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‘Vermin and Devil-Worshippers’: Exploring Witch Identities in Popular Print in Early Modern Germany and England

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Author Biography

Natalie Grace is a History PhD student at the University of Nottingham researching witchcraft in print in Germany and England. She is funded by the Midlands4Cities DTP and supervised by Dr David Gehring and Dr Simone Laqua-O’Donnell.

Twitter: @Witchy_Nat

Midlands4Cities VPP: https://www.midlands4cities.ac.uk/student_profile/natalie-grace/

Abstract

This paper compares the creation of witch identities in news reports about witchcraft printed in Germany and England (1560 – 1650). The scale of witch-hunts and witchcraft reports differed dramatically in Germany and England. This difference, however, masks similarities in the created identities of witches in both countries. Both sometimes overlooked male witches, a decision shaped by reporters’ need to engage readers with sensational stories. Witch identities in both countries were always fluid, although this fluidity was especially evident during periods of intense witch-hunting. Ultimately, a diabolic connection and evil nature were the defining characteristics of witches in both Germany and England. In portraying the witch as a diabolic other – as ‘vermin and devil-worshippers’ – the pamphleteers in Germany and England created an enemy against whom Christian readers could unite.

Keywords: witchcraft, Germany, England, early modern, identity, sex, gender, crime, news, popular print, diabolism

‘Vermin and Devil-Worshippers’: Exploring Witch Identities in Popular Print in Early Modern Germany and England

Who, or what, is a witch? Belief in witches and witchcraft can be found, in some form, throughout history across the globe.[1] Yet a scholarly consensus on what exactly defines a witch remains elusive. Even contemporaries during the early modern European witch-hunts – which claimed the lives of roughly 45,000 people between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries – struggled to find a coherent definition of a witch.[2] The difference of opinion was not a simple separation between so-called ‘popular’ and ‘elite’ thinking. Rather, ideas about witches and witchcraft varied significantly at every level of society. Historians have long been interested in untangling the complex web of meanings surrounding witchcraft, but extant sources pose a problem when trying to explore the identity of the witches themselves. Even witches’ confessions, recorded in trial documents and news reports in the first person, are not unmediated windows on their thoughts and feelings.[3] Trial records are full of silences. Since questions were not often recorded, identifying leading questions and when the questioner has shaped the answers is challenging. Records of trials, whether they be court documents or news reports, often underwent significant editing, translation, and shaping to present a coherent narrative.[4] Some scholars argue that, by seeking signs of resistance in the records, it is possible to identify some semblance of the witch’s own ideas and agency.[5] This article, however, explores how the identity of the witch was constructed and created by others – namely, the writers and printers of witchcraft news reports.

This article examines such reports about witchcraft, from Germany and England, between 1560 and 1650. The witch-hunts in Germany and England could both be considered exceptional for different reasons. Germany – or, more properly, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – has been dubbed ‘the heartland of the witch craze’ and ‘the mother of witches’: approximately 25,000 people were executed for the crime of witchcraft there.[6] The picture in England was different: around 1000 people were tried, and approximately 500 executed by hanging.[7] For some scholars, the comparatively mild approach to witch-hunting, and what they view as a lack of popular acceptance of the diabolic nature of witchcraft – that is, the notion that witches’ power was derived from making a pact with the Devil and Devil-worship marked England out as distinct from mainland Europe.[8] Of course, the suggestion that either was exceptional implies that there were norms of witch-hunting in other parts of Europe, but decades of detailed witchcraft research demonstrate that every country and region had its own idiosyncrasies in its approaches to witch-hunting. While the scale of witch-hunting differed considerably in Germany and England, the two countries also shared several characteristics. Both experienced significant religious upheaval, because of the Reformation. They also experienced significant political upheaval in the form of civil strife and warfare, including the Thirty Years’ War in central Europe (1618 – 1648) and the British Civil Wars (1642 – 1651).[9]  As will become clear in this paper, these periods of conflict coincided with significant witch-hunts in the respective countries. Both also had vibrant print industries. In England, this industry was concentrated primarily (although not solely) in London, while in Germany several print centres emerged including Augsburg, Nuremberg, Erfurt, Leipzig, and Cologne. These print centres, coupled with developments in communication networks, and cheaper production of paper, led to a growing popular print industry by the second half of the sixteenth century.[10]

The news reports on witchcraft discussed here were part of this wider growth in print. More specifically, they belong to the genre of crime reporting, alongside reports of other lurid and serious crimes such as murder. They were printed in the form of short pamphlets (approximately eight pages), chapbooks, single-sheet broadsheets, and ballads. Such documents often claimed to be ‘truthful’ (wahrhaftig) and ‘authentic’ (glaubwürdig), but they were not objective factual reports.[11] Rather, they were literary constructions, moulded by their authors (who were, in most cases, anonymous) to appeal to their readers and to present certain perspectives. Such representation was only indirectly related to actual events; pamphlets and ballads tended to report only the most sensational and atypical cases because they were likely to attract buyers.[12] It should not be assumed, therefore, that these accounts are simply reflections of existing ideas. The value of these sources for studying witchcraft in Germany has been demonstrated by Wolfgang Behringer, Harald Sipek, Ursula-Maria Krah, Robert Walinski-Kiehl, and Abaigéal Warfield.[13] Similar arguments have been made by Barbara Rosen, Marion Gibson, Carla Suhr, James Sharpe, and Charlotte-Rose Millar regarding witchcraft in England.[14] Witch news reports were accessible to a wider audience than the learned treatises that have often been the focus of witchcraft research; they were cheaper, shorter, and often illustrated or written with a tune to be sung aloud, ensuring that their message could be disseminated beyond the literate elite. They offer, therefore, the opportunity to explore what the wider populace learned about witchcraft. Millar has recently demonstrated the importance of these sources for exploring witch identities, offering an insight into male witches in English witchcraft pamphlets and highlighting the need for diabolism to be integrated into our understanding of English witchcraft.[15]

While this essay echoes Millar’s conclusions, it goes further by closely comparing German and English witch identities. Such comparison has not been undertaken previously. Comparative research remains rare in witchcraft scholarship, despite notable studies including the works of Johannes Dillinger, Laura Stokes, and Louise Nyholm Kallestrup demonstrating the merits of the approach.[16] Historiographical reviews of both English and German witchcraft note the potential for comparative work to yield new insights.[17]  This study provides convincing evidence for commonalities between German and English witch identities, while acknowledging and explaining differences. In doing so, it deepens our understanding of witchcraft in both countries, provides a framework to consider overarching trends in a way that is not possible with regional case studies, and highlights the potential of comparative research in the field of witchcraft. It asks what characteristics pamphleteers in both countries considered to be quintessential to the witch. It also considers how the genre of crime reporting and the intentions and priorities of pamphleteers shaped their approach to witch identities.

The essay is divided into four parts. Part one investigates pamphleteers’ approach to sex and gender, aspects of witch identity central in the historiography; part two considers how the need for sensational and shocking stories influenced the choices made by pamphleteers, and compares a sensational case that was reported in both countries; part three looks at the wider witch identity and considers the extent to which the identity broke down during times of intense witch-hunting; finally, part four shows the centrality of diabolism and evil nature in the witch identity, and argues that the moralistic and religious tone of the pamphlets explains their emphasis on these characteristics. Ultimately, the essay demonstrates that, while they are not identical, there are clear overlaps in the witch identities created by German and English pamphleteers.

What the Devil cannot do himself he does through an old woman’: Sex and Gender in Witchcraft Reports

In Germany and England, the female criminal was an anomaly, although the percentage of men and women prosecuted varied in different localities. According to Jeanette Kamp, some major European cities such as London, Leiden, and Glasgow had relatively high proportions of female criminals (30 to 50 percent), but others, such as Frankfurt am Main, had a much lower rate of female prosecution (22 percent).[18] Nevertheless, the majority of those who were officially prosecuted were men.[19] Men and women were also traditionally accused of different crimes. Men were the chief offenders in major crimes including treason, heresy, and murder. Women tended to be involved in crimes which undermined public order, such as slander, scolding, sexual impropriety, or property offences.[20] Two serious crimes, however, were closely associated with women: infanticide and witchcraft. In England, 90 percent of those executed for witchcraft were women.[21] In Germany, the figure was closer to 80 percent, although this masks significant regional variations across the Empire.[22]

The connection between witches and women has prompted much debate. In the 1960s and ‘70s, second-wave feminists viewed the witch as evidence of the longstanding oppression of women by patriarchal structures. Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly argued that the witch-hunts were ‘gynocide’, claimed erroneously that the hunts cost the lives of nine million women, and suggested that the high proportion of widows and spinsters among the accused is evidence that witch-hunts targeted women ‘whose crime [was] independence’.[23] These claims have been criticised for their ahistorical use of terms such as misogyny and patriarchy, neglect of archival evidence, and their refusal to treat male witches as a worthy subject of investigation.[24] They did, however, highlight the need to investigate relationships across sex, gender, and witchcraft properly. Subsequent explorations have added depth and nuance to our understanding of the connections.[25] Significant work has been done to integrate male witches and masculinities into discussions.[26] Considerations of gender and witchcraft also increasingly emphasise the need to move away from simple binaries, and to explore ‘how and to what extent gender was intrinsic to the identity of the witch’.[27]

Julian Goodare suggests that different ideas about witches and women existed at learned and popular levels.[28] Because witchcraft news reports appealed to both learned and popular audiences, it is worth considering how they navigated the relationship between witchcraft and women. The majority of German and English news reports published between 1560 and 1650 solely discuss female witches. Woodcut illustrations – important because they communicated ideas to illiterate or semi-literate audiences – feature primarily women. The Examination and Confession of Certaine Witches (1566), for example, which warned its readers about ‘feminine dames […] whom sathan hath infect’, included depictions of each of the three women who feature in the text.[29] Another, A Rehearsall Both Straung and True (1579), contains two depictions of women feeding animals or alongside demon-like creatures.[30] In Germany, the title page of A Truthful Report from the Town of Osnabrück (1588) shows a woman, whose crooked stance and supporting stick gives her an aged appearance, reaching out to a scaly, horned creature, presumably the Devil.[31] The image bears a resemblance to the woodcut showing a woman and the Devil embracing in Ulrich Molitor’s Of Witches and Diviner Women (first published 1489), indicating perhaps that printers took inspiration in their depictions of witches from learned treatises.[32] Another German woodcut, on the title page of A Truthful Report Concerning Wicked Witches (1571) shows four women, naked or barely dressed, with long flowing hair, gathered around a cooking pot with bones strewn on the ground around them.[33] The nakedness, loose hair, and the cooking pot are all symbols which Charles Zika suggests represented the connection between witchcraft and women in art during the late fifteenth century.[34] These features once again indicate that ideas about witches and women from other learned sources were adopted and disseminated in these pamphlets. The connection between witches and women is not restricted to visual imagery. It is sometimes explicitly stated in the text. Several German reports from the late 1570s and early 1580s, for example, include the phrase ‘as the old saying goes, what the devil cannot do himself, he does through an old woman’.[35] This statement, presented as received wisdom, implies that writers were simply reflecting a popular notion that old women were in league with the Devil and were, therefore, archetypal witches.

Yet it is important not to take such statements at face value. Some pamphleteers appear to have actively curated an image of the witch as exclusively female, disregarding the facts of the events that they were reporting. Of the 72 reports surveyed for this paper, 24 (thirteen English and eleven German) include references to men accused of or executed for the crime of witchcraft. In some cases, however, male witches are relatively downplayed or overlooked. The clearest example is two English pamphlets from 1579 discussing a trial in Windsor. The first is A Rehearsall Straung and True. This pamphlet names ‘fower notorious witches’ on its title page: Elizabeth Stile alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Devell, and Mother Margaret.[36] The text provides the testimony of Elizabeth Stile, who begins by naming other witches. The first name she gives is Father Rosimond.[37] Father Rosimond reappears later in Elizabeth’s confession, as she describes meeting with the other witches to perform ‘heinous and vilanous practices’: he is, once again, the first person she names.[38] A Brief Treatise Containing the Most Strange and Horrible Cruelty of Elizabeth Stile alias Rockingham and her Confederates (1579) discusses the same events. It is written by Richard Galis, an apparent first-hand victim of the witches. Galis also refers to Father Rosimond. He describes seeking Father Rosimond’s advice about suspected sorcery and witchcraft, indicating that Father Rosimond acted as a cunning man.[39] Galis reports that Elizabeth named ‘diverse men as well as women, that used to do much harm by sorcery, witchcraft, and enchantments.’[40] In both pamphlets, however, Elizabeth’s naming of Father Rosimond as a witch is downplayed in the overall narrative. The pamphlets inform readers that Elizabeth and three other women that she named were executed, but Father Rosimond’s fate remains unclear. Galis’s choice of language makes his position clear. He talks of how the ‘sisters’ gathered to perform their sorcery – a gathering at which Elizabeth states Father Rosimond was present – and, in his conclusion, warns his readers about the ‘daughters of the devil’.[41] The reader is left with the distinct impression that witches are women.

A similar technique can be observed in a German pamphlet – A True and Authentic Report: How 225 Women were Burned in the Year 1582 – which reported numerous witch trials in the south of the Empire. The word choice in the title is significant. The writer used the German Weiber which translates as ‘women’ or, alternatively, ‘hags’.[42] Different terms which include both men and women, such as Unholden (fiends), appear in other German pamphlet titles.[43] The choice of Weiber here suggests that the author of this pamphlet wanted to place emphasis on the fact that the witches were female despite the fact that within the text there are scattered references to male witches. Indeed, the report states that ‘44 women and three men’ were captured and burned in the county of Montbéliard.[44] It also mentions a male sorcerer (Hexenmeister) in Colmar.[45] At the end of the report, however, the author warns of Satan’s power over ‘his weak instruments of the female sex’.[46] Evidently, this pamphlet’s author felt that sex was a defining component of witch identity. In both English and German sources, then, there is a clear emphasis on female witches and male witches’ roles are downplayed. Why exactly did pamphleteers in both countries choose to emphasise female witches in this way?

