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pp. 3^. Here, at pp. 2-3, we read : ' The liigh prelates will have to answer
before God for not having restrained these past masters of incendiarism,
and the clergy in the land say nothing, for if they speak they are themselves
in danger of the rack, as experience has sufficiently shown, especially in the
archdiocese of Treves, where they have been burnt alive as sorcerers by
sentence of the judges.' ' The wickedness of men,' WTOte the Protestant
theologian Meyfart, ' has grown so great that when they observe that this
or that person is regular in hearing sermons and receiving the Sacrament,
joins in the prayers without contempt, they instantly conclude that " this
or that person must be a sorcerer or sorceress." Scarcely anyone now-
adays has the courage to say his beads whilst on his walk ; if he does so he
is at once put do^-n in the witch-register. It 's enough to make any
reasonable person's heart bleed to hear of such things as not even the Turks
and the Tartars were capable of. I have been told by different students
and travellers, adherents of the Augsburg confession, that when they go
to Italy and from curiosity want to see all the churches and convents,
but do not know exactly how to make the sign of the cross on the forehead,
lips and breast, they are regarded as heretics and called to account, and
how they then exonerate themselves by sajdng that in their Fatherland
people who observe these ceremonies are taken for witches. The Italians
laugh at the folly of the Germans and let the hypocrisy pass.' Meyfart,


had accompanied at least 200 of the wretched victims
to their death. ^

Among the laws mentioned by the canon, John
Linden, which were issued with a view to stopping the
witch-persecution, we may notice especially an ordi-
nance of the Treves Elector, John YII. von Schonberg,
of December 18, 1591, which struck with terrible open-
ness at the horrible abuses in the judicial system,
and the methods used for extorting ' confession/
' Daily experience,' it says therein, ' shows that all
sorts of illegahty and injustice go on both in the trials
and the executions, w^hereby intolerable expenses have
accrued to the poor subjects, so that many parishes
and subjects, yea, widows and orphans, have been
thrown into utter ruin/ ' At the instigation of one or
another unruly subject,' parishes had banded together
and formed innumerable committees, 'the members of
which were sometimes in great measure disreputable
people whose whole mind was centred in the public-
house,' and these people went about at the expense
of the parish spying out men and women suspected of
witchcraft. When the trials took place, they were
' at the same time accusers, witnesses, and sometimes

r ' Litlerae annme, 1007 (Duaci, 1618), p. 681 flf. ** See also Dulir, Die
Stellung der Jesuiten, p. 73. ' For the same benevolent activity Fr. George
Richsteig (f 1644), in Braunsberg has a name.' Hipler, Literalurgcsch.
des Bislums Ermelund (Braunsberg, 1873), p. 210. At Padcrborn, where
in 1597 a number of witches were burnt, the Jesuits ' interested themselves
energetically in the poor victims ' (Litterae cnmuae, 1597, p. 246). 'In the
Ellwangen district in 1612, they accompanied no fewer than 167 to the place
of execution ' (Litterae annuae, 1612, p. 252). In the years 1613-1614,
in the above place, two Jesuits had a superabundance of work of the same
kind {Litterae annme, 1613-1614, p. 242 ff.). 'In Fulda. in 1603 alone,
sixty witches were burnt. The filth of the dungeons was unbearal>le;
nevertheless the Jesuits did not desist from visiting the prisoners '
{Litterae anniuie, 1603, p. 517).


even assistant-judges, whereby justice was more
hiiKlored than furthered and the poor subjects driven
to the direst extremities.' It had also come about
that very often at the trials of peasants the executioner,
ill the absence of the justices, acted exactly as he
pleased with regard to the examination under torture,
and then made known to the people the statements of the
victims. By this means more and more people became
objects of suspicion : hatred and hostility were aroused ;
driven by fear even innocent persons sought to escape,
and in this very way drew on themselves special sus-
picion. * Other heavy expenses during the trials come
from the inns and taverns where great, disorderly
carousals, eating and drinking go on, in spite of the
scarcity and badness of the times ' ; ' hence these
are in future ' to be altogether ' cashiered,' abolished
and utterly forbidden. The judges were to have an
eye to justice only, so that widows and orphans who
were already in terrible distress owing to the execution
of parents, friends and relations, ' should not be driven
to complete beggary.' All leagues and committees
formed in parishes for tracking out suspicious persons
and instituting trials were forbidden ; in no single
point was the criminal ordinance of Charles V. to be
departed from, ' without proper evidence duly estab-
hshed before the Inquisition and denounced by judicial
sentence, no one w^as to be imprisoned, tortured or
executed.' ^

