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Johannes Junius

 

(The Burgomaster of Bamberg)

 

 

Written and compiled by George Knowles

 

In the early 17th century, the city of Bamberg, Germany was at the centre of some of the most vicious and prolific witch persecutions to take place during the whole 200-year history of the Burning Times.  The persecutions of witches in Bamberg began under the auspices of the Prince-Bishop Johann Gottfried von Aschhausen (1609-1622), who was responsible for the torture and deaths of some 400 alleged witches.  In one year alone 1617, 102 witches were accused, tortured, beheaded and burned.

 

When Prince-Bishop Gottfried Johann Georg II Fuchs von Dornheim (known as The Hexenbischof – The Witch Bishop) took over the diocese (1623-1633), witch-hunting and persecution reached new heights.  Von Dornheim was an unscrupulous man motivated by power and greed rather than religious zeal, and held little regard for the laws of the state particularly when it came to lining his own pockets.  Aided by his suffragan Bishop Friedrich Förner, they set up a secular council of Lawyers and expanded a network of informers to prey on the citizens of Bamberg.  Their job as Commissioners of Law was to try and condemn anyone accused of witchcraft, and more importantly to confiscate their wealth and property.

 

 

Prince-Bishop Fuchs von Dornheim

 

In 1627 Von Dornheim built a special Drudenhaus (a witch prison) containing torture chambers and cell-rooms for thirty to forty prisoners, he also built similar ones in the smaller towns of the province:  in Zeil, Hallstadt and Kronach.  In them he employed full-time torturers and executioners and equipped them with all the latest torture devices, including:  thumbscrews, leg-vices, racks, prayer stools fitted with sharp wooden pegs, stocks furnished with iron spikes, and perhaps the most severe and excruciating means of torture the strappado, often used with weights.

 

 

Drudenhaus (witch prison)

 

Other manual tortures employed included:  sleep deprivation, forced feeding and drinking, pricking, branding, alternating cold water baths and scalding water baths to which lime had been added, feathers dipped in burning sulphur and held under the armpits and groin, and rope friction - when wrapped around the head or neck caused excruciating pain and often cut into the bone.  Many other tortures were used so diabolical as to stretch the imagination.

 

          

 

The rack  -  Thumbscrew  -  The strappado was often used with weights

 

Torture in the Drudenhauses was the rule and vigorously applied to anyone unfortunate enough to be sent there, no one could resist confessing when subjected to the cruelty of their treatments.  In just three years between 1627 and 1630, Von Dornheim and his henchmen systematically interrogated and condemned over 600 alleged witches in Bamberg alone, and another 900 in the provinces.  No one safe during his reign of terror as he accused and executed some of the leading citizens of Bamberg, among his victims were the Chancellor - Dr. George Haan (together with his wife and daughter), the Treasurer - Wolfgang Hoffmeister and 5 district Burgomasters.

 

The last of the Burgomasters to be executed was Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg, who had served in that capacity for the past 20 years.  Shortly before his arrest in June 1628 his own wife had been executed as a witch, and so from that association and by being implicated by other victims of the witch-hunts, he too was arrested.  The court account of his trial is typical of the many thousands of witch-trials from the period, but what makes this trial different is a poignant hand-written letter Junius wrote to his daughter Veronica while awaiting his own execution.

 

The record of the trial of Burgomaster Johannes Junius

 

On Wednesday, June 28, 1628, was examined without torture Johannes Junius, Burgomaster at Bamberg, on the charge of witchcraft:  how and in what fashion he had fallen into that vice.  Is fifty-five years old, and was born at Niederwaysich in the Wetterau.  Says he is wholly innocent, knows nothing of the crime has never in his life renounced God:  says that he is wronged before God and the world, would like to hear of a single human being who has seen him at such gatherings (as the witch-sabbats).

 

Confrontation of Dr. Georg Adam Haan.  Tells him to his face he will stake his life on it (er wolle darauf leben und sterben) that he saw him, Junius, a year and a half ago at a witch-gathering in the electoral council-room, where they ate and drank.  Accused denies the same wholly.

