Johannes Janssen.

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

. (page 42 of 45)
Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 42 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Roman law was operative in the most gruesome manner,
the annals of the conventual bailiwick at Liibeck only
record three trials against witches in the whole of the
sixteenth century ; there was altogether great reluct-
ance in this jurisdiction to take up charges against
sorcery.''

In the Brandenburg Mark, where there was strict
adhesion to the stipulations of the criminal code of
Charles V. that capital punishment for sorcery should
only be inflicted when real injury had been done, whole-
sale executions seldom took place. Only in 1565 w^ere
there as many as eight witches burnt. After this, as far
as we can tell from the minutes, there were only single
trials in the years 1569, 1571, 1572, 1576, 1577, 1579,

' Zeitschr. des Harzvereins, iii. 800. Niehues, 31-32. ** See now also
Moser in the Zeitschr. des Harzvereins, 1894, p. 120 ff.

- Wiggers, Kirchengesch. Mecklenhnrgs, 157, note 8. ** Concerning
the numerous cases of witch-burning in Mecklenburg, see Boll, i. 282 ff.
Concerning the statements of the Rostock preacher Nik. Gryse, see Paulus,
' Zur Gesch. der Protestantisierung Mecklenburgs,' in the Histor.-polit. Bl.,
Bd. 128, pp. 465 ff., 553 ff., and 621 ff.

3 Trammer, 111, 112. ^ Opel, Anfdnge, 119-120.

' Trammer, 115, 135-136. ** Concerning the Liibeck witch-trials
of the seventeenth century .see Mitteilungen des Vereins fur Liibeckische
Gesch., Hefts iv. and vi.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 507

1581, 1583, 1584, 1590-1593, 1604.i ' The Jews, especi-
ally, became most highly infamous on accoimt of all
sorts of necromantic, devilish arts/ On the Wednesday
before Christmas Day, 1573, at Berlin, the Jew Lippold,
mint-master of the deceased Elector Joachim II., after
having confessed under repeated infliction of torture that
he had allured the Elector by sorcery, and had poisoned
him with a magic drink, was first pinched ten times with
red-hot tongs, then his arms and legs were attached to
gears and he was spHt asunder into four parts. His
entrails were throwm into the fire, together with a book
on magic found in his possession, and which contained
amongst other things instructions ' how one, two or more
devils could be conjured into a glass, sealed up and kept
in it, and in case of necessity made to answer all
and any questions.' A mouse which got under the
scaffold during the execution, and was driven out
by the heat, was thought to be the sorcerer's devil
who, after having plunged his confederate Lippold
into ruin, left him in the lurch.- On June 2, 1579,
twenty-four Jews were burnt at Frankfort-on-the-
Oder.3

When the Elector John George, in the autunan of
1594, went on a hunting expedition in the Neumark,
' the poor people ' at Friedeberg complained to him of
their pastor who, they said, 'was in league with the prince
of hell ; he housed, encouraged, conjured and compelled
the devil to take the flitches of bacon from the people,

' V. Raumer, ' Hexenprozesse,' in the Mdrkische Forschungen, i. 238-
244 ; Hefftcr in the Zeiischr. fiir jrreussische Gesch. und Landeskunde, iii.
523-531.

- 'Bericht von Lippold, Jiiden, so zu Berlin ficvinlcilt woidcii,' 1576.
See Fidicin, v. 427. Mochsen, 518-521.

■' Weller, Annalen, ii. 436, No. 596.



508 HISTORY OF THE CERMAX REOPLE

and to steal tlie meat which was drying in the chimneys,
besides beer and other things, and bring them to him; he
hid them all in his cellar, and he caused any persons who
remonstrated on the matter to be terribly plagued by the
devil/ The pastor was arrested and taken to Kiistrin
as a supposed magician ; the gates of Friedeberg were
closed so that no one could go in or out ; the inhabitants
were supplied with all their necessaries, for if any stranger
came in from outside, he, too, would be taken possession
of by the devil. ^

In 1614 Adam von L. and his son Joachim, at Bellin
in the Ukermark were accused of sorcery and of ' daily
intercourse with helhsh spirits/ On a judicial examin-
ation there were found in their possession, among other
things, ' books on magic with all sorts of conjurations
by means of which the devil could be brought into a
circle and made subservient, and how devils could be
exorcised from those possessed by them ; further, a
skull ; iron chains, which from their appearance seemed
to have been taken from a gallows ; three steel mirrors
and one glass mirror, inscribed with characters, in which
visions were seen, and spirits appeared; a mirror in
which the four archangels were in the habit of appearing,
two small bones in a box, apparently of quite httle
children, still almost fresh and with the skin hanging to
them ; and other things appertaining to magic/ * There
was also found a diary which had been kept by them
regularly, according to which they had every day seen
frequent visions in which angels, devils and subter-
ranean spirits, pigmies so-called, had appeared, and
from which they had sought advice in ilhiess and had

