Ten Things You Should Know About the Witch Hunts of Europe

Basic Facts About Witchcraft Persecutions

Depiction of a Witches Sabbath, 1608
Depiction of a witches Sabbath, from the Compendium Maleficarum by Francesco Maria Guazzo, Milan, 1608. Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

 In the medieval and early modern era, Western Europe saw a high level of persecution of people accused of witchcraft.  Here are some of the basic facts about the European witch hunts:

  1. The peak of persecutions was different in different parts of Europe, mostly from the mid 1400s to the mid 1700s.
  2. About 75% to 80% of those executed as practicing witchcraft were women.  Historians have offered a variety of reasons for this. 
  1. About 75% of the executions were in the part of Europe known as the Holy Roman Empire, which included parts of what are today Germany, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
  2. Estimates of the number of deaths range from about 10,000 to nine million.
  3. The so-called witch hunters’ manual, the Malleus Maleficarum, was written by two German monks, though one of these may have have had a more symbolic and less active role in the writing.
  4. The support of Pope Innocent VIII was instrumental in the acceptance of the Malleus Maleficarum and the pursuit of witches as heretics against the Christian faith.
  5. The Malleus Maleficarum was used by Protestants as well as Roman Catholics as a manual for witch hunting.
  6. In the Salem witch trials of 1692 in the English colony of Massachusetts, 24 accused witches died: 19 were hanged, one was pressed to death and four died in prison.
  7. The Pendle witch trials in England in 1612 resulted in ten executions, one death in prison and one accused witch found innocent.
  1. In 1862, feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage published Women, Church and State, stating that nine million had been executed as witches.

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