Skip to main content

Maria Østerby Elleby

In 1693 Denmark witnessed it’s last executed burning of a witch. Anne Palles from Falster was sentenced to the pyre for having practiced maleficium – tortious magic – as well as for having made a pact with the devil. Anne Palles was 74 years old.
The decline in sentences towards those accused of witchcraft was visible before the trial against Anne Palles, but her execution is among the events marking the end of an era characterised by the belief in pacts with the devil and the fear of bewitchment. In 1698 a similar witchcraft trial was conducted in Thisted, where all the accused was acquitted, and where the central administration subsequently published a book, warning against bringing such cases to court in the future. However, it was not until 1866 that witchcraft as a crime legally vanished from the Danish Law.
My project investigates the deconstruction of witchcraft as a crime, focusing on the Supreme Court. The project examines the Supreme Court judges as actors, and the what differences insured that cases where the accused would previously have been executed now lead to acquittal. Did they stop believing in witchcraft and the possibility of bewitchment? The law itself did not change until much later, so which other parameters changed, and made the acquittals possible?
The Ph.D.-project is  a cooperation between University of Southern Denmark and the Museum of Southvest Jutland. The research of the project will be included in the exhibition on the decline of the witch trials in the future Witch Museum Ribe, which opens in 2020.
Contact: Maria Østerby Elleby

Last Updated 18.01.2019