To mark the publication of the new edition of The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663, author Peter A. Morton talks about the origins of the project, how teaching from the book over the years has influenced the changes to the second edition, and the importance of providing students with the kinds of primary sources that will enable them to be effective historians.
When I first encountered the records of the trial of Tempel Anneke in the reading room of the Brunswick City Archive, it was a collection of papers (now bound together, but at that time in a folder of free sheets) about 2 inches thick, carrying lines of ink. Here was a surviving piece of history bearing traces of the people involved in it. The physical presence of the scribes and officials still seemed to cling to the letters that they wrote across the pages. As we transcribed the text, Barbara Dähms, the book’s translator, and I noticed changes in the handwriting of Johann Pilgram, the court scribe; at times he seemed confident and certain, and at others his hand was shaky and he crossed out lines. What meaning was carried in this physical remnant of the past? What could it tell us about the events that led to its creation? These questions in turn raised issues of perspective and methodology. How should we read the documents? What should we look for? How should we understand the words written?
In preparing The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663, I wanted to pass on to my students as much of the experience of reading historical records and forming analyses as possible. I didn’t want to tell a tale or provide evidence for a thesis. Rather, Barbara and I aimed to offer the students a seat in the archive reading room to begin working through the sheets for themselves. This thought was the origin of the first edition of the book, and all the way through its preparation our shared goal as editor and translator was to keep the material as close as possible to what we read in the archive. The original collection of sheets was somewhat disordered, and some pages were missing. So in the editing it was necessary to re-order the sheets and fill in gaps with what could be gleaned from other sources. In the handscript, the sentences were sometimes hastily written or grammatically ill-formed (even by seventeenth-century standards). In our translation, we tried to preserve as much of that character in the English as we could. All along, our goal was to remain faithful to the pile of loose sheets presented to us in the archive, to offer the reader something close to the original documents.
In his page on this site, Steven Bednarski, author of A Poisoned Past: The Life and Times of Margarida de Portu, a Fourteenth-Century Accused Poisoner, introduces the term “pedagogical microhistory.” The Trial of Tempel Anneke aims to give students the materials necessary to construct their own microhistory. What has been striking in teaching from the book is the degree of intellectual maturity with which students approach the material. They appreciate having the complete records, not merely selections, and many of my own students have presented original and thoughtful analyses. One student, for example, studied changes in the religious elements of Tempel Anneke’s confessions, arguing that her faith went through four stages due to the pressures of the trial.* In my experience, students benefit from the opportunity to form their own opinions from the records, based on their particular background and interests. I have heard similar experiences from other professors who have used the book. With the right material, students can become quite accomplished historians.
The second edition of the book expands on what we first compiled, but does not deviate from the original goals. The events reported in the trial records are a small microcosm of a larger society, in this case rural and urban life in Lower Saxony in the decades following the Thirty Years’ War. To read those records and to ask questions about them requires some familiarity with their historical context. In the first edition, I concentrated on the trial itself, presenting some explanation of the crime with which Tempel Anneke was charged and of the legal and civic context of a criminal trial in seventeenth-century Brunswick. The supplementary records added a few primary sources to this explanation. A second edition of the book gave us an opportunity to add to what we had originally published in two respects. First, the new edition reflects the experience of teaching from it over a number of years. For example, I found it important to convey the variety of approaches that historians have taken to the European witch trials. One might say that the historiographical lessons learned over the century that historians have devoted to the trials have been as valuable as the historical information extracted from the surviving records. In light of this, I prepared a historiographical essay to give students the kind of background knowledge of the field that a historian would have in hand. Second, over the years between the two editions Barbara had not stopped investigating the people involved: Tempel Anneke’s parents, her son, and his descendants; the family of Jürgen Roleffes, whose illness played a role in the trial; the keeper of the Tempel Hof, who replaced Tempel Anneke’s brother. She dug further into the archives and bookshelves to fill out our original sources. What resulted from this digging was a fuller picture of the social setting of the trial and the events that led to it.
When the second edition was put together, we were in a position, therefore, to offer readers a collection of material that went beyond the legal aspects of the charge of witchcraft and early modern criminal trials. The new edition offers additional resources for this purpose. The historiographical essay tries to avoid leading readers towards one perspective or conclusion rather than another. It aims instead to provide examples from the range of perspectives used by historians, and to show how each new approach sought to improve on previous ones. We have also expanded the introduction and added a number of documents to the Supplementary Records, which offer glimpses into life in the village of Harxbüttel in the seventeenth century, and provide some knowledge of the events before and after the trial.
We hope this additional material will increase the scope of enquiries that students can bring to the records. As all constructors of microhistory ultimately find, we have grown ever closer to the people in the events of the trial, not just to Tempel Anneke herself (although most certainly her!) but also to the court officials and witnesses, the children of Harxbüttel, and the residents of Knochenhauerstrasse. Hopefully our readers will gain something of that closeness as they try to piece together for themselves the records contained in that pile of sheets in the archive.
Finally, we wish to add that we are currently at work on a further volume with similar objectives to those of The Trial of Tempel Anneke, to be published by University of Toronto Press in 2018. It will contain the records of three cases centering on the relations between melancholy, possession, and the devil in early modern Germany. The first case is the trial in Brunswick of a young housemaid, Elisabeth Lorentz. Many of the same officials, including the medical official, Laurentius Gieseler, who participated in the trial of Tempel Anneke, are involved in this later case as well. Lorentz told her employer and later the court that she had made a pact with the devil, but the court was concerned that she suffered from melancholy and that the pact was not sincere. The second set of records are from the trial in Helmstedt of a young man, Erich Brödermann, who signed a pact with the devil in his own blood, in exchange for wealth, love, and travel. To the records of these two trials we are adding a detailed account by a Lutheran pastor of the demonic possession of a very pious girl, and his efforts and those of his parishioners to free her of the demon. The introduction and supplementary documents provide necessary background on early modern Lutheran discussions of these topics.
* Published as Miranda Van Heyst, “Tempel Anneke’s Confessions: Four Phases of Faith.” Mount Royal Undergraduate Humanities Review 3 (2015) 112-119.
Peter A. Morton is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University.