Thomas Schreiber (c. 1598 – 30 May 1629) was a German innkeeper executed for witchcraft. He was the perhaps best known victim of the Mergentheim witch trials, and became known for his opposition to the witch trials. His correspondence is preserved. His case gives an unusually detailed example of the mentality of a city in the midst of a mass witch trial.
Thomas Schreiber was the owner and manager of a popular and successful inn in the city of Mergentheim. He was about 30 years old in 1628, married to Anna Schreiber and with four children. He was a member of a wealthy merchant family with relatives in high offices in several of the neighboring cities.
Beginning in early 1628 and continuing for several years, a series of witch trials, leading to hundreds of executions, was in process in Mergentheim, and Thomas Schreiber became known to be in opposition to it. On the execution of the mayor's wife, Martha Braun, on 1 December 1628, he stated that she had been subjected to a great injustice and compared the execution to the bloodbaths of Nero. Twelve days later, on 12 December 1628, he was pointed out for sorcery in the confession of Martha Dönkherin: he was not arrested nor informed about the accusation, however, as regulations required three independent denunciations before an arrest.
On the execution of the rich widow of Lorenz Gurren 21 January 1629, Schreiber stated that he doubted her confession, upon which the official Max Waltzen commented: "Ha, ha, those who know the devil should not be so amazed".After this, Schreiber continued to criticize the witch trials, but also became worried about his safety: "If anything happens to me, let every pious Christian fear for himself. God might preserve everyone from the Neuenhaus [torture chamber] for even the most pious, if put in there, would be found to be a witch". He referred to the witch trials as a bloodbath and stated that he suspected that the city authorities wished to "wash their hands in my blood".
On 29 January, a second woman denounced him under interrogation. Thomas Schreiber transferred money from town, and left for Ansbach-Hohenlohe [ verification needed ] on 1 February. He left in such a hurry that he was forced to ask his wife to send him his boots, hat and outer garments to him. When in safety, he wrote to the mayor of Mergentheim, Paul Nachtraben, and justified his flight with a statement that torture resulted in lies; he wrote to his friend and legal adviser Georg Allemahn and tasked him to investigate his case and inform him when it would be safe for him to return; and he wrote to his wife and stated that the judges would go to hell and asked her to join him in Ebersheim in Hohenlohe. His letter to his wife, however, was intercepted by the authorities in Mergentheim, who successfully asked the authorities in Hohenlohe to extradite him to Mergentheim.
After his extradition to Mergentheim, Thomas Schreiber was immediately brought before the court on the charges of sorcery. As he had not yet been denounced by three witnesses, only two, he could not be tortured. When asked about his criticism toward witch trials, he replied that he had always said that witch trials were legitimate as long as no one was subjected to injustice. On 13 February, Catharina Reissens denounced him, and the three denunciations necessary for torture was thereby achieved. It is considered likely that all three denunciations against him were performed under pressure from the interrogators.
On 10 April, a joint letter of protest against his arrest signed by friends in Heidenheim, Langenau, Ellwangen, Dinelsbuhl and Aalen was delivered to Mergentheim, in which they protested against the fact that Schreiber had been arrested without any specific accusations, and that he might have sinned by criticizing the court, but that leniency was warranted because of his youth and minor children. The court asked for legal advice from the court of Würzburg, and was given the advice that torture was fully legitimate given the fact that the accused had been denounced three times, that he had attempted to flee, and that he had criticized the court.
On 19 May, Thomas Schreiber was taken to the torture chamber and shown the instruments of torture, which was the normal procedure to see if the accused would confess without torture would have to be applied. The interrogators stated that the witch trials were the justice of God and encouraged him to confess his guilt, but he called the whole legal process an injustice, called the 34 witchcraft executions that had been conducted since his arrest a bloodbath, and stated to the interrogators: "As truly as Christ died on the cross and God created me, I am innocent. Cannot the learned make mistakes in this matter too?".During the following torture, he confessed that he committed adultery with Satan in the shape of a woman and that he had become a witch for the sake of sex rather than to perform magic; that he had stolen and desecrated the sacramental bread; that he had attended the witches' Sabbath and that he was since then unable to pronounce the rosary; and finally, he denounced seven accomplices he had purportedly seen attending the Sabbath with him. The court had him confirm his confession four times, on 22, 25, 26 and 28 May, before giving the death sentence.
Before his execution, Thomas Schreiber wrote to his wife. He reminded her that she had often said to him that "whoever is chosen for eternal life must undergo thistles, thorns and strife"; that he wished for her to marry again, "on account of the children, for widows and orphans are despised and pushed down in this vile world",and assured her that he was innocent and that they would meet again in heaven. Anna Schreiber wrote back and replied that she asked his forgiveness if she had ever given him the impression that she believed the accusation against him, and that she wished that she was dead herself. Thomas Schreiber was decapitated and burned at the stake on 30 May 1629.
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Friedrich Spee was a German Jesuit priest, professor, and poet, most well known as a forceful opponent of witch trials and one who was an insider writing from the epicenter of the European witch-phobia. Spee argued strongly against the use of torture, and as an eyewitness he gathered a book full of details regarding its cruelty and unreliability. He wrote, "Torture has the power to create witches where none exist."
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The Aix-en-Provence possessions were a series of alleged cases of demonic possession occurring among the Ursuline nuns of Aix-en-Provence in 1611. Father Louis Gaufridi was accused and convicted of causing the possession by a pact with the devil, and he was tortured by strappado and his bones dislocated. He was then executed on April 1611 by strangulation and his body burned. This case provided the legal precedent for the conviction and execution of Urbain Grandier at Loudun more than 20 years later. This event led to possessions spreading to other convents and a witch burning in 1611.
