Witchcraft in Basque Lands

The Basque lands comprise a small region in southwestern France and northern Spain, lying on either side of the Pyrenees. They were the scene of some of the most intense witch-hunting in both countries. The major Basque witch-hunt began in 1609. In France, the judge Pierre de Lancre was appointed to the Pays de Labourd and began to investigate cases of witchcraft. He quickly became convinced that the entire region was infested with witches. He wrote of thousands of witches gathering at great sabbaths, and he is often credited with executing up to 600 supposed witches, although in all likelihood the figure should be under 100.

In Spain, cases of witchcraft fell under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Inquisition, and in 1609 the inquisitor Alonso de SalazarFriaswas appointed to the regional tribunal at Logroño. Unlike Lancre, he was skeptical of many of the charges being made in the courts. In 1611 and 1612, he conducted a thorough investigation of the procedures being employed in witch trials in the region. He found many lapses in procedure and became convinced that many of the convictions being obtained were false.

Based on his report, the central council of the Spanish Inquisition in Madrid, the Suprema, established much stricter oversight and guidelines for witch trials. By 1614, the severe outbreak of witch-hunting on both sides of the Pyrenees was over and the region was returning to normal.


Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft – Written by Michael D. Bailey