The Execution of Werewolf, Petter Stump: An analysis

Keywords: Petter Stump (Peter Stump, Peter Stumpf, Peter Stumpp), werewolves, witchcraft, broadsheets, demonology

Germany was at the centre of the witch persecutions in early modern Europe. At least a third of the estimated individuals accused of witchcraft in Europe were derived from German-speaking lands. This equated to between 30,000 and 45,000 executions within the Germanic region (Robisheaux, 2013, p. 179). During the German witch trials, illustrated broadsheets of the notorious farmer Petter Stump accused of multiple murders, cannibalism, incest, and sorcery proliferated. The renowned broadsheets not only show his torture and execution for committing these crimes but also accused him of doing so while transformed into a wolf in the Bishopric of Cologne in 1589. The story of Stump spread far and wide, with illustrative broadsheets reporting his execution not just printed in Nuremberg, but with copies created from woodcuts or engravings, coloured and uncoloured in Augsburg, Cologne, Denmark, Antwerp, and London. I will focus on analysing German pictorial and textual sources of Petter Stump, where the differing portrayals and versions of the story have frequently been conflated (See, for example, Zika, 2007, p. 187).

Anonymous, warhafftige und wunderbarlich Newe zeitung von einen pauren der sich durch Zaüberey des tags siben stund zu ainen wolff verwandelt hat, und wie es darnach gericht ist worden durch den Colnischen Nachrichter, den letzen October Jm 1589 Jar, Nuremberg: Lucas Mayer, 1589,
Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Source: ArtStor (accession number: 20.033.625) EU directive copyright on public domain images:

The German broadsheets illustrate Stump’s attack on a local farmer in the top left corner with whom he tried to eat, his torture, and finally his execution. The print’s use of simultaneous narrative provides an unfolding, yet highly structured theme as if it is frozen in time (Fowler, 2003, p. 20). The scene is presented on a diagonal allowing the viewer’s eyes to flow, not resting on a single focal point, thereby allowing the audience to absorb the entire unfolding scene where each element invites a close viewing. The horizontal frame of the woodcut depicts rolling hills, which emphases the cascading scene and three-dimensionality, where each separate feature unifies to tell a story. In contrast, an English woodcut that accompanied an extended pamphlet, was printed the following year in 1590. The woodcut displayed the tale of Petter Stump in a series of eight frames like a modern comic strip. In comparison, the print is disjointed, lacking the flow of the narrative in the German broadsheets.

The foreground of the German broadsheets reveals Stump transformed back into human form and attached to a cartwheel. A Landsknecht (German soldier) behind him pulls a sheet from his face as if revealing the wolf’s real identity. Stump is further portrayed being tortured with his skin pierced by hot pincers that were heated up by the fire. Cartwheels used for torture did not usually appear on the ground as displayed in the broadsheets of Stump. They were usually on a spike or a platform evidenced by the many broadsheets of torture scenes printed throughout the sixteenth century. The placement of the wheel on the ground allows for the punishment of Stump to be the focal point. Therefore, the werewolf is not the focus of the narrative, but the man behind the wolf.

Anonymous Artist, ‘Blasi Endres kills his family,’ Claude Duchet, Ein Erschröckliche vnerhörte Newe Zeyttung/von einem grausamen Mörder/der an seinem aygen fleysch vnd blut/vnd gantzem Hauβgesindt verzweyflet ist/mit namen Blasi Endres, Augsburg,
1585, coloured woodcut, 13.5 x 30 cm, sheet 35.2 x 32.5 cm,
Munich, Bayerische StaatsBibliothek.

The Nuremberg broadsheet printed by Lucas Mayer and its Augsburg copy by Johann Negele described Stump’s transformation with the aid of a belt that he would immediately transform into a wolf when he put it around his waist. The text does not explicitly state that the Devil gave him the belt, but that: ‘I have given myself to the Devil, so that I live my life with sorcery (Translation by Gerda DinwiddieDem Teüffel ich mich hab ergeben / Das ich mit Zauberey mein leben.’).’ Alternatively, the belt is not mentioned in the Cologne broadsheet printed by Franz Hogenberg who limited the text in verse, possibly for wider appeal, and was probably sung (see Mcilvenna, 2016). The Cologne print writes of his sorcery without mentioning the role of the Devil by stating: ‘Spent my life a while / with magic, despised God.’ (‘mein Leben ein Weil hingebracht / mit Zauberey Gott hab veracht.’). While the Cologne broadsheet does not describe the belt or the role of the Devil, it does describe Stump’s sorcery where the role of the Devil could be implied. The description made Stump not only a social other but also a religious other. This point is further illustrated in the woodcut where beyond the crowd a large cross is held up illustrating Stump as the antithesis to Christianity. His transformation into a wolf had corrupted godly order, where man was created in God’s image and was given dominion over all other animals.

