The Witchcraze of the 16th and 17th Centries

  • Created by: SR151996
  • Created on: 22-05-17 12:31

Witch hunting in early modern Europe

Why was there a growth in witch hunting in the 15th century?

  • With the introduction of the printing press late in the century, pamphlets and an increase in literature transmitted knowledge about demonic witchcraft rapidly.

What was the impact of Malleus Maleficarum?

  • The Malleus Maleficarum (Witches’ Hammer) was the first witchcraft treatise that had a major impact.
  • First published in 1486 it was reprinted 13 times before 1520 (16 times by 1660).
  • It was written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Spreger, two Dominican friars.
  • The book was based on Kramer’s investigations as an Inquisitor for Southern Germany.
  • The treatise lent a new urgency to eradicating witches who in Kramer’s view were mainly women.
  • The upsurge of witch trials in the 1490s in Central Europe can be seen as a result of MM. In Italy however persecutions decreased.
  • Wolfgang Behringer claims that the years after 1470 were years of crisis due to plagues. People sought scapegoats so Kramer may have been just playing on people’s fears.

Why was there a major difference between elite and popular views of witchcraft?

  • The ruling elite believed in the Devil’s Pact more than the illiterate peasantry possibly because the idea was circulated among literature and pamphlets which peasants couldn’t read.
  • Peasants were more concerned with the potential harm that they, or especially their crops, could receive due to Maleficarum.

When was the main period of witch hunting and what type of people were usually persecuted?

  • Some 40,000-50,000 witches, the majority of whom were poor single, women over 50, were executed mainly in the period 1560-1660.

Why can the witch hunts be regarded as essentially a judicial operation?

  • Brian Levack argues that the witch hunts was essentially a judicial operation.
  • The majorities of those executed were legally tried and sentenced.
  • Continental courts tended to concentrate power in the hands of individual judges.

To what extent did torture create witchcraft?

  • Torture was used on the Continent but very rarely in England.
  • Confessions under torture confirmed the evidence from witchcraft treatises.
  • When torture was used the rate of convictions could be as high as 95%. When it wasn’t used it was below 40%.
  • Torture ensured that more people were accused as alleged accomplices. Chain reaction hunts became possible.

What was the impact of the Reformation on witch-hunting?

  • The Reformation increased European’s fear of the Devil, which increased fear of witches and urgency to eradicate them.
  • Protestants tried to eradicate Catholic superstitious beliefs and practices. This could have led to campaigns against witches.
  • The Reformation sparked a new determination to create a godly state and there was a new insistence on literal interpretations of the bible.

To what extent did state – building contribute to witch hunting?

  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, several European states grew in size and power.
  • Rulers took a heightened interest in religious matters. The good citizen became the good Christian.
  • The state assisted and encouraged witch hunting.

Was witch hunting essentially driven from below?

  • Alan Macfarlane and…


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