PAPERS ANALYZING WITCH TRIAL DOCUMENTS HSTEU305
These papers should will take the transcripts
of one or more witch trials, and place the trials in
their specific historical context. Trial documents can be analyzed in various ways:
1) Factual / literal
/ historical reading of trial records:
Reconstruct the events leading to trial from a close reading of the trial document.
What happened before the trial? How did accusation(s) come about?
Who is testifying against the accused? What happens after person is arrested?
Use small bits of information in the trial records as evidence, clues.
What images of witch, devil, familiars etc are invoked in trial?
What is the social context of the accused witch's life?
Is s/he accused by neighbors, relatives, strangers?
Can you identify the accused witch's social role (e.g. beggar, healer, midwife etc.)?
What social purposes might be served by this trial?
Analyses of trial records
should begin with a close reading of the trial itself,
including specific details. Note that the bizarre nature of much testimony means
not all details will be easily interpreted.
Papers drawing on trial
documents should then place a specific trial in its
historical context (country, date, type of court, religion etc.)
How does this trial record reflect local traditions, beliefs, legal procedures?
You should examine specific charges brought, how an initial accusation came before the court,
the kind of court trying the case (if secular jurisdiction: local or higher appeals court?; if a Catholic
court: Inquisition or Bishop’s court?; most trials outside of Italy & Spain occur in secular courts).
Note also the kinds of questions put to defendant & to witnesses, form of judicial procedure used,
the types of evidence accepted by the court, the standards of proof in use, and the outcome of the case.
What is interesting, surprising or unique about this case? How does it compare to trials elsewhere?
To place trials in their context, you
need some secondary sources. What follows is a list of
trials and relevant sources for context. A recent new Encyclopedia of Witchcraft (2006). edited
by Richard Golden is availalbe in Suzzallo Reference Section BF1566 .E56 2006 v.1 -4 for
Library Use Only (LUO) You could use the articles on England or German as background.
1) Italy: Trial of the Benandanti in
Appendix of Carlo Ginzburg, The Night Battles pp. 147-171
Use his discussion of the trials for context, especially pp 1-39, 69-97.
2) Netherlands/France: Trial of Suzanne Gaudry in Kors &
Peters # 57 pp. 359-366.
For context, see article by Robert Muchembled, “Witches of the Cambresis,” will be on E-reserve.
3) Chelmsford Witches: The first set of Chelmsford
trials are included in Kors & Peters #46,
pp. 302-208; later outbreaks are also documented in Barbara Rosen (ed) W/C in England.
For context on English trials and Chelmsford, see Levack on England. Also on reserve:
Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness; Keith Thomas, Religion & Decline of Magic, Ch. 14-17.
4) German trials: In our reading there are
several documents from German cities that can
form the basis for a paper about the German witch panic. Specific documents include:
trial of Walpurga Hausmanin, in Xerox Packet #3; trial of Johannes Junius in Bamberg 1628,
K& P, # 53 pp. 348-353 ; brief document from Wurzburg, K&P, # 54 pp 353-5, moving statement
by Frederich Von Spee, Jesuit confessor to witches in Wurzburg, in K&P # 65 pp. 425-429.
For overall context use Midelfort article in Xerox packet, Levack & lecture notes.
5) Salem: Use the documents in Richard Godbeer volume on Salem trials. Context is provided by his
introduction, and he includes several trials. If you want additional trial records, there are five included in the
book by David Dallin (alias David Levin), What Happened at Salem? (multiple copies will be on 3 day reserve OUGL,
Prof. O’Neil also has copies of this book). Complete transcripts of Salem trials and related documents are on line at:
This is an outstanding site, but there are others as well (Google for Salem trial transcripts).
I’d suggest picking one or two trials,
perhaps comparing a man and a woman (men: John Proctor, George
Burroughs; women: Sarah Good is a classic, but see also Bridge Bishop and others). Or compare a
“respectable” person like Rebecca Nurse with a “beggar witch” like Sarah Good.