Letters from the Witch Trial of
In the Year of Our Lord 1590, the mayor and council of the town of
Nördlingen hunted witches. Surviving letters from one of the accused, Rebecca Lemp (or Rebekka Lempin), and from her family provide a unique insight into these witch hunts. Based
on the accusation of an executed witch, authorities arrested the forty-year-old
mother of six on June 1, 1590 while her husband, the Zahlmeister or tax counter
of the town, was away on business.
The next day, on June 2, 1590, the Lemp children wrote their mother:
|Our warm greetings as children to our beloved Mother.
We want to let you know that we are well. You have also informed us that you are well, and, God willing, Father will visit you today. So, we will let you know when he is coming. May almighty God grant you His grace and Holy Spirit, that you may once more return to us in joy and with a healthy body. Amen. Beloved Mother, let them buy some beer, bake a cake, and cook a cutlet and let them get a little fish and a small chicken from us. ... And when you need money, you can get it from us. You have enough in your purse. Fare well, my beloved mother. You should not worry about the housekeeping until you return to us. God give you a thousand times good night.
Rebecca, your loving daughter
Anna Maria, your loving daughter
Maria Salome, your loving daughter
Joannes Conradus, [in Latin] your most loving son
Samuel, your loving son
Rebecca wrote the following letter to her husband on July 10, 1590:
|My beloved husband, be without worry. Even if they should force me a 1000 times, I remain innocent, or may every devil come and rip me to shreds. And if they should question me harshly,1 I could admit nothing, even if they would rip me into a 1000 pieces. Do not worry, I am innocent down to my soul. If I should be martyred,2 which I do not believe will happen, then I am justified. Father, if I am guilty of the crime, then may God never let me appear before his countenance, for ever and always. If they do not believe me, then may God the Highest perceive such and perform a sign. If I am stuck in misery, then there is no God in heaven. You hear my innocence. By the will of God, let me not remain stuck in dreadful misery.||1Torture.
Three days later, on July 13, 1590, her husband Peter appealed directly to the town council with this letter:
|Most honorable, considerate, respectable, prudent, generous, and imposing
In the time most recently past, I have delivered unto you a humble supplication on behalf of my dear housewife, in which I pled for the discharge of my dear wife. To me was issued at that time a dismissing reply, stating that in this instance my entreaty and request had no standing. ... I hope and believe and hold it for a certainty that all such things of which they accuse my wife, not one time in her life has she had the merest thought, much less has she said or done any such thing, even in the smallest degree. ... Hence I testify according to my conscience along with many good honest people, that as much as I and others could observe, she has been at all times God-fearing, diligent, respectable, domestic, and pious; and always and every time she has been an opponent and enemy of Evil. She has her life-long honestly kept me as her loving spouse, whereby I, for my part, have been satisfied. Concerning her dear children, likewise, as is appropriate and proper for a true housemother, by my side and with me truly and diligently, she taught and instructed them, not only their catechism, but also the Holy Bible, and especially the dear Psalms of David. Also, God be praised and without boasting on my behalf, I have not a child (who with God's blessing had been conceived with her) who does not know by heart and can explain the Psalms of David. In addition, no one can reasonably maintain, that she has even once done harm to a body or otherwise, or that ever a suspicion has landed on her, as those who daily worked in the Counting House and had official business to do can provide evidence and not only those people, but also clergy and foreigners inclusive! Thus, myself and my dear children, of which I (God be always praised) have six in number, meekly and humbly plead and, for the sake of God and the Last Judgment in which Jesus Christ the righteous judge shall appear, officially petition that your respectable and considerate Wisdoms, as our legal superior, herewith may have and bear a merciful consideration regarding our dear mother and let her once more be delivered to us. Or, if they want to put her to the test,3 nevertheless they should proceed with the matter so that it should not be exercised too strictly and too harshly, and that confrontation and opposition do not celebrate her despair.
The authorities tortured her on July 29 with thumbscrew, then with Spanish
Boots. Tortured the next day on the strappado, she confessed to the following:
Three years earlier she agreed to be the lover of a man in black of courteous
and noble bearing, yet who had paws for feet. For him she signed with black ink
a document renouncing God. The Evil One gave her grey powder and a yellow liquid
with which to kill people. She murdered her servant Old Anna and a visitor,
Katherina von Neher, by stroking their skin with the powder. She named others
who had joined her in the company of the Evil One.
After torture, Rebecca again wrote to her husband:
|O you, my most chosen treasure, should I be torn from you so innocent? May such be ever and always held against God. They force one, that one must confess. They have martyred me. I am as innocent as God in heaven. If I only knew the least bit of such matters, then I would deserve that God refuse me entrance into heaven. O you, beloved treasure, what is happening to my heart? Alas, alas, my poor orphans. Father, send me something so that I may die. I must otherwise despair as a martyr. If you cannot do it today, do it tomorrow. Write to me within the hour. R[ebecca] L[emp]|
Inside the letter was wrapped a ring and a rosary; Rebecca added a note:
|Carry the small ring in my memory. Divide the rosary into 6 parts and let each child carry a part around their wrist all their life long. O treasure, your innocent Magelona,4 they take me from you with force. How can God suffer it? If I am a monster, then may God not be gracious toward me. Then such injustice upon injustice should deservedly happen to me. Why will God not hear me? Send me something, otherwise I will perjure myself. Otherwise, I would first burden my soul.||4A princess in a romance popular at the time, who is separated from her lover.|
The court intercepted her letters, using the last to add an accusation of attempted suicide. She repeated her confessions in open court on August 13 and 19. The town government had her burned with four other convicted witches on September 9, 1590 in the presence of her family. Thirty-four women and one man would die before this witch hunt ended in 1598.
The original letters are preserved in the Stadtarchiv Nördlingen, Bavaria, Germany.
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