The fourteenth century was not an easy time. Among other hardships, the Black Death rocked the world, killing an estimated one-third to one-half of the population. Understandably, the Catholic Church was also a dominant force and comprised a substantial part of daily life. Most of the people were illiterate because books were exclusively for the rich.
Against this backdrop, the fear of the Devil and witchcraft in the fourteenth century was very real. This led to the prosecution of people thought to be practicing these dark arts. Witches and sorcery were considered contrary to Christianity. Witches were believed to ride through the air, engage in sexual orgies, and shapeshift into other humans or animals. It is interesting to examine some of the early witch trials, which would play a major role in this troubled time of civilization.
Related: These 10 Women Were Convicted Of Witchcraft For The Most Ridiculous Reasons
10 Bishop Audfinn Sigurdsso
Audfinn Sigurdsson was Bishop of Bergen, Norway, from 1314 to 1330. From the 11th to the 16th century, the Catholic Diocese of Bergen presided over several countries and was responsible for promoting religion throughout the area.
In 1324 Bishop Sigurdsson accused Ragnhild Tregagas, a Norwegian woman, of being a witch. Tregagas was also accused of selling her soul to Satan, performing magical rituals and committing adultery with her male cousin. At her cousin’s wedding, Ragnhild promised that her cousin’s genitals would not produce children.
Ragnhild also placed five loaves of bread (to strengthen the curse) and five peas (to hinder her cousin’s reproductive abilities) on the newlywed’s bed. She also placed a sword nearby to create conflict. Ragnhild then hid in the couple’s bedroom and allegedly said a curse to end the marriage. It has been speculated that Ragnhild’s witchcraft confession was coerced by Sigurdsson.
Ultimately, Sigurdsson sentenced Tregagas to fast and spend several years making pilgrimages to holy sites outside of Norway. This marks the only medieval witch trial known to have occurred in Norway.
9 Pope Benedict XI
Pope Benedict XI was pope for less than a year. In 1303, Benedict prosecuted a friar, Bernardo de Delicieux, who took over a city and freed people imprisoned by the Inquisition. He also prophesied various things, including the death of Benedict.
Bernardo was first arrested by Benedict in 1304. He decided to arrest Bernardo for “saying things we shouldn’t”. However, after Benedict’s death, this order was not carried out. Bernard was arrested again in 1317 on charges that he had assassinated Pope Benedict XI and on charges that he was a sorcerer. However, Benedict likely passed away from natural causes.
Bernard was found guilty, which led to torture. After being threatened with excommunication, Bernard confessed to obstructing the Inquisition but not killing Benedict XI. Because of his confession, Bernard was expelled and sentenced to life in solitary confinement.
8 Robert Marshal of Leicester
In 1324 Robert Marshal of Leicester issued an appeal against John of Nottingham and several others. Robert claimed that John was a wizard. Robert claimed that he and John were visited by 25 people who requested that John use his powers to kill the king and others. John agreed and was paid £20. Robert stated that he was paid £15 for assisting in the crimes.
John made various wax images of the king and others. John and Richard then began testing their witchcraft powers in a house in Coventry, England. When the wax images were made, John gave Robert a pin and told him to put it in the forehead of the image to see if his witchcraft would work. The man in the picture stayed alive until the pin was removed. Later, the man died when the pin was placed in the heart of the effigy.
John and others were arrested and put on trial. Juan denied everything. This led to an acquittal by a jury and the discharge of the case.
7 Richard of Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory
Born around 1260, Richard de Ledrede was a 14th-century Irish Bishop of Ossory. During his time as bishop, Ledrede often quarreled with his colleagues. In 1324, Ledrede directed the Kilkenny witch trials, where several were accused, including Alice Kyteler and her servant, Petronella of Meath.
Kyteler was claimed to have killed the first of her four husbands. Kyteler was also charged with denying the power of Christ, sacrificing animals to demons, asking demons for witchcraft advice, having a sexual relationship with an incubus, holding coven meetings, and burning church candles without permission.
De Meath confessed to six of the seven crimes and implicated Kyteler. Eventually, De Meath was burned at the stake while Kyteler fled the country. Kyteler remains the first person charged with witchcraft in Ireland. Kyteler was likely only charged because her substantial wealth sparked the jealousy of the wrong people, including her stepchildren.
6 Philip IV
As King of France from 1285 to 1314, Philip IV ruled alongside his wife, Joanna I. Philip IV is best remembered for driving the Jews out of France and persecuting the Knights Templar.
Philip IV and the Church viewed the Knights Templar as guilty of witchcraft, heresy, and alignment with Satan. Behind this was Philip IV’s dislike for the Templars due to their wealth and power. At the trial in 1307, the Templars were tortured and then admitted to these dark arts. Trying to escape torture, the Templars claimed that new members must urinate, walk, or spit on the cross.
