The Witches' Advocate (review)

by Jenny Gibbons

_The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition_ by Gustav Henningsen

If the endless stream of Burning Time horrors gets you down, try this book. For once, the Good Guys win. <g>

TWA is a study of the Basque Dream Epidemic, the largest craze on record. Several thousand Witches were accused. But this time a handful of brave Christians risked their lives and careers to halt the panics. They managed to keep the death toll extremely low (six executions, five jail deaths) and to convince the Spanish Inquisition to forbid all Witch trials.

Personalities shine through with brilliant clarity. The canny Bishop of Pamplona, who works behind the scenes to thwart an Inquisition he knows he can't fight directly. Parish priest Martin de Yrisarri who at first supports the trials fervantly. Later, once he realizes that he's helped convict innocent people, he begins inciting his flock against the Inquisition, a tactic that nearly gets him killed. And then there's "the Witches' Advocate" himself: Alonso de Salazar Frias, the junior member of the local inquisition. As an inquisitor, Salazar is the only person who has the legal immunities necessary to directly attack the inquisitors running the Witch hunt. His brilliant detective work convinces La Suprema (the ruling council of the Spanish Inquisition) that the other inquisitors are wrong -- there is no Witchcraft threat.

Besides being an uplifting tale where logic, reason, and calm heads win in the end, this is also a wonderfully detailed study of the dynamics of a Witchcraze. It gives you a clear understanding of how the panics built and what could be done to stop a craze.