‘An honourable man should not talk about that which he cannot prove’
Slander and speech about witchcraft
in Witchcraft narratives in Germany

This chapter explores popular speech about witchcraft, explains why the inhabitants of Rothenburg and its hinterland were generally unwilling to accuse suspected witches at law, and details the non-legal methods with which they more usually coped with witches. The Wettringen case from 1561 is used as a starting point to focus on two legal factors central to this web of restraints: the unwillingness of the Rothenburg council to abandon due legal procedure in its treatment of witchcraft, and the role that the legal treatment of slander in Rothenburg played in dissuading people from accusing others formally of witchcraft, and even from voicing suspicions of witchcraft publicly at all. The Wettringen case is the forerunner of a case-type in which allegations of witchcraft were treated as instances of slander and in which the slanderers rather than the alleged witches came off worst—which played an important part in shaping the council's judicial engagement with witchcraft in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century and remained of some, albeit lesser, significance thereafter.

Witchcraft narratives in Germany

Rothenburg, 1561–1652


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