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History of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) online

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most heroic women of the time. On the charge of having
been seen at the witch-dances she was put in prison in
October 1593, and subjected to no less than fifty-six
bouts of the most agonising torturings. At the fourth dose
the thumbscrew and boot wrung from her the words :
' Would to God — may He forgive me for such talk — that
I were a wdtch, so that I might have something to con-
fess/ The sixth time, when fastened to the rope and
drawn up and down, she still protested her innocence.
' Eepeated her previous statements,' says the reporter,
* which I did not think it necessary to record.' Under
further torture, still more terrible, she said it was true
that cats had come into her room and had eaten eggs
and other articles of food ; she had given them fly-
powder ; whether they had died of it she did not know,
but they had not come back any more : she dreaded
the pains and only wished she had done all that she was
accused of, but she could not say so with a good conscience.
Not till the ninth examination did she give in, and she
then said that a handsome young fellow had come to her,
and that later on she had recognised him as the devil by
his goat's feet, that she had not been able to resist him
and had signed a compact with him with her blood.
But at the same examination she recanted, saying she
had only * confessed ' out of fear and in the hope of being
thereby released from her martyrdom ; she knew noth-
ing about these things from her own experience, had
only heard them told by other witches. Again stretched
on the rack, she cried out incessantly : ' Christ, have
mercy on me ; thou Lamb of God, that takest away
the sins of the world, have mercy on me ! ' At the tenth
hearing she was * three times drawn up and down on the

VOL. XVI. 1 1


rope, but still slic maintained tliat she could not truth-
fully confess anything. At every fre^i examination the
tortiu'e was heightened . . . she cried out incessantly
that she would gladly die, but " confess " she could not/
* I should have confessed long ago,' she said the sixteenth
time, ' if I were such a woman, and should not have let
myself be tortured all this time ; the Almighty knows
that I have done nothing of the kind/ Then she was
laid on the rack five times more and tortured in every
conceivable way ; but still she persisted in declaring her
innocence. The Nordhngen burgomaster Pferinger and
the advocates of the council had not the sHghtest feehng
for the sufferings of the poor woman. After all means had
been exhausted without bringing her to confess, she was let
off fmther examination for six months, but she was kept
in prison, and meanwhile the torturing of other accused
witches was proceeded with. The magistracy of Ulm,
the town in which ]\Iaria Holhn was born, interceded in
her favour with their colleagues of Nordlingen : the
accused, he said, ' as an Ulm burgomaster's daughter,
had Hved a godfearing, honourable hf e, and was free from
all suspicion of what she had been charged with. Her
father, for many years a servitor of the council, an official
in the country, had brought her up in the fear of God, and
therefore they could not rid themselves of the suspicion
that malignant people, by whom in other places also
judges had been misled, had denounced her out of spite.'
He begged, therefore, that she might be set free without
any recognizances, or stain on her character.

The magistracy at Nordhngen then sought counsel of
their lawyers and received the following reply : ' There
had been good and solid reasons for putting ]\Iistress
HolHn in prison and for examining her both mildly


and on the rack. The minutes of the trial proved her to
be a suspected person, though it was difficult to describe
exactly the grounds of this suspicion. What she had
undergone was, however, a sufficient penalty for what had
been proved against her, and without further evidence
she could not be legally subjected to any more torture.
It was also to be feared that there would be much evil
thinking and talking on the matter and that the relatives
of HolHn and her husband would make representations
to the Emperor and the Imperial Chamber. They
(the lawyers) therefore advised the magistrate to let
her out of the prison, but to tell her that suspicion still
rested on her, and that it was only out of grace and
mercy that she was released till further evidence was
forthcoming ; her husband must pay the costs and she
herself take her oath that neither by day nor by night
would she leave her house without permission of the
council." The magistrates followed this advice and the
innocent woman who had been on the rack fifty-six
times was obliged, before leaving prison, to sign, ' attest-
ing the truth of it before God,' a statement to the effect
that the penal proceedings against her had been per-
fectly just and that the suspicion of witchcraft attaching
to her had been confirmed, thus depriving herself of any
further means of defence. She who through all her
martyrdom had spoken the truth was now compelled,
in order to escape from prison, to swear to monstrous
lies. ' The honourable, discreet, and wise burgomasters
and magistrates of Nordlingen,' so said this statement,
' had been compelled in loyalty to their office to take her
prisoner and to put her tlirougli several severe examina-
tions.' * All in vain had the magistrates pleaded with

her concerning her own voluntary and unextorted

I I 2


confession, and her iinnietliate recantation afterwards,
and for a long time had great patience witli her. The evi-
dence and presumptions brought against her and cor-
roborated by all the circumstances had, to say the least,
not been disproved, explained or demolished, still less
had her innocence been estabhshed/

