Bamberg Witch Trials


The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire

- Patch work of political entities of different sizes & influence

- The whole Empire fell under the authority of the Emperor, many towns had their own freedoms, especially if they had the status of an "Imperial City"

- Limited national framwork

- Towns & village courts had the freedom to make their own judgements on trials & jurors were often local

- The Emperors had no real taxation, army or administration

Carolina Code (1532): states that justice should remain a local matter & limited guidance for witch hunters was given

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Religious Matters

Religious Matters

- Protestant reformation of the 16th century led to division within German towns

- The witch-hunts within The Holy Roman Empire were not an anti-catholic persuate, both protestants & catholic prosecuted withces, instead they focused on the ideaology of the Devils Work

"Cuius regio, eius religio" (1548): translates to "whose realm, his religion", a new principle published that allowed protestants, catholics, calvinists & lutherans to live side by side

Prince Bishops: Responsible for some of the most horrific persecutaions, an individual with combined religious & civil authority. They were Catholic governors of particular principlalities & controlled large areas


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The Counter Reformation

The Counter-Reformation

- A movement which challenged the protestant reformation

- Began in the second half of the 16th century

- The Jesuit order was highly infuential in spreading the CR; founded in 1534 Jesuits churched were founded in cities such as Munich with a fiercely anti-protestant message

- Catholicism became an essential component of Prince Bishoprics & elite prince-bishiops who governed these states supported the Habsburg monarchy

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Economic Crisis

Economic Crisis

- Bamberg suffered from poor weather & harvests within the period

- Frost destroyed the wine crop (1629)

- "The year without a summer" (1628)

- The Little Ice Age (1560-1660)

- Imported silver from America was in decline from 1610

- The content of gold in golf coins declined to 77% by 1626

- Coin clipping rose

- Money lost its real value, this combined with poor weather & harvest failures resulted in inflation & price rises

Combined with the costs & hardships associated with the Thirty Years War it was in the interest of those leading the hunts, including the Prince Bishop to find a scapegoat, witches, & prosecute them to remove the threat of harvest failures

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Key Individuals

Key Individuals

Neytard Von Thungen: Prince Bishop (1591-1598) initiated the first persecutions in 1595 & two more in 1598

Phillipp Von Gebsattel: Prince Bishop (1600-1609) executed nobody for witchcraft

Johann Gottfried Von Aschhausen: Prince Bishop (1609-1613) invited Jesuits to settle into the area & persecuted Protestant priests. He had around 300 suspected witched executed (1610)  Von Aschhausen issued a new law concering witchraft, he ordered that any person found practising magic would be severly punished

Johannes Junius: Mayor of Bamberg, was accused & executed for witchcraft

Hans Langhans: Mayor of Zeil, confessed after torture in 1628 that he had been baptised by the Devil in 1611

George Eder: A passointed supporter of the CR, accussed of witchcraft, he opposed the trials, was executed

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Who Was Accused (Key Figure)

Numbers & Gender

600-900 people implicated & executed between 1623-1632

Women made up 72.7% of the accused

642 people brought to trial (45 released/escaped) between 1623-1631


In zeil, only 7 older women were sent for executed, only 2 identified as "wise women"

Average age of 300 women accused was 33.5


From 1628 officials examined parish recorders for individuals who failed to recieve catholic communion, they were then reported to the official commission on witchcraft

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Growing scepticism & Complaints of The Trials

Growing scepticism & Complaints of The Trials

As the 1620's progressed, growing horror at the intensity of the trials led to punlic complaints in courts about innocent people being executed after having been convicted in secret

In July 1627 Prince Bishop von Dorheim reacted to this by issuing a proclamation stating that anyone who gace false testimony at witch trials should be flogged

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Von Dornheim

Von Dornheim

  • Elected prince-bishop in 1623, along with Förner he was responsible for burning at least 600 people between 1623-1633.
  • Known as the hexenbischof (witch-bishop)
  • Champion of the Counter-Reformation, he was determined to create a godly state in Bamberg and believed the Devil was at work. 
  • Took personal responsibility for the investigations, and hired a number of people to help him.
  • In 1627 he had a witch prison built to hold 30-40 suspects at a time. The walls were covered with biblical texts. Suspects could be tortured with his personal approval.
  • His vicar, Frederick Förner, aided him and his legal advisor acted as an interrogator. 
  • Property confiscations allowed von Dornheim’s wealth to increase considerably due to the hunts.
  • Von Dornheim died in 1633. 
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Frederik Forner

Frederik Forner

  • Vicar general and deputy to von Dornehim
  • Advocate of the Counter-Reformation, pursued witches relentlessly
  • At the funeral of prince-bishop von Aschhausen, Förner blamed the thirty years’ war on the rise of Protestantism.  
  • In 1625 Forner published 25 sermons on witchcraft and magic
  • He believed that: Calvanism was detestable, calvanist preachers were false profits, no better than magicians, Areas were occult practices were being set up also harboured protestant preachers, Witches and protestants both threatened to undermine social and political order, The thirty years’ war caused witchcraft to increase, This was the finial stage in the confrontation between God and the Devil
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Impact of Von Dornheim & Forner

Impact of Von Dorheim & Forner

  • Förner provided an intellectual, theological framework for the hunts.
  • Both Förner and von Dorheim believed strongly that obedience was central to a well-functioning society. Forner was able to link disobedience to sin, idolatry and witchcraft.
  • Forner believed that the Devil had always preyed on man’s disobedience to tempt him with false promises and false religions. For Förner the struggle with the Devil was a historical one, that had been going on since the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
  • Von Dorheim and Förner both believed that the closer one came to the final defeat of the Devil, the more violent the Devil would become.
  • If the Devil uses violence, then violence was justified on suspected witches.
  • The fact that more witches were discovered during the thirty years’ was meant that the Counter-Reformation was a success as the Devil was resorting to desperate tactics.
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The Case of Dorothea Flock

Dorothea Flock

  • A Bamberg councillor, Georg Flock, stated he was concerned about the legal process in Bamberg. Upon learning of this complaint, Dornheim sent a ltter to the Emporor claiming Flock & her baby was safe
  • Von Dornheim also accused Georg Flock of being dishonest about the facts of the case. He again justified the necessity of the trials as a way to honour god and turn people away from ungodly behaviour.
  • The Emperor did not act on Georg Flock’s complaints.
  • In April 1630, Dorothea Flock’s trial began again, and again her relatives appealed to the Emperor and the Pope
  • This time, Ferdinand and Pope Urban VIII requested that von Dornheim stop the trial. Ferdinand went further and ordered, with a threat of punishment for non-compliance, that all documents related to the trial should be sent to the imperial Hofrat for review
  • Upon hearing this, Dornheim speeded up the legal process & Flock was executed 17 May

This was a prime example of Dornheim underminding the lack of centeral government

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The Involvement of the Ferdinand II

Ferdinand II

  •  in June 1631 Ferdinand announced that he would punish those responsible for the Bamberg trials.
  • Ferdinand appointed a new director of the Bamberg witch commission: Dr Anton Winter. Dr Winter was a man who was known for his opposition to witch hunts.
  • He arrived in Bamberg in July 1631 and immediately banned the confiscation of property and it was decreed that all trials be conducted according to the Carolina Code.
  • In response von Dornheim wrote one final letter. He reminded the Emperor that it was likely those who accused the authorities were probably involved in witchcraft themselves. He refused to help Dr Winter, and did not release any suspects being held in custody.
  • However, no executions took place in 1631.
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