The Community of Kleczew and Environs in the Struggle against the Devil (1624-1700)
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A unique crime register of Kleczew (a smal town situated some 20 km to the north of Konin) from 1624-1738, preserved in the collections of the Poznan Society for the Advancement of Arts and Sciences, made it possible to analyse a provincial community engaged in witchcraft trials, which in the discussed region achieved an intensity almost not encountered in the early modern Commonwealth. The intention of the presented study is, however, not to establish the reasons for this exceptional phenomenon, but to reflect on the functioning of a local community within the context of the persecution of witches. The Kleczew court tried criminal cases not only in the town itself, but was also invited to resolve penal cases by the owners of nearby localities. It is highly likely that it monopolised all crime cases within a radius of 12-15 km from Kleczew. In 1624-1700 it conducted 47 documented witchcraft cases and tried 116 persons: 111 women and five men, passing at least 65 sentences of death at the stake. An analysis of the social background of witch trials is based on a period of the most severe persecutions in 1682-1700. A detailed examination of the protocols of 21 trials made it feasible to identify 483 variously embroiled persons who from the point of view of functions can be divided into five basic groups: 1) the defendants, 2) the accusers and witnesses, 3) the victims of witchcraft, 4) persons summoned by the defendants to be the witches, 5) the judges. The data presented show the participation in those functional groups of basic social strata (the gentry, the clergy, townspeople, peasants) as well as recreate the roles played in witchcraft trials depending on social status. Finally, the analysis encompassed the spatial distribution of witchcraft trials as well as their gender character. The author also recreated the fundamental features of demonological imagination and an imaginary geography of the environs of Kleczew.
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