Executions · Germany · Religion

Family tortured, burned at stake

July 29, 1600
Bavaria, Germany
The Pappenheimer family is accused of witchcraft, tortured extensively, and burned at the stake

The 17th century was not a kind time to any accused of witchcraft, but the Pappenheimers stand out for the amount of detail in their torture and deaths that have survived the centuries.

Anna, the family matriarch, was the daughter of a gravedigger and had difficulty finding a husband as her father’s career was undesirable. Paulus Pappenheimer cleaned latrines, making his career also quite lowly; Pappenheimer was used as slang for garbage men for centuries after. To put the odds even further against them, they were Lutherans in a Catholic dutchy.

In the middle of the night, a convicted thief accused the family of killing pregnant women to make candles from their stolen unbaptized fetuses. Duke Maximilian I (pictured) had the family brought before him and tortured ruthlessly until they confessed to every unsolved crime in Bavaria, from theft and murder to sorcery.

According to Anne Barstow’s Witchcraze:

[T]hey were stripped so that their flesh could be torn off by red-hot pincers. Then Anna’s breasts were cut off. The bloody breasts were forced into her mouth and then into the mouths of her two grown sons … a hideous parody of her role as mother and nurse …

Church bells pealed to celebrate this triumph of Christianity over Satan; the crowd sang hymns; vendors hawked pamphlets describing the sins of the victims.

Meanwhile, Anna’s chest cavity bled. As the carts lurched along, the injured prisoners were in agony. Nonetheless, they were forced at one point to get down from the carts and kneel before a cross, to confess their sins. Then they were offered wine to drink, a strangely humane act in the midst of this barbaric ritual.

One can hope that between the wine and loss of blood, the Pappenheimers were losing consciousness. They had not been granted the ‘privilege’ of being strangled before being burned, but in keeping with the extreme brutality of these proceedings, they would be forced to endure the very flames.

Further torments awaited Paulus. A heavy iron wheel was dropped on his arms until the bones snapped … [then] Paulus was impaled on a stick driven up through his anus …

The four Pappenheimers were then tied to the stakes, the brushwood pyres were set aflame, and they were burned to death. Their eleven-year-old son was forced to watch the dying agonies of his parents and brothers. We know that Anna was still alive when the flames leapt up around her, for Hansel cried out, ‘My mother is squirming!’ The boy was executed months later.

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