Scholars have long held that the Polish witch-trials began, in part, as an un-intended consequence of the Polish parliamentary decree of 1543 regulating the jurisdictions of ecclesiastical and secular courts. That decree confirmed the church's traditional jurisdiction over all spiritual matters, including witchcraft and magic. However, because of a clause specifying that where witchcraft caused material harm to a person or to property the case was to be turned over to the secular courts, the decree resulted in the wholesale transfer of witch-trials to the secular courts and the beginning of large-scale witch persecutions in Poland. This understanding of the beginnings of witch-trials in Poland is incorrect, as the present article attempts to demonstrate. In fact, the decree of 1543 deals with witchcraft in just a few words, and clearly preserves ecclesiastical-court jurisdiction over witch-trials, with no exceptions. The alleged conditional clause or rider transferring jurisdiction to the secular courts in cases involving material harm does not exist. The article traces belief in the existence of such a clause to a brief essay from 1878: the author of that essay appears to have conflated two unrelated passages from Herburt's 16th-century digest of Polish law. Moreover, the article reviews Polish anti-witch-trial literature from the 17th and 18th century, and shows that the authors of this literature consistently cited the decree of 1543 to support their contention that witchcraft belonged in the ecclesiastical courts, without qualification.Finally, the article examines select witch-trial verdicts - from small towns, larger towns, appellate courts, and the high royal court for towns (the Assessory Court; sad asesorski) - to show that these courts never mentioned the decree of 1543. This is true even when, as in some Assessory Court decisions, the court sought to regulate or restrict the jurisdiction of small-town secular courts over witch-trials. The conclusion follows that the decree of 1543 regulated the relations between ecclesiastical courts and noble courts (the 'ziemskie' and 'grodzkie' courts), to the total neglect of the town courts in which the overwhelming majority of Polish witch-trials took place. With their independent legal tradition deriving from so-called Saxon law, town courts were not influenced in any way by the decree of 1543. The rise of witch-trials in Poland in the 16th and 17th century thus cannot be traced to the enactment of a specific law; rather, it was a result both of cultural changes and of the pan-European 'judicial revolution' with its increasing reliance on torture, the 'queen of proofs'.
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