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Wizards, witches and witchcraft

When I consulted the parish book of Diemeringen, I came across a death record that read "burnt as a wizard after being beheaded by sword". The victim was Diebolt Weyland, a brother of my ancestor Hans Caspar Weyland. This death record, that was written on June 21st 1673, induced me to do some research about witchcraft trials and witch hunts that occurred in Alsace and in Lorraine in the 1600's.

From 1671 to 1673, the parish book of Diemeringen relates several witchcraft issues that sent a dozen of inhabitants of the lordship to the stake. The victims were generally accused of being responsible for adultery, abortion, or for the death of children using wizardry or by casting a spell.

Between 1614 and 1642, sixty four cases of witchcraft were counted in Saverne. Thirty of these cases were closed with a death sentence, most frequently at the stake. Even children were involved. Among the victims of these trials, there was a nine year old boy, Philippe Schramm, who died after his full confession, with six alleged accomplices aged between nine and sixteen years. The only favour that was done to children was to strangle them instead of burning them alive.

The stakes where wizards and witches were burnt in the Christian West between the 1400's and the 1700's should have made about 50.000 victims, according to historians. Women accounted for three out of four of the accused in the fully legal trials for witchcraft that relied on treaties of "demonology". For four centuries, a witch hunt spread widely across Europe, but it occurred with a special intensity in the Holy Roman Empire and in the neighbouring regions. Switzerland, Netherlands, Flanders, Luxembourg, Lorraine and Franche-Comté were, after today Germany, the regions that counted the greatest number of stakes of wizards and witches.

In Lorraine, Nicolas Rémy, born about 1530 in Charmes, Vosges was the main provider for these gallows. As a sadly renowned judge and the author of a treaty about witchcraft (Three books about demonolatry) published in 1596, he should be responsible for the death by burning of three thousand wizards and witches (he admitted nine hundred executions). In 1591 Charles III entrusted him with the function of general prosecutor for the Duchy of Lorraine. In this position he pursued wizards and witches without respite. He died in 1612 in Charmes where he retired six years before and left his position to his son.

Several executions for witchcraft in the lordship of Diemeringen

- On June 21 1673, were condamned "als Zauber(in) verbrannt vorher durch Schwert enthauptet" (to be burnt as wizards/witches after being beheaded by sword)

  • Amalia, wife of Anstett Müller, oil-maker in Diemeringen
  • Thiebold Matt, stone-mason
  • Margaretha, wife of Philipp (Lips) Adolf, from Diemeringen
  • Ursula, wife of Kübler, forester (1666, 1684) and mayor (1676, 1680, 1683) of Dehlingen
  • Christina, wife secondly married to Theobald Böss, shepherd in Dehlingen
  • Dieboldt Weyland, single, son of Johann Marcel, juryman (1696, 1698) in Dehlingen and of Catharina

- On October 16 1673, were "wegen Zauberei durch Schwert enthauptet u. beim Galgen verbrannt worden" (beheaded by sword and burned for witchcraft near the gallows)

  • Ottilia, widow of Carl Enßminger
  • Elsbeth, wife of Niclaß Hänels
  • Walpurga, wife of Johannes Koeppel, innkeeper in Dehlingen
  • Gertrud, wife of Ludwig Jonin/Jenin, carpenter in Dehlingen
  • Appolonia, wife of Ulrich Kieffer of Dehlingen
  • Margaretha, wife of Anstett Hemmert of Dehlingen

Den 29 dito. [Aprilis 1671], hatt sich Hanß Martin Müller der junge Schneider von hier, weyland Anstett Müllers des Ohlmanns und Amuleyen gewesener leidiger Sohn von 26 Jahren, allhier in dem Schloß in seinem Gefängniiß also er henckt, daß er mit gebogenen Knien auf der Erde gestanden nachdem er vorhero in er schröcklicher Sodomia und Zauberey ergriffen und befunden worden. Wurde den 2. May samt einer Geyßen und jungen Pferd beym hochgericht verbrandt.

Translation: On April 29 1671, hanged himself here in the castle's jail, Hanss Martin Müller, a young tailor of this place, aged 26, a single son of deceased Anstett Müller, oil-maker and "amuleyen(?) ", he was found kneeling down on the floor after being tried caught by an awful sodomy and witchcraft. He was burnt by the gallows on May 2nd with a goat and a young horse.

Den 20. Xbris [1671] ist Nickel Frantz, sonsten der Küh Nickel genannt, und sein Ehweib Janetta und Ihrer beyder Sohn Nickel Frantz der Jüngere, um verübter schrecklicher Zauberey, ertödtung, und verdribung Menschen und Viehes worunter Sie drey Ihrer eignen Enkeln, und Hänrich Häneln zwei Kinder umbgebracht, und Hanß Jacob Dormeyern allhier, lungen, beinlein, Haar und Glaß in den backen gezaubert, auch der Sohn der Sodomiterey ergeben gewesen auf erhaltene große gnade, mitt dem Schwerd vom Leben zum Todt gerichtet, und die Cörper zu aschen verbrennet worden.

Translation: On December 20 1671, Nickel Frantz, also known as Nickel the cowherd, his wife Janetta and their son, young Nickel Frantz, having committed an awful witchcraft, murdered people and cattle, all of them drew (murdered ?) their own cousin and both children of Hänrich Hanel, and Hans Jacob Dormeyer from here, lungs, legs, spellbound hair and glass in the cheeks, the son having carried out sodomy, received a great favour, were passed from life to death by sword, and their bodies were reduced to ashes.

Den 23. Decembris [1672] ist Margaretha, Hans Martin Banngerts des Zimmermanns allhier gewesenes Ehweib in ihrem Gefängniiß in welchem Sie angeklagter Zauberey und begangenen, bey nahe zwantzig Ehebrüchen halben ingesessen, todt gefunden ; und folgenden 24, zum hochgericht auf einer schlaiffen geführt, undt unter daßelbe durch den scharfrichter vergraben worden.

Translation: On December 23th 1672, died in her jail, Margaretha, wife of the late carpenter Hans Martin Bangert from here, found dead in her jail where she was imprisoned accused of witchcraft and of having committed about twenty adulteries, and on the next day the 24th was led to the gallows and buried there by the executioner.

Den 16. Octobris [1673] ist Ottilia Enßmingerin Wittlib sonsten vulgo Gerber=Ottel, Elsbeth, Niclaß Hänels des Unter Portners Frau, beede von hier, item von Dehling Hans Köppels des Würths Weib, namens Walpurg desgleichen, Louys Jenins Frau, Gertrud ; auch Ulrich Kieffers Weib Appolonia, und Anstett Hemmerts Frau Margaretha, der Zauberey halben, mit dem Schwert gerichtet, und die Cörper beym Galben verbrannt worden.

Translation: On October 16 1673, Ottilia Enssminger Wittlib also commonly known as Gerber=Ottel, Elsbeth, wife of the (UnterPortner = assistant doorkeeper?) Niclass Hänels, both from here, also the wife of Hans Köppel the inkeeper of Dehlingen, named Walpurg, also Gertrud, wife of Louys Jenin; also Appolonia, wife of Ulrich Kieffer, and Margaretha, wife of Anstett Hemmerts, were executed for witchcraft and their bodies were burned near the gallows.

Sources:

  • Parish book of Diemeringen, 1588-1715, film FHL no 0742365
  • 'Dehlingen im Krummen Elsass', by Doris Wessner
  • Revue 'Pays d'Alsace', cahiers 182-I/1998 et 185-IV-1998, (confession of a nine year old wizard from Saverne), SHASE

 


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