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factor in these trials was the replacement of the ancient
indigenous method of trial by the inquisitional process,
which handed over the accused almost entirely to the
tender mercies of judicial arbitrariness. This last
method gradually gained complete dominion after the
legal mode of securing evidence had been given up,
and ever}i;hing was made dependent on the statements
of the accused, which statements, however, were
wrung out by every possible device of torture. The

1 Meyfart, 412.


accused were kept on the rack and tortured until tlie
last remnants of will-power had been crushed out, and
in their anguish they were ready to say ' yes ' to any
questions that were put to them. The rack, cruder
than the crudest punishment, was the chief means for
the discovery of innmnerable witches. ' Woe to the
poor wretch,' wrote later on the Jesuit Frederick von
Spee, ' who has once set foot in the torture-chamber !
He will not be let out again till he has confessed every-
thing imaginable. I have often thought to myself that
the reason why we are not all of us avowed sorcerers
is only that torture has never fallen to our lot, and
very true is the boast recently made by the inquisitor
of a great prince, that if the Pope himself should come
under his hands and his torturings, even his Hohness
would end in confessing himself a sorcerer. "* ' Treat the
heads of the Church, treat the judges, treat me myself
Hke those unfortunate creatures, subject us to the same
torments, and you will find us all also to be sorcerers.' ^
An accurate comparative computation of the number
of witch-trials, according to different locahties and creeds,
is not possible from lack of adequate documentary
information. 2 Many trials took place which have not
been at all recorded in writing ; of many others the
minutes have either been destroyed, or still rest un-
disturbed in the Archives. If, therefore, for the period
from about 1520-70 we have very few reports to hand of
witch-trials in Cathohc territories, it does not necessarily
follow that in these districts, during that period, very
few witches were brought to trial and condemned ;

' Wiichter, 96 ff., 32L Soldan-Hoppe, i. 332 (T.

- Sco E. Jacobs in tlie Ztitschr. des Harzvereins, i. 145. ** Sec also
Riezler, 140 ff.

298 Hisroia of the German people

oiilv. MS far as can be judged from the documents at
liaiul. l)v far tlie greater number of trials occurred in
Protestant districts after the introduction of the new

Thus in the Mark of Brandenburg, accusations and
torturings begin first under the Protestant Elector
Joachim II.' The first case of witch-burning occurred
in 1545. At the execution of a sorceress at Berhn in
1552 there was, according to the chroniclers, an extra-
ordinary occurrence. When the flames ascended a
heron flew into them, remained in them a short time,
and then hurried off with a bit of the victim's skin.
This was seen by hmidreds of people, who were firmly
convinced that it was the devil. From this time forth
the behef in direct communication between the incarnate
evil one and human beings who had a hking for him,
gained groimd more and more.^ In 1553 at Berhn,
so the Augsburg preacher Bernhard Albrecht told his
hearers, * two witches were caught who had destroyed
the crops in the fields by hail and thunderstorms. In
addition to this they had stolen a httle child from a
woman in the neighbourhood, cut it up in pieces and
boiled it. But by a special providence of God the
mother of the child had come up, seen the pieces lying
in the saucepan, and informed the magistrates. When
these two witches were taken prisoners and examined
on the rack they stated that had they completed their
boiling process such weather would have come that all
the fruits in the field would have been destroyed.' ^
In the same year, 1553, the Duchess Anna of Mecklenburg,

' From an earlier period two cases are known : the first in the year
1390, the second in 1423. Fidicin, v. 425-426.

- Fidicin, v. 420-427. ^ Albrecht, Magia, 187.


by birth Margravine of Brandenburg, accused a woman
of Having bewitched her and made her ill, and appeared
in person at the trial. The accused confessed that ' the
devil had frequently appeared, even at the door of the
Margravine Anna's room, in the shape of a black he-goat,
and had talked with her/ Another witch was burnt
because she was supposed to have sent 'flying spirits'
into a brewery. The Altmark and the Priegnitz were
especially alive with sorcerers and bad spirits. Because
the electoral prince John George, between the years 1557
and 1560, lost three sons and five daughters at very
early ages, the misfortune was set down to witches, and
the latter confessed on the rack to all the questions put
to them concerning their guilt. ^ At Kiistrin, in 1559,
a * new prophet,' who ' by the inspiration of the devil '
made it his business ' to betray witches,' was pubHcly

At Gardelegen fourteen witches were burnt in the
years 1544-54 ; '^ at Wernigerode five in the years
1520-23;* at Erfurt three in the years 1530, 1538 and
1550.'^ Once at Wittenberg four persons were burnt on
one day as witches and sorcerers, and the execution was
made pubHcly known to all the inhabitants by a special
woodcut in which the unhappy wretches were depicted
with torn and lacerated hmbs. Above this woodcut

' V. Raumer, ' Hexenprozessc,' in tho Mdrkische Forschungen, i. 238-
244. Witch-trials dealt with by von Hefftcr in the Zeiischr. filr preussischc
Oesch. und Landeskunde, iii. 523-531. Leutinger, Comment, 413, 629.
Moehsen, 512.

