Malin Matsdotter

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A woman burned at the stake (though this picture is of an execution of a woman in England judged for having murdered her husband hundred years later, 1763).

Malin Matsdotter (1613 – 5 August 1676), also known as Rumpare-Malin, was an alleged Swedish witch. She is one of the most well known alleged witches in Swedish history: known as one of few people in Sweden to be executed by burning at the stake, and often referred to as the only Swedish "witch" to have been executed by burning. She is also known as one of the last victims of the great witch hunt of 1668-76, which ended with her execution.

Context[edit]

Malin Matsdotter was an old Swedish woman of Finnish descent, one of many victims of the witch hunt hysteria called "Det Stora Oväsendet" (The Great Noise) in Sweden between 1668 and 1676. She was the only known witch in Sweden to have been burned alive: normally, the witches in Sweden were decapitated before they were burned. Before this time, very few people had been accused of this crime in Sweden, but during these eight years, after the accusation of Märet Jonsdotter, about 280 people, both women and men, were decapitated and burned as witches. The Swedish witch frenzy reached its peak with the Torsåker witch trials, and it reached Stockholm with the Gävle-Boy in 1675, where it lasted until 1676, and ended with the famous execution of Matsdotter.

In accordance with the rest of the witch trials in the great Swedish witch hunt of 1668-76, the witch hunt of Stockholm was mainly concentrated not on sorcery, but on the belief that the witches abducted children to the Witches' Sabbath of Satan in Blockula. Malin Matsdotter was one of many people accused of having done this. Before her, five other women in the city had been executed for this crime, starting with the sisters Brita and Anna Zippel.

Trial and Verdict[edit]

Malin Matsdotter lived on Mariaberget in Stockholm and was the poor widow of a man who was executed for sodomy. Her profession is unknown; she is mentioned to have been active as a midwife, but it is not known whether it was her regular profession.[1] She was accused by her adult daughters who claimed that she had abducted their children, her own grandchildren, to the Sabbath of Satan in Blockula. Malin cursed her daughters for their lies but was judged guilty by a unanimous court on the testimonies of her daughters. She refused to say farewell to them and refused to shake their hands. She stood stern in her denial before the court; such firmness was often considered to be a sign that the Devil helped his witch to withstand interrogations.

Malin was sentenced to be burned alive because of her refusal to plead guilty, despite the torture she was exposed to. One of the previously accused, Anna Lärka, had also received the same sentence for her refusal to admit guilt but it was revoked when she finally did so. In the case of Matsdotter, the sentence was to be carried out. This caused a debate among the authorities, as this method of execution was very uncommon in Sweden; though several crimes stated public burning, this actually meant that the condemned be "executed and burned", which meant that they were first executed by decapitation or hanging, after which their corpse was publicly burned; the method of burning someone still alive is only known to have been used in the country a very few times before, and the verdict was therefore controversial.

No other person executed for sorcery in Sweden is confirmed to have been burned alive. It was also against normal practice to execute someone who had not admitted their crime. One suggestion was, that at the place of execution, she would be given a last chance to confess her sin; if she did so, she would be decapitated before she was burned.[2] One member of the commission suggested that she be tortured with hot irons before the execution, so that she would be unconscious and not aware of the pain,[3] but the suggestion was revoked with the view, expressed by a priest, that the honour of the name of God was more important than Malin's personal experience of pain; the method was also deemed necessary as an example to the public and to her accomplices.[4] She was instead to have a bag of gunpowder secured around her neck to make her death quicker.

Execution[edit]

The execution was carried out in the square of Hötorget in Stockholm on the 5th of August 1676. Malin was to be executed with another woman, Anna Simonsdotter Hack, called "Tysk-Annika", who had also been accused and sentenced to death on the testimony of her own children. Anna Simonsdotter was to be decapitated the usual way before burning, and the differences in their behaviour have given Malin the admiration of history.

Anna Simonsdotter stepped up to her execution with great humility, full of respect for her judgment; though she did not directly say that she was guilty, she behaved as was expected of her, and "by her remorse, by her psalms, and by falling on her knees and lifting her head and her hands to the sky, confirmed the justice in the verdict and the justice in the world". Malin Matsdotter, on the other hand, described by witnesses as proud and firm, received the gunpowder with a smile and climbed up the stake showing no fear, talked calmly to the executioner and let him chain her by her hands and her feet without fighting back. She talked back to the priests with her head held high when they pleaded with her to acknowledge her sin, maintaining her innocence. Standing at the stake, she once again stated her innocence. When one of her daughters, who were the ones who had accused her of witchcraft, called out from the audience for her to admit her crimes to save her soul, "She gave her daughter into the hands of the devil and cursed her for eternity". After this, the fire was lit.

Aftermath[edit]

It is said that she died with no pain and without screaming which was taken as another proof of her guilt, as it was believed that witches could not feel pain. This was the end of the great witch trials in Sweden; soon afterwards judges, led by Urban Hjärne and Eric Noraeus, began to express their scepticism toward the child-accusers and witnesses. On 11 September 1676, one of the witnesses broke down in court and was followed by the others.

The rest of the accused witches were set free, and three of the main child-witnesses, the Gävle-Boy and the Maids of Myra, were arrested and executed instead. Several of the other witnesses were whipped for their perjury. One of the perjurers who was executed at the end of this year was the daughter of Malin Matsdotter.

In 1677 all the priests of the country were ordered to tell their congregations that the witches had now been expelled from the country forever to avoid further witch trials. This ended the great Swedish witch hunt of 1668-76. Though there were accusations after this, few people were executed for sorcery after the year of 1676. The last execution for witchcraft took place 1704 when Anna Eriksdotter was decapitated, the last person to be executed for sorcery in Sweden.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Per-Johan Ödman (in Swedish) : Kontrasternas spel I ("The play of contrasts") (1995)
  2. ^ Per-Johan Ödman (in Swedish) : Kontrasternas spel I ("The play of contrasts") (1995)
  3. ^ Per-Johan Ödman (in Swedish) : Kontrasternas spel I ("The play of contrasts") (1995)
  4. ^ Per-Johan Ödman (in Swedish) : Kontrasternas spel I ("The play of contrasts") (1995)

References[edit]

  • Peter Englund: Förflutenhetens landskap (The country of past times) (Swedish)
  • http://www.genealogi.se/avrattade/comment.php?id=1495 (Swedish)
  • Bengt Ankarloo: Satans raseri (Rage of Satan) (Swedish)
  • Alf Åberg: Häxorna (The witches) (Swedish)
  • Per Anders Fogelström : En bok om Söder (A book about Söder) (1953) (Swedish)
  • En bok om Söder (Swedish)
  • Jan Guillou, Häxornas försvarare (The defender of the witches), Piratförlaget 2002 (ISBN 916420037X) (Swedish)
  • Alf Åberg: Häxorna. De stora trolldomsprocesserna i Sverige 1668-1676 (The witches. The great witch trials of Sweden in 1668-1676) (Swedish)