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Nicholas Remy and the Trials in Lorraine :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts

Nicholas Remy and the Trials in Lorraine

The territory of Lorraine is located on the border of France and Germany in the northeast of France. Although France officially annexed the territory in 1766, during the time of the witch trials, it was still an independent, French-speaking duchy. Compared to central and northern France, witch-hunts in the duchies of Lorraine and Franche-Comte, located directly to the south or Lorraine, were particularly severe.

The witch-hunts in Lorraine were primarily carried out by elite magistrate and leading demonologist Nicholas Remy. Remy was a law scholar and began his legal career as a member of the Tribunal of Nancy, a legislative body located in the city of Nancy, the capital of Lorraine at the time. He quickly rose through the ranks and was appointed the procurator-general, the highest position in the judicial structure of Lorraine, in 1591.

Similar to Pierre de Lancre’s position in the Labourd region, as procurator-general, Remy had a great deal of authority and was able to incorporate practices such as torture that were being used less and less in the centralized court systems of France into the trials in Lorraine. He was known to have read and been influenced by demonologists before him, particularly the French judge, Jean Bodin. Bodin was the first to define witchcraft as an “exceptional crime” exempt from standard legal procedures and regulations. He used this definition to justify the use of torture to produce confessions and the acceptance of questionable evidence in witchcraft cases. [1] Bodin’s theories likely had an impact on the way that Remy conducted the trials in Lorraine.

Remy used his experiences as a professional witch-hunter to write his most well known work, Demonaltry, which he published in 1595. In the text, he discusses his demonological theories in detail and provides vivid, graphic descriptions of the witches’ Sabbath. Remy firmly believed that witches formed a pact with the devil and congregated to fornicate with Satan and conduct ritualized dancing and feasts. Although he claimed to have executed over 200 witches and tried over 900 during his career, these figures are largely considered gross exaggerations today [2]. The exact number of accused witches executed in Lorraine is unknown, but court records indicate that approximately 125 witches were brought to trial between 1583 and 1591 [3].


[1] Jean Bodin, Demon-Mania of Witches in The Witchcraft Sourcebook, ed. Brian P. Levack (New York: Routledge, 2004), 128-134.

[2] William Monter, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland: the Borderlands during the Reformation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 152.

[3] William Monter, “Fiscal Sources and Witch Trials in Lorraine,” Magic Ritual and Witchcraft 2 (2007): 36, accessed November 18, 2014, http://muse.jhu.edu/.

[4] William E. Burns, “Remy, Nicholas,” in Witch Hunts in America and Europe: An Encyclopedia by William E. Burns (Westport, Greenwood Press, 2003), 245-246.

[5] Image: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/insrv/images/scolar/image-191504-web.JPG

Demonolatry by Nicholas Remy

  Demonolatry by Nicholas Rem

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