Witch Trials (c. 1500–1700)

What happened?

  • Throughout the 16th and 17th century, witch trials and the persecution and punishment of suspected witches were common in Europe. Between 1560 and 1630, there was a surge in the number of accusations of witchcraft and witch trials called “the Great Hunt” . During this time 80,000 people were accused of witchcraft and, of them, 40,000 were killed as punishment. 

The burning of a witch in Vienna, Austria in 1538 by Ullstein Bild (from Little, 2018).

How is this related to climate?

  • This surge in witch trials coincided with some of the most bitter phases of the Little Ice Age, a period of widespread cooling and a drop in average global temperatures from around 1300 to 1850. Colder, harsher weather of the Little Ice Age caused a series of crises, including poor crop harvests, the Great Famine and the Black Death in Europe. People looked for any explanation for the struggles they were facing, and often blamed witches, sometimes at the encouragement of religious leaders.

References and additional resources