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Zutphen :: History 229: The Age of the Witch Hunts


Before the sixteenth century, there was essentially no consensus in the Low countries about the most proper or effective way to conduct witch trials. It was apparent that a normal judicial procedure would not be suitable for the lese majestatis (exceptional crime) of witchcraft, yet municipal authorities were largely undecided or unaware of how to proceed with accusations of witchcraft. In 1491 in Zutphen, a town in the province of western Gelderland, three accused witches were subject to intense torture and bathed in holy water, in order to both gain confessions and expel the Devil’s influence. The procedures were not considered successful, however, as the authorities of Zutphen wrote to councilmen in Cologne, asking about the most effective way to extract confessions from witches. In his writings about the event, Hans de Waardt explains that the records of the responses from Cologne were never preserved, yet after the council in Zutphen received the response, they began to be contacted by other municipalities for their own advice on torture and confessions. This time seems to mark the beginning of some centrality and consensus in the Low Countries about the severity of witchcraft crimes, and the severe treatment of witches that the crime warranted.

After receiving the response from Cologne, presumably reinforcing the need for torture in cases of witchcraft, authorities and executioners in Zutphen became influential in dealings with witches in other areas. In 1514, the executioner from Zutphen was hired by Duke Charles of Gelderland to “examine witches.” A year later, this executioner was hired again to examine and interrogate an accused witch in Kampen. The early 15oos was early yet in the larger picture of witchcraft i the Netherlands, yet the rise of a harsher and more standardized procedure in dealing with witches seems to mark the beginnings of intense and deadly (though somewhat scarce) witch trials.

201406040942101893913_zutphen2A picture of Zutphen today https://www.vrijeacademie.nl/841/uitgebreid-zoeken/stadswandeling-zutphen/

de Waardt, Hans. “Witchcraft and Wealth: The Case of the Netherlands.” Oxford Handbooks Online. 19 Nov. 2014. 4.


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