Crime and Punishment

The emphasis was placed on the brutal torture of Stump that presented as evidence of the murderer’s execution. It appears to provide reassurance to its viewing audience that the murderer had been captured and executed. Such scenes of crime and punishment helped to establish trust in the authorities and therefore the ruling establishment (Lewis, 2016, p. 85). Breaking on the wheel was a high deterrent but also a warning for those who may be tempted by a life of crime (Dülmen, 1990, p. 86). The moralising lesson the publisher wished its audience to draw from is supported by the text on the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets (and English pamphlet. See, Otten, 1986, p. 76), stating it: ‘is to be an example for everyone to avoid such devilry’ (‘yedem ein Exempel sey/Zu meyden solche Teüffeley’).

Artistically, the print focused on the greatest act of drama. The grotesque violence of Stump’s torture and execution was emphasised with his skin covered with welts that have a realistic sense of texture from the hot pincers, and large spurts of blood pouring from his decapitated body. Lastly, he was depicted being dragged by his legs to his final execution in the fire — a dishonourable death of a heretic ‘because he led a wolf’s life,’(‘Weil er hat gefürt ein Wolff leben.’) as stated in the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets. Article 109 of Constitutio criminalis Carolina, 1532, stipulated that witchcraft was punishable by fire (Oates, 1989, p. 325). Burning witches to ash was believed to cleanse societies of evil. Although decapitation was usually reserved for the aristocracy, in this case, it was more likely used as a warning to others. Stump’s head is seen attached atop a torture wheel with a wolf and 16 pieces of wood dangling from the wheel to represent the people he had killed (Classen and Scarborough, 2012, p. 9; Zika, 2007, p. 187 ). As a result, the artist appears to present an image of justice as the decapitated head of Stump on a spike reaches the pinnacle of the broadsheet. This composition, however, does not appear to be original but was a part of the existing visual culture of crime and punishment.

Suspect Peasantry During the Late Sixteenth-Century Witch Trials

Like the female witch, the werewolf was also linked with the most socially marginalised members of society. People charged with transforming into a wolf were typically peasants or beggars living outside the main urban centres. Charges of transforming into wolves followed similar lines as accusations against witchcraft where a neighbour would incriminate neighbour for their misfortunes including loss of livestock or even children (Sidky, 1997, p. 233; Lea and Howland, 1957, p. 231). Petter Stump was described as a farmer in the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets who also reportedly confessed to harming livestock. Another example includes the case of Gilles Garnier (d. 1574), who was also known as the Hermit of Dôle or the Werewolf of Dôle (Sidky, 1997, p. 224; Wiesner-Hanks, 2009, pp. 30-1). He was convicted and burned at the stake for murder while transformed into a wolf in 1574 in Lyon (Bodin, 1995, p. 122). It is possible that Gilles Garnier’s main crime was for being a recluse and a beggar, scavenging for food in the forest (Sidky, 1997, p. 227). Garnier lived with his wife in the deep forest in a grotto in abject poverty. Rolf Schulte asserts that the killings had occurred 60 kilometres away and seemed unlikely that Garnier would have travelled this far given his frail condition (Schulte, Man as Witch, 2009, pp. 25-6).

The home of Petter Stump, Bedburg in the Bishopric of Cologne, was also highly fearful of outsiders and non-conformists in the Catholic electorate amidst the backdrop of the Cologne war of 1583-88 (Edwards, 1994, p. 15; Gibbs, 2009, p. 55). From the 1560s, the Lord of Bedburg, Hermann von Neuenahr (1520-1578), introduced Protestantism to the region (Riegelweg, 2016, p. 73). Rita Voltmer cited the re-Catholicisation of Bedburg in the same year as Stump’s supposed execution as a possible political connection to religious wars (Voltmer, 2015, p. 170). To support this idea, Voltmer contextualises the Petter Stump case with French examples (Voltmer, 2015, pp. 158, 163). While there may be political-religious dimensions to the werewolf hunts in France, no direct evidence exists that connects the Stump broadsheets to the religious wars or political propaganda. Nor is Stump’s religious affiliation known. While there is no direct link between the execution of Stump and religious persecution, Catholic reconquests are correlated with increased witch persecutions (Trevor-Roper, 1968, p. 145). Lena Maria Kaiser Riegelweg suggested that Stump could have been a scapegoat to the activities of mercenaries in the region from the Cologne War (Riegelweg, 2016, p. 76). Count Adolf von Neuenahr (c.1545-1589) tried to recapture Bedburg in the year 1589; therefore, this theory is plausible (Münster-Schröer, 2017, p. 277). Alternatively, the story of Petter Stump could have been inspired by their murderous activities.

