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arms are fastened at the wrists. Midway in these stakes
large chains are fastened to the walls to hold the
prisoner always in one attitude. In some cases, too,
the prisoners have to wear large heavy irons on their
feet, so that they can neither stretch them out nor draw
them in. Some prisons have narrow holes in the walls
in which a man can scarcely sit, He, or stand ; into these
the poor wretches are crammed, and shut in with iron
doors so that they can neither turn nor move. Others
have pits fifteen, twenty, thirty fathoms deep, walled
n hke wells or cellars in the strongest possible manner,
covered at the top with strong doors or iron bars,
through which the prisoners, with hands and feet free,
are let down with cords, and drawn up again when
wanted. Prisons of all these kinds I have myself seen,
and I fully beheve there are many other varieties, some
even more cruel, but some less so and more bearable.'


* Soiiiotinios the colls are so cold that the prisoners'
feet get frozen, or even frozen oflt, and when they are let
out they are cripples for hfe. Some of the poor creatures
are left in utter darkness ; they never get a glimpse of the
sun and never know whether it is day or night. Having
no power, or very Uttle, over their arms and legs, they
suffer perpetual discomfort ; they are obliged to lie in
their own filth and stench, in a far more wretched
condition than the cattle ; they are ill fed, sleep badly,
and are plagued with sad thoughts, bad dreams, fears,
and anguish. They are tormented and devoured by
lice, mice, and other vermin. And besides all this, they
are daily loaded with abuse, raihng, and threats by
gaolers and executioners. In short, the prisoner's
hfe is misery itself. Their sufferings sometimes drag
on for two, three, four, five months, sometimes for
several years, till they are reduced to idiotcy or semi-
idiotcy. Oh you judges, what are you about ! What
do you think of yourselves ? Are you not aware that
you are guilty of your prisoners' most horrible deaths ? ' i

Praetorius here touches on a point which is specially
significant as regards the corrupt and barbarous con-
dition of the penal justice of that period. Many of the
mediaeval prisons were indeed cruel enough ; but
criminal justice, at that time, was swift and rapid in its
course. It was another matter in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, when justice became slower and
the imprisonment of accused persons dragged on and
on : then the underground dungeons of the Middle Ages
were used for the prisoners' confinement during trial,
which, owing to the formahties of a confused and

^ Praetorius, Von Zmiberey und Zauherern, 221 ff., by Soldan-Heppe, i.


pompous jurisprudence, may have gone on for years.
* The existing prisons now became the sum total of all
horrors and tortures, more so than had ever entered the
mind of their builders/ ^

For full ten years the Saxon Chancellor Krell,
condemned on account of Calvinistic heresies, was con-
fined in a small room where rain came in at four places,
and which was full of dirt and vermin, till at last, on
October 9, 1601, he was executed with a sword which bore
the inscription : ' Beware, Calvinist, Dr. Nicholas
Krell ! ' 2 l^ view of such prisons one can understand
a remark of the Leipzig Superintendent George Weierich,
in 1609 : * Many dark, uncanny dungeons under the
earth are so gruesome that the prisoners w^ould a
thousand times rather be dead than ahve in them ;
indeed it has often happened that evil-doers have been
found dead in the cells from fear and horror.' ^

The mode of enforcement of the highest criminal
penalty, punishment by death, also became more and
more barbarous and cruel after the close of the Middle
Ages.^ Almost always the execution was preceded by

' ' One must see the trebly and quaclruply enclosed dark dungeons under
the Nuremberg town-hall in order to form an idea of what it meant to
lie walled in for weeks and years, without hght, without fresh air, without
the provisions necessary for life, only imperfectly guarded against the
cold of winter, plagued with unbearable stenches and vermin, &c.' See
A. Streng in the Beilage zur Allgem. Ztg. 1881, No. 102. See also Waldau,
Neue Beiirdge, i. 4:32 &. : 'Von dem Lochgefangniss in Niirnberg.' Con-
cerning the latter prison, see also Knapp, Das alte Nurnberger Kriminalrecht
(Berlin, 1896), p. 75 ff. Down to the end of the sixteenth century lifelong
imprisonment was still in vogue in Nuremberg : I.e. p. 64 if.

- See present work, ix. p. 231.

^ Vorrede zu den zweiundzwanzig Leichpredigten des Sebastian Arto-
medes (Leipzig, 1609), Bl. C. 4.