 

Confronted with a servant Ellse.  Tells him likewise that he was on Hauptsmorwald at a sabbat, but first the holy wafer was desecrated.  Junius denies.  Hereupon he was told that his accomplices had confessed against him and was given time for thought.

 

On Friday, June 30, 1628, the aforesaid Junius was again without torture exhorted to confess, but again confessed nothing; whereupon . . . since he would confess nothing, he was put to the torture, and first thumbscrews were applied.  Says he has never denied God his Saviour nor suffered himself to be otherwise baptized; will again stake his life on it; feels no pain in the thumbscrews.

 

Leg-vices (Beinschauben).  Will confess absolutely nothing; knows nothing about it.   He has never renounced God; will never do such a thing; has never been guilty of this vice.  Feels likewise no pain.

 

Is stripped and examined; on his right side is found a bluish mark, shaped like a trefoil, is thrice pricked without sensation or drawing blood.

 

Strappado.  He has never renounced God.  God will not forsake him.  If he were such a wretch he would not let himself be so tortured.  God must show some token of his innocence.  He knows nothing about witchcraft. . . .

 

On July 5, the above named Junius is without torture, but with urgent persuasions, exhorted to confess, and at last begins and confesses:

 

The Confession of Burgomaster Johannes Junius

 

When in the year 1624 his law-suit at Rothweil cost him some six hundred florins, he had gone out, in the month of August, into his orchard (Baumfeld) at Friedrichsbronnen; and, as he sat there in thought, there had come to him a woman like a grass-maid, who had asked him why he sat there so sorrowful.  He had answered that he was not despondent, but she had led him by seductive speeches to yield to her will. . . . And thereafter this wench had changed into the form of a goat, which bleated and said, “Now you see with whom you have had to do.  You must be mine or I will forthwith break your neck”.  Thereupon he had been frightened, and trembled all over for fear.  Than the transformed spirit had seized him by the throat, and demanded that he should renounce God Almighty, whereupon Junius said, “God help me”, " and thereupon the spirit vanquished through the power of these words.  Yet it came straightway back, brought more people with it, and persistently demanded of him that he renounce God in Heaven and all the heavenly host, by which terrible threatening he was obliged to speak this formula:  “I renounce God in Heaven and his host, and will henceforward recognize the Devil as my God”.

 

After the renunciation he was so far persuaded by those present and by the evil spirit that he suffered himself to be baptized by the devil in the evil spirit’s name.  The Morhauptin had given him a ducat as dower-gold, which afterward became only a potsherd.

 

He was then named Krix.  His succubus was called Vixen (Füchsin).  Those present had congratulated him in Beelzebub’s name and said that they were now all alike.  At his baptism, among others, were the aforesaid Morhauptin Christiana, the young Geiserlin, Paul Glaser, Casper Wittich, and Claus Gebhard, who were both gardeners.  After this they had dispersed.

 

At this time, his paramour had promised to provide him with money, and from time to time to take him to the sabbats.

 

Whenever he wished to ride to the sabbat, a black dog would come to his bed, and tell him to come; whereupon he would mount it, and the dog would raise himself in the devil’s name and so fly off.

 

About two years ago, he was taken to the electoral council-room, at the left hand as one goes in.  Above, at a table, were seated the Chancellor, the Burgomaster Neudecker, Dr. George Haan, (and twenty-four others).  Since his eyes were not good, he could not recognize more persons.

 

More time for consideration was now given him.

 

On July 7, 1628, the aforesaid Junius was again examined, to know what further had occurred to him to confess.  He confesses that about two months ago, on the day after an execution was held, he was at a witch dance at the Black Cross, where Beelzebub had shown himself to them all and said expressly to their faces that they must all be burned together on this spot, and had ridiculed and taunted those present.  Names four more witches.

 

The Crimes of Burgomaster Johannes Junius

 

Immediately after his seduction, his succubus had demanded that he should make away with his youngest boy Hans Georg, and had given him a gray powder for this purpose; this, however, being too hard for him, he had made away with his brown horse, instead.

 

His succubus had also repeatedly urged him to kill his two daughters . . . and because he refused he had been beaten therefor.

