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'The misery of the poor girls ...': exploring a case of collective bewitchment in Lier, 1602-03.

On or about 15 October 1602, a 13-year-old at the maagdenhuis or boarding school for poor girls in Lier, a city in the Duchy of Brabant in the Southern Netherlands, suddenly fainted and fell to the ground. She returned to her senses fifteen minutes later, apparently unaffected by the seizure. This otherwise unremarkable incident would have disappeared into the oblivion of history had it not marked the beginning of a series of extraordinary events that would soon leave a marked impression on the town's inhabitants. The girl's collapse was followed by a number of similar afflictions, gradually evolving into multiple and spectacular convulsions affecting not only her but also each of the seven other girls living with her in the institution. Baffled by the strange characteristics of the children's malady, witnesses soon attributed their fits to bewitchment. (1) The troubles in the maagdenhuis would spur a local wave of witch persecutions, leading to several trials before the Council of Brabant.

The crisis in the Lier maagdenhuis took place in an era that saw a noted increase in possession and bewitchment cases. The historical categories of possession and bewitchment were not clearly delineated, their characterisations resting upon variable ascriptions rather than fixed definitions. Sixteenth--and seventeenth-century sources provide evidence of considerable overlap and even confusion between the two phenomena. The characteristics of the behaviours that indicated possession were variously attributed to religious revelations, disease, madness, and bewitchment. Possessed persons could also be considered victims of sorcery, or witches themselves. (2) The array of interpretations that possession-like behaviour could produce is illustrated by the later case of Anna Maria Eeltiens, who was brought to trial in Antwerp in 1735-36, charged with feigning sanctity. Her conduct included convulsions, visions, and materialisation of objects from within her body. In explaining these behaviours, observers referred to sanctity, witchcraft, madness, possession, bewitchment, and fraud. (3)

The key to reaching an effective understanding of each occurrence of possession or bewitchment lies within the particular dynamics between various case-specific factors, many of which are unlikely to have left any traces in the source materials. Factors such as confessional reforms, religious frustrations, and sexual tensions have been convincingly shown to have fostered many bewitchment and possession cases. In France, for example, several famous possessions, such as those of Nicole Obry (1565-66, Laon) and Marthe Brossier (1598-1600, Romorantin), served as a background against which the battle of the religious reformations was fought. (4) Collective possession cases often occurred within monastic settings, where conditions of strict convent rules, repressed sexuality, social tensions, and the efforts to attain high religious standards could mount to a point of communal outburst. The best-known example is undoubtedly that of Loudun, where the possessions that seized the local Ursuline convent lasted for the better part of the 1630s. (5)

The main figures in the Lier crisis, however, were laypeople. Furthermore, they were not adults but children. This case reveals no traces of confessional motifs, in spite of its location near the border with the Protestant areas of the Dutch Republic. Likewise, the stimuli of religious frustrations and sexual tensions appear to have been entirely absent. Free of these typical contexts, the maagdenhuis case offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of ordinary people, in an early seventeenth-century town, living through a series of extraordinary events. In this article, I will reconstruct the unfolding of the events of the Lier maagdenhuis crisis so as to chart the interpretation process that these events elicited. How did a seemingly common fainting spell trigger a variety of communal afflictions that ultimately evolved into an outbreak of violent fits and visions? What circumstances led contemporaries to assume that symptoms that may have originally appeared to be entirely commonplace were in fact the results of enchantments? My analysis will focus in particular on how the initial incidents gradually transformed into a stereotypical case of collective bewitchment or possession. I will also examine the complex process by which those experiencing these extraordinary events sought to make sense of them.

Although the unsettling events in the maagdenhuis were said to have stirred agitation throughout Lier and even reached the attention of regional authorities, they appear to have left few subsequent traces in the historical record. Apart from two witness reports and several concise references in bills and registers of the institution and authorities involved, the only extensive source on the episode appears to be the records of the witch trial against a 71-year-old widow named Engelberte Hechts. (6) Engelberte suffered the misfortune of becoming the prime suspect behind the troubles at the maagdenhuis. In early July 1603, she and her maid, Eele vanden Hove, were arrested on charges of sorcery; another woman named Lyn Tops and possibly an unidentified fourth suspect endured the same fate. (7) Shortly after these arrests, the city bailiff apprehended yet another woman, Heyl Vloos, who was suspected of casting an enchantment similar to the one afflicting the maagdenhuis upon a girl living elsewhere in town. (8) These legal actions, most of which were executed under the authority of the Council of Brabant, constituted the second known outbreak of witch persecution in Lier. The earlier wave of persecutions, in 158990, involved seven suspects and culminated in one of the accused being executed at the stake. (9) Of the witch trials arising from the 160203 incident, only those of Engelberte Hechts and Heyl Vloos have survived, albeit partially, in historical records. Information about the other lawsuits consists of a few brief mentions and, in the case of Eele vanden Hove, copies of occasional trial documents that were included in Engelberte's proceedings. Although incomplete, the file on Engelberte is an exceptionally voluminous record of almost six hundred pages, containing an historically rare wealth of four investigations. The investigations produced forty-six witness testimonials, from more than thirty-six individuals, most of which are partly or entirely devoted to accounts of the troubles in the maagdenhuis. These witnesses--including clerics and laypeople, insiders and passers-by, some of those in charge at the school, and even some individuals who had been afflicted by the alleged witchcraft--constitute a broad range of people, all of whom were, to different degrees, involved in the troubling events in question.

The witness reports, characterised by the vibrant details of personal experiences, offer a view into the daily lives of ordinary early modern people. The multiple perspectives mean that the risks inherent in relying on a single account, which may have been influenced by an undisclosed personal agenda, can be avoided. However, the reports still entail methodological difficulties. They are not necessarily structured chronologically and certain anecdotes lack temporal indications, for example, rendering it difficult to trace the precise order of events. Each witness included different details in his or her account and omitted others, such that, when pieced together, the various accounts offer a story with overlaps, gaps, and contradictory elements. Indeed, the witnesses not only contradicted each other, but sometimes even themselves. As a product of the legal system the declarations may have been influenced by legal requirements and established formats, leading questions, the intermediary actions of scribes, and the judicial context in which the statements were presented. On a more individual level, personal interests, narrative models, and basic inaccuracy may have compromised the accounts. (10) Because the trial focused on the crime of witchcraft, it was preoccupied with the phenomenon of sorcery, and as such, caused attention to be shifted away from those contextual aspects considered irrelevant in the setting of the trial. The effects of this difficulty are further exacerbated by the loss of the witness reports a decharge, leaving only the testimonials against the accused that accordingly supported the presumption of sorcery. The trial of Engelberte Hechts played out while the crisis at the maagdenhuis was at its peak, yet the later trial documents--including the actual conviction--are missing. Thus, the surviving historical record entirely predates the end of the crisis and therefore unequally documents the various stages of the affair. The beginning of the episode is only partially detailed, and most of the attention is directed towards the apex of the narrative, namely, the full-blown seizures of the girls. The conclusion of the communal experience remains a mystery.

I. The Misery of the Poor Girls

The Lier maagdenhhuis was founded at the end of the sixteenth century as a relief centre for poor girls. It fell under the supervision of the local charity masters, who appointed a matron for its daily governance. Apart from a Catholic upbringing, the boarding school provided its pupils basic education: the girls were taught to read and write and how to perform household tasks such as sewing, starching, and doing laundry. (11) In 1602, the maagdenhhuis was inhabited by the matron Anna Michielsen and eight girls aged between 4 1/2 and 17 years. (12) Some of the spare rooms in the building were rented. Drawn by the prospect of billet-free lodging, Engelberte Hechts had applied for a room after a tenant's death afforded a vacancy. However, her reputation had been sullied over the preceding ten years (and even longer) by suspicions of sorcery, and so her arrival was not altogether welcomed. Anna Michielsen in particular protested against the move, threatening Engelberte: 'if you move in here you can watch over the children yourself and I will leave the house.' (13) Engelberte's sister, Lynken, was unimpressed by the threat, declaring 'that Engelberte would live there, even if Anna Michielsen were as high [important] as the tower of Lier'. (14) Lynken's husband, Cornelis van Bouchout, a steward and former alderman of Lier, and Godevaert Hechts, Engelberte's nephew and an alderman of Lier, successfully exerted their respective influence on the charity masters, and at Easter 1602, Engelberte moved into her new abode, where she would live with her maid, Eele vanden Hove. Already frustrated with her low wage, Anna Michielsen promptly resigned as matron of the boarding school. Her successor, Mayken Swaters, died after four to six months of governance, and Anna van Assche became the new matron.

