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Ritualized Violence against Sorcerers in Fifteenth-Century France

By Aleksandra Pfau

In 1464, Jehan Sommet, a notary living in the town of Thiart in Auvergne, sought remission for the crime of murder. He described his disturbing night on the twelfth or thirteenth of June, when his wife “was greatly troubled in her sense and understanding, crying with a loud voice as if insensible, and wishing to throw herself out the windows into the street.” Jehan Sommet explained that he made a number of vows and pilgrimages, to both male and female saints, on his wife’s behalf, but they did not help her. Upset about his wife’s continued frenzy, Jehan Sommet began asking his “neighbors and other people” where this illness could come from, and if they knew of any possible remedy. The response, which was presented in the letter as universal, rather than being attributed to one particular source, was that his wife had been poisoned by a ninety-year-old woman in the town, named either Guillaume or Guillemete de Pigeules called Turlateuse. The helpful, but anonymous, voices of Jehan Sommet’s “neighbors and other people” further
informed him that only Turlateuse could provide a remedy for her poisons, and that he would have to ask the sorcerer “nicely” (doulcement) to heal his wife. If Turlateuse refused, Jehan’s advisors continued, he should “warm the soles of her feet,” because on other occasions she had healed people of similar illnesses because of threats and beatings. This method of starting with sweet words and ending with threats and violence appears as a pattern in many remission letters about sorcerers, though this is the only one where the protagonist had to have it explained to him ahead of time.

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