The Templars also claimed to worship Baphomet, a demon who appeared to them as a black cat. Other claims included that the Templars kissed Satan and wore magical robes. Furthermore, what motivated the persecution was the fear that the Templars were heretics who would undermine the message of the church.
5 Pope John XXII
After studying law and medicine, Jacques Duese couldn’t decide what to do with his life and decided to join the church. In 1316, after a rapid rise through the religious ranks, Duese became Pope John XXII.
Two years after the destruction of the Templars, Pope John XXIII declared that witchcraft would be treated as heresy. He also believed that assassination attempts had been made against him using magical items. In his document of 1326, super specula ilioJohn XXII warned against learning or teaching magic and its performance.
4 Sir John Lovetot
Sometime in 1291 Sir John Lovetot ceased to be a friend of Walter Langton, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. Instead, Lovetot began to want to destroy Langton. It remains uncertain what caused this dispute. It is known, however, that Lovetot owed Langton nearly a thousand pounds.
In 1301 Lovetot brought several claims against Langton to the Pope. Lovetot claimed Langton had an affair with his stepmother, helped strangle his father, abused his power, and made a deal with the devil over his fortune. Lovetot even claimed that Langton offered the devil “obscene kisses.”
Pope Boniface VII summoned Langton to Rome and put him on trial on charges of witchcraft. The Pope then asked the Archbishop of England to look into Lovetot’s case. Witnesses claimed that these rumors came from rivals. Fortunately, none of the charges against Langton were confirmed. Due to his influential friends and title, Langton was able to avoid facing the lasting repercussions of these charges.
3 Peter von Greyerz
A man named Stedelen was executed in Boltigen, Switzerland, at the end of the 14th century, accused of being a witch. After a drought occurred in his village, it was claimed that Stedelen used black magic to destroy crops, kill livestock, slaughter a black rooster at a crossroads, place a lizard under the door of a local church, and drink milk from the cows belonging to a married couple for the wife to abort.
Judge Peter von Greyerz believed in witchcraft and that a satanic cult existed in Switzerland whose members swore allegiance to the devil and ate children. Von Greyerz claimed to have been first introduced to the dark arts in 1375 by a nobleman, Scavius, who could turn into a mouse. Scavius had a student, Hoppo, who was said to have taught Stedelen. At Hoppo’s feet, Stedelen reportedly learned how to steal manure and hay from fields through magic, create thunderstorms, sterilize both animals and people, drive horses crazy, and even fly.
Put on trial in 1397, Stedelen was charged with summoning a demon, maleficium, and diabolism. After torture, Stedelen admitted to summoning demons, making a pact with the devil, burying a lizard under the married couple’s house, and being part of a cult. As a result of his confession, Stedelen was burned at the stake.
2 Jean de Folleville, the Provost of Paris
Before the French Revolution in 1789, Paris was run by the provost of merchants. For a year, Jean de Folleville was the Provost of Paris, where he oversaw the first Paris witch trial.
In August 1390, two women, Margot de la Barre and Marion La Droituriere, were sentenced to burn at the stake. The women were accused of bewitching Marion’s ex-lover and his wife. Trying to win back her love, Marion shared with her ex-lover a drink made with drops of her menstrual blood mixed with wine. Marion had obtained two recipes from Margot: one was for herbs to induce impotence in Marion’s lover, and the other was to arouse the lover’s desire for Marion by roasting cock testicles and placing them under her pillow.
Later, in October 1390, Jeanne de Brigue and several other women were also tried for witchcraft. It was claimed that her godmother had taught Brigue to command Haussibut, a demon. It was also claimed that Brigue had learned divination from her neighbor and could find lost items. These accusations came about because six years earlier, a priest had approached Brigue for help in recovering money and a silver cross stolen from his church. Because Brigue found these items, the priest claimed that Brigue had supernatural powers. Following these accusations, Jean de Folleville ordered Brigue to be burned at the stake in the Place du Marche aux Pourceaux.
1 the Inquisition
The Inquisition was an effort by the Catholic Church focused on combating heresy (and witchcraft) by holding trials of people believed to be heretics. Convictions of unrepentant heretics often led to execution or life imprisonment. Inquisitors would often appear in the city and then give people a chance to admit their heresy. Those who admitted were tortured. Heretics who did not confess were also tortured.
In 1384, Sibilla Zanni and Pierina de’Bugatis were brought before the Inquisition. They were first sentenced to a minor penance because the Inquisition did not believe their story about the Virgin Oriente, a fairy-like religious figure. The women claimed to practice religious rituals where the Madonna Oriente performed magical acts, which included resurrecting sacrificed animals.
Finally, in 1390, the two women were arrested again and executed. During this trial, the women admitted to having sexual relations with Lucifelum, a dark spirit. The two women also claimed to have signed a contract of renouncing God. Interestingly, the narrative told by these women is very similar to that told by various other groups in Italy and Europe at the time.
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