The broadsheets of Petter Stump were representations of the worst kind of criminal. Stump was not just a murderer convicted of killing 16 individuals, but predominately a child murderer with 13 of his victims being children. He was also accused of cannibalising them, eating out their brains in the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets. The English pamphlet also describes 13 children killed but also two pregnant women where their babies were ripped out of them (Otton, 1986, p. 70). The murder and cannibalism of children add to the grotesque nature of their crimes in the same way that witches were accused of killing and devouring children (Kramer and Sprenger, 2009, p. 27).

While France did not have the same pictorial tradition as Germany, there are well known sixteenth-century French reports of werewolves illustrating a penchant for killing and eating children. For example, Pierre Burgot (d. 1521) and Michel Verdun (d. 1521) were convicted of eating young girls in 1521 (Bodin, 1995, p. 123). As described by Johann Weyer, they consumed the girls as young as four like a wolf, breaking their necks with their teeth and consuming their stomach orifice (Weyer, 1991, p. 513 (Book 6, XIII)). In a case tried by Henry Boguet, four witches (Groz-Jacques, Clauda Jamprost, Clauda Jamguillaume, Thievenne Paget) confessed to transforming into wolves and killing and eating several children in 1597 (Boguet, 1929, pp. 137-38). Another famous case of a werewolf killing and eating children included the aforementioned Gilles Garnier. Garnier was convicted and burned at the stake for killing and cannibalising several children while transformed into a wolf (Bodin, 1995, p. 122). Either the reports of the murder and cannibalism of children was a construction of contemporary fears or they were true reports of real murderers. Either way, they manifested into the ‘bogeyman’ in the form of a werewolf. These earlier trials could have served as the inspiration for subsequent representations of werewolves, including Stump.

An anonymous seven-page pamphlet published in the year of Petter Stump’s execution in Cologne describes the acts of sorcery in that year in the German territories (Anonymous, Warhafftige und erschreckliche beschreibung von einem zauberer, 1589). The pamphlet includes stories of witches murdering many children, including the tale of Petter Stump, in the same year. A witch in Mergenthal, eastern Germany, was said to have killed eighty children over forty years (Anonymous, Warhafftige und erschreckliche beschreibung von einem zauberer,1589, p. 3). The pamphlet further stated that eight witches were executed in Swabia for the murder of over a hundred and forty children. The pamphlet contextualised the fear of sorcery as well as the considerable fear over the loss of children in the year 1589.

Child Murderers within the Wider Visual Culture of Infanticide and Cannibalism

Stories about children being abducted, murdered, and eaten were also popular in sixteen-century Germany. The high child mortality rate during this period possibly explains the interest in such narratives. On average, half of all children would die by the age of ten (Spierling, 1989, p. 124). However, these numbers reflect European wide child mortality rates and therefore is not enough to explain the fears and fascination experienced in sixteenth-century Germany. Larry S. Milner stated that infanticide became a serious crime in Germany in comparison to other countries (Milner, 2000, p. 92). The introduction of the 1532 criminal code, Constitutio criminalis Carolina, resulted in an increase in infanticide persecutions and became punishable by execution by beheading or drowning (Harrington, 2009, pp. 54, 68). However, infanticide similarly became punishable by death across Europe (Wiesner-Hanks, 2006, p. 277; Hsia, 1989, p. 145). The fear of violence against children also outstretched reality. Margaret Brannan Lewis argued that the fear of violence towards children was further fuelled by crime literature and illustrated broadsheets. Publishers sought to monetise on stirring fears and their publications increased infanticide persecutions (Lewis, 2016, p. 84). These publications would have created the perception that there was an increase in crime during this period. Publishers of broadsheets played on the emotions of their audience by portraying the most vulnerable as victims (Lewis, 2016, p. 86). Therefore, Germany’s printing culture played a role in stirring fears of child murder while at the same time creating a record of such fears. While the murder and cannibalism of innocent children were abhorrent it equally fascinated as indicated by the sale and presumably purchase of the gruesome images.

