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Witchcraft narratives in Germany

Witchcraft narratives in Germany: Rothenburg, 1561–1652

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Witchcraft narratives in Germany
    Book Description:

    Looks at why witch-trials failed to gain momentum and escalate into 'witch-crazes' in certain parts of early modern Europe. Exames the rich legal records of the German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a city which experienced a very restrained pattern of witch-trials and just one execution for witchcraft between 1561 and 1652. Explores the social and psychological conflicts that lay behind the making of accusations and confessions of witchcraft. Offers insights into other areas of early modern life, such as experiences of and beliefs about communal conflict, magic, motherhood, childhood and illness. Offers a critique of existing explanations for the gender bias of witch-trials, and a new explanation as to why most witches were women.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-024-8
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. vi-vi)
    Alison Rowlands
  4. Map: place of origin of the sixty-five people involved in witchtrials in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1549–1709 (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-13)

    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 betweenc. 1561 andc. 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 readings of the exceptionally rich records from the Rothenburg witchtrials...

  6. 1 ‘An honourable man should not talk about that which he cannot prove’: slander and speech about witchcraft (pp. 14-47)

    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. Defendants Lautenbach and Immell refused to retract their claims, however, and because of this and the gravity of their allegations, the council gaoled both parties to the suit in order...

  7. 2 The devil’s power to delude: elite beliefs about witchcraft and magic (pp. 48-80)

    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 detailed testimonies elicited from the women, children and men of the lower orders who became involved in witchcraft cases, which frequently give us...

  8. 3 ‘One cannot … hope to obtain the slightest certainty from him’: the first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587 (pp. 81-104)

    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 to investigate it threatened – albeit usually only fleetingly – to produce verdicts of guilt against alleged witches, and even to foster larger-scale episodes of witch-hunting. This...

  9. 4 ‘When will the burning start here?’: the Catholic challenge during the Thirty Years’ War (pp. 105-134)

    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 her encounters with the devil. However, the questions of whether the experiences of a self-confessed child-witch had been real or illusory and of whether his or her testimony against...

  10. 5 Seduction, poison and magical theft: gender and contemporary fantasies of witchcraft (pp. 135-179)

    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 witchcraft.³ Most were married at the time of involvement in a trial: the remainder were predominantly widows.⁴ Why...

  11. 6 ‘God will punish both poor and rich’: the idioms and risks of defiance in the trial of Margaretha Horn, 1652 (pp. 180-205)

    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 the men and most especially the women, who formed the majority of those accused of witchcraft, in bearing the psychological and physical suffering caused by...

  12. Conclusion (pp. 206-211)

    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 years: allegations of witchcraft were handled in this way by the council in...

  13. Appendix: trials for witchcraft in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 1549–1709 (pp. 212-228)
  14. Bibliography (pp. 229-238)
  15. Index (pp. 239-248)