrd\ gefanghen ligt, zu
lieberen " ; or when one finds, appended to the protocol of the trial of the rob-
ber Sontag of Crittenach, in 1574, an account of his formal surrender by the
city authorities to Dr. Flade, with the formulae spoken by the Stadt-Zender
and the Judge, respectively.

3 At some time between 15/0 and 1573. An autograph letter of Flade's to the
Elector (in codex 1775 of the Trier Stadt-Bibliothek), dated February 6, 1570



8 George L. Burrs Paper. [194

successful and happy seemed assured to him. By his
sovereign, at least, he must have been counted a not un-
worthy servant; for when, in 1580, the decision of the
Emperor Rudolf put an end to the century-long struggle of
the city for its civic independence, and the triumphant
Elector reorganized the government of the town, the
jurisdiction of the city court was greatly increased and
Dietrich Flade remained at its head, receiving in virtue of
his office not only an important seat in the newly framed
town council, but becoming the Vice-Governor of the
city. 1

Nor was his domestic outlook less bright than his public
one. His wife, a Homphaeus of Cochem," was a kinswoman
of the great Emmerich humanist of that name ; and her
brother, Christoph, a fellow-jurisconsult in the service of the
Elector, had, though a layman, been for a time entrusted
with the weighty duties of the Officialate at Trier, while
another brother, Peter, was Dean at Pfalzel.' His own



(" 1569 more Trev."), shows that he had not then the title ; while a report (in
the same codex), of July 2, 1573, is signed by him as " Dietherich Flade doct : "
The source of the degree was, very probably, the University of Trier. It was
not necessarily an honorary one. Wilhelm von Biedborgh, already, in 1572,
Flade's colleague as court clerk (Gerichtschreiber), was examined for the doctor-
ate by that university in 1588.

1 Hontheim, Hist. Trev. Dipl., iii.

* This is an inference from his uncleship to the children of Christoph Hom-
phaeus. It is, of course, quite as possible that the latter married Flade's sister ;
but Flade himself speaks to the Elector (see page 36 below) of " meiner lieben
haussfrauwen solicher ansehenlichen freundtschafft," and this tallies well with
the Homphaei.

3 For the brothers Homphaeus, see Hontheim, Hist. Trev. Dipl., ii., pp.
55O. 553 554 i"-> P- 44. an d Marx, Geschichte d. Erzstifts Trier, ii.,
p. 494. In 1576, Agricius dedicated a poem to these two "durch Gelehrsam-
keit ausgezeichneten Sohnen des Christoph Homphaus zu Cochem " (Marx, ii.,
p. 511). Peter, the Emmerich teacher, is said to have been the uncle of these
two. For Flade's relationship, see Flade trial (it is thus that I shall cite the
manuscript described above, p. 2), pp. 70, 80, 130, and also pp. 29, 33, 34, of
the present paper. Christoph Homphaeus died not later than 1587. The
younger Peter (see p. 28 below), who himself narrowly escaped trial for witch-
craft, lived till 1600. Thirty years he was Dean at Pfalzel, and twice was
Rector of the Unive^ ity of Trier.



195] The Fate of Dietrich Flade. 9

brother, Dr. Franz Flade, was high in favor at Speyer. 1 At
least one son, too, had come to gladden his home. 1

But the storm that was to rob him of fortune, fame, and
life was already brewing all along the horizon. The witch-
trials, which, during the earlier part of the century, had
appeared only sporadically, were settling here and there
into organized persecutions. In the neighboring Lorraine,
the terrible Nicolas Remy was already exercising that judge-
ship, as the fruit of whose activity he could boast a decade
later of the condemnation of nine hundred witches within
fifteen years ; and just across the nearer frontier of Luxem-
burg, now in Spanish hands, the fires were also blazing.'
Nay, the persecution had already, in 1572, invaded the
Electorate itself. 4 It was in that year that, in the domain

1 See Flade trial, p. 89, and p. 29 below. He, too, at the beginning of his
career, had served the Elector of Trier; at least, a "Dr. Franz Fladt" is
mentioned (by Marx, i., p. 377, citing v. Stramberg's Moselthal) as taking
part, on December I, 1566, in the forcible re-establishment of Catholicism at
Croff, in the "Croverreich."

9 Flade trial, p. 38.

3 Remy's book, on whose title-page this boast is made, was, indeed, not
printed till 1595 ; but he cites no cases later than 1591. He mentions none, it
is true, earlier than 1581 ; but he expressly tells us in his preface that not till
he had been five years active as a witch-destroyer did he begin taking notes for
his book. Of at least one Luxemburg trial, of 1580, a fragment remains at
Trier. It must be remembered that both Lorraine and Luxemburg were in
the archdiocese of Trier. In Alsatia the persecution had been raging since
1570. In the Lutheran county of Sponheim, lying just east of Trier, and cut-
ting the Electorate nearly in two, we hear, in 1573, of several witches impris-
oned and tortured at the Wartelstein, near Kirn ; and, in 1574, of one at
Castellaun. (See Back, Die evangelische Kirche zwischen Rhein, Mosel u.
Nahe, iii., pp. 249, 250, 352.)

