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List of Important Events for the Witch Hunts,
by Brian A. Pavlac, 
Ph.D., Professor of History

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This list includes a selection of events, people, books and more directly and indirectly related to the Witch Hunts.  Some descriptions have links to online secondary and primary sources (as noted) and/or note is taken of those primary sources in Kors & Peters.  For a chronological and geographical ordering, go to the Witch Hunt Timeline Here, they are grouped according to the following categories:  

Large Trends | Scholars | Sources | Hunters | Hunts | Accused

Large Trends

THE MIDDLE AGES:  the period of history from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West (ca. A.D. 475) to the rise of modern European power with the Renaissance, Voyages of Exploration, etc. (ca. 1500).  While often popularly considered to be a time of witch hunts, very few were carried out until about 1400.  The official Church teaching usually was that witches did not exist.  Yet, medieval procedures of law, including the inquisition of heretics (especially Waldensians and Albigenisans) and torture did pave the way for the later witch hunts.  

Hundred Years War (1337-1453):  A dynastic war between England and France over which growing state would control territories in the Lowlands, southwest France, and ultimately, the thrones of each country.  Decisive military victories at Poitiers, Crecy and Agincourt kept the English at an advantage, as did constant raids by troops of mercenaries.  The widespread destruction may have been a breeding ground for witch hunts.  Joan of Arc, who turned the tide in favor of the French, was herself accused of witchcraft.  

Waldensian and Albigensian Heresies (12th-13th Centuries):  These groups of heretics provoked a response by the Christian hierarchies in Europe leading to the concerted evangelization and education efforts, and when those failed, crusades (encouraged by Pope Innocent III) and the inquisition.  Peter Waldo, a merchant from Lyons who turned to preaching, gave his name to the first group. The heresy of the Waldensians was an overemphasis on apostolic poverty:  the idea that the church and its ministers should set an example by being poor as Christ and his Apostles allegedly were. Some Waldensian communities survive today.  The word "Valdensis/vaudois" was used as a synonym for witches later.  The Albigenians, or Cathars, were technically not heretics, but a rival religious group to Christians.  Their core beliefs were dualistic:  God who is of the spirit and good is at war with the Devil who is of the flesh and evil. This latter group was wiped out.  The inquisition provided methodologies and ideologies that supported the witch hunts.  

The Medieval Inquisition (12-14th centuries):  The investigative judicial system set up by the medieval Western Latin "Catholic" Church to eliminate the threat of heretics to orthodox Christianity.  Similar to the later Spanish Inquisition and Roman Inquisition, judges were authorized in secret proceedings to investigate, prosecute, judge, and sentence accused people who had no legal counsel.  Thousands of condemned victims were executed over the centuries, often by public burning.  Combined with preaching by mendicant orders (Dominicans and Franciscans) and even crusades (especially in the South of France), most heresies were eliminated or marginalized by 1400.  During the 14th century, though, the authors of manuals on carrying out the inquisition, and various investigations began to become interested in sorcery and witchcraft.  The methods of the medieval inquisition were then often carried over into the witch hunts.  For a selection from Bernard Gui's manual, click here.  For the heresy confession of Beatrice de Planissoles, with some questions about magic, click here (toward the end on the second page).  

Black Death (1347-1359):  A great plague that swept through Europe killing as much as a third of the population in three years.  The shock helped to spur the rise of modernity.  Some, though, blamed this plague, and others that followed for the next several hundred years, on witches.  

Commercial Revolution (1350-1650):  the invention of the practice of capitalism helped to spur economic growth in Western Europe, making that region one of the wealthiest areas on the planet by 1650.  But the inequalities created by economic change (job loss, more fluid transfer of wealth, rise in status of some groups but not others) may have created insecurities that helped promote the witch hunts.  

RENAISSANCE (1400-1600):  an intellectual revolution that promoted the careful reading of the authors of ancient Greece and Rome and applying their concepts to a changing society.  Ironically, despite this growth in intellectual practice, this period also saw writers justify the witch hunts, which were just beginning to intensify.  The magical tendencies of Neoplatonic philosophy, alchemy and astrology, such as by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, might have promoted an atmosphere of credulity in the supernatural.  

Council of Basel (1431-1439):  A meeting by the leaders of the Western Latin Church that sought reform.  As the popes withdrew their support the council became increasingly radical, and fell apart amidst accusations of heresy and schism.  Many witch theorists attended at one point or another.  

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printing press (ca. 1450-): its invention encouraged an increase in literacy as people had more books to read.  Unfortunately, witch hunting manuals and other books fostering ideas about witches were also published, adding to the intensity of the hunts.  

French Invasion of Italy (1494):  the attack by the French king to claim Italian possessions began decades of warfare over Italy, and its occupation by foreign powers.  The disturbances created by such ongoing warfare and political instability may have fostered some witch hunts.  The political turmoil also inspired Machiavelli to write his book The Prince.  

Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834):  The investigative judicial system set up by the monarchs of Spain, originally to guarantee that Jewish and Muslim converts to Christianity (Marranos and Moriscos) stayed orthodox and catholic.  Similar to the earlier medieval inquisition of heretics or the later Roman Inquisition, judges were authorized in secret proceedings to investigate, prosecute, judge, and sentence accused people who had no legal counsel.  Thousands of condemned victims were executed over the centuries, often in religious ceremonial public burnings, called autos-da-fe or acts of faith.  Witches were only minimally investigated by this inquisition.  See also Martn de Castaega, Tratado muy sotil y bien fundado (1529) and Alonso de Salazar Frias (1564-1635).

