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A time of reformation and revolution occurred in Europe in the time between 1480 and 1700. These changes also led to the persecution of witches on a very large scale. Over 100,000 accused witches were tried during this period. There are four major reasons that contributed to the persecution of witches, the first being one that relates to every document on the subject. This reason is the overabundance of ignorance and superstition at the time. Greed, political power, and Church power are more document specific, but can still be considered major reasons for witch persecution between 1480 and 1700.
Ignorance and superstition had always been present in the population of Europe; it was just not centered on witchcraft until the fifteenth century. This ignorance was how the Church maintained power. Up until Luther's German version of the Bible, the commoner could not even read one. With sermons and Bibles in Latin, the general population of Europe could be told anything and they would have to assume that it was true. This ignorance started forming new habits of naming elderly poor women as witches, and because the population was uneducated, they generally believed these tales. Kramer and Sprenger supported this in a handbook for the Inquisition that they wrote in 1484 entitled The Hammer of Witches, by explaining that women were imperfect and should be expected to deceive in the form of witchcraft. People who had no background information on women from lack of education immediately believed documents like this.
Greed existed in many forms and played a very large role in the persecution of witches. During the time of witch persecution the concept of someone being a witch was a convenient way to profit. For example, Thomas Ady describes the feelings of an English housekeeper circa 1650 and discusses how this housekeeper has had possibly several needy people ask for his help and he has denied it. These people were possibly widowed women that had husbands working on his land, who he would now have to support, or other needy people in general that had come up to his door. He finds that a convenient way to rid himself of these people is to cry "Witch!" thus getting rid of this needy person and at the same time glorifying himself. Another form of greed was monetary greed. Persecutors of witches could get great monetary gain from persecuting witches. After one with power in society was deemed a witch, he was executed, giving the executioners his position and revenue from his position while his family was sent into exile and all of their belongings and money were taken. Linden from Trier, Germany described scenes of the executioners riding on blooded or pure bred horses while wearing very expensive armor like that of a noble in 1592. With the executioner so glorified, huge amounts of profit must have been made from witch persecution.
Political power was gained from witch persecution. Persecution for political reasons got so bad that judges could no longer judge what they felt was the truth, but what they felt would not land them in a witch prison. Judges feared that if they decided the wrong way in a case that they could be accused of being or supporting a witch. Roger North was forced to write an apology letter for his brother in 1682, because his brother was the Chief Justice in Exeter, England and had apparently made a controversial decision about a witch. Since he found one woman innocent he was immediately accused of supporting the devil in the devil's killing of innocent children and other evil practices. One accusation like this could end a man's career much like news of an illegal activity can hurt political figures' campaigns in modern times. Another man named Johannes Junius was accused of being a witch and in 1628; he wrote a letter to his daughter describing the unfairness of the system which determines if a person is a witch or not. He writes about how he is innocent but the guard urged him to even make up a false confession so he would not have to undergo the torture. The accusers would apparently torture accused witches until they confessed even if it was a false confession. This was a good political strategy because you were taking out a political opponent in the name of God. If you were to simply murder an opponent you would be looked down upon. The man that wrote this letter was the Mayor of Bamburg, Germany and was probably accused of being a witch for purely political reasons.
The Church also benefited from witch persecution. Churchwardens in Gloucesterhire, England in 1563 reported on a woman who was mysteriously healing animals and people with strange methods. They of course accused her of being a witch for her strange methods, but the actual reason of their trying get rid of her was probably that she was drawing power away from the Church. Since she was a successful healer, people now came to her instead of the Churchwardens. The Churchwardens were undoubtedly concerned because they were losing revenue to some strange woman that is stealing all of their business.
When the Protestant revolution occurred new weapons were required to stop it. One that was widely used was witch persecution. According to the Church, a witch could be anyone that went against them. This was a perfect way to exterminate Protestants. Protestants went against the Church, therefore they were witches, and therefore they could be killed. Pope Innocent VIII issued The Witch Bull in 1484, which gave Inquisitors the right to take any necessary action against any witches, who were also known as Protestants. He issued this bull at the same time that the Moors were in Spain and a large number of Protestants were in France. These two regions were also the main places where the Inquisitors were functioning at the time. This bull was one of the weapons that led to the Moors' expulsion in 1492.
These reasons could all be brought together with the idea of an overabundance of ignorance among a population. Without ignorance, old fragile looking women would not be so readily suspected of being witches, uneducated mobs would no longer burn a person without knowing the facts of the accusation, and people would decide things for themselves instead of believing everything they hear.