Anna Michielsen and Eele vanden Hove testified that the first two children fell ill before Mayken Swaters had died. Anna van Assche, however, stated that symptoms of the eventual crisis had emerged at the beginning of October 1602, about a fortnight after her own appointment. In the preparatory information for the trial, Anna van Assche recounts that Beyken Lysaerts 'fell down upon the ground very suddenly', and 'came to herself with a sigh' (15) fifteen minutes later; this scenario repeated itself about a month later, this time involving not only Beyken Lysaerts but also a 9-year-old, Lisken Blylevens. In another deposition, however, Anna states that everything began with both Beyken and Lisken fainting in the period before Christmas. Whatever the case, the girls were soon enduring more attacks, sometimes three a day. Two other children began suffering health problems as well: 10-year-old Jenneken Regiers 'became infected by the same disease' (16) and 17-year-old Lynken Canariens became crippled in her right hand. Concerning the latter, Anna described how 'sometimes her hand was closed, sometimes her fingers were pulled the one over the other, sometimes wondrously opened' (17) and that she 'miserably convulsed up in her throat as well as downward by her heart and further in the legs up to the feet, so that the girl howled wretchedly from pain, and it was pitiful to hear and see'. (18) Even after the girl's father ordered a mass for her well-being, her hand remained useless all winter. Anna had sought the recovery of Beyken Lysaerts and Lisken Blylevens through an offering of corn, but this likewise led to no improvement. Only Jenneken Regiers became slightly better without any intervention. Meanwhile, several people were asked for advice. Anna wished Engelberte, who was the widow of a surgeon and had thereby acquired some degree of medical experience, to come and observe the girls during their seizures. The trial documents reveal that Engelberte had previously assisted friends by giving medical advice and had helped during the delivery of at least one child. Yet, despite her possible skill, she refused to witness the convulsions and even left the building whenever they were occurring, saying: 'Child, I cannot bear to watch it.' (19) She claimed she had no advice about their condition. Nonetheless, Anna testified that Engelberte had recommended that Beyken be sent back to her mother, having explained that the child suffered the 'falling sickness', (20) a condition that had affected two of the girl's sisters.

That Engelberte apparently sought to remain detached from the unfolding situation indicates that she may have already recognised that the developments could easily exacerbate her reputation for sorcery. Such fear turned out to be well founded, as the strange characteristics of the disease elicited much wonder and soon led to rumours of witchcraft. During their fainting attacks, for example, the girls fell in an unusual way--described as 'back-to-front' (21)--without hurting themselves or causing any marks or bruises, and while unconscious they closed their hands, thumbs pointing outwards. This caught Anna's attention, 'for people suffering from the falling sickness--so she had heard--close their thumbs inside their hand' during their fits. (22) The proximity of the dubiously reputed Engelberte rendered suspicions of sorcery especially relevant, as did Engelberte's refusal to examine or even offer advice about the girls. Even more suspicious was her disapproval of the decision to call in a priest to help; the need for clerical assistance suggested that the girls' ailment was suspected to be unnatural. The cleric, canon Peeter vander Vorst, advised the administration of consecrated bread, salt, and water, a remedy that had also been proposed by 'other decent persons'. (23) Consecrated substances were believed to be powerful remedies against numerous ailments, including sorcery. (24) However, they not only served as a remedy, they also facilitated a test. It soon transpired that the girls' consumption of these substances temporarily improved their condition, thereby rendering it feasible and even logical to consider them to have been genuinely bewitched.

As the conviction grew that a maleficium was at play, suspicions against Engelberte intensified. Friends and family lobbied behind the scenes for her to retain her lodging at the maagdenhhuis, first and foremost to prevent the catastrophic effects an enforced dismissal would have wrought to her already injured reputation. Engelberte tried to show the best of herself, 'being very friendly and festive, showing all friendship, more than she had ever done before, to such an extent that Anna van Assche was embarrassed by all Engelberte's attentiveness. She celebrated Anna as if she were a queen'. (25) Engelberte also sought prayers for the girls in various monasteries. When the fifth girl, Mayken Peeters, fell ill, Engelberte immediately rushed to inspect her. Feeling the child's wrist, she concluded that Mayken had fevers. Yet Engelberte's efforts were to no avail: her medical observation was duly rejected by the charity masters, and the day after Ascension Day 1603 (i.e., 2 June), she and her maid were forced to leave the boarding school, under the pretext that their room was needed to accommodate the stricken girls. According to Engelberte, several other women living in the maagdenhuis were also forced to leave, but this is not mentioned in any of the other trial documents.

In the meantime, the situation among the children had worsened. Not only was the mysterious disorder affecting more girls, but the fits had also increased in number, duration, and intensity. When Beyken Hollekens, the sixth girl to become ill, fell into a seizure 'her belly was first drawn in, next raised so stiffly that one could play the drums on it. Out of pain, she bent and raised herself in such measure that a large child or even an average person could have crawled beneath her back'. (26) The charity masters Reynier Coomans and Geeraert van Antwerpen declared

   that the pains, contractions, passions, cramps and torments daily
   increased to such extent that it could not be expressed, that even
   a heart of stone would be moved by it, that they could not bear to
   see these passions and therefore did not visit the boarding school
   often. (27)


Likewise, several witnesses expressed their inability to adequately describe the many disturbing incidents they had witnessed. Anna Swinters, for example, described the girls' attacks as 'horrible to see and too long to recount'. (28) Clearly, a more powerful remedy needed to be called upon. The Antwerp vicariate, alerted to the troubling situation, assigned three canons of the local Saint-Gummarus chapter to exorcise the girls: Peeter vander Vorst, Egbert vander Geest, and Jan van Craenendonck. None of the sources mentions when precisely this permission was granted, and it is entirely possible that the first exorcisms preceded any official consent. In their regular visits to the boarding school, the exorcising canons were soon confronted with the gravity of the situation. Peeter vander Vorst described the children's convulsions as 'so horrible that whoever sees it has his hair stand on end': (29) the girls cried out, rolled through the rooms 'like a feather driven by the wind', (30) crawled about, jumped around like frogs and 'young goats or lambs', (31) and forced their bodies into seemingly impossible contortions. Influenced by visions, they would suddenly sprint away, and also sought to throw themselves into the canal, forcing visitors and passers-by to restrain them. Cilleken Vervaeren and Lisken Blylevens chased after a black cat that nobody else could see; Cilleken was restrained from reaching water, but Lisken ended up waist-high in a lavatory and had to be pulled out. Canon Egbert vander Geest 'saw that Cilleken had violent cramps in her legs, which she pulled up along the back [of her body], (32) and her toes moved and trembled like fingers playing the organ. She then cried that she had pain near her heart, and she vomited first a rusty nail ... and shortly after he saw that she vomited a little bundle of straw, wound together with a strand of wool'. (33) The repeated vomiting of objects (including nails and rags) and the sudden appearance of bent pins stuck into different parts of the girls' bodies may well have been the most spectacular symptoms of the strange affliction. These aspects were commonly associated with witchcraft and possession, and now clearly accentuated the unnatural character of the affliction. The strange events attracted crowds of onlookers to the maagdenhuis and the town was soon abuzz with rumours. One witness described how a girl fell during her fit but was instantly caught by bystanders: she 'could not fall to the ground because the room was so full of people'. (34)

Despite all efforts, the girls were not freed from their sufferings. At a complete loss for what to do, an assembly of the charity masters, the Saint-Gummarus chapter, and the city magistrate decided to find help 'in whatever way possible'. (35) All the usual remedies had amounted to nothing and they hoped now for a miracle. To this end, the girls were sent on a pilgrimage to the Sacrament of Miracles in Brussels and to Our Blessed Lady of Halle. A miraculous healing, however, failed to occur. In fact, the pilgrimages brought additional torments, typically commencing when priests confronted the children with sacral objects or sought to have them confess or receive Communion. During their visit to the Sacrament of Miracles, for example, when the girls were brought to the sacristy to confess before the deputy priest, 'the children fell around the deputy-priest, who cried out in shock: "This is sorcery!"'. (36) An equally disheartening picture emerged on the journey to Halle. The children, sitting on the wagon, successively fell ill and Anna noticed 'that pins were sticking in the hands of the children, who cried: "Oh! Oh! A pin is pricking me!" As soon as one pin was removed another child cried likewise'. (37) As had been discussed in the assembly, the girls and their escort continued on to Mechelen, to seek counsel with the archbishop. The archbishop passed the case to the Antwerp vicariate, who in turn dispatched a delegate to Lier to investigate the matter. This delegate, Christianus Morus, a friar of the order of Saint Francis de Paula, prepared a report on the situation. His report has, unfortunately, been lost; however, Engelberte's trial records contain a copy of a missive he wrote to the Antwerp clerical court, in which he recounts his brief meeting with her. Christianus's account reveals how he tried to persuade her to attend a public exorcism he had organised, an action that would preferably be combined with confession and Communion, as demanded by the residents of the city. This request to Engelberte reveals a desire to calm local agitations and to resolve the situation, and perhaps also a sceptical attitude towards the general accusation against her. Besides being a concession to public outcry, Engelberte's confession and Communion would have offered her the opportunity to substantiate her claims of innocence: a sorceress, after all, would have been unable to bear either activity. Not everyone took such a moderate view, especially the afflicted girls: during their 'passions' they repeatedly demanded that Engelberte be burned.

