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The Crime of Crimes

Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620

Jonathan L. Pearl

Hardcover 188 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-296-2

Release Date: March 1999

Online discount: 25%

$85.00  $63.75


eBook availability

One of the most intriguing, and disturbing, aspects of history is that most people in early modern Europe believed in the reality and dangers of witchcraft. Most historians have described the witchcraft phenomenon as one of tremendous violence. In France, dozens of books, pamphets and tracts, depicting witchcraft as the most horrible of crimes, were published and widely distributed.

Yet, in his new book, The Crime of Crimes: Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620, Jonathan Pearl shows that France carried out relatively few executions for witchcraft. Through careful research he shows that a zealous Catholic faction identified the Protestant rebels as traitors and heretics in league with the devil and clamoured for the political and legal establishment to exterminate these enemies of humanity. But the courts were dominated by moderate Catholics whose political views were in sharp contrast to those of the zealots and, as a result, the demonologists failed to ignite a major witch-craze in France.

Very few studies have taken such a careful and penetrating look at demonology in France. The Crime of Crimes: Demonology and Politics in France, 1560-1620 sheds new light on an important period in the history of witchcraft and will be welcomed by scholars and laypersons alike.

Jonathan L. Pearl was educated at Lawrence College in Wisconsin and Northwestern University and has taught at the University of Toronto since 1969. He has published numerous articles on religious and intellectual history and in 1995, with R.A. Scott, published the first English-language edition of Jean Bodin’s On the Demon-Mania of Witches.


“The author of The Crime of Crimes provides his readers with a substantial and well-organized historical analysis by which is cast a refreshingly original point of view on the works of the demonologists and, more generally, on France’s judicial elites in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.... What emerges from this convincing and well-researched study is the image of a divided political, cultural, and judicial elite.... The Crime of Crimes will be of great interest to all scholars specializing in demonology, witchcraft, and judicial history. Jonathan L. Pearl’s limpid style and skillful argumentation also make it accessible to all those who are interested in early modern history and culture.”

— Hervé Campangne, University of Maryland, Sixteenth Century Journal

“Pearl brings to bear on the subject basic sources as well as a meticulous examination of existing relevant literature. His presentation is lucid, and his disagreement with other critics is not only expressed with restraint but also rests on irrefutable evidence. This study is a very important contribution to the history of demonology in France.”

— Leonard Adams, Canadian Book Review Annual