Religious Belief Can Become Deadly as Secular Law
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Pope Innocent IV authorizes papal inquisitors to use torture in the prosecution
of heresy. This move sets the stage for the torture of witches since witchcraft
would become heresy. At first, torture could not be repeated, eventually
suspects were tortured until they confessed.
1324 - 1325
Early witch trial in Ireland, the Bishop of Ossory presided. Alice Kyteler,
a wealthy widow, accused of causing her husbands death by demonic means.
Eventually she escaped, her maid was burned at the stake.
One of the very first witch hunts in Bern. The Bishop presided in secular
Joan of Arc burned at the stake for being a witch. She was burned alive,
the wood pile was constructed to prolong her death agonies.
Publication of the Malleus Maleficiarum, the Hammer of Witches.
Written by two Inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, it was
widely distributed and responsible for much of the similarity in witch
trials and confessions. With papal backing, the Malleus claimed
that those who did not believe in witchcraft were heretics, in itself a
crime punishable by death.
Publication of Tractatus de Hereticus
et Sortilegiis by papal witch judge, Paulus Grillandus. The book expounded
on the witches sabbath, a gathering of witches, which leads to accused
witches being forced under torture to name others they saw at the gatherings.
Holy Roman Emperor decrees witchcraft
can be determined by judicial torture and punishable by burning to death.
English parliament makes witchcraft a capital crime, the legal code carries
over to the new world colonies.
About mid century, infanticide began to come to the notice of the courts.
Along with this development, witchcraft is increasingly seen as a secular
crime rather than an ecclesiastical or spiritual mistake.
French Parlement issues edict that every expectant mother must register
her pregnancy and have witness at the birth. A stillbirth or dead infant
could lead to murder charges and execution of the mother.
Women begin to be accused of witchcraft and sexual crimes. For the first
time women have legal standing as the accused.
Scottish courts declare witchcraft a secular crime.
The English witch hunts begin in earnest, over 1,000 are put to death.
Where the sex of the dead is known, over 90 percent are women.
1580 - 1630
Most virulent witch persecutions coincide with redistribution of property
and wealth from working peasantry to wealthy.
Two German villages left with but one woman each after a witch purge.
In Quedlinburg, 133 witches executed in one day.
Rottenburg, Germany over 150 women executed
for witchcraft in one year in one town.
1590 - 1700
Scottish witch hunts lead to over 3,000 accusations and about 1,300 executions.
The hunt was spurred on by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church
although the prosecutions and executions were civil.
Publication of Demonolatreiae, by Nicolas Remy who claimed to have
executed over 800 witches. The book described the witches sabbaths in lurid
and completely imaginary detail.
The most comprehensive guide to the identification, capture, questioning
and execution of witches is published. The Compendium Maleficiarum
featured illustrations of some of the more bizarre behaviors ascribed to
witches including boiling babies and kissing the devils buttocks.
1610 - 1630
The German witch craze is at its height. Tens of thousands die, more than
80 percent are women.
1628 - 1630
Two years of crop failures and famine leads to the condemnation and death
of 40 witches in Legeuil, Franche-Compte.
In one year of a 50 year witchcraze, 274 people, 257 (94 percent) of whom
were women, were burnt at the stake in Eichstatt, Barvaria.
Publication of Lutheran judge Benedict Carpzows book, Practica Rerum
Criminalium. It was the Malleus of Protestant witch prosecutions.
By the end of 3 waves of persecutions (1590, 1603-30, and 1637) in Bavaria
hundreds had been put to death, almost all women. Every village suffered,
the terror was unrelenting for 50 years.
Ann Hutchinson denounced for antinomianism heresy and religious leadership,
excommunicated and banished from MA Bay Colony. Her friend Mary Dyer was
hanged, their mutual midwife, Jane Hawkins was banished. While not actually
accused of witchcraft, it was the subtext in all three trials.
Englands most serious witchcraft outbreak, hundreds accused and hanged,
90 percent were women.
Alse Young, a widow, hanged for witchcraft in Hartford, Connecticut. Hers
was the first trial and execution expressly for witchcraft in the colonies.
Her daughter Alice was accused of witchcraft 30 years later, in MA.
First witch execution in MA colony. Midwife Margaret Jones hanged in Boston.
A witch-pricker is awarded 20 shillings for every witch he finds in the
English town of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Thirty women were publicly accused,
stripped, and pricked. Not surprisingly, most were found guilty.
Widow Ann Hibbens tried and convicted of witchcraft in MA colony and hanged.
Hibbens was a woman of property, having inherited from her husband. Her
main crime however was challenging the religious, secular, and familial
structures of the colony.
The various reformations and counter reformations effectively Christianize
the rural populations of Europe, stamping out pagan practices and internalizing
the concept of the devil.
Hartford CT, witchcraze outbreak, over a dozen accused, four were hanged
three women, the fourth was the husband of one of the women, others fled.
1676 - 1725
Polish witchcraze, although short-lived and late in comparison with the
rest of Europe, accounts for an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 deaths according
to some sources.
The widow Glover hanged for witchcraft in Boston, she spoke Gaelic, not
English and was Roman Catholic. She was accused by children of causing
the demonic possession of a prosperous family.
Salem, MA witchcraze outbreak, which spread to surrounding communities.
Since confessing witches were not executed, a large number of the accused
admitted to being witches. While the possessed young girls were the central
accusers, most of those bringing the accusation of witchcraft were men.
Over 200 were accused, 75 percent of them women, most of the men accused
were relatives of the accused women. By the time Governor Phips halted
the proceedings, 14 women had been hanged, five men hanged, one man pressed
to death and two women died in prison.
1710 - 1760
Hungarian witch hunts peak during and following a series of wars with Austria
and Turkey. Over 800 are killed, 92 percent of them women.
Joan of Arc canonized a saint.
Women in the village of Gelnhausen, Germany protest making a witch prison
a tourist attraction. Dressed in white, they carry placards with the names
of those murdered in the village so long ago.
Memorial park dedicated to victims of the witch hunt in Salem, MA.
© 1998, 1999 Margaret Russell for the Lexington Area NOW History Project. All
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