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Inquisitor Boblig and the witch trials

On 3 April 1678, a beggar woman, Marina Schuchová from Vernířovice, was caught in the church in Sobotín stealing a holy host, which was supposed to be given to a cow to feed it during a magic incantation so that it would give more milk. It was obvious that this was a crime of witchcraft.

The Losiny and Výzmberk estates (today Loučná nad Desnou) were administered by Countess Sybila Gall on behalf of her minor nephews, who commissioned the governor Adam Vinařský of Kříšov to find an expert in witch trials. Vinařský was probably helped by his father-in-law Karel Július Kotulínský of Kotulín, the chief administrator of the bishop’s estate of Mírov, whose friend was Henry František Boblig of Edelstadt, who lived in Olomouc at the time.

Boblig claimed to have forty years of experience in the Jeseníky witch trials. Vinařský personally verified this and was apparently satisfied. He agreed terms with Boblig and sent a wagon to Olomouc for him on 30 August 1678. In September, with the approval of the Prague Court of Appeal, an inquisitorial tribunal was set up, consisting of Boblig (the director), the governor Vinařský, the pensioner Kristián Meyer, the purgrave František Václav Vraný, the administrator of the manor hammers Jan Richter and the forester Krištof Zeidler.

The question of competence
Henry Francis Boblig came from Zlaté Hory (also called Edelstadt), where his ancestors acquired the noble title with the appellation „of Edelstadt“. As it was a family tradition to study at the University of Vienna, it is assumed that Henry also studied law there. He did not receive a doctorate and was therefore titled as a candidate of law. This education was sufficient for him to practise as a lawyer and judge.

The notion that Boblig could do whatever he wanted during the witch trials is utterly nonsensical. The activities of the inquisitorial court of Lausitz were the responsibility of Countess Gall and, from 1686, of the adult Jan Jáchym of Žerotín. The Losiny High Court was subject in the first instance to the Prague Court of Appeal, from where came the teachings on the conduct of the trial, such as the list of questions that were asked during the interrogation of offenders, the possibility of using torture, and also the death sentences. All of this was confirmed by Gall.

Boblig and fat booty?
Boblig is said to have coveted in particular the property that the convicts forfeited to the authorities. The Losinj upper class required the relatives of the victims to pay the costs of the trial, but there were problems in recovering them. Boblig did not have to worry about this at all, as he received a contractual salary. Some of the possessions of the executed did fall into the hands of the inquisitors, but they had to buy them, albeit at a great bargain. However, there is no known case of Boblig himself making a fortune in this way.

Boblig had a salary of 1 gold piece per day in Losiny, which was increased to 1.5 gold pieces in the second half of the 1980s. The procedural delays were mostly attributable to the Prague Court of Appeal, which often took its time. If the witch trials depended only on Boblig, the borders would burn much more often. However, he was prevented from doing so by the capacity of the Lošinj prison, which was limited to six to eight people.

The share of the estate owners
What was Countess Gall’s share in the trials? This granddaughter of the executed leader of the Bohemian Estates, Jáchym Ondrej Šlik, was first married into the Jesuit milieu of the Michnas of Vacínov. She apparently hated the subjects of Lošno and Wismin, many of whom secretly professed the Lutheran faith and reproached her brother Přemysl III of Žerotín for having converted to Catholicism.

Gall believed that her brother had been murdered and was especially convinced that the heart of her sister-in-law, Elisabeth Juliana née Oppersdorf, had been stolen and used for witchcraft. Boblig promised her that he would investigate, but the main suspect managed to escape from the Losinj prison. Gall never pardoned any of the convicts, and neither did her nephew Jan Jáchym. Fifty-six people died on the Losiny execution grounds and in prison, and 25 more victims died in Šumperk.

Prince Charles Eusebius of Liechtenstein, who owned Šumperk at the time, knew about witchcraft in the town from September 1679. Marie Sattler was arrested in November 1679, but the trial against her was then suspended. According to the opinion of Jan of Gaar, a lawyer from Olomouc, Lichtenstein was subject to the law of Opava in the first instance and directly to the sovereign in the second. It is to his credit that he delayed for a long time in starting the trial and then in having the torture applied to Sattler. Finally he yielded to Emperor Leopold I, who told him on 1 February 1681 that Sattler, „accused of a most terrible and exceptional crime“, was to be tried by torture. In August 1681, Lichtenstein asked Boblig to become director of the Sumerian Inquisition Tribunal. After about a month’s hesitation, Boblig accepted the post and negotiated a daily salary of 3 guilders.

The fate of the Peschke family
The case of Maria Peschke, the wife of the Shumperian town clerk, who was arrested in 1680, is similarly strange. Peschke endured every degree of torture and not only did she not shed a tear, but she did not even cry, she just looked at the tribunal with hatred. The records of the confrontations, however, indicate that she testified against some people. Moreover, she was executed, which means she had to confess. The only possible explanation is that she sacrificed herself for her husband Heinrich – that Boblig promised to leave him alone in exchange for her confession. For when Peschke was arrested, she had a son Hyacinth, about six months old, and other minor children at home for Heinrich to look after.

But in June 1684, Heinrich Peschke was also arrested. Hyacinthe, who was about five years old at the time, died 14 days later. Peschke had endured all the mental and physical pressure – he was even burned at the side with a candle while being stretched on a ladder. He was not released and languished in prison. In 1692, the Prague Appeal even insisted that the trial be finally closed. Peschke survived new interrogations and further pressure, and could no longer be tortured. He died a „natural“ death in the dungeon in 1696, two years earlier than Boblig, who at the age of 85 could hardly control and influence the matter.



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