Postscript: the European Witch-craze

Geoffrey Parker concludes our two-part feature on Europe's witch-craze.

The perservering reader who has perused our articles on withcraft will doubtless be left with some general questions about the European witchcaze of the 16th and 17th centuries. Most obviously, one may ask how many people were tried and executed for sorcery? Alas, no acceptable answer can be offered. Even for individual countries such as England or France no totals can be calculated because of both the multiplicity of jurisdications concerned with the punishment of crime and the widespread loss of legal record. Voltaire's educated estimate of 100,000 victims still seems plausible, but historians have found it impossible either to confirm or to deny this figure empirically. All that we can add to this is that very few areas indeed were entirely safe for witches to live: only the lands of the Orthodox Church in the East and  - after 1610 - the Dutch Republic in the West seem to have offered sanctuary. It is true that in Spain and most of Italy witches were not burned until after about 1610; but they were still severely punished in other ways, and they continued to be molested by the law long after the persecution ended in the rest of Western Europe.

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