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The first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587

3 ‘One cannot … hope to obtain the slightest certainty from him’: the first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587 It is, of course, only with the benefit of hindsight that we can draw conclusions about the relative restraint with which the council in Rothenburg treated witchcraft during the early modern period; this restraint was never a foregone conclusion in any particular witch-trial. The intricate web of factors which accounted for it could be tested to the limits in certain cases when an individual’s story of witchcraft and the manner in which the council chose

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
Rothenburg, 1561–1652

Given the widespread belief in witchcraft and the existence of laws against such practices, why did witch-trials fail to gain momentum and escalate into ‘witch-crazes’ in certain parts of early modern Europe? This book answers this question by examining the rich legal records of the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a city that experienced a very restrained pattern of witch-trials and just one execution for witchcraft between 1561 and 1652. The book explores the factors that explain the absence of a ‘witch-craze’ in Rothenburg, placing particular emphasis on the interaction of elite and popular priorities in the pursuit (and non-pursuit) of alleged witches at law. By making the witchcraft narratives told by the peasants and townspeople of Rothenburg central to its analysis, the book also explores the social and psychological conflicts that lay behind the making of accusations and confessions of witchcraft. Furthermore, it challenges the existing explanations for the gender-bias of witch-trials, and also offers insights into other areas of early modern life, such as experiences of and beliefs about communal conflict, magic, motherhood, childhood and illness. Written in a narrative style, the study invites a wide readership to share in the drama of early modern witch trials.

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,and witches in almost every imaginable connection,with the single exception of the one topic that is most foreign and most absurd to modern readers, students and scholars alike: ideas and knowledge about witches. Of the many dozens or hundreds of modern works on witches,scarcely any have addressed the single necessary precondition for the prosecution, torture and execution of witches: the certainty, to those who did the hunting, that witches

in Male witches in early modern Europe

indictments to say with any certainty what the background to this case was, it seems unlikely that suspicion of Joan Samond would have led to suspicion against her husband, instead of the other way around. John Samond had a reputation for witchcraft that had landed him in court before, whereas this was his wife’s first indictment. Furthermore, the charges themselves suggest that suspicion may have fallen on John first. The first

in Male witches in early modern Europe
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witchcraft continued

), which also concerns more a process of ascription than the observation of a practice. More often than not what is presented as a certainty is guided by selection within the framework of the ascription. ‘Superstition’ more than ‘witchcraft’, however, can be used as an overall category and it is questionable whether its various constituents have any relation to each other in any way different than this. That is to say, witchcraft

in Witchcraft Continued
The idioms and risks of defiance in the trial of Margaretha Horn, 1652

part of Margaretha Horn was a new development in the witch-trials that occurred in Rothenburg: it also happened, although to a less detailed degree, in the case of Catharina Leimbach, the blacksmith’s wife from Wettringen, whose trial for the alleged bewitchment of eight-year-old Barbara Schürz began on 30 August and ended with her release from custody on 5 October 1652.54 It is, of course, impossible to claim with certainty that Margaretha and Catharina were qualitatively more ‘defiant’ than any of the women who had been tried for witchcraft in Rothenburg in the

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany

since the Reformation.26 So, the influence of the sea of broad attitudes in which Enlightenment thinkers thought and wrote can at times be at least illustrated with some degree of common-sense certainty. There is, therefore, even in this celebrated case, every reason to significantly qualify any notion of an exclusively top-down model of intellectual change. We know that the development and popular dissemination of sophisticated anticlerical theories directed against Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Church were a pervasive feature of seventeenth- and eighteenth

in The Enlightenment and religion

population, they also served to prove the interconnection between Christian belief in miracles and the certainty of Evil that extended even into the rank and file of the Catholic clergy. Still, there were phases when the Catholic Church reacted with caution and restraint, leaving things to run their natural course, especially during the German-Prussian Kulturkampf , when the toleration of miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary

in Witchcraft Continued
witchcraft in the western Netherlands, 1850–1925

mattress or the pillow on which the bewitched had been lying, in which all kinds of objects and feathers lumped into strange shapes were found. This combination of bodily vagueness and extra somatic certainty was typical of bewitchment. The experience of most of the men also differed in this respect from that of the women. Not only had they less to fear from being touched, when they did get bewitched because they had eaten something given by a

in Witchcraft Continued
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body of evidence which he could interpret with reason, logic, and certainty according to Aristotelian precepts. Consequently, it was possible to know precisely the nature of demonic bodies, demons’ intellectual abilities and limitations, their speed and range of movement, the qualities of their will and emotions, and even their sexual proclivities.15 The ambiguity which had characterized previous descriptions of the devil was now lost: it was possible to know exactly who and what the devil was, and how he would behave under given circumstances. Further

in The Malleus Maleficarum and the construction of witchcraft