' From the Chronicler Hafftitz in the Zeitschr. fur deutsche Philologie,
xiv. 461-462.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 509

received recipes, who had read them the papers, and,
particularly on feast days, had preached them sermons.
Sometimes they invited the spirits to dinner. Joachim
von L. had two spirits whom he had made subject to
him ; the one, Pigmaeus, who dwelt under the servants'
table, and who taught him to make the philosopher's
stone ; the other, Celus, who dwelt behind the oven and
at times played fine music to him. Besides these they
had other devils and famiHar spirits, one of which had
to wheel earth and treasures for L. ; and more of such-
like devihsh nonsense is recorded in the diary. It is
also told therein how they made images of wax to be-
witch and plague other people with, especially to annoy
a certain gentleman, von Ramin. In this diary there
was also mention of some of the nobility who appeared
to have participated in the work.' ^ In 1618 there
appeared in Berlin, under the name of Hans Kaspar
von Schonfeld, an adventurer, who described himself
as a delegate from the ' Rosicrucian Brethren at Frank-
fort-on-the-Maine,' possessed two books of devil's arts,
and was reputed to be able to ' make evil spirits appear
to other people.' The Elector had him put in prison
and interrogated about the ' Rosicrucians ' and about
his arts, amongst other things whether he understood

> V. Raumer, ' Hexenprozesse,' in the Mdrlcische Forschungeyi, i. 250-
252. Joachim von L. (the name is not given in full by Raumer) escaped
punishment by flight ; the father was imprisoned ' because he had quite
as much to do with sorcery and with worshipping the devil as the son,
and because bones of j^oung children had been found in his possession,
some of them quite fresh, and witliout doubt, so it said, bones of un-
baptised infants that had been cut out of their motlicr's bodies, for it is
known that these arts require ingredients of this sort.' ' Against such a
heavy crime no privilege of nobihty counted.' The faculty of law at
Frankfort-on-the-Oder decided that the elder L. must first be tried in
Spandau ; ' it does not appear, however, what came of the affair.'



510 HISTORY OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE

tlio art oi ' bringing wolves into the preserves to injure
the game/ i

How, according to tlic opinion of contemporaries
* witches and devil's arts often remained in abeyance
for \ ery many years, and then in the providence of God
sprang up again, and had accordingly to be punished
all the more severely,' is shown by a trial conducted
against a woman of eighty of high position, Sidonia
von Bork. 'Because in her youth,' says a report, 'she
w^as the most beautiful and the richest lady of all the
Pomeranian nobility, she so bewitched Count Ernest
Ludwig von Wolgast that he promised her marriage.
The Dukes of Stettin opposed this "unequal marriage,"
and thereby inflamed the spirit of revenge in Sidonia.
Now, whereas instead of the Bible, " Amadis,'' in which are
many instances of ladies w^ho, forsaken by their lovers,
revenged themselves by sorcery, was her favourite
pastime,- Sidonia let herself be misled by the devil,
learnt also, when advanced in years, something of witch-
craft from an old w^oman, and by means of her knowledge
bewitched the w^hole principahty, to wit six young lords
w^ho all had young wives, in such wise that they all
remained without heirs.' These crimes, however, did
not come to hght until Duke Franz, who succeeded to the
government in 1618, ' as a great enemy of witches, caused
them to be tracked out everywhere in the land and burnt
to death.' These witches, ' under torture,' accused
Sidonia, who, after her engagement to Duke Ernest
Ludwig was cancelled, spent her hfe in the stilhiess of

' ' The answers are unfortunately missing ; also it does not appear
what was the issue of the trial ; it is merely stated that this adventurer
was presumably not a von Schonfeld, but a disguised Jesuit of the name of
Behrends.' v. Raumer in the Mdrkische Forschungen, i. 254.