While the witch-fires were blazing in Treves, the
Cologne town councillor Hermann Weinsberg wrote
in his diary, * Anno 1589, Jmie 30, certain people are
quite convinced that it was the witches or sorceresses

' Hontheim, iii. 170-173. Cf. Marx, ii. 111-113.


who caused last night's storm. For report was loud
as to how the Elector of Treves, both within and without
the town, had caught, burnt and hanged numbers of
sorcerers, male and female, lay and clerical. Some
declare that it is a legitimate and natural art with
which great scholars and prelates occupy themselves,
no worse perhaps than necromancy, or the black art,
or suchhke, although this also is forbidden. As for
sorcery I can give no opinion on the subject ; I hear also
that people are not all of the same mind about it.
Some do not beheve in it at all, and regard it as hallu-
cination, dreams, madness, imposture, useless rubbish.
Others, learned and unlearned, do believe in it, take
their stand on the Holy Scriptures, and have Avritten
and pubhshed books about it, hold to it very strongly.
God alone knows the rights of it all. There is no
quicker or more effectual way of getting rid of old
women and people one hates. It is a wonder to me
that there should be so many wicked women in the
Cathohc and holy archdiocese of Treves and in many
other places, and that the devil should be allowed
by God to carry on more sorcery there than in the
town of Cologne. Who ever heard in earlier times of
sorcerers and sorceresses being condemned and burnt to
death in Cologne ? Often a few people accused of
sorcery have been caught and kept a long time in
prison ; they have been tried, but notliing definite
has been arrived at. Can it be that there are not such
efficient means for discovering the truth in Cologne
as in other places ? Still at the present day a poor old
woman sits by day and night in the Altenmarkt in a
shed by the fountain ; they say she is a sorceress ; they
cast it in her teeth, she confesses it openly to the people


and asks to be burnt ; she has certainly been a bad
woman for many years, but why not let her be and
sav she is mad I There are many bad people who
will denounce any woman as a witch and bring her
into the people's bad books, and then the people regard
her as a veritable witch ; but if they so lightly, out of
mere hatred or wantonness, bring their fellows-creatures
into such ill-repute, they will have to answer for their
sin heavily before God. I have often said to people
when they have pointed with their fingers at a sorceress,
" How do you know it ? " " Why, everyone says so ;
the court has sentenced her." To which I answ^er :
*' If this had been said of you yourself, how' W'Ould
you have felt, what amusement w^ould you have found
in it ? Charity is silent and takes from no one what
cannot be given back again/' I know well that there
are numbers of bad, suspicious, low, refractory, im-
moral, mischievous women, but it does not follow
that they are sorceresses ; never, however, have I seen
a woman who w^as able to make hares, dogs, cats, mice,
snakes, toads, and so forth, to fly through the chimney
on a goat, to shp into wane-cellars, to dance with
devils ; and that man who says he has seen such things
may be telling Hes. Leave God to judge.'

In Cologne, although the ' Malleus Maleficarum '
had been first pubhshed and repeatedly reprinted
there, very few cases of witchcraft occurred in the
course of the sixteenth century, and the council con-
tented itself wdth placing the witches in the stocks,
whipping them round the ring, and expelhng them
from the town. It was not till after the beginning
of the seventeenth centmy, and especially during the
Thirty Years' War, when everywhere in Germany


faggot-piles blazed more furiously than ever, that in
Cologne also they began to hand over people accused
of witchcraft to the secular law.^

In the Lower Rhine district of Angermund, where
at that time all the knights' properties belonged to
Calvinists, there raged in 1590 a tremendous witch-
persecution. Hermann von Burgel, treasurer of Heltorf,
on June 23, 1590, exposed to his lord, Wilhani von
Scheidt, styled Weschpfenning, agent at Burg, some of
the doings of the witches and begged for administrative
measures to be taken. ' If the witches,' he said, ' were
left to do as they hked, and no resistance opposed to
them, the devil would at last, God preserve us, gain
the upper hand, and here as in neighbouring districts
everything would go to the ground.' ' They ought to
be treated after the fashion of the Frau von Rss,- who
a few days before had had twelve women put to death
on account of sorcery, and hke those of Ossenbrock
(near Hayn), where 150 people had been burnt for the
same reason. Only in this way could the devil's
kingdom be weakened or destroyed.' But, as I have
remarked, the people who are driven away from other
places on account of their mischievous arts are allowed
to come and hve here. If further crimes occurred he
should not wish to remain any longer in Heltorf.'^

From the district of Hiilchrath the bailiff HefEelt,
towards the end of December 1590, asked advice of an
official as to whether he should comply with the petition
of the relatives of ' a poor captive woman,' ' that he would

* Ennen, v. 750-703. ** Cf. the account of Weinsberg in Lau, Buck
Weinsberg, iv. 68-70.

