1938: Nikolai Kondratiev, purged economist 46 B.C.E.: Vercingetorix the Gaul

1589: Dietrich Flade, for leniency towards evildoers

September 18th, 2008 dogboy

On Sept 18, 1589, a magistrate and deputy governor in Trier, a city embroiled in a witch-burning campaign, was himself delivered that fate.

The winds of the Reformation swirled mercilessly at that time, and Dietrich Flade sat on the bench charged with maintaining order in Trier. Flade held a Doctorate of Civil and of the Canon Law, and he was well-connected in the magisterial Germany of the day. He just happened to be alive at the wrong time. George Lincoln Burr provides an extensive account of Flade’s ill-fated time on the bench, including this foreboding look:

But the storm that was to rob him of fortune, fame, and life was already brewing all along the horizon. The witch-trials, which, during the earlier part of the century, had appeared only sporadically, were settling here and there into organized persecutions. In the neighboring Lorraine, the terrible Nicolas Remy was already exercising that judgeship, as the fruit of whose activity he could boast a decade later of the condemnation of nine hundred witches within fifteen years; and just across the nearer frontier of Luxemburg, now in Spanish hands, the fires were also blazing. Nay, the persection had already, in 1572, invaded the Electorate itself.

In six years, the diocese of Trier oversaw the execution of 368 witches, many of whom confessed only under torture. The anti-witchcraft campaign was so expansive that some towns were left with few if any women. The hysteria was widely reviled by the academics of the time, including both Flade and Cornelius Loos.

Loos was so disturbed by the events occurring around him that he wrote a book in objection; before it could gain distribution, however, Loos was arrested and jailed. It was four years before he was released, only after recanting his entire treatise and acknowledging the authority of the Pope.

Flade (German Wikipedia link) was not as lucky.

As judge, he was too light with suspected witches and allowed many to go free or get off with light sentences. Worst of all, he let the unsettled Reformation continue without his intervention on behalf of the church. His “trial” was brutal*, with an extracted confession from five heinous torture sessions serving as evidence against him. As high-ranking as Flade was, though, he was executed rather mutedly in Treves.

Not without reason, Burr suspects the motive was entirely political on the part of Archbishop Johann von Schöneburg. Von Schöneburg immediately stepped up his campaign to ensure his dominion, moving to larger mass executions and damning the populace to a generation of loss — except the executioner, of course, who was paid handsomely for the deed.

The persecutions were spurred on by both similar events elsewhere in the world and the writings of those directly involved. France, and, of course, Spain both featured notable witchcraft courts. One bishop under Von Schoeneburg, Peter Binsfield, was tasked with scribing works to defend the practice, which he dutifully discharged in 1589 and 1591; these were followed shortly by Jesuit Peter Thyraeus** (1594) and the aforementioned Nicholas Remy (1595). By that time, however, the furor in Trier had, in more ways than one, burned itself out: by 1593, with too few people to tend the land and sustain the towns, the area around Trier had become an economic crater, and the persecutors put a reluctant end to the madness.

Badly damaged page from Flade’s original trial transcription, courtesy of the Cornell University Library’s Witchcraft Collection.

* One of the founders of Cornell University, A.D. White, joined forces with Burr to acquire the one known copy for that university’s library in 1883. Burr intended to transcribe the text but apparently never completed the job, instead delivering several talks and writing an tract on the subject that includes extensive footnotes.

** Thyraeus also wrote one of the age’s definitive considerations of lycanthropy, shapeshifting and werewolfism — another demonic manifestation simultaneously afoot in Germany.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,God,Guest Writers,History,Intellectuals,Judges,Lawyers,Other Voices,Politicians,Public Executions,The Worm Turns,Torture,Witchcraft,Wrongful Executions

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