On 28 June 1603, Engelberte was arrested for witchcraft and subsequently prosecuted in a witch trial conducted by the Council of Brabant. The prosecutor formulated the standard penalty for sorcery, namely, that 'the prisoner, as an example for others, be executed and burned to ashes alive, and all her goods be confiscated ... or that justice would be done in another way the court would see fit'. (38) What happened subsequently is scarcely documented, although it is clear that Engelberte's imprisonment did not resolve, or even lessen, the crisis at the boarding school; indeed, it failed to prevent the remaining healthy girls from falling ill, and did not halt any of the other afflictions, although the fits and visions reportedly diminished. The final documents from the trial date from December 1603 and show that the lawsuit was not yet concluded. With no trace of the eventual conviction, the fate of Engelberte remains unknown, as do the conclusion of the boarding school crisis and the later fortunes of the affected girls.

II. In Search of an Explanation

(a) The Medical Interpretation

When the first girls fell ill, in late 1602, sorcery was not the original frame of reference invoked to interpret and remedy the problems. Anna van Assche clearly situated the afflictions of the girls in a natural or medical context, as demonstrated by the descriptions in her testimonies: 'they passed out as if they had the falling sickness'; (39) 'she lay as if she were unconscious'; (40) 'all her children were overcome with diseases'. (41) The affliction was generally referred to as a 'disease' that 'infected' (42) ever more girls. During the first fits, in November 1602, Anna tried to allay her growing worries about Beyken and Lisken's fainting spells by reassuring herself that it was 'not so unusual for children to pass out in the period around Christmas'. (43) The religious remedies attempted during this early phase of the crisis were considered a normal course of action in cases of bodily distress, as Anna confirmed in her testimony. Consulting medical practitioners would have been customary as well, yet not a single witness mentioned it. Scrutiny of all the trial documents yields one reference to medical diagnosis, which was only briefly addressed in Christianus Morus's report. The friar had asked physician Jan Tesch, who attended Christianus's conversation with Engelberte, if he had seen the girls of the maagdenhuis and what he thought of their affliction. Jan answered that one of the girls had been brought to him once before, and that he had examined her and her urine. The physician stressed his authority as a medical man in his next comment: 'I judged that it was a disease that we call epilepsy ('epilephia'), for which no remedy is known yet'. (44) It is unclear at which stage of the crisis Jan's examination had taken place or who had brought the girl to him. Nonetheless, his opinion must have carried some value, for he was one of the city's two official physicians and drew a salary from the Lier magistrate. (45)

The fact that a clear diagnosis by a respected medical professional was so strikingly ignored for the rest of the trial proceedings becomes especially meaningful when we take into account that his diagnosis contradicted allegations of sorcery and would have therefore cast doubts about the validity of the prosecutor's efforts. Conversely, any medical diagnosis supporting the idea of witchcraft would likely have been included in the prosecutor's investigations. This is illustrated by the deposition of the surgeon Jan Snyers, who attested to Engelberte's unsavoury reputation and voiced suspicions that two cases of unusual disease that had occurred years earlier had been her doing. Furthermore, selective questions and a possibly overly creative editing process may have cleared the witness testimonials a charge of any elements that did not serve the prosecutor's case. The absence of medical references in the witness testimonials may therefore indicate that medical advice had indeed been sought but that such advice generally favoured natural explanations for the girls' abnormal behaviours. However, Engelberte's defence likewise does not mention any medical diagnoses, which we can assume would have been noted had they supported her claims of innocence. Of course, the striking dearth of medical testimony may simply be a consequence of missing documents: Jan Tesch may well have testified in the witness testimonials a decharge, and he may have been mentioned in other lost documents of the defence. Jan was a close friend of Engelberte, whose husband had been a 'highly expert surgeon'. (46) After being barred from the boarding school she found shelter in Jan's house. Christianus Morus noted that 'he strongly spoke on her behalf'. (47) By diagnosing the girls' affliction as falling sickness he not only challenged allegations of sorcery, but also supported Engelberte's initial opinion on the matter. In this respect, the credibility of Jan's professional diagnosis could have been challenged and undermined on grounds of personal bias.

At least one further element in the story of the maagdenhuis suggests that medical professionals had been consulted: the application of exorcism rites. The practice of exorcism was a volatile subject in the post-Reformation era. Countless abuses had discredited it for many theorists, Reformed and Catholic alike. The Catholic Church, through standardisation and control, sought to restrict exorcism practices, strip them of superstitious connotations, and forge them into a renewed symbol of clerical power. (48) Clerical regulations stressed that any official performing an exorcism had first to request permission and then execute the ritual correctly. An unremitting, sceptical attitude was similarly recommended. (49) The three appointed canons dispatched to the boarding school acted with permission of the Antwerp vicariate, they were educated men, and were probably selected for the task on grounds of being reliable in the delicate matter of exorcisms. (50) That they ignored medical diagnosis in favour of enchantment theories challenged clerical policy, which stressed the importance of medical advice prior to any exorcising activities and urged clergymen to opt for natural explanations and remedies over unnatural ones. If any additional medical advice had been received that attributed the disease to supernatural factors, and if the attempted medical remedies had failed, this would have justified their turning to exorcisms without any undermining of the clerical programme. The same can be considered when assessing the fact that the only known medical diagnosis of the situation was considered to have offered no remedy, as was explicitly stated by Jan Tesch. The unspoken helplessness of the situation may well have spurred the clerics to commence exorcising practices, even if only to regain some degree of agency over the crisis.

(b) The Shift towards Sorcery

It was because of the manner in which the girls held their hands during their fits--as compared to how epileptics were said to hold their hands during seizures--that Anna 'began to suspect it may be sorcery, for all the world had such opinion, as the contortions and agitations of the children were just too strange'. (51) In this way, she indicated that even early on rumours of sorcery had already started to circulate. At the same time, however, she distanced herself from these premature assumptions: her shift from a medical explanation towards a conclusion of sorcery was not the result of susceptibility to gossip. Rather, it was the outcome of a gradual process of rational, fact-based consideration, verified by testing various remedial actions. First, the fact that the afflictions did not match any acknowledged medical conditions was significant. (52) The aforementioned hand position supported this, as well as the strange way in which the girls fell when they fainted. Likewise, the absence of painful bumps and bruises subsequent to the faintings 'appeared to be against nature'. (53) There was also the proximity of the alleged witch Engelberte Hechts, who had long been suspected in the illness and death of several of her best friend's children, incidents that had occurred approximately ten years before her arrival at the maagdenhuis.

Administering consecrated substances to the girls in the boarding school was an important test for unveiling whether sorcery was at play or not. The experiment was carried out in secret: besides Anna and the cleric involved, only Anna's sister was told about it. The latter was also the mother of Jenneken Regiers, and had consented to take Jenneken back into her own home for a while, during which time the girl would secretly ingest consecrated substances. Jenneken completely recovered and returned to the boarding school, where her fits soon recommenced and were 'much more vigorous than ever before'. (54) Ingesting consecrated substances had meanwhile caused improvement in the other girls' constitutions as well. These developments not only appeared to indicate that the girls had indeed been bewitched, but also seemed to show that the enchantment was bound to the location of the maagdenhuis. Despite the secrecy involved, Engelberte turned out to know about the use of consecrated substances; such knowledge of secret matters was considered a typical trait of a witch. Another step in diagnosing bewitchment was barring Engelberte--and by extension her maid--from the boarding school. Whether this actually improved the condition of the girls is unclear: witnesses tended to contradict each other on this point. The same can be said of the effects of a later measure, in which the girls and their matron were transferred to another building. Despite the tests not having a clear outcome, there was sufficient reason to accept the plausibility of a witchcraft diagnosis. The pertinent factors included the affliction's apparently abnormal symptoms, the proximity of an ill-reputed person, the knowledge that this person inexplicably had about the secret remedy, and the positive effects of consecrated substances. As the next section will explain, this conclusion--that the girls were not suffering from any physical malady but rather from bewitchment--would be increasingly reinforced throughout the rest of the crisis.

