This book examines trials, civil and criminal, ecclesiastical and secular, in England and Europe between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries. The cases examined range from a fourteenth century cause-célèbre, the attempted trial of Pope Boniface VIII for heresy, to investigations of obscure people for sexual and religious offences in the city states of Geneva and Venice. These are examples of the operation in the past of different legal, judicial systems, applied by differently constituted courts, royal and manorial, secular and ecclesiastical, which adopted different procedures, adversarial and inquisitorial. Ranging from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, the book considers criminal trials and civil litigation conducted in royal, manorial and Church courts in late medieval and early modern England. These trials concentrate on the structure, jurisdiction, functions, and procedures of the courts and on the roles of the judges of fact and of law, both amateur and professional, who composed them. The trials of Giorgio Moreto and of Laura Querini were influenced by the politics of the Venetian State and its ongoing and highly charged relationship with the power of the Church. Discussing the legal history of continental Europe, the book then shifts the emphasis from the judges and jurors to the prisoners arraigned before the courts, to the victims of prosecution or to the highly questionable images of them created by their enemies.
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.
When was sorcery seen to be an act of illegitimate
aggression, and when was it an act of self-defence or justifiable revenge?
An analysis of folk narrative suggests that rural communities had their own
value system and cultural categories for interpreting magical harm and human
agents of sorcery. While some types of malevolent magic were clearly viewed
as acts without social justification, other cases of harmful sorcery
, operating at
a whole series of levels and affected by the interplay of a variety of institutions, interests and languages. While these can all be analysed separately, it
is equally crucial to study their interrelationship and this, for the moment at
least, is best done in specific settings where the evidence survives to allow a
full reconstruction of the development and resolution of a witchcraft episode.3
Third, historians have become particularly interested in witchcraft as a
linguistic phenomenon and one imbedded in narrative. This involves a
concern to reconstruct the
Testifying to the self
Testifying to the self: nuns’ narratives
in early modern Venice
In the summer of 1614, scandal erupted at San Zaccaria, the oldest and
most aristocratic of the Venetian convents. Laura Querini, a noble nun in her
mid-forties, was found guilty of having had sexual intercourse, repeatedly,
with a young nobleman in a store-room situated on the edge of the nunnery.
Testifying before Patriarch Francesco Vendramin, the head of the Venetian
Church, Laura Querini told her story from the very beginning:
I came to this convent as a
during the First Crusade
Apostasy and Jewish identity
Forced conversion during the First Crusade
he tendency that emerges from Rashi’s words reflects a decisive
leadership approach, establishing a clear direction of attempting to
return converts to Christianity to Judaism. The self-definition of Judaism
its leaders sought to establish was that of a religion that felt confident in its
ability to deal with Christian theological claims and in its political ability to
deal with the threat of forced conversion.
This situation changed during
witchcraft, both during trials and in the course of
everyday social interaction. The narratives told by the child-witches of Rothenburg were thus so shocking to contemporaries and posed such a severe test of
the authorities’ restrained handling of witchcraft allegations because they
broke and threatened to permanently loosen the conventions that traditionally
governed and constrained how people in the area spoke about witchcraft.
The second factor which limited the severity and scale of witch-trials in
Rothenburg was the refusal on the part of the elites to abandon normal
lee-line between the nature of self, at
one end, and the nature of the collective, at the other, in which
subjectivity, race and colonisation were reimagined as the conditions
for culture, nation and freedom.
In France Présence africaine ( Revue
Culturelle du Monde Noir) , founded in 1947, was dedicated to
revitalising, illustrating and creating ‘values that belong to the
constituencies faced eternal damnation. Here, to my
mind, were discourses that drew upon imperial concerns to construct
narratives of progress. This seemed a more productive way of proceeding,
and so I studied evangelical and travel writings on the metropolitan
poor and India in order to understand better the ways in which they were
structured by, and the mechanisms they displayed to express fears about,
capture nuances of meaning, the ways in which stories were shaped and told, and the personalities and perspectives of their tellers.
In seeking to understand these texts and to offer explanations for why particular
WITCHCRAFT NARRATIVES IN GERMANY
individuals – as either alleged or self-confessed witches, their accusers, or witnesses – said what they did, in the way that they did, about witchcraft, I
privilege no single theoretical perspective. I have, for example, drawn on literary theory in my treatment of trial-records as created texts, on anthropological