REFORMATION (1517-1559):  The efforts of various religious leaders to reform the Western Latin Church, which resulted in the basic division in the West of Protestants (including Lutherans, Calvinists, etc.) and Roman Catholics.  Unlike contemporary Eastern Orthodox Christians, many Protestants and Roman Catholics persecuted witches, although they only rarely used the charge against one another.   

Emperor Charles V Habsburg (r. 1519-1556): The man who was both Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain during the crucial early 16th Century.   The Wars of Charles V (1521-1559) were on many fronts.  Against Luther and the Protestant reformers, against the Turks, and against France.  His Carolina Law Code (1532) (from the Latin for Charles: carolus)  provided a sound legal basis for jurisprudence.  Article 109 punished witchcraft only if it killed someone.  The code also gave rules to allow torture, which, unfortunately, were abused and fed the cruelty of the German witch hunts.  

King Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1549):  He separated the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the pope, beginning the English Reformation (1534-1559).  Begun by Henry VIII so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, she failed to produce an heir, and he fell for another.  Ministers trying to break his marriage to his queen Anne Boleyn, briefly used the accusation of witchcraft.  In 1542, he had parliament pass the first anti-witchcraft law for England.  The Reformation was completed by Henry's daughter by Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I.

Anabaptists:  A wide variety of religious groups who disagreed with the majority of other religious groups, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.  As such, Protestants and Roman Catholics persecuted them in Western Europe.  Oddly enough, Anabaptists themselves rarely persecuted witches.  

Holy Office [of the Inquistion] (1542-1965):  The investigative judicial system set up by the popes during the Reformation to combat the threat of Protestantism to Roman Catholicism.  Similar to the earlier medieval inquisition and Spanish Inquisition, judges were authorized in secret proceedings to investigate, prosecute, judge, and sentence accused people who had no legal counsel.  The inquisition also investigated witches, but generally was milder than other witch hunts, with its moderate use of torture and the death penalty.  After the eighteenth century the Holy Office stopped hunting witches, and  used more peaceful means to enforce Roman Catholicism.  

William Shakespeare (1564-1616): Famous playwright who wrote about magic and witches, especially in MacBeth and The Tempest.  His play Henry VI considered Joan of Arc to be a witch.  

Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603): One of England's greatest monarchs, she allowed some persecution of witches during her reign.  She passed a new harsher witchcraft Law in 1563, although since it did not define sorcery as heresy, the punishment for witches in England was hanging, not burning at the stake.  Also, death was the punishment only for murder by witchcraft;  lesser spells were punished by pillory.  Since this law did not allow torture as part of the investigatory or punishment procedure, the hunts in England were usually less severe than in neighboring Scotland.  Although made a little harsher by James I in 1604, this law lasted until it was replaced in 1736.  For more on Elizabeth, click here.  

English Civil War (1642-1648):  A war that began as the leaders of Parliament argued with King Charles I over law and authority in the realm.  Parliamentary forces won, partly inspired by the more radical Puritan representatives.  The unrest and disturbances added to an atmosphere that allowed for some intense witch hunts, especially under Matthew Hopkins. 

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King Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598), Spanish Armada (1588):  The King of Spain, Philip II Habsburg, an ardent fighter for the Counter-reformation, tried to conquer England with a fleet of ships.  Its failure helped the ascendancy of England and signaled the decline of Spain as world powers.    

70 Years War of Dutch independence (1581-1648): Long struggle of the Calvinist Dutch to free themselves from control by Roman Catholic Spain.  In the end they set up a tolerant, open society which did away with belief in or punishment for witchcraft.  

Scientific Revolution (1543-1687), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Isaac Newton (1643-1727):    The idea developed in the West, led by people like Galileo and Newton, that rational and empirical observations could be used to understand the structures of the universe. The skepticism that supports scientific thinking also helped undermine the belief in witches.  Scientific advancement also led to the Scientific Agricultural Revolution, which increased the standards of living in the West.

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Emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612): An eccentric Holy Roman Emperor who dabbled in metaphysics at his unusual court in Prague, but persecuted witches.  

Russian "Time of Troubles" (1584-1613): Civil wars over the throne in Russia created instability which gave rise to some Witch hunts.  

30 Years War (1618-1648):  A conflict that started as an attempted rebellion by Protestants in Bohemia from the Roman Catholic Hapsburg rulers.  It soon expanded throughout the empire and involved several European states.  The huge slaughter and suffering may have provided an opportunity for witch hunts.  Hostilities were ended by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which helped establish the European political system of international relations for the next three hundred years:   

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French Civil Wars (1562-1598): A series of wars over the throne, complicated by animosity between Roman Catholics and Protestant Huguenots.  The violence lack of central authority allowed Witch Hunts to occur.  

King Louis XIII (r. 1610-1643), Cardinal Richelieu: Louis XIII was a weak king, but his first minister, Cardinal Richelieu did all he could to strengthen the monarchy.  Richelieu even used Witch Hunts when necessary to destroy enemies, as in the case of Urban Grandier.  

King Louis XIV (r. 1643-[1661]-1715):  The "Sun King" of France was the epitome of absolutist rule   Despite the magical conspiracy of the Chambre Ardente Affair, in 1682 he declared most magic to be superstition, and in 1687 made it a crime for anyone to pretend sorcery (thus defining magic as not real).  His last major war, the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), may have provoked some hunts. 

Scientific Agricultural Revolution (1650-1800):  As scientific ideas were applied to farming and domestic husbandry, agricultural production increased many times over.  Thus Western Civilization began to eliminate famine and hunger as a widespread, endemic problem.  Fewer famines also meant that fewer people blamed witches for bad weather, crop failures or animal illness.  