However, despite the timelessness of the genres of ‘true’ crime and monsters, they reflect the different cultural anxieties of time and place. Prints of Petter Stump channelled the fascination and fears of the most sensational crimes where there was an increasing appetite for the morbid as a way of processing the hostile and frightful world. Marina Warner noted that confronting the ‘bogeyman’ and extreme violence was used to deal with fear during times of anxiety in early modern Europe (Warner, 2000, p. 16). Moreover, biologist Edward O. Wilson explained why Germany was transfixed with the motif of the canine: ‘We are not just afraid of predators, we are transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them because fascination creates preparedness, and preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters (Edward O. Wilson cited in Speidel, 2004, p. 13).’

People used a range of supernatural explanations to help explain infant death. The mythological hairy Wild Man was also described as stealing and eating unbaptised babies (Colin, 1999, p. 8). This threat was used to control small children’s behaviour and to deter them from entering dark forests where they could be abducted or killed (Husband, 1980, p. 5). The mythology of Saturn eating his children appears to have contributed to the model for representations and folklore surrounding child abduction and cannibalism (Zika, 2007, p. 214). Supposedly inspired by Saturn is also the figure of Der Kinderfresser (‘The child eater’), which proliferated as early as 1520 (Zafran, 1979, p. 26). Multiple prints were created of a wild-haired man who was depicted devouring a child whole, with other children in his bag to consume later. Der Kinderfresser, like the Wild Man, was used to scare children into behaving and to show obedience to their parents (Lewis, 2016, p. 87). Prints depicting infanticide, therefore, reflected the wider visual culture of sixteenth-century Germany. The obsession with infanticide during this period was further reflected in stories and pictorial representations of Jews, witches, Turks, and others abducting and killing children and sometimes eating them or cooking them for magical potions (Lewis, 2016, p. 82; Grössinger, 1997, p. 131; Wheatcroft, 1993, p. 25. Arnds, 2015, p. 72).

Abraham Bach the Elder, Der Kinderfresser, 1651/1654
Woodcut,  29.1 x 37.4 (sheet),
Germanischen Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg. Source: Wikimedia

The Jewish community were previously used as a scapegoat for the murder of children and were even accused of eating them (Oberman, 1996, p. 22; Lea and Howland, 1957, p. 240). After the Jewish community was decimated within the German-speaking territories of the Holy Roman Empire, a new conspiracy was created by targeting other marginalised individuals as a scapegoat. Authorities including law-makers, magistrates and churchman created the idea of the diabolical plot against society caused by witches in the service of the Devil (Sidky, 1997, p. 147). The official nature of witch hunts was illustrated in the background of the Stump broadsheets that show a hunt for the werewolf with horse-backed men dressed like the upper-classes rather than club-wielding peasants.

Although the murder of children was a common motif used to demonise the Other, there were natural explanations of why children were thought to be the target of werewolves. Children were easier prey for natural wolves as they would frequently work on farms, gathering firewood, and herding livestock (Ferraro, 2013, p. 65). This idea is supported by more recent studies of wolf attacks, where the predominant victims were children. A 2002 Norwegian study found ninety per cent of wolf fatalities were children. It also found that the remaining adult victims were all women (Linnell, Andersen, Andersone et. al, 2002, p. 37). These statistics suggest that either wolves attacked smaller people or were less able to defend themselves from an attack leading to a fatality. It is therefore unsurprising to note that tales and trials of werewolves were also largely restricted to areas that had large wolf populations (Sidky, 1997, p. 222).

