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Research

SP1: PI. THE KING AND COUNCIL IN WITCH TRIALS

SP1 analyses two important aspects of an early modern monarch in an age of religious division through the lens of witch trials. What drove Christian IV to intervene in witch trials and in what ways? To what extent did he rely on the council or on specific members? Ongoing research on the formation of Christian IV’s worldview have proven him to be mediating in the early years of his rule,17 which does not tally with the well-known interference in later witch trials. This calls for a complete assessment. The increasing involvement in witch trials developed simultaneously with a still more arbitrary rule and disputes with certain members of the council and nobility. How are these events and arbitrary rule linked to witch trials and do they correlate? A second aspect is linked to the impact of the Lutheran-Evangelical Reformation of the Kingdom. How did the close ties between the King, council and leading members of the Church impact trials for witchcraft brought to the King’s attention?

 

SP2: PHD. THE KING’S LIEUTENANTS IN WITCH TRIALS

How did the king’s lieutenants act in trials for witchcraft? They were appointed by the king to execute his power personally in the fief, and on a local level, they were masters of the household. In 1617 the king’s lieutenants received clear orders to prosecute any cases of witchcraft, or risk punishment themselves. How did they carry out the law? We know that some appeared in person at witchcraft trials where their mere appearance would probably be enough to impact the jury, even if they did not directly take part. 

Preliminary data shows a notable variety in intensity of witch trials throughout the Danish realms, which indicate that at least some king’s lieutenants were less rigid in following the orders of their king. On the other hand, Willumsen has argued for the great importance of the Scotsman John Cunningham in fomenting and shaping witchcraft trials as the king’s lieutenant in Finnmark.18 Is it possible to detect any general patterns by focusing on specific realms? Did certain fiefs and their rulers stand out? Is it possible to determine their motives through their networks in local society or among the royal circles? More generally, how did ideas, beliefs and actions of individual agents come to influence not only individual cases, but also the overall course of persecutions? This is a subject well suited for a PhD dissertation, with a clearly defined set of problems and sufficient sources to enable a PhD fellow to make a meaningful and distinct impact on our knowledge on witchcraft trials, but also to expand our knowledge of the actions of the king’s lieutenants.

 

SP3: POSTDOC PROJECT. LUTHERAN PASTORS IN WITCH TRIALS

 

SP4. REVISITING THE CASE OF MAREN SPLIDS (PI, PHD, POST DOC)

The case of Maren Splids is probably the most (in)famous witch trial in Denmark. In the context of this project, the trial provides the only known example of the king overruling an acquittal passed by the Court of the Magistrate (rådstuen) and demanding the case be brought to the King’s Court (Kongens Retterting). In this sense SP3 ties together SP1 and 2. How did this interplay between local and central power holders go on? During the case a new king’s lieutenant was appointed, and he was shortly thereafter accepted into the council. How did these offices correlate - or did they collide? What were the agency of the king and a king’s lieutenant in a case of such publicity? Compared to the level of fame of this case, it is remarkable that it has not been subject of historical analysis since 1981 and never in the context of the witch prosecutions.19 We argue that the exceptional case contributes to our understanding of the general picture. The king’s interference was a clear example of execution of power, and by looking at the extraordinary, the case provides us with information and knowledge about local and central administration procedures and the still more arbitrary rulings of Christian IV. In this sense SP4 ties together SP1, SP2 and SP3 by mapping and explaining the interplay between local pastors, the kings’s lieutenants and central power holders. 

Last Updated 17.01.2022