ENLIGHTENMENT (1687-1789):  The intellectual revolution which promoted concepts such as empirical reason, skepticism, humanitarianism, and progress within Western Civilization.  These four concepts together, as applied to the ideas of witches and their alleged danger to society, helped to end the witch hunts.  There was no empirical evidence that witches could actually work harm;  torture to gather evidence or punish was inhumane;  and progress required the elimination of superstitions like the belief in witches.  

Voltaire (b. 1694-d. 1778):  Enlightenment writer critical of superstition.  

Encyclopedia (1751-80): Anthology of articles based on the Enlightenment principles of reason and progress, trying to sum up human knowledge.  The inspiration for encyclopedias today.  

"Enlightened Despotism" (18th cent.):  Political Theory of various kings and queens, that, fitting with "enlightened principles" of reason and progress that absolute power should be concentrated in the hands of the prince.  It allowed, though, powerful rulers, like Maria Theresa, or Frederick II,  to put an end to the Witch Hunts.  

Maria Theresa Habsburg (r. 1740-1780):  Archduchess of Austria, an "enlightened despot" whose revisions of the legal codes ended witch hunting in her territories.  For more information on her, go to the Maria Theresa page.  

Frederick II Hohenzollern (r. 1740-1786):  King of Prussia, an "enlightened despot" whose revisions of the legal codes ended witch hunting in his kingdom.  

French Revolution (1789-1815):  The political transformation of France from an absolute monarchy to more constitutional and representative government.  The movement's emphasis on Enlightenment reason, only further guaranteed that no more witch hunts would take place.  Political persecution and torture did continue, however.  A good site on the revolution is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution, <http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/index.html>.


Heinrich Cornelius "Agrippa" von Nettenheim (b. 1486-d.1535):  Some say this German scholar was a model for Faust.  He studied magic in his earlier years, seeking the philosopher's stone.  By his later years, however, he defended women against witchcraft accusations, and wrote texts like De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarium critical of inquisitorial procedures.  

Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225-d. 1274): the founder of scholasticism, the philosophical school of theologians influenced by Aristotelean logic.  Aquinas asserted through logic that demons were real, although they could only act through the permission of God.  But magic and sorcery could cause impotence and destroy a marriage.  

Balthasar Bekker, The Enchanted World (1691):  First published in Holland, the book De Betoverde Weereld quickly sold out, helping to end belief in witches.  Bekker repudiated the idea of Satan and demons.  Although Bekker lost his church position, the book's ideas continued to grow.  For a full text, Translated into English, of this primary source, click here.

Cyrano de Bergerac, "Letter against Witches" (1654): Although most famous as the lovesick cavalier with the big proboscis in the play by Rostand, Cyrano was real person (born 1619, died 1655), a cultural critic and satirist of his time.  In this pamphlet he ridicules superstition that supports the Witch Hunts.  For a commentary, click here.  

Jean Bodin, On the Demon-Mania of Witches (1580):  A French political theorist, most famous for his Six books of the Commonwealth supporting absolutism, Bodin also argued (specifically against Weyer) in support of the witch hunts.  For a selection of his primary source text, click here.

Caesarius of Arles (ca. 530): In a sermon, this bishop admonished people not to consult soothsayers or follow omens, although he did say that the Devil could not injure them. Printed in Kors & Peters #2.

John Calvin (b. 1509-d. 1564): This Christian reformer who split with Rome to found the Reformed Churches also accepted contemporary ideas about demonology.  Calvinists would then persecute witches.

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Lambert Daneau, De veneficiis (1564): Calvinist pastor near Orleans in France who wrote a dialogue against witches, somewhat influential on the Elizabethan court in England.  See Kors & Peters #42.  

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Martn Del Rio, Disquisitiones magicarum (1603):  Dell Rio was born in Antwerp, but became a Jesuit in Spain, returning to the Lowlands to become attorney general of the Brabant.  His book had widespread readership, accepting witches as real, since so many peopled confessed to it.  While he did not want innocent people convicted of witchcraft, he argued that to doubt the existence of witches, as Cornelius Loos and Dietrich Flade did, was heresy.  Click here for a French version of the primary source

Martin LeFranc, The Defender of Ladies (1440):  This book gives arguments for and against women in culture and history.  For one of the earliest primary source pictures of witches on broomsticks, click here.  

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Rene Descartes (1596-1650):  Natural philosopher who helped to establish the Scientific Method.  His famous phrase "I think, therefore I am (cogito ergo sum)" offered a starting point for rationalism and skepticism (Cartesian Doubt).  

Erasmus (b. 1466-d. 1536): Famous humanists, who himself credulously reported on a case of sorcery.  See Kors & Peters #36.

Joseph Glanvil (b. 1636-d.1680):  a clergyman and fellow of the Royal Society who, oddly enough, tried to place the witch hunts on a scientific basis.  His book originally published as Some Philosophical Considerations Touching Witches (1666) was republished under the more well-known title: Sadducismus Triumphatus or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions. In two parts. The first treating of their possibility. The second of their real existence (1666, 1700).  It  compared the deniers of witches to those who denied Christ.  The book included material by Henry More, about the Dmon of Tedworth [South Tidworth], concerning John Mompesson's house haunted by drumming noises and other poltergeist activities.  For a good skeptical account by Charles Mackay, in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), click here;  for a full text of the primary source, click here.  For a primary source picture of the book, click here. Glanvil's ongoing support of witch hunting was an increasingly isolated opinion among intellectuals.  

Francesco Maria Guazzo, Compendium Maleficarum (1608):  This friar compiled a collection of witch information, which includes famous woodcuts of sabbath scenes.  For an example of the primary source woodcuts, click here (looking for F.M. Guazzo).

Isadore of Seville, Etymologies (ca. 600): This book of word origins was an early form of encyclopedia.  Its listing and classification of various forms of magic help illustrate the contexts of beliefs during his time and long after.  Selections printed in  Kors & Peters #3.

