French and Italian Witchcraft
France played a vital role in shaping Europe's view of witchcraft. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the largest groups of heretics in Christendom flourished there: the Cathars, who saw the world as a continuous struggle between light and darkness and denied the authority of the church hierarchy; and the Waldensians, who practised apostolic poverty and also denied papal supremacy. The Inquisitors of southern France had no difficulty m demonstrating to their own satisfaction that such heretics, like those of the early Christian era, were in league with the Devil. Then, between 1308 and 1314, witchcraft and heresy were also equated by the secular courts. Abetted by the liberal use of torture, the prosecutors of King Philip the Fair extorted confessions from hundreds of Knights Templar (a quasimonastic crusading order) that they had engaged in sodomitic orgies and worshipped an idol called Baphomet (Mohammed) who was anointed with the fat of roasted babies and was accompanied by a Satanic cat – that they were, in short, agents of the Devil.
The Inquisitors thus 'diabolised' religious opponents like the Cathars and Waldensians, while the royal judges 'diabolised' political opponents. Shortly after the Templars had been destroyed, French royal judges hanged a former royal councillor and burned his female accomplice for making images of two royal princes; two years later, papal judges at Avignon burned a French bishop for making magical attempts to kill the Pope and some Cardinals. The French connection between sorcery and dealings with the Devil soon spread down the social ladder until in 1390-91 the Parlement of Paris , the largest secular jurisdiction in Europe, condemned four illiterate women herbalists to death at the stake for causing impotence and illness with the Devil's aid.
This article is available to History Today online subscribers only. If you are a subscriber, please log in.
Please choose one of these options to access this article:
- Purchase an online subscription
- Purchase a print and online subscription
- If you are already a print subscriber, purchase the online archive upgrade
Call our Subscriptions department on +44 (0)20 3219 7813 for more information.
If you are logged in but still cannot access the article, please contact us
- Middle East
- North America
- South America
- Central America
- Early Modern
- 20th Century
- Economic History
- Environmental History
- Food & Drink
- Historical Memory
- Science & Technology