'• Kriegk, i. 197 S. In Nuremberg from 1.515-1580 drowning was the
regular capital punishment for women, instead of Inirial ahve, which was


unspeakable sulTorings, Perhaps in no epoch of German
history were sueh horrible executions registered as at the
period of tlie Church schism. Often the sentences
sound hke ))U)ody mockery. Thus, for instance, the
punisliment of the famous Wilham von Grumbach in
1567 was modified by the Saxon Elector, ' out of native
goodness,' to his being * only quartered alive.' On April
18 this sentence was Uterally fulfilled on the gouty
old man of sixty-four, after he had been tortured for
four days previously. * The executioners,' says an
eye-witness, ' cut his heart out of his body and clapped
it on his mouth, after which they cut him in four
quarters.' Grumbach uttered no sound, whereas his
unhappy associate, the chancellor Briick, ' screamed
wofully and long when his body was cut open.' Colonel
von Brandenstein, the father of twelve children, who
was also involved in the conspiracy, had had grace
promised him by the Emperor on condition of his fighting
the Turks. However, the execution had already taken
place when the imperial order reached Gotha. * Six
executioners were engaged for two hours over their
slaughtering work. The remains of the victims were
stuck on poles and set up in the most frequented streets
of Gotha, and left till they rotted.' ^

Barbarous execution of this sort did not only fall on
persons guilty of high treason, but also on other trans-
gressors. In the year 1600 a peasant in a village of the

kept up till 1513. Owing to the shallowness of the water it was scarcely
less cruel than the former method. The sack containing the delinquent
was pressed dowTi under the water till there was no longer any sign of life.
• See CaUnich, 280-283, who remarks : ' One would be inclined to place
this execution in Turkey did one not know that it took place in the
good German, Lutheran town of Gotha, in the year of salvation 1567.'
See also present work, vol. vii. 396 ff., and vol. xii. 275 £f.


Voigtland had murdered his wife, his six children, and a
maid, because, as he said under torture, ' they had wanted
to lord it over him and make him their servant/ He
was dragged to his house by brute beasts, and eight
times torn with red-hot tongs ; then his hands were
chopped off, his legs crushed on the wheel, his body cut
up in six pieces, his entrails publicly burnt, his head
posted up on the spot where he had murdered his wife,
his hands nailed under it, and the remaining fragments
of his body hung up on the four country roads, i

In many places, at Halle for instance, thieves were
invariably condemned to capital punishment. Common
murder, on the other hand, was often only punished
by banishment from the land, especially when it was
not a question of persons of low degree. Still more
unintelligible does it seem, ' that it was possible that
the magistrates of Halle should have granted the wish
of a poor devil, who was only to be banished out of the
country, and should have allowed him to be hanged in
company with a friend who was condemned to death,
and to figure as the first ornament of a new gallows
near Giebichenstein (January 26, 1582).' 2 Six years
later in Frankfort-on-the-Maine a Jew was suspended on
the gallows by his feet in such a manner that death
only released him on the seventh day.^

1 MuUer, Annates, 238-239.

- Hertzberg, ii. 334 ff. In Hanover murderers and thieves were
always executed. Cf. Hartmann, Oesch. der Stadt Hannover, 187 ff.
From 1545-1647 there were counted up in the small town of Hanover
forty-four deeds of murder and manslaughter, and besides these a case
of a criminal guilty of nineteen murders ! In Frankfort-on-the-Maine in
1575 three men were hung for the theft of a bowl of saffron. See 0.
Speyrer, 'Frankfurter Kiiminaljustiz im 16ten und 17tcn Jahrhundert,
Sonderabdruck aus der Frankf. Ztg. 28 Miirz, 1, 4, and G April, 1900.*

^ Scherr, Oermania, 219.