III. From Disease to Passion

The central aspect of the development of events in the maagdenhuis case is that an initial, isolated, and apparently natural affliction affecting only one girl evolved into a stereotypical and spectacular case of collective bewitchment or possession. The marked duration between the first fit, that of Beyken Lysaerts, and the contagion of the others, which began about a month later, suggests that the crisis arose from an actual but separate case of illness. The difference between the afflictions of Beyken Lysaerts and Lisken Blylevens on the one hand and Lynken Canariens on the other suggests likewise. It was probably only later, after more girls had become ill and the seizures struck more frequently, that any connection was made with the earlier ailments. As such, the bouts of unconsciousness afflicting Beyken Lysaerts and Lisken Blylevens and the long-term crippled hand of Lynken Canariens were put into mutual context. In general, the symptoms connected to the first phase of the crisis--roughly the period of the first three girls falling ill--remained recognisable and seemingly natural, consisting mainly of unconsciousness, cramps, and pain. These initial disorders appear to have had a snowball effect, in which other girls adopted, consciously or not, some of the symptoms. At some point a transformation occurred, pushing the behaviour of the girls to extremes and beyond the scope of what was naturally explicable. In the witness depositions, this transition appears to have been marked by use of the word 'passions' to denounce the extreme and seemingly unnatural seizures the girls had experienced in the later phase of the events. The term 'passion' generally designates physical suffering and torments, but may have carried more charged connotations due to its link with the suffering of Christ. (55)

The evolution from disease to passion was not a random development producing a unique result. Rather, it increasingly appeared to correspond to a known model of enchantment and possession, and, confined within such boundaries, began demonstrating typical traits of the condition; these included vomiting of sharp objects, visions, aversion to sacral objects and symbols, and extreme physical strength. (56) It was during this phase of the girls' condition, when the on-going situation at the maagdenhuis had become grounded in the context of demonological witchcraft, that the Devil first entered into the story. Sorcery and possession can be considered culture-bound phenomena, manifestations of which are strongly shaped by cultural expectations and predominant stereotypes. (57) The evolution from a phase of natural afflictions to the later stage of extraordinary passions strongly suggests that the maagdenhuis girls had picked up information about typical cases of bewitchment and possession, and thereby incorporated this general model of bewitched or possessed behaviour into their own conduct. As the general conviction grew that sorcery was implicated, the girls' behaviour increasingly offered evidence for it. And the more the girls' behaviour appeared to confirm such suspicions, the more people believed that magic was indeed at work. For example, when, during the first phase of the crisis, the girls were asked to identify the cause of their distress, they could offer no specific answer. In a later stage, however, they claimed to be bewitched. During one of the later passions an afflicted girl cried: 'Hold me, for Engelberte seeks to choke me!' (58) When asked where Engelberte was, she replied, pointing to one of the bystanders: 'She sits over there, under the skirt of that woman.' (59) Lynken Canariens was asked why she vehemently accused Engelberte during a seizure. She replied: 'The evil one wants me to say it' and 'Engelberte threatens me with a chopping knife to cut my throat, to keep me from saying it. She also threatens that she will stick my body full of pins'. (60) Other girls similarly inculpated Engelberte during their passions, and more than once they claimed that she had appeared in visions, threatening to kill the girls or appearing alongside a well-dressed demon lover.

(a) The Decisive Influence of the Witchcraft Diagnosis

Different factors stimulated the transformation, the most decisive likely being the proximity of Engelberte Hechts. Having an alleged witch as a neighbour may have created a climate of fear and tension at the school. Within a group of susceptible young children, this may well have paved the way for psychosomatic ailments and suspicions of sorcery. (61) Engelberte's proximity rendered witchcraft a relevant frame of interpretation, stirring rumours of magic that are likely to have reached the boarding school via the many visitors who came to witness the drama. Visitors could have brought more than accusations of witchcraft: they could also have introduced comparable stories and examples. As has been shown with well-known French possession cases, such diffusion of possession and bewitchment reports could considerably impact other cases and even trigger surges of imitative behaviour. (62) The source material for the Lier events, however, contains no references to similar occurrences of collective possession or bewitchment that might have been of influence. Nonetheless, the anecdotes documenting the later phase of the crisis include many elements that are not only stereotypical but are not found in the first stage of the events. Lynken Canariens, for example, offered a story about having once had to clean Engelberte's kettle: no matter how hard she scrubbed, she could not get it clean; upon returning the kettle she received from Engelberte a slice of bread and a coin but after biting into the bread she found a long hair in her mouth, and opening her hand, found a bent pin instead of her money. She also began recalling that her miseries had begun after eating a biscuit given to her by Engelberte. Cilleken offered a story that Engelberte had taught her a strange prayer, that included phrases about seed and flying over a field, and which also contained the name of Christ. Whenever she was experiencing a passion, she could recall the words, but the precise details would escape her as soon as the fit had ended. Such motifs--a task that turns out to be impossible, money or gifts that transform into worthless objects, black cats, a well-dressed, horned man, and ungodly prayers--derive from both traditional narratives about the Devil and witchcraft and the concept of diabolical witchcraft. (63) Moreover, the ingestion of a charm, such as a hair, refers to a common manner of becoming bewitched. These and other elements suggest that the children knew these stereotypical stories and accounts of witchcraft and the Devil. They may have included accounts of enchantments stemming from the first wave of persecutions, in 1589-90, when many such stories had circulated. Despite these conventional elements, the trial records express astonishment with the girls' afflictions, and stress that such events were unprecedented in Lier. Yet episodes of collective possession in institutions were hardly unheard of, even ones specifically involving Dutch children. In his work on Evert Willemsz, an orphan from early seventeenth-century Woerden, Willem Frijhoff lists various cases of collective possession in Dutch orphanages, including in 1566 in Amsterdam, in 1618-19 in Enkhuizen, and in early seventeenth-century Delft. (64)

The crisis in the Lier maagdenhuis clearly left its own impact. In its wake, several children in the neighbourhood began suffering similar seizures, which they ascribed to bewitchment. Besides Engelberte Hechts, a fellow culprit was now also identified: Heyl Vloos, a Lier widow around fifty-five years old. Under the pretext of having a drink, Heyl was lured to the house of Mathys Fierens, where she was confronted with a girl suffering the same disease as the girls in the boarding school. The child claimed to be bewitched by Heyl, whom she had allegedly seen in a vision. Consequently, both her parents and a crowd of neighbours demanded that Heyl cure her, as it was believed that a witch knew better than anyone else how to undo her own spells. (65) Unable to free the girl from her affliction, Heyl was attacked by enraged onlookers, leading to her arrest later that day. (66)

It was not just visitors to the boarding school that contributed to the growing prevalence of the witchcraft stereotype. Another important potential source of information for the eight girls had been placed easily within their reach: the exorcising clerics. Their influence on the development of the case can be considered twofold. On the one hand their mere attendance suggested that the crisis was not entirely normal. Their application of consecrated substances and exorcising practices publicly confirmed that supernatural influences were suspected. Furthermore, they themselves believed the girls to be enchanted and thereby legitimised and possibly encouraged further cultivation of possessed behaviour. When the first four girls were ill, Peeter vander Vorst had stated: 'I'll have my throat cut if this is no sorcery.' (67) On the other hand, exorcism practices may have served as an important medium through which the model of witchcraft was established. Besides their purpose of freeing the girls from the affliction, the exorcisms were also used as a means to locate charms and to expose the culpable witch. To this end, the girls were asked suggestive and leading questions during the rites. Peeter vander Vorst described one of his exorcisms of Cilleken Vervaeren in the trial's preparatory information:

   he ordered the enemy to depart from the girl with all his sorcery
   and devilish works, and as he noticed that the enemy inside the
   child was stirred, he conjured the enemy once or twice ... adding
   the words "monstra maledicte diabole maleficia, et dic an sint in
   hac domo". (68)


These words, obliging the devil to indicate where in the house the charms had been hidden, he translated into vernacular, 'so that the bystanders ... would understand it and would be better able to bear witness of his action'. (69) The devil that apparently possessed Cilleken refused to answer Peeter's question, responding: 'No, no, I swear I will not say it.' (70) Peeter continued 'with even more powerful words of exorcism'. (71) In the end, Cilleken indicated a spot in Engelberte's former room as the location of the charms, and subsequent digging indeed yielded an impressive haul: 'thirty-five bent pins, a small black rag, a certain hair, two sticks (apparently) of consecrated palm, and more other pieces of bad iron.' (72) Some witnesses specified that the hair was long and grey, and identified additional finds. All these objects were regarded as instruments of sorcery. (73) During the exorcisms, some girls showed aversion to religious symbols, considered to be a common reaction during the ritual. They spat on a crucifix that was held before them, and laughed mockingly. It turned out to be impossible to pose the girls akin to the crucified Jesus when they were lying down, for even a strong man could not force their right legs over their left. Conversely, placing the left leg over the right proved entirely unproblematic. The exorcism practices may have caused a contradictory effect, exacerbating the crisis they were intended to restrict: by affording the girls a means to reinforce a diagnosis of witchcraft; by instructing them about how to behave as possessed or bewitched; and by publicly confirming their status as bewitched. The girls played an active role in this process; indeed, it was only through mutual interaction between the enchanted girls and the exorcising clerics that the events developed. (74)

During his testimony in the preparatory investigation of Engelberte's trial, canon Jan van Craenendonck 'was asked what feeling he had about the passions of the children, whether they would be possessed or bewitched, based on the conditions, actions, and other circumstances that he had seen from them'. Jan answered decisively 'that he by no means considered the children to be possessed, but that he considered them to be enchanted in the body by some sort of substance or poison, giving the Devil the power to inflict the passions and diseases on them'. (75) Peeter vander Vorst talked of 'sincere sorcery', (76) yet during the exorcisms he had addressed the devil he believed to be residing inside the girls, not the girls themselves. Accordingly, he considered their answers to have emanated from that devil. Unlike Jan van Craenendonck's statement, this testimony does seem to refer to the concept of demonic possession rather than bewitchment. The trial documents never mention the term 'possession': the girls of the maagdenhuis were univocally described as ill, afflicted, or bewitched. The identification of the events as sorcery likely stemmed primarily from the cause ascribed to the crisis. It may have been considered 'possession caused by bewitchment' rather than 'possession induced otherwise'. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a strong link between the two phenomena certainly existed. At this time, witchcraft was most commonly considered to cause possession, contrary to, for example, the older idea that it was a result of sin. (77) From this perspective, Jan van Craenendonck's remark makes more sense, as does the overall explanation of the crisis being caused by witchcraft, despite the girls displaying characteristics equally distinctive of possession. In this context, the remedies that were applied can be considered double faceted: they addressed both the aspect of sorcery and of possession, through a combination of exorcisms and a search for the objects and agents of enchantment.

