In July 1628, broken and tired fifty-five-year-old man
finally confesses to a crime he was accused of months before. He has finally
given in to the mental and physical torcher of his captors, recognising there is
no way to prove innocence or escape. This man is no outcast or misfit that the
community is wary of. This is Johannes Junius; a respectable member of the
towns folk and a political figure; having been mayor for 20 years.
Junius was one of the many unfortunate victims of The Bamberg witch trials, which claimed the lives of hundreds. Junius is set apart form the masses by not only his status but also because of his visibility on trial records. His arrest, trail and personal letters are some of the richest sources form the Germanic witch trials as a whole. This is in part thanks to his status and his own education, being he was able to challenge the accusations against him. Unlike so many of the poor and vulnerable people swept up in the hysteria, Junius was not going to let his name be dragged down without a fight.
So, Why and how a mayor become the victim of accusation? His accusers where former colleagues had already confessed to witchcraft themselves, naming Junius as an accomplice. A common pattern in trials; to confess was not enough, those questioning them operated under an assumption that there was a wide menace to society. Often a trial was not over until the accused ‘outed’ other witches. Therefore, causing these vicious trials to bloom paranoia and hysteria. For this same reason Junius was also doomed from the moment of arrest.
This is most evident in a letter that he wrote to his daughter after he received the verdict of his execution which is both a personal tragedy and horrifically telling of the unforgiving nature of witch trials at large. We are offered a view into why he eventually confessed, which seemingly can be backed up by the official court records.
‘Many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into the witch prison must become a witch or be tortured until he invents something out of his head.’
‘When at last the executioner led me back into the prison, he said to me: “Sir, I beg you, for God’s sake confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to; and, even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl, but one torture will follow after another until you say you are a witch. Not before that,” he said, “will they let you go, as you may see by all their trials, for one is just like another.”
His aforementioned confession was a trumped up rehash of the
accusations put against him, adapted to a personal perspective. In accordance
to their desires he also presents a further information, explaining his reason
for taking to witchcraft. He cites financial instability as causing him to
become desperate (A masterstroke as this could be backed up by financial
records.). In this desperation he claims to have made a pact with a succubus
who had mislead him. He continues to describe the attendance of sabbaths and
name further individuals who also attended.
This is a repeated pattern, those condemned would eventually, like Junius, now there was no escape or way to prove their innocence. He like many others, was guilty in the mind of the law. All they wanted was a confession and validation to the claim. This very letter is the only possible solace he can have; at least the ability to plead his innocence to his daughter so she could live with the knowledge her father was an innocent man, and by extension, grant himself peace of mind that his name would not be tainted to a select few individuals.
Johannes Junius’ final injustice was carried out on 6th of August 1628, he was burned as a witch in a public execution. An action serving to publicly tarnish his name to the people and further spark fear among them. To the minds of the onlookers in Bramburg witches where not only being shown to be very real (By law and their own confession) but there was an extra layer of fear that could be taken from this; witches could be anyone. They could be high ranking officials or neighbours. An enemy hiding in plain sight with the desire to destroy their society.