The witch hunt: miscarriage of justice and misogynistic conspiracy

Three questions to Brigitte Rochelandet

Historian, specialist in the history of mentalities, Brigitte Rochelandet is particularly interested in the history of women (several articles have appeared on this subject in The French Journal of Genealogy). For her tenth book, she chose the prism of witchcraft trials, a subject she masters perfectly well, having made it her thesis subject.

Who are you ?

As a child, I frequented a second-hand bookstore, where I could climb ladders to pick up – and borrow – books from The Countess of Segur or of The Green Library. All of this led me to college. of History: DEUG, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, DEA and doctorate, with a specialization in the history of mentalities and with the late Lucien Febvre as mentor, until ending with a thesis on witchcraft trials in the 16e century, in Franche-Comté.

Why this book?

In fact, this tenth book, almost all the previous ones having been devoted to the history of women, offers a return to the witchcraft trials that I had studied for my thesis, placing them back in the news, with here of course the issue of violence against women. Today we talk a lot about witches, whom feminists willingly take as icons, with a certain image of the woman, caster of spells and woman of power, doing what she liked with her life and her body. It is in the face of these observations that I decided to rework the subject, in order to make sense of things.

How did you work?

I took over all the documentation that I had gathered for my thesis, i.e. no less than 800 Franche-Comtois trial of the XVIe century, to which I added 200 new ones, which had taken place in the former – Lutheran – principality of Montbéliard. I have studied or re-studied them all, remixing them and seeking in particular to identify profiles, both of witches – and wizards – and of their accusers and their judges.

These witches, generally accused of sickening or killing animals or men, and also of having participated in the Sabbath with the devil, were in fact rarely healers or midwives. Villagers, they were women over 40 years – therefore, for the time, elderly women who no longer had a sexual life, hence the importance of denouncing their relationship with the demon. Rather belonging, for the rural ones, to the small peasantry, whereas the accused city dwellers were from more affluent backgrounds, they were all mothers, while in fact being considered useless to the community in which they lived. This is why, in the light of my new approaches, these trials which led them to the stake will reveal themselves on more than one level revealing the mentalities of their time and the evolution of these mentalities, with here my subtitle: Miscarriage of justice and misogynist conspiracy. A work that was in any case absolutely fascinating.

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The witch hunt: miscarriage of justice and misogynistic conspiracy

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