IV. The Possibility of Deception

A final explanation for the situation that emerges from the source materials is the possibility that the maagdenhuis crisis was simply a lively scam. This is hinted at in at least one of the six witness testimonials collected by Cornelis van Bouchout on behalf of Engelberte Hechts. This testimony is recorded not in the trial documents but in the registers of the aldermen of Lier. (78) Marie Verhagen, another tenant in the boarding school, encountered the afflicted girls as they were waiting for the wagon that would take them on their pilgrimage. She asked them 'whether they were all alright now and whether no-one was ill anymore', (79) to which Mayken answered, '"no, except little Lynken", of whom she said that she had been ill earlier that same day'. (80) Upon speaking these words, Lynken suddenly fell to the ground, her eyes and hands closed. The message then came that the wagon had arrived, and all the girls ran to it 'with them also little Lynken who ... got to her feet very keenly and took such a run to the bridge [where the wagon was waiting] that she got there as quickly as the others'. (81) Consequently, Marie 'had the idea that she had feigned the disease, saying to the same little Lynken these or similar words: "yes, I do think you would make the thief",' (82) an expression implying that someone is dissembling. (83) The child, who was about 4 1/2 years old--the youngest of the group and the final one to become ill--did not respond to this. Priest Peeter Flamen witnessed comparable behaviour when he came across some of the girls in early October 1603. Exiting the Sion Convent in Lier alongside the singing master Willem Nick, he saw six girls from the boarding school,

   two of them lying flat on the ground thrashing about, as if they
   were overcome with illness or sorcery. As he and the singing master
   approached them, he heard one of the girls who was assisting the
   two girls lying on the ground say to them: "Here comes the singing
   master and another man." The two girls lying down raised themselves
   up halfway, looked over their shoulders and, seeing him and the
   singing master, both stood up and continued on with the others as
   if it had not bothered them. (84)


The same scenario soon reoccurred, as Peeter and Willem were recounting the incident to Melchior van Cortbemde: a bit further ahead they saw the two girls lying on the ground again. When one of the girls noticed Peeter pointing at them and talking, she asked Melchior "What does he say, what does he say?", (85) after which the two girls stood and all of them continued their stroll. Unlike Marie Verhagen, Peeter Flamen used this experience to ground his belief in what he considered to be the truth of the situation, rather than as a basis for criticism. When Peeter asked Melchior what he thought of the girls' behaviour, Melchior stated that these things were 'beyond his comprehension'. Peeter agreed 'that it was also beyond his comprehension', and 'that he was very astonished by such behaviour, not being able to think how it was possible to be overtaken by such manners and to get up so suddenly as if they had not been overcome by disease'. He then declared 'that he would not have believed this if he would not have seen it for himself'. (86)

The girls' affliction did indeed sometimes seem to come and go at will. The fits often erupted when the children's condition became the subject of nearby conversation. Lynken Canariens, the eldest girl, suffered several seizures while testifying in the trial's preparatory information, as if to reinforce her statements. To the first question, about who was directing these torments at her, she answered that Engelberte had brought it upon her by means of a slice of bread and a biscuit. After these words, 'she fell in the passion, and as she fell in it she said: "I would say more but the devil torments me"'. (87) Drinking holy water and making the sign of the cross three times calmed her slightly, but did not prevent her from convulsing so violently that three persons were needed to restrain her. Her short deposition ended dramatically, with her showing signs of vomiting and exclaiming, 'There is something in my throat! It hurts me as if it were a nail, it does not want to come out!' (88) That this aspect of the affliction manifested itself almost immediately after a question about the bent pins, rags, straw, and matchsticks that had apparently somehow entered her body, is striking. Eele vanden Hove sharply remarked that the convulsions came only on working days and not on Sundays and holidays. Anna van Assche noted that the fits happened only during the day and never at night. The pins that miraculously appeared in different parts of the girls' bodies often appeared while they were being dressed. Interestingly, pins used to fasten their clothes would somehow move and become affixed to (or inside) their bodies, though nobody ever witnessed how this transpired. A switch to sewing the clothes together instead of pinning them did not make a difference: pins continued to prick the girls.

One of the cases that occurred in the wake of the boarding school crisis was quickly recognised as a mimetic fraud. On 28 July 1603 Anna Nick, the 14-year-old daughter of the aforementioned singing master Willem Nick, experienced a passion like the ones had by the girls in the maagdenhuis, causing a horrible pain in her throat. A few days later, her mother informed her: 'Anneken, you are healed now, you will go back to your service.' (89) Becoming distressed at the prospect of having to return to her harsh mistress she suffered a second apparent seizure on 3 August. It soon became clear that Anna's behaviour was deliberate and undertaken so as to be excused from work and hopefully end her service. Anna's deposition seems to indicate that she admitted her fraud out of remorse. She told the priest Lieven Laurenty and the canon Peeter vander Vorst that she had 'not simulated' the passion, 'because she knew very well that she had done wrong and that she would be reproved for it'. Afterwards, however, 'she thought to herself that she had gravely sinned and done wrong in doing so'. (90) She expressed desire to unburden herself of her lie and promised never to do it again. There are no indications that this incident led to any reconsideration of the events in the boarding school, not even by the accused Engelberte Hechts.

As Anna Nick's misrepresentation shows, simulating bewitched or possessed behaviour could serve as an instrument to gain a certain degree of control over one's life. Likewise, possession afforded a socially acknowledged outlet for a broad range of personal and collective frustrations. (91) Both these aspects appear to have been present in the maagdenhuis case. As noted, many cases of collective bewitchment and possession occurred in monasteries and orphanages. Festering tensions could build in such 'total institutions', which controlled every aspect of their residents' lives, and eventually lead to collective manifestations of abnormal behaviour. (92) The events at the Lier maagdenhuis indeed hint at several possible sources of such tensions. The outburst of the disease followed a succession of fundamental changes in the lives of the girls, including resignation of their matron, Anna Michielsen, the appointment and subsequent death of her successor, Mayken Swaters, followed by the appointment of Anna van Assche and the entry of Engelberte Hechts as a resident. Releasing these varied and troubling frustrations via possessed behaviour may have been an involuntary process, resulting from thorough appropriation of the cultural phenomenon of possession. (93) On the other hand, the seizures, involuntary or not, may have been an attempt to break through the grind of daily life, which cannot have been especially pleasant for penurious girls living in a charity institution. The role of possessed victim in fact freed them from social restrictions, giving the girls opportunities for bold statements and inappropriate behaviour, such as spitting on a crucifix or jumping into a privy in pursuit of an invisible black cat. (94) Likewise, it ensured the girls unprecedented attention and afforded them a degree of agency: indeed, for the duration of the crisis, the progression of the girls' fits determined the rhythm of daily life in the boarding school. Their special status as bewitched also imparted them authority on the subject, especially during their passions and while being exorcised. Thus, it was 12-year-old Cilleken Vervaeren who, during an exorcism, commanded Anna van Assche where to hold the crucifix so as to repel a horned, ape-faced, black man with velvet trousers whom only she could see.

V. Conclusion

The crisis in the Lier maagdenhuis is situated amid a long list of cases of individual and collective possession and bewitchment in the early modern period. All these cases stemmed from a cultural context that imparted the incidents their broad characteristics and stereotypical traits. At a micro-level, each occurrence and its final interpretation can be recognised as the end results of a complex and incidental interaction between various case-specific factors. In the Lier maagdenhuis case of 1602-03, a combination of actual illness, sweeping and disruptive transformations in the girls' daily lives, and a seemingly looming threat of sorcery created a climate of tensions that found an outlet in a spectacular catharsis, consisting of convulsions that increasingly corresponded to a familiar model of bewitched or possessed behaviour. Both the nature of the source material and the progression of the story appear to indicate that the predominant and most supported explanation for the events in the maagdenhuis was that they constituted an instance of bewitchment. However, scrutiny of the trial documents reveals traces of doubt, elements of discussion, and a search for further clarifications. These not only rendered the prevailing assessment of the events much less certain than what the prosecutor had sought to convey, but also generated alternative perspectives in which the diagnosis of witchcraft was neither the first nor the only apparent explanatory context.