Cornelius Loos (b. 1546-d. 1595):  Born in the Netherlands, Loos taught in Trier during some witch hunts.  His book De Vera et Falsa Magica criticized those hunts, and denied the reality of demons.  That led the local hunter, Peter Binsfeld, to imprison Loos until he recanted on his knees.  He fled to Brussels, where another imprisonment brought on his early death.

Martin Luther (b. 1483- d.1546):  This Christian reformer who split with Rome to found the Lutheran churches also worried about the Devil and witchcraft.  He encouraged the use of excommunication against witches which soon led to their persecution by Lutherans. 

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Cotton Mather, "A Discourse on Witchcraft" (1689):  Mather was a leading cleric in New England.  His pamphlet based on his experiences with the Goodwin children who had been allegedly bewitched by Goody Mary Glover (who was executed for the crime).  For a primary source letter by Cotton Mather on Witchcraft, click here.  The work had an influence on the Salem Witch Hunts a few years later.  For a more skeptical attitude, see his father, listed below.  

Increase Mather, This Mather, a leading cleric of New England and the President of Harvard, had a much more skeptical attitude than his son, Cotton Mather, toward the Salem Witch Hunts.  He helped to shut them down.  To read his A Further Account.., click here.

Michel de Montaigne, "Concerning Cripples" (1588):  Famous skeptic and social critic who wrote this essay, which criticizes how willing people are to believe fantasy.  The title seems to refer to some sayings or proverbs that (foolishly) attribute unusual sexual prowess to lame people.  In the heart of the essay, Montaigne attacks the witch hunts, having himself found no reasonable evidence that witches could do any harm.  He makes the important observations, that "men are apt to believe what they least understand," and therefore it is "putting a very high price on one's conjectures to have a man roasted alive because of them."  See Kors & Peters #36;  Project Gutenberg has the 1685 translation by Charles Cotton as edited by Hazlitt in 1877  here; another copy of the primary source is here; and here it is in French, "Des boyteux."  

Ulrich Molitor, De Laniis et Pythonicis (1489):  Account of witch problem, based around a dialogue with Duke Sigismund of the Tyrol.  Includes much-reproduced collection of 7 woodcuts about witches.  For a brief essay and a few primary source pictures, click here.  More pictures can be found by clicking here (then scroll down).

Johannes Nider, Formicarius (1435-1438):  Part of this text (translated as "The Ant Heap" by a Dominican at the University of Vienna gives some informative close accounts of witchcraft, including hunts in Switzerland and a comment on Joan of Arc (for which, click here).  For a short selection, click here.  This text provided source material for the Malleus Maleficarum.  

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Gianfracesco Pico della Mirandola (): This nephew of the Neoplatonic philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola  wrote The Strix (1523) which associated witches with heretics. See Kors & Peters #38.

Regino of Prm, Canon Episcopi (ca. 900)For an English language copy of the primary source, click here; for a Latin version, click here.  Law in the collection of Regino, a monk from the abbey of Prm, that condemns the belief in witchcraft, especially as connected to the Night Ride.  It is adopted in later legal texts also.  Its assertion that anyone who believes in such false opinions as witches deviates from the true faith, created a problem for those who wanted the Church to attack witches.  

Alonso de Salazar Frias (b. 1564-d. 1635): Having observed hunts of the Basques in 1609-11, he became enormously skeptical.  His methodical investigation yielded no evidence of witchcraft.  He recommended to the Suprema in Madrid, which controlled the Spanish Inquisition, that the witch hunts be stopped.  Despite protests by Pierre de Lancre, the Spanish Inquisition heeded Salazar Frias' advice.  

Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584):  An English gentleman, Scot argued in his text that witchcraft was a delusion.  He based his views on the Chelmsford hunts and WeyerKing James ordered all copies of the text burnt.   For a full text of the primary source, click here.  

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Friedrich Spee (b.1591-d.1635):  involved as a confessor in the Witch Hunts (probably in Wrzburg), he turned against them and wrote his book, Cautio Criminalis (1631) (in English roughly translated as "Precautions for Prosecutors"), which condemned the cruelty and injustice of the hunts.  The Cautio gradually influenced many other works against the hunts. For a picture of the frontispiece, click here.  

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Christian Thomasius (1655-1728): The rector of the University in Halle, Thomasius lectured and published against the witch hunts.  He used the work of Spee and the Cartesian method to argue that witch hunts should be stopped since no positive proof could ever be offered of copulation with demons or pacts with the Devil.  

Claude Tholosan, Ut magorum et maleficiorum errores (1437):  A text that encouraged perception of witch's connections to demons.  

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University of Paris Pronouncements (1398):  In reaction to rulings of various contemporary trials, academics declared magic to be both real and dangerous, contradicting generally accepted church doctrine about magic being imaginary.  See Kors & Peters #23.  

Johann Weyer, De praestigiis daemonum (1563):  Weir (or Johannes Wierus) and his text, On the Magic of Demons, offered an early serious criticism of the witch hunts.  He blamed witch beliefs on mental illness, and considered evidence gathered by torture to be useless.  His book also offered some study of "magicians" in our modern sense of illusionists and conjurors.  Witch hunters attacked him and his books for decades.  

Large Trends | Scholars | Papal Sources | Hunters | Hunts | Accused

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Pope Alexander IV (r. 1254-61):  When inquisitors against heresy asked that sorcery be included among their investigations, the pope expressly did not allow inquisitorial authority over sorcery or ritual magic. Only that which manifestly involved heresy should draw their attention.  Since the decision did not absolutely forbid considering sorcery as heresy, it did create an opportunity to expand inquisitorial interests.  

