One of the most shameful chapters in European history was the execution of up to 60,000 people for witchcraft during the 15th-18th Centuries. Evolving from 14th Century heresy laws, via Pope Innocent VIII's 'Witch-Bull' of 1484, the belief that people were willingly performing witchcraft in the service of Satan reached peak levels of hysteria from 1580-1630. A treatise written in 1486 by German Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer called the 'Malleus Maleficarum', (or 'Hammer of Witches') also convinced people that witchcraft existed, and ensured that the vast majority of the accused were women. Accusations could be made on hearsay, and interrogation methods were brutal. The 'ducking stool', sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and implements such as thumbscrews were routinely used, and 'proof' was often established on the most tenuous, ridiculous basis. A mole or birthmark could be seen as the 'Devil's mark', and allegations of guilt by other 'witches' could secure convictions; this was common as doing do could save the accuser from execution. Many women who were simply wise in the traditional uses of plants, herbs and flowers for healing purposes were condemned and killed; keeping certain animals meant they could be seen as 'familiars', which was taken as another form of proof. Although the trials were spread throughout Europe at this time, those which took place in Germany accounted for almost half of the total death toll. Some of the major trials were:
Victims came from all levels and sectors of society, and included several thousand men and children.