A vivid picture of the barbarity of the criminal
justice of that period was sketched by the Enghshman
John Taylor, who, in August 1616, was present at Ham-
burg * with a great crowd of people at the execution of a
nuirderer.' He writes as follows : * When the culprit
reached the place of execution, he was handed over by
the officials to the executioner, who was met by two other
executioners and their attendants, who had come from
Lubeck and from another town, the name of which has
escaped me, to assist their Hamburg brother-in-office
in his important work. The portculUs was drawn up
and the culprit ascended a mound of earth, raised up in
order that the people might be able to see the execution
from a circuit a quarter of a mile distant. Four execu-
tioners' men then took each of them a small cord and
held the poor wretch by his hands and feet lying stretched
out full length ; next, the chief executioner or grand-
master of the ceremonies produced a wheel, about the
size of the front wheel of a coach, and having first laid
down his hat and doublet and turned up his shirt sleeves,
as though he were going to play battledore and shuttle-
cock, he took the wheel, set it up on edge, turned it
round hke a top or a turning lathe, and then seizing it
by the tw^o spokes and raising it in the air, he brought it
down with a tremendous blow on one of the legs of the
poor victim, so that the bones were smashed to piecesj
and the wretched man howled and screamed most
frightfully. After a pause the executioner proceeded
to break the other leg in the same manner, and then the
arms, after which he struck four or five big blows on the
man's breast and smashed his breast-bone to shivers ;
finally he struck at his neck, and missing his aim smashed
his chin and cheekbones ; he then took the battered.


mutilated corpse and spread it out on the wheel, drove
an enormous stake through the axle of the wheel and
planted it about six feet deep in the earth and about
ten or twelve feet above the earth, and there the body
was left exposed till all-devouring time, or ravens,
should make away with it. Such was the appalling
way in which this execution was carried out, and there
stand on this same spot twenty stakes with wheels, or
pieces of wheels, with men's heads stuck on them. The
manifold kinds of torture which were practised on evil-
doers in these lands make our Enghsh method of
hanging seem a mere flea-bite.' ' They have most
wonderful and ingenious devices here,' Taylor goes on,
' for torturing and tormenting. People who from
maUce intent have set houses on fire are smoked to
death in this wise. First a stake is fixed firmly in the
earth, and, at about the height of an ell, a piece of wood
is nailed across it, and on this the malefactor is made
to sit, being tightly bound to the wood. Then a great
barrel of tallow is turned over the top of the stake so
that it covers the culprit down to about the middle of
his body. Then the executioners come with a few
bundles of wet straw or hay or suchhke, which they
kindle, but which being damp and wet only smoulders,
while the smoke goes up into the barrel in which the
culprit's head is stuck, and the convulsions of the
body show that he remains alive for three or four
hours.' 1

To horrible executions of this sort young and old,
women and children, flocked in crowds. The Electress
Sophia of Saxony, in 1601, had the scafl'old, which the
crypto-calvinistic chancellor Krell was to mount, taken

' Zeitschr. des Vereina fiir hamburg. Gesch. vii. 462-463.


ilowii and bixnight nearer in order that she and her
court Uidies might see the sight. In many phices the
school children were formally instructed by the
authorities to be present at gruesome executions in
order ' to profit by the example/ This same purpose
also was supposed to be served by the numerous pictures
and descriptions of the most barbarous tortures in the
' Verbrecher - Zeitungen ' (criminal nev/spapers) and
criminal songs. It stands to reason, however, that
precisely the opposite was effected ; the most abominable
crimes by this means came to be looked on as everyday
occurrences. 1 Altogether the dreadful criminal practice,
which convicted by torture and lined the mihtary
roads with gallows-trees and wheels, produced growing
depravity among the people, and to a very great extent
hatred of justice. Thus in his ' Kriminalpraxis '
the oft-mentioned Jodokus Damhouder complains that
* on a summons to help the people run away, or refuse
all help, and, leaning on their sticks, await the outcome
of the struggles, and even refuse all support to the
guardians of pubhc safety and give shelter and protection
to the robbers and thieves.' -

Could it be otherwise at a period when the judges
not seldom exceeded the executioners in barbarity ?
' Even when the sentence of death had been pronounced,
the judges still took delight in ordering another bout of
torture, only perhaps a couple of days before the
execution, so that the criminal generally came to the
place of death crushed and prostrated beforehand.
At the time of the burgher tumults in Brunswick in 1604

' See present work, vol. ix. 228 ff. and vol. xii. 272 and 275.
- See jMalblank, Gesch. der peinlichen Gerichtsordnung Karls V. {Nurem-
berg, 1783), p. 84.


