Witch Trials in Germany

Topics: Protestant Reformation, Witchcraft, Holy Roman Empire Pages: 4 (1475 words) Published: April 7, 2013
To what extent can the high concentration of witch trials in the German states be explained by political and religious tension? The late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time of dramatic change in Germany, both religiously and politically. Religiously, the Protestant Reformation, driven by Luther’s ninety-five theses, challenged Catholicism. Politically, the Holy Roman Empire grew weaker whilst territorial states such as Ellwagen gained power. The changes within these political and religious institutions threatened the social structure, causing people to become insecure and vulnerable. Witch hunts were not common in Germany until around 1570, after the Council of Trent determined the aim to get rid of Protestantism in Germany. Germany became the centre of the witch hunts, peaking at 1628. There is a wide historical debate as to why Germany experienced such a high number of witch hunts, with historians such as Hugh Trevor Roper believing it was due to religious friction, whilst historians such as Thurston arguing there is no evidence of religion driving the witch trials. As Hugh Trevor Roper argues, the religious tension in the German states can be held responsible for the high concentration of witch hunts. Germany was the centre of the reformation, due to Luther’s 95 theses being distributed in Germany first. It began in the early sixteenth century; each prince had to attempt to establish which religion his lands would be affiliated to. Consequently the Holy Roman Empire, which mainly consisted of the German states, became the most ecclesiastically volatile region in Europe. Accusations would be used to eliminate religious opponents, in places such as Wurzburg where an estimated 157 people were killed within the city itself. These victims included ‘fourteen vicars of the Cathedral’ and ‘two choristers of the Cathedral’. The Wurzburg trials took place through 1626-31 which fell within the Thirty Years War, a conflict involving Catholics and Protestants;...
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