At the center of the worst witch tortures
and trials in Germany was Bamberg, a small state
ruled by Gottfried Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim.
The Hexenbischof (Witch Bishop) von Dornheim, as he
was known, ruled the state from 1623 to 1633 and established
an efficient witch-burning machine aided by the
By the time von Dornheim reached power, witchhunting
had already been established in Bamberg, and
at least 400 persons had been executed since 1609. Von
Dornheim established an operation of lawyers, full-time
torturers and executioners, led by Suffragan Bishop Friedrich
Forner. A witch prison, a Drudenhaus, was built, with
a capacity of 30 to 40 prisoners. A network of informers
was encouraged, and the hunts began afresh in 1624. Accusations
were not made public, and the accused were
denied legal counsel.
Torture was the rule, not the exception, and was rigorously
applied to all suspects. No one subjected to torture
avoided confessing to attending sabbats, desecrating the
cross, having intercourse with demons, poisoning persons
(see poisons) and other crimes. Victims were put
in thumbscrews and vises, dumped in cold baths and in
scalding lime baths, whipped, hung in the strappado (see
torture), burned with feathers dipped in sulphur, put in
iron-spiked stocks and subjected to other forms of excruciating
abuse. The torture did not stop even after condemnation.
As they were led to the stake, prisoners had their
flesh ripped with hot pincers or had their hands cut off.
Many prominent persons in Bamberg fell victim to the
“machine,” including all the burgomasters. Von Dornheim,
meanwhile, confiscated their property and lined
his own coffers. Anyone who showed sympathy for the
victims or expressed doubt about their guilt became a
victim as well, including the vice-chancellor of the diocese,
Dr. George Haan. Haan tried to check the trials but
was himself tried as a witch and burned at the stake along
with his wife and daughter in 1628.
In 1627 von Dornheim built a Hexenhaus (Witch
House), a larger, special prison for witches that contained
both cells and torture chambers.
Some managed to escape Bamberg and went to appeal
to Emperor Ferdinand for help. The emperor made an effort
to intercede in one case but was defied by von Dornheim.
Finally, political pressure forced Ferdinand to issue
mandates opposing the persecutions in 1630 and 1631.
The situation also was changed by the deaths of Forner in
1621 and von Dornheim in 1632.
As a result of the Bamberg trials, Ferdinand’s son, Ferdinand
II, decreed that in future trials, the accusations
were to be made public, the defendants were to be allowed
attorneys and no property could be confiscated.
Von Dornheim’s cousin, Prince-Bishop Philipp Adolf
von Ehrenberg, ruled over Würzburg, another small
state, and subjected his citizens to the same type of terror.
Between 1623 and 1631, when he died, von Ehrenberg
tortured, beheaded and burned 900 persons, including at
least 300 children three to four years of age.