‘The most monstrous act that ever man heard of’: Sensationalism and shock in the shaping of witch identities

The attention given to female witches can be explained, at least partially, by the conventions of the crime reporting genre to which these sources belong. Alongside claims to be ‘truthful’, reports emphasise the shocking nature of their stories using terms like ‘wonderful’, ‘strange’, and ‘terrifying’.[47] The juxtaposition of truth and shock leads Warfield to characterise such sources as ‘a forerunner for our own modern-day fascination with “true crime” series and documentaries’.[48] Attention-grabbing headlines ensured the purchase of the pamphlet in an increasingly competitive market; put another way, they were the early modern equivalent of ‘clickbait’. Andrew Pettegree suggests that there was ‘a particular fascination with the crimes of women […] because they were so rare’.[49] Several scholars have noted that the audience for such cheap print was ‘socially variegated’ and ‘assumed a broad social consensus of shared values’.[50] Yet the people most likely to purchase these documents, especially in the earlier years of the period examined here – and the audience, therefore, that printers were particularly seeking to entice – were ‘the literate upper levels of early modern society.’[51] For members of this stratum of society who had achieved some level of security and comfort, news pamphlets like these witchcraft reports ‘spoke to [their] deepest fears of attacks on established social and gender hierarchies.’[52] Reporting on witchcraft offered an ideal opportunity for pamphleteers and printers to tap into the market for dramatic tales of women who had contravened societal norms, which may go some way to explaining why writers chose to only mention female witches in the titles of their pamphlets in the examples above. Criminal women were more sensational than criminal men, and the reports on such women nurtured the anxieties of upper-class men who sought to maintain their positions within the social order.

The role of sensationalism in moulding the witch identities in these reports is illustrated by the fact that, where male witches do feature prominently, the stories were especially sensational and shocking. Both German and English reports discussing male witches accuse them of a litany of dreadful crimes. The English pamphlet discussing Lewis Gaufredy, a French priest who was convicted for witchcraft, emphasises his duplicitousness and how he used his diabolic powers to seduce and rape women.[53] A German pamphlet reporting the prosecution of a family of witches, but primarily focusing on the men in the family, accused them not only of witchcraft, but also multiple counts of murder, theft, and arson.[54] The case of Peter Stumpf, who was executed in Bedburg near Cologne in 1589, is particularly sensational. Alongside sorcery, Stumpf was accused of child-murder, incestuous rape, and cannibalism. His crimes obviously captured the European imagination. Alongside four surviving German reports, his story was translated and printed in Dutch, Danish, and English.[55] The English version, printed in London in 1590, claims to be a translation from a German copy, but does not match any of the extant versions.[56] The survival rate for such ephemeral literature is extremely low, so it is possible that the source text for the translation has simply not survived. It is, however, also plausible that the author simply claimed it was a translation to lend legitimacy to the account, a common tactic when reporting foreign news.[57]

The survival of German and English examples of this case offers a rare opportunity to directly compare witch reporting and the creation of witch identities in the two countries. The extant German copies are three broadsheets (all written in verse) and one pamphlet; the English version is a pamphlet.[58] There are some similarities across the five sources. All report Stumpf’s crimes, including the murder of thirteen children, eating his son’s brain, and sleeping with his daughter. All proclaim the incredible nature of the tale: one German broadsheet talks of Stumpf’s ‘unspeakable shame and vice’, while another claims his story is ‘too terrifying to hear’; the English pamphlet reports that Stumpf ‘did more mischeefe and cruelty then would be credible, although high Germany hath been forced to talke the truth thereof.’[59] Both the German and the English texts give the impression that Stumpf was, in a twisted way, a celebrity. One of the broadsheets is written from Stumpf’s own perspective, offering a vicarious insight into the imagined mindset of a serial killer.[60] The English version describes him as a ‘most wicked sorcerer’.[61] According to Sara Barker, focusing the story on a central character was a common technique in news reporting, allowing the reader to create a personal connection.[62]

There are, however, some differences. As Warfield has observed, the English version is far more detailed than any of the German accounts.[63] Comparing the German pamphlet with the English one, the German account spends just two of eight pages discussing Stumpf, before moving on to discuss witch trials happening elsewhere.[64] The English pamphlet devotes nineteen pages solely to discussing Stumpf, providing far more detail about his life, his deeds, failed attempts to capture him, and his final demise. The English pamphlet is particularly hyperbolic in its descriptions of Stumpf: he is ‘a most wicked sorcerer’, he lusted after his daughter ‘most unnaturally, and cruelly committed most wicked incest with her’, and the murder and cannibalisation of his son was ‘the most monstrous act that ever man heard of.’[65]

The extra detail provided in the English report may partially be to aid the reliability of the report, given the foreign origins of the tale. Yet this level of detail and hyperbole is also found in other English witch reports examined for this paper. Similar exaggerations are found in the news ballad from 1628 reporting the murder of Doctor Lambe, an associate of the Duke of Buckingham who was widely believed to be a sorcerer: the ballad describes him as ‘the Devill of our nation’ and states that ‘such a wicked wretch/in England hath liv’d seldom’.[66] These hyperbolic descriptions are not reserved for male witches. In Thomas Potts’s report on the witches of Lancaster, published in 1613, he describes the witchcraft performed there by both male and female witches as ‘the most barbarous and damnable practices’, and labels one of the accused witches, Elizabeth Demdike, as ‘the most dangerous and malitious witch’.[67] Another early English report from 1592 is titled A Most Wicked Worke of a Wretched Witch (the like whereof none can record these manie yeeres in England.).[68] The length of English witch reports is also notable. While the vast majority of the German reports examined for this paper were between eight and sixteen pages long, the length of the English reports varies considerably. It is not uncommon for English witch reports to devote several pages to the description of each individual witch’s character and misdeeds.[69]

The differences between the German and English pamphlets discussing the Stumpf case are, therefore, indicative of a wider difference between German and English witch reports, and one which has a significant impact on the way they treat witch identities and construct sensational stories: scale. In the German version, Stumpf is a case that, while admittedly notable because of his sex and the severity of his crimes, is one of multiple cases of witchcraft across the Empire. The discussion is, therefore, fairly brief. Most German pamphlets report the trials and executions of multiple witches in different regions; they do not tend to focus heavily on individuals’ motivations and lives, but instead emphasise the widespread devastation and threat posed by the witches collectively. The sensationalism which printers needed to sell their stories comes, in these instances, from the extensive and growing nature of the problem. English witch reports, by contrast, tend to report on only one trial in a particular locality and, consequently, they spend more time discussing the individuals involved in the trials. The sensationalism in these reports is more tied to individuals’ failures to conform to societal norms. As a result, the individual witch identity appears more important and more stable in the English pamphlets than it does in the German reports. Yet what characteristics formed part of this identity, and how far were these identities truly fixed in either country?

‘Men and women, young and old, poor and rich’: Breakdown of the Witch Identity

Thus far this article has explored gendering and sensationalism in print. Sex and the gendering of witch identity have dominated historical discussions. In examining the pamphlets, it is clear that they are also the individual characteristics that both English and German witch pamphlets most commonly make reference to: even if German sources discuss large groups of witches, the gendering of the language chosen gives some indication as to the sex of the witches. Historians have, however, highlighted that witch identities were multifaceted.[70]  Historians of both German and English witchcraft have, for example, noted a high proportion of old women among the accused.[71] In many cases, the specific age of the witch is not mentioned in the pamphlets examined for this paper. Yet often when age is mentioned the accused is notably old. A New Report from Bernburg (1580), for example, discusses ‘three old women’, one of whom was 90 years old.[72] Another German account discussing a witch and a Jesuit claims that the witch was 73 years old.[73] In England, Elizabeth Stile – discussed above – was 65 years old.[74] In The Apprehension and Confession of Three Notorious Witches (1589), the only person whose age is recorded is Joan Cunney (80 years old).[75] According to Raisa Maria Toivo, descriptions of witches as old, poor, or lame ‘may have been made to fit the popular notion of how a witch should be rather than a genuinely accurate portrayal.’[76] The way that pamphleteers provide information about the age of the accused when they are particularly old, and are silent on the ages of other witches, supports Toivo’s suggestion that such sources created an idea of what witches ought to have been (in the eyes of the intended audience) rather than simply reflecting reality.

Poverty is another characteristic mentioned by Toivo. This characteristic is also not mentioned by pamphleteers as frequently as sex or gender, but some English pamphlets do draw a clear connection between poverty, lack of education, and witchcraft, as The Witches of Northamptonshire (1612) demonstrates. The author states that those tempted into witchcraft are ‘of the meanest, and the basest sort both in birth and breeding, so are they the most uncapable of any instruction to the contrary’.[77] One witch, Agnes Brown, is described as ‘of poore parentage and poorer education’; another, Arthur Bill, is labelled ‘a wretched, poor man, both in state and mind.’[78] Perhaps because of the differences in scale of the events they are describing, the German pamphlets do not emphasise poverty in the same way. More often, German reports state that witches were ‘poor and rich’.[79] References to rich, handsome, and stately witches can also be found in several German pamphlets in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.[80] These examples indicate that the German witch identity was broader and more malleable that its English counterpart.

While the witch identity in Germany seems to have been comparatively flexible, some German witchcraft historians have suggested that the stereotype broke down entirely during so-called witch panics.[81] This argument was first made by Hans Christian Erik Midelfort, who focused on the increased number of men among the accused during the large-scale witch-hunts in the southern parts of the Empire in the 1610s and 1620s.[82] The reports published in these decades evoke paranoia and fear in their characterisation of witches. One from 1616 states that ‘men and women, young and old, poor and rich, have been executed and burned because of their witchcraft and sorcery’.[83] Similar sentiments are found in the Certain Account of Witch Burnings in the Territory of Bamberg (1628), which describes how ‘gentlemen as well as women’ were burned, and claims that ‘many are arrested daily […] rich, poor, beautiful, men, and women.’[84] A year earlier, A True and Thorough Report from the Bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg (1627), warned that anyone could be a witch. The pamphlet opens by lamenting the discovery of ‘many witch men and women’ (vil Hexen Mann und Weib) and explains that  family members could not be certain about whether their relatives were witches.[85] It lists the professions of several witches, including a grocer (ein Kramer), a butcher (ein Metzger), a tanner (ein Gerber), and a schoolmaster (ein Schulmeister).[86]  Taken together, these pamphlets appear to reflect a change in the witch stereotype because pamphleteers specifically emphasised the diverse characteristics of those accused of witchcraft, rather than isolating particular traits.

England never experienced witch-hunts on the same scale as those in Germany. There was, nevertheless, a peak in witch-hunting during the 1640s due to a breakdown of law linked to the British Civil Wars and the zealous witch-hunting of Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne.[87] 100 people were executed in the East Anglia trials, carried out by Hopkins and Stearne in Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk between 1645 and 1647; this figure amounts to a fifth of the total witchcraft executions in England across the early modern period.[88] During these trials, witch reports also reflect a shift in witch identities away from the old, poor, ill-educated woman. More male witches feature in pamphlets published during this decade than any other time.[89] One 1643 report begins by stating that ‘many are in a belief, that this silly sex of women can by no means attaine to that so vile and damned a practise of sorcery, and Witch-craft, in regard of their illiteratenesse and want of learning, which many men have by great learning done.’[90] That the author deemed it necessary to justify the existence of female witches suggests there has been a significant change in thought about what witchcraft is and who can perform it. Another pamphlet, printed in 1645, lists the trials of several groups of witches in various parts of England including Norfolk and Suffolk. This pamphlet, commenting on numerous trials, is more in keeping with the German style of witch reporting than the English, an indication of the shift in scale of witch-hunting in England.[91] In one of the cases reported in this pamphlet, the witch is not an impoverished old woman but is instead described as ‘a gentlewoman or a great lady’.[92]

How far do these examples truly represent a breakdown of the witch stereotype? As Alison Rowlands notes, male witches exist outside major witch-panics; similarly, many other characteristics highlighted in the examples from the 1610s and 20s are present in earlier reports.[93] It may be unusual to see so many varied characteristics side-by-side as they are in the German reports from the 1610s and 20s, but the potential for the broader witch identity is arguably present throughout the reports, as illustrated above. When the wider corpus of German witch reports is considered, the witch stereotype – that is, the idea that the witch identity was largely fixed and narrowly defined as an old, poor, socially-isolated woman – seems to be an illusion. This period represents, rather than a breakdown of the stereotype, an intensification of the enduring flexibility of the German witch identity. Scholars of English witchcraft have expressed similar misgivings about the extent to which the trials of the 1640s can be truly considered atypical. Sharpe argues that, in fact, ‘the alleged witches […] were firmly in the English mainstream’, and Millar agrees that while the period was unusual it did not include anything that had not previously appeared in witchcraft print.[94] The broader witch identities shown in the 1640s English pamphlets are arguably an amalgamation of the possible identities that appear in earlier pamphlets. One of the earliest English pamphlets, published in 1566, features a man accused of witchcraft and argues that ‘not onely simple people have been falsely seduced and superstitiously led’, foreshadowing the emphasis on learned and elite individuals seen in the 1640s pamphlets.[95]

Close analysis of the witch reports from both countries indicates, therefore that the periods of crisis in each respective country unlocked the potential, which had always been present, for flexible witch identities. While some individual characteristics were more closely associated with witchcraft at certain points or in certain reports, the association was not consistent over time. The lack of consensus on which individual characteristics were synonymous with witchcraft that emerges in these pamphlets is actually logical. The ambiguity of the witch is a significant factor in its power to inspire fear. By failing to tie the witch to any one group of society, the news reports contribute to the sense that witchcraft was ever-present and posed a significant threat to all. The role of fear in shaping witch identities explains why they were at their most flexible at times of heightened anxiety about witchcraft. The adaptability of the witch identity is perhaps more obvious in the German reports because of their tendency to focus on several trials at once, meaning individual pamphlets can reflect a diverse range of individuals accused of witchcraft. Individual English pamphlets may create the illusion of a fixed witch identity, but by considering the corpus as a whole, it becomes clear that the situation was more complex.

