1583: Edward Arden, Shakespearean kin

Add comment December 20th, 2019 William Camden

(Thanks to historian William Camden for the guest post, via the 1583 chapter of his Annales. The gentleman in the second paragraph below, Edward Arden — second cousin to William Shakespeare’s mum — was executed on the 20th of December, 1583. -ed.)

And not onely these men troubled the Church at home, but also some which proceeded from these did the like abroad, namely Robert Browne a Cambridge man, a young student in Divinity, of whom the new sectaries were called Browniste, and Richard Harison a pety schoolmaster. for these two presuming but of their owne spirit to judge of matters of Religion, by bookes set forth at this time in Zeland and dispersed all over England condemned the Church of England as no Church, and intangled many in the snares of their new schisme, notwithstanding that their bookes were suppressed by the Queenes authority and soundly confuted by learned men, and that two of the Sectaryes, one after another, were excuted at Saint Edmunds Bury.

On the other side some Papists bookes against the Queene and Princes excommunicate drew some which had the Popes power in great reverence for their obedience, and amongst others they so distracted one Somervill, a gentilman, that in haste he undertooke a journey privily to the Queenes Court, and breathing nothing but blood against the Protestants, he furiously set upon one or two by the way with his sword drawne. Being apprehended, hee professed that hee would have killed the Queene with his owne hands. Whereupon he, and by his appeachment Edward Ardern his wives father, a man of very ancient gentility in the County of Warwicke, Ardern’s wife, their daughter Somervill, and Hall a Priest, as accessaries, were arrraigned and condemned. After three daies Somervill was found strangled in prison; Arderne, being condemned, was the next day after hanged and quartered; the woman and the Priest were spared. This woefull end of this gentleman, who was drawne in by the cunning of the Priest and cast by his own testimony, was commonly imputed to Leicesters malice. For certaine it is that hee had incurred Leicesters heavie displeasure, and not without cause, against whom hee had rashly opposed himselfe in all hee could, had reproached him as an adulterer, and detracted him as a new upstart.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Martyrs,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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1583: Elisabeth Plainacher, Vienna’s only witchcraft execution

Add comment September 27th, 2013 Headsman

The city of Vienna only has one documented execution for witchcraft to its illustrious history. It occurred on this date in 1583.

Elisabeth Plainacher (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a miller’s daughter from Mank who had lived most of her 70 or so years during the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, that social conflict so productive of witchcraft accusations.

It would factor very specifically in Elsa’s case, since she herself was a Protestant in a very Catholic place.

Elsa’s daughter Margaret died in childbirth, and Elsa took all four of the surviving children into her own care while Margaret’s widower went his own way. Three of these children would die in her care; the fourth became an epileptic in her teens, finally leading Margaret’s (Catholic) former husband to accuse his mother-in-law of bewitching everybody.

The accusation was ill-timed for the “witch”: Jesuit zealot Georg Scherer got hold of the case and put the epileptic teenager through a gantlet of exorcisms that he claimed expunged 12,652 infernal spirits. Scherer’s accounting must have been as rigorous as his faith.

“Scholars and men of understanding know that devils have neither flesh nor limbs, but are spirits, and therefore need no place or space as do our bodies,” Scherer later wrote by way of explaining the crowded tenancy. “A hundred thousand legions of spirits could all be collected together on the point of a needle.” Scherer preached, and later published, a sermon this holy combat, titled “A Christian remembrance of the most recent deliverance of a young woman who was possessed by 12,652 devils.”

This was a relentlessness which Elsa Plainacher was not formed to resist. She was a humble miller with some family drama, and then suddenly she was under torture (German link) in the imperial capital with the day’s headline pulpit-basher at her throat. She soon admitted whatever devilries her torturers demanded of her: giving the epileptic over to the devil, desecrating the Host, all that sort of thing.

On September 27, 1583, she was drug by a horse to an open field where she was burned at the stake. Her ashes were consigned to the Danube. Plainacherin even persisted (more German) in the local vernacular for a time as a dirty word.

Posterity’s apology for this horrible fate comes in the form of a small Vienna street, Elsa-Plainacher-Gasse, named after her. (There’s also a Plainachergasse in her native Mank.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Austria,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Innocent Bystanders,Milestones,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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