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The Basque Witch-Hunt

In June 1609, two judges left Bordeaux for a territory at the very edge of their jurisdiction, a Basque-speaking province on the Atlantic coast called the Pays de Labourd. In four months, they executed up to 80 women and men for the crime of witchcraft, causing a wave of suspects to flee into Spain and sparking terror there. Witnesses, many of them children, described lurid tales of cannibalism, vampirism, and demonic sex. One of the judges, Pierre de Lancre, published a sensationalist account of this diabolical netherworld. With other accounts seemingly destroyed, this witch-hunt – France's largest – has always been seen through de Lancre’s eyes. The narrative, re-told over the centuries, is that of a witch-hunt caused by a bigoted outsider.


Newly discovered evidence paints a very different, still darker picture, revealing a secret history underneath de Lancre’s well-known tale. Far from an outside imposition, witchcraft was a home-grown problem. Panic had been building up over a number of years and the region was fractured by factionalism and a struggle over scarce resources. The Basque Witch-Hunt reveals that de Lancre was no outsider; he was a local partisan, married into the Basque nobility. Living at the Franco-Spanish border, the Basques were victims of geography. Geo-politics caused a local conflict which made the witch-hunt inevitable. The same forces eventually sent thousands of religious refugees from Spain to France where they, in turn, became new objects of popular fear and anger.


The Basque witch-hunt is justly infamous. This book shows that almost everything historians thought they knew about it is wrong.

The Basque Witch-Hunt

  • Jan Machielsen

    The true story behind the Basque witch-hunt of 1609, arguably Europe’s most sensational, and yet most misunderstood, witchcraft panic.
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  • Book Details

    Imprint: Bloomsbury Academic
    Publication Date: 03-10-2024
    Format: Hardback | 234 x 156mm | 344 pages
  • About the Author

    Jan Machielsen is a historian at Cardiff University, UK, with an interest in witches, demons, and saints. His previous publications include The War on Witchcraft (2021) and The Science of Demons (2020).

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