Stage #11: Payment

by Jenny Gibbons

Stage #11: Payment

If the Witch's appeal failed, there was one final stage of the trial: payment.

Professional Witch-hunters and inquisitors were paid for every Witch they convicted. Of course these professionals insisted that they weren't hunting Witches just for the money, but there were several hunts that ended almost immediately after the Witch-hunters' "salaries" were reduced. Usually the town or county paid the official, then they reimbursed themselves by confiscating some of the Witch's property.

This was supposed to be one of the last stages of the trial, something that was only done once the Witch had been convicted. Unfortunately it was often one of the first steps. In Salem, John and Elizabeth Procter's goods were confiscated before they even went to trial. The sheriff "came to their house and seized all the goods, provision and cattle that he could come at, and sold some of the cattle at half price and killed others and put them up for the West Indies; threw out the beer out of the barrel and carried away the barrel, emptied a pot of broth and took away the pot and left nothing for the support of the children."

The Procters were caught unawares. Some of the people accused later on saved their goods through swift action. After Reverend George Burroughs was arrested his wife quickly sold all his books, loaned the money out at interest, packed the valuables, and took off, leaving her step-children to fend for themselves.

Theoretically the town wasn't supposed to make a profit, and many times they actually didn't. The Swiss town of Rue, for instance, scrupulously took just enough to cover its expenses, leaving the rest for the Witch's heirs. In many areas Witches were generally poor, and so even if the court confiscated all their worldly possessions, it wasn't enough to pay for the cost of the trial.

In some areas, however, Witch hunting was big business. King Philip of France refilled his country's coffers by accusing wealthy bishops of Witchcraft. In Germany all of a Witch's property was taken and, not surprisingly, German Witches were usually far richer than those in other parts of Europe.

Worse, there were people who had a vested interest in keeping these trials going. Lots of people made money from killing Witches, and while a town might be bankrupted by a prolonged Witch craze, there were always individuals who profitted from their neighbors' misery. Lawyers and inquisitors were paid by the head. The more Witches they killed, the more they got paid. During the English Witch-crazes there were a number of professional Witch-hunters, like Matthew Hopkins, and many more professional Witch-prickers, people who were skilled at detecting the Witch's mark. And throughout the Burning Times there were the hacks, the sensational writers who sold hundreds of lurid tales of the evils of Witchcraft.


That, then, is how Witch trials were generally conducted. The stages here are generalizations, meant to give you a rough idea of how most European courts acted. Not every Witch trial will go through all these steps. Individual countries had their own rules, and sometimes local courts did the *weirdest* things, things even their own rules forbade.

Return to the Stages of a Witch Trial