Malleus Maleficarum: the sacred text used to identify witches

Between 1227 and 1235, the Inquisition against witches and heretics was established with a series of papal decrees: Pope Innocent’s bull Ad Extirpanda of 1252 authorized the use of torture to extort confessions of witchcraft by suspected women. From 1257 to 1816 the Inquisition tortured and burned millions of innocent people at the stake accused of witchcraft and heresy against religious dogmas and judged, often without trial and in secret, with terrible torture. If they confessed, they were found guilty and they were considered witches, if they didn’t, they were…

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The last execution in Iceland: a mysterious murder case that’s intrigued a country for nearly 200 years

For centuries, some small farms near the water on Iceland’s Vatnsnes peninsula are scattered among the grassy fields and rocky hills, more or less content to be living at the edge of the world. Cherry on the cake, the peninsula is known for a black basalt rock formation that’s said to be a petrified troll, and for the colonies of seals that come to sun themselves on the beach. On current days, this surreal zone is still almost as peaceful—and lonely—as it was the night in March 1828 when a…

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#February 28, 1874: the curious case of the “baronet” from Wagga Wagga

Arthur Orton, who became known as the Tichborne Claimant, was found guilty of perjury on this day, February 28, 1874, after the longest trial in English history. The bizarre case, which gripped and fascinated all society, involved the son of a butcher in London’s East End, a missing English aristocrat, and the claims of a butcher from Wagga Wagga, Australia. But let’s start from the beginning. The Tichbornes were a prominent wealthy Catholic family whose stately home stood in rolling Hampshire farmland. In 1854, Roger Tichborne, heir to the family…

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The bizarre medieval trials against animals

Even if it might seem bizarre to modern observers, animal trials were commonplace public events in medieval and early modern Europe. Pigs, cows, goats, horses, and dogs that allegedly broke the law were routinely subjected to the same legal proceedings as humans, in a court of law, where they were treated as persons. The history of animal trials has its roots in the Low Middle Ages, and saw a series of “beasts” being judged, in some cases executed, according to the normal human laws. From the thirteenth century until the…

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