Once, at the suggestion of his succubus, he had taken the holy wafer out of his mouth and given it to her.  Was obliged occasionally to have intercourse with his succubus.

 

A week before his arrest, as he was going to St. Martin’s church, the Devil met him on the way, in the form of a goat, and told him that he would soon he imprisoned, but that he should not trouble himself - he would soon set him free.  Besides this, by his soul’s salvation, he knew nothing further; but what he had spoken was the pure truth; on that he would stake his life.

 

On August 6, 1628, there was read to the aforesaid Junius this his confession, which he then wholly ratified and confirmed, and was willing to stake his life upon it.  And afterward he voluntarily confirmed the same before the court.

 

Later that day on the 06th of August 1628, Johannes Junius was burned at the stake.

 

Such was the official end to the trial and execution of Johannes Junius, but not the end to this tragic story.  Before his execution, Junius was able to have a letter smuggled out of the Drudenhaus by one of his jailers, who for the price of a taler delivered it to his daughter Veronica.  In the letter he warns her to flee the city before she too is accused of witchcraft by similar implication and association.  The letter is a chilling first-hand account of the trial and torture he suffered while detained in the infamous Bamberg Drudenhaus.

 

 

The letter of Burgomaster Johannes Junius

 

July 24, 1628

 

Many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica.  Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die.  For whoever comes into the witch prison must become a witch or be tortured until he invents something out of his head and - God pity him - bethinks him of something.

I will tell you how it has gone with me.

 

When I was the first time put to the torture, my brother-in-law, Dr. Braun, Dr. Kotzendorffer, and two strange doctors were there.  Then Dr. Braun asks me; “Kinsman, how come you are here?”  I answer, “Through falsehood and through misfortune”.  “Hear, you,” he retorts, “you are a witch.  Will you confess it voluntarily?  If not, we’ll bring in witnesses and the executioner for you”.  I said, “I am no witch; I have a pure conscience in the matter.  If there are a thousand witnesses, I am not anxious, but I'll gladly hear them”.

 

Then the Chancellor’s son was set before me, who said he had seen me.  I asked that he be sworn and legally examined, but Dr. Braun refused it.  Then the Chancellor, Dr. George Haan, was brought, who said the same as his son.  Afterward Höppfen Ellse.  She had seen me dance on Hauptsmorwald, but they refused to swear her in.  I said:  “I have never renounced God, and will never do it - God graciously keep me from it.  I’ll rather bear whatever I must”.

 

And then came also - God in highest Heaven have mercy - the executioner, and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood spurted from the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing.

 

Thereafter they stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up on the ladder.  Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end.  Eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered terrible agony.  I said to Dr. Braun, “God forgive you for thus misusing an innocent and honorable man”.  He replied, “You are a knave”.

 

And this happened on Friday, June 30, and with God’s help I had to bear the torture.  When at last the executioner led me back into the cell, he said to me, “Sir, I beg you, for God’s sake, confess something, whether it be true or not.  Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to; and, even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl, but one torture will follow another until you say you are a witch.  Not before that”," he said, “will they let you go, as you may see by all their trials, for one is just like another”.

Then came George Haan, who said the commissioners had said the Prince-Bishop wished to make such an example of me, that everybody would be astonished.

 

And so I begged, since I was in wretched plight, to be given one day for thought and a priest.  The priest was refused me, but the time for thought was given.  Now, my dearest child, see in what hazard I stood and still stand.  I must say that I am a witch, though I am not - must now renounce God, though I have never done it before.  Day and night I was deeply troubled, but at last there came to me a new idea.  I would not be anxious, but, since I had been given no priest with whom I could take counsel, I would myself think of something and say it.  It were surely better that I just say it with mouth and words, even though I had not really done it; and afterwards I could confess it to the priest, and let those answer for it who compel me to do it . . . And so I made my confession, as follows; but it was all a lie.

 

Now follows, dear child, what I confessed in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture, which it was impossible for me longer to bear.