Pope Alexander V (r. 1409-1410):  Pope of the Pisan line during the Great Schism, who  invoked the "secular arm" (political authorities) against what he saw as "new sects" of sorcerers and invokers of demons who sought to harm humanity.  Thus he continued the change in the Church's position about the reality of witchcraft.  See Kors & Peters #25.  

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Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503): He wanted the witches hunted in Lombardy, empowering inquisitors to do so.

Pope Eugene IV (r. 1434-1437):  He wrote two letters concerning dangers of people bewitched by the "Prince of Darkness" in Bohemia and Savoy.  See  Kors & Peters #26. Back to Witch Hunts Timeline.

Pope Innocent VIII, Summis desiderantes (1484):  The pope and the papal bull that allegedly began the serious witch hunts, and sanctioned the activities of the Hammer of Witches (in which it is usually included).  For a copy of the primary source text, click here, or here, or here.  

Pope John XXII (r. 1316-1334):  He issued the bull "super illius specula" (ca. 1325) declaring to be heretics those who were involved in sacrificing to or making pacts with demons.  He went further and hunted for magic and sorcery among bishops and in his own court, having his own nephew Jacques de Via executed.  This pope's preoccupation with sorcery may have influenced Bishop Richard Ledrede of Ossory in the Alice Kyteler affair.

Pope Paul IV (r. 1555-1559): As Cardinal Giovanni Caraffa, he had been an inquisitor, involved in torture, who had helped revive the Roman Inquisition to be used against Protestants, and, to some extent, against witches.  As a Counter-Reformation pope, Paul intensified the inquisition during his reign, and had compiled the first Index of Forbidden Books.  



Hans Baldung Grien. For some of his artworks relevant to witches, click here. 

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Nicolau Eymeric, Directorium inquisitorum (1376):  As a Dominican in Spain, Nicolas Eymerich (or Nicolau  Eymeric) (b. 1320-d.1393) wrote this manual for the inquisition, which became the basis for many later manuals.  He included serious sorcery involving demons under heresy, dividing it into two forms:  dulia was only false veneration; while latria was a more serious false worship.  For a Latin Version, click hereFor a later edition of the primary source, click here.  

Bernardino of Siena (1427): famous preacher who also inveighed against witches.  See Kors & Peters #27.  

Anon.,  Errores Gazariorum (1437):  "The Errors of the Cathars" was an inquisitorial handbook, which marked the increasing tendency to include magical elements in heresy.  It claimed heretics called on the devil to cause sterility and impotence, murder, storms and just general vengeance.  

Henri Boguet, Discourse on Witches (1602): As chief-judge of St.-Claude, Boguet conducted numerous trials, condemning people to die in prison.  His manual became commonly used in France. 

Martn de Castaega, Tratado muy sotil y bien fundado (1529): Castaega wrote this tract after seeing trials and becoming enormously skeptical.  He emphasized the deception involved in confessions to flying through the air or appearances of the Devil.  He recommended religious prayer and devotion, not hunts.  

"Witch-Finder General" Matthew Hopkins (fl. 1644-1646):   On his own initiative, Hopkins began a witch hunt in East Anglia, which eventually killed around 400.  His favorite methods of gathering evidence were finding the "witch's mark" (an odd lump or bump, often among the genitals) and "walking" (sleep deprivation and exhaustion by forcing someone to keep moving).  Victims include John Lowe, Ana Moats and Margaret Moore.  For a famous primary source picture of Hopkins, click here

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Institoris ( Henry Krmer) and James Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum (1486)The Hammer of Witches is the classic witch hunting manual.  Although Sprenger is often listed as co-author, there is some historical doubt about his involvement.  Probably written only by Institoris, it is based on his experiences at failed trials in Innsbruck in 1485 and elsewhere.  It describes the reality of witches (mostly women, because of their simple minds and exaggerated sex drive), and how to put them on trial.  The text is often blamed for the worst aspects of the hunts.  For the full text of the primary source in English, go to <www.malleusmaleficarum.org>.  In Latin, click here.  

King James VI Stuart (r. 1567-1625) of Scotland/ King James I Stuart (r. 1603-1625) of Great Britain:  As King of Scotland he became intimately involved in witch trials, see Scottish Persecutions (1591).  He wrote the book Demonologie (for the full text of the primary source, click here) which specifically argued against the skepticism of Johan Weyer, and introduced the more Continental concepts of the witch's sabbat to Scotland.  After inheriting the throne of England from Queen Elizabeth, the unification of Scotland and England created Great Britain.  In his English Kingdom he had written and passed by Parliament the English Witchcraft Law (1604), which was harsher than that of his predecessor, and gave great leeway for judges to interpret evidence.  It became the basis for more intensive witch hunts, and remained on the books until the 20th Century.  In his later years, though, James himself became more skeptical about witch hunting.  In 1606, he even exposed the fraud of Anne Gunter (whose father had put her up her to spitting up pins and having fits).  On executions in England, see Charlie Mitchell. "Tyburn Tree: Public Execution in Early Modern England." Loyola Collge in Maryland (2002)
<http://www.evergreen.loyola.edu/~cmitchell/> (11 Sept. 2006).

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Pierre de Lancre (b. 1553- d. 1631):  In 1609 de Lancre became the inquisitor of Bordeaux, and carried out serious hunts against witches and satanists.  His book based on his experiences, Tableau de l'inconstance des mauvais anges ... (1612) became a popular work.  He was disappointed that he could only burn about 600 people, since he believed most Basques in the region to be witches.  For primary source picture of his book, click here.  

Nicholas Rmy, Demonolatry (1595): Procurer General of Lorraine from 1591-1606, he promoted hunts, boasting that he himself had executed 900.  