The honourable magistrates, therefore, * had more
than sufhcient cause for persisting in the proceedings
against her with ever greater severity ; nevertheless
from pure fatherly kindness and pity, for this once, they
saw fit to let her free,' &c., &;c.^

As regards Nuremberg, there is no evidence of any
actual witch-burning having occurred there at the time
in question.- In Spalt, in April 1590, twelve witches
had to mount the funeral pile in o/ie day ; ^ in Schwabach,
in 1592, on three different occasions three witches were
burnt ; ^ at AVindsheim, in 1596, actually nineteen — the
twentieth had taken her own life.^

» Weng, Heft vii. 4-24.

2 See Kjiapp, Das alte Niirnherger Kriminalrecht, p. 274. 'The witches
mentioned in witch-books in 1591 occur neither in Meister Franzen's
diary nor in other official documents ; the entry, therefore, is of very
questionable nature. A few milder cases of punislunent of sorceresses are
met with in the years 1434, 1468 and 1659, the first of whom was decorated
with a fool's cap and attached to a stake near the Pegnitz and deprived
of a portion of her tongue ; the second was bound to a ladder and spent some
time hanging on a cross in the market-place, being afterwards branded
and sent off, whilst the last was exposed at the church door and then
banished. In 1608 a soldier was beheaded on the charge of having formed
a compact with the devil ' (I.e. p. 301).

^ Deutscher Hausschatz (Ratisbon, 1874), Jahrg. i. 458.

'' V. Falkenstein, Chron. Svabacense (Schwabach, 1756), p. 307.

^ See Lochner, ' Zur Sittengesch. von Niirnberg im 16^" Jahrh.'
in the Zeitschr. fiirdeutsche Kulturgesch. (Jalirg. 1856), p. 226. Concerning
a devil's banner in the Neumarkt, see a letter of the Niirnberg preacher
at Leinburg dated June 15, 1588, in Waldau, Vermischte Beytrcige, iii.
3.56-362. In 1590 numbers of people were burnt in ' different places
near Augsburg.' v. Stetten, i. 718.


At Ratisbon, in 1595, tlie lawyers and the clergy
had to do with a girl-witch who was demented and who
said ' the devil had entered her in the shape of a fly,
and that she had often been in and out of hell with the
devil. Two jurists were of opinion that she should not
be punished with death by fire, but only be stretched
a few times by way of warning, then be put in the pillory,
have her cheeks burnt through and sent into perpetual
exile.' 1

In Bayreuth the consistory instituted house-searches
to discover devils and witch-medicaments in pots and
glasses. The superintendent there, Justus Blochius,
begged and entreated the women whenever they saw
a man to look first at his feet, because the devil always
had a goat's foot. At Wallerstein in the Bayreuth
district, in 1591, twenty-two witches were burnt at one
go. Even people of high position were brought before
the court ; for instance, the hereditary marshalless
Caeciha von Pappenheim in Ansbach, who was seventy
years of age. A shepherd demanded of her a gulden
because one night when she had hobnobbed with the
fiend, he (the shepherd) had piped the music for the
dance. On being dismissed without the gulden, he
proclaimed his tale throughout the land, and demanded
that some witches who were about to be executed at
Schwabach, Abensberg and ElHngen, should again be
put on the rack and questioned as to whether they
had anything to tell about the hereditary marshalless.
A witch of ElHngen deposed that, ' CseciHa, accompanied
by her lady's maid, generally rode on a cow to the
helHsh assemblies, and that at a witch-dance she had
looked like a Nuremberg woman ' : the imprisonment

' Gumpeltzhaimer, ii. 1010-1013.


of Csecilia followed. She was not, however, burnt to
death, because the juridical faculty at Altorf decided
that the statement of the Ellingen witch, who had already
been executed and had never been confronted with, the
accused, had not sufhcient foundation ; on the other
hand, the statement of the shepherd that he had piped
at the witch-dance was so weighty, compromising and
grave, that the accused could only parry it with a denial
on oath. In order to obtain her freedom Caecilia was
obliged to take this oath and to bear all the costs. ^