A witch is one that worketh by the Devil’: Diabolic Identities

Although German and English witch reports did not link witches to one social group, comparison shows that there was a characteristic which pamphleteers in both countries considered quintessential to the witch identity: the witch’s connection with the Devil and their fundamentally evil nature. The connection between witchcraft, diabolism, and heresy is well-established in German scholarship. Imperial law, codified in the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina or Carolina Code (1532), distinguished between harmful and non-harmful magic and only punished the former with death.[96] In practice, however, territorial rulers across the Empire introduced their own legal codes concerning witchcraft. Laws introduced in the Electorate of Saxony in 1572, for example, stated that sorcery was forbidden in the Bible and that ‘those who make a pact with the devil – even if they harm no one with their sorcery – must be executed by fire’.[97] In England, the exact connection between diabolism, witchcraft, and heresy is disputed. Like the Carolina Code, the Elizabethan Witchcraft Act (1563) distinguished between those who performed harmful and non-harmful magic, punishing the former with death on their second offence.[98] The act refers to the existence of ‘many fantasticall and devilishe persons’ but does not specifically link witchcraft with devil-worship.[99] The Jacobean Witchcraft Act (1604) called for ‘more severe punishing’ and removed the distinction between harmful and non-harmful magic.[100] This act mentions consulting with evil and wicked spirits but stops short of placing diabolism at the centre of witchcraft.[101] Clive Holmes suggests that the courts were primarily concerned with ‘harm rather than heresy’, a distinction which seems to suggest significant difference between German and English conceptions of witchcraft.[102]

Recently, however, scholars including Millar and Sharpe have used witchcraft pamphlets to argue that the centrality of diabolism to popular English witch beliefs needs to be re-examined. Sharpe suggests that Christina Larner’s notion of a ‘popular demonic’, the development of well-rooted popular demonology in Scotland, can also be found in England.[103] Millar argues that understanding the role played by diabolism in English witchcraft is key to incorporating male witches into the broader paradigm, because both male and female witches were ultimately defined by their relationship with demonic familiars (a spirit – often in the form of a domestic animal – that made a bond with the witch and did their bidding).[104] The pamphlets certainly draw a clearer connection between the Devil and witchcraft than the statutes. A True and Just Recorde (1582) offers a particularly stark example: the author is openly critical of the leniency of English law, describing witches as ‘that hellish liverie’ and labelling witchcraft ‘a devilish and damnable practice.’[105] They praise ‘magistrates of forren lands’ for treating witchcraft with the severity it deserves.[106] Gibson has noted that this pamphlet is unusual because it specifically draws on ideas from mainland Europe.[107] Yet it is far from the only English pamphlet to consider witchcraft tantamount to heresy and devil-worship. The Witches of Northamptonshire (1612), for instance, offers this definition of witchcraft:

‘A witch is one that worketh by the Devill, or by some Devillish or Curious act, either hurting or healing, revealing things secret, or foretelling things to come, which the Devill hath devised to entangle, and to snare men’s souls withal unto damnation.’[108]

These ideas are remarkably similar to German reports which frequently label witches as ‘devil-worshippers’, the ‘devil’s servants’, or ‘instruments of the Devil’. The connection to the Devil is more explicit in the German reports, often featuring descriptions of meetings between the Devil and groups of witches. Such meetings with the Devil in human form are rare in English pamphlets outside of 1645-50, although the familiar arguably performs a similar role. Additionally, a similar providential explanation for witches’ power exists in German and English reports. In Germany, Lutz’s Concerning Wicked Witches outlines the hierarchy within which witches operate. The hierarchy is as follows: the primary cause of misfortune in God, who permits; the secondary cause is Satan, who brings the misfortune about; the third is the witches, who consent and cooperate with Satan.[109] An analogous explanation of witches’ power is found in the English The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower (1619), which states that ‘divers impious and facinorous [i.e. extremely wicked] mischiefs have been effectuated through the instruments of the Diuell, by the permission of God.’[110]

Clearly, then, not only are Millar and Sharpe correct in their identification of diabolism in English witchcraft pamphlets, but this comparative study demonstrates that there are evident parallels in the characterisation of witches and their connection with the Devil in England and Germany. These resemblances can also be seen in the German and English witch reports’ emphasis on the evil and disruptive nature of the witch. Many English witches are portrayed as outsiders, disliked by their community and driven by revenge. An early English report, for example, describes the examination and confession of three women accused of witchcraft: Elizabeth Francis, Agnes Waterhouse, and Joan Waterhouse.[111] Elizabeth and Agnes are both described as living ‘unquietly’ with their respective spouses, and confess to disposing of their husbands with Satan’s aid; Agnes and Joan both confess to using their witchcraft to take revenge on neighbours who had refused them charity.[112] These descriptions are typical of the deviant quality associated with witches in the English sources. Although the German pamphlets focus more on groups of witches rather than individuals, their wickedness and evil nature is unmistakable. Several pamphlets discuss the witches’ plots to harm and kill people. The idea that witches particularly target babies, new mothers, and older people – presented in many pamphlets including the Expanded Witch Report (1590) – serves to emphasise their implicit wickedness because of their decision to target the weak, innocent, and most vulnerable members of society.[113] Johannes Dillinger suggests that, rather than seeking commonalities in the social characteristics of those accused of witchcraft, scholars should consider that the individual’s reputation for conflict or disruption was the key to their identification as a witch: he terms this the ‘Evil People Paradigm’.[114] A similar argument has been put forward by Rowlands, who argues that the idea of the witch as a ‘bad neighbour’ is ‘a more useful conceptual category than that of the masculine or feminine “other”’.[115] Comparison of English and German witch reports supports the validity of these arguments, suggesting that a person’s moral background and bad nature were central to the witch identity in both countries.

The notion of a diabolic, wholly evil sect was undoubtedly shocking, and as sensationalism has been emphasised throughout the printed works examined here, it is probable that this factor played some role in the ways that witches were characterised. Yet, while sensationalism was important to engage readers, the role of these pamphlets was not merely to entertain. It is unlikely that anyone could have to survived solely on profits made from writing these news pamphlets; it is also unlikely, therefore, that such pamphlets were written purely for commercial gain.[116] Why, then, were these pamphlets written, and how does this influence their construction of witch identities? Several scholars have noted that crime pamphlets, including witchcraft reports, were moralistic and didactic, bearing a close resemblance to sermons in the way that the stories they reported had a clear moral message for their readers.[117] This moral purpose is crucial to understanding the focus of the pamphleteers. These pamphlets did not simply seek to report events, but also to instruct their readers on sinful behaviour, to remind them of the cosmic struggle between God and his foes, and to exhort them to good Christian living.[118] The German and English witch pamphlets often contain laments about sin, other crimes, and the state of the world, and commonly conclude with calls to God to protect them against the ‘tricks and wiles of the Devil and his followers’.[119] The witches are portrayed as a threatening infestation; such ideas are neatly encapsulated in the Expanded Witch Report, which claims that ‘nearly every city, market, and town in all of Germany […] is full of these vermin and devil-worshippers’.[120] Similar rhetoric can be found in an English pamphlet which describes how God ‘weeds [the witches] out in every cell they lurke’.[121] Witch pamphlets in both Germany and England ultimately construct witch identities in a very similar way, with the diabolic connections and evil nature of the witch at the centre of their identity. In doing so, the pamphleteers construct the witch as a wholly evil, diabolic other, acting as a foil for the good Christian readers to whom they appealed and sought to influence.

Conclusion

This article has explored the creation and shaping of witch identities in German and English witch reports from 1560 to 1650. The topic is challenging and complex, making it impossible to cover every aspect of the witch identity sufficiently here. Many other areas would benefit from further exploration. It would be interesting, for example, to examine how the pamphlets in the two countries explained the act of becoming a witch; is it innate, inherited, or learned? Linking to the notion that witchcraft could be inherited, there is also significant scope to explore the notion of the ‘witch family’, a concept discussed elsewhere and a recurring theme in the reports in both countries. Additionally, the role of reputation, briefly mentioned in this piece as it relates to an individual’s bad nature, could be considered in greater depth.

Nevertheless, this article offers the first comprehensive comparison of these German and English witch reports. This comparative approach offers new insights into commonalities and contrasts in English and German constructions of witch identities that had not previously been fully explored. To allow for sufficient and detailed comparison, it has limited its focus to the aspects of witch identity that have drawn the interest of witchcraft historians and emerge most clearly in the pamphlets from both countries. Undoubtedly, one of the most frequently discussed characteristics of the witch is their sex and gender. In this case, clear similarities emerge in both German and English witch reports. Although most witches prosecuted were women in both countries, part one above demonstrates that, even if male witches were present in the trials, pamphleteers in both countries chose to downplay their role and emphasise instead the feminine connection with witchcraft. This tendency to highlight female witches might have been influenced by the need for the pamphlets to catch the eye of their audience. As part two, and particularly the example of Peter Stumpf, illustrates, pamphleteers would put male witches front and centre in their narratives if the story was especially shocking or sensational. Once again, the idea that sensationalism was a driving force in the writing of witch reports applies to both German and English reports, although the Stumpf case and other English examples indicate that the English reports drew their sensationalism from individual actors more than the German sources did.

This observation draws attention to the differences in scope and scale of the German and English witch reports. These differences, on the surface, had a significant influence on the way that witch identities were presented in the two countries. German sources often discussed larger groups of witches or several different trials in one report; the broader scope of these reports meant that the witch identity emerging from individual reports was often fairly diverse, and not limited to a single social group. This diversity was especially evident during the peak of the trials in the south of the Empire during the 1610s and 20s, but this does not represent a total breakdown of the witch stereotype in German reports. Rather, the fear and anxiety that this period generated brought the diverse witch identities to the forefront of the pamphlets to a greater extent than previously, as pamphleteers sought to remind readers that anyone in their community could be a witch. The English witch reports, tending to focus on a small group of witches or on one isolated trial, give the initial impression of a stronger, fixed witch identity centred on impoverished old women. The reports published in the 1640s at first glance seem to represent a departure from this fixed stereotype. As in Germany, however, this period merely realised the potential for more diverse witch identities that had always been present in the English witch reports. The notion that anyone could be a witch was more threatening than was a more limited notion restricting the witch to a small section of society.

Ultimately, both German and English witch reports considered the same characteristics – a connection to the Devil and a wicked nature – to be definitive components of the witch identity. The diabolic connection is more explicit in the German reports which often feature the Devil as a character and include descriptions of the Devil meeting with witches. Nevertheless, scholars such as Millar and Sharpe are correct to highlight the diabolism present in English witchcraft reports. While diabolism may be more implicit than the German accounts, English witch reports frequently describe the witches and their actions as ‘devilish’. Both German and English reports offer similar explanations for the witches’ power, with God giving permission to the Devil to perform harm, who then employs his witches to wreak havoc. The witches in both countries are also presented as wicked or evil, although the way in which the pamphlets convey this idea differs in England and Germany. The reason for emphasising these wicked and devilish characteristics of the witches is clear in light of the purpose of these pamphlets. In portraying the witch as a diabolic other, as ‘vermin and devil-worshippers’, the pamphleteers in both Germany and England created an enemy against whom good Christian readers could unite.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Printed primary sources

Note: Where available, bibliographical references have been provided to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) in England and the Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts (VD16) and the Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachraum erschienenen Drucke des 17. Jahrhunderts (VD17) in Germany.

Anon., A Most Certain, Strange, and true Discovery of a Witch (London, 1643). [ESTC R4848]

Anon., A Rehearsall Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Devell, Mother Margaret, Fower Notorious Witches apprehended at Winsore in the Countie of Berks. (London, 1579). [ESTC S101967]

Anon., A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of one Stubbe Peeter, a Most Wicked Sorcerer (London, 1590). [ESTC S101735]

Anon., ANNO MDLXXXVI. Ist bey Bedbur ein Zauberer geweßen STUMP PETER genant, welcher sich in einen WOLF verwandelt (s.l., 1589). [No VD16 Catalogue Number]

Anon., Augusten Hertzogen zu Sachsen … Verordnungen und Constitutionen des rechtlichen Process (Dresden, 1572).  [VD16 S 895]

Anon., Des allerdurchleuchtigsten, groszmechtigsten vnüberwindlichsten Keyser Karls des Fünfften, vnd des Heyligen Römischen Reichs peinlich Gerichts ordnung:auff den Reichßtägen zu Augspurg vnd Regenspurg, in jaren dreissig vnd zwey vnd dreissig gehalten, auffgericht vnd beschlossen (Frankfurt am Main, 1562) [VD16 D 1081]

Anon., Ein New kläglich Lied von dem grossen Schaden der Unholden So sie in Westphalen zu Aschenbruegk und andern Orten begangen haben in dem jetztwerenden 1583. Jar (Wesel, 1583). [VD16 ZV 11599]

Anon., Ein Warhafftige und gründliche Beschreibung Auß dem Bistumb Würtz und Bamberg Deßgleichen von dem ganzen Fränkischen Kraiß wie man alda so vil hexen Mann vnd Weibspersohnen verbrennen laßt (S.l., 1627). [No VD17 Catalogue Number]

Anon., Ein Warhafftige Zeitung Von etlichen Hexen oder Unholden welche man kürtzlich im Stifft Mäntz zu Ascheburg, Dipperck,Ostum, Rönßhoffen auch andern Orten verbrendt was Ubels sie gestifft und bekandt haben (Frankfurt am Main, 1603). [VD17 1:691858R]

Anon., En forskreckelig oc sand bescriffuelse om mange troldfolck som ere forbrends for deris misgierninger skyld fra det aar 1589 (Copenhagen, 1591).