" von Reuschenberg ?

•' Copy from the original in the Archives at Heltorf kindly given nio by
the Archivist Fcrber.



]>ut their mother to deatli with the sword and then bury
lier in tlie earth.' That trial by water, which had long
been forbidden, was still in use is shown by the state-
ments of the bailiff': 'These prisoners sitting here I have*
examined, tortured and tried by water ; two of them
confessed their misdeeds circumstantially, but the third
denied them persistently ; she, however, like the two
others, floated in the water.' ^ Duke John William of
Cleves sent to the upper bailif! at Vlotho, Bertram von
Landsberg, on July 24, 1581, a woman accused of
sorcery, to be examined ' both by gentle means and
under torture,' and with the injunction that ' in case of
her still refusing to confess, she was to be subjected to
trial by water.' -

In the southern districts of the Cologne electoral
duchy of Westphalia, witch-trials did not begin till
1584, and were first started by one of the strictly
Calvinistic squires. They raged with special fury in
the years 1590-95. ' When in March, 1592, a number
of witches had to be imprisoned and confessed to
much wickedness and many murders, all the pastors
were strongly enjoined and commanded to preach most
vehemently from their pulpits against sorcery.' The
trials went on till towards the end of the century, after
which time accounts of them cease almost entirely."^
A witch- trial ordinance issued for the duchy in 1615
contained the following injunction : ' The mayors and
justices or notaries shall not acquaint the accused

' H. Giersberg, Gesch. der Pfarreien des Dekanats Grevenbroich (Cologne,
1883), p. 303.

- Horst, Zauberbibliothek, iii. 358-359. ** Concerning the mtch-
trials in the Lower Rhine district, see the interesting contributions inKuhl's
Gesch. der Siadl Jiilich, 3 Teile, Jiihch, 1891-94.

■* Pieler, Kaspar von Fiirstenberg, 98-102.


beforehand with, any circumstances connected with
the offences laid to their charge, but shall leave the
culprits to relate these themselves/ '

In the Prince-bishopric of Miinster the first witch-
trial took place in 1565, but it ended by command of
Bishop Bernhard von Raesfeld, with the acquittal of
the accused, whose statements, wrmig from her by
torture, did not seem to the bishop sufficient for the
estabhshment of her guilt ; he demanded proofs on
external grounds or from legitimate witnesses. The
pubhc prosecutor could, he said, only urge a death-
sentence on definite proof that the accused had injured
others in life or property by her arts. He admonished
the officials never again to deprive men and women of
their freedom on mere suspicion or the gossip of the
people.- In the Miinster district also it was not till
the end of the century that trials began to multiply.
In 1615, in Ahlen, a supposed sorcerer was burnt ; he
had stated that he himself and others had been able
to change into werewolves, to fly away in the shape
of black ravens, and so forth. A second ' deeply
implicated sorcerer of Ahlen,' who had vainly been
subjected to trial by water at Lembeck, died in prison
in 1616. From the ' certificate of the notary ' it was
' evident ' that ' he had departed this fife with horrible
assistance from the wicked one ; the throat of the
dead man was quite black and had been twisted round ;
the breast and legs were scratched ; he had not done
all this to himself, but the devil had helped him.'^
Over their unfortunate associates in many other lands
and towns the accused in the Prince-bishopric liad

» Rautert, 9. ^ Niehues, 34 fT., 40 ff., 141-145.

