Was Early Modern Europe A Persecuting Society?

1507 words - 6 pages

One could not be blamed when reading about the Early Modern period for thinking that it was a highly violent and persecuting society. The trials for witchcraft in addition to the Inquisition and the burning of both Protestants and Catholics are at the forefront of ones mind. This essay seeks to explain what the effects of these various institutions were, as well as placing them in a sufficient enough context to be able to state whether Early Modern Europe had a persecuting society. Additionally, the influences that created the methods of persecution as well as having an effect on them once they were actually in place shall be looked at. This is an attempt to explain what made the avenues of persecution grow and become as relevant as they did to Early Modern society. There is a great deal of historiography regarding the witchcraft trials and the reason for their existence. Of course some historians believe that witches did actually exist, although there are not many historians with this view in modern society. Some historians see the witches as devil worshippers and believe that they were persecuted as witches for this reason, while some see the witches as being heretics. J.B Russell would be an example of this. The clear theme for many historians is that the people regarded as witches were the people not conforming to the rules of society. The clergy dictated the rules at a local village level. It is therefore no surprise that a distinctly anti-clerical feeling runs through many historical works on this subject . Of course there is also the feminist viewpoint that women themselves were being persecuted, although this does not hold up in debate due to the number of men that were also tried for witchcraft . It is easy to say as Briggs does that the persecution of people for witchcraft was random and unpredictable and it seems to fit the scientific idea of Chaos Theory . It can be said that if this interpretation is the case that chance has led to the witch trials being present in Early Modern Europe and that it was not therefore intentionally a persecuting society in this case. The counter argument for this is that the witchcraft accusations came from below and this indicates that there was social issue in people's everyday lives that led to the accusations. An addition to this point is that the witchcraft trials were actually stopped by the top levels of society, for example Louis XIV clamped down on the trials in 1682 . The social issue of witchcraft is therefore the result of the changing society, not actually part of the change to society. There were changing relationships in villages due to social change and familiar institutions were evolving at a local level , an example being the church. Witchcraft seems to have been an excuse to explain misfortune. Considering the Early Modern society where theories regarding magic were believed this is not surprising. This makes one sympathetic to the reasons for the individual cases of...

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