the imprisoned associates of the vanquished party were
ordered at their trial to say " Yes " to all questions that
were asked them. If they hesitated, their hands were
bound so tightly behind their backs with catgut that
the blood streamed down from them and oozed out
from under their nails. Then the questions were put a
second time. If the answers were not satisfactory, a
cord with a hook was let down from the ceihng of the
torture-chamber, the hook stuck into the cords on the
culprit's hands, and the poor wretch drawn up on the
roller. As he generally fell into a faint and was unable
to answer, the Spanish boot was apphed, under pretext
that his silence was mere obstinacy, and screwed on so
tightly that not his flesh only, but often his bones also,
was pounded up. At this point the victim generally
was aroused and screamed out that he would say yes to
everything. A trial of this sort was a feast for the deputy
members of the bench of judges. They sat on green
cushions at a table covered with a green cloth and
indulged, at the expense of the exchequer, so freely in
wine and comfits, that they either became, as it were,
infuriated, or else sank down with their heads on the
table in drunken sleep, while the poor tortured person
was crying out, for the love of Jesus, for a few drops of
water to drink, or a moment's respite from his agony.
Sometimes he was kept six, eight, even nine hours, with
only short pauses, hanging in the roller, till the gentlemen
of the bench had returned from their carousing, or
meanwhile the articles of the trial had been read to him
with the greatest circumstantiahty. When at last the
trial was ended and the executioner had reset the
culprit's shoulder blades, the latter was asked whether

at the " Urgicht " (the trial after torture) he would again

p 2


say yes to all the same questions. If he answered in
the negative, the process of torture was repeated in an
intensilied manner, and the mangled body was sprinkled
with burning brimstone and burning candles were
placed under the soles of the feet.' ' In order to escape
all this agony the accused generally answered all
questions with ' Yes.' Thus, for instance, in that
Brimswick trial, the town-captain Henning Brabant said
yes to all that was asked him about his supposed
intercourse with the devil. The ' devil's confederate '
was executed on September 17, 1604, in a frightful
manner. An ' ErschrockUche Zeitung' concluded an
account of this execution with the words : ' In such
fashion all devil's confederates and all wicked agitators
against the rehgious and secular authorities ought
justly to be pmiished. Therefore let everyone beware
of the snares of the devil into which Brabant has
fallen.' 2

However, just because the people beheved in an
irresistible influence of the devil, the crudest punish-
ments remained ineffectual ; this demoniacal influence
was advanced as an excuse. Criminal trial acts often
contained the exonerating statement that Satan had
been the instigator of the crime.

To the spread of this behef in the imbounded might of
Satan the founders of the new Protestant Church had
enormously contributed.^

It is one of the chief characteristics of Luther that
in his intellectual life, in his social intercourse, in speech,
in ^vTiting, and in preaching he always brought in the

' V. Strombeck, Henning Brabant, 52. Menzel, v. 132-134.

- See present work, vol. xii. 380 ff.

^ See Dollinger, ii. 424, and the present work, vol. ix. 158 f.


devil, attributed far more influence and importance to
him than is warranted by Scripture, and by his writings
gained for him in Germany a popularity which he had
never before enjoyed. As this had worked with
coarsening and damaging effect on theology and
preaching, so did it far more even on popular opinions,
popular habits, popular literature, ^ and also on criminal
justice. All the slumbering germs of superstition both
among the rude masses and the higher circles were by
this means awakened and set in motion. The more the
effectual methods of salvation instituted by God, the
Sacraments and sacramentals were mocked and despised,
the more did empty, fraudulent, absurd superstition and
devil worship grow up among the demorahsed people.
They ridiculed the blessing of the Church in order to
curse and swear the more freely. They mocked the
pictures and relics of the saints in order to carry on the
most abominable superstitious traffic in hairs and bones
of animals. They knocked off the head of the image of
the immaculate Mother of God, in order day and
night to give themselves up to the devil. The
devil was formally enthroned in the people's life and
Hterature. There was more talk about him than about

The demoniacal penetrated to such an extent into
the minds of the people that even the most sensible of
the preachers, who wished to combat the superstition,

' W. Kawerau remarks in his criticism of the work of M. Osborn, Die
Teufelsliteratur des IGten Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1893) : ' Wliat is most
characteristic of the devil's hterature of that period, as also of the " Theatrum
Diabolorum," is the fact that we see in it a speciality of Lutheran popular
literature, which, if not directly called forth by Luther, was at any rate
chiefly influenced and most strongly fostered by him.' Allgem. ZUj., Beil.
vom 5 Juni, 1894.