Anon., Erweyterte Unholden-Zeitung: Kurze Erzelung wie viel der Unholden hin vnd wider/ sonderlich inn dem Obern Teutschland/ gefängklich eingezogen (Ulm, 1590). [VD16 E 3889]

Anon., Gewisser Bericht des Truten und Hexenbrennens Bambergischen Gebiets wie lang es gewehrt: Was für ubels ihrer Außsag nach sie viel Jahr hero an Menschen, Vihe, Früchten und andern verübet was allbereit verbrennet (Schmalkalden, 1628). [VD17 23:293541Q]

Anon., Newe Zeitung aus Berneburgk Schrecklich und abschewlich zu hoeren und zu lesen von dreyen alten Teuffels Bulerin Hexin oder Zauberinnen (s.l., 1580). [VD16 N 624]

Anon., Signes and Wonders from Heaven (London, 1645). [ESTC R232297]

Anon., The Apprehension and Confession of Three Notorious Witches. Arreigned and by Justice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex, the 5. day of Iulye, last past. 1589 (London, 1589). [ESTC S119280]

Anon., The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensforde in the Countie of Essex (London, 1566). [ESTC S2279]

Anon., The Examination, Confession, Triall, and Execution, of Joane Williford, Joan Cariden, and Jane Hott: who were executed at Feversham in Kent, for being witches, on Munday the 29 of September, 1645 (London, 1645). [ESTC R200303]

Anon., The Examination of John Walsh […] upon certayn interrogatories touchyng wytchcrafte and sorcerye (London, 1566) [ESTC S102100]

Anon., The Life and Death of Lewis Gaufredy (London, 1612). [ESTC S102950]

Anon., The Witches of Northamptonshire Agnes Browne. Ioane Vaughan. Arthur Bill. Hellen Ienkenson. Mary Barber. (London, 1612). [ESTC S115086]

Anon., The Wonderful Discouerie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, daughters of Ioan Flower neere Bever Castle (London, 1619). [ESTC S102363]

Anon., Warhaffte und glaubwirdige Zeytung. Wie man in diesem 1582. Jahr wol in die 200. und fuenff und zweyntzig Weiber verbrant hat (Strasbourg, 1582). [VD16 ZV 29564]

Anon., Warhafftige Newe Zeittung auß dem Land Westvahlen von der Stat Ossenbruck wie man da hat auff einen Tag 133. Unholden verbrendt (s.l., 1588). [VD16 W 337]

Anon., Warhafftige und erschreckliche Beschreibung, von einem Zauberer (Stupe Peter genandt) der sich zu einem Wehrwolff hat können machen (Cologne, 1589). [VD16 W 516]

Anon, Warhafftige unnd Erschreckliche Thatten und Handlungen der Lxiij. Hexen unnd Unholden, so zu Wisenstaig, mit dem Brandt gericht worden seindt (Launigen, 1563). [VD16 W 535]

Anon., Warhafftige und Wunderbarlich Newe Zeitung von einem Pauren der sich durch Zauberey des tags siben stund zu ainen Wolff verwandelt hat (Nuremberg, 1589). [No VD16 Catalogue Number]

Anon., Warhafftige und wunderbarliche Newe Zeitung von einem Bawren der sich durch Zauberey deß Tags siben stunnd zu einem Wolff verwandelt hat (Augsburg, 1589). [No VD16 Catalogue Number]

Anon., Witchcrafts, Strange and Wonderfull: Discovering the Damnable Practices of Seven Witches, against the lives of certaine noble personages, and others of this kingdome, as shall appeare in this lamentable history (London, 1635). [ESTC S92558]

Zwo erschreckliche und unerhörte Geschicht, welches in diesem XCCI Jar geschehen ist auff dem Brockersberg, dar sich ahn die hundert tausend Unholden oder Hexen versamlet (Cologne, 1596). [No VD16 Catalogue Number]

Anon., Zwo Hexenzeitung: Die Erste Auß dem Bisthumb Würtzburg, das ist Gründliche Erzehlung wie der Bishoff zu Würtzburg das Hexenbrennen im Franckenlande angefangen […] die Ander Auß dem Hertzogthumb Würtenburg wie der Hertzog zu Würtenberg in unterschiedlichen Stätten das Hexenbrennen auch angefangen (Tübingen, 1616). [VD17 23:626143G]

Anon., Zwo schröckliche Newe Zeitung, die erste ist von dem grewlichen Elendt, so sich in Aschenburck am Maynstrom von Hexen unnd Unholten geschehen (Giessen, 1612). [No VD17 Catalogue Number]

Anon., Zwo Warhafftige newe Zeitungen […] Die andere Zeitung: Eine abschewliche vnd zuuor nie erhoerte erschreckliche Zaubereyen Moerdt vnnd Diebereyen von Vater Mutter zweyen Soehnen vnd zweyen Toechtermaennern geschehen Welche in … Muenchen im Beyerland sind gefaenglich eingezogen worden (Basel, 1600). [VD16 ZV 21490]

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Galis, R., A Brief Treatise Containing the Most Strange and Horrible Cruelty of Elizabeth Stile alias Rockingham and her Confederates (London, 1579). [ESTC S124945]

Kuntz, H., Newe Zeitung von einer Erschrecklicher That, welche zu Dillingen, von einem Jhesuwider, vnd einer Hexen geschehen ist (Basel, 1579). [VD16 ZV 21532]

Kuntz, H., Newe Zeitung von einer Erschrecklicher That, welche zu Dillingen, von einem Jhesuwider, vnd einer Hexen geschehen ist (Urssel, 1580). [VD16 ZV 28968]

Lutz, R., Warhafftige Zeittung Von Gottlosen Hexen Auch Ketzerischen und Teuffels Weibern die zu Schettstadt deß H. Römischen Reichstadt in Elsaß auf den XXII. Herbstmonat deß 1570 Jahrs von wegen ihrer schändtlichen Teuffelsverpflichtung sind verbrennt (s.l, 1571). [VD16 L 7693]

Molitor, U., Von den Unholden oder Hexen (Augsburg, 1508). [VD16 M 5976]

Parker, M., The Tragedy of Doctor Lambe, / The great suposed Coniurer, who was wounded to death by Saylers / and other Lads, on Fryday the 14. of Iune, 1628. And dyed in the / Poultry Counter, neere Cheapside, on the Saturday morning following (London, 1628). [ESTC S126177]

Potts, T., The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster With the arraignement and triall of nineteene notorious witches (London, 16139). [ESTC S114979]

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[1] R. Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear, From the Ancient Times to the Present (London, 2017), pp. 41 – 3.

[2] B. P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (4th edn., London, 2016), p. 23.

[3] L. Kounine, Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender, and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany (Oxford, 2018), p. 7.

[4] M. Gibson, Reading Witchcraft: Stories of Early English Witches (London, 1999), pp. 14 and 36 – 7.

[5] G. Warburton, ‘Gender, Supernatural Power, Agency and the Metamorphoses of the Familiar in Early Modern Pamphlet Accounts of English Witchcraft’, Parergon, 20/2 (2003), p. 118.; Kounine, Imagining the Witch, p. 14.

[6] H. C. Erik Midelfort, ‘Heartland of the Witchcraze: Central and Northern Europe’, History Today, 31/2 (1981), p. 27.;  J. Dillinger, ‘Germany – “The Mother of the Witches”, in J. Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft (London, 2020), p. 94.

[7] J. Sharpe, ‘Witch Hunts in Britain’, in J. Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft (London, 2020), p. 145.

[8] B. Rosen, Witchcraft (London, 1969), p. 19.; Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, pp. 8 and 243.

[9] A. A. O Lynn, ‘Ghosts of War and Spirits of Place: Spectral Belief in Early Modern England and Protestant Germany’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Bristol, 2018), p. 5.

[10] A. Pettegree, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself (London, 2014), p. 2.; H. Droste, ‘How Public Was the News in Early Modern Times?’, in H. Droste & K. Salmi-Niklander (eds.), Handwritten Newspapers: An Alternative Medium during the Early Modern and Modern Periods (Helsinki, 2019), p. 29.

[11] See, for example: W. W., A True and Just Recorde, of the Information, Examination and Confession of all the Witches, taken at S. Ofes in the countie of Essex (London, 1582).; A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a Witch (London, 1643).; Warhafftige vnnd Erschreckliche Thatten vnd Handlungen der Lxiij. Hexen vnnd Unholden, so zu Wisenstaig, mit dem Brandt gericht worden seindt (Launigen, 1563).; Warhaffte und Glaubwirdige Zeytung. Wie man in diesem 1582. Jahr wol in die 200. und fuenff und zweyntzig Weiber verbrant hat (Strasbourg, 1582).

[12] S. Clark, Women and Crime in the Street Literature of Early Modern England (London, 2003), p. 35.

[13] W. Behringer, ‘Witchcraft and the Media’, in M. E. Plummer & R. B. Barnes (eds.), Ideas and Cultural Margins in Early Modern Germany: Essays in Honor of H. C. Erik Midelfort (Farnham, 2009), pp. 217 –36.; H. Sipek, ‘Newe Zeitung. Marginalen zur Flugblatt – und Flugschriftenpublizistik sowie zur Druckgraphik im Kontext der Hexenverfolgung’, in S. Lorenz (ed.), Hexen und Hexenverfolgung im Deutschen Südwesten. Aufsatzband (Ostfildern, 1994), pp. 85 – 92.; U. Krah, ‘Fiktionalität und Faktizität in frühneuzeitlichen Kleinschriften (Einblattdrucke und Flugschriften)’, in K. Moeller & B. Schmidt (eds.), Realität und Mythos: Hexenverfolgung und Rezeptionsgeschichte (Hamburg, 2003), pp. 77 – 87.; R. Walinksi-Kiehl, ‘Pamphlets, Propaganda and Witch-Hunting in Germany, 1560 – 1630’, Reformation, 6/1 (2002), pp. 49 – 74.; A. Warfield, ‘The Media Representation of the Crime of Witchcraft in Early Modern Germany: An Investigation of Non-Periodical Newsheets and Pamphlets, 1533-1669’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2013).

[14] Rosen, Witchcraft.; Gibson, Reading Witchcraft.; C. Suhr, ‘Portrayal of Attitude in Early Modern English Witchcraft Pamphlets’, Studia Neophilogica, 84/1 (2012), pp. 130 – 42.; J. Sharpe, ‘English Witchcraft Pamphlets and the Popular Demonic’, in J. Goodare, R. Voltmer and L. Helene Willumsen (eds.), Demonology and Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Europe (London, 2020), pp. 127 – 47.; C. Millar, Witchcraft, the Devil, and Emotions in Early Modern England (London, 2017).

[15] C. Millar, ‘Diabolic Men: Reintegrating Male Witches into English Witchcraft’, The Seventeenth Century (2020), pp. 1 – 21.

[16] J. Dillinger, ‘Evil People’: A Comparative Study of Witch Hunts in Swabian Austria and the Electorate of Trier, trans. L. Stokes (Charlottesville, VA, 2009).; L. Stokes, Demons of Urban Reform: Early European Witch Trials and Criminal Justice, 1430–1530 (Basingstoke, 2011).; L. N. Kallestrup, Agents of Witchcraft in Early Modern Italy and Denmark (Basingstoke, 2015).

[17] M. Gaskill, ‘Witchcraft Trials in England’, in B. P. Levack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013), p. 289.; T. Robisheaux, ‘The German Witch Trials’ in B. P. Levack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013), p. 196.

[18] J. Kamp, Crime, Gender and Social Control in Early Modern Frankfurt am Main (Leiden 2019), p. 6.

[19] G. Walker & J. Kermode, ‘Introduction’ in J. Kermode & G. Walker (eds.), Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England (London, 1994), p. 4.

[20] Clark, Women and Crime, p. 34.

[21] Sharpe, ‘Witch Hunts in Britain’, p. 151.

[22] Dillinger, ‘Germany – “The Mother of the Witches”’, p. 97.

[23] A. Dworkin, Woman Hating (New York, NY, 1974), pp. 125 – 50. M. Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, with a New Introduction by the author (London, 1991), pp. 179 – 85.

[24] A. Rowlands, ‘Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Europe’, in B. P. Levack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013), pp. 451 -3. L. Apps and A. C. Gow, Gender at the Stake: Male Witches in Early Modern Europe (Manchester, 2003), p. 26.

[25] For a historiographical overview, see: Rowlands, ‘Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Europe’.

[26] See, for example: Apps and Gow, Gender at the Stake. and R. Schulte, Man as Witch: Male Witches in Central Europe, trans. L. Froome-Döring (Basingstoke, 2009).

[27] Kounine, Imagining the Witch, p. 90.

[28] J. Goodare, The European Witch-Hunt (London, 2016), p. 310.

[29] The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensforde in the Countie of Essex (London, 1566), sigs. Aiiiv, [Avir] and Biiir.

[30] A Rehearsall Both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Devell, Mother Margaret, Fower Notorious Witches apprehended at Winsore in the Countie of Berks. (London, 1579), sigs. Ar and Avr.

[31] Warhafftige Newe Zeittung auß dem Land Westvahlen von der Stat Ossenbruck wie man da hat auff einen Tag 133. Unholden verbrendt (s.l., 1588), (unpaginated – p. 1.).

[32] U. Molitor, Von den Uholden oder Hexen (Augsburg, 1508), sig. [Bvv].

[33] R. Lutz, Warhafftige Zeittung Von Gottlosen Hexen Auch Ketzerischen und Teuffels Weibern die zu Schettstadt deß H. Römischen Reichstadt in Elsaß auf den XXII. Herbstmonat deß 1570 Jahrs von wegen ihrer schändtlichen Teuffelsverpflichtung sind verbrennt (s.l, 1571), sig. Ar.

[34] C. Zika, The Appearance of Witchcraft: Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-Century Europe (London, 2007), pp. 12 – 26.

[35] ‘nach dem alten Sprichwort/ Was der Teuffel nicht kan zu wege bringen/ das bringt er durch ein alt Weib zu wege’: H. Kuntz, Newe Zeitung von einer Erschrecklicher That, welche zu Dillingen, von einem Jhesuwider, vnd einer Hexen geschehen ist (Basel, 1579), sig. Aiiir.  H. Kuntz, Newe Zeitung von einer Erschrecklicher That, welche zu Dillingen, von einem Jhesuwider, vnd einer Hexen geschehen ist (Urssel, 1580), sig. Aiiir. Newe Zeitung aus Berneburgk Schrecklich und abschewlich zu hoeren und zu lesen von dreyen alten Teuffels Bulerin Hexin oder Zauberinnen (s.l., 1580), sig. Br.

[36] A Rehearsall Both Straung and True, sig. Ar.

[37] A Rehearsall Both Straung and True, sig. Avv.

[38] A Rehearsall Both Straung and True, sig. [Aviv].

[39] R. Galis, A Brief Treatise Containing the Most Strange and Horrible Cruelty of Elizabeth Stile alias Rockingham and her Confederates (London, 1579), sig. [Ciiiv].

