The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village

Lee Palmer Wandel writes:

Anna Fessler was a young mother. Her death, on Shrove Tuesday, 20 February 1672, was typical of those that brought about thousands of witch prosecutions in early modern England, North America and German-speaking Europe: agonising and unexpected. Fessler’s life was otherwise unremarkable: she was a resident of a small village, peaceably married, and had given birth to her second child a month before. She was still housebound, according to custom, but had seemed healthy that day to those who were with her: her sister, her husband and a friend. Thus, a visit she received, though not unusual, later came to seem significant. Towards evening, another friend, Eva Küstner, also a young mother, brought Fessler six Shrove cakes, then insisted Fessler eat a seventh that Küstner produced from the folds of her clothing. She said that her mother, Anna Schmieg, had baked them. That night, as Fessler’s husband testified, Anna woke up abruptly, her torso swelled, she became feverish, thirsty, and began to pass blood. Again and again she cried out: ‘O God! I must die!’ By midnight, she was dead.

(LRB 3 December 2009)