February 4, 2023 3:12 pm

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A Chapter from History: The Witch Trials of Europe

On this day, one of the first witch trials was held at Le Châtelet in Paris in 1390 AD. 

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Witch Trials of Europe

Europe prides itself in being termed the cathedral of civilisation — a fact disputed by many historians — but a dark and bloody practice mired it not too long ago. The Witch Trials of Europe, or simply the judicial persecution of women due to fear of witchcraft resulted in deaths of innumerable women.

On this day, one of the first witch trials was held at Le Châtelet in Paris in 1390 AD. 

What Were The Witch Trials of Europe?

Before understanding the Witch Trials of Europe, let us first understand the meaning of the word ‘witch’.

As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘witch‘ means “a person (especially a woman) who is credited with having usually malignant supernatural powers”.

As the term ‘witch trial’ suggests, these were official hearings in local courts. These courts decided upon allegations of witchcraft on certain women, which were infamously dubbed as ‘witch trials’.

According to the book Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 4, “The first witch trial believed to be held at Le Châtelet in Paris, in 1390, ended with the execution of Jeanne de Brigue”.

As per some accounts, Jeanne de Brigue was a woman who specialised in searching for lost objects. Jean de Folleville, the Provost of Paris condemned her to be burned alive at the Place du Marché aux Pourceaux, and she died in 1391.

The WitchCraft Hysteria

There are a few documented instances of witch trials in France during the first half of the 16th century. 

Four people were put to death due to a witch trial in Beaujolais in 1539; a “Faustian magician” was put to death in Poitiers in 1553, and three people were put to death as a result of witch trials in Nevers and Toulouse.

Burning of three witches in Baden, Switzerland (1585), by Johann Jakob Wick
Burning of three witches in Baden, Switzerland (1585), by Johann Jakob Wick Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Medieval Europe witnessed a frenzy of witch-hunting. Between 1400 to 1782, around 40,000 to 60,000 supposed witches were killed due to suspicion of practicing ‘evil magic’. Some other sources even claim that around 100,000 deaths occurred during this era.

A book, Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer, published in 1486 is considered a major reason for an increase in witch-hunting frenzy.

Title page of the seventh Cologne edition of the Malleus Maleficarum
Title page of the seventh Cologne edition of the Malleus Maleficarum Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The book equated witchcraft to heresy and recommended the courts treat it as such. It had a strong influence on European culture for centuries.

Later in the 17th century, the witchcraft hysteria spread to more remote regions of Europe and North America, resulting in events like the Swedish Torsker witch trials, the Salzburg witch trials and the most infamous of them all, the trials at Salem.

The witch trials of Europe are a dark page of history that has become a popular topic of discourse in shows and movies. It also exposes the prevalent misogyny and ignorance in European culture and history.

Yash Rawat
Yash Rawat

Its been hard to express myself so here I am.. writing.

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