- Mdrkische Forschungen.

•' Dietrich und Parisius, Bilder aus der Altmark, Lieferun^ vii. 15.

* Zeitschr. des Harzvcreins, i. 146.

* Jaraczwewski, Zur Grsch. der II exenprozesae in Erfurt and Umgvycnd
(Erfurt, 1876), pp. 25-26. Richard, Licht und Schaiten, 146.


was tlio iiisi ription : ' Romans xiii. v. 3, 4. For rulers
are not a terror to good works, but to the evil ... for
he l)earetli not the sword m vain : for he is tlie minister
of tiod, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that
doeth evil.' Beneath it were the words : ' For many and
various wicked misdeeds, these four persons, as here
depicted, were executed by fire at Wittenberg, on the
day of SS. Peter and Paul, Anno 1540 ; namely, an old
woman over fifty, with her son, who had somewhat
given himself up to the devil ; especially, however,
the woman, who had been the devil's paramour, had
practised sorcery for several years, had made bad
weather, had injured numbers of people with poisonous
powder, and had also taught others to do the same, had,
with her three associates, strewed poison over a number
of meadows where cattle grazed, and thus caused the
death of quantities of oxen, cows, pigs and so forth,
which she afterwards flayed and skinned, and so made
a httle profit for her wicked, accursed avarice. And
this picture has only been made, because there are
multitudes more of these mischievous gangs in the
country, that it may be a terror to them and also incite
the rulers to give dihgent heed to them, so that poor
people may be protected from injury. God Almighty
preserve all Christian souls from the devil's cunning
wiles and assaults. Amen. Psalmlxxxiii.3: "They have
taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted
against thy hidden ones." ' i

In Hamburg the first great witch-persecution did
not begin till 1555 ; its inception synchronises with

' This woodcut, which is in my possession, by itself refutes the assertion
of Mejer (p. 14) : ' In Protestant Germany witch-trials nowhere took place
before 1560.'


the first use of the rack in this city. In the same year
fourteen witches were taken prisoners ; two of them
died under torture, four perished at the stake. ^

In Osnabriick, where during the whole first half
of the century only one prosecution of witches occurred
(in 1501), in 1561, sixteen women were burnt.^

In the Cleves district only one case of witch-burning
is known, in 1535. The charge against the woman in
question was that she had not only by witchery knocked
down travellers on the high roads, but had also over-
turned the heaviest freight-wagons. ^

In the Nassau district, in 1522, at Geisberg, three
sorceresses were bm^nt to death at the same time.^'

The council of Frankfort-on-the-Maine was par-
ticularly circumspect in its deahngs with witches.
Besides one trial, in the case of which an innocent
person was kept in prison more than three years
(1540-44) and repeatedly put on the rack,^ there are
no reports of other cases there.

The council at Nuremberg exercised the same
prudence. To the Ulm magistracy, which questioned
it in 1531 about a case of witchcraft, it answered that
' it had never had much opinion of this witch business,
and always found that it had no foundation ; it had
therefore never done any more than banish such persons
out of its district.' '' In the same year, 1531, Hans

> Trummer, Ixiii. 111-112, 115.

- Mitteilungen des Histor. Vereins zu Osnabruck, x, 93.

=* Horst, Zauberhihliothek, iv. 290-291. .

■• Annalen des Vereins fur nassauische Altertumskunde, xix. 105.

* See Grotefend in the Mitteilungen des Vereins fUr Oesch. und Altertums-
kunde in Frankfort-on-the-Maine, vi. 70-78.