[40] Galis, A Brief Treatise, sig. Dv.

[41] Galis, A Brief Treatise, sigs. Ciiv and [Diiiir].

[42] Warhaffte und Glaubwirdige Zeytung. Wie man in diesem 1582. Jahr wol in die 200. und fuenff und zweyntzig Weiber verbrant hat (Strasbourg, 1582).

[43] See, for example: Ein New kläglich Lied von dem grossen Schaden der Unholden So sie in Westphalen zu Aschenbruegk und andern Orten begangen haben in dem jetztwerenden 1583. Jar (Wesel, 1583) and Ein Warhafftige Zeitung Von etlichen Hexen oder Unholden welche man kürtzlich im Stifft Mäntz zu Ascheburg, Dipperck,Ostum, Rönßhoffen auch andern Orten verbrendt was Ubels sie gestifft und bekandt haben (Frankfurt am Main, 1603).

[44] ‘man hat auch vier und viertzig Weiber und drey Man gefangen/ und den 24. Oct: zu Mimpelgart verbant’: Warhaffte und Glaubwirdige Zeytung, sig. [Aiiir].

[45] Warhaffte und Glaubwirdige Zeytung, sig. [Aiiiir].

[46] ‘dem leydigen Sathan solche gewalt/uber den schwachen Werckzeug weibliches Geschlecht’: Warhaffte und Glaubwirdige Zeytung, sig. [Aiiiir].

[47] See, for example: T. Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster With the arraignement and triall of nineteene notorious witches (London, 1613).;   Witchcrafts, Strange and Wonderfull: Discovering the Damnable Practices of Seven Witches, against the lives of certaine noble personages, and others of this kingdome, as shall appeare in this lamentable history (London, 1635).; Zwo erschreckliche und unerhörte Geschicht, welches in diesem XCCI Jar geschehen ist auff dem Brockersberg, dar sich ahn die hundert tausend Unholden oder Hexen versamlet (Cologne, 1596).

[48] Warfield, ‘The Media Representation of the Crime of Witchcraft’, p. 265.

[49] A. Pettegree, The Invention of News, p. 92.

[50] T. Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550 – 1640 (Cambridge, 1991), p. 3.; J. Wiltenburg, Disorderly Women and Female Power in the Street Literature of Early Modern England and Germany (London, 1992), p. 38.

[51] Pettegree, The Invention of News, p. 93. J. Wiltenburg, ‘True Crime: The Origins of Modern Sensationalism’, American Historical Review, 109/5 (2004), p. 1382.

[52] Pettegree, The Invention of News, p. 94.

[53] The Life and Death of Lewis Gaufredy (London, 1612), sigs. A2r – A4v.

[54] Zwo Warhafftige newe Zeitungen […] Die andere Zeitung: Eine abschewliche vnd zuuor nie erhoerte erschreckliche Zaubereyen Moerdt vnnd Diebereyen von Vater Mutter zweyen Soehnen vnd zweyen Toechtermaennern geschehen Welche in … Muenchen im Beyerland sind gefaenglich eingezogen worden. (Basel, 1600), sigs. Aiiv – Aiiiiv.

[55] ANNO MDLXXXVI. Ist bey Bedbur ein Zauberer geweßen STVMP PETER genant, welcher sich in einen WOLF verwandelt (s.l., 1589).; Warhafftige und wunderbarliche Newe Zeitung von einem Bawren der sich durch Zauberey deß Tags siben stunnd zu einem Wolff verwandelt hat (Augsburg, 1589).; Warhafftige und Wunderbarlich Newe Zeitung von einem Pauren der sich durch Zauberey des tags siben stund zu ainen Wolff verwandelt hat (Nuremberg, 1589).; Warhafftige und erschreckliche Beschreibung, von einem Zauberer (Stupe Peter genandt) der sich zu einem Wehrwolff hat können machen (Cologne, 1589).; J. van Gehlen, Warachtighe ende verschrickelijcke beschryvinge van vele toovenaers, hoe ende waerom men die verbrandt heeft in 1589 (Antwerp, 1589); En forskreckelig oc sand bescriffuelse om mange troldfolck som ere forbrends for deris misgierninger skyld fra det aar 1589 (Copenhagen, 1591).; A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of one Stubbe Peeter, a Most Wicked Sorcerer (London, 1590).

[56] A. Warfield, ‘Witchcraft and the Early Modern Media’, in J. Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft (London, 2020), p. 215.

[57] S. K. Barker, ‘International News Pamphlets’, in A Kesson and E. Smith (eds.), The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2016), pp. 152 – 4.

[58] ANNO MDLXXXVI. Ist bey Bedbur ein Zauberer geweßen STVMP PETER genant.; Warhafftige und wunderbarliche Newe Zeitung von einem Bawren.; Warhafftige und Wunderbarlich Newe Zeitung von einem Pauren .; Warhafftige und erschreckliche Beschreibung, von einem Zauberer .; A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of one Stubbe Peeter.

[59] ‘unsäglich schandt unndt Laster’: ANNO MDLXXXVI. Ist bey Bedbur ein Zauberer geweßen STVMP PETER genant.; ‘schröcklich ist es zu hören an’: Warhafftige vnd wunderbarliche Newe Zeitung von einem Bawren.; A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of one Stubbe Peeter, p. 12.

[60] ANNO MDLXXXVI. Ist bey Bedbur ein Zauberer geweßen STVMP PETER genant.

[61] A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of one Stubbe Peeter, p. 1.

[62] Barker, ‘International News Pamphlets’, p. 150.

[63] Warfield, ‘Witchcraft and the Early Modern Media’, p. 215.

[64] Warhafftige und erschreckliche Beschreibung, von einem Zauberer, sigs. Aiv – Aiir.

[65] A True Discourse. Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of one Stubbe Peeter, pp. 1, 7, and 10.

[66] M. Parker, The Tragedy of Doctor Lambe, / The great suposed Coniurer, who was wounded to death by Saylers / and other Lads, on Fryday the 14. of Iune, 1628. And dyed in the / Poultry Counter, neere Cheapside, on the Saturday morning following (London, 1628).

[67] Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, sig. Br.

[68] G. B, A most wicked worke of a wretched witch (the like whereof none can record these manie yeeres in England.) (London, 1592).

[69] See, for example: W. W., A True and Just Recorde. and The Examination, Confession, Triall, and Execution, of Joane Williford, Joan Cariden, and Jane Hott: who were executed at Feversham in Kent, for being witches, on Munday the 29 of September, 1645 (London, 1645).

[70] Rowlands, ‘Witchcraft and Gender in Early Modern Europe’, p. 466. J. Dillinger, Hexen und Magie (2nd edn., Frankfurt am Main, 2018), p. 126.

[71] K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Belief in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (London, 1971), p. 671.; L. Roper, Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany (London, 2004), p. 161.

[72] Newe Zeitung aus Berneburgk, sig. Aiir.

[73] Kuntz, Newe Zeitung von einer Erschrecklicher That, sig. Av.

[74] A Rehearsall Both Straung and True, sig. Aiiiir.

[75] The Apprehension and Confession of Three Notorious Witches. Arreigned and by Justice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex, the 5. day of Iulye, last past. 1589 (London, 1589), sig. Aiiir.

[76] R. M. Toivo, ‘Witchcraft and Gender’, in J. Dillinger (ed.), The Routledge History of Witchcraft (London, 2020), p. 225.

[77] The Witches of Northamptonshire Agnes Browne. Ioane Vaughan. Arthur Bill. Hellen Ienkenson. Mary Barber. (London, 1612), sig. A3r.

[78] The Witches of Northamptonshire, sig. B2r and Cv.

[79] See, for example: Warhafftige Newe Zeittung auß dem Land Westvahlen von der Stat Ossenbruck.

[80] See, for example: Warhafftige und erschreckliche Beschreibung, von einem Zauberer (Stupe Peter genandt), sig. Aiiir.; Erweyterte Unholden-Zeitung: Kurze Erzelung wie viel der Unholden hin vnd wider/ sonderlich inn dem Obern Teutschland/ gefängklich eingezogen (Ulm, 1590), sig. [Aiiiir].; Zwo schröckliche Newe Zeitung, die erste ist von dem grewlichen Elendt, so sich in Aschenburck am Maynstrom von Hexen unnd Unholten geschehen (Giessen, 1612).  Sig. Aiir.

[81]  Robisheaux, ‘The German Witch Trials’, p. 187.

[82] H. C. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562 – 1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundations (Stanford, CA, 1972), pp. 178 – 85.  

[83] ‘Manns und Weibspersonen/ jung und alt/ arm und reich/ so der Hexenkunst und Zauberey erfahren/ hinrichten und verbrennen’: Zwo Hexenzeitung: Die Erste Auß dem Bisthumb Würtzburg, das ist Gründliche Erzehlung wie der Bishoff zu Würtzburg das Hexenbrennen im Franckenlande angefangen […] die Ander Auß dem Hertzogthumb Würtenburg wie der Hertzog zu Würtenberg in unterschiedlichen Stätten das Hexenbrennen auch angefangen (Tübingen, 1616), (unpaginated – p.1).

[84] ‘Teglich mehr eingefangen viel/ kein ansehen der Person gilt/ Reich/ Arm/ Schön/ Herr und Frawen’: Gewisser Bericht des Truten und Hexenbrennens Bambergischen Gebiets wie lang es gewehrt: Was für ubels ihrer Außsag nach sie viel Jahr hero an Menschen, Vihe, Früchten und andern verübet was allbereit verbrennet (Schmalkalden, 1628), sigs. Aiiiv and [Aiiiir].

[85] Ein Warhafftige und gründliche Beschreibung Auß dem Bistumb Würtz und Bamberg Deßgleichen von dem ganzen Fränkischen Kraiß wie man alda so vil hexen Mann vnd Weibspersohnen verbrennen laßt (S.l., 1627), sig. Av.

[86] Ein Warhafftige und gründliche Beschreibung Auß dem Bistumb Würtz und Bamberg, sig. Av.

[87] M. Gaskill, ‘Witchcraft and Evidence in early modern England’, Past and Present, 198 (2008), pp. 46 – 54.

[88] J. Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England 1550 – 1750 (London, 1996), pp. 128 – 9.

[89] Millar, ‘Diabolic Men’, p. 8.

[90] A Most Certain, Strange, and true Discovery of a Witch, sig. A2r.

[91] Signes and Wonders from Heaven (London, 1645), pp. 2 – 5.

[92] Signes and Wonders from Heaven, p. 3.

[93] A. Rowlands, ‘Not the Usual Suspects? Male, Witchcraft, and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe’, in A. Rowlands (ed.), Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe (Basingstoke, 2009), p. 6.

[94] J. Sharpe, ‘The Devil in East Anglia: the Matthew Hopkins Trials Reconsidered’, in J. Barry, M. Hester, and G. Roberts (eds.), Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: Studies in Culture and Belief (Cambridge, 1996), p. 249. Millar, Witchcraft, the Devil, and Emotions, p. 8.

[95] The Examination of John Walsh  […] upon certayn interrogatories touchyng wytchcrafte and sorcerye (London, 1566), sig. Aiir.

[96] Des allerdurchleuchtigsten, groszmechtigsten vnüberwindlichsten Keyser Karls des Fünfften, vnd des Heyligen Römischen Reichs peinlich Gerichts ordnung:auff den Reichßtägen zu Augspurg vnd Regenspurg, in jaren dreissig vnd zwey vnd dreissig gehalten, auffgericht vnd beschlossen (Frankfurt am Main, 1562), sig. Dr.

[97] Augusten Hertzogen zu Sachsen … Verordnungen und Constitutionen des rechtlichen Process (Dresden, 1572), sig. ff. 71v – 72r.

[98] ‘An Act agaynst conjuracons inchantmentes and Witchecraftes (5 Eliz I, c. 16)’, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 4 part I (London, 1819), p. 446.

[99] ‘An Act agaynst conjuracons inchantmentes and Witchecraftes (5 Eliz I, c. 16)’, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 4 part I (London, 1819), p. 446.

[100] ‘An Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealing with evill and wicked Spirits (1 Jac. I, c. 12)’, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 4 part II (London, 1819), p. 1028.

[101] ‘An Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealing with evill and wicked Spirits (1 Jac. I, c. 12)’, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 4 part II (London, 1819), p. 1028.

[102] C. Holmes, ‘Popular Culture? Witches, Magistrates, and Divines in Early Modern England’, in S. L. Kaplan (ed.), Understanding Popular Culture: Europe from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (New York, NY, 1984), p. 87.

[103] Sharpe, ‘English witchcraft pamphlets and the popular demonic’, pp. 127 – 8.

[104] Millar, ‘Diabolic Men’, p. 14. Millar, Witchcraft, the Devil, and Emotions in Early Modern England, p. 48.

[105] W. W., A True and Just Recorde, sigs. A3r – v.

[106] W. W., A True and Just Recorde, sig. A3v.

[107] M. Gibson, ‘French demonology in an English village: the St Osyth experiment of 1582’, in J. Goodare, R. Voltmer & L. Helene Willumsen (eds.), Demonology and witch-hunting in early modern Europe (London, 2020), p. 108.

[108] The Witches of Northamptonshire, sig. A4v.

[109] Lutz, Von Gottlosen Hexen, sig. Av.

[110] The Wonderful Discouerie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, daughters of Ioan Flower neere Bever Castle (London, 1619), sig. Bv.

[111] The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensforde.

[112] The Examination and Confession of Certaine Wytches at Chensforde, sigs. [Aviiv] – [Biiiir].

[113] Erweyterte Unholden-Zeitung, sig. A2r – v.

[114] Dillinger, ‘Germany – “the Mother of the Witches”’, p. 98.

[115] Rowlands, ‘Not the Usual Suspects’, p. 19.

[116] Wiltenburg, ‘True Crime: the Origins of Modern Sensationalism’, p. 1383.

[117] Wiltenburg, ‘True Crime’, p. 1385.; J. E., Slotkin, Sinister Aesthetics: The Appeal of Evil in Early Modern English Literature (Cham, 2017), p. 132.; Krah, ‘Fiktionalität und Faktizität’, p. 77.