In 1613 a * broadsheet concerning the horrible
sorcery of the German nation ' gave the following
report : ' At Ochsenhausen three witches soared up
into the air in broad daylight ; they were seen by
many hundreds of people, and they raised a frightful
screaming, and then brought on such a storm that flint
stones weighing a whole pound fell to the ground ;
in these flint stones were found villainous animals. The
witches confessed that 4000 of them had sworn together
to destroy everything ; one of them had killed 334
httle children.' -

Wlien in 1616, by command of the ducal government
of Wiirtemberg, the fiercest witch-fires were lighted
in the towns of Sondelfingen, Dorustadt, Low^enberg
and Vaihingen, ' a woman from Seresheim, who w^as
called the mother of all witches, confessed that she had
carried on witchcraft from time immemorial, and had
killed as many as 400 children, among them three of her
own. These had all been dug up again and boiled;
some of them had been eaten, some used for making

' Lang, iii. 338-341, Kraussold, 158. Conconiing witchcraft in the
territory of the former convent of Heilsbronn, see Muck, ii. 57-60.
- Printed at Erfurt by Jakob Singe, 1613.


witch-salves and tlie hollow bones she had given to the
pipers to whistle on. She had killed her own son's
wife, she said, and two of his children ; her two husbands
she had made lame for long years and finally killed ;
her immorahty with the devil had been continuous ;
during the last forty years she had raised innumerable
bad tempests a few miles off from the Heuchelberg.
On this mountain the witches' sabbath was kept five
times a year, when as many as 2500 people, rich and
poor, old and young, among them people of distinction,
gathered together. She said also that if there were
no witches the Wiirtemberg subjects would have no
water to drink, and every seventh year would not be
allowed to till their fields, also their kitchen utensils
would not be earthen, but silver. She gave as a reason
why so many women fell victims to delusion, the ill-
usage of their drunken husbands ; she explained to
the judges the sign by which they might be recognised.'
On her evidence a number of innocent women were then
arrested and put to death. ^

A trial of great fame was prosecuted in Wiirtemberg,
in 1615, against the mother of the great astronomer
Kepler. The charges against her were, ' that she had been
brought up at Weilderstadt by a cousin who was burnt

' Zwo Hexenzeilung, ' die erste aus dem Bistum Wiirzburg . . . die
ander aus dem Herzogtum Wiirttcmberg : wie der Herzog in unterscliied-
lichen Statten auch angefangen,' Tiibingcn, 1616. Cf. Gorres, Christliche
Mystik, 4'', 642-643. ** At Mompelgard (under the Wiirtemberg sove-
reignty), according to the report of a ' Warhaflte und glaubwiirdige
Zeyttung von 134 Unholden,' &c. (Strasburg, 1583), ' the witches had a
gathering on the 21st of the Heumonat (hay -month), 1582, on a mountain,
and a terrific hail-storm was raised ; forty-four women and three men of
this company were taken prisoners and burnt at Mompelgard on October
24, 1582.' According to the same broadsheet many other witches were
also burnt there in 1582.


there as a witch ; whereas as a widow she should have
hved alone, she had gone about to places where she had
no business to be, and had thus incurred the suspicion
that she was a witch ; she had given a girl a devil as
paramour ; she had killed two children of a burgher ;
had passed through locked doors, had bewitched cattle
which she had never touched nor even seen.' In her
favour it might be alleged that although it had some-
times happened in the to^vn of Leonberg that witches
had been condemned and burnt after all that they knew
about themselves and others, their accomplices, had been
wrung from them by excruciating torture, yet they had
never denounced the accused ; indeed, one of the im-
prisoned women, ' who had been tortured so brutally
that her thumb remained hanging to the instrument,'
had stated that she had been illegally interrogated
about Mistress Kepler by two judicial persons who had
been sent to her. The chief accuser of the unhappy
woman was a person ' who in her youth had been
ensnared into immorahty/ This female's husband,
in his charge, urged that in the case of witches no proof
was needed, ' for,' said he, ' they commit their crimes
secretly.' Kepler defended his mother, and he had
hard work to save her from the rack and the stake.
Casting reserve aside, he depicted in the darkest colours
the brutality of the proceedings in these witch-trials.
But he himself also was a proof that the witch-super-
stition governed the most intellectual and learned men
of that time ; he emphatically acknowledged the exist-
ence of witches and of the supernatural diseases which
they produced.^