As was customary in instances of physical misfortune, the search for a solution began within a medical context. The girls' afflictions and their symptoms were described in medical terms, and common religious remedies were undertaken to find a cure, possibly in combination with medical actions. But the affected girls in the maagdenhuis found no solace in conventional methods. An increasing number of extraordinary aspects alerted witnesses to the apparent inadequacy and irrelevance of medical explanations and seemed to enhance the possibility that sorcery was the cause. The shift from a natural interpretation to an unnatural one was far from gratuitous. An empirical process of observation, comparison, and tentative checks and remedies reinforced it. (95) Yet these tests and remedies wrought a considerable side effect: the more a witchcraft diagnosis was anticipated, the more this induced corresponding behaviours from the afflicted girls. The probable diffusion of enchantment and possession stories and the suggestive character of the exorcism rites undoubtedly were a major force in this evolution, not least as they confirmed the girls' status as bewitched or possessed and informed the girls about possession and bewitchment stereotypes which they increasingly incorporated into their behaviour. Likewise, the events at the boarding school set the tone for subsequent mimetic possession cases involving children elsewhere in town. The repudiation of one such case apparently did not bring the other alleged victims into discredit, though the source materials do reveal a few other traces of scepticism.

Its extensive (albeit incomplete) documentation notwithstanding, the maagdenhuis case remains an open-ended story. Additional data on the eventual fortunes of the afflicted girls and the conclusion of Engelberte's trial would significantly improve our understanding of the complex dynamics that drove and shaped the events. Nonetheless, the available source materials still have considerable potential for more elaborate exploration of many aspects of the story that are not discussed in this article. These include the tense relations between an older woman (Engelberte) and younger girls, a generational conflict that was also present in other such situations. Another aspect of the story is the various interventions by several clerics, including the Lier priest Symon vande Poel and the Spanish chaplain Johannes Baptista Massias, both of whose dubious practices left traces in various witch trials and declarations concerning sorcery throughout the region. Likewise, more research needs to be done on social networks and local balances of power, and on the motivations and backgrounds of the authorities involved in the maagdenhuis crisis and Engelberte's trial. Each of

these factors played its own part in the boarding school crisis, and exerted its own influence on the progress of the events, the specific contents of the witness depositions, the development of the trial, and the outcomes of the trial and the story itself. The bewitchment of the girls in the Lier maagdenhuis aptly illustrates both the rationality and the versatility of the early modern attitude towards the exceptional. This is disclosed through a source that is itself nearly as vibrantly detailed, muddled, and multi-layered as the perplexing reality it seeks to convey.

FWO Research Foundation, Flanders

University of Antwerp, Centre for Urban History

(1) In this article, the terms witchcraft, magic, and sorcery are used interchangeably. The crisis in the Lier boarding school is the subject of an earlier article, by the author, that focused on the role of clerics and cunning folk in the events and examined the interaction between official religion and popular beliefs. See Bhumi Vanderheyden, 'Van parochiepriester tot aartsbisschop: betrokkenheid van clerici in de bezetenheidsepidemie in het Lierse maagdenhuis (1602-1603)', Post Factum. Jaarboek voor geschiedenis en Volkskunde, 2.2 (2010), 100-28 (erratum p. 100: 'about October 15' instead of 'October 1st'). The case is also discussed in Sonja Deschrijver and Vrajabhumi Vanderheyden, 'Experiencing the Supernatural in Sixteenth-Century Brabant: Construction and Reduction of the Exceptional in Everyday Life', Journal of Social History, 46 (2012), 539-42.

(2) Moshe Sluhovsky, Believe Not Every Spirit: Possession, Mysticism, & Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 2; Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), pp. 31-36; Deschrijver and Vanderheyden, pp. 525-26.

(3) Charles M. A. Caspers and Marcel A. M. E. Gielis, 'Anna Maria Eeltiens of Tilburg unmasked in Antwerp as a Feign Saint (1735/36): Changing Views of Holiness, Miracles and the Power of the Devil', in Confessional Sanctity (c. 1500c. 1800), ed. Jurgen Beyer (Mainz: Von Zabern, 2003), pp. 303-18.

(4) Daniel P. Walker, Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), pp. 5-6, 19-42; Moshe Sluhovsky, 'A Divine Apparition or Demonic Possession?: Female Agency and Church Authority in Demonic Possession in Sixteenth-Century France', Sixteenth Century Journal, 27 (1996), 1039-55 (pp. 1041-42); Anita M. Walker and Edmund H. Dickerman, '"A Woman under the Influence": A Case of Alleged Possession in Sixteenth-Century France', Sixteenth Century Journal, 22 (1991), 535-54; Denis Crouzet, 'A Woman and the Devil: Possession and Exorcism in Sixteenth-Century France', in Changing Identities in Early Modern France, ed. Michael Wolfe (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 191-215 (p. 191).

(5) Jeffrey R. Watt, The Scourge of Demons: Possession, Lust and Witchcraft in a Seventeenth-Century Italian Convent (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009), pp. 5-8; Michel de Certeau, La possession de Loudun (Paris: Julliard, 1970); H. C. Erik Midelfort, A History of Madness in Sixteenth-Century Germany (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 67; Sluhovsky, Believe Not Every Spirit, pp. 233-37; for an example of a collective possession that did not occur within a monastic setting, see the Mattaincourt case mentioned in William Monter, A Bewitched Duchy: Lorraine and its Dukes 1477-1736 (Geneva: Droz, 2007), pp. 111-13.

(6) National Archives Brussels, Geheime Raad (Spaanse Periode), nr. 1098, Trial of Engelberte Hechts, 1603 (hereafter 'Trial of Engelberte Hechts'). Unless stated otherwise, all quotations from the witness depositions are taken from the trial against Engelberte Hechts and consist of identification of the information in question and the name of the witness, for example, 'First information, Anna van Assche'. Translations the author's own. To improve readability, minor adaptations have occasionally been made to the English translations which are presented in the text. Similarly, capitalisation and punctuation have been modernised and resolved abbreviations expanded in the Dutch quotation provided in the notes.

(7) Trial of Engelberte Hechts, List with charges against Engelberte Hechts and Lyn Tops, undated; City Archives Lier (CAL), Oud archief. III. Rechterlijke afdeling, Vonnisboeken, nr. 1964, 18 August 1603; NAB, Geheime Raad (Spaanse Periode), nr. 1098, Trial of Heyl Vloos, 1603, Facts in favour of Heyl Vloos, undated, comments on articles 14 and 15. Lyn (als Cathlyne) Tops is named in Engelberte Hechts's trial as a third suspect imprisoned on charges of sorcery, in addition to Eele vanden Hove and Engelberte Hechts. She was released on parole on 18 August 1603, with her husband and two brothers standing bail for her. Heyl Vloos, arrested for sorcery earlier in July 1603, mentioned, but did not name, a woman from the village of Berlaar, who was or had been arrested for sorcery in 1603. This woman may also have been Lyn Tops.

(8) NAB, Geheime Raad (Spaanse Periode), nr. 1098, Trial of Heyl Vloos, 1603.

(9) Erik Aerts and Maurits Wynants, eds, Heksen in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden (16de-17de eeuw) (Brussels: Algemeen Rijksarchief, 1989); Vrajabhumi Vanderheyden, 'Betoverend Lier. Kerk en gelovigen in de hekserijprocessen van 1589 en 1603' (unpublished licentiate's thesis, University of Antwerp, 2005); Bhumi Vanderheyden, 'Betoverend Lier. De beleving van het bovennatuurlijke op het einde van de zestiende en het begin van de zeventiende eeuw', Trajecta. Religie, cultuur en samenleving in de Nederlanden, 18 (2009), 320-44.

(10) Peter Rushton, 'Texts of Authority: Witchcraft Accusations and the Demonstration of Truth in Early Modern England', in Languages of Witchcraft: Narrative, Ideology and Meaning in Early Modern Culture, ed. Stuart Clark (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2001), pp. 21-39 (pp. 26-28); Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987), pp. 3-4.

(11) CAL, Oud archief. II. Bestuurlijke afdeling, Openbare liefdadigheid: Maagdenhuis, nr. 309, Appointment Anna Verhaeghen, 7 April 1687; CAL, Archiefstukken overgedragen door het Rijksarchief van Antwerpen, nr. 102, Lier City Chronicle, c. 1616, fol. 47v; Koen Breugelmans, Adriaan E. Verhulst, and Jean Marie Duvosquel, Historische stedenatlas van Belgie. Lier (Brussel: Gemeentekrediet, 1990), p. 102.

(12) These girls were: Beyken Lysaerts (age 13), Lisken Blylevens (9), Lynken Canariens (17), Jenneken Regiers (10), Mayken Peeters (11), Beyken Hollekens (11), Cilleken Vervaeren (12), and Lynken Blylevens (4 1/2). The girls are listed in the order they became afflicted. Their names appear in several variants and their ages are approximate (as are most ages noted in the source materials).

