Witches and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe:


The Malleus Maleficarum




Download Course Handbook and Bibliography


Course Summary


The Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) is one of the most infamous and controversial books of the early modern period. The Malleus Maleficarum has been blamed for the death of tens of thousands of women and men, and its instructions on the identification, prosecution, and punishment of witches arguably did much to pave the way for the great witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe and in the New World. The contents of the Malleus Maleficarum will be used as a starting point for a study of witches and witchcraft in early modern Europe, and an assessment of important trends in recent historiography. The Malleus Maleficarum offers intriguing insights into the late medieval and early modern mentality, and tells us much about the relationship between witchcraft and religion, magic and science, fear and disaster.


However the Malleus Maleficarum was not the only treatment of witchcraft in print, and it is important not to exaggerate its impact. Learned treatises such as the Malleus Maleficarum certainly did much to raise awareness of witchcraft, and highlight the alleged pact between the witch and the devil. But were the fears expressed in the literature borne out in reality? Why did the people of early modern Europe fear witches – or witchcraft – so much, and what were the concerns and motivations of those who persecuted and prosecuted witches, and those who made accusations against their neighbours?


We will consider a variety of explanations for rising accusations of witchcraft, the relationship between the Malleus Maleficarum and the early modern witch hunt, and the influence of this infamous book on the events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Students will be introduced to other primary sources, and to recent writing on early modern witchcraft, and encouraged to consider the value of a text such as the Malleus Maleficarum to historians of the witchcraze.


We will use the text of the Malleus Maleficarum edited by Christopher Mackay, The Hammer of Witches. A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (Cambridge, 2009). References to specific sections in the recommended reading can be followed up using the contents list beginning on p.61 of the Mackay edition.


Useful Web links


General Resources:


The online edition of the Malleus Maleficarum

The Internet Source book contains parts of the  Malleus Maleficaurm and the papal bull

Renaissance sources and texts (and music!) at  luminarium

Johannes Nider,  Formicarius

Extracts from Jean Bodin, De la demonomanie des sorciers (1580)

A general overview, with some links on the history of  witchcraft

A massive annotated listing of recent publications in the area can be found at the Witchcraft Bibliography site 

Primary sources, with a focus on trials in Germany, and some witchcraft literature



Individual Cases

 Witchcraft in Trier

Witch Persecutions at Bonn (Hanover Historical Texts Project)

Witch Persecutions at Bamberg (Hanover Historical Texts Project)

The Trial of the Bideford Witches: A True and Impartial Relation of the Informations against Three Witches (1682)

A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes Held at Bury St. Edmunds. . . 1664 (1682) (Hanover Historical Texts)

Robin Briggs’ resources for the study of witchcraft in Lorraine

A site (with links) devoted to witches in Essex, with a good selection of sources and texts: See for example: the Witchcraft Act 1604; the Hatfield Peverel Trial 1566; the St. Osyth Trial 1582; the Confession of Three Notorious Witches 1589; the Manningtree Trial 1645; a pamphlet A Dialogue Concerning Witches and Witchcraftes 1593; Advice to Judges 1645, and Matthew Hopkins "Discovery of Witches" . You can also view a Video Documentary about Mathew Hopkins on this site

Website of the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft project

A witch-hunt simulation – Put yourself on trial for witchcraft



Other Online Articles

E. William Monter, "Witchcraft in Geneva, 1537-1662" The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 43, No. 2. (Jun., 1971), pp. 179-204

Phyllis J. Guskin, "The Context of Witchcraft: The Case of Jane Wenham (1712)" Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Autumn, 1981), pp. 48-71.

Russell Zguta, "Witchcraft Trials in Seventeenth-Century Russia" The American Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 5. (Dec., 1977), pp. 1187-1207.