[118] Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, p. 69.; Wiltenburg, ‘True Crime’, pp. 1384 -5 .

[119] Ein Warhafftige vnd gründtliche BeschreibungAuß dem Bistum Würtz und Bamberg, sig. Aiiv.

[120] ‘das schier alle Stödt/ Märckt/ und Dörffer/im gantzen Teutschland […] desselbigen unzifers und Teuffelsdienern voll seindt’: Erweyterte Unholden-Zeitung, sig. A2r.

[121] G. B, A most wicked worke of a wretched witch, sig. Av.

Close To Goodness, Close to Sin: Cultural Meanings of Milk in England between 1500 and 1650

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Featured image courtesy of Brooklyn Museum, object 34.493

Author Biography

Ilya Maude is a recent graduate of the University of Nottingham. This article formed part of Ilya’s undergraduate dissertation supervised within the Department of History.

Abstract

In early modern England, milk was a culturally potent substance, laden with meanings and symbolism. These meanings were varied among individuals and groups, and subject to change over time. The cultural changes that took place in England between 1500 and 1650 can be found reflected in the changing cultural conceptions of milk and breastfeeding. Historical study of the meanings of milk in this time can serve as a case study for the ways wider cultural changes played out in ordinary life. By examining representations of milk in different spheres, this paper draws together apparently disparate cultural associations, and suggests at ways the major religious changes of this period could have affected them.

Close To Goodness, Close to Sin: Cultural Meanings of Milk in England between 1500 and 1650

 

When a baby is born leaking milk from its breast, midwives are unconcerned.  Roughly one in twenty infants lactate soon after birth, and odd as it seems, it is not associated with negative health outcomes.[1] The only really remarkable thing is its quaint, old-fashioned name – ‘witch’s milk’. More than simply old-fashioned, in fact, the name dates back to the seventeenth century.[2] It is an echo of a time both like and unlike our own, a time when ‘witch’s milk’ was a deadly serious affliction, and milk held a potent set of cultural meanings. It is also the tip of an iceberg, the tiny visible part of a mostly hidden cultural inheritance. Milk and breastfeeding were much debated in early modern England, and although these debates took place in a completely different cultural landscape, they bear an eerie resemblance to present-day conversations. This is not an artefact of milk having some kind of universal Freudian significance; between 1500 and 1650 the cultural meanings of milk in England fundamentally changed. Rather, it is part of the first emergence of a set of broader cultural beliefs about the proper function of the body and what it means when bodies fall outside that, beliefs that still run through parts of English language and culture. Milk sat at an uneasy intersection in early modern England: both a vital foodstuff and, inescapably, a bodily fluid.[3] Although human milk and animal milks shared many of their cultural and medical significances, they were related to the body in different ways – this article focuses primarily on the former.[4] By its very nature, milk ran between categories, and overlapped boundaries. It was at once intimate, and commonplace, nutritious, and vulnerable to spoilage. It is the very in-betweenness of milk, its ambiguities and liminalities, which make it a powerful tool through which to approach wider cultural knowledge.

Milk has been the subject of a number of attempts at ‘global’ cultural history.[5] The best of these, like Deborah Valenze’s 2011 work Milk: A Local and Global History, are really a series of narrow historical case studies, and emphasise the heterogeneity of cultural meaning.[6] Attempts to fashion a global, pan-historical narrative for the cultural meaning of milk are problematised by the wealth of excellent, more narrowly focused, histories of milk in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[7] There is no reason to believe that the early modern world was any less imbued with complex and changing cultural associations than the modern one, and in homogenising the cultural significances of milk into one pan-European narrative, historians risk achieving simplicity at the expense of accuracy. For this reason, this article is focused on the cultural meanings of milk in a single country, between 1500 and 1650. By examining representations of milk in different cultural spheres, it is possible to draw together apparently disparate associations, and suggest the ways in which the major religious change of this period could have affected them.

 

Religious Context

In early modern Europe, culture and religion were interwoven.[8] Never simple or unequivocal, the religious significances of milk were thrown into contradiction and conflict by the English Reformation. This had a real impact on diet and practise. It is also a key piece of cultural context, central to understanding and reconciling the conflicted cultural significances of milk in the seventeenth century.

In England in 1500, the Catholic Church provided a set of religiously prescribed, albeit contradictory, meanings for milk. In culinary terms, it was a kind of white meat, subject to the strictures of fasting and abstinence.[9] Symbolically, it was strongly linked with nurture and purity, and was particularly associated with the Virgin Mary.[10] Although their influence had waned over the centuries, St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s interpretive sermons on the Song of Songs had done their work in establishing milk as a symbol of divine grace, prayerful communion and Christian nurture.[11] St. Bernard argued for Mary as Mediatrix, and emphasised her maternal capacity in an unsettlingly literal, and powerful, reflection on rebirth.[12] St. Bernard’s Marian sensibility had its impact, as did his focus on lactation and milk – although the way suckling was presented in Christian imagery shifted from the eleventh century to the thirteenth, it remained a core piece of religious imagery.[13] By the start of the thirteenth century, the cultural centrality of ‘milk and honey’ and of the Song of Songs had given way to a softened boundary between Christ’s blood and Mary’s milk which, perhaps because of its congruence with scholarly understandings of the origin of milk, persisted well into the sixteenth century.[14] More a sensibility than a strict piece of theological meaning, the symbolism of ‘giving suck’ persisted in Catholic religious iconography, most frequently in images of the nursing Madonna, but also in some depictions of the wound in Christ’s side.[15]

To the extent that milk was contaminated in Catholic imaginings, it was by its inseparability from female sexual anatomy. It was academic consensus that women ceased to menstruate when pregnant because their menstrual blood instead fed the growing baby. When the child was born, the blood travelled upwards, and was transformed by the heat of the breast into milk.[16] This presented quite a problem to theologians; in addition to being implicitly tied to original sin, menstruation should also have been physically impossible for Mary, based on the physical specifications of the Doctrine of Perpetual Virginity.[17] It was a microcosm of a greater contradiction between the milk and honey of Deuteronomy and the sin assigned to the lactating body. Although there were some attempts to suggest that Mary’s milk came directly from heaven, the conflict was for the most part resolved simply through avoidance.[18] Depictions of the Nursing Madonna positioned her breast unnaturally close to her neck, and although milk frequently appeared in religious iconography, it was abstracted from physical realities.[19] In Catholic religious symbolism, milk was at its purest and holiest when it appeared in abnormal places, flowing from the neck of the beheaded St. Catherine, or arcing from a statue of the Madonna to the mouth of St. Bernard.[20] Its Biblical significance and association with Marian devotions could then be enjoyed, unsullied by its base origin.

By 1650, however, this imagery had started to go off. Mary had fallen from her pedestal, and belief in minor miracles had become a Catholic shibboleth, invoked by Jesuits and seminary priests.[21] Protestants increasingly saw God as communicating his message through the ‘natural’ order and anything perceived to be outside that order became spiritually suspect.[22] Whether milk was to be permitted when fasting fell into insignificance next to the question of whether fasting was required, or even permissible.[23] The English Civil War was ongoing, religious tension and suspicion was rife, and the old cultural rules, rites, and protections had been largely discredited or condemned. Milk-imagery was still invoked regularly in religious writing, but through the imagery of the nursing mother, rather than the miraculous fluid. Phrases like ‘as milk to children’ were used to evoke nurture and sustenance, in spiritual form, but also to chastise. In 1619, for example, Thomas Adams (a Church of England clergyman and prolific writer of Calvinist theology) warned against seeking spiritual sustenance outside the true Christian Church by comparing it to a ‘strange’ nurse, as opposed to the ‘pure milke of your owne mother’.[24] These trends were not absolute – English-language Catholic treatises published abroad still referred to the Lactatio Bernardi and the Virgin’s holy milk – but they were broadly representative.[25] In Protestant England, milk was holy, but only in its proper, ‘natural’, place.

 

Breastfeeding

Words and categories can be manipulated in a way that bodies cannot, and no amount of cultural censure could make lactation and breastfeeding entirely the preserve of respectable married mothers, before or after the English Reformations. As well as a symbolic component of the ‘natural’ family order, woman’s milk was a vital physical commodity, both for the nourishment of infants and its purported curative powers. The contraceptive powers of breastfeeding were well-known in early modern England, and placed new mothers and wet-nurses under suspicion of immorality, regardless of what they did.[26] Breastfeeding one’s own child may have been the epitome of female virtue, but many women would or could not do so. As breastfeeding was a divinely assigned duty, women unable to breastfeed were spiritually suspect, and were offered such unhelpful advice as ‘fast and pray’.[27] The women who sent their babies to wet-nurses had always been the subject of scholarly critique, but as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wore on, wet-nurses themselves became the targets of religious ire.[28] The construction of motherhood as the ideal state of womanhood was nothing new – it was almost inherent in the paradoxical Virgin Mother, who embodied motherhood without sexuality. Nor was the spiritually suspect nature of women who could not or would not fill this role.[29] Rather, the shift that can be observed is in the framework through which this was understood, justified, and enforced. Where wet-nursing had been understood as so ideally noble that the Virgin Mary was often represented in the role and garb of a wet-nurse, it was now the subject of a peculiarly Protestant genre of attack.[30] Women’s virtue, ability to breastfeed, and the quality of their milk was subject to scrutiny from Catholic and Protestant writers. In broadly Protestant countries, however, this scrutiny took on the language of the ‘natural order’, and the imagery of the saintly wet-nurse, the lactating Madonna and Christ giving suck to his followers gave way to a stricter idealisation of ‘natural’ maternal relations.[31] Woman’s milk was close to goodness, but also to sin. This dual proximity is clearest in the two figures most closely linked to it: the mother and the wet-nurse.

Valerie Fildes’ extensive analysis of breastfeeding and infant care in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries demonstrates that, in elite and educated circles, a woman choosing to breastfeed her own child was exceptional.[32] Elite medical advice was for the most part reflected in elite practice; the age of weaning advised in medical texts was very similar to the age in practice, and there was a large volume of medical writing advising on how to select a wet-nurse.[33] Practically speaking, wet-nurses were one of the facts of life, perfectly ordinary and widely employed. Despite this, wet-nurses and the mothers who employed them were the subject of a disproportionately large volume of writing by learned Protestant moralists, mostly in the form of instructions, admonitions and warnings.[34] These admonitions did not just come from theologians, or even male writers – Elizabeth Clinton, Countess of Lincoln published a pamphlet in 1622 advising women to nurse their own children.[35] The change that took place over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was not a shift from a culture in which women were granted relative freedom over their bodies to one in which they were not, but rather a shift in the theoretical and cultural underpinnings of misogynistic critique and control.

Newly-Protestant England did see a profusion of publications warning against the practice of wet-nursing but this was perhaps as much the result of an increase in published material as an increase in paranoia about the risks posed by wet nursing.[36] Anti-wet-nursing arguments in sixteenth and seventeenth century English published material can be usefully divided into two overlapping categories. The first is broadly medical, and included authors from a variety of denominations, including translations of the writings of physicians from Catholic countries, such as the work of the French physician Jacques Guillemeau (published in England in 1612).[37] Medical warnings against wet-nursing were often premised on the role of woman’s milk as a primary agent of heredity, as at least in elite medical writing, it was through breastfeeding that humoral balance could be shared.[38] The humoral balance of the mother or wet-nurse was, therefore, of utmost importance to the health, appearance, and character of the baby.[39] Some writers advised that nurses be selected based on the physical traits that indicated their humoral balance, whereas some, like Guillemeau, believed that the milk itself was sufficient to determine the humoral qualities; a blueish tinge indicating melancholy, yellow suggesting choler, and a reddish tinge either showing an excess of the sanguine humour or a failure of the heat of the breasts to fully transform uterine blood into milk.[40] Humoral balance was also understood as a sexed characteristic carried in milk, albeit one on a spectrum. A prospective wet-nurse needed to have a child of the right sex or risk making a male baby grow into effeminacy, or a female baby ‘a man-like Virago’ – the latter of these was sometimes treated as a potentially desirable outcome, whereas the former was despised.[41] Guillimeau, for example, advises choosing a nurse who has had a male child as the milk will be ‘hotter, better concocted; and not so excrementitious’.[42] The potential problems of an improper wet-nurse were not, however, merely physical, and it was the behavioural criteria for wet-nurses that drew the most hysterical, and telling, commentary.

The second category can be described as arguments grounded in medicine and morality. The character and behaviour of the nurse were understood as intimately connected to the material quality of the milk, but were dangerously hidden – from the wrong nurse, even the sweetest, richest milk could be riddled with corruption.[43] Protestant moral polemicists gave the impression that a wet-nurse of good character and speech was a rare find among the ‘drowsie drunkards’, ‘sawsie sluttes’ and ‘gawde gossips’.[44] Good milk was, of course, good, but it was also rare, and milk concealed sin as easily as it did disease. The risks of a morally dubious wet-nurse were twofold; as Presbyterian non-conformist Robert Cleaver stated in his 1598 publication on household government, ‘the temperature of the minde followes the constitution of the bodie, needes must it be, that if the nurse be of a naughty nature, the child must take thereafter’.[45] Not only might the child become morally degraded by the humoral content of the milk, but they also were placed at risk of neglect or even deliberate injury. Where Catholic Guillemeau described wet-nurses who ‘deserve to be whipt’, for secretly feeding their charge water instead of milk, Protestant writers drew a more direct connection between the immorality of the nurse and the quality of the milk – Barthélemy Batt warned against not only the ‘corrupt maners’, ‘unseemly words’ and ‘fained & dissembled love’ of a wet-nurse, but also ‘pernicious contagion’, ‘odious errours’, and ‘detestable diseases’.[46] Milk could aspire to only one kind of goodness, but was at risk from all kinds of sin.