' Fuller particulars concerning this trial are given by v. Breitschwert,
97-146, 193-225. ' The Tiibingen lawyers,' says Sauter,61, ' according to


In Rottenbiirg on the Neckar twelve witches were
burnt in 1583 on July 12, and nine in 1585 on April 7.

the latest compilation of the penal Concilia Tuhingensia of Professor
Seeger, maintained an exceptional attitude of independence towards the
abuses practised in these trials.' But from a bundle of minutes of trials
of the 3'ears 1609-1616, preserved in the registry of the to^^-n of Sindelfingen,
we see that even ' Dean and doctors of the Law faculty of the university
at Tiibingen ' condemned people to torture on the most miserable
evidence for the sake of a praemium operae of six imperial thalers.
Noteworthy is the Predigt von der Zatiberei (Griininger, 86-104), delivered
by the court-preacher Griininger in 1605 in the court chapel at Stuttgart.
** In the Consilorum Theologicorum Decas I. of Felix Bidembach (Frank-
fort-on-the-Maine, 1611) we read, pp. 118-133 : On hail and witches.
Report of both the doctors of Holy Scripture and preachers at Stuttgart,
Matthew Alber and William Bidembach, 1562 (appeared separately :
sermons on hail and witches. Tiibingen, 1562). Hail and thunder, it
is here explained, come from God, not from witches. Why then are the
latter punished ? ' The answer is that divine and imperial laws
do not regard witches and sorceresses as punishable, do not con-
demn them to death, because by their own power and malice they
can disturb the elements, but because they deny God and the Christian
faith, give themselves up entirely to the devil, and are so completely
possessed and ensnared by him that like him, their master, they desire
nothing else than to work all manner of injury and misfortune to human
beings. ... It is for this unbelieving, wicked, devilish will, procedure,
and madness that witches are justly punished as the avowed enemies of
God and all mankind — punished as traitors and incendiaries, who, even
if they have not betrayed and set fire to towTis, yet cherish a constant wish
and an intention so to do. Nevertheless the authorities ought to proceed
cautiously, and not torture people until they have sufficiently estabhshed
all the circumstances of the case and hit on a positive track.' In this
connexion Jul. Hartmann, Matthdus Alber, der Reformator der Reichsstadt
Reutlingen (Tiibingen, 1863), p.l66 writes : ' His (Alber's) sermons on hail and
witches, preached in 1562, stamp him as an evangelical preacher and pastor,
who through study of the Bible had freed himself from that most corrupting
prejudice of his own and the following century, viz. the witch-superstition,
and place him side by side with a Brenz, high above shoals of his brother
preachers and pastors in the German Empire.' Cf. Paulus, ' Wiirttem-
bergische Hexenpredigten aus dem 16"" Jahrhundert,' in the Diozesan-
archiv fiir Schivaben, 1897, Nos. 6 and 7. Felix Bidembach, Wiirtemberg
court-preacher {Manuale minislrorum Ecclesiae, Handbook for Young
Candidates for the Church prepared in the Duchy of Wiirtemberg, Frankfort-
on-the-Maine, 1613), says (p. 75 ff.) : ' Witches according to the law of Ood


The nuinbor of witches became so great that the magis-
trates began to be ' tired of condemning such people,
fearing that if they went on any longer there w'oiild be
scarcely any women left alive/ ' To such a height/
wrote the discalced friar Malachias Tschamser, ' did
devilish wickedness grow in these credulous people ;
but no wonder, the devil had already deluded them wath
Luther/ '

At Freudenberg in the county Lowenstein-Wertheim,
on October 23, 1591, six women and two men were exe-
cuted at the same time. To one of the accused the official
went on saying through all the torturing : ' You '11 have
to confess, even if I kept on at you for three quarters of
a year. Come, speak out, or die/ The sort of procedure
that went on at these trials may be judged from the
words of the attorney Andreas Bogen von Miltenberg :
' Where has it ever been read that it is lawful, on the
mere w^ord of any crack-brained fellow, without sufficient
previous evidence, to imprison a respectable person —

are worthy of death.' Joh. Schopfius, abbot in Blaubeuren {Wetter-
glocklin, Tubingen, 1602), says : ' Rulers are right in punishing witches,
principally and especially because they are backed up by a plain text
in the law of God, and God Himself says : " Thou shalt not suffer a witch
to Uve " (Exodus xxii. 18).'