''' V. Brcitscliwert, 10, n. Sec WUrttemhergische Jahrbiicher, 1822,
p. 358. ** See also Knai)f), Das alle Niimberger Kriminalrecht, p. 275 ff.,


Sachs dec-la nnl thai tlie weather-making of the witches
was sheer Kiii^ ami imposture :

Dovil'a wooingg and courtshipa
Ai-o mere ghost-talos and phantosy ;
Ridod on goata and midniglit trips
Are only devil's trickery.
The witch lies sleeping in a tranco
And dreams she flies, joins in a dance,
Accoinjjlislies this work or that,
Is changed into a dog or cat.
It's nouglit but pagan mockery
Ensnaring those who God deny.
But if in God you put your faith,
You can't be harmed by any wraith.'

On the other hand, at the same date in Switzerland,
according to a recess of all the places in the district
of Baden on March 27, 1531, people were horrified
* because there were so many evil spirits and witches all
over the land, that it was quite unspeakable/ - * In the
Veltlin," wrote the Protestant Joachim von Watt
(Vadian) in 1531, ' there are witches and evil spirits
without number, and 300 of them have been burnt
since the time when the three confederate states took
the matter up, and nevertheless it was said that the
vermin had not yet been rooted out/ ^ How barbarous
the procedure was in Vaud, then recently conquered
by Bern, is shown by an injunction which the Bernese

where similar utterances of councillors in the same years are quoted from
the Acts. In 1591 they (the councillors) caused great indignation by for-
bidding the torturing of an old woman accused of witchcraft, with the
injunction that ' torture was not to be resorted to on the mere statement of
untrustworthy persons against others ; whatever magistracy did this would
be boiind to compensate the victims for their sufferings and to pay all costs
and damages' {I.e. p. 270).

1 Hajis Sachs, Edition of Keller, v. 287-288.

- Archiv fiir schweizertsche Reformationsgesch. ii. 168,

•' V. Watt, iii. 279-280.


government issued to its officials on July 25, 1543 :
* We are informed as to the excessive cruelty and
illegality of the way in which the nobles and the squires
in your district, and elsewhere in our newly- won territory,
proceed against the poor people who are suspected
of witchcraft or sorcery. We hear that on the shghtest
calumny or statement, after a single incomplete
examination, the said suspected persons are forced by
great and unwarrantable suffering (such as applying fire
to their feet, strappado, and so forth) to confess to
offences of which they have not been guilty, and that
without further trial they are sentenced to death/
Such proceedings were henceforth not to be allowed
either to officials, or to justiciaries ; the latter were not
to proceed against accused persons without sufficient
ground, they were to abstain from unusual modes of
torture, to seek carefully for the ' evil sign,' and in
doubtful cases ask advice of the magistrates, ' so that
no one (should) be wronged and yet the evil be punished/
But these prudent regulations of the government were
seldom attended to.i

* Although we both wish to and must punish and
root out evil spirits and sorcerers in accordance with
God's stern command,' says a Protestant ' Kurzes
Traktatlein von Zauberei,' ^ * it is nevertheless not
considered wise by all people, to proceed against them
so extravagantly as was done under Calvin in Switzer-
land/ Under Calvin executions had taken place at
Geneva in gigantic numbers. The documentary details
about them are blood-curdhng. Geneva had been
visited since 1542 by a severe pestilence, which was

' Fuller details in Trechsel, Berner Taschenbuch von 1870, p. 140 IT.
-' We shall come back to this later on.


attributed to ' post preparers/ who were supposed to
lia\o brought about the misfortune by sorcery and
alUance with Satan. Numbers of unfortunate people
were put in prison, on the rack, sent into exile, put to
death on the scall'old, at the stake. The number of
imprisonments in the years 1542-46 is reckoned at from
eight to nine hundred. At the beginning of 1545 especially,
incarcerations and trials multiplied in an appalling man-
ner. The prison jailer informed the council on March 6
that the prisons were overflowing with accused persons,
and that he could not take in any more. In order to
\\Ting confessions from the accused new torments were
invented : they were pinched with red-hot tongs,
subjected, sometimes nine times, to the martyrdom of
the strappado, they were walled in, and when they
would not * own to the truth ' they were starved to
death. ' But whatever agony they are made to suffer,"
a report complains, ' they will not confess the truth."
Many of the poor wretches died under or soon after the
torturing, amid protestations of innocence ; others, in
desperation and to escape further martyrdom, put an
end to themselves : ' at the instigation of Satan," the
official report adds. The executioner's arm became
palsied mider the stress of work, which, as he told the
council in May, was beyond the strength of one man.
Within three months thirty-four people, amongst them
the executioner's own mother, w^ere put to death by
sword, fire, gallows and quartering. The actual execu-
tion was generally preceded by brutal maltreatment
of the body. Calvin, however, was not moved to any
sort of pity by these proceedings ; with icy coldness,
in a businesshke voice, he gave his German friend, the
preacher Myconius, an account of the wholesale


