Alison Rowlands
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‘One cannot … hope to obtain the slightest certainty from him’
The first child-witch in Rothenburg, 1587

This chapter analyses the first Rothenburg case involving a self-confessed child-witch from 1587 and explains why the councilors found such cases hard to deal with and what precedents this case set for the future. The case involves a six-year-old boy called Hans Gackstatt from the hinterland village of Hilgartshausen, who tells a tale of nocturnal flight to a witches' dance, which starts an investigation of dubious legality and physical severity against his mother and himself from which other inhabitants of the village were not initially entirely safe. This case became the precursor of an increasing number of particularly problematic trials involving self-confessed child-witches dealt with by the councilors and their advisers in the seventeenth century. Their engagement with these cases had the long-term effect of deepening their concern about witchcraft and of intensifying their hostility towards what they increasingly came to regard as the archetypal witch-figure: the bad mother.

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Witchcraft narratives in Germany

Rothenburg, 1561–1652


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