Enzyklopädie der Hexerei - Die westliche Tradition - SAXONY, Electorate of


Im Folgenden wird hier der in der Enzyklopädie veröffentlichte Originaltext in englischer Sprache wiedergegeben und danach der dem Original entsprechende Text in deutscher Sprache.


There were more than 900 accused witches, approximately one-third of whom were executed, in the Electorate of Saxony, which lay in the eastern part of the old German empire, bordering the kingdom Bohemia with Silesia, the Electorate of Brandenburg-Prussia, the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, the counties of Mansfeld and Schwarzburg, Hessen, and the Thuringian duchies.  Strong relations with its neighbors affected jurisprudence through the exchange of knowledge between the legal faculties of its regional universities, Leipzig (founded 1409) and Wittenberg (founded 1502); both taught Roman and canon law.  Foreign jurists often entered Saxon service, and Saxon jurists served in neighboring domains. The reception of Roman law coexisted with traditional common law; both affected legal praxis.

Although inquisitorial trials for heresy and sorcery appeared in Electorate of Saxony by the fifteenth century, traditional criminal laws and regional legal systems remained of central importance in the sixteenth century. In the mid-eastern German states, the Sachsenspiegel ("Saxon mirror") already stipulated death at the stake for sorcery and heresy in its oldest known version, written around 1224/1227. Shortly after 1500, it was enlarged by a gloss making necromancy, fortunetelling, and magical healing into criminal offenses. The completely new criminal offence of witchcraft arose in the fifteenth century in connection with the punishment of heretical Waldensians in Saxony, particularly around Sangerhausen and Dresden, where secular courts repeatedly mingled charges of heresy with sorcery and ordered burnings. However, unlike most of western Germany, where full-blown diabolical witchcraft developed long before 1500, belief in maleficent magic remained dominant in Saxony. Moreover, due to the legally independent position of the Electorate of Saxony, Charles V's 1532 criminal code, the Carolina, had no legal force here.

After the 1572 Saxon Constitutionen took effect, the differences between the Imperial criminal code (Halsgerichtsordnung) and the Saxon systems of laws involved many questions of civil and criminal law as well as trial procedures.  Re-defining the crime of sorcery caused far-reaching differences in sentencing.  Several jurists and specialists in criminal law found the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) of special importance in this respect. Punishing sexual intercourse with the devil by death at the stake, even when no damage from sorcery had resulted, was new.  An accusation from a private party usually started the proceedings in witch trials. However, individual cases could also be started by the Saxon chancellery or by the lord of a manor.  Before the seventeenth century, these proceedings allowed no defense by defendants or their family members; formal defences are verifiable only in exceptional cases.

The 1572 Saxon legal constitutions banned appeals to higher authorities in criminal proceedings.  Local feudal courts stood under supervision by learned jurists who co-ordinated the process; the final verdict or judgement had to be approved by legal experts on the Schöffengericht or university law faculties approved by the Electors.  The Leipzig learned jurists (Schöffengericht) made the majority of judgments for Saxony in criminal proceedings, whereas the importance of the law professors of Wittenberg declined. Among the over 900 individuals accused of witchcraft in Saxony, officials of the Elector sentenced the largest portion. Town and manor courts saw fewer persons charged with the crime of the sorcery; nevertheless, they handled approximately a third of the over 900 defendants in Saxony who were accused of sorcery (first execution in 1407). The number of criminal proceedings was approximately proportionate to the total population (about 700,000 in the electorate by1600). No significant differences in witch hunting existed between the different courts, although in rural areas the probability of being accused of sorcery were statistically about 10 percent higher than in towns. Special responsibility for the execution of criminal proceedings fell to rural officials for upholding law and order (Schösser) and on town judges.  In some special cases, such as the county of Henneberg, criminal trials fell under the common administration of different sovereigns.