executions. In his own person he gave information to
the magistrates against so-called sorcerers, as heretics,
' in order that the race might be extinguished/ ^ When
Servetus was standing at the stake the preacher Farel
said to the assembled multitude : ' You see what power
Satan has at his command, when a man once gives
himself up to him. This man is known to many as a
man of learning, and perhaps he thought he was acting
rightly; now, however, he is possessed by the devil' 2

In Basle, in the years 1530, 1532, 1546 and 1550
there were some most extraordinary witch-trials. In
the last of these years a woman was sentenced to be
burnt because she confessed to having had * a hve
female gnome,' and to have been with her husband in
the Venusberg.'^

A witch-trial in which several preachers played a
part took place at Esshngen in 1562. When in the
summer of this year the town and its neighbourhood
were visited by a heavy hailstorm, the chief pastor
Thomas Naogeorgus and his associates in office said
from the pulpit that there were witches about, who
were the cause of the disaster. Thereupon the burghers
worked themselves up into such a state of excitement
that the council was compelled to arrest three women
who were suspected of witchery. To help in torturing
them they called in the executioners of Stuttgart, Ehingen
and Wiesensteig, because these men were renowned in

' Seo proofs in F. W. Kainpscliultc, Joluinn Culiin, i. (Leipzig, 1869),

- Soldan, i. 433.

* Fuller details in Fr. Fischer, Die Busier Ilexenprozesse in dem IGlen
u. nien Jahrhundert (Basel, 1840). Fischer says : ' The iimcldest things
were protocolicd with the blindest credulity and with calm and
objectivity as though they were everyday criminal occurrences.'


the art of hriiiging 'the devirs crew' to confession.
A doetor was also suninionetl from Tubingen who had
the reputation of aceelerating witches' confessions by
a certain ]Kition. Nevertheless neither potion nor
torture had any result. The victims persisted in the
declaration of their innocence, and after four months'
imprisonment were set fi-ee, to the great indignation of
Naogeorgus, who, from the pulpit, stirred up the burghers
against the council, and of the executioner from Wie-
sensteig, who complained that he had been hindered in
his trade by a few gentlemen of the council, for there were
more witches still in Esshngen. Afterwards nine others
were arrested and tortured. Against one of them,
among other things, the heavy charge was brought that
' after her first trial a hght had been seen waving up
and down in the hospital till late into the night, that a
cat had raised a tremendous screaming, and that in a
neighbouring stall two cows had torn the halter in two.' ^
Count Uhich von Helfenstein, as well as the preachers,
had protested against the too great lenity of the council
in letting off the first three accused witches. He him-
self and his brother Sebastian in 1563 had sixty-three
witches tortured and burnt in their small territory,
in conformity, as they said, ' with the existing law and
with evangehcal piety.' ~

' Pfaff, Gesch. von Esslingen, 569-572, and Pfaff's article on the
Esslingen Hexenprozesse in Miiller's and Falke's Zeitschr. fiir deutsche
KuUurgesch. ( Jahrg. 1856), pp. 252-271, 283 flf. ; see Diefenbach, 90-93. As
early as 1551 a witch had been burnt at Esslingen ; her daughter by
order of the Council was ' burnt through the cheeks and immured.' Archiv
fiir Unterfranken, xvii. 215-216.

2 Wahrhuftige und erschreckliche Thatten und Handlungen der 63 Hexen,
so zu Wiesensteig mil dem Brand gerichtet worden. 1563. ** Cp. Riezler,
p. 143, who says emphatically that it is a question here of Protestant witch-


In Transylvania, where formerly there had been
neither witch-persecutions nor executions, the judicial
procedure against witches emanated from the Protestant
clergy of Saxony. In numbers of special synods it
had been settled there since 1577 that ' the sorcery of
old wives, and all other devil's work shall be pimished
by the magistrates with fire according to the command
of God and to imperial law, or else checked by the
authorities through severe edicts/ Under the head of
sorcery the Synods included the blessing of oil, water,
palm-branches and field-fruits. From several synodal
resolutions it is seen that the secular courts were more lax
in deahng with sorcery than the ecclesiastical ones wished. ^

