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When Witches Burned

Updated on October 20, 2013

A Witch Burning


The Beginning of the Witch Hunt

Pope Innocent VIII made a bull declaring the witches to be dangerous and to be tried for witchcraft in 1484. Two German monks were told to write a book describing what was to be done. It was the public's duty in fact, to search for witches.

People that were to be tried were those that were guilty of black witchcraft. It was considered sorcery. A person that was guilty of witchcraft would be consorting with spirits and even the Devil himself. It was important to make their evil ways known.

The persons questioning and testing the witches were allowed to do certain tests. They were also allowed to promise amnesty if they confessed. But they did not have to keep that promise.

There was the water test. If a woman or man floated when thrown into the water, they were considered to be a witch. But if they sank they were not guilty. Unfortunately, they would still drown then.

Women who were clairvoyant or psychic could create fear. Healers could be misunderstood. For the most part, people who were strange and did not fit in were singled out. Anyone that incited jealousy and was not protected could be taken out.

The Devil and Agnes Sampson


Monument to Maggie Wall in Scotland


The Pendle Witches


Witchcraft Trials of the Past

Angele de la Barthe - She was accused of being a witch by the Inquisition in France in the 1200's. She was accused of having sex with the Devil and having a monster child that was part serpent. Some are saying the story is fictional now. There is not a real record of her.

Dame Alice Kyteler - She was accused of witchcraft by her husband and sons in Ireland in the 1300's. She was the first to be accused there. She was condemned at the trial. But she escaped with the help of her brother-in-law. The guards were beaten at the prison.

Agnes Sampson - Executed as a witch in Scotland in 1591. She was tortured first and forced to confess. The king had been out in a storm and the witches were thought to have been the cause of it. It was called the N. Berwick witches trial.

Maggie Wall - She was burned as a witch in 1657 in Scotland. She is the only one that has a stone memorial dedicated to her. Also every year there is a note written there in memory of her. It states, "In memory of Maggie Wall, burnt by the church in the name of Christianity." Some say as if there was no one by that name there then, as if it were a legend.

Florence Newton - This was an important trial in 1661 in Ireland. She was accused of having enchanted a girl there and having made her sick. There is not a record there of the result but they assume she was executed.

The Pendle Witches - These twelve witches included Anne Whittle and Witch Demdike. The trial was in England in 1692. They were known in the area as healers and for other trouble. They were accused of ten murders. Ten of them were executed.

Isobel Gowdie - She was accused of witchcraft in Scotland. She told of stories of Satanic rituals and elves. Some say she was never executed after all of the stories. There is a one reference saying she was executed and burned in 1680.

Bridget Bishop - She was the first to be executed in Salem for witchcraft in 1692. Witches in Salem were hung. People think now she was accused because of her owning taverns and her way of dressing. They said she was good looking and would not dress as the other women did. The dress of the time was very dull. Some think she was an actual witch. All of the women killed in Salem were probably not witches.

La Voisin - A French sorceress that practiced in France and had people from the French court for customers. She was executed in 1680 for witchcraft. She made love powders. She was involved with a priest and magic. They were afraid there was a plot to poison the king.

Witch Torture and Burning

Anne Boleyn


Joan of Arc


Accused of Witchcraft

Anne Boleyn - 1501-1536 She was tried for the crime of witchcraft. King Henry VII had wanted her found guilty so he could marry again. He accused her besides other things of being a witch. The excuse used was that she had a sixth finger.

Joan of Arc - 1412-1431 This was one of the world's most famous witchcraft trials. Joan was accused of dealing with the Devil and not God. Joan said that her voices came from the saints. She was tried and found guilty. She was not tortured. She had said that if she was, she would just say anything that they wanted. Her mother later went to Paris and had her declared innocent. Bishop Cauchon, who questioned her, had his bones thrown into the sewer by the people in France after he died. He had been on the side of the English. She is, of course, now a saint.

Joan of Navarre - 1370-1437 She was a queen in England married to King Henry IV. The king did not trust her and they were afraid she was using witchcraft. There were rumors of him being poisoned. She was put in custody where she could not go about freely. She was never really tried for witchcraft. The king was afraid that would not be a good idea. Before he died, she was released.

Joan of Navarre


Mother Shipton


Famous Witches

Mother Shipton or Ursula Southeil - A famous English witch from the Yorkshire region in the 1500's. She was born in a cave. Her mother had been thought to have powers also. She was rumored to have been ugly. She predicted the great fire in London. Her predictions that she made about modern times have had several things that came true today. Her accusers did back off when threatened.

Doideag - She was a Scottish witch on the Isle of Mull. She was thought to have stopped the Spanish Armada from invading England in 1588.

Marie Laveau - A famous voodoo practitioner in New Orleans. She was thought to be able to cast spells and curses. People were afraid of her. She lived in the 1800's.

Mother Shipton


History of Witch Burning

Ann Hibbons Hanging

Witch hanging in Boston
Witch hanging in Boston | Source

The End of the Prosecution

After 200 years of witch trials in Europe, there were 100,000 people that were tried. They were mainly women although men could be guilty also. There were 60,000 of them that were executed.

That is taken from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Women's History."

It is thought that many of any actual witches got away. There are some that think they hid in plain sight.

Witches Sabbath

painting by Goya
painting by Goya | Source

Witchcraft Trials

Do you think the women should have been executed for witchcraft?

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    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Hello WhiteMuse, this is very interesting. I think that all of the accuse were probably accused for the gain of the accuser.

      Voted up, and interesting.


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