People, Ideas and Things: The Making of Modern Societies, 1500-2000
Seminar Tutor: Miles Kerr-Peterson
Seminar Group: SM13
Question 5: With reference to at least two early modern European countries, explain who were most liable to be regarded as witches, and whether Church, State or People were the main witch hunters?
17th February 2017
The Early Modern Period (1450-1750) saw extensive witch-hunts throughout Europe. Evidence from historians and primary sources will be analysed to assess who was the main witch-hunter of the period, Church, State or People. For the purposes of this essay, mobs of ordinary people will be referred to as the ‘People’. There are wide ranging debates about the extent and influence of witch-hunts during this period. This essay will also focus on the individuals that were most liable to be accused of witchcraft and the effects of the witch-hunts in France and Germany.
82% of those accused of witchcraft in Germany and 78% of those in France were female.[footnoteRef:1] Malleus Maleficarum describes witches as more often than not, ‘female, weak and midwives’.[footnoteRef:2] Elderly and widowed women were also liable for persecution, Geoffrey Scarre suggests that this is due to the fact that they were often vulnerable and isolated, making them easy scapegoats of the rising tensions, such as the Little Ice Age.[footnoteRef:3] Teofilo Ruiz pins the focus on females because of the surplus of women at the time.[footnoteRef:4] Other factors such as appearance would often make a person liable to be regarded as a witch, however this lies outwith the reach of this essay. [1: P.Wrightson, Witchcraft and Magic [accessed 11 February 2017]] [2: Christopher S. Mackay, The Hammer of Witches (Cambridge: University Press, 2009)] [3: Geoffrey Scarre, Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001) pg. 54] [4: Teofilo Ruiz, The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011) pg. 29]
Contrary to popular belief, males were also accused of witchcraft. The Papal Bull of 1484 defined men as being witches and as Wolfgang Behringer argues, men and women were targeted almost equally.[footnoteRef:5] Behringer discussed the trials in Trier, Germany (1581-1593) whereby one third of those executed were male; mayors, councillors and clergy were also executed.[footnoteRef:6] C. Ewen adds that the upper classes also engaged in practices of witchcraft.[footnoteRef:7] Whilst the majority of witches were predominately lower class, elderly women, it was not exclusively this group that were targeted. A person was most liable to be regarded a witch if they fitted with the popular fantasy of witchcraft, for example, out-casted women of a low social status, however this does not mean that others were free from persecution. [5: Wolfgang Behringer, Witches and Witch-Hunts (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004)...