were unable to rid themselves of it. In the papacy,
in all the tendencies of Protestantism that were hostile
to them, in the whole state of moral decadence as well
as in the individual vices of the age, they saw only the
devil, no longer the human share, the evil desires, the
abuse of freedom, the effects of bad education. In this
respect, also, Luther's teaching had a terrible result.
With his denial of free-will it was natural that the devil
should be held answerable for all sin and wickedness,
and that he should attain a supremacy such as he had
hardly possessed in the higher conceptions of paganism,
in which fine, artistic, humanly imagined myths veiled
the demoniacal element.

When this doctrine of unfree will, even though now
and again altered and modified, spread over Germany,
superstition and the witch craze had already to a great
extent gained firm foothold in the land. Instead of
encountering these abuses chiefly with instruction, with
the practice of genuine fear and love of God, prominent
jurists and theologians had made it their aim to root
out the evil with the harshest and crudest methods of
law ; while craftily pursuing popular superstition into
its remotest hiding-places, they developed witchcraft
into a regular juridical system, thereby, however, only
aggravating the evil, for with the severity of their
measures the number of witches increased steadily.
Far removed from stemming the fatal aberration, as
it had been juridically embodied in the ' Witches'
Hammer,' the new teaching only strengthened and
disseminated the long- dominant tendency to super-
stition, and so, on the fermenting marshland of general
licentiousness, depravity and corruption, favoured by
numberless aberrations of learning, fostered by immoral


and superstitious popular literature and a barbarous
code of criminal justice, tbe belief in witches and devils
grew to that monstrous phenomenon whose weird horror,
towards the end of the sixteenth century, overshadows all
other features of German civilisation.




Scarcely any form of degeneracy in religious belief has
perpetuated itself in history in so gruesome a fashion as
the mania for seeing everywhere, even in the most
natural events, nothing but sorcery and witchcraft.

From the earliest times of Christianity witchcraft
had been regarded as criminal intercourse with evil
spirits for the accomphshment of superhuman things.
All Church teachers, backed up by the Scriptures of the
Old and New Testament,^ pointed out that the warrant
for belief in such intercourse, namely the existence of evil
spirits and their divinely sanctioned influence, in greater
or less degree, on the earthly world and on human
beings, belonged to the doctrines of revealed religion,
and that neither the possibihty nor the reahty of such
intercourse could be questioned. The Christian apolo-
gists of the first century and the Church Fathers fully
agreed in regarding demons as the actual instigators
of sorcery or witchcraft. Man, however, was able to
oppose strong resistance to their suggestions and
enticements, and the spiritual agencies of the Church,

' ** See 1 Kings xxviii. 8 (Witch of Endor) ; Acts viii. 9-24 (Simon
Magus) ; xiii. 8 (Elymas the sorcerer), xvi. 16 (a damsel possessed with
the spirit of divination), xix. 13, 15 (people possessed with evil spirits).


the Sacraments, and the sacramentals were a help,
protection, and comfort to him in the conflict. But,
on the other hand, man could yield to the influences of
the devil, place himself voluntarily in his service, and
by a regular abjuration of the Christian faith and
complete apostasy from God enter, as it were, into
compact with the wicked enemy. Apostasy of this
sort from God and such full surrender to the powers and
the kingdom of the devil, which often went to the
length of worship of Satan, constituted the worst form
of heresy, ' the abysmal foundation and the topmost
summit of all heresy whatsoever.' ^

1 ** Of the Church Fathers, see especially St. Augustine, De civ.
Dei, lib. 21, cap. 6 ; De doctrina Christiana, lib. ii. cap. 23, and De Genesi ad
liter am, lib. 2, cap. 17. Quite on the same standpoint is also the teaching
of St. Thomas of Aquinas : Summa theol. 2, 2, q. 95, a. 2 et 3 ; q. 96, a.
1 et 2. See Schanz in the Theol. Quartalschr. 1901, p. 33. How far in
particular cases the power of the devil extends over man and the visible
manifestations of nature, is a question which has greatly occupied theo-
logians from the earliest down to the present times ; the Church itself
has not spoken decidedly on the matter. European Christianity, however,
existed for centuries side by side with ancient paganism ; Manichgeism

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 17 of 45)