Archive for October 17th, 2008

1622: Anne de Chantraine, young witch

2 comments October 17th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1622, Anne de Chantraine was burned at the stake for witchcraft in Waret-la-Chaussee, Belgium.

Our day’s heroine answers most prominently to fictional modern interpretations — about which more in a moment — but Anne de Chantraine was a flesh-and-blood person, at least for 17 years.*

In outline form, Anne is said to have faced the usual litany of sorcerous allegations and the usual ordeals to demonstrate guilt, with the usual result: confession, execution. Here in the opening years of the Thirty Years’ War coeval with the the conflicts of the Protestant Reformation, one cannot but suspect the fearful hand of endangered authority in witch-hunts. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper argued that

this recrudescence of the witch-craze in the 1560s was directly connected with the return of religious war … It can be shown from geography: every major outbreak is in the frontier-area where religious strife is not intellectual, a dissent of opinion, but social, the dissidence of a society. … Thereafter, almost every local outbreak can be related to the aggression of one religion upon the other.

Anne de Chantraine’s environs fit the theorem.

The Walloon region of Liege at this point was governed by a Catholic Prince-Bishop of Habsburg stock, just as the Holy Roman Empire was putting down the Protestant stirrings in Bohemia that would initiate Europe’s epochal war and send armies to and fro through the Low Countries. Said Prince-Bishop, name of Ferdinand of Bavaria, would win renown as a zealous persecutor of the diabolical in his realms.

Alas for Anne.

She’s a bit better documented among Francophones (see this biography in French, for instance, full of sensual details like the gorgeous red hair, a spurned lover accusing her, and the rough play of medieval torture; there’s also a brief roundup in German here), but worldwide, she’s a literary character of some consequence — most notably, perhaps, through the work of Belgian author Francoise Mallet-Joris: her 1968 Trois âges de la nuit (translated to English as simply The Witches) presents Anne de Chantraine as the focal point of one of three vignettes reimagining real historical “witches” as persons struggling for spiritual growth.

Anne, in this version, does participate in (staged, not-really-supernatural) witches’ sabbaths, plus a lesbian affair with a fellow participant. Her seekings both godly and infernal (paralleled by lifestyles both monastic and hedonistic) fall short of satisfactory; in the end, exercising magic unto her own death is a form of self-actualization among fellow people who, unable to recognize her humanity, brutalize or ignore her.

Players of the long-running video board game Atmosfear (or Nightmare) will also recognize Anne de Chantraine as a recurring witch character. The series uses recordings (VCR tapes originally; DVDs now) played during gameplay; “the witch” is featured as the central character in Atmosfear III/Nightmare III:

(In the comment thread for this video on YouTube, the French actress Frederique Fouche drops in to confirm her part as the witch. According to this French interview, the role caused her to become an emigre in Australia.)

* Some reports say she was burned at age 17, others that she was arrested at 17, which would have made her 18 or 19 at her death.

Part of the Themed Set: Belles Epoque.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Belgium,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Fictional,God,Habsburg Realm,History,Public Executions,The Supernatural,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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