In popular culture, witches are demonic people who know the secrets of magic. They embody nature in its occult aspect, and have the ability to cast spells, see the future, and even change their shape and appearance. There are famous witches in fairy tales and films, but also in history, in real life. There were many people, usually women, who were called witches, something that condemned them, at worst, to die burned at the stake.
These are the 6 most famous witches throughout history. Find out all the secrets about their lives.
One of the famous witches in France was Anne de Chantraine, daughter of a pedlar. She was raised in an orphanage, where she learned catechism and sewing in the early 16th century. At the age of twelve, she was put at the service of a village widow and, later, she became a cowgirl.
Anne de Chantraine is considered one of the most beautiful witches in history. She had red hair, which unfortunately was associated with the flames of Hell. Accused of being an alleged witch, she died in Waret, in 1622, at the age of 17, burned alive after being tortured.
How was it determined that she was a witch? As in so many cases, she lived during a very difficult time, where poor harvests and epidemics were a constant threat. One day, a neighbour saw her picking strange flowers, and accused her to the Inquisition, which eventually turned her into one of the most famous witches of all time.
We talk about María Ximildegui as we could talk about María de Arburu, María Baztan, María de Echachute or Graciana Xarra. These famous witches went down in history because of the trials that the Inquisition carried out in Logroño, in 1610, against the women who gathered in the fields of Zugarramurdi.
María Ximildegui’s parents were French, but she was born in Zurragamurdi, Navarre. As a young woman, she worked as a maid in France. Thus, towards the end of her teenage years, at the age of 16, María was in France, where she had worked as a maid for four years. There, she came into contact with witches and began practicing some rituals. In 1608, she returned to Zugarramurdi and told her family that she had attended witches’ Sabbaths.
However, when there began to be talk that there were witches in Zurragamurdi, she repented and accused several of her friends: four women, six men and two children, who would have actively participate in the covens of that village.
Throughout history, many witches were burned, but Agnes Sampson was also brutally tortured before she died on 28 January 1591 in Edinburgh. Agnes was known for her alleged magical powers, and earned her living as a midwife and healer in nearby villages.
She was accused of witchcraft by a maid, Gillis Duncan, and was brought before the king and several noblemen, who tortured her with an iron instrument with four sharp teeth placed in her mouth, two of which pressed against her cheeks and two, against her tongue, preventing any movement of the mouth and the ability to speak.
In that way, she was forced to confess 53 charges, she was hanged and later, burned. Her case is included in the North Berwick trials. During her trial, she was portrayed alongside the Devil, who is handing magic dolls to a witches’ coven.
Although the Church canonised her as a saint in 1920, it cannot be forgotten that the French Joan of Arc died at the stake, accused of being a witch, on 30 May 1431. Nicknamed “The Maid”, she ran away from home and became the war chief of the French army. Wounded in battle, after winning many victories against the English in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, she is captured and handed over to the enemy.
Joan was acting driven by faith, and she claimed to have heard Saint Michael at the age of thirteen telling her that she must fight to protect France. For the judges, the voices she heard were not coming from God but from the Devil. The Cardinal of Winchester burned her body twice and then scattered her ashes, so that no cult could be consecrated to her.
In her trial, she was declared a witch or a leader of spells, a fortune teller, a false prophetess; she was accused of summoning and conjuring up evil spirits, of being superstitious, idolatrous, an apostate to the faith, among other terms. She was also accused of wearing men’s clothing and using weapons that were not intended for people of her sex. Before being condemned, she was even asked if she used mandrake for spells, something she denied.
Anna was the last of the witches to be sentenced in Europe. She died decapitated on 13 June 1782 in Glarus, Switzerland, in a witch hunt.
She worked as a maid for a renowned physicist, a married man and the father of a girl. The man accused her of putting needles in his daughter’s bowl of milk and bread. The alleged witch run away, but she is eventually imprisoned by the authorities and subjected to torture.
In her confession, she admitted to see the Devil in the form of a black dog, who presumably ordered her to mistreat the girl. In 2007, the Swiss parliament found her not guilty and the truth is revealed: Johann Jakob Tschudi, the physicist she worked for, was her lover, and she threatened to reveal their affair. He accused her of witchcraft to shut her up.
Her real name was Ursula Southeil, and she had a reputation for being so ugly that she was suspected of being the Devil’s own daughter. Born in 1488, she is considered Britain’s greatest clairvoyant and is credited with predicting the Great Plague of London (1665), the Great Fire of London (1666), and the execution of the Scottish Queen Mary Stuart, among others.
Unlike other witches in history, whose lives have been reviewed in this article, she was fortunate not to be sentenced to death and died naturally in 1561.