The major difference was not the extent of the suspicion and ire directed towards wet-nurses and women who did not breastfeed their children, but the way it was framed. In Protestant literature, mothers who chose to employ the services of wet-nurses were subject to the most vitriolic tirades because they had committed the ultimate betrayal of their natural role.[47] This is clearest in Elizabeth Clinton’s writing. Clinton described women choosing not to breastfeed as an ‘vnnaturall practise’, and asserted that the urge to breastfeed was ‘the worke that God worketh in the very nature of mother’.[48] The mother’s first duty was understood to be to her child, and a woman who was capable of nourishing an infant but chose not to flouted the first principles of Christian womanhood – to Clinton, these women were literally going ‘against nature’.[49] These women, memorably derided by Robert Cleaver as ‘daintie halfe-mothers’, were rejecting God’s intended use for their ‘two breasts’, and relegating them to the distinctly un-Godly purpose of ‘ostentation’.[50] It was not only milk that found itself precariously close to sin and virtue – the maternal body was caught in the same impossible position. For women, simply having breasts was potentially sinful, unless their bodies were sanctified by their ‘proper’ function of the nurturing of infants.

The demonisation of wet-nurses and women who did not breastfeed resists a simple narrative. It was not, for example, just men writing against the practice of wet-nursing. Similarly, although there is a clear change over time in the framing of fears about wet-nursing that coincides with the English Reformations and appears to be thematically linked to the cultural changes they wrought, by the seventeenth century Catholic and Protestant English writers were using the language of the ‘natural order’ to assert the importance of women nursing their own babies.[51] Attitudes to breastfeeding bore a relation to theological change, but it was not always linear or predictable. The same can, in fact, be said of the critiques’ relation to material reality. The same two centuries that saw an explosion of anti-wet nursing tracts saw an increase in the uptake of the services of wet-nurses by the aristocracy.[52] This did not necessarily mean that these ideas were not widely shared – the way sex workers have been related to culturally suggests that it is perfectly possible for someone to pay a woman for labour, and also believe that she is inherently immoral for performing that labour, especially when misogyny and unequal wealth informs the relationship. This does, however, raise the greatest contradiction in this body of writing – men, for the most part, had the power to choose whether or not to hire a wet-nurse, and yet the admonitions are primarily directed towards women.[53]

The position of breastfeeding in sixteenth and seventeenth century England is therefore best understood as part of a continuity of misogynistic control of women’s bodies, newly framed by a developing religious and cultural idea of ‘natural order’. Wider fears about the behaviour of mothers coalesced around the ways they did or did not use their milk, and the privacy and uncontrollability of breastfeeding made it a focus for misogynistic anxiety and censure. Woman’s milk was potent, and impossible to truly regulate. It was intimately connected to an unpredictable, and emotionally dangerous endeavour – the raising of infants. Tied by the logics of humoral medicine to menstruation, the original sin of the female body, milk straddled the holy and the sinful. Where it had once stood between the ideal of motherhood and the sin of female sexuality, it was now caught between the natural and the unnatural. How it was understood seems to have been powerfully situational; breastfeeding may have sanctified a mother’s body, but the private milky communion between a wet-nurse and her charge was deeply suspect. Valuable as a commodity, it was nonetheless troubling as a phenomenon. In a humoral understanding of the body, breastfeeding was a moment of vulnerability, where the boundary between two bodies briefly became permeable. In a formal wet-nursing relationship, one of those bodies was necessarily that of a poor woman. This was milk out of place. The abstract good of late-medieval milk had given way to a precarious virtue, no less powerful, but possibly more dangerous to the women touched by it.

 

Witchcraft

Although the historiography of the witch-trials themselves is remarkably well populated, the sources have been surprisingly underused by food historians.[54] Though limited in many respects, these records have great potential; many of them contain transcriptions of illiterate people’s accounts of the events, being one of the only situations in which the narrated experiences of labourers were deemed worthy of recording. They are, of course, profoundly distorted – due to the nature of English court recording, depositions being neither detailed nor routinely preserved, most of the detailed sources available are publications after the fact, by individuals who had no legal obligation to record accurately, and may have filtered what they heard through their own, usually learned, gaze.[55] A further problem is that some of the testimonies they contain were extracted under torture, or threat of it, and are often so fantastical that they clearly cannot be taken as literal truth.[56]

That said, there are few discernible reasons for writers to consistently alter the references to food in recording the events of witch-trials, or for individuals giving testimonies to thoroughly misrepresent their own attitudes to food. Furthermore, the more fantastical references to milk and breastfeeding, understood within the context of the types of imagery which occur repeatedly in the English witch-trials, can be useful in their own right, as a window into the symbolic and folkloric meanings of the substance. References to milk and other dairy products, and breastfeeding-type imagery, occurred disproportionately frequently in published records of English witch-trials. Historians of milk have generally considered it to be culturally and culinarily in decline in this period, losing its associations with piety and its status as healthy and nourishing, and yet to acquire its implications of purity and modernity.[57] The evidence of the witch-trials suggests that not only was milk central to the diets of rural families, but that it held a cultural significance that reflected that centrality.

Even if early modern milk was nourishing, it was also deeply culturally dangerous. Animal milks were vulnerable to all kinds of magical manipulation, and feature disproportionately frequently in the accounts of the English witch trials. Human milk was even more risky. While breastfeeding mothers might be fulfilling their role in a divinely ordained natural order, other instances of lactation in humans could be assigned no such purpose. In the uneasy religious climate of the seventeenth century, there were only two potential explanations for ‘unnatural’ happenings; divine or satanic. Across Europe, neonatal lactation was feared, called ‘witch’s milk’, ‘hexenmilch’ and ‘lait de sorcière’, and implicated in accusations of witchcraft.[58] The connection between witchcraft and milk was shared between a number of countries and regions. Michael Ostling argued that the importance of milk-magic to many of the Polish witch-trials was due to centrality of milk-yields in what Lyndal Roper described as ‘the economy of bodily fluids’.[59] The yield of a cow was at once a physical and symbolic indicator of a family’s prosperity, and the witch drained that prosperity.[60] Although the English witch-trials shared much with those of Poland, the abundance of milk-magic and milk-imagery in them seems to have had a slightly different symbolic significance, one as much connected to woman’s milk as it was to cow’s milk.

A feature common to many of the European witch-trials is the imagery of inversion. This is exemplified by the witches’ sabbath, an unholy gathering which perverted and inverted the rituals of the Christian sabbath. English witch-trials generally lacked the imagery of the witches’ sabbath, but were not lacking in inversion imagery. One of the key sites on which this imagery was focused was the lactating body. While breastfeeding mothers were fulfilling their role in a divinely ordained natural order, other instances of lactation in humans could be assigned no such purpose, and were highly suspect.

Although the English witch trials lacked much of the sexual imagery common to many of the European witchcraft traditions, they were still highly linked to the physicality of the sexed body, through the way the demonic familiars who fed on the blood of witches were described.[61] The descriptions of these familiars feeding use the same language as descriptions of breastfeeding; familiars ‘suck’ from witches, and witches ‘give suck’ to familiars, the same language used to describe babies feeding from nurses or mothers.[62] How exactly this took place varied quite significantly between witch trials. In some cases, such as the accounts of the testimonies of Anne Whittle in the Pendle Witch trials in 1612, and Elizabeth Francis at Chelmsford in 1566, the familiar merely sucked blood from an inconspicuous body part of an accused witch, leaving a mark like a mole, which could then be used to determine their guilt.[63] Many descriptions, however, verge much closer to the image of the nursing mother. In some cases, where the familiar sucked, a raised teat developed.[64] In others, an entirely new ‘dugge’ or ‘pappe’ (breast) was formed where the familiar was ‘given suck’.[65] The positioning on the body was also not always simply neutrally hidden. Some familiars sucked from the breasts as true babes, or from the flank or just under the breast. Many, however, took their nourishment from much more intimate places, such as inside the mouth, behind the ear, the buttocks, and the ‘secrets’.[66]

Belief in familiars, historically linked with popular belief in fairies, has been used as evidence of a reciprocal relationship between elite and popular culture in early modern England, a relationship this thesis advocates for in food history.[67] Intellectual belief in demonic familiars was contested and fraught, but they nonetheless occur in the vast majority of English witch-pamphlets from the period and became codified in Matthew Hopkins’s instructions for the determining of guilt of an accused witch, making them an ideal focal point through which to explore the relationship between popular and elite attitudes to breastfeeding, milk, and the maternal body.[68] One particularly interesting facet of the familiar beliefs is the way they seem to reflect and interact with humoral understandings of milk and breastfeeding. Whereas milk was blood, transformed through the heat of the breast into a digestible and nourishing state, witches fed their familiars with blood, and one of the identifying characteristics of the witches’ teat was that it was cold to the touch. This was one among many maternal inversions.[69] Women killed their children, struck their husbands lame and had them killed, and with the assistance of the devil aborted their foetuses with herbs and potions. The image of the woman suckling a demon in the form of an animal, with blood instead of milk, makes sense within the context of such inversion. The popular origin of belief in familiar spirits suggests that there may have been a popular association between milk and blood, that did not directly come from elite medical theory.

It was not only women suspected of witchcraft who were accused of suckling their familiars, however. There are several instances of men, accused of witchcraft, being described as doing similarly. The octogenarian vicar John Lowes, accused of witchcraft in the Matthew Hopkins-led witch trials in Suffolk in 1645, was described as having ‘a teat on the crown of his head and two under his tongue’.[70] Thomas Evered, a cooper, who was accused of witchcraft alongside his wife Mary Evered in the same 1645 set of trials, was described as giving suck to imps.[71] This is a particularly interesting example, despite meriting only two sentences in the account of the largest witch-hunt in English history, because the particular crime Evered was accused of was so distinctly gendered; in addition to having imp familiars, the couple were accused of having bewitched beer to smell so ‘odious’ that the stink and taste of it killed many people.[72] As Lara Apps and Andrew Gow observed in their book Male witches in early modern Europe, male witches were implicitly feminised, both through being accused of witchcraft, itself a profoundly gendered accusation, and through being associated with sensory domains typed as female in early modern constructions of gender, specifically smell and taste.[73] Evered was therefore doubly feminised, through the nature of his crime, and the sexed nature of the standard elements of an accusation of witchcraft.[74] This was not milk out of place, so much as everything out of place – milk inverted as blood, and woman as man.

The use of breastfeeding-type imagery in the English witch trials is further evidence of the fraught cultural meaning of the maternal body. Breastfeeding’s precarious holiness lent any kind of distortion of it a profound cultural potency. The sucking familiars resembled an unholy communion, a taking of blood meaning damnation, rather than a receiving of blood as salvation. It inverted religious and natural order, intertwined as they were. It demonstrates just how precarious, and how potent, milk really was.

One aspect of the witch-trial evidence which seriously challenges the historical consensus on early modern dairy consumption is simply the centrality and prevalence of milk, cheese, and butter, in so many of the depositions. In elite circles there was a decline in the unique cultural position milk had previously possessed as a culinary ingredient going into the early modern period.[75] The Pendle witch trials, in particular, provide a potential insight into the cultural significance of milk to people with very little immediate contact to the medical theorising that knocked milk off its medieval pedestal. Milk and dairy products were the subjects of many of the magical acts apparently witnessed. In the Examination of Edmund Robinson in 1633, an act of magic is described where ropes attached to the roof of a house are pulled, rather like church bells, and butter, milk, and smoking meat shower down into buckets.[76] Butter was made from milk without ever depleting the quantity of milk, the spilling of milk caused familiar spirits to disappear, and when a man kicked over a can of milk he had given in charity, his cow died the next day.[77] Boiling a can of milk brought forth a toad-like spirit (toads were themselves associated with the female body in medical writing due to their apparent resemblance to the shape of a uterus).[78] Milk begged and denied brought fear and sickness to the denier – the sheer prevalence of milk in the imagery of the English witch-trials is enough to suggest at its huge cultural power and danger.

As Michael Ostling argued about the Polish witch-trials, milk’s status as an indispensable yet vulnerable commodity may have contributed to its particular centrality to accusations of spell-casting. Milk spoils suddenly and repulsively, cows die without warning or explanation, and when cheese-making goes awry, it is often for reasons invisible to the naked eye. Milk-magic was not, however, solely responsible for the prevalence of milk in the English witch-trials. Witch’s milk, the witch’s teat, and the suckling demon all suggest at another dimension to the cultural significance of milk. Layered into narratives of the inverted ideals of Christian motherhood, they call to a substance which was uniquely close to virtue and vulnerable to sin. Milk in its proper place was a blessing, sanctifying and justifying the body of the mother, but outside of that was deeply spiritually troubling. When animal milks and woman’s milk are treated as culturally linked, their significance to the witch-trials can be understood multidimensionally. Milk was both physically and spiritually vulnerable, inhabiting a tenuous place of virtue but unable to escape its connections to menstruation, and consequently original sin. It is no surprise that it flowed through the language of the witch-trials – it was the body out of order, unruly, uncontrollable, and potentially unholy.

 

Conclusion

Milk has been the subject of a number of attempts at ‘global’ cultural history.[79] The best of these, like Deborah Valenze’s 2011 work Milk: A Local and Global History, are really a series of narrow historical case studies, and emphasise the heterogeneity of cultural meaning.[80] Attempts to fashion a global, pan-historical narrative for the cultural meaning of milk are problematised by the wealth of excellent, more narrowly focused, histories of milk in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[81] There is no reason to believe that the early modern world was any less imbued with complex and changing cultural associations than the modern one, and in homogenising the cultural significances of milk into one pan-European narrative, historians risk achieving simplicity at the expense of accuracy. For this reason, this article is focused on the cultural meanings of milk in a single country, between 1500 and 1650. By examining representations of milk in different cultural spheres, it is possible to draw together apparently disparate associations, and suggest the ways in which the major religious change of this period could have affected them.

Milk did not have one simple set of cultural associations in sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England, but rather had an array of meanings, governed by subculture, but also by situation. It invoked associations of nurture, purity, barbarity, charity, poverty, and motherhood. Although it was undoubtedly gendered as feminine, through the realities of average human biology and traditional gendered divisions of labour, it was not exclusively associated with women, and association with it was used to situate some men closer to womanhood. It was heavily used in Christian religious language and imagery, but in very different ways by writers in Catholic and Protestant regions. As the religious landscape of England shifted, the religious significance of milk also changed, as close as ever to goodness, but perilously close to sin. The religious meanings of milk became ever more contested and fraught during the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and its significance became less about it as a substance, and more about whether it occurred without the bounds of the ‘natural’ function of a body.

