For a variety of reasons, we will probably never know
how many people died as a direct result of the Witchcraft
hunts. Many judicial records have been destroyed, not
all trials had records, not all those killed were given
a trial but were lynched by members of their communities.
Figures of those Killed
The figures given for the numbers killed range from
only a few thousand, to as high as nine million. It
seems likely that both these figures are incorrect.
For various reasons, such as then current population
figures etc it is unlikely that the number of dead would
be in the millions. It is more likely that the number
is between 100,000 and 300,000.
The first distinction that must be made is between
the number of prosecutions and the number of executions.
Not all those tried or convicted were actually executed.
For example in the German lands, in some hunts, virtually
all suspects were convicted and executed while in other
areas, the difference between the number of convictions
and the number of excutions is quite significant. Levack
(1997, p. 19) holds that in most regions the execution
rate was about 70%. However, in areas such as Essex
county and Geneva the rate was only about 25% while
only in Pays de Vaud did the rate reach as high as 90%.
Secondly, the claims of the numbers killed may have
been exagerated by the authorities themselves. Those
in charge of executions may have wished to exagerate
the numbers killed in order to demonstrate their piety
or religious devotion or to reinforce their positions
of power through fear. Later writers on these events
may have wished to emphasise the gravity of their topic
by increasing the tally of those killed.
Location of those Killed
According to Levack (1997, p.19) most of those killed
died in German lands within the Holy Roman Empire. Records
that exist, data relating to over 30,000 prosecutions,
most relating to German lands, have been found. In some
of the entries, more than one name is recorded it is
possible that the total number of prosecutions in German
lands could have exceeded 50,000 people.
The next highest concentration of prosecutions was
in the lands surrounding German lands. Poland in the
east had about 15,000 trials although there is still
much work to be done on this area. To the south, Switzerland
had about 9,000 hunts. In the various states to the
west, including France, the number of trials probably
reached about 10,000. French courts prosecuted witches
in large numbers throughout the period. The Parlement
of Paris, which had juristiction over about half the
country, heard 1,123 cases on appeal between 1565 and
1640. Since appeals were not automatic until 1624, is
seems that the number of original trails would probably
been much higher. Also, the most intense area of prosecution
in France were in the southwest and southeast, outside
the area controlled by the Parlement of Paris.
In the British Isles, there were also heavy periods
of prosecutions. As a whole there were probably about
5,000 trials in the Isles (about half of them in Scotland)
and about 5,000 in the various Scandinavian kingdoms.
There were also about 4,000 trials in Hungry, Translyvania,
Moldavia, Wallacia and Russia. The numbers are low from
these areas, but they may change as these areas are
increasingly be studied by modern scholars.
Finally, around the Mediterranen, the Spanish kingdoms
and the Italian states, there were about 10,000 prosecutions.
Many of these were for relatively minor forms of magic,
very few of these prosecutions resulted in executions.
Significance of the Numbers
Although these numbers give us a total of about 110,000
prosecutions and about 60,000 executions, the numbers
do not convey the full intensity of the witchhunts.
The number brought to trial doesn't tell us how many
lived in fear for their lives for being suspected of
witchcraft. It doesn't give us the number of people
who were accused of witchcraft and the ramifications
of having been accused. Also, many who were formally
accused may never have been brought to trial, who still
lived in fear of being prosecuted.
Also you must break down the executions to a village
level to get their true impact. For example, 133 witches
were executed in one day in the lands of the Convent
of Quedlinburg. How many of those people may have all
been from the same village or even the same family?
There are tales of every woman in a village being accused
and prosecuted. The effect on certain regions must have
been devestating. u
Levack, Brian "The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe"
(London: Longman, 1987)
Hart, Roger "Witchcraft" (London: Wayland Publishers,
Maple, Eric "Witchcraft" (London: Octopus Books,
Britannica Online "Occultism: Witchcraft: Witchcraft
in Historical Cultures: Western Christendom" - http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=macro/5004/71/47.html
My aim in this section of my site is to provide some
of the current academic thinking in relation to this
period and the events that occured. If you would like
to contribute or make a comment, feel free to contact