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  • Hexenprozess und Folter. Die strafrechtliche Spruchpraxis der Juristenfakultät Tübingen im 17. und beginnenden 18. Jahrhundert
  • Johannes Dillinger

Tübingen University, legal history, torture, witch trials, early modern Germany

Marianne Sauter . Hexenprozess und Folter. Die strafrechtliche Spruchpraxis der Juristenfakultät Tübingen im 17. und beginnenden 18. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Verlag für Regionalgeschichte, 2010. Pp. 306.

Do you plan a research trip to the archive of Tübingen University? Do you plan to work with the almost unique corpus of expert opinions concerning witch trials issued by the Tübingen law faculty? The university's archive boasts a nearly complete set of the law faculty's legal opinions written since 1602, so you might feel tempted. Save your time and your money. Somebody else already did the job. Marianne Sauter's book is the expressive result of seven years of meticulous work. And she has written it in a way that makes trips to the Tübingen archive superfluous for the foreseeable future.

Sauter's research question seems simple enough: Were the jurists of Tübingen University more willing to recommend the use of torture in witch trials than in other criminal trials? However, this question addresses one of the core issues of the legal history of witchcraft: Was torture, as the classical study of Soldan and Heppe claimed, really the "very soul (eigentliche Seele)" of the witch trials?1 Sauter tries to answer the question using the expert opinions issued by the Tübingen law faculty. Evidently, the question implies the [End Page 110] need for a comparison, so Sauter works not only with the expert opinions dealing with witchcraft but also with those referring to murder, infanticide, sex crimes, and theft. Thus, her book is not only a contribution to Hexenforschung (witchcraft research) but also to legal history in general and to the history of crime and criminal justice in particular. Sauter's comparison certainly works but one would have wished that the author had taken more time to reflect on her own approach and on the methodology of comparative historiography.

The structure of the book is simple enough. In the first chapter, Sauter explains the system of juridical consultations in early modern Germany, the role of torture in criminal proceedings, the peculiarities of witch trials, and the conditions and preconditions of criminal justice in the duchy of Württemberg. Sauter is nothing if not thorough. She explains every technical term of early modern German law. She checks the biographies of the members of Württemberg's government, the Oberrat, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries in order to find out whether they had any connections to the law faculty of Tübingen University. She proves that these connections were especially strong during the heyday of witch-hunting. The second chapter consists of the quantitative analysis of the Tübingen legal opinions. The author proves and illustrates her argument with a number of statistics and graphs in color. The book comes with a CD that provides additional statistical material. Thus, a grand total of thirty graphs and forty-nine tables present a huge mass of data in a plain and most accessible form. The third chapter analyzes the source materials qualitatively. Sauter asks what witness accounts, what material or circumstantial evidence the Tübingen jurists required before they were willing to recommend the torture of the suspect. The sources give about thirty different kinds of evidence—including the denunciation by alleged accomplices, a bad reputation, and a suspicious physiognomy, as well as specific evidence for witchcraft such as pricking. Sauter correlates the expert opinions with the rules of the imperial law and with the recommendations of the juridical literature. She concludes the chapter with helpful short comments about the role that individual professors of the Tübingen faculty of law played in witch-hunting.

The results of the study are unequivocal. The Tübingen jurists did not recommend the use of torture more readily in witch trials than in any other criminal trials. On the contrary, the percentage of legal opinions that rejected the use of torture against the clear wishes of the local judges was higher in witch trials than in any...


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