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Witch Hunts

Trials of the Templars (1307):  When King Philip the Fair of France wanted to destroy the military monastic Order of the Knights Templar, he had them accused of diabolic conspiracies and blasphemous practices, similar to what would be used against witches later.  

Simmerthal, Switzerland (1395-1405):  The judge Peter of Geryerz accused the peasant Stedelin of witchcraft. Reported on by John Nider.  

Lausanne, Switzerland (1398-1498): over two dozen people executed by the bishops.  

Florence (1427)Giovanna or Caterina tried and executed for casting love spells.  For a good primary source, click here.  

Arras (1459-1462): In this hilly region of southeast France, a hermit admitted under torture to joining in witch gatherings, which led to the arrest and torture of others.  At first the hunt focused on outsiders, like poets and prostitutes, but it soon expanded to merchants and higher clergy.  As it reached those levels the efforts were quashed by the government, and many of the dozen executed were declared innocent decades later. 

Innsbruck (1485): The effort by Institoris to begin a thorough witch hunt after obtaining papal permission for an inquisition.  Despite being quashed by the local bishop, Institoris used some of his experiences to write the Malleus Maleficarum, or "Hammer of Witches," the most famous witch hunter manual.  

1st Chelmsford Witches (1566): The decrepit Elizabeth Frances confessed to using a familiar cat named Sathan to harm various people.  She then gave allegedly the cat to Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter Joan.  While Agnes wound up hanged, the daughter Joan escaped punishment, and did Elizabeth Frances only served a year in prison (although she was again implicated in the 2nd Chelmsford Witches).

2nd Chelmsford Witches (1579):   Elizabeth Frances, the focal point of the 1st Chelmsford Witches, was found guilty and hanged, along with several other women.  

3rd Chelmsford Witches (1589):  Joan Prentice, Joan Upney and Joan Cunny hanged for using familiars.  

4th Chelmsford Witches (1645): Hunt conducted by Matthew Hopkins in Manningtree, near Chelmsford.  Several witches tried and executed.  

Trier Persecutions (1581-1593):  Archbishop John VII launched the hunts, which especially involved children. The Suffragan bishop, Peter Binsfeld was a force behind expanding the hunt beyond simple people like Walpurga Hausmannin.  Victims soon included the mayor of Trier and Privy Councillor Dietrich Flade and Cornelius Loos (a scholar who was imprisoned for writing, after reading Weyer, against the reality of devils).  For some primary sources, click here

Quedlinburg (1589): Hunt often cited as having had 133 witches burnt on one day.  See correction, here, in German.  

Nördlingen (1589-98):  This hunt  in Swabia burned 34 prominent women.  Notable was Rebekka Lemp, the wife of a tax collector and mother to six children.  Arrested and tortured, she nonetheless protested her innocence in letters to her husband, illustrating the misery caused by the hunts.  For translations of letters and further references connected to the trial, click here.  

Scottish Persecutions (1591) or the North Berwick Witches: The servant girl Gilly Duncan, was a local healer.  Her master, however, suspected her of witchcraft, had her arrested, tortured, with thumbscrews (called pilliwinks), her head twisted and jerked in a rope.  She confessed to witchcraft and named other several other people as witches, most famously Agnes Sampson and Dr. John FianKing James VI examined Agnes himself, had her stripped, shaved, searched for the Devil's Mark, and tortured with the witch's bridle (four prongs that open the mouth).  Dr. Fian, a local schoolmaster was tortured with pilliwinks, then the "bootes" (the confined legs were squeezed by wedges pounded in [see Urban Grandier]).  After confessing and showing contrition, Fian managed to escape.  But captured, and examined by the king himself, Fian remained obstinate in refusing to admit to witchcraft.  The king had Fian tortured by having his fingernails pulled off, then two pins pushed into the wounds, up to their heads.  Still refusing, he was once again put into the bootes, where his legs were permanently maimed, the blood and marrow gushing forth profusely.  (Here is a link to a source of his torture).  The king took a personal interest since a plot against his life seemed to be part of the witch conspiracy.  Condemned for the crime of witchcraft, Dr. Fian and Anges Sampson, and others were strangled then had their bodies burned.  

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Bavaria (1589-1600)See Pappenheimer Family.

Aix (1611): In 1609 Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud began to have symptoms of demonic possession while in an Ursuline convent.   Local authorities arrested and tortured the confessor Louis Gaufridi, finding him guilty and executing him.  

Ellwangen (1611-1618):  Barbara Rüfin accused by own family of trying to poison her son;  after torture accusations spread to priests, and even a judge.  Hundreds were executed.

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Lancashire or Pendle Witches (1612):  Two competing families involved in folk healing, those of Old Demdike and Old Chattox, escalated into arrests for witchcraft of the aged women and their daughters.  Friends and relatives conspired at the Malkin Tower to obtain their release, but the plot was exposed, leading to more arrests.  Based on hearsay evidence, some were hanged, while a few others acquitted.  

Second(?) Bamberg Hunt (1626-1630):  Led by Prince-Bishop John George II Fuchs von Dorrnheim, "the Witch-bishop" (r. 1623-1632).  Working with his coadjutor bishop Frederick Frner, they built two speical prsions to carry out the investigation and torture.  Victims of the hunt included the mayor of Bamberg, John Junius;  the vice chancellor Dr. George Haan and his family; the bishop's cousin, the page Ernest von Eherenburg; Dorothea Flckin the wife of a councillor; a nine-year-old witch-boy.  This hunt killed perhaps 600.  For more on the hunt, click here.  

