The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village

Lee Palmer Wandel writes:

The poisoning of Anna Fessler by an elderly neighbour opens Thomas Robisheaux’s microhistory of a single trial for witchcraft in a small Franconian principality…The case is typical of early modern witchcraft trials in so many ways: Fessler’s youth and fertility; a pious jurist; a ‘hag’; a collection of ‘witnesses’ whose testimony concerns the character of the accused and offers no evidence – at least in the modern sense that would physically link the death, the poisoned cake and the accused . . . Von Gulchen, the jurist who tried the case, left extensive notes on the trial, and they are the primary source for Robisheaux’s book. Staying close to Von Gulchen allows the reader to see the process by which evidence was first defined, then gathered, weighed and finally incorporated or excluded. It also brings home – in a way studies more sympathetic to the accused do not – a tension at the centre of studies of these trials. The reader sees in detail the process through which the category of ‘witch’ was forced on the accused.

(LRB 3 December 2009)