 

Such were the true events of his trial and torture leading up to his confession, which is very much as it appears given in the record of his trial.  The letter continues:

 

Then I had to tell what people I had seen (at the witch sabbat).  I said that I had not recognized them.  “You old knave, I must put the torturer at your throat.  Say - was not the Chancellor there?”  So I said yes.  “Who besides?”  I had not recognized anybody.  So he said:  “Take one street after another.  Begin at the market, go out on one street and back on the next”.  I had to name several persons there.  Then came the long street (die lange Gasse).  I knew nobody.  Had to name eight persons there.  Then the Zinkenwert - one person more.  Then over the upper bridge to the Georgthor, on both sides.  Knew nobody again.  Did I know nobody in the castle - whoever it might be, I should speak without fear.  And thus continuously they asked me on all the streets, though I could not and would not say more.  So they gave me to the torturer, told him to strip me, shave me all over, and put me to the torture.  “The rascal knows one on the market-place, is with him daily, and yet won’t name him”.  By this they meant Burgomaster Dietmeyer: so I had to name him too.

 

Then I had to tell what crimes I had committed. I said nothing. . . “Hoist the knave up!”  So I said that I was to kill my children, but I had killed a horse instead.  It did not help.  I had also taken a sacred wafer, and had buried it.  When I had said this, they left me in peace.

Now, dearest child, here you have all my acts and confession, for which I must die.  And they are sheer lies and inventions, so help me God.  For all this I was forced to say through dread of the torture beyond what I had already endured.  For they never leave off with the torture till one confesses something; be he ever so pious, he must be a witch.  Nobody escapes, though he were an earl.  If God send no means of bringing the truth to light, our whole kindred will be burned.  God in heaven knows that I know not the slightest thing. I die innocent and as a martyr.

 

Dear child, keep this letter secret, so that people do not find it, else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers will be beheaded.  So strictly is it forbidden. . . . Dear child, pay this man a thaler. . . . I have taken several days to write this: my hands are both crippled.  I am in a sad plight. . . .

 

Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more.

 

In the margin of the letter Junius added:

 

Dear child, six have confessed against me at once: the Chancellor, his son, Neudecker, Zaner, Hoffmaister Ursel, and Höppfen Ellse - all false, through compulsion, as they have all told me, and begged my forgiveness in God’s name before they were executed. . . . They know nothing but good of me.  They were forced to say it, just as I myself was.

 

What became of his daughter Veronica after 1628, nobody knows, but the letter survived, and was later found among the trial records of the period, preserved in the Bamberg achieves.

 

Johannes Junius was by know means the last person to undergo trial and torture in the Bamberg Drudenhaus, for the witch-hunts continued unchecked until 1630.  By that time knowledge of the unrelenting ruthlessness and cruelty of the Bamberg witch trials, and Von Dornheim’s constant disregard for the Emperor’s laws, arrests were commonly kept secret and no legal counsel provided for the victims, Emperor Ferdinand II acting under pressure requisitioned the Bamberg court records for examination.  As a result he ordered that all future accusations of witchcraft be made public, defendants to be allowed legal counsel, and the confiscation of their property to cease.

 

Greed and power had been the mainstay of the witch-trials in Bamberg more so than religious zeal, and no longer being able to confiscate the wealth and property of the accused, the witch hunts soon receded.  Only 24 victims were executed in 1630 and none in 1631.  This was helped in 1630 when the suffragan Bishop Friedrich Förner died in December that year.  Von Dornheim himself died in 1633 bringing an end to the cancerous growth of witch-hunting that had engulfed that part of Germany.  As to the notorious Drudenhaus, it was later demolished and reduced to rubble, and what remained of its building materials used in the construction of a monastery.

 

End

 

 

Sources:

 

The Encyclopedia of Witches &Witchcraft  - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology - By Rossell Hope Robbins

http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2002/04/johannes-junius-letter-between-1618.php

http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/remembrance/victims/jjunius.htm

http://www.dawnofthegeeks.com/cubia/index.php?page=Johannes_Junius

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Junius

http://history.hanover.edu/texts/bamberg.html

Written and compiled on the 14th December 2007  ©  George Knowles

 

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Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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