'■' Ibid. 77-109.

u a 2


at anv rate tliis advantage, that the executioner did
not conduct the process of torture solely at his own
caprice, but that in tlie diocesan courts the rack might
only be used with the express approval of the two
chief attorneys, only according to definite rules and only
in the presence and under the direction of the examining

A witch-trial at which the most frightful tortures
were inflicted was instituted in 1572 by the adventurer
Duke Eric II. of Brunswick-Kalenberg against his
wife Sidonie, sister of the Elector Augustus of Saxony.
In order to be able to enter the service of King Phihp 11.
of Spain, Eric, burdened with debts, had exchanged
his Protestant faith for the Cathohc one, and then
accused his wife of having, in order to avenge his
apostasy from the Augsburg Confession, made a com-
pact with the devil and hired four women to put him
(the duke) to death by their magic arts. Sidonie
took refuge with her brother ; the trial of these four
women, three of whom belonged to the nobihty, began
in the spring of 1572 in the presence of the duke and
the most distinguished members of the nobihty, at
the Castle at Neustadt. The accused were fiendishly
tortured. One of them, so says an account of the
proceedings, was fetched away from a sick bed and
' first of all fastened hand and foot w4th big chains.'
' Then came the jailers and apphed two large screws,
and tortured her in such a way that the very stones
might have cried out in pity ; then she was stretched
on the rack and put to still further agony. When
she implored them in God's name to spare her, and
asked what she had done to be treated thus, they

' Niehiies, iv-v.


answered : What had she wanted to do to her gracious
lord ? She answered, " Nothing." But all her screams
and entreaties were of no avail. She was stretched
three or four times on the rack, and when the jailer
stopped because he was tired, Jost von Miinichhausen,
Brandes an official, and the notary said he must begin
again and tear her body in two. When she was taken
off the rack, the jailers tore her clothes from her body,
and actually rent her shift in twain. But she had
confessed nothing, indeed she had nothing to confess.
Then the executioners, quite breathless, were obliged
to carry her back to her room. The next day, as soon as
it was hght, she was fetched again, and again asked
what she had intended doing to her lord. She answered
that she had never done any harm to an animal, still
less to a human being. She was then placed once
more on the rack, and in order to escape further suffering
she was obliged to confess that she had had intercourse
with the devil, and had been at the dance. Through
the torture inflicted on her her brain became so deranged
that for a time she could not rest, and was quite out
of her senses.' All this did not satisfy the duke ;
' in his personal presence she was subjected to further
torture. The Elector Augustus of Saxony was at
Gotha at the time of this barbarous proceeding ; he
was present at the trial, but hidden behind an arras.
Eric stood in the doorway the whole time whilst the
wretched woman was being tortured six times more ;
she was fetched from her room at intervals of two or
three days, and laid on the rack hke a miserable dog,
and she hadn't a hmb on her body that she could move.
When for the sixth time she had been put to torture and

' See present work, vol. iii. 196 f.


still would say nothing against the honourable duchess,
the executioners dragged her off ; one of them struck
her in tlie face and stuffed his dirty cloth into her mouth
as though to suffocate her, and had a mighty business
afterwards in resetting her dislocated limbs/

The other three women were treated with equal
brutality. They said ' yes ' on the rack to everything
that was suggested to them ; of Sidonie's guilt there
seemed no doubt. Nevertheless at the duchess's entreaty
the Emperor allowed a revision of the trial to take place,
minus torture. When the victims, among whom was
a grandmother of eighty-nine, appeared before the
imperial committee, they presented a lamentable aspect ;
their breasts were all torn, their veins starting out, their
hmbs contorted. By this second investigation their
innocence and that of the duchess was estabhshed.
' On learning the news Eric became raving mad , so that
no one dared approach him.' His delegates, however,
announced on January 3, 1574, that ' the duke was
greatly rejoiced that the innocence of the duchess
had come to light.' i

At Braunsberg in the Ermeland, where, as far as
can be established, sorcery, until past the middle of

' See the minutes of the transactions in Havemann's 'Sidonie, Herzogin
zu Braunschweig, Mohhnann, AktenmassigeDarstellung,' &c., in the Vater-
Idndisches Archiv des historischen Yereins fiir Niedersachsen, 1842, Heft iiL
Nos. 11 and 12. See also, especially, Weber, Aus vier Jahrhunderten, ii.
38-78. ** And Oldecop's Chronik, 668 ff. ; in the same place (566 £f.)
there is also in print the great Hildesheim witch -trial of 1564, of which
Seifart {Sagen, 195) remarks that it contains ' in a narrow compass and a
small but clear and vivid picture, almost all that is known in the way of
superstitious ideas, witches, and their intercourse with, the devil.' Expan-
sions and corrections of Havemann and Weber are supplied by the article
of Joh. Merkel (based on unprinted acts), ' Die Irrungen zwischen Herzog
Erich II. und seiner Gemalilin Sidonie ' (1545-1575). in the Zeitschr. des
histor. Vereins fiir Niedersachsen, 1899, pp. 11-102.


