1631: Anna Katharina Spee

On this date in 1631, Bruchhausen vintner Anna Katharina Spee was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

She’s notable for being the remarried widow (German link) of Robert Spee, who was kin to* Friedrich Spee.

Spee is an honorable figure in the sad history of 17th century witch-hunting. This very year of 1631, he published — anonymously at first — his Caution Criminalis (Precautions for Prosecutors). This seminal volume took a heretical-for-the-time stance against the widespread contemporary practice of judicial torture. Spee argued, heatedly, that it was great at extracting confessions but not so reliable when it came to extracting accurate confessions.

Torture chair-illustrated title page of Hetty Kemmerich’s study of German witchcraft prosecutions, with Anna Spee’s plaintive titular cry. Sagt, Was Ich Gestehen Soll! has not been translated from German, but is available from Amazon.de.

“Why do we search high and low for wizards?” Spee jeered his contemporaries. “I will show them to you no matter where. Torture the Capuchins and Jesuits; they will confess … Torture the prelates and canons of the Church; they will confess … If you want still more, then torture you yourselves, and then torture me.”

There’s no known connection between Spee’s work and the fate of poor Anna Katharina, but she could certainly serve as a case in point.

In vain did she deny intercourse with the devil in September 1631 until she could withstand her interrogators no longer and gave them what they demanded of her. A German book about the witch hunts takes its title from Anna Spee’s plea to her tormenters: Sagt, was ich gestehen soll! Tell me what I should say next!

* Robert Spee was either a brother or a cousin of Friedrich Spee. According to the Spee family’s German Wikipedia page, she’s also a distant ancestor of singer Wolfgang Niedecken.

On this day..