Synopses & Reviews
On the night of the festive holiday of Shrove Tuesday in 1672 Anna Fessler died after eating one of her neighbor's buttery cakes. Could it have been poisoned? Drawing on vivid court documents, eyewitness accounts, and an early autopsy report, historian Thomas Robisheaux brings the story to life. Exploring one of Europe's last witch panics, he unravels why neighbors and the court magistrates became convinced that Fessler's neighbor Anna Schmieg was a witch--one of several in the area--ensnared by the devil. Once arrested, Schmieg, the wife of the local miller, and her daughter were caught up in a high-stakes drama that led to charges of sorcery and witchcraft against the entire family. Robisheaux shows how ordinary events became diabolical ones, leading magistrates to torture and turn a daughter against her mother. In so doing he portrays an entire world caught between superstition and modernity.
Starred Review. Duke historian Robisheaux turns the obscure story of a smalltown German woman convicted of witchcraft into a marvelous window onto a society in crisis. On Shrove Tuesday, 1672, Eva Kstner delivered Shrovetide cakes baked by her mother to her neighbor, Anna Fessler, who was still recuperating from the birth of her child a few weeks earlier. A few days after eating some of the cakes, Anna died a painful death. Almost immediately, the community accused Eva and her mother, Anna Schmeig, of witchcraft. In this fast-paced account, Robisheaux chronicles the roles that various ministers, lawyers and physicians play in the indictment of Anna Schmeig and her immediate family. Robisheaux shows that Schmeigs trial and execution as a witch grew out of a small villages superstitions and its belief in the power of God to transform an evil event into an exemplary one. Drawing on rich records of the trials of Schmeig and her family, Robisheaux finely crafts a vivid glimpse of a time, place and state of mind that, though remote, is all too familiar.
"Starred Review. [...] Drawing on rich records of the trials of Schmeig and her family, Robisheaux finely crafts a vivid glimpse of a time, place and state of mind that, though remote, is all too familiar." Publishers Weekly
On the night of a festive holiday in 1672, a young mother died in agony. Was it a natural death, murder--or witchcraft? Drawing on vivid court documents, eyewitness accounts, and an early autopsy report, historian Robisheaux explores one of Europe's last witch panics. 22 illustrations, 3 maps.
A young mother dies in agony. Was it a natural death, murder--or witchcraft?
About the Author
Thomas Robisheaux, a professor of history at Duke University, is the author of Rural Society and the Search for Order in Early Modern Germany. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.