' Muller, Beitrdge, 18-24. ' Thus we sco that it was not witch-trials
per se, but witch-triaLs in particular lands, that were a icsult of the Reforma-
tion, and to these lands belongs Transylvania.' In Denmark also there
were numbers of cases of witch- burnings after the introduction of the
new evangel, and none before. See Pontoppidan, iii. 302, 410, 436, 491,
609, 728, 807. The abundant crop of witch-trials which sprang up in
Denmark is easily understood when we read in the Visitaiz Bog of
Bishop Petrus Palladius, who, by order of King Cliristian II., exercised
a sort of supervision over the whole Danish Church, full details of the
way in which witches were tracked and hunted out. ' You must not
dare to keep silence,' Palladius urged on the people in 1540, ' whenever
you know of any witch. These creatures must receive their merited
reward. In these days enlightened by the pure evangel they cannot any longer
hold on ; they will noiv be disgraced before the world, and that is their merited
reivard. Only recently a pack of such witches was biu-nt in ^lalmo,
Kjoge and elsewhere, and now we hear that another pack has been arrested
at Malmo and is going to be burnt. In Jutland and the little provinces they
are hunted down like wolves : lately on Alsen and in the neighbouring
districts fifty-two witches have been seized and burnt.' Palladius himself
on his inspectional journeys through Sccland tracked out witchea every-
where. But in his eyes, also, all persons came under the head of witches
who made use of Catholic benedictions and prayers ; just as in Gerjnany
and in Transylvania holy water, holy candles, the chrism, papal oil and
papal anointing were reckoned among means of sorcery. Whoever had
anything to do with benedictions was, by the wish of Palladius. to be
pointed out by the people to the authorities : * Take care what you are


008 iiismin- of the cerman people

'Vo }\o\\c\\\\d also witch-persecution was transported
from (Jcnnaiiv. 'V\\v lirst authentic witch-trial there
occurred in 1540; tlie earhest penal decrees on
witchiraft and sorcery are found in the Koldin town
regulations, wliich obtained legal sanction in 1579.
The Komotiui municipal books abound especially in
reports of witch-persecutions, and numerous cases of
witch-burning are recorded in them. At Solnic, the
president of a butchers' guild once accused the cateress
of a neighbouring castle of steahng, with the help of
the devil, the milk of the cows in a circuit of several
leagues and making people sick and infirm. When the
accused appeared one day in the territory belonging
to the town she was attacked by several men ; a tumult
arose among the people and hundreds of them screamed
out : ' We have caught the devil's cousin at last,

about, if you do not wish to be burnt. To any of you who have hitherto
meddled with such iniquity, I now give the good advice to have done with
it. Otherwise people from the law courts ' — he had suggested this artifice
in order to get witches by cunning into the hands of the authorities — ' may
come to you dressed up as peasants and with a leg bandaged up, and ask
to be healed by your benedictions, simply and solely to entrap you in the
very act, and then have you burnt in your skin and hair : and which would
serve you quite right.' PaUadius was having a hit especially at the Cathohc
midwives. These were naturally in league with the devil, simply witches.
' If a midwife occupies herself with benisons, charms, and other arts of
witchcraft and magic she must be informed against — or else the con-
cealer is as bad as the stealer — to the authorities, so that a hundred
faggots of wood may be apphed to her, and she may be burned alive, as
she deserves.' From the 'Visitatz Bog,' &c., in the Histor=polit. BI. Ixxxi.
435-437 ; Diefenbach, 299. May not this also be the explanation of the
reported spread of witch-trials after the introduction of the new doctrines
in the German dominions with similar proceedings against numbers of
women, especially midwives, who stUl clung to the old CathoUc benisons,
prayers and so forth, and often undoubtedly committed all sorts of abuses
with them ? In the next section we shall hear how not only Protestant
theologians, but other scholars also expressed themselves concerning
' sorcery ' in Cathohc worship.


who lias been empt}ing our milch-cows and tormenting
our children with epidemics. Burn her ! Burn her ! '
The cateress, brought up for trial, said she had been
quietly pursuing her way when she was dragged into
the town ; she was no sorceress, she declared, but an
orthodox Christian who, hke every burgher-woman of
Solnic, received Holy Communion in both kinds. But
the master-butcher brought an important witness
against her, a man who had formerly served in the
castle and who now swore * by his soul ' that she was
a witch : ' For I saw in the castle a black tom-cat which
was not much smaller than a year-old calf. The animal

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