Würzburg (1629):  Led by Prince-Bishop Philip Adolf von Ehrenberg (r. 1623-1631), cousin of Prince-Bishop John George II Fuchs von Dorrnheim, "the Witch-bishop."  Children were the main target.  Number of executed ranged from 160 to as many as 900.  The hunt was stopped by intervention of the imperial court of Speyer.  The hunt had an influence on Frederick Spee, who wrote against the hunts.  For a primary source letter about the hunts, click here.  

Lancashire or Pendle Swindel (1633):  ten-year-old Edmund Robinson accused women of meeting in the woods at a witch's sabbath.  Authorities arrested and convicted more than a dozen persons, several of whom died in jail.  But it all turned out to be a fraud encouraged by the boy's father.  

The Devils at Loudun (1636):  The curate of a small  Urban Grandier parish in Loudun, France ran afoul of Cardinal Richelieu by writing a satire and supporting the town's independent condition.  After nuns in the local convent got caught up in demonic possessions, authorities faked evidence to accused, tortured and executed Grandier.  Adapted from Aldous Huxley's book The Devils of Loudun, the movie by Ken Russell, The Devils, starring Oliver Reed as Grandier, is about this incident.  

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Scottish Persecutions (1661-1662):  One of the largest hunts was based on a fraud, by two men who faked witch's marks on people, who nevertheless often confessed despite the fakery.

Bury St. Edmunds (1661-1662):  Local children and others blamed Rose Cullender and Amy Denny for sickness and suffering.  The trial was presided over by Sir Matthew Hale, who, although he was one of the great jurists of English Law, accepted spectral evidence (testimony of people allegedly under possession or able to spirits) .  

Chambre Ardente Affair (1673), or the Affair of the Poisons:  In the 1670's France, a scandal in which the mistress of King Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan, tried to use magic to preserve his love, but got connected to poisoners and participants in Black Masses.  The Chambre Ardente (literally "burning room") a special court that had once dealt with heretics, investigated the matter.  Considering the rank of the implicated, most evidence was destroyed in a cover-up.  Despite elements of sorcery, the affair did not lead to a witch hunt, and Louis even outlawed them a few years later.  

Mora, Sweden (1668-1676):  The Pastor of Elfdale near Mora heard stories about a girl kidnapping children for the Devil;  the stories came to the attention of the King Charles XI who formed a commission to investigate, which, unfortunately only encouraged more fantastic tales.  Soon dozens of people were implicated in alleged Sabbats taking place in the meadow of Blakulla or Blocula.  70 women and 15 boys over 16 wound up being burned, and forty children were beaten with rods every Sunday for a year.  As the death toll and a new round of stories continued, the government finally carefully exposed the falsehoods, stopped the trials, and even prosecuted some accusers for making up evidence.  

Salzburg (1680): The bandit Zauberer-Jackl (Magician-Jack) and about 140 others, including many children, executed.  

Bideford, England (1682):  For a primary source, a reproduction of an account of the hunt, click here.  

Salem, Massachusetts (1692-1693): In the winter of early 1692, the daughter and niece of Rev. Samuel Parris began to exhibit odd behavior of fits and trances.  The phenomenon soon spread to other girls.  Questioning of the Parris' slave (or servant) Tituba revealed elements of sorcery and witchcraft.  By early summer, the hunt had expanded to over a 150 accused, many of whom were jailed.  Authorities hanged twenty people, while Giles Corey was pressed to death for refusing to talk, and a few more died of natural causes in jail.  By October the governor (whose own wife had become accused) shut down the hunt.  Within a few years many of the jurors and accusers admitted they had been wrong.   

Szeged (1728-1729): A fear arose in the Habsburg empire that witches had begun to be organized like military units.  The hunt in Szeged, Hungary burned over 30 people.  A particular fear in Hungary was that witches were vampires.  

Accused Witches

Absalon, Anna Pedersdotter (d.1590):  In Bergen, Norway, the wife of a conservative Lutheran minister was accused in 1575 but exonerated.  After her husband's death, however, a servant's testimony about Anna attending a sabbat and causing storms to wreck ships.  This hunt is the focus of Carl Dreyer's movie, Day of Wrath (1943), filmed during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  

Boleyn, Anne (b.1507?-d.1536):  Anne Boleyn's reputation for being a witch has been unfairly held against her. In trying to find grounds to incriminate her, King Henry claimed that she had used witchcraft to make him fall in love with her. He also said he feared that she would harm him with poison -- a common accusation against witches. Her enemies also repeated charges of physical deformity, such as that she was too tall, had a sixth finger (which was probably just an extra finger nail), and had strange warts and growths on her body that could have been witch's teats. The allegedly deformed male fetus of her last birth in 1536 was also used against her. While raised as an issue, witchcraft did not end up among the charges used by the court, which instead found her guilty of treason in conspiracy with her alleged lovers (including her brother). That the first English law against witchcraft was passed just a few years after her trial, in 1542, reflects the growing fears about witches in England, in which Anne was also ensnared. Click here for more on Anne.   

Campanella, Tommaso (b.1568-d.1639):  A Dominican friar who dabbled in magic, and astrology.  He got himself accused of heresy by the inquisition, for which he was tortured and imprisoned in 1603.  He briefly served as a consultant for the papacy again in 1626, but his interest in the heavens led him to support Galileo and lose favor at the Curia.  For a brief article, see The Galileo Project

Cornu, Marie (d.1611):  Widow tried as witch under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Netherlands (today part of northern France and Belgium).  Admitted to various crimes, strangled and burned.  Court record in Kors & Peters #52.  

Dee, John (b.1527-d.1608):  Court official of Queen Elizabeth and King James I who had a reputation as a magician, although he was not persecuted.  For the primary source text:  A True & Faithful Relation of What passed for many Yeers between Dr. John Dee (A Mathematician of Great Fame in Q. Eliz. and King James their Reignes) and some spirits, click here.

