Important Scarce Treaty Denouncing Witch Trials

Oldekop, Justus. Iusti Oldekops / ICti Tractatus de Appellatione in causis criminalibus, Eiusq[ue] tam in processu inquisitorio, quam accusatorio, ad Germaniæ Principum judicia, non tantum de jure Romani Imperii hodierno Communi, sed etiam Saxonico, admissionis necessitate, rejecta distinctione inter processum ordinarium, & extraordinarium sive summarium, eodemq[ue] ordine procedendi undiq[ue] servato & approbato in inquisitione, qui est in accusatione: Nec non de jure, propter non receptam appellationem, ad Cameram Imperialem provocandi, vel in ea nullitatis querelam instituendi: Cum annexis quæstionibus nonnullis ad processum necessariis, post præfationem indicatis.

Halberstadii [Halberstadt]: Typis Andeae Colwaldi, Anno MDCLV [1655]. In Latin and German. 4to. 186 × 151 mm (7.5 × 6 in.). [8], 125, [1] pp. Woodcut initials and tail-piece. Errata on page [126].

Good. Pages toned, but clean. Wrinkling and minor damage to last page. Bound in modern Italian marbled paper.

First edition of this important legal treatise denouncing witch trials and torture. Oldekop was one of the earliest to make his criticisms public through a printed work published under his own name.

In 1635, the German jurist Benedikt Carpzov published his Practicum rerum criminalium, which became a major source for German criminal law. Carpzov argued torture was necessary for extracting confessions of witchcraft, even in cases where suspects appeared to be innocent. Carpzov was frequently cited as an authority in German jurisprudence and is frequently referenced by students in the dissertations of his time. He and his work are credited with intensifying the use of torture in criminal cases throughout the Holy Roman Empire in the late 17th century.

Oldekop was not the first to denounce torture, which was especially common in witch trials and led to the brutalization of countless women throughout Europe. Oldekop’s treatise is notable because it was both published under his own name and levels a critique squarely at witch-mongers like Carpzov and the consequences of their legal theories. Two important predecessors in anti-torture literature were Anton Praetorius and Friedrich Spee, but their works were first published anonymously or pseudonymously. Oldekop circulated his stance against witch trials and torture at a time when Carpzov was a major authority in the legal world who drew on religious doctrine to claim that any criticism or disbelief in his theories itself constituted both a criminal offense and a sin.

Oldekop’s work sought to reform the process for criminal trials, and here specifically discusses the right of the accused to appeal their investigation by an inquisitor. Torture, he believed, was unjust and produced unreliable or outright false confessions. Among the arguments he makes is that the appeal of the accused could be concurrent with the investigation during which the accused would likely be subject to torture (as was the case in Oldekop’s most famous defense in 1661 of Gerthe Schmidt, who was accused of infanticide and tortured numerous times when investigation failed to turn up evidence in support of the accusation). Oldekop also argues for the importance and validity of the testimony of those who underwent interrogation by inquisitors. Oldekop appends seven questions to his treatise, many of which focus on torture and what to do if the accused is killed during interrogation.

For his direct challenge to the legal and religious doctrines put forth by Carpzov, Oldekop is considered a forerunner of the Enlightenment and its later challenges to Church authority and reforms of the state. His impassioned case for the rights of the accused and against the use of torture make him and his treatise an important antecedent of modern human rights.

OCLC reports no holdings in the Americas or UK. Rare Book Hub reports only one listing for a copy that was in a sammelband bound with two other legal tracts.

VD17 1:002856N


Myers, William David. Death and a Maiden: Infanticide and the Tragical History of Grethe Schmidt. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011.


In stock

Stock Code: 1491A17 Collection: Catalogue:


For more information or to request additional photographs, please send an e-mail.

Search our Inventory

Stay in Touch

Join our mailing list to be the first to hear about new catalogue relases, upcoming events, and special offers. 
logo of mark funke bookseller with white letters "mf"