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Writing Research - Witch Trials (The Great Witch Craze)

The witch trials in the early modern period, alternately known as the Great Witch Craze, were a period of witch hunts that took place across early modern Europe and the European colonies in North America between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The trials were sparked by the belief that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom. Those accused of witchcraft were portrayed as being worshippers of the Devil, who engaged in such acts as malevolent sorcery at meetings known as Witches’ Sabbaths. Many people were subsequently accused of being witches, and were put on trial for the crime, with varying punishments being applicable in different regions and at different times.

Over the entire duration of the phenomenon of some three centuries, an estimated total of 40,000 people were executed. The best known of these trials were the Scottish North Berwick witch trials, Swedish Torsaker witch trials and the American Salem witch trials. Among the largest and most notable were the Trier witch trials (1581–1593), the Fulda witch trials (1603–1606), the Wurzburg witch trial (1626–1631) and the Bamberg witch trials (1626–1631). The sociological causes of the witch-hunts have long been debated in scholarship. Mainstream historiography sees the reason for the witch craze in a complex interplay of various factors that mark the early modern period, including the religious sectarianism in the wake of the Reformation, besides other religious, societal, economic and climatic factors. [1]


The Witch Trials of Trier in Germany in the years from 1581 to 1593 was perhaps the biggest witch trial in European history. The persecutions started in the diocese of Trier in 1581 and reached the city itself in 1587, where it was to lead to the death of about three hundred and sixty-eight people, and was as such perhaps the biggest mass execution in Europe in peace time. This counts only the executed within the city itself, and the real number of executed, counting also those executed in all the witch hunts within the diocese as a whole, was therefore even larger. The exact number of executed has never been established; a total of 1000 has been suggested but not confirmed. [2]


The North Berwick witch trials were the trials in 1590 of a number of people from East Lothian, Scotland, accused of witchcraft in the St Andrew’s Auld Kirk in North Berwick. They ran for two years and implicated seventy people. The accused included Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell on charges of high treason. The “witches” held their covens on the Auld Kirk Green, part of the modern-day North Berwick Harbour area. The confessions were extracted by torture in the Old Tolbooth, Edinburgh. [3]


The Witch trials of Fulda in Germany in the years from 1603 to 1606 resulted in the death of about 250 people. The witch trials were ordered by Prince-abbot Balthasar von Dernbach after he had returned to power in 1602 after being exiled for over twenty years, and presided over by Dernbach’s right-hand man, Balthasar Nuss, who had attached himself to the abbot during his exile and afterwards was appointed Zentgraf of Hofbieber and Malefizmeister. Investigations began in March 1603, and shortly thereafter, the arrests begun in the city. One of the first and the most well-known victim was Merga Bien, whose case even concerned the Imperial Chamber Court.

The witchhunts ceased soon after the Prince-abbot died on 15 March 1605. Nuss was imprisoned and accused of having enriched himself. Nuss remained in custody for 13 years; after the university of Ingolstadt ruled to that effect, Nuss was beheaded in 1618. [4]


The Basque witch trials of the 17th century represent the most ambitious attempt at rooting out witchcraft ever undertaken by the Spanish Inquisition. The trial of the Basque witches at Logrono, near Navarre, in northern Spain, which began in January 1609, against the background of similar persecutions conducted in Labourd by Pierre de Lancre, was almost certainly the biggest single event of its kind in history. By the end some 7,000 cases had been examined by the Inquisition. [5]


The Würzburg witch trial, which took place in Germany in 1626–1631, is one of the biggest mass-trials and mass-executions seen in Europe during the Thirty Years War; 157 men, women and children in the city of Würzburg are confirmed to have been burned alive at the stake; 219 are estimated to have been executed in the city proper, and an estimated 900 were killed in the entire Prince-Bishopric.

The Würzburg witch trial is among the largest among the Witch trials in the Early Modern period, alongside the trials of Trier (1581–1593) and Bamberg (1626–1631). [6]


The Bamberg witch trials, which took place in Bamberg in Germany in 1626–1631, are among the more famous cases in European witchcraft history. They resulted in the executions of between 300 and 600 people, and were some of the greatest witch trials in history, as well as some of the greatest executions in the Thirty Years’ War.

The Bamberg witch trials erupted during a period of a series of mass witch trials in the area of Southern Germany, contemporary with the Wurzburg witch trials and others. The witch craze of the 1620s was not confined to Germany, but influenced Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté: in the lands of the abbey of Luxueil the years 1628–30 have been described as an épidémie démoniaque. [7]


The Torsåker witch trials took place in 1675 in Torsaker parish, Sweden. 71 people: 6 men and 65 women were beheaded and then burned, all in a single day. This was the largest witch trial in Swedish history. [8]


The Zaubererjackl trials or Salzburg witch trials, also known in history as the Magician Jackls process, which took place in the city of Salzburg in Austria in 1675-1690, was one of the largest and most famous witch trials in Austria. It led to the execution of 139 people. It was an unusual witch trial, as the majority of its victims were of male gender. [9]


The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witch craft in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, most of them women. Despite being generally known as the Salem witch trials, the preliminary hearings in 1692 were conducted in several towns in the Province of Massachusetts Bay: Salem Village (now Danvers), Ipswich, Andover, and Salem Town. [10]

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Writing Research - Witch Trials (The Great Witch Craze)
The witch trials in the early modern period, alternately known as the Great Witch Craze, were a period of witch hunts that took place across early modern Europe and the European colonies in North America between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The trials were sparked by the belief that malev...
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