(13) Preparatory information, Anneken Michiels: 'Zoo verre het alsoo is, soo moeghde ghy die kinderen gaede slaen, ende ick sal vuytten huyse vertrecken.'

(14) Preparatory information, Anneken Michiels: 'Dat de voorscreven gevangene aldaer soude woonen, alwaer zy deponente soo hooch als den thoren van Lyere.'

(15) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Is zeer subitelyck ter eerden gevallen ... is wederomme met eenen sucht wederomme gecommen tot haer selven.'

(16) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Ende besmeth geweest met gelycke sieckte.'

(17) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Wesende de selve handt somwylen gesloten, somwylen die vingeren over d'een enden dandere getrocken, somwylen van malcanderen wonderlyck geopent.'

(18) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Soo boven in heur kele als nederwaerts aen thert ende voorts inde beenen totte voeten toe, zeer miserabelyck getrocken geweest, alsoo dat het meysken van pynen jammerlyck riep, dat deerlyck was om hooren ende sien.'

(19) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Kyndt, ick en cant nyet gesien.'

(20) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Besicktheyt.' While this Dutch word generally refers to 'disease' or 'leprosy' (see the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal, available online via the Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie, De Geintegreerde Taal-Bank website <http://gtb.inl.nl/>), in this case, the context unambiguously refers to the falling sickness. This is further confirmed by Peeter vander Vorst's statements in the first information, when he recounts that Engelberte had told him the girls were not bewitched but suffered the 'falling sickness' or 'vallende zieckten'.

(21) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Averechts omme.'

(22) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Daer die gene die besieckt zyn, zoo sy deponente heeft gehoort, den duym sluyten inde handt.'

(23) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Andere degelycke persoonen.'

(24) Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld, 1971), pp. 32-33, 588; Sluhovsky, 'A Divine Apparition', p. 1041.

(25) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Was zeer vriendelyck ende feestelyck, thoonende alle vrientschap, meer dan sy oynt van te voiren hadden gedaen, inder vuegen dat sy deponente met allen der voorscreven weduwens gediensticheden beschaempt was, ende vierde haer deponente al oft sy een coninginne hadde geweest.'

(26) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Als worddende heuren buyck d'eene reyse ingetrocken, ende daer naer soo styve opgeheven dat men daerop zoude getrommelt hebben ... hebbende midts der groote pynen haer alsoo geboocht ende voor opgeheven dat onder haeren rugge een groot groot kindt, jae middelbaer mensch soude hebben cunnen door cruypen'; Watt, Scourge of Demons, p. 116: in 1636-39, the possessed Clarisses of Santa Chiara in Carpi would sometimes contort themselves into a similar position.

(27) First information, Reynier Coomans and Geeraert van Antwerpen: 'Seggende daer beneffens dat de pynen, ween, passien, treckingen ende tormenten daegelycx soo accresceren dat een steenen hert daer deur beweecht moet wordden, inder vuegen dat sy de selve passien nyet en cunnen gesien, ende daeromme soo dickwils daer nyet en frequenteeren.'

(28) First information, Anna Swinters: 'Grouwelyck om siene, ende te lanck om te verhaelen.'

(29) First information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Soo grouwelyck dat een smenschen haer te berch staet, diet siet.'

(30) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Gelyck eene pluyme die door den windt gedreven wordt.'

(31) First information, Egbert vander Geest: 'Gelyck jonge geyten oft lammeren.'

(32) I have translated the phrasing as it is mentioned in the source; it is not entirely clear how to imagine the movement described.

(33) Preparatory information, Supplementary deposition of Egbert vander Geest: 'Heeft gesien dat Cilleken crumpinge heeft gecregen in heure beenkens die welcke sy heeft van achter opgetrocken, ende de teenkens geruert ende gebeeft als vingeren die opt orgel spelen. Ende terstonts daer naer geroepen hebbende dat sy pyne hadde voor thertte, heeft vuytgebraeckt ierst een verroesten schaillienagel ... ende corts daer naer heeft wederomme gesien dat de voorscreven Celliken vuytgebraeckt heeft een bundelken stroo by een gewonden met een wullen drayeken.'

(34) First information, Jaspar van Turnhout: 'Dan soo de camer soo vol volcx was en heeft tselve tkindt nyet connen ter eerde vallen.'

(35) Preparatory information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Dat men in alle manieren daer toe raedt soude soecken.'

(36) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Vielen die kinderen rontsomme den voorscreven onder pastoir die verbaest synde riep, dat is tooverye.'

(37) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Datter spellen staken inde handen vande voorscreven kinderen, roepende: amy, amy, daer steeckt my een spelle, ende alsoo haest en was daer d'eene spelle nyet vuytgetrocken, daer en riep wederomme een ander kindt van gelycken.'

(38) Trial of Engelberte Hechts, Reports of trial proceedings, 7 August 1603: 'Dat de selve gevangene anderen ten exemple sal worden geexecuteert ende van levenden lyve ter doot gebracht metten viere ende ter polveren verbrandt, ende al heure goeden geconfisqueert ... oft dat anderssins recht ende justitie sal worden gedaen gelyck thoff nae gelegentheyt vande saecke zal vinden te behooren.'

(39) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Datter twee kinderen ... van haer selven vielen, al oft sy de besmetheyt hadden.' Cf. 'besmetheid', in Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.

(40) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Liggende oft sy van haer selven waere.'

(41) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Dat alle haere kinderen met sieckten bevangen waeren.'

(42) Preparatory information, Anna van Assche: 'Sieckte', 'Besmeth'.

(43) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Dan soot omtrent kersmisse was, dacht die kinderen vallen gemeynlyck omtrent dyen feestdach van haer selven.'

(44) Trial of Engelberte Hechts, Report of Christianus Morus, undated: 'Waer vuyt ick jugeerde, seyde hy, dat het een sieckte was die wy heeten epilephia, ende dat daer nu noch egeener raedt oft remedie en was.'

(45) See CAL, Oud archief. II. Bestuurlijke afdeling, Rekenwezen, Stadsrekeningen: Rekeningen der stadsrentemeesters, nr. 463 (1584-93), nr. 464 (1594-99) and nr. 465 (1600-07); CAL, Oud archief. II. Bestuurlijke afdeling, Rekenwezen, Kladboeken, nr. 627 (1589) and nr. 628 (1590). City accounts of 1584-85 and 1587-1600 mention Jan Tesch as being one of the two city physicians. A systematic check of the city accounts is needed to establish a complete outline of his services.

(46) Trial of Engelberte Hechts, Facts for the prosecutor-general of Brabant, undated, article 45: 'Zeer expert chirugyn.'

(47) Trial of Engelberte Hechts, Report of Christianus Morus, undated: 'Heeft seer haer voorgestaen.'

(48) Sarah Ferber, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 18-22; Sarah Ferber, 'Reformed or Recycled? Possession and Exorcism in the Sacramental Life of Early Modern France', in Werewolves, Witches and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief & Folklore in Early Modern Europe, ed. Kathryn A. Edwards (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2002), pp. 55-75 (pp. 55-57, 64); Charles M. A. Caspers, 'Weg met de duivel? De rooms-katholieke Kerk en haar "groot-exorcisme" van de zestiende eeuw tot heden', in Duivelsbeelden. Een cultuurhistorische speurtocht door de Lage Landen, eds Gerard Rooijakkers, Lene Dresen-Coenders, and Margreet Geerdes (Baarn: Ambo, 1994), pp. 286-309 (pp. 287-88).

(49) Charles M. A. Caspers, 'Duivelbannen of genezen op 'natuurlijke' wijze. De Mechelse aartsbisschoppen en hun medewerkers over exorcismen en geneeskunde, ca. 1575-ca. 1800', in Grenzen van genezing. Gezondheid, ziekte en genezen in Nederland, zestiende tot begin twintigste eeuw, eds Willem de Blecourt, Willem Frijhoff, and Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra (Hilversum: Verloren, 1993), pp. 46-66 (pp. 51, 53, 55-56); Caspers, 'Weg met de duivel?', pp. 292-93.

(50) See L. Theunissens, 'Liste des chanoines de la collegiale de Saint-Gommaire a Lierre--Acte de fondation de la chapelanie des quatre vicariats, a la meme eglise', Analectes pour servir a lHistoire ecclesiastique de la Belgique, 17 (1881), 392-423 (pp. 405, 412, 420); Arnoldus J. A. Bijsterveld, Laverend tussen Kerk en wereld. De pastoors in Noord-Brabant (1400-1570) (Nijmegen: Bijsterveld, 1993), pp. 81, 147, 151; Antoon Hasenbroekx, Gegevens voor een geschiedenis van het luisterrijk vorstelijk kapittel van de H. Gummarus te Lier. I. Vanaf het ontstaan tot 1506 (Lier: Gilde "De Heren van Lier", 1990), p. 7. An academic education was a condition of admission to most chapters, as was high social status. Egbert vander Geest was a baccalaureus in theology, Jan van Craenendonck and Peeter vander Vorst each had the degree of licentiatus in law. The degree of magister in the seven liberal arts had to be obtained before being permitted to study theology. As such, obtaining the degree of licentiatus in theology could take fifteen years of study. Consequently, most students left university after obtaining the degree of baccalaureus in theology.

