Wednesday, 14 January 2015

De Castigatione Maleficarum; Or: The Punishment of Witches

The next thread in the history of my page from Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) involves Vincent of Beauvais [aka Vincentius Burgundus] (d. 1264?) and Olaus Magnus (d.1557). (For my first post on this page, see here.)

Vincent of Beauvais was an encyclopaedist. His vast Speculum Maius [Great Mirror] (1244) is in three parts, one of which is the still-enormous Speculum Historiale [Mirror of History]. I have not been able to find online a copy of the relevant parts of the Speculum Historiale, but Olaus Magnus quotes William of Malmesbury's 1125 story concerning "a certain wicked woman" via Vincent of Beauvais in his Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus [History of the Northern Peoples] (1555), Book 3, ch.21.

(Book 3 of the Historia is on the subject of "De superstitiosa cultura dæmonum populorum Aquilonarium" [The superstitious worship of demons by the Scandinavians or Popular superstitions and demon worship of the Scandinavians], chapter 21 is on "De castigatione maleficarum" [the punishment of witches or, the castigation of malefactors].)

As you can see above, Olaus Magnus offers the following brief introduction to the story:

Lest the Northern Witches should seem to be quoted here only as having been made sad examples of, there occurs in Vincentius's History, book 25, cap. 26, a story of an English woman, who having been baffled by the magic art, was carried into the air with horrid shouts by the Dæmons, after she had endured severe torments. The words run thus: When a certain woman living at Berkeley, a small village in England, a Fortune-teller and a Sorceress … [Vincent quotes William of Malmesbury's story]

[Ne videantur septentrionales maleficiae solum hic ad tristia spectacula adduci, occurrit Vincen. in Spe. Hist. lib. 25, cap. 26, afferens Anglicanam fœminam arte magica illusam, a Dæmonibus post dira tormenta, ad aera cum clamoribus horrendis fuisse rapta. Cujus verba hæc sunt: Mulier quædam apud Berkeleiam Angliæ villam auguratrix et malefica … etc.]

[I am indebted to Edward Athenry Whyte for both the Latin and the translation of the above passage from Olaus Magnus and Vincent of Beauvais (Whyte will be the subject of another post).]

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Anyway, the following illustration of William of Malmesbury's story appears in the 1555 edition of Olaus Magnus' text (taken from the National Library of Norway copy here; other copies online include Ghent University copy here and Lyon Public Library copy here).

According to Jane P. Davidson, The Witch In Northern European Art, 1470–1750 (1987), 27–28:

The first edition of the Historia … is a lavish, beautifully bound and printed book which was illustrated throughout with engravings of the deeds of witches and demons. The iconography of these illustrations conforms to the descriptions in Olaus Magnus' text. … p. 126 shows a female witch being carried off by a demon who is astride an enchanted horse. Clearly this witch has met with a bad end, as she seems very reluctant to accompany the devil. She is not on her way to a sabbat, but rather to hell. The caption reads "De castigatione maleficarum."

Davidson goes on to explain that a second edition (1567) was illustrated by "the Master C.G." who, as you can see below, masterfully copied the illustrations in the first edition (1555).

Although there are other illustrated editions of Olaus Magnus' Historia, I was unable to find other online editions which illustrate this story.

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The Historia was quickly translated into English by John Streater as: A Compendious History of the Goths, Swedes and Vandals and other Northern Nations (London: J. Streater, 1658) [Wing M257 (34 copies on ESTC here)]. Streater titles Book 3 of the Historia as The Superstitious Worship of Devils, used by the People of the North, William of Malmesbury's story appears as chapter 20 (rather than 21), and is titled The punishment for Witches (on pp.50–51).

Since Streater's translation is not available online, I will transcribe the text here:

LEST the Northern Witches should seem alone here to be led to sad spectacles, Vincentius in Spec. Hist. l. 25, c. 26, comes and tells us that an English woman, deluded by Magical Art, after cruel torments, was carryed by the Devils into the Ayr with horrid cries. His words are these:
  There was a certain Woman in Bethelia [sic], a Village in England, that was a South-sayer and a Witch who one day, when she was eating, heard her chough, that she took great pleasure in, to speak something more loud than it was wont to do: When the Mistriss heard this, her knife fell out of her hand, and she grew pale in her face; and lamenting, she said very often: This day is my Plough come to the last Furrow; this day shall I hear and receive great hurt.
  As she yet spake, a Messenger came to her, saying; This day is thy Son dead, and all thy Family died suddenly. This heard, she sank down, wounded with continual grief, and she commanded all her children that were alive to be brought to her, which were a Fryer and a Nun; to whom she sighing, said thus: I by my miserable destiny, ever was a servant to the Divel in my actions, I am the Sink of all Vice, and the Mistriss of enticements: I onely confided in your Religion, and I despaired to my self: But now, because I know the Divel shall have me to torment me, who perswaded me to offend, I beseech you, by the bowels of your Mother, that you will attempt to ease my torments; for you cannot revoke the Sentence of Damnation passed upon my soul: Werefore sow up my body in a Stags skin, and put it into a Chest of Stone, and fasten the cover with Iron and Lead, and bind about the stone with three great chains. If I ly three nights thus in safety, you shall bury me the fourth day: though I fear the Earth will not receive me, by reason of my Witchchrafts; let there be Psalms sung for me fifty nights, and Mass said for me as many dayes. They did as she bad them, but it nothing availed; for the two first nights, when the Clerks and Queristers sand Psalms about her body, all the Devils easily breaking the Church door that was fastened with a mighty bar, tore in pieces two of the chains; but the middle chain which was made stronger, held fast. The third night, about Cock-crowing, all the Monastery seemed to be lifted from the Foundation, with a noise of Enemies coming; one of them was more terrible to look on, and taller than the rest; and he striking the Church-door with great force, brake them into fritters, and came proudly to the Coffin, and in arrogant gesture, and calling her by her name, commanded her to rise. When she answered, that she could not for her bands.
  Thou shalt, saith he, be unbounded, but to thy greater mischief: And he forthwith brake the Chain, the rest of the Devils could not do, as if it had been Flax, and he kicked off the cover of the Grave with his foot; and taking her by the hand before them, he drew her forth at the Church-doors, where there was prepared a black horse, which proudly neighed, that had Hooks of Iron all over him, that stuck forth: Upon this Horse was this miserable woman set, and she presently disappeared from the beholders eyes, with all her company. But there were cryes heard almost four miles, of this miserable wretch calling for help.

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