Slides in this set
What was the 16 century
description of a Witch?
· During the period of the witch-hunts, people believed that witches could fly. Some witches were
said to ride demons that had taken the shapes of goats, or other animals. Flying represents the
freedom of the spirit or soul to break away from the physical world and travel in the spirit world.
Even though the belief of flying was a long-standing tradition, by the tenth century most educated
people in Europe were sceptical of this ability.
· Another common belief was that witches had familiars. Authorities claimed that the familiar was a
demon or devil, transformed into an animal form to do a witch's evil bidding. People believed
familiars could change shape or become invisible. Familiars were usually small animals such as
dogs, cats, toads and owls. Many witches' familiars had unusual names. To church authorities
during the witch-hunts, familiars were demons, because the only spiritual entities that could exist,
according to the church, were God, angels, the devil and demons.
· Witches were often loners and outcasts. Yet one of the most prominent charges against them was
that they participated in a communal activity which was known as the witches' Sabbat. The image
of the sabbats seemed to be a blend of pagan festivals and church propaganda about secret,
obscene rites with the devil.
· Many people wondered how men and women became witches. Some of the accused witches
testified, after prolonged torture and interrogation, that they had been initiated as children: their
mothers had taken them to sabbats and pledged them to service to their master, the devil. Adults
were supposedly introduced by members of the coven and decided of their own free will to
become members. Forced witnesses during the trials stated that Sabbat ceremonies began with
the new initiates having sex with the devil or his demons. They also included that initiation
ceremonies might include sacrificing an animal or child.…read more
· The European doctrine of witchcraft was formulated in the late Middle Ages. Just how many of the
beliefs about witches were based on reality and how many on delusion will never be known. The
punishment of supposed witches by the death penalty did not become common until the 15th
century. The first major witch-hunt occurred in Switzerland in 1427, and the first important book on
the subject, the Malleus maleficarum (Hammer of Sorceresses), appeared in Germany in 1486.
The persecution of witches reached its height between 1580 and 1660, when witch trials became
almost universal throughout western Europe.
· Geographically, the centre of witch-burning lay in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, but few
areas were left untouched by it. No one knows the total number of victims. In south-western
Germany alone, however, more than 3,000 witches were executed between 1560 and 1680. Not
all witch trials ended in deaths. In England, where torture was prohibited, only about 20 percent of
accused witches were executed (by hanging); in Scotland, where torture was used, nearly half of
all those put on trial were burned at the stake, and almost three times as many witches (1,350)
were killed as in England. Some places had fewer trials than others. In the Dutch republic, no
witches were executed after 1600, and none were tried after 1610. In Spain and Italy accusations
of witchcraft were handled by the INQUISITION, and although torture was legal, only a dozen
witches were burned out of 5,000 put on trial. Ireland apparently escaped witch trials altogether.
Many witch trials were provoked, not by hysterical authorities or fanatical clergy, but by village
quarrels among neighbours.
· Witch trials declined in most parts of Europe after 1680; in England the death penalty for
witchcraft was abolished in 1736. In the late 17th and 18th centuries one last wave of witch
persecution afflicted Poland and other areas of eastern Europe, but that ended by about 1740.
The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782.…read more
· In many parts of Europe people accused of witchcraft were tortured until they 'confessed'.
Obviously if you were tortured you would probably 'confess' to anything to stop the torture.
However torture was not used in England and after 1594 it was not used in Holland, (which is
probably one reason why there were fewer executions for witchcraft there).
· In England witches were hanged not burned. In the rest of Europe witches were usually burned
but normally they were strangled first.
· Some people confessed without torture but that does not mean they were guilty. In recent years a
number of people have falsely confessed to murder. Vulnerable people may confess to serious
· By no means all people tried and executed for witchcraft were women. The majority were female
but a significant minority were men.
· The Pendle Accused and their Crimes
The most famous of the Pendle witches actually died before coming to trial. Elizabeth Southernes
("Old Demdike") had admitted to Nowell that she was a witch. In so doing she also implicated
many of her co-accused, as did Anne Whittle ("Old Chattox") who was herself accused of the
murder by witchcraft of Robert Nutter. Also implicated were members of both their families:
Elizabeth Device, Demdike's daughter, was accused of two murders, as was her son James,
while Alison was to stand trial for what she had done to John Law on that fateful spring day five
months before. Anne Redfearne, Chattox's daughter, stood accused of the murder of Christopher
Nutter eighteen years previously.
Others were dragged into the affair: John and Jane Bulcock, a mother and her son, were tried for
causing madness, and for being at a so-called Witches Sabbath held at Malkin Tower on Good
Friday 1612; Alice Nutter from Roughlee Hall, was accused of killing one Henry Mitton because
he refused to give Demdike a penny; Margaret Pearson was accused of bewitching one of her
neighbour's horses to death, and Katherine Hewitt was accused of the murder of Ann Foulds.…read more
Case Studies in England
The Pendle Witches:
Fact file The Witches of 1612
Note: All witches were hanged at Lancaster unless otherwise stated
The Demdike Family:
alias Demdike, died in gaol
Elizabeth Device, daughter of Demdike and mother of James and Alizon
The Chattox Family:
Anne Redferne, daughter of Chattox
The Bulcock Family:
John Bulcock, son of Jane Bulcock
The Other Witches:
Magaret Pearson, sentanced to one year in gaol
Jennet Preston, hanged at York
Isobel Robey…read more
Case Studies in Germany
· Bamberg witch trials, which took place in Bamberg in Germany in 1626-1631, belongs to the more
famous cases in European witch craft history. It resulted in the deaths of between 300 and 600
executions, and was one of the greatest witch trials in history, as well as one of the greatest
executions in peace time.
· The Bamberg Witch Trials erupted during a period of a series of mass witch trials in the area of
Southern Germany, contemporary with the Würzburg witch trials and others. The witch craze of
the 1620s was not confined to Germany, but influenced Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté: in
the lands of the abbey of Luxueil the years 162830 have been described as an "épidémie
· The area had been devastated by war and conflicts within the Holy Roman Empire, as well as a
series of crop failures, famines and plagues. Rather than blaming the politicians, people looked for
supernatural explanations, and accusations of witchcraft proliferated. Bamberg at the time was a
small state ruled by the Prince-Bishop , who took a leading role in the persecutions: he earned the
nickname Hexenbischof or "Witch-bishop." He was aided by Bishop Forner, who wrote a book on
the subject. The prince bishop built a "witch-house," complete with torture-chamber adorned with
appropriate biblical texts. The Bamberg witch trials have been described as possibly the worst of
· The bishop's chancellor, Dr. Haan, was burnt for showing suspicious leniency as a judge. He
confessed to having seen five burgomasters of Bamberg at the sabbat, and they too were duly
burnt: one of the was Junius. The perhaps most known of the many victims of the Bamberg witch
trials was Johannes Junius, whose testemony of the torture he was exposed to became famous…read more