Nicholas Remy (Nicholas Rémy, Remigius) (1530–1616) was a French lawyer, Demonologist, and witch hunter. Nicholas Remy claimed to have sent 900 witches to their deaths over a 15-year period in Lorraine, France. Remy’s book, Demonolatry, served as a leading guide for witch hunters.
Remy was born in Charmes to a Roman Catholic family of distinguished lawyers. His father was mayor of Charmes. He followed the family tradition and studied law at the University of Toulouse. He practiced in Paris from 1563 to 1570, when he was appointed lieutenant general of Vosges, filling a vacancy created by his retiring uncle. He held chairs in law and literature at several French universities. Remy also was a historian and poet and wrote several works on history. He was married and had “numerous” children, including three sons. As a youth Remy had witnessed the trials of witches, which shaped his later opinions that witches were thoroughly evil and must be exterminated.
He believed that France was riddled with secret covens of witches plotting malicious acts in league with Demons and the Devil. He even believed that everything unexplained and not normal is in the “cursed domain of Demonology.” In 1575, Remy was appointed secretary and privy councillor to Duke Charles III of Lorraine and went to live in Nancy. The duke also made him a provost of Nancy. There were four to six provosts, and they constituted a ducal court that judged all criminal cases, including those involving sorcery and witchcraft. Remy was zealous in pursuing the latter cases and, if he could not judge them himself, had detailed reports submitted to him. He earned the title of “scourge of the witches.” His dedication impressed the duke, who conferred a noble title upon him as a reward.
In 1582, Remy took up his own personal crusade against witches in greater earnest. Several days after refusing to give money to a beggar woman, his eldest son died. Remy was convinced the woman was a witch and successfully prosecuted her for bewitching his son to death. He controlled all the courts within his jurisdiction and ordered all the magistrates to prosecute witches. He even took to the road himself to make certain that his orders were followed. No village was too small for his inspection.
As did his contemporary Jean Bodin, Remy believed in Devil’s Pact's, wild Sabbats, and Maleficia against people and beasts. He believed fantastic stories about Demons raising mountains in the blink of an eye, making rivers run backward, extinguishing the stars, and making the sky fall. As did Bodin and other authorities, he advocated the torture of witches and their execution by burning.
In 1592, after a decade of prosecuting witches, Remy retired to the countryside to escape the plague. There, he compiled Demonolatry, which was published in 1595 in Lyons. The book is divided into three parts: a study of Satanism, accounts of the activities of witches, and Remy’s conclusions, based on confessions and evidence obtained in the 900 trials.
Remy discussed the powers, activities, and limitations of Demons. He asserted that witches and Demons were inextricably linked. He described witches’ black magic and spells, the various ways in which they poisoned people, and their infernal escapades with Demons and the Devil. Demons prepared ointments, powders, and poisons for witches to use against human beings and beasts. He devoted much space to describing satanic pacts and the feasting, dancing, and sexual orgies that took place at sabbats. He described how the Devil drew people into his service, first with cajoling and promises of wealth, power, love, or comfort, then with threats of disaster or death, such as the following:
At Guermingen, 19th Dec., 1589, Antoine Welch no longer dared oppose the Demon in anything after he threatened to twist his neck unless he obeyed his commands, for he seemed on the very point of fulfilling his threat. . . . Certainly there are many examples in pagan histories of houses being cast down, the destruction of the crops, chasms in the earth, fiery blasts and other such disastrous tempests stirred up by Demons for the destruction of men for no other purpose than to bind their minds to the observance of some new cult and to establish their mastery more and more firmly over them. Therefore we may first conclude that it is no mere fable that witches meet and converse with Demons in very person. Secondly, it is clear that Demons use the two most powerful weapons of persuasion against the feeble wills of mortals, namely, hope and fear, desire and terror; for they well know how to induce and inspire such emotions.
Remy believed that ghosts of the dead could not remain on Earth and could not be summoned from the grave through necromancy. Such entities, he said, were Demons masquerading as souls of the dead, and he cited similar statements by St. Justin Martyr, one of the early fathers of the church. Remy said the body is completely dissolved by death and cannot be reconstituted in any way. Ghosts were in reality “foul and unclean spirits” inhabiting “stinking corpses.”
Remy’s claim of sending 900 witches to their deaths cannot be corroborated by existing records; he cites only 128 cases himself in his book. Nevertheless, his arguments impressed others as reasoned and beyond refute. Demonolatry was an immediate success and was reprinted eight times, including two German translations. It became a leading handbook of witch hunters, replacing the Malleus Maleficarumin some parts of Europe. Remy continued in the service of the duke until his death in Charmes in April 1612, secure in the righteousness of his work.
- Finlay, Anthony. Demons! The Devil, Possession and Exorcism. London: Blandford, 1999.
- Remy, Nicholas. Demonolatry. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.