Nicholas Rémy

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Nicholas Rémy, Latin Remigius (1530–1616) was a witch-phobic French magistrate who claimed in his book to have overseen the execution of more than 800 and the torture or persecution of a similar number. His work shows much influence from Jean Bodin. [1]

Life, Education, Faith, and Work[edit]

After studying law at the University of Toulouse, Remy practised in Paris from 1563 to 1570. In 1570, his uncle retired as Lieutenant General of Vosges and Remy was appointed to the post; in 1575 he was appointed as secretary to Duke Charles III of Lorraine.

Remy wrote a number of poems and several books on history, but is known for his Daemonolatreiae libri tres ("Demonolatry"), written in Latin and published in Lyon in 1595. The book was reprinted several times, translated into German, and eventually replaced the Malleus Maleficarum as the most recognized handbook of witch-hunters in parts of Europe.

According to Remy, the Devil could appear before people in the shape of a black cat or man, and liked Black Masses. Demons could also have sexual relationships with women and, in case they did not agree, rape them.

He was of the Catholic faith, and wrote his Latin works with the blessings of the Church, but was not himself a priest and married at least once (possibly twice), fathering quite a few children. One of them, a favored son, was supposedly killed in a street accident at the beginning of Remy's judicial career after being cursed by an old beggar woman when Remy refused to give her any money. This incident in 1582 was the start of Remy's career as a witch-hunter. He successfully prosecuted the beggar for bewitching his son and had the woman put to death.

Finding witches was very personal business for Remy. An extremely educated man for his day, he utterly believed in what he was doing. He saw every "witch" he burned as real, and considered it justice done. Remy personally sentenced 900 people to death between 1581-1591. In 1592, Remy retired and moved to the country to escape the plague. There he compiled notes from his ten-year campaign against witchcraft into the Demonolatry.

A Claim of 800 Persons Executed and A Recent Revision[edit]

Remy brags that during a mere sixteen year period when he worked as a judge in Lorraine, not less than 800 persons (non minus octingentos) were condemned at the stake for sortilegis crimen or the crime of witchcraft (sorcery seems to derive from the Latin sortilegus[2]), which certain witch-phobic Christians of this time period considered to a real supernatural power that was sourced from the devil. [3] Remy further claims than an equivalent number of around 800 persons escaped punishment by fleeing capture or by "a stubborn endurance of the torture."[4]

Writing more than 400 years later, the scholar William Monter scoffs at these numbers and claims that Lorraine's records from the 1580s are "well-preserved" and amount to barely "one-sixth as many as Nicholas Remy boasted in his Demonalatria of 1595."[5] Monter characterizes Remy's claim of 800 condemned as "a literary flourish" and refers to Remy as a "humanist" though there does not seem to be any instance in which Remy used the term "humanist" to describe himself. Remy dedicated his book to the Cardinal of Lorraine and characterizes himself a soldier in a war against anti-Christian forces that he considers aligned with the devil. Monter's reason for doubting Remy's numbers is that Remy's book lists the specific names of "only about 125 individuals tried for witchcraft."[6] Monter compares Remy's list to some instances of non-corroboration within the surviving records and concludes that "we must take his numbers with a very large grain of salt; but the documented reality is dreadful enough."[7]

In forwarding his theory, Monter doesn't proffer a reason or motive for Remy to inflate his numbers or why the printer and booksellers (including a number of reprints) would have wanted a brag of "900 Person's More or Less" on the title page of Remy's work, and whether this may have helped sell books, and if so, what this also might say about the well-educated Latin readers who were the target audience for Remy's work, written and sold in a Catholic borderland region during a time period often referred to as the Counter Reformation.[8]

Pop Culture Portrayals[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jackson J. Spielvogel Western Civilization: Since 1300 Page 446 "Nicholas Rémy, a witchcraft judge in France in the 1590s, found it "not unreasonable that this scum of humanity [witches] should be drawn chiefly from the feminine sex.""
  2. ^ Lambert Daneau, De Veneficis Quos Olim Sortilegio, 1580
  3. ^ N. Remy, Daemonolatrae, p. 108. Also see title page. See first paragraph of Chapter XV of any English translation including Montague Summers translation of Demonalatry (1930) p. 56.
  4. ^ This is the next clause of the same line in the original Latin work and separated by a semi-colon in M. Summers English translation.
  5. ^ William Monter, A Bewitched Duchy (2007) p. 70.
  6. ^ William Monter, A Bewitched Duchy (2007) p. 70.
  7. ^ William Monter, A Bewitched Duchy (2007) p.71.
  8. ^ "900 Persons More or Less" is M. Summers translation (1930) on the unpaginated title page. Remy's 1697 edition in Latin reads: capitalibus DCCCC plus minus. See also, William Monter, A Bewitched Duchy (2007) p. 70-1.
  • Guiley, Rosemary (1999). The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. Checkmark Books.
  • Baroja, Julio (1975). The World of the Witches. University of Chicago Press.
  • Rémy, Nicholas (1974). Demonolatry. University Books.

External links[edit]

Nicholas Rémy, Daemonolatreiae 1597 printing: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=oRY6AAAAcAAJ