Bamberg Witches : At the center of the worst witch tortures and trials in Germany was Bamberg, a small state ruled by Gottfried Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim. The Hexenbischof (Witch Bishop) von Dornheim, as he was known, ruled the state from 1623 to 1633 and established an efficient witch-burning machine aided by the Inquisition.
By the time von Dornheim reached power, witch- hunting had already been established in Bamberg, and at least 400 persons had been executed since 1609. Von Dornheim established an operation of lawyers, full-time torturers and executioners, led by Suffragan Bishop Friedrich Forner. A witch prison, a Drudenhaus, was built, with a capacity of 30 to 40 prisoners. A network of informers was encouraged, and the hunts began afresh in 1624. Accusations were not made public, and the accused were denied legal counsel.
Torture was the rule, not the exception, and was rigorously applied to all suspects. No one subjected to torture avoided confessing to attending Sabbats, desecrating the cross, having intercourse with Demons, poisoning per- sons (see poisons) and other crimes. Victims were put in thumbscrews and vises, dumped in cold baths and in scalding lime baths, whipped, hung in the strappado (see torture), burned with feathers dipped in sulphur, put in iron-spiked stocks and subjected to other forms of excruciating abuse. The torture did not stop even after condem- nation. As they were led to the stake, prisoners had their flesh ripped with hot pincers or had their hands cut off.
Many prominent persons in Bamberg fell victim to the “machine,” including all the burgomasters. Von Dornheim, meanwhile, confiscated their property and lined his own coffers. Anyone who showed sympathy for the victims or expressed doubt about their guilt became a victim as well, including the vice-chancellor of the diocese, Dr. George Haan. Haan tried to check the trials but was himself tried as a witch and burned at the stake along with his wife and daughter in 1628.
In 1627 von Dornheim built a Hexenhaus (Witch House), a larger, special prison for witches that contained both cells and torture chambers.
Some managed to escape Bamberg and went to appeal to Emperor Ferdinand for help. The emperor made an effort to intercede in one case but was defied by von Dornheim. Finally, political pressure forced Ferdinand to issue mandates opposing the persecutions in 1630 and 1631. The situation also was changed by the deaths of Forner in 1621 and von Dornheim in 1632.
As a result of the Bamberg trials, Ferdinand’s son, Ferdinand II, decreed that in future trials, the accusations were to be made public, the defendants were to be allowed attorneys and no property could be confiscated.
Von Dornheim’s cousin, Prince-Bishop Philipp Ad- olf von Ehrenberg, ruled over Wiirzburg, another small state, and subjected his citizens to the same type of terror. Between 1623 and 1631, when he died, von Ehrenberg tortured, beheaded and burned 900 persons, including at least 300 children three to four years of age. See Johannes Junius.
Further Reading :
- Midelfort, H. C. Erik. Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1972.
- Summers, Montague. The Geography oj Witchcraft. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1927.
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