the sixteenth century, was only punished by ecclesiastical
penance and banishment,^ the first case of witch-burn-
ing in the Altstadt (old town) occurred in 1605, the
first in the Neustadt (new town) probably in 1610.-
From the criminal acts it comes out that the pastors,
as also the Jesuits, took no further part in the perse-
cutions than, in fulfilment of their duty, to prepare
for their reckoning those who were condemned by the
secular judges.

The witch-persecutions, in those Catholic districts
where Jesuits were active, were sometimes laid by the
Protestants to the charge of these Jesuits. A ' Wahre
Abconterfeytung der schadlichen und erschrockhchen
Sekte der Jesuiter ' of 1595 accused the Jesuits of
having acquired enormous riches, among other ways,
by accusing wealthy people of sorcery. ' On the mere
statement of childish old women, or of those who have
perhaps given themselves up to the lying spirit, a liar
from the beginning and the father of lies, they ' (the
Jesuits) ' without further inquiry arrest the supposed
culprits, hurry them off to be racked and otherwise
tortured, and wring out from them by torments the
confession that they are sorcerers and that all the
charges against them are true.' ^

No proofs are forthcoming that accusations of this
sort against the Jesuits have any foundation in truth.
A still more common charge made by the Protestants
against the Jesuits was that they ' themselves were closely
connected with devihsh arts and with witchcraft, since
the devil himself was their father and chief instigator.'

' Lilientlial, 94.

■ Ibid. 83-84. Down to the year 1772 there were altogether thirty-
two people burnt to death for sorcery in the Neustadt.
•' Quoted by Stievc, Die Politik Bayerns, ii. 337.


Just as the Augsburg preacher, Bartholomew RiiHch,
was pleased to say that the Munich Jesuits had murdered
young women in their churches, and that in punishment
for this, by order of the council, five fathers had been
burnt wii li rod-hot tongs, and had had strips of flesh cut
out of their bodies — an incident of which in Munich
itself, according to the statement of burgomaster and
council, nothing was known, ^ so Hans Kuntz in 1579
circulated an equally true ' Newe Zeytmig of a frightful
deed committed at Dilhngen by a Jesuwider and a
witch.' A Jesuit, George Ziegler, had had deahngs
with a sorceress at the age of seventy-three, who had
called up no less than thirteen devils ; Ziegler had
selected one of them and shut it up in a bottle. With
the help of this devil he had raised storms of hail,
thunder and lightning over the Lutheran lands and
destroyed not only corn and vines, but also buildings,
people and cattle. The sorceress, who had already
practised these arts for many years, confessed that
it was she who since 1576 had caused all the dreadful
weather and winds in Alsace, and on the Neckar,
the Rhine and the Maine, and that she had deluded,
killed or given over to the devil numbers of women and
children. \Mien a servant in an inn at Basle where
the Jesuit was staying opened the bottle, 'the devil
flew out in the shape of a gadfly with a great deal of
buzzing, carried ofl one of the windows with him, and
bellowed all over the towTi hke a great ox or bear."
The Jesuit was taken prisoner because the corpse of a
merchant whom he had killed in the inn gave out a blood-
token by which Ziegler's guilt was proved. The
sorceress was to have been burnt at Dilhngen, but

' See vol. viii. 317.


* two great ravens flew over her and carried her away
up into the air in the sight of all the people.'^ This
terrible tale of the Dilhngen Jesuit was circulated as
far as to Pomerania ; Joachim von Wedel marked it in
his diary as something specially noteworthy.- As a
matter of fact, however, there had never been a Jesuit
of the name of George Ziegler at Dilhngen.^

Four years earher, in 1575, the preacher Seibert had
said of the Society in general : ' The Jesuits practise
horrible sorcery, they besmear their pulpits with
secret salves got from the devil, whereby they lure
the young folk to themselves, so that it becomes very
difficult to separate them from their sorcery-masters,
and they always want to go back to them/^ Hence
it was not enough simply to expel the Jesuits, they
must be burnt to death as sorcerers ; unless they were
punished Hke this, and they richly deserved it, there

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 37 of 45)