Proceedings related to the criminal offences of witchcraft and sorcery were also made against magicians and magical healers, fortunetellers, and those engaged in "superstitious" practices. For crimes of magic without harmful consequences, the guilty were usually exiled. Even a few persons sentenced to death were exiled; more often, however, the death penalty was 'graced' by decapitation with the sword instead of burning at the stake.  After 1661, a death sentence could also be commuted to forced labor for the prince (territorial lord).  Minor forms of sorcery required milder punishments, e.g., being put in the pillory, whipping, house arrest, or even - at the request of the respective partner - the nullification of marriage.  Some guilty people were banished; other defendants were fined; parish priests were removed from office; and some proceedings were dismissed.

In Saxony, most accusations of sorcery or witchcraft were socially instrumented. They were triggered by various factors: hailstorms and their consequences; accusations from sick people; behavior in disputes with neighbors or within the family.  Unsuccessful healing and other magical practices also provoked suspicion.  Sorcery, heresy, and witchcraft trials lasted more than 350 years, starting in 1407. Two main periods of verifiable proceedings lasted from 1610 to 1630 and from 1655 to 1665, when the number of executions reached its peak. Women comprised 73 percent of those tried for witchcraft in Saxony; most of them were still married but no longer of childbearing age. However, at least 22 children were also accused of sorcery; as a rule, they were beaten and then given into the care of clergymen for education.  Social status clearly mattered in Electorate of Saxony.  Married women of good social condition usually escaped punishment in witchcraft trials and could expect an acquittal or the suspension of executions.  Widows of low social status were more frequently affected by death sentences, in significantly higher numbers than could otherwise be expected, given the share of Saxony's population without possessions. Nevertheless, persons accused of sorcery came from all layers of the population, from beggars to farmers, burghers, and even from the nobility, roughly in proportion to the statistical size of each respective group within the total population. Neither Saxony's rulers nor their Lutheran church ever mounted campaigns against sorcery and witchcraft after the Reformation while enforcing its new confessional dogmas.  No religious or ethnic minorities were accused of witchcraft: Saxony's few Roman Catholics, its Slavonic Sorbian population, and its Jews remained undisturbed.

The new Saxon criminal regulations of 1661, substantially influenced by Benedict Carpzov, marked an important break, beginning a slow legal disintegration of the elements of the criminal offence of witchcraft.  Saxony's last known death sentence for sorcery was carried out in 1689, when the manor court of Ostrau (Amt Delitzsch) had Anna Maria Braune burned at the stake, following a judgement by learned jurists (Schöffenstuhl) in Halle/Saale. Alongside Saxon jurists, physicians and theologians also supported the start of decriminalizing judgements for sorcery by the second half of the seventeenth century.  The end of death sentences in Saxon witchcraft trials was also closely connected with the replacement of the scholastic tradition by the teachings of natural law. Saxony's final criminal proceeding against the offense of sorcery dates from 1766.






References and further reading:

Blaschke, Karlheinz. 1956. "Zur Behördenkunde der kursächsischen Lokalverwaltung." Pp. 343-363, in Archivar und Historiker. Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Heinrich Otto Meisner. Edited by Wolfgang Leesch et al. Berlin: Staatliche Archivverwaltung.

Boehm, Ernst. 1939-1940. "Der Schöppenstuhl zu Leipzig und der sächsische Inquisitionsprozess im Barockzeitalter."  Zeitschrift für die gesamte Strafrechtswissenschaft, 59, nos. 3.-6., (1940): 371-410 and 620-639; no. 60 (1941): 155-249; no. 61 (1941): 300-403.  Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.

Lück, Heiner. 1997. Die kursächsische Gerichtsverfassung 1423-1550. Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau.

Lück, Heiner. 1998. Die Spruchtätigkeit der Wittenberger Juristenfakultät. Organisation-Verfahren-Ausstrahlung. Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau.

Wilde, Manfred. 2002. "Hexenprozesse und Landesherrschaft: Der Schöffenstuhl, die Juristenfakultät und das Oberhofgericht in Leipzig und ihre Bedeutung für Hexenprozesse in Kursachsen." Pp. 149-166 in  Landesgeschichte und Archivwesen. Edited by Renate Wissuwa, Gabriele Viertel, and Nina Krueger. Dresden: Sächsisches Druck- und Verlagshaus.

Wilde, Manfred. 2003. Die Zauberei- und Hexenprozesse in Kursachsen. Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau.