Catholic elders of the Middle-Ages believed Europe was blighted by a witch epidemic. Their reaction was to send in the Inquisition. Already tried and tested against the like and so called heretics over the past centuries, the inquisitor monks had wide ranging powers to seek out witches……and destroy them.
In the year of 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued what is known as a Papa Bull that declared all ‘…(witches) do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses’.
He then went on to urge all clergymen to help the inquisitors in nailing witches and rid the world of them.
His words were reinforced two years later by Malleus Maleficarum, otherwise known as ‘Hammer of Witches’. This is a book that was written by two shamed Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Springer, Who both found themselves a niche as Witch-hunters.
Malleus Maleficarum was regarded as a ‘Witch-hunter’s bible’.
It gave detailed advice oh how they should be identified, where to find them, how to lure them, the prosecution procedures etc...
The writings became so authoritative, so believed, that folklore turned into fact and witchcraft was confused with Satanism.
This resulted in many innocent women being burned at the stake.
Witches were reputed to have a unique mark, similar to that of a nipple. If the inquisitors failed to find such a blemish, mole, or birthmark, they decided that the mark was invisible, so the woman in question was doomed either way.
In accordance with the Malleus Maleficarum, a pin or blade inserted into the mark caused no bleeding or pain to a witch. The inquisitors often used instruments with retractable points. This gave the illusion that the point was entering the skin, although in reality, it was just being pressed into the handle.
Supposed witches had many unfair trials held against them. One such trial was that of the giant scales. If the accused should prove heavier than the weight set against her, then she was, obviously guilty of being a witch.
The fact that the chosen weight could be as light as a Bible didn’t matter.
Another tried and tested, also well believed method of judging witches was to tie the woman, naked and shivering cold, to a chair in a putrid cell and watch to see if a ‘Familiar’ (Demon in animal form), approached. Given that the cells were generally infested in vermin the inquisitors were rarely disappointed. It wasn’t all bad for the witches though, some were at least strangled before being burnt at the stake, where as others would be roasted alive.
For the Protestant witch-hunters one line of the bible gave them the authority they desired. They interpreted literally Exodus xxii, v 18: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’
While such torture was never really legalised in England, interrogators were happy to starve their victims into submission or deprive them of sleep for days. A convicted witch in England was hanged.
However, let me introduce to you Matthew Hopkins. A Puritan Englishman, self-styled witch-hunter. Sorry, I mean Witch-Finder General.
His stock in trade was brutally questioning elderly women until they confessed to being a witch and had named their associates.
Hopkins was welcomed as he travelled about in Eastern England, rooting out ‘witches’ and receiving a fat fee for his services.
He shared the same type of tools as his inquisitor counterparts.
Hopkins sent around four hundred people to the gallows in just 14 months. He probably would have sent a lot more to meet their maker if his dubious methods were not exposed. He retreated in silence to Manningtree, Essex where he died in obscurity.
In retrospect there seems little doubt that a mania overcame England and Europe, probably with insecurity in those changing times at its root. Those who spoke out publicly on behalf of the accused were themselves branded as devil-worshippers and were put to death. Jesuit Friedrich Spee Von Langenfield wrote in 1631 how he had prepared 200 people for death after they were convicted of witchcraft and heresy. All were innocent, he believed, and his hair turned grey with stress. ‘Even if an attorney were allowed to the prisoner the former would from the outset be suspected himself, as a patron and protector of witches, so that all mouths are shut and all pens are blunted, and one can neither read or write.’
In : History
Tags: witch trials salem matthew hopkins witch hunter general
blog comments powered by Disqus