Witch Trials in Germany Essay

1471 Words Mar 22nd, 2013 6 Pages
To what extent can the high concentration of witch trials in the German states be explained by political and religious tension?
The late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time of dramatic change in Germany, both religiously and politically. Religiously, the Protestant Reformation, driven by Luther’s ninety-five theses, challenged Catholicism. Politically, the Holy Roman Empire grew weaker whilst territorial states such as Ellwagen gained power. The changes within these political and religious institutions threatened the social structure, causing people to become insecure and vulnerable. Witch hunts were not common in Germany until around 1570, after the Council of Trent determined the aim to get rid of Protestantism in Germany.
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Accusing someone of being a witch was viewed as a simple way of eliminating someone, therefore weakening their threat. Publications in Germany such as the Malleus made this process easy because of its clear guidelines on how to identify and convict a witch. As Levack believes, at a time when religious conflict and tension was high, a strong mood of anxiety was present which lay at the foundation of witchcraft prosecutions, therefore religious tension and contributors such as the Malleus and the Inquisition can be used to explain the high concentration of witch trials in Germany.
There were a number of political factors for the high concentration of witch trials in Germany which historians such as Robert Thurston put a great deal of emphasis on. Political decentralisation was common; Germany was composed of hundreds of small territories where there was no single ruler with unified control. Political diversity and decentralisation gave virtual singular control to small political units and local tribunals, consequently witch hunting could easily go unchecked. The distribution of witchcraft prosecutions within Germany supports the belief that the smaller the jurisdictional unit the higher the intensity of witch hunts was. For example in Ellwangen, where the most severe witch hunts took place, there was no outside political and ecclesiastical control. Appeals to higher courts were never permitted, resulting in witch prosecution becoming a lot easier to carry out. We can see

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