Duncan, Gilly, Dr. John Fian, and Agnes Sampson (1591)See Scottish Witch Persecutions.  (Here is a link to a source of Dr. Fian's torture). 

Flade, Dr. Dietrich (d.1590):  one of the highest ranked victims, a former mayor, judge and privy councillor to the Archbishop of Trier.  He attempted to be a moderating force on the hunts that broke out in Trier in 1581.  Accused himself in October 1588, he fled the territory, but was captured, tortured five times, and executed by burning.    

Gaudry, Suzanne (d.1652):  Tried as a witch at Rieux in France, racked three times, she cooperated and signed confessions after the first two sessions, but recanted after the third.  Hanged and burned.  The interrogation is in Kors & Peters #57.  For an example of torture, click here.

Gilles de Rais (b. ca. 1404-d.1440):  A companion of Joan of Arc, known as "Bluebeard," he was tried under unusual circumstances of witchcraft and the ritual murders of  over 140 people.  He was executed by stragulation and his body burned.  

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Giovanna or Caterina, daughter of Francesco called El Toso (d.1427):  Convicted of various magical crimes and executed in Florence.  For a description of the accusations, click here.

Goeldi, Anna (d. 17 June 1782):  convicted of enchanting her employer's child, Goeldi is reportedly the last person legally executed in Europe for being a witch.  

Gowdie, Isabel (d.1662?):  Gowdie confessed without torture that she had been serving the Devil for 15 years and had formed a coven of fellow witches.  For a primary source selection of her confession, click here.  

Grandier, Urban (1636):  The curate of a small parish in Loudun, France, Grandier ran afoul of Cardinal Richelieu by writing a satire and supporting the town's independent condition.  After nuns in the local nunnery then got caught up in possessions, authorities faked evidence and accused, tortured, then executed him. For a brief essay, click  here.  

Hausmannin, Walpurga of Dillingen (d.1587):  A licensed midwife, she was arrested and tortured to admitting making a pact with the Devil and killing over 40 children at birth by using a salve, pressing the brain, or sucking blood. The state confiscated her goods, tore her body with hot irons, cut off her right hand (symbolic of violating her oath as a midwife), and burned her at the stake.  

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Heretics of Rheims (ca. 1176): In a story told by Ralph of Coggseshall, heretics (called "publicans") came under investigation because of strange practices of vegetarianism and adult baptism.  One of the accused women allegedly escaped by tossing a string out of a window and she flew away pulled by a demon. Printed in  Kors & Peters #11.

Joan of Arc (d.1431):  The miraculous girl who helped France win the Hundred Years War, had the charge of witchcraft used against her.  For more on Joan, click here

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Junius, John (d.1628):  At age 55, the mayor or Bamberg was arrested and tortured until he confessed.  An often-quoted letter to his daughter smuggled out from prison, gives his reason for confessing to crimes he had not committed as not being able to stand the pain.  By special grace of the bishop, he was beheaded with a sword before his body was burned.  For a description of his trial and a moving letter by him, click here.  

Kyteler, Lady Alice (1324):  The bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledrede accused Alice and her son William of witchcraft, based on evidence gained from their maid, Petronilla of Meath, whom he had whipped six times to get a confession.  After being fined Alice escaped to England, while her son did penance and paid the fine.  Petronilla, however, was burned--the first and one of the few to be executed in Ireland for sorcery.  

Lemp, Rebekka (d. 1590):  In a hunt in Nrdlingen in the Holy Roman Empire, this forty-year old mother of six and wife to the prominent town's tax collector, was burned at the stake.  Click here for her family's letters concerning witch hunting. 

Lowe, John (d. 1645):  A victim of Matthew Hopkins, Lowe, a vicar of the Church of England, was kept walking for 3 days.  Before his execution he read his own funeral service.  

Machiavelli, Niccolo, author of The Prince (1517):  A Renaissance humanist from Florence who wrote a book of political advice for rulers on how to maintain power in a conquered territory.  Its amoral point of view, focusing on the practicality of government in a dangerous world and lacking Christian sentiment, led later critics to accuse Machiavelli of being in league with the Devil.  As such, Machiavelli became associated with witches.  

Pappenheimer family (d.1600):  in Bavaria.  A family of outcasts and latrine cleaners arrested and tortured into confessing to witchcraft and cannibalism, as well as robberies and hundreds of murders.  The parents and two of the sons were executed with the youngest looking on.  The executioners pierced their skin pierced with rod hot pincers cut off the mother's breasts and rubbed them around first hers then her sons' mouths, then carted them over half a mile to place of execution, broke the men on the wheel, impaled the father, and finally burnt all alive.  See Kunze, Michael. Highroad to the Stake : a Tale of Witchcraft. Trans. William E. Yuill. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 

Schwägelin, Anna Maria (d.1775): A wandering beggar who while in an asylum cursed the Blessed Virgin Mary. Arrested, she confessed to a pact with the devil.  She became the last woman legally executed (by decapitation) for witchcraft in Germany.  

Sherwood, Grace (d.1740):  Accused of damaging neighbor's farms in the Viriginia colony, authoritys dunked her on 10 July 1706.  Although she floated and was found guilty, authorities eventually released her.  On the 300th anniversary of her ducking, the current Governor of Virginia pardoned her and the current vestry of the church that tried her exonerated her.  For brief history, click hereFor a news story, click here, or here.  

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 Ten Theories about the Causes of the Witch Hunts

Ten Common Errors and Myths about the Witch Hunts


  Annotated Bibliography

Suffer your own persecution!
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