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The Basque witch trials of the seventeenth century represent the last attempt at rooting out supposed witchcraft from Navarre by the Spanish Inquisition, after a series of episodes erupted during the sixteenth century following the end of military operations in the conquest of Iberian Navarre, until 1524.
The Pappenheimer Case centered around a family who were tried and executed for witchcraft in 1600 in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. The family were executed, along with accomplices they were forced to name under torture, after a show trial as scapegoats for a number of unsolved crimes committed years back in a display of extreme torture intended to deter the public from crime. The witch trial resulted in the death of twelve people: four of the Pappenheimer family and two of their accused accomplices in the first trial, followed by the remaining member of the family and five other accomplices in the second trial. The trial was of one of the most well-publicized witch trials in German history.
The witch trials of Vardø were held in Vardø in Finnmark in Northern Norway in the winter of 1662–1663 and were one of the biggest in Scandinavia. Thirty women were put on trial, accused of sorcery and making pacts with the Devil. One was sentenced to a work house, two tortured to death, and eighteen were burned alive at the stake.
The Zaubererjackl trials or Salzburg witch trials, also known in history as the Magician Jackls process, which took place in the city of Salzburg in 1675–1690, was one of the largest and most famous witch trials in Austria. It led to the execution of 139 people. It was an unusual witch trial, as the majority of its victims were of male gender.
Alonso de Salazar Frías has been given the epithet "The Witches’ Advocate" by historians, for his role in establishing the conviction, within the Spanish Inquisition, that accusations against supposed witches were more often rooted in dreams and fantasy than in reality, and the inquisitorial policy that witch accusations and confessions should only be given credence where there was firm, independent, corroborating evidence. He was probably the most influential figure in ensuring that those accused of witchcraft were generally not put to death in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spain. The Spanish Inquisition was one of the first institutions in Europe to rule against the death penalty for supposed witches. Its Instructions of 1614, which embodied Salazar's ideas, were influential throughout Catholic Europe.
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The Rugård witch trials took place at Rugård manor, and the community of Ebeltoft close to it, on Jylland in Denmark in 1685–1686. It was the most significant witch trial in Denmark since the Rosborg witch trials of 1639, and caused a wave of new witch trials on Jylland after a period of diminishing witch hunts. The case led to the issue of a new law banning local courts from handing down and enacting death sentences without confirmation of the national high court, a law which interrupted the local witch hunt and eventually stopped it nationwide.
The 1594 trial of alleged witch Allison Balfour or Margaret Balfour is one of the most frequently cited Scottish witchcraft cases. Balfour lived in the Orkney Islands of Scotland in the area of Stenness. At that time in Scotland, the Scottish Witchcraft Act 1563 had made a conviction for witchcraft punishable by death.
Georg Haan was a prominent victim of the Bamberg witch trials.
The Mergentheim witch trials took place in Mergentheim in Germany between 1628 and 1631. These witch trials resulted in the deaths of 126 people; there were 122 executions, and four died during torture. The trials belonged to the great wave of witch-hunting that took place in southwestern Germany during the Thirty Years' War. It is one of the best documented of the mass witch trials of southwestern Germany. Perhaps the best known victim of the Mergentheim witch trials was the innkeeper Thomas Schreiber, who had been vocal in opposition to the trials before his own arrest.
The witch trials in Norway were the most intense among the Nordic countries. There seems to be around an estimated 277 to 350 executions between 1561 and 1760. Norway was in a union with Denmark during this period, and the witch trials were conducted by instructions from Copenhagen. The authorities and the clergy conducted the trials using demonology handbooks and used interrogation techniques and sometimes torture. After a guilty verdict, the condemned was forced to expose accomplices and commonly deaths occurred due to torture or prison. Witch trials were in decline by the 1670s as judicial and investigative methods were improved. A Norwegian law from 1687 maintained the death penalty for witchcraft, and the last person to be sentenced guilty of witchcraft in Norway was Birgitte Haldorsdatter in 1715. The Witchcraft Act was formally in place until 1842.
The Rottenburg witch trials was a series of witch trials taking place in Rottenburg am Neckar in then Further Austria in present day Baden-Württemberg in Germany between 1578 and 1609. It resulted in the death of 150 people. The witch trials were divided in the waves of 1578-1585, 1589-90, 1595-96, 1598-1605 and 1609. The high peak of the trials were the witch trial of 1595-96, when 41 women were burnt alive at the stake between June 1595 and July 1596. Rottenburg were known as a witch trials center and the 1595 trial attracted attention from the University of Tübingen. The Rottenburg witch trials has been characterized as traditional, since the victims were almost exclusively poor old women, and never developed in to the endemic mass trials in which citizens of all sexes and classes could be indiscriminately accused, such as the Würzburg witch trials, and they were conducted under strict control from the authorities.
The Baden-Baden witch trials took place in Baden-Baden in Germany between 1627 and 1631. These witch trials resulted in the deaths of over 200 people; the exact number are uncertain. The trials belonged to the great wave of witch-hunting that took place in southwestern Germany during the Thirty Years' War.
The Katarina witch trials took place in the Katarina Parish in the capital of Stockholm in Sweden in 1676. It was a part of the big witch hunt known as the Great noise, which took place in Sweden between the years 1668 and 1676, and it also illustrated the end of it.