4 It is, of course, not my purpose here to narrate the history of the witch-
persecution at Trier, save in so far as is necessary to explain the fate of Flade.
I have, indeed, long hoped to devote a study to that episode, which has seemed
to me of an importance quite unique in the history of witchcraft ; and during
two stays abroad, in 1884-86 and 1888, I was able to gather for its illustration
not a little which has been of incidental value to the present study. Beside
parts of the minutes of three or four of the trials, all that has been published
upon it is : (l) a little pamphlet, printed in 1830 by the Trier antiquary, M. F.
J. Muller, under the title of Kleiner Beitrag zur Geschichte dts ffexenwesens
im XVI. Jahrhundert, which is an account of only a single manuscript
source (the St. Maximin witch-register see note on page 20 below) ; (2) a



io George L. Burr s Paper. [196

of the abbey of St. Maximin, whose long contest against
the temporal jurisdiction of the Elector had been closed by
an imperial decision in 15/0, a poor creature named Eva,
from the village of Kenn, imprisoned and convicted on a
charge of child-murder, was dragged from her cell and, in
the absence of the magistrate, tortured further into a con-
fession of witchcraft. Two old women implicated by her
went with her to the stake ; and two more victims of her
accusations were still under the torture when our record of
the episode breaks off. 1

magazine series (with a running appendix of witch-trials), by the Coblenz
jurist, A. F. J. Liel, on Die Verfolgung der Zauberer und Hexen in dem Kur-
ftirstenthume Trier (in the Archiv fur Rheinische Geschichte, i., 1833), which
unfortunately broke off with a mere introduction ; and (3) the little contribution
of Dr. Hennen, to be mentioned in my next note.

1 For the details of this episode, see the little pamphlet published by Dr.
Gerhard Hennen, in 1887 : Ein Hexenprozess aus der Umgegend von Trier
aus dem Jahre 1572. There is every internal evidence that the case of Eva
of Kenn was the first witch-trial in its region. The prime mover in the out-
rage I believe to have been Peter Omsdorf, notary of the ecclesiastical court at
Trier, whose acquaintance we shall make later (see p. 29 below). It was he
who, in the absence of both Amtmann and Schultheiss, took down Eva's first
examination for witchcraft. The man implicated by her confession as to her
child, sent a friend to prefer this charge against her: " darauff ist die Arme
Person herauss genommen und daruberin gegenwurtigkeitt Meiers und zweyer
SchSffen auch dess Ernhafften Petri Ombsdorff Notarien in meinem abwesen
verhortt worden." What power belonged to the notaries in these rural courts
may be gathered from the words of a Trier jurist (Nicolaus Hontheim, De arte
Nolariatus, cited by Marx, Geschichte d. Erzslifts Trier, ii., p. 86) of the be-
ginning of the following century, who says that " dasei es denn vorgekommen,
dass, wenn Angeklagte auf die Folter gebracht worden, die Richter im Wirths-
hause bei Tische gesessen hatten, wahrend Der, welcher den Schreiber machen
und das Protokoll ftihren sollte, die Fragen an den Angeklagten gestellt, die
Folter gesteigert, mit Stacheln den Inquisiten gestochen, Streiche ihm versetzt,
brennende Fackeln an ihn gehalten und den Scharfrichter gemacht habe."
The record, in Omsdorfs own handwriting, is inserted at the end of a collec-
tion of the Scheffen-Weisheiten, or common-law maxims, of the villages within
the jurisdiction of St. Maximin, made (doubtless in pursuance of the subordina-
tion of the abbey by the imperial decision of 1570) by the hand of Wilhelm
von Biedborgh, court clerk at Trier. The volume containing it was, when I first
used it (in 1885), still the property of a village wife at Fell ; but it is now in
the hands of an eminent professor (Dr. Reuss, of the theological seminary at
Trier), to whose courtesy I owe the privilege of a re-examination. There is
much in the trial of Eva of Kenn to mark it as the earliest in its series ; and



197] The Fate of Dietrich Flade. 1 1

Of this occurrence there is no reason to suppose that the
city court, a dozen miles away, had any official cognizance ;
and it is interesting to note that in the new code for the
government of the town the crime of witchcraft is not so
much as mentioned. 1 The prime source of the epidemics
of witch-persecution was, however, not forgotten : the tor-
ture was amply provided for. 1 And it was not long before
a chance for its use presented itself.

Yet riot under the administration of Archbishop Jacob
III.; that prelate passed away in 1581. Again it was a
colleague and associate of Dietrich Flade who succeeded to
the See Johann von Schonenburg, Provost of the Cathe-
dral and, since the reorganization of the city, Governor of
Trier. Of noble birth, like all his brother canons at Trier,
and, like most of them, not yet in priestly orders, Johann
VII. was yet in person and in bearing the very type of the
parish priest. His piety is lauded by all his biographers ;
and no one who has studied for a moment his pinched face,
as portrayed for us by the art of his contemporaries the
thin lips, the straight, sharp nose, the feeble beard straggling
over lips and chin, the tense lines of cheek and brow, the
soured expression a face that bespeaks not more the sick
man than the bigot will doubt the truth of their verdict. 1

that the persecution at this time went little, if any, further, is rendered probable
by the fact that no other witches than these are mentioned in the extant con-
fessions of the later witches of the region.

1 Various other crimes are named. The code (Reformalio senatus et


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