Old Demdike: Forty Nine

Put To Question: Pressing

Torture isn’t allowed under English law –
but some folk still get pressed to death by the peine forte et dure!

“he will lie upon his back, with his head covered and his feet, and one arm will be drawn to one quarter of the house with a cord, and the other arm to another quarter, and in the same manner it will be done with his legs; and let there be laid upon his body iron and stone, as much as he can bear, or more.”

Old Demdike: Forty Seven

Put To Question: The Thumbscrews

Torture isn’t allowed under English law –
but the thumbscrews or pilniewinks crush even the strongest will!

“. . . in 1596, the son and daughter of Aleson Balfour, who was accused of witchcraft, were tortured to make her confess her crime in the manner following: Her son was put in the buits where he suffered fifty-seven strokes; and her daughter about seven years old, was put in the pilniewinks . . .”

Old Demdike: Forty Six

Put To Question: The Rack

Torture isn’t allowed under English law –
but some folk get stretched on The Rack:

“We went to the torture room in a kind of procession, the attendants walking ahead with lighted candles.
The chamber was underground and dark, particularly near the entrance. It was a vast place and every device and instrument of human torture was there. They pointed out some of them to me and said I would try them all. Then he asked me again whether I would confess.
‘I cannot,’ I said.”
(Father John Gerard, 1597)

Kit’s Crit: The Hangman’s Daughter (Potzsch)

The Hangman’s Daughter is the first of a seven-book series set in medieval Germany. It tells the tale of Martha Stechlin, a local midwife and herbalist accused of witchcraft. Several children die in a small Bavarian town and each has a strange witch-mark tattooed on their shoulder. The local hangman, Jakob Kuisl, is sent to torture a confession from the accused, even though he does not believe in her guilt.

Jakob’s daughter – Magdalena – is an intelligent young woman in love with the local physician’s son. They both know Martha Stechlin is not a witch, and together they set on a mission to uncover the truth behind the false accusations.

The Hangman’s Daughter is an interesting read, steeped in the local superstitions and folklore of the period. Oliver Potzsch paints a vivid portrayal of an oppressive, patriarchal society where everyone’s lives are pre-ordained at birth. But against this stifling backdrop, he makes the hangman a compassionate, human, multi-faceted character, who remains loyal to friends and family even in personal adversity.

There is little difference between Martha Strechlin’s craft, the hangman’s renowned herbal cures, and the local doctor’s medicine – except the female practitioner is the only one selected as the scapegoat. This irony is not lost on the reader. And many parallels of misinformation, personal bias, malicious gossip, and fear skillfully demonstrate how “witch hunts” still gain traction in our sophisticated, high-tech society today.

There are, however, several unfortunate modern colloquialisms in the text that jar the reader out of the Seventeenth-Century setting, but I trust this is a by-product of translation and not an inherent flaw in Potzsch’s writing.