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  • A Bewitched Duchy: Lorraine and Its Dukes, 1477-1736
  • Elspeth Whitney
E. William Monter . A Bewitched Duchy: Lorraine and Its Dukes, 1477-1736. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance 432. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2007. 176 pp. index. append. tbls. CHF 120. ISBN: 978-2-600-01165-5.

William Monter has written widely and authoritatively about the European witch-hunts, with special attention to the interplay between political power and trials for sorcery and witchcraft. Despite its title, the present book, however, concerns itself less with witchcraft per se than with the political history of the Duchy of Lorraine as a "Franco-German buffer state" during the early modern period. Monter provides an elegantly written narrative history in an almost chatty [End Page 1265] style that carries his painstaking archival work lightly. Monter's principal theme is the dynastic survival of Lorraine for over a century and a half, despite its precarious position wedged between France and the German Empire. This success he attributes to the prudence of its rulers, a productive economy and a careful policy of official neutrality. Monter takes the reader in successive chapters through the ups and downs of Lorraine's rulers from René I, the first ruler to acquire both the Duchy of Lorraine and the adjoining Duchy of Bar, through the rule of Charles III (1545-1608), Lorraine's most ambitious ruler, and finally to the series of French occupations from 1633 through the mid-eighteenth century that marked the end of Lorraine's independence. As Monter points out, Lorraine's political history has remained "underdeveloped" in part because the state archives were dispersed across Europe, a reflection of the extraordinary complexities of Lorraine's political, legal, and cultural makeup. Simply piecing together a coherent and readable narrative is an achievement and this book provides a service in illuminating a case history of early modern state-building from the perspective of an ambitious, if second-rate, political power.

Monter also provides systematic coverage of each duke's judicial activities, including witch-hunting, and this provides a parallel narrative to the political history and explains the book's title. Some of this material provides a surprisingly intimate glimpse of the daily problems of these early modern rulers; Monter reports, for example, that the practice of boiling convicted counterfeiters in oil was phased out after 1610 not because of any advance in thought about criminal justice but because of the difficulty and expense of repairing the cauldron used to boil the oil. Monter also records the propensity of Lorraine for formally trying and hanging pigs for murder (there were sixteen such incidents, two of which occurred in the capital). Indeed, during the reign of Antoine I (1508-44), Monter observes, more pigs and Protestants were executed than witches. Witch-hunting in the duchy was generally managed in an orderly way from the top down, reaching a peak under the influence of Nicholas Remy, who became Charles III's Procureur-général in 1591. This phase of Lorraine's witch hunts, according to Monter, illustrates that European witch-hunting could be more widespread during periods of stable and responsible government and could function as a more or less normal form of law enforcement. A quite different type of witch-hunting occurred slightly later in Lorraine's history with a series of politically motivated exorcisms of court figures and secret witch-trials in the later years of the reign of Charles III, Henri II, and Charles IV.

Elegantly written, meticulously researched, and handsomely produced, this book fills in an important gap in early modern political history and provides some interesting details on the practice of early modern criminal justice. A genealogical chart of Lorraine's dukes and their families would have been a useful addition. [End Page 1266]

Elspeth Whitney
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


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pp. 1265-1266
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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