' W. Westenhofer, Die Reformationsgesch. von einem Barfussermdnche
(Leipzig, 1882), p. 87. At Horb in Suabia thirteen witches mounted the
scaffold on June 13, 1583 (p. 86). ** At Sulz on the Neckar, where the
rehgious innovation began in 1536, numerous cases of Avitch-buming
occurred in the last years of the sixteenth century. Some of them were
downiright brutal. Cf. F. A. Kohler, Beschreibung und Geschichie von
Sulz (Sulz, 1835), and Beck, Beilage zum Diozesanarchiv fiir Schwaben,
1892, No. 20. The latter remarks : ' It is maddening to read in the
minutes of the trials, how reasonably, on the one hand, these unhappy
victims answered in court, and appealed to their former manner of life,
and how roughly and senselessly, on the other hand, the then under-
bailiff Hans Jakob Schott accepted the statements wrung out by torture
as satisfactory proof of their guilt.'


above all a respectable matron — of whom nobody-
knows anything but what is loving and good and honour-
able and to subject her to excruciating torture ?
Verily ! if such a law were allowed to obtain, what
wholesale destruction of the human race would be the
result, especially in these days when hatred and envy-
are so rampant, and grow frequently to such intensity,
that people have no scruple or conscience in bringing
innocent fellow-creatures into peril of life and body ! ' i

A witch-trial which deserves special notice on
account of its unique nature took place in 1597 in the
imperial city of Gelnhausen.- ' At this trial,' says a
rejDort, ' it was learnt for the first time by the testimony
of the sorceress, that, added to all the rest of the crafti-
ness which Satan practised with witches, he could
actually appear and act in the shape of fleas and
worms.' Clara Geisslerin of Gelnhausen, widow of a day-
labourer and 69 years of age, had been denounced by a
condemned watch as ' a prostitute who was in league
with three devils and who had dug up from their graves
several hundreds of innocent children and murdered
numbers of people/ After the application of the thumb-
screw all sorts of questions were asked her, but,
* hardened by the devil she stubbornly persisted in her
denials.' When, however, ' her feet were crushed and
her body stretched out to greater length she screamed
piteously and said all was true that they had asked her ;
she drank the blood of children whom she stole on her
nightly excursions, and she had murdered as many as
sixty ; she named some twenty other witches who had

1 Diefenbach, 12-18.

■-* Witch-burning had begun there in 1584 ; in 1596-1597 sixteen
witches were concemned to death by fire and by the sword. Zeilschr. des
Vereins fiir hessische Oesch. und Landeskunde, Neue Folge, vol. v. 165.


been with lier at the dances ; she said the wife of the
Lite mayor was the ]-)rcsi(lont on the journeys and at
entertainments ; also she had a devil always with her
in the shape of a cat witli wliicli she, also in the shape of
a cat, rambled about the roofs at night.' Released from
the rack slie retracted all these statements wrung from
her by torture and said it was all invention and not a
word of it true. She begged ' in the name of God and
the Lord Christ ' that they would have pity on her, she
had suffered much from illnesses, and her head was often
in a whirl in consequence. As to what she had said
about others, she did not know it herself, but had only
heard it said by other people ; she begged that they too
might be spared. ' The honourable inquisitors ' there-
u])on resolved that ' the delinquent must first be kept in
prison ' in order to see w^hether ' her paramour the devil
would feed her,' but that meanwhile ' some of the witches
she had accused must be arrested and questioned mildly,
or if needs be with torture. When one of the latter * told
the very wickedest things about Clara Geisslerin, far
worse and more inhuman than what she herself had con-
fessed under torture,' the unhappy woman was again put
on the rack and again she said ' yes ' to all that was
asked her ; but after she was released again recanted
everything, and ' so demented did she become that she
actually invited judges and attendants to the judgment
seat of God.' At a third bout of torture which lasted
several hours and was characterised by ' the utmost
severity,' she confessed that ' for forty years past she had
committed immorality with numbers of devils that had
come to her as cats, dogs, often even as fleas and worms ' ;
' she had murdered over 240 people old and yoimg, had
bred about seventeen children with the devils, had


murdered them all, eaten of their flesh and drunk of their
blood ; far and wide and for a long time she had caused
terrible tempests ; had nine times poured fire on to
houses ; had wanted to set the whole town on fire, but
one of her demon paramours, the devil called Bursian,

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