- See concerning Amadis, vol. xii. 225 fE.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 511

the convent of Marienfliess and at the time of the accusa-
tion was in her eightieth year. She was put into prison,
subjected to the most excruciating torture and thereby
brought to ' confess ' the misdeed she was charged with
against the prince's family. The prince offered her
a free pardon if she would free the rest of the princes
from this evil spell. Her answer, however, was that she
had locked up her witch-machinery in a certain recep-
tacle and thrown the key into the water. She had
asked the devil if he could get back the key for her, but
he had answered, ' No, it was forbidden him.' ' In all
which," says the report, ' one can see the judgment of
God.' ' And so in spite of the most earnest intercession
from neighbouring electoral and princely courts she was
beheaded on the place of execution before Stettin and
then burnt ' ; before her execution her body had been
mangled and torn by repeated torture. ^

Frightful cases of witch-burning occurred in the
Saxon Electorate and in the Saxon principalities.

The Elector of Saxony was himself ' thoroughly

' Horst, Zauberhibliothek, ii. 246-248. ** The trial of Sidonia von
Bork, as far as cruelty and credulity in the judges go, was far surpassed
even by that of Frau von Dobschiitz, wife of the master of the hunt (1591).
This trial is described more in detaU in the Monatshldlter filr Pammerische
Gesch. 1898. Cf. M. v. Stojentin, ' Aktenmassige Nachrichten von
Hexenprozessen und Zaubereien im ehemaligen Herzogtum Pommern,'
in the Zeitschr. fur deutsche KuUurgesch. 2. Ergdnzungsheft (Weimar,
1898), p. 31 ff. Here at p. 18 fif. other A\itch-trials in Poraerania are also
described. This publication makes us acquainted with the cruelty of
the procedure which found in Duke John Frederick a zealous supporter,
as well as with the immense spread and long duration of these trials. Many
of the incidents here mentioned make one's hair stand on end. Frau von
Dobschiitz, although in a state of pregnancy, was stretched on the rack
(p. 34) ! Even denunciations from evil spirits, coming from tlie mouths
of children supposed to be possessed, were taken down seriously, and
confirmed by faculties of law (p. 43) !



512 HISTORY OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE

grounded in occult arts.' He declared himself able to
make gold ; he made use of his geomancy to track out
secret Calvinists ; ' he was in alliance with all sorts of
' thaumaturgists ' and received instructions from them.
Ambrosius Magirius informed him through astrology of
all that might bring injury to himself and his electorate.
Doctor Pithopous offered * to protect him by certain
magic defensives from all bad weather, either natural
or produced by witches, which was aimed either at
buildings or at fields, trees and persons.' John Hiller
taught him a special kind of ' magic o^Deration ' by means
of which * all people, whom no natural means whatever
could help, might be set right again.' - Thus with
regard to bewitched cows he gave the following instruc-
tions for one of his dairies : ' Draw the milk of all the
cows, pour it into one vessel, make an iron red hot
and thrust it into the milk in the name of all the devils,
leave it to cool, and then the sorceress will be burnt and
injured on her body so that the mark of the burning
may be seen. If, further, you touch the bottom of
the vessel with the iron, she will have to die.' ^

In 1572 Augustus issued a criminal ordinance in
which he intensified the decree of Charles V., ordaining
that sorcerers and witches be burnt to death, even if
they have injured no one ; simple fortmie-teUing, also,
he made punishable by death.^ A man who in 1586

^ See vol. viii. 196.

- V. Weber, Kurfiirstin Anna, 283-291. See above, vol. xii. p. 289,
n. 1.

•' Richard, Licht und Schatten, 146-147.

^ Codex Augusteus, i. 117. Cf. Soldan-Heppe, i. 411, and our state-
ments above, p. 295. Benedict Carpzov, styled ' the lawgiver of Saxony,'
said later on that not sorcery only, but the denial of the reaUty of demoniacal
compacts, must be heavily punished. See Horst, Ddmonologie, i. 215.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 513

had endeavoured to find lost property by magic means
died mider the hand of the executioner. i

* Countless numbers/ so it was complained, ' were
saturated with witchcraft and deviFs arts, so that people
were filled with fear and terror of them.' In Leipzig,
in September 1582, two grave-diggers from Gross-
zschocher, ' who had caused great mortaUty by magic
drinks, were tortured with burning tongs and stretched
on the wheel.' ' Their sorcerer wives and mothers-in-
law who had raised terrible tempests and carried on
with the devil for a long time, were burnt to ashes.'
In the same month a grave-digger at Leipzig was
punished with the wheel ' because he had killed twenty-
two people by devil's arts,' the particular means used
being the poison of toads and vipers ; his servant was
treated in the same way.-

In the neighbourhood of Jena there was ' a sorcerer
to whom the devil had pointed out a number of herbs
by means of which he could restore the sick to health.'
In the case of a carpenter with whom this sorcerer had
formerly lived in enmity, the cure failed. The sorcerer,
therefore, was accused of being a poison-mixer and he
said on the rack that ' the devil had always been at his
side and had notified to him when people would come to
him, and had always instructed him as to what he was
to give to those who were present and to those who were
not themselves present.' ' On this his confession he
was speared and afterwards burnt.' ^

