Concurrently with the purge of wise men and women began to occur the witch-trials proper, but that the whole procedure was new is clear from the length of time taken to get it under way, for instance at Helsingor, where fortunately a complete series of court rolls is extant from 1549 onwards. Here witch-trials were instigated in 1559 and 1565, but not before 1571 was there success in bringing a witch to the stake. However, it is characteristic of the Danish cases that they are almost invariably concerned with concrete crimes committed by sorcery. The devil and the witches’ sabbath do not occupy the same position of importance as in Central European-and later, Northern Swedish-witch-trials.

Denmark throughout the phenomenon and right up to the cessation of trials in the 1690’s remained an undeveloped country where witchcraft was concerned. The reason for the craze never being allowed the opportunity to rage here was due to two ordinances from 1547, which are probably unique in European legislation. The first stipulated that persons found guilty of infamous crimes such as theft, treachery and sorcery, should not be credited when they witnessed against others; the second ruled that ‘no person shall be interrogated under torture before he is sentenced.’. These two procedural rules put an end to the chains of cases mentioned by Palladius, where one sorceress ‘betrayed the other.’ Neither was it possible without torture to force people to confess what they had experienced at the witches’ sabbaths and provide lists of the people they had seen at them.

Gustav Henningsen, “Witchcraft in Denmark” (1982)


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