First witch at the stake, is Angèle de la Barthe fake news?

For some, she was the first victim of the witch hunt that raged for several centuries in Europe. Angela de la Barthe even has fans who do not hesitate to take his nickname on social networks. In the imagination of contemporary followers of the Sabbath, this Toulousewho is said to have been indicted and sentenced to death by the Inquisition in 1275, has a captivating pedigree to say the least.

According to a medieval chronicle published in the 15th century, this witch would have made confessions that were surprising to say the least: at the age of 53, after having had carnal relations with Satan, she would have given birth to a monster with the head of a wolf and a tail of a serpent. But the story does not end there. To feed her offspring, this widow, most certainly from the village of Labarthe-sur-Lèze, would have killed babies and dug them up in cemeteries. An activity to say the least macabre that she would have carried out for two years.

The inconsistencies of a good story

The scene is set and all the ingredients are there to make her a proper witch: the devil himself, a monstrous creature, the ritual sacrifice of newborns and finally a good trial that ends up at the stake. But everything is certainly a little too perfect to be true. “Angela du lieu-dit de la Barthe may have existed and may have been burned as a witch, but there seems to be no existing evidence,” warns Isabelle Bonafé, head of Regional Collections at the study and heritage library From toulouse. For her, in this beautiful story, the devil is in the details.

Extract from the General History of Languedoc by Dom Devic and Dom Vaissette. – Toulouse heritage library

On the one hand, there is no trace of this Angèle de la Barthe in the trial notes of the time. This case is well cited in an old text: it is the reference work General history of Languedoc published during the first half of the 18th century by the Benedictine fathers Dom Claude Devic and Dom Joseph Vaissette. They mention the Chronic of a certain Guillaume Bardin, a 15th century adviser-clerk to the Parliament of Toulouse, in which he mentions an “Angela loci de la Barthe”, 60 years old and condemned in 1275 to the stake. “It is specified that it was “Petrus de Vicinis” (Pierre de Voisins), accompanied by his assessors, who in 1275 condemned several sorcerers and witches, including Angèle de la Barthe. From a historical point of view this story does not hold water because Pierre de Voisins, quoted in the text, was seneschal of Toulouse in 1254 and of Carcassonne in 1255. But in 1275, he is already dead”, points out the curator.

This obvious date error is one of the elements that casts suspicion on the reality of the story of this chronicle, which contains other equally tasty stories. For the historian and archivist Francois Bordessaid Chronic would never even have been written by Bardin himself in the 15th century, but 200 years later by an apocryphal author.

“This story is a false chronicle of Toulouse which was certainly written in the 17th century with a real 15th century officer as its imaginary writer. It includes a series of facts which had already seemed difficult to believe as authentic for the Benedictines Dom Devic and Dom Vaissette, whether because of the numerous inaccuracies, manifest errors and things which had no reason to be in the time when it was supposed to have happened”, notes the author of the book Wizards and witches. Witchcraft trials in Gascony and the Basque Country.

Between manipulation of history and buzz

For this specialist, other points do not stick, beyond the fact that the monstrous child of Angèle, child of Satan as it is, managed at only two years to go away alone and from his voluntarily. Indeed, in 1275, the devil is not yet bankable. “It appears during the fourteenth century, so more than a century later. Theoretically all that did not exist in the representation of witchcraft at the time”, continues François Bordes who nevertheless praises some qualities of the editor of this column.

The choice of period. At the end of the 13th century, the heretics had almost all been hunted down and the inquisitors were looking for a new pastime. The “deviants”, lovers of medicinal plants or healers, are therefore ready-made prey. “There is also a Bardin at the time this chronicle is supposed to have been written, the fact that he existed is the legitimacy of authenticity. But if it has an air of authenticity, because it is very detailed, that we name people, give dates and places, when we compare this story with the elements of the story present in the archives, many things are false”, decides the man who managed the municipal archives of Toulouse for many years.

We can ask ourselves the question of the interest of creating fake news in the 17th century, when witchcraft trials are going well and in Languedoc we do not hesitate to hang and burn those who make the slightest mistake. “It was to have a bit of sensationalism in this Chronic “, believes François Bordes. A good buzz, very crisp, which made Angèle de la Barthe a muse of witchcraft. Well in spite of herself.

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First witch at the stake, is Angèle de la Barthe fake news?

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