Specially noteworthy are thirty-five verdicts which
the bench of justices at Leipzig pronounced in 1582.'*

In 1583, for instance, a woman of eighty-six was put

' Carpzov, Pract. nova, i. 332, No. 31. - Heydenreich, 176-177.
3 Albrecht, Magia, 207-208. ' Carpzov, Pract. nova, i. 334-345.
VOL. XVI. L L



514 HISTORY OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE

to death by lire because, on tlio rack, the confession had
been wrung from her that she had committed immoraUty
with tlic (h^vils Lucifer and Rauscher.^

Another time a woman was burnt to death because
of her confession on the rack that slie had learnt witch-
craft from a female cooper, &c., &c.- In Dresden,
in 1585, a witch was burnt because, according to her own
statement, ' she had so bewitched a woman that, by the
judgment of God, she gave birth to four dumb children.' ^
All this was accepted by the judges as ' piteous truth,'
they even believed the statement of a nine-year-old girl
from a village near Dresden, that she had had a child by
the devil. ' To the fire, to the fire with all the devil's
crew,' urged again and again the above-mentioned
' Kurtze Traktatlein iiber Zauberei ' ; 'we may feel
inclined to have pity and mercy when we see so many
hundreds being burnt in the Saxon land ; but it can't be
otherwise, for God wills that all sorcery should be pun-
ished with death, and the arts of magic grow worse and
worse.' *

AVhen, in 1612, Joachim Zehner preached a still
sterner crusade against witches,^ in the small domain
of the county of Henneberg, which had fallen under the
Saxon domination, there had already been 144 cases of
witch-burning within seventeen years. ^ Sentences of
death continued to be pronounced there on the strength

1 Carpzov, i. 335, No. 5. - Carpzov, i. 339, No. 23.

^ Horst, Zauberbibliothek, iv. 357. In 1582 Abraham von Schonberg
was accused by Bastian Flade at Dornthal of having kept his wife in prison
for fifteen weeks on the mere statement of Hans Eilenberger, who accused
her of sorcery, and of having afterwards tortured her to such an extent
that one of her arms was mutilated and in consequence of her ' confessions '
she had been ruined in health. Fraustadt, i*'. 329.

■• Without place and date ; printed after 1573, cf. above, p. 505.

^ See above, p. 369. ^ v. Weber, Aus vier Jahrhunderten, i. 376-377.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 515

of ' confessions ' concerning which the members of the
bench of justices at Coburg wrote once : ' From the
princely county of Henneberg there have come before us
a great number of cases of accused and imprisoned
people who have confessed multitudes of things which
are scarcely conceivable : for instance, that they dug
up dead children, belonging to so-and-so and so-and-so,
burnt them to ash and with the powder destroyed field-
crops and practised other arts of sorcery. When, how-
ever, the government at Meiningen caused the church-
yards to be examined the said little children's graves,
coffins and bodies were found whole and intact/ ' One
person said under torture that she and her accomplices
had at a stated time stolen a large quantity of wine
from the pubhcan's cellar ; but the publican on being
interrogated stuck to it that he had experienced no such
loss/ Examples of this sort ' might be given in plenty
from still extant minutes and reports, if only we had any
hope that our opponents would thereby be moved to
consideration and to the exercise of seemly moderation.' i
These opponents were to be found in the ranks of the
Coburg preachers, who, in the open pulpit, accused the
lawyers of the place of not proceeding against the witches
with sufficient severity, especially as regards torture. ^
The lawyers answered that though they were by no
means ready, as was falsely said of them, to throw over-
board the use of rack and chains and tortures, and thus
put a stop to the trials and the extermination of witches,
yet they must go to work conscientiously in their office
and not trust every outcry and suspicion. ' Let each
one do his duty ; if things do not fall out according to
everyone's liking and if the witches are not taken in

' Lcib, 17. " Soc above, p. 404 f.

ll2



516 HISTORY OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE

cartloads or troops to the stake, let us realise that such
is an impossibility and throw what blame there is on
God.' ^ * Although far more than 100 witches have been
handed over by us to the Inquisition, and most of them
condemned to torture and finally to death, we are forced
unanimously to declare that the longer and the oftener
such cases come under our observation the more anxious
we grow and the more difficult becomes our task. Only
think what numbers of people, solely in the district of
Coburg and Heldburg,have been tortured more than once
and yet have confessed nothing, but have persisted in
declaring their innocence, notwithstanding which there
has been an uproar in the pulpit because they were not
put to death. On the other hand, it is never, as far as
we know, considered that this or that person has under-
gone too much pain, though the Law should be quite as
much, indeed far more, concerned in protecting the
guiltless - than in condemning the guilty.' ' It was
indispensable that the witches should be allowed
counsel to defend them, as was unanimously declared
by the Ingolstadt lawyers in 1590, and by those of
Freiburg in 1601.^ Further, the court should not
proceed to pass sentence of death on the strength of
crazy " confessions " from the hps of people undergoing
torture.'

