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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Introduction This book is a study of the trials involving allegations and confessions of maleficient or demonic witchcraft that took place in the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber between c. 1561 and c. 1652. It has two aims. First, it will explain why Rothenburg had a restrained pattern of witch-hunting during this period, with relatively few trials (even fewer of which ended in guilty verdicts against alleged witches); no mass-panics involving large numbers of accused witches; and the execution of only one alleged witch.1 Second, it will offer detailed

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
Elite beliefs about witchcraft and magic

2 The devil’s power to delude: elite beliefs about witchcraft and magic The Rothenburg elites have left us few personal testimonies of their beliefs about witchcraft and magic during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. No record of council meetings was kept in Rothenburg until 1664, when popular pressure for greater openness forced the councillors to lift the shroud of secrecy from their gatherings. However, even after 1664 the meeting minutes recorded only the decisions made by the council and not the deliberations by which they were reached. The often

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
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Conclusion In Rothenburg and its hinterland four factors interacted to ensure that the area experienced a restrained pattern of witch-trials and only three executions for witchcraft throughout the early modern period. The first was a willingness on the part of the councillors and their judicial advisers to treat and punish a significant proportion of the witchcraft allegations with which they were confronted as slanders.1 This happened most often during the second half of the sixteenth and early part of the seventeenth century, but was still possible in later

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
Slander and speech about witchcraft

1 ‘An honourable man should not talk about that which he cannot prove’: slander and speech about witchcraft On 29 January 1561, Paulus and Barbara Brosam, a married couple from Wettringen, one of the largest villages in Rothenburg’s rural hinterland, brought a slander suit before the council in Rothenburg against two of their neighbours, brothers-in-law Hans Lautenbach and Leonhart Immell. The Brosams complained that Lautenbach and Immell had falsely claimed that Barbara was a witch and Paulus her accomplice, thereby threatening to rob the couple of their honour

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

6 ‘God will punish both poor and rich’: the idioms and risks of defiance in the trial of Margaretha Horn, 1652 While it is possible to attribute the restrained pattern of witch-hunting in early modern Rothenburg to the interaction of the beliefs and the legal and social priorities of both the councillors and their subjects, we must not forget another factor that was vital in ensuring that most of the Rothenburg witch-trials were unlikely either to end in verdicts of guilt or to spiral out of control into chainreaction type ‘witch-panics’. This was the courage of

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
The Catholic challenge during the Thirty Years’ War

4 ‘When will the burning start here?’: the Catholic challenge during the Thirty Years’ War The authorities in Rothenburg were spared another problematic encounter with a self-confessed child-witch until 1627, when thirteen-year-old Margaretha Hörber from the hinterland village of Gebsattel began claiming that she had been seduced into witchcraft and taken to witches’ dances by older women. As befitted a teenager, her story was more detailed than that told by six-year-old Hans Gackstatt in 1587, particularly in terms of her descriptions of the witches’ dance and

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
Gender and contemporary fantasies of witchcraft

5 Seduction, poison and magical theft: gender and contemporary fantasies of witchcraft As was the case in many other places in early modern Europe, most of those who were accused of or who confessed to witchcraft or who were formally questioned as suspected witches in Rothenburg were female.1 They ranged in age from eight to eighty-eight years but most were aged twenty-one and above,2 with those aged from around thirty to sixty – and perhaps particularly those in their fifties – most at risk of becoming the subject of a legal investigation into an allegation of

in Witchcraft narratives in Germany
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
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The change in mentality

, and from this moment on as one who is not deserving to be, or to be considered as, a Jew, even in his hidden Jewish essence, until such time as he returns to Judaism. The most substantial change is found at the end of the thirteenth century, in the writing of R. Meir ben Baruch (Maharam) of Rothenburg, Goldin, Apostasy and Jewish identity.indd 117 20/08/2014 12:34:47 118 Apostasy and Jewish identity particularly in his overall substantive statement regarding the convert to Christianity, one that radically alters the decisions of Rabbenu Gershom Meor ha

in Apostasy and Jewish identity in High Middle Ages Northern Europe