Paper Example on Witchcraft Trials in History

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  1057 Words
Date:  2022-08-18


During the medieval ages, witchcraft trials took place in almost every continent but particularly in North America and Europe where solid evidence has been documented. Witchcraft was considered a serious offense by many including the religious leaders such as the Pope who strongly encouraged witch-hunt and putting them on trial for their alleged heretical beliefs and behaviors. The ultimate punishment for such offense was death by fire. An uncountable number of people were tried during this period and killed, but the manner through which trial was conducted is a subject of debate as to whether it was fair or not. Nonetheless, based on the ideas presented by Innocent VIII (1484), Johannes Nider (1437) and in the excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches, 1486), one can conclude that it was nowhere near possibility that anyone accused of being a witch would receive a fair hearing because of the heightened intolerance to witchcraft which pressured the justice system to employ every possible means to see that suspects suffered intense persecution and death.

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Witchcraft was seen as a barrier that would prevent Catholic faith from growing and flourishing everywhere, and this prompted the pope to provide his blessing and encouragement to witch-hunting. According to ideas shared by Innocent VIII (1484), "all heretical depravity be put far from the territories of the faithful," it was clear that the bishop was against witchcraft and would exert pressure on the justice system to get rid of the practice within their territories. Innocent VIII went ahead to command all the inquisition, correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising officers in some parts of upper Germany and provinces, cities, territories and diocese of Mainz, Koln, Salzburg, Trier, and Bremen to punish those persons found guilty of the said witchcraft (Excerpt from University of Pennsylvania). Innocent VIII's ideas were presented with anger indicating that he was absolutely against the vice and simply wanted it rooted out. Innocent VIII saw witchcraft as an evil that caused "torture with dire pain and anguish to women, men, cattle, flocks, herds, and animals and hindered men from begetting and women from conceiving" (Excerpt from University of Pennsylvania). Under such circumstances of anger, it is rare to subject a suspect to a fair trial. He encouraged a mission to "remove all impediments" and which acted as a pressure to inquisitors to act and uproot heretical pravity from the land, which literally meant persecuting and killing witch suspects.

Although Innocent VIII did not directly order the office of inquisitors, correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising to persecute and kill the witch suspects, it eventually emerged that his blessing and encouragement to witch-hunting in the specified cities and regions led to flawed trials whose ultimate goal was to kill the suspects. Nider (1437) shared an example of a young man alongside his wife who was indicted for witchcraft and detained in different prisons. In the process of trial, the young man promised to lay bare all he knew about witchcraft. The scholars assured him that if he truly repented, he would "certainly be able to gain absolution for his sins," (Excerpt from University of Pennsylvania). Upon his confession which was "found in all respects the truth," he was killed (Excerpt from University of Pennsylvania). His wife, however, under the torture or in death did not confess and was also executed by fire. In both cases, it was clear that whether anyone suspected of witchcraft confessed or not, he or she would eventually be burned to death. This illustrates lack of a fair trial because in a fair and just system it would be expected that the punishment received by a suspect who has denied his or her crimes despite credible evidence would differ from the one for the suspect that has confessed and asked for forgiveness. It points back to Innocent VIII's directive to "remove all impediments" to the flourishing of Catholic faith within the regions and that the execution of the suspects was not based on a fair hearing, rather acting under Pope's directives to eradicate witchcraft.

During the trial of witch suspects, inductees were subjected to torture and death threats should he or she fail to confess of the crime. According to the ideas in the excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum, it is clear that the trial was just a torturous procedure in which the prisoner was stripped then a judge comes to persuade him or her to confess failure to which the inductee is subjected to further implements of torture until such a time when he or she agreed to confess or face death (Excerpt from University of Pennsylvania). But even if the prisoner confessed, death was waiting. Where the prisoner confessed, he or she would be transferred to another place where he or she was forced to confirm and certify that it "was not due alone to the force of torture," (Excerpt from University of Pennsylvania). This is to say that even innocent suspects were killed because torture would force the suspect to confess of crimes not committed in the hope that further torture would stop and perhaps would be forgiven. However, the story would change later in a new place when the suspect is forced to confirm and certify that the confession was not as a result of torture and be presented for death. Torture infringes standards of fair trial and it goes without doubt that a trial with torture is a flawed process aimed at justifying a pre-set punishment.


The primary sources clearly indicate that witch suspects in the medieval times were not subjected to a fair trial because the officers in the justice systems were acting under the Pope's directives to eliminate witchcraft and they had to ensure that the witch suspects endured torture and death threats to confess and be killed. The inclusion of torture and death threats in trial system alongside the fact that judges, inquisitors and other justice officials acted under the encouragement to end witchcraft demonstrates the pressure in the judicial system which would not allow a fair trial to the suspects.


University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol III:4, pp, 7-10 (Papal Bull), 6-7 (Nider), 10-13 (Hammer), Retrieved from

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