Unjust sentences were also condemned by the Pro-
testant theologian Meyfart, who with the deepest
emotion described the tortures which he had personally
witnessed."* ' I have myself seen (and indeed marvelled
that such things could be done) the torturing of women
who were no whit more sensible than eight-year-old

1 Leib, 2 ff., 14-15. ^ Ibid. 16.

■' Ibid. 66. ' See above, p. 406.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 517

children, and when they were driven to "confess" things
more idiotic than the brain of any fever-stricken patient
might conjure up in wild delirium, they had forsooth to
die/ 1 * What will the crazy old people do ? You will
find old women ready to accuse younger ones of having
given birth to children not bigger than a finger. I am
speaking the truth, for I myself once heard an old woman
stubbornly persist in such a palpable absurdity. I could
even tell of far more horrible and melancholy things
did not my pen shrink from recording them.'- 'The
prisoners are doctored with a special decoction which
deprives them of all reason and sense so that they have
no scruple in making the most impossible statements.'
A peasant declared that he had ' danced in the air with
Herodias and flown round in the air with Pilate ' ;
others said that ' in one moment of time they had been
in England, Spain, France, Greece and Persia, and eaten
and drunk in the palaces of the emperors, kings and
princes ' ; others again that * they had passed through
tiny chinks, through which even a mouse could scarcely
creep, and got thus into cellars where they had caroused,
and that they had changed into cats, magpies and ravens.*
' These preposterous absurdities are highly boasted of
by our inquisitors.' ^

Again and again Meyfart comes back to the charge,
based on his own experience as an eye-witness, that it
was only ' the intensity of their sufferings which drove
the tortured victims to accuse themselves sometimes of
the most ridiculous things — but often also of the most
scandalous villainies.' ' The subtle Spaniard and the
wily Italian have a horror of these bestialities and brutal-
ities, and at Rome it is not customary to subject a

' Meyfart, 404. - Ibid. 487. =• Ibid. 484-485.



518 HISTORY OF THE G FOR MAN PEOPLE

inurderer or street-robber, an incestuous person, or an
adulterer to torture for the space of more tlian an liour ' ;
but in ({erniany things luive come to such a pass that
torture is kept up for a whole day, for a day and a night,
for two days and nights, even also for four days and
four nights, after which it begins again. Meanwhile
the executioners are at liberty to ply the wretched
prisoners with fresh torments, till at last the ' confession '
is extorted and with joy caught up by the judge and by
the journalists who describe it with their own touch ;
this forsooth, as were the imprisonment with irons,
chains and bands not punishment sufficient.^

Even the most brutal torments were not regarded
as * torture.'

' I wall not dilate on the continuous watching to
which the prisoners are subjected, on the cruelty which
condemns them to sit always between two guards who
will not even allow them to sleep, but if in the course of
nature the poor creatures' eyes happen to close, instantly
poke them with pointed goads. And even this must not
be reckoned torture ! I need not tell how the prisoners
are fed only on salted food, and how all their drink is
mixed with herring-pickle, and no drop of pure, un-
adulterated wine, beer, or water is allowed them, but
raging thirst is purposely kept up in them.' ' But this
cruel, raging, devouiing thirst the inquisitors account no
torture ! ' WTien the jailer fixes his instruments to the
prisoner's legs, when the captive is pressed like the must
in the wine-press and stretched as the tanner stretches
his hides, all this forsooth is no torture.

And if by these means any person has been brought
to ' confess,' it is read out on the place of execution,

iJVIeyfart, 468.



WITCH-PERSECUTION IN PROTESTANT DISTRICTS 519

it is recorded in the register, it is announced in writing
to the faculties, it is reported to the princes and rulers
that ' she, or he, has confessed voluntarily without
torture/ ^

* And what,' Meyfart goes on, ' mean the words : an
accused ' (he calls her Margaret), ' before the assembled
bench has confirmed of her own free will the confession
which she made under torture ? This is what they



Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 42 of 45)