Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Spanish inquisition, witchcraft trials, Edict of Grace, witch-hunts
The age of witch trials lasted from 1450 to 1750 and encompassed most of Western Europe. Seventy-five percent of all witchcraft trials took place in Germany, and 480 occurred in Southwestern Germany. Germany lacked centralized leadership, and lack of control over a region’s governing body meant a prince or a bishop could burn as many people as he saw fit. The trials in Southwestern Germany lasted from 1562 to 1684 and killed between 1,000 and 1,500 people. The trials in Southwestern Germany are Central because they all shared similar elements. Many of the towns were undergoing social shifts because of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. They relied heavily on the information in the Malleus Maleficarum by Kramer and Sprenger, which led to women, especially those of the lower classes, being the primary victims. By contrast, few men and children were accused and even fewer were executed. Finally, hundreds of people were executed by strangulation and their bodies burned. Unlike the German trials, the Basque trials were part of the Periphery. Peripheral trials are more difficult to categorize because the nature of the trials in the periphery is different. The Basque trials lasted from 1609 to 1614 and had several factors that differentiated them from central trials: the number of deaths, the involvement of the Inquisition, child witches, and skeptics. More than 7,000 witches were accused over the course of the Basque trials, but only eleven people were executed, five burned in effigy and six burned alive. The largest group of accused was children, while adult men and women were accused almost equally. The Edict of Grace probably led to the large number of people being accused. Yet despite the large number of accusations and the potential for mass executions, most people escaped with little punishment. The Spanish Inquisition had sole jurisdiction over cases of superstition, including witchcraft, and this meant that the Basque trials had a system of checks and balances in place that could prevent any one figure, secular or otherwise, from gaining too much power. The Inquisition maintained control and ensured that no one could create hysterical witch-hunts in the Basque region. Moreover, skeptics like Inquisitor Salazar and Bishop Figueroa pointed out the flaws in the Basque accusations. Bishop Figueroa wrote the Inquisition and encouraged them to reject the Malleus Maleficarum, because he thought the book was nonsense. Inquisitor Salazar’s reports explained that he had tested much of the evidence himself and the results were inconclusive. Salazar also wrote that he thought the confessions were false and were the result of fear inspired by local authorities. The concept of the witch in the Spanish Basque Provinces – someone who had been seduced by the Devil, renounced their Christianity, and used their powers to harm the people around them – was similar to the witch concept that existed in the central trial. However, Basque trials differed from the Central trials because of the trials themselves and how they were handled.
Steed, Alexandra C., "No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition: Witchcraft Trials in Basque Spain and Southwestern Germany" (2017). Honors Theses and Student Projects. 89.