How Religious Belief Can Become Deadly as Secular Law

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1252 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.

1420 One of the very first witch hunts in Bern. The Bishop presided in secular court.

1431 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.

1486 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.

1524 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.

1532 Holy Roman Emperor decrees witchcraft can be determined by judicial torture and punishable by burning to death.

1542 English parliament makes witchcraft a capital crime, the legal code carries over to the new world colonies.

1550 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.

1556 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.

1560 Women begin to be accused of witchcraft and sexual crimes. For the first time women have legal standing as the accused.

1563 Scottish courts declare witchcraft a secular crime.

1580 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.

1585 Two German villages left with but one woman each after a witch purge.

1589 In Quedlinburg, 133 witches executed in one day.

1590 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.

1595 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.

1608 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.

1629 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.

1635 Publication of Lutheran judge Benedict Carpzows book, Practica Rerum Criminalium. It was the Malleus of Protestant witch prosecutions.

1637 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.

1638 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.

1645 -1647 Englands most serious witchcraft outbreak, hundreds accused and hanged, 90 percent were women.

1647 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.

1648 First witch execution in MA colony. Midwife Margaret Jones hanged in Boston.

1649 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.

1656 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.

1660 The various reformations and counter reformations effectively Christianize the rural populations of Europe, stamping out pagan practices and internalizing the concept of the devil.

1661 -1663 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.

1688 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.

1692 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.

1920 Joan of Arc canonized a saint.

1985 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.

1992 Memorial park dedicated to victims of the witch hunt in Salem, MA.

        © 1998, 1999 Margaret Russell for the Lexington Area NOW History Project. All Rights Reserved. This timeline may be distributed freely under the following conditions: that the use is not for profit; that it is distributed in complete, unchanged form; that this complete notice is intact and included in the distribution. Contact for additional information.


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