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The Crime of Crimes

Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620

Jonathan L. Pearl

Publication Year: 1999

One of the most intriguing, and disturbing, aspects of history is that most people in early modern Europe believed in the reality and dangers of witchcraft. Most historians have described the witchcraft phenomenon as one of tremendous violence. In France, dozens of books, pamphets and tracts, depicting witchcraft as the most horrible of crimes, were published and widely distributed.

Yet, in his new book, The Crime of Crimes: Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620, Jonathan Pearl shows that France carried out relatively few executions for witchcraft. Through careful research he shows that a zealous Catholic faction identified the Protestant rebels as traitors and heretics in league with the devil and clamoured for the political and legal establishment to exterminate these enemies of humanity. But the courts were dominated by moderate Catholics whose political views were in sharp contrast to those of the zealots and, as a result, the demonologists failed to ignite a major witch-craze in France.

Very few studies have taken such a careful and penetrating look at demonology in France. The Crime of Crimes: Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620 sheds new light on an important period in the history of witchcraft and will be welcomed by scholars and laypersons alike.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-6

One of the most intriguing—and disturbing—aspects of the history of European culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is that most people believed in witchcraft. It was widely held that, through the aid of the Devil, witches could seriously harm other people, livestock and crops. A complex of ideas came together to ...

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One: Early Modern Demonologists and Modern Historians

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pp. 7-22

Historians have been interested in the problem of witchcraft in early Modern Europe for a long time. It is an extraordinarily complex issue which crosses many disciplinary boundaries involving politics, religion, cultural anthropology, law, gender, psychology and intellectual life. One can sense, in this literature, ...

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Two: Witchcraft, Politics and Law

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pp. 23-40

It seems clear that something very profound happened to European civilization between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The change from ‘‘late medieval’’ to ‘‘early modern’’ is real and significant. Dramatic changes occurred in political organization, the concept of the state and the obligations of subjects to monarchs, ...

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Three: Politics and Demonic Possession

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pp. 41-58

After the death of Francis II in 1560 the Catholic zealots came to see themselves as an unjustly spurned minority. Unable to impose their will on the royal government and the administration of justice through political or military means, they had to resort to other methods to increase their support and to make progress toward ...

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Four: The Jesuits, Maldonat and the Development of French Demonology

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pp. 59-76

The exorcism of Nicole Aubrey introduced demonology to France as an aspect of the propaganda wars of the period. From these theatrical beginnings, political demonology was refined, given structure, intellectual rigour and respectability through the efforts of well-known Jesuit scholars, teachers and polemicists and their allies. ...

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Five: Politics, Morality and Demonology

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pp. 77-100

While Maldonat developed and refined the connections between Protestantism, heresy and the Devil in France, he did not invent them. These themes were already being exploited by the exorcists at Laon and were being spread by preachers before they were given theological rigour and respectability by Maldonat and his students. ...

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Six: Three Adversaries of Political Demonology

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pp. 101-126

The complaints of French political demonologists that many people in high places opposed them were not fiction. As has been discussed, the influential high courts did not follow the demonologists’ counsel in dealing with witches. The magistrates did not actively seek out witches, and when presented with ...

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Seven: Pierre de Lancre

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pp. 127-148

Of all the French high court magistrates who actually participated in trials of witches, only one wrote extensively of his experiences. This was Pierre de Lancre (c. 1550-1630), certainly one of the best known and most discussed of all the French demonologists. De Lancre is unique in French witchcraft jurisprudence, ...

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pp. 149-152

Although to us he is one of the best-known French judges of the early seventeenth century, Pierre de Lancre was not a typical French high court magistrate. His work as a demonologist author and judge is unique in France. While he fits Muchembled’s picture of the Catholic Reformation man, he cannot serve as an exemplar ...


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pp. 153-168


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pp. 169-178


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pp. 179-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780889206502
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202962
Print-ISBN-10: 0889202966

Page Count: 188
Publication Year: 1999