(51) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Midts die kinderen in sulcke treckingen liggende, haere handen toe sloeten sonder den duym inde palm vande handt te nemen ... begonst te suspiceren oft tooverye waere, want alle de werelt sulckdanige opinie hadde, midts de treckingen ende berueringen der selver kinderen waeren te seer vrempt.'

(52) Robin Briggs, Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft (NewYork: Viking, 1996), p. 63.

(53) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Dwelck tegen natuere schynt te wesen.'

(54) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Veel felder dan oynt te voeren.'

(55) Cf. 'passie', in Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.

(56) Moshe Sluhovsky, 'The Devil in the Convent', American Historical Review, 107 (2002), 1379-1411 (p. 1385); Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, p. 570.

(57) Jeffrey R. Watt, 'The Demons of Carpi: Exorcism, Witchcraft, and the Inquisition in a Seventeenth-Century Convent', Archiv fur Reformationsgeschichte, 98 (2007), 107-33 (pp. 114-15); H. C. Erik Midelfort, 'Madness and the Problems of Psychological History in the Sixteenth Century', Sixteenth Century Journal, 12 (1981), 5-12 (p. 11).

(58) First information, Anna Swinters: 'Houwt my, want Engel meester peeters wilt my de kele toedouwen.'

(59) First information, Anna Swinters: 'Sy sidt onder den rock van die vrouwe.'

(60) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Den quaeden die wilt hebben dat ickt segge, ende Engel meester Peeters die dreyght my met een capmes, dat sy my den hals aff sal snyden, dat ick nyet seggen en soude, dreygende voorts, dat sy myn lyff vol spellen steken sal.'

(61) Briggs, Witches and Neighbors, pp. 64-65, 237.

(62) Sluhovsky, 'A Divine Apparition', pp. 1042-43; Walker and Dickerman, 'A Case of Alleged Possession', p. 537.

(63) Briggs, pp. 25-26.

(64) Willem Frijhoff, Wegen van EvertWillemsz. Een Hollands weeskind op zoek naar zichzelf. 1607-1647 (Nijmegen: SUN, 1995), pp. 275-85; Walker (Unclean Spirits, pp. 49-52) discusses a case of collective possession of children, that occurred within the context of a family as opposed to an institution.

(65) Briggs, p. 116.

(66) Trial of Engelberte Hechts, Facts for the prosecutor-general of Brabant, undated, article 40; NAB, Geheime Raad (Spaanse Periode), nr. 1098, Trial of Heyl Vloos, Charge, undated, articles 10-11 and 20.

(67) First information, Anna van Assche: 'Ick laet mynen hals aff snyden, ist gene tooverye.'

(68) Preparatory information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Ende belast den vyandt, dat hy vuyt het selve meysken soude scheyden met allen zyn tooveryen ende duyvelsche wercken, ende bevindende hy deponent dat den vyandt int selve kindt wordde geroert, zoo heeft hy deponent denselven vyandt eens oft tweemael besworen ... daer by vuegende dese woorden: monstra maledicte diabole maleficia, et dic an sint in hac domo.'

(69) Preparatory information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Om dat de ommestaenders ... beter souden verstaen ende beter getuygenisse geven van syns deponents actie.'

(70) Preparatory information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Neen, neen, ick swere dat icks nyet seggen en sal.'

(71) Preparatory information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Met noch crachtiger woorden van exorcisme.'

(72) Second information, Collective deposition on the searching of Engelberte's room in the maagdenhuis: 'xxxvtich gecromde spellen, een swert voddeken, seecker haer, item twee stocxkens (soot scheen) van gewydde palm, ende meer andere stucxkens van quaet ysere.'

(73) It was not unusual to search for charms when sorcery was suspected. Another example is found in Monter, A Bewitched Duchy, p. 114; see also Watt, Scourge of Demons, p. 57.

(74) Sluhovsky, 'The Devil in the Convent', p. 1400; Watt, 'The Demons of Carpi', pp. 115, 122, 130-31.

(75) Preparatory information, Jan van Craenendonck: 'Gevraeght wat gevoelen hy comparant is hebbende vande voorscreven passien der voorscreven kinderen, oft de selve souden syn beseten oft betoovert volgende de gesteltenisse acten ende andere circonstantien, die hy aende selve kinderen heeft gesien. Seeght dat hem egeenssints en dunckt de selve kinderen beseten te zyn, maer houdt voorseecker dat de selve wel zyn betoovert, alzoe dat die duyvel by hen door eenige substantie oft venyn betoovert synde aen oft int lichaem derselver kinderen, heeft macht om die voorscreven passien ende zieckten hen aen te doen.'

(76) Preparatory information, Peeter vander Vorst: 'Oprechte tooverye.'

(77) Sarah Ferber, ' Possession Sanctified: The Case of Marie des Vallees', in Confessional Sanctity, ed. Beyer, pp. 25970 (pp. 259, 262); Watt, Scourge of Demons, p. 39; Sluhovsky, 'The Devil in the Convent', pp. 138288; Midelfort, A History of Madness, pp. 69, 76-78.

(78) CAL, Oud archief. III. Rechterlijke afdeling, Scabinale protocollen, nr. 1269, nr. 74, 8 or 9 October 1603 (hereafter Scabinale protocollen).

(79) Scabinale protocollen, Marie Verhagen: 'Oft zy nu al wel waeren ende oft er nyemant meer sieck en was.'

(80) Scabinale protocollen, Marie Verhagen: 'Neen, behalven cleyn lynken, die zy seyde noch dien dach de sieckte gehadt te hebben.'

(81) Scabinale protocollen, Marie Verhagen: 'Ende met hen oyck tvoorscreven cleyn lynken die sulcx gewaer worddende seer cloeckelyck opstondt ende liep soe zeer naeder brugge sy was daer soe haest als dander.'

(82) Scabinale protocollen, Marie Verhagen: 'Sulcx dat zy declarante opinie hebbende dat zy de siecte gemaect hadde seyde totter selver cleyn lynken dese oft gelycke woerden, jae my dunckt dat ghy den dieff wel maken soudt.'

(83) Cf. 'dief ', in Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.

(84) Scabinale protocollen, Peeter Flamen:'Daer aff de twee laghen plat ter eerden spertelenden ende schenen van siecte oft tooverye bestaen te syne. Ende comende hy declarant mette voerscreven sangmeester nairder by hen, heeft gehoirdt dat een vande meyskens die de twee ter aerden liggende assisteerden tot hen seyde, hier coempt den sangmeester ende noch eenen heer, midts welcken de twee meyskens ter eerden liggende hen halffwegen oprechtende, hebben omme gesien ende siende hem declarant ende den voerscreven sangmeester syn beyde recht op gestaen ende metten anderen voirts gegaen al oft hen nyet gelet en hadde gehadt.'

(85) Scabinale protocollen, Peeter Flamen: 'Wat seyt hy, wat seyt hy.'

(86) Scabinale protocollen, Peeter Flamen: 'Seyde die voorscreven Cortbemde dat tselve zyn verstandt te boven ginck ende seyde die voorscreven declarant tegen den selven cortbemde daerop dattet zyn verstant oyck te [boven ginck] dat hy van sulcker acte zeer verwondert was nyet cunnende gepeysen hoe dattet mogelyck waere in sulcker manieren bestaen te worden ende zoe subytelyck op te staen al oft zy van geender siecten bevangen en hadden geweest ende dat hy declarant sulcx nyet gelooft en soude hebben indient hyt selve nyet en hadde gesien gehadt.'

(87) Preparatory information, Lynken Canariens: 'Is gevallen in de passie, ende soo sy daerinne viel seyde, ick soude meer seggen maer den duyvel quelt my.'

(88) Preparatory information, Lynken Canariens: 'Daer is wat in myn kele, het doet my zeer al oft het eenen nagel waere, het en wilt nyet vuyt commen.'

(89) Third information, Anna Nick: 'Anneken ghy syt nu genesen, ghy sult wederomme naer uwen dienst gaen.'

(90) Third information, Anna Nick: 'Nyet gemaeckt ... om dat sy wel wiste dat sy daer aen qualyck gedaen hadde, ende dat sy daeromme bekeven soude wordden ... bedenckende dat sy daer aen grootelycx gesundicht ende misdaen hadde.'

(91) Midelfort, A History of Madness, p. 76.

(92) Frijhoff, Wegen van Evert Willemsz, pp. 279-84.

(93) Briggs, Witches and Neighbors, pp. 64-65.

(94) Briggs, p. 272; Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, pp. 572-74.

(95) On the rationality of witchcraft beliefs, see Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
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Publication:Parergon
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Date:Jul 1, 2013
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