The conflicted cultural meanings of milk were not merely an artefact of the variety of cultural, social, and material factors affecting individuals’ perspectives on it. Milk was a profoundly liminal fluid, and this liminality is reflected in certain major conflicts in its meaning. Straddling the intersection of the virtuous and the sinful, and the body and that which lay outside it, milk was steeped in contradiction and conflict. The well-populated genre of vitriolic Protestant tracts against mothers choosing not to breastfeed and the widespread presence of distorted breastfeeding-type imagery in the English witch-trials both highlight how crucial milk and breastfeeding was to the virtuous female body. Like milk, the maternal body was unpredictable, vulnerable to spiritual spoilage and hidden corruption. Milk, and the act of breastfeeding, had huge spiritual and cultural potency, and no exact prescribed religious meaning. Set at the table of blood and meat, and their eucharistic counterparts, wine and bread, milk was uniquely ambiguous, and therefore uniquely dangerous.

 

Notes

[1] D. J. Madlon-Kay, ‘Witch’s Milk: Galactorrhea in the Newborn’, American Journal of Diseases of Children, 140/3 (1986), p. 252.

[2] M. Potts and R. Short, Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Cambridge, 1999), p. 145.

[3] Human breastmilk was consumed by adults for its curative properties. Although the modern distinction between the culinary and the medical had started to emerge in 16th and 17th century England, it was still less clearly defined than it is now. Milk, and particularly human milk, straddled the two, moving from food to medicine as one aged out of infancy, and then sometimes back to the former in old age.
D. Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History (New Haven, 2011), p. 70; W. Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern Kitchen (Philadelphia, 2016), p. 4.

[4] K. Albala, ‘Milk: Nutritious and Dangerous’, in H. Walker (ed.), Milk: Beyond the Dairy – Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1999 (London, 2000), p. 26.

[5] Including Valenze’s Milk: A Local and Global History, there are five, although one – R. Schmid’s book – is an historically dubious argument for the consumption of raw milk.
M. Kurlansky, Milk!: A 10,000 Year Food Fracas (New York, 2018); A. Mendelson, Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages (New York, 2008); R. Schmid, The Untold Story of Milk – Revised and Updated (Washington DC, 2009); H. Velten, Milk: A Global History (London, 2010).

[6] Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History, p. 5.

[7] P. Atkins, Liquid Materialities: a history of milk, science, and the law (Farnham, 2010); K. Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History Since 1900 (Oxford, 2014).

[8] K. Von Greyerz, Religion and Culture in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (Oxford, 2008), p. 2.

[9] C. Yeldham, ‘Use of Almonds in Late-medieval English Cookery’, in H. Walker (ed.), Milk: Beyond the Dairy, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1999 (London, 2000), p. 352.

[10] Valenze, Milk, p. 18.

[11] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Commentary on ‘The Song of Songs’, ed. D. Wright, Sermon 9.

[12] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent and Christmas, (Chicago 1909), Sermon 39.

[13] C. Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (London, 1987), p. 269.

[14] Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, p. 269.

[15] Quirizio da Murano’s late fifteenth century depiction of Christ showing his chest wound to a nun applied the stylistic conventions of the Madonna Lactans to the adult Christ, showing him tenderly proffering a wound where his nipple would be with two fingers, surrounded by inscriptions of the most cannibalistic passages of the Song of Songs.
Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, p. 271.

[16] Albala, ‘Milk: Nutritious and Dangerous’, p. 82.

[17] Valenze, Milk, p. 47.

[18] M. Fissell, ‘The Politics of Reproduction in the English Reformation’, Representations, 87 (2004), p. 56.

[19] Valenze, Milk, p. 47.

[20] Valenze, Milk, pp. 43, 48.

[21] A. Walsham, ‘Miracles and the Counter-Reformation Mission to England’, The Historical Journal, 46/4 (2003), p. 781.

[22] A. Walsham, ‘The Reformation and “the Disenchantment of the World” Reassessed’, The Historical Journal, 51/2 (2008), p. 509.

[23] George Abbot, The reasons which Doctour Hill hath brought, for the upholding of papistry, which is falselie termed the Catholike religion: unmasked and shewed to be very weake, and upon examination most insufficient for that purpose (Oxford, 1604), p. 380.
P. Kaufman, ‘Fasting in England in the 1560s: “A Thinge of Nought”?’, Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte. Ergänzungsband, 32 (2003), p. 178.

[24] Thomas Adams, The happines of the church (London, 1619), p. 56; J. S. McGee, ‘Adams, Thomas (1583-1652), <https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-131>, accessed 12.05.2019.

[25] Thomas Vincent and Arthur Anselm Crowther, Jesus, Maria, Joseph (Amsterdam, 1657), p. 31.

[26] V. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies (Edinburgh, 1986), p. 109.

[27] Robert Cleaver, A godlie forme of householde gouernment for the ordering of priuate families, according to the direction of Gods word. Whereunto is adioyned in a more particular manner, the seuerall duties of the husband towards his wife: and the wifes dutie towards her husband. The parents dutie towards their children: and the childrens towards their parents. The masters dutie towards his seruants: and also the seruants dutie towards their masters. Gathered by R.C (London, 1598), p. 238.

[28] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, for example, greatly chastised women who employed the services of wet-nurses, using the example of his mother who bore seven children and nursed them all.
B. Åström, ‘Sucking the Corrupte Mylke of an Infected Nurse: regulating the dangerous maternal body’, Journal of Gender Studies, 24/5 (2005), p. 576.

[29] Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History, p. 49.

[30] B. Williamson, The Madonna of Humility: Development, Dissemination & Reception (Suffolk, 2009), p. 132;  Åström, ‘Sucking the Corrupte Mylke of an Infected Nurse’, p. 576.

[31] Walsham, ‘The Reformation and “the Disenchantment of the World” Reassessed’, p. 509; Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, pp. 270-272; Åström, ‘Sucking the Corrupte Mylke of an Infected Nurse: regulating the dangerous maternal body’, p. 576.

[32] V. Fildes, ‘The age of weaning in Britain 1500-1800’, Journal of Biosocial Science, 14/2 (1982), p. 235.

[33] Although whether that is because the medical advice was followed or because it simply reflected established practise is not possible to determine from the information given.
Fildes, ‘The age of weaning’, p. 223.

[34] P. Crawford, ‘‘The sucking child’: Adult attitudes to child care in the first year of life in seventeenth-century England’, Continuity and Change, 1/1 (1986), p. 31.

[35] Clinton was no less stern in her admonitions than her contemporaries, but perhaps a little kinder – she herself had not breastfed her own children (a choice, the text suggests, that was taken from her) and regretted it.
Elizabeth Clinton, The Countesse of Lincolnes nurserie (Oxford, 1622), p. 16.

[36] Crawford, ‘‘The sucking child’, p. 31.

[37] Jacques Guillemeau, Child-birth or, The happy deliuerie of vvomen VVherein is set downe the gouernment of women (London, 1612), p.7.

[38] Åström, ‘Sucking the Corrupte Mylke of an Infected Nurse’, p. 577.

[39] S. Prühlen, ‘What was Best for an Infant from the Middle Ages to Early Modern Times in Europe? The Discussion Concerning Wet Nurses’, Hygiea Internationalis: an Interdisciplinary Journal for the History of Public Health, 6/2 (2007), p. 205.

[40] Guillemeau, Child-birth or, The happy deliuerie of vvomen, p.7.

[41] Virago was a culturally complex term- positive, for its associations with virtues constructed as male, but also always implying a subtle gendered transgression.
J. A. Schroeder, Deborah’s Daughters: Gender Politics and Biblical Interpretation (Oxford, 2014), p. 107; Prühlen, ‘What was best for an Infant’, p. 205; Åström, ‘Sucking the Corrupte Mylke of an Infected Nurse’, p. 578.

[42] Guillimeau, Child-birth, p. 8.

[43] Valenze, Milk, p. 156.

[44] Barthélemy Batt can be presumed to have belonged to some Protestant denomination, as his work contains references to ‘Papists’ alongside ‘Iewes, Turkes, Infidels’.
Barthélemy Batt, The Christian man’s closet Wherein is conteined a large discourse of the godly training up of children: as also of those duties that children owe unto their parents, made dialogue wise, very pleasant to reade, and most profitable to practise, collected in Latin by Bartholomew Batty of Alostensis, And now Englished by William Lowth, (London, 1591), pp. 16, 54.

[45] Robert Cleaver, A godlie forme of householde gouernment, p. 238.

[46] Batt, The Christian man’s closet, pp. 54 -55.

[47] Åström, ‘Sucking the Corrupte Mylke of an Infected Nurse’, pp. 576, 578.

[48] Clinton’s pamphlet contained a foreword by a Catholic doctor (Thomas Lodge), but was steeped in the distinctly post-Reformation language of natural law pp. 1, 8.

[49] Clinton, The Countesse of Lincolnes nurserie, p. 8.

[50] Cleaver, A godlie forme of householde gouernment, p. 240.

[51] Thomas Lodge ended his foreword to Clinton’s pamphlet with a verse about ‘Gods and Natures lawes’, for example.

[52] Fildes, ‘The age of weaning in Britain 1500-1800’, p. 235.

[53] Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History, p. 279.

[54] With the significant exception of Christopher Kissane, who has not only produced a focused study of food in the early modern witch trials, but has also argued that such analysis is necessary to understand early modern perception and experience of witchcraft.

Kissane, Food, Religion and Communities in Early Modern Europe (London, 2018), p. 130.

[55] M. Gaskill, ‘Witches and Witnesses in Old and New England’, in S. Clark (ed.), Languages of Witchcraft: Narrative, Ideology and Meaning in Early Modern Culture (London, 2001), p. 55.

[56] Torture was generally prohibited in English law, allowed only extrajudicially against traitors in order to get information about their accomplices. Between 1645 and 1647, however, local authorities did torture witchcraft suspects; B. Levack, ‘Witchcraft Trials in England, Scotland, and New England’, in B. Levack (ed.), The Witchcraft Sourcebook (2nd ed.) (Abingdon, 2015), p. 241.

[57] M. Kurlansky, Milk!: A 10,000 Year Food Fracas (New York, 2018), p. 28.

[58] M. Potts and R. Short, Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Cambridge, 1999), p. 145.

[59] M. Ostling, ‘Witchcraft in Poland: Milk and Malefice’ in B. P. Levack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (Oxford, 2013), p. 3.

[60] Ostling, ‘Witchcraft in Poland’, p. 3.

[61] J. M. Garrett, ‘Witchcraft and Sexual Knowledge in Early Modern England’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 13/1 (2013), p. 36.

[62] The Wonderful Discouerie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, daughters of Joan Flower, near Beaver Castle, Executed at Lincoln, March 11, 1618, in B. Levack (ed.), The Witchcraft Sourcebook (2nd ed.) (Oxford, 2015), p. 258;
A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, 1645, in B. Levack (ed.), The Witchcraft Sourcebook (2nd ed.) (Oxford, 2015), p. 274;
A. M., Queen Elizabeths closset of physical secrets, with certain approved medicines taken out of a manuscript found at the dessolution of one of our English abbies and supplied with the child-bearers cabinet, and preservative against the plague and small pox. Collected by the elaborate paines of four famons [sic] physitians, and presented to Queen Elizabeths own hands. (London, 1656), p. 19.

[63] The Examination and Confession of Certain Witches at Chelmsford in the County of Essex before the Queen’s Majesty’s Judges, the XXVI Day of July Anno 1566, in B. Levack (ed.), The Witchcraft Sourcebook (2nd ed.) (Oxford, 2015), p. 244;
Thomas Potts, The vvonderfull discouerie of witches in the countie of Lancaster VVith the arraignement and triall of nineteene notorious witches, at the assizes and general gaole deliuerie, holden at the castle of Lancaster, vpon Munday, the seuenteenth of August last, 1612. (London, 1613), p. C.

[64] A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, p. 276.

[65] The Confession of Margaret Johnson, in J. Crossley (ed.), Pott’s Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster, Volume 6 (Manchester, 1845), p. lxxv.

[66] A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, p. 276.
The Wonderful Discouerie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, p. 259.

[67] G. Warburton, ‘Gender, Supernatural Power, Agency and the Metamorphoses of the Familiar in Early Modern Pamphlet Accounts of English Witchcraft’, Parergon, 20/2 (2003), p. 96.

[68] A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, p. 277.

[69] S. Clarke, ‘Inversion, Misrule and the Meaning of Witchcraft’, Past & Present, 87 (1980), p. 86.

[70] A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, p. 274.

[71] A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, p. 274.

[72] A True Relation of eighteene Witches that were arraigned, tried, and convicted at a Sessions holden at St. Edmunds-bury in Suffolk, p. 274.

[73] L. Apps and A. Gow, Male witches in early modern Europe (Manchester, 2003), pp. 128-9.

[74] This particular account bears a sad resemblance to Quirizio da Murano’s bleeding messiah – set against an ideal of natural order, the once-holy image became damning.

[75] Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History¸ p. 4, p. 59.

[76] Thomas Potts, The vvonderfull discouerie of witches in the countie of Lancaster, p. lxiii.

[77] Thomas Potts, The vvonderfull discouerie of witches in the countie of Lancaster, ‘The Examination of Allizon Device’, para. 4.

[78] Thomas Potts, The vvonderfull discouerie of witches in the countie of Lancaster, ‘The Examination of Iennet Booth’, para. 1; E. Gradvohl, ‘The Toad and the Uterus: the symbolics of inscribed frogs’, Sylloge epigraphica Barcinonensis, 10 (2012), p. 440.

[79] Including Valenze’s Milk: A Local and Global History, there are five, although one – R. Schmid’s book – is an historically dubious argument for the consumption of raw milk.
M. Kurlansky, Milk!: A 10,000 Year Food Fracas (New York, 2018); A. Mendelson, Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages (New York, 2008); R. Schmid, The Untold Story of Milk – Revised and Updated (Washington DC, 2009); H. Velten, Milk: A Global History (London, 2010).

[80] Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History, p. 5.

[81] P. Atkins, Liquid Materialities: a history of milk, science, and the law (Farnham, 2010); K. Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History Since 1900 (Oxford, 2014).

 

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