Witchcraft in the 16th and 17th Centuries


How do Historians Account for the Comparative Differences in Witch Hunting and the Witchcraze Throughout Europe?

Title page of the seventh Cologne edition of the Malleus Maleficarum, 1520 (from the University of Sydney Library)
Title page of the seventh Cologne edition of the Malleus Maleficarum, 1520 (from the University of Sydney Library)

The witchcraze was a period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where so-called ‘witches’ were hunted and punished for practising witchcraft. This belief in witchcraft was most noticeable in Scotland and continental Europe as this is where the majority of accusations took place.[1] This essay will look at several different areas of witchcraft and the witchcraze, including where beliefs did and did not take hold, the proportion of men and women who were accused, the influence of the Protestant Reformation and the prosecution of witches across Europe. Historians tend to agree that the witchcraze took off in Protestant areas more than Catholic areas, and also that it was largely female-identified. Historians also agree that there were different punishments for witchcraft in different countries, with some being stricter than others. However, there are some problems in analysing the differences in the witchcraze in different countries because for some countries it is difficult to access the trial records and historians do not even agree on the number of people who were executed as witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at the height of the witchcraze.

The witchcraze had more of an effect in some countries than others but the questions that were asked to accused witches by the interrogators and the authorities were often given the same or very similar answers all across the globe, and it was this which first gave rise to the idea that the witchcraze was an ‘international conspiracy’.[2] Continue reading “Witchcraft in the 16th and 17th Centuries”