RebeccaLemp (d. 1590) was one of 32 women convicted of witchcraft and burned in a witch hunt in Nordlingen, Swabia, Germany. The case of Rebecca Lemp is notable for the records of letters left behind about her torture, conviction and death.
The witch hunt was led by the burgomaster, George Pheringer, and two lawyers, Conrad Graf and Sebastien roettinger. An anti-witch hysteria prevailed, and despite testimony from many people in favor of the accused, 32 were sent to their deaths.
Lemp was the wife of Peter Lemp, an accountant who was well educated and well regarded. She was arrested in April 1590 while her husband was away on business. Initially, she and her six children were confident that the authorities would realize her innocence, and she would soon be set free. Tragically, she was not.
Lemp wrote to her husband, assuring him of her innocence.
“Were they to pulverize me and cut me into a thousand pieces, I could not confess anything,” she said. “So don’t be alarmed. Before my conscience and before my soul, I am innocent. Will I be tortured? I do not believe it, as I am not guilty of anything.”
Lemp was naïve to think that she would not be tortured—or that she could withstand the torture. She had no conception of the pain and brutality that awaited her.
Lemp was tortured five times before she surrendered and confessed. She then wrote to Peter and once again protested her innocence. She begged him to send her something so that she could end her life, before she died under more torture. Peter sent her poison, but it was intercepted by the authorities.
The court forced Lemp to write to Peter and confess she was a witch. He wrote to the court and insisted she was innocent and petitioned to be allowed to come to her aid. He also asked for the right to confront her accusers, for he believed her confession was forced under torture. He swore that she was honest, chaste and pious and had never entertained an ill or evil thought in her head. She was a good mother who educated her children about the Bible. He asked for her release.
The court’s response was to torture Lemp again and then burn her in public on September 9, 1590.
The burnings of Lemp and others incited the witch hysteria to a new intensity. The hysteria reached a peak of insanity in 1594 when Maria Hollin, owner of the Crown tavern in Nordlingen, was arrested and tortured 56 times over the course of 11 months. Authorities from her home town of Ulm interceded and rescued her from jail, claiming they had jurisdiction to try her. She was released. Public sentiment began to turn against witch-hunting, and the hysteria came to an end.
- Cawthorne, Nigel. Witch Hunt: History of a Persecution. Edison, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 2004.