Cologne and the surrounding region of western Germany had the highest concentration of werewolf reports in the entirety of the German-speaking lands, that constituted either accusations or executions. Rolf Schulte also showed that being called a werewolf was used as slander throughout the region, however, that it did not lead to executions for being a werewolf. Rather, they stirred suspicion and led to five executions for witchcraft (Schulte, ‘The Werewolf in Popular Culture of Early Modern Germany,’ 2015, pp. 199-200). Western Germany also correlated with the highest witch persecutions (Voltmer, 2015, p. 173). It was also within this region that multiple German editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that included the tale of the first werewolf, Lycaon, were published. Jean Bodin’s De la Démonomanie des Sorciers was published in Strasbourg and Frankfurt am Main where the time and location of their publications also correlated with the resurgence of werewolf reports (Jean Bodin’s De la Démonomanie des Sorciers was published as De magorum daemonomania in Strasbourg. Bodin, 1581 (USTC 629418); 1586 (USTC 630429); 1591 (USTC 630428); Nikolaus Basse, Frankfurt am Main, 1590 (USTC 667015)). The return to the classical tales of transformation and werewolves correlates with the resurgence of witchcraft and with it the belief in their transformation. It was used as an iconographical device of the ostracised Other, as well as those in opposition to God just as Lycaon and witches were believed to be.

Reports of Werewolves in German-Speaking Europe 1407- 1650, using Data from Elmar Lorey

Convicted Murderer or Construction of the Other?

Lucas Mayer’s Nuremberg broadsheet and Johann Negel’s Augsburg broadsheet of Petter Stump also included reoccurring motifs that render the broadsheets likely fictitious and the construction of the Other. Namely the reoccurring motif of the cut-off paw. It was a well-established motif across Europe that if a werewolf suffered an injury while transformed into a wolf that the same injury would remain once converted back into human form (Magnus, 1998, p. 931 (Vol. 3, Book 18, Chapter 47)). The first scene in the top-left corner in Lucas Mayer and Johann Negele’s broadsheets illustrated Stump’s paw sliced off by a farmer while amid transformation. While attached to the wheel in the foreground, Stump’s hand was depicted as missing, making it clear to its viewing audience that the wolf and Stump were the same. The broadsheets described the farmer taking the cut-off paw home but when he later took it out to show his neighbour, it had transformed into a human hand.

Other tales of cut-off limbs could have inspired the story of Petter Stump. A story of a werewolf from Padua, Italy in Job Fincel’s Marvels (1556), whose paws were cut off after capture, similarly found his hands and feet severed (Cited in Bodin, 1995, p. 123 and Boguet, 1929, p. 150). A tale of how a female werewolf of 1558 in Auvergne, France, was also discovered when a wolf that attacked a hunter had her paw sliced off. The dismembered paw reverted into human form with a gold ring on one finger that led to her identification (Boguet, 1929, p. 141). This motif dates to between 54 and 68 A.D. in Satyricon by Gaius Petronius (27-66 A.D.), where Neceros witnessed a man transforming into a wolf. He was not convinced of what he had seen until he found the man in bed with a neck wound in the same place the wolf had been stabbed the night before (Sconduto, 2008, pp. 11, 138. The story was reproduced in Russell and Russell, 1978, pp. 143-44). Stump was similarly found in bed in the textual descriptions of the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets. These reoccurring motifs provide a reason to believe that the broadsheets of Petter Stump were a construction of carefully selected historical motifs. Furthermore, his name Stump suggests that his name was referring to his severed arm rather than a real name as it is similar to the German ‘Stumpf,’ which has the same meaning as the English ‘Stump.’ The use of a descriptive namesake has precedence as illustrated with the Arcadian king called Lycaon in reference to his transformation into a wolf. However, the familiar narrative could have established resonance with people.

However, a decision was made to omit the motif of the cut-off paw in the Cologne broadsheet by Franz Hogenberg (as well as the English print and its accompanying pamphlet). The depiction of the wolf attack on the farmer remained, yet, the depiction of the farmer cutting the werewolf’s paw was omitted both visually and textually. Subsequently, the depiction of Stump missing a hand while on the wheel was also absent. Instead of using the motif of the missing hand or paw that allowed the audience to make the connection between the werewolf and Petter Stump, he was labelled with his name in each changing scene to highlight to the audience that it was illustrating the same person in the Cologne broadsheet. The technique of etching made this easier, whereas woodcuts required the insertion of a separate textual plate (Griffiths, 2016, p. 81). The Cologne broadsheet also reversed his name to ‘Stump Petter,’ which may have given his name a different meaning, especially given the apparent relationship with his name and his cut-off hand.

Franz Hogenberg, Stump Petter, Cologne, 1589,
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin,
Source: Artstor EU directive copyright on public domain images:

The omission of the cut-off paw in the Cologne broadsheet could be due to the printer attempting to simplify the story as is evident from the textual description. However, the detail of the cut-off hand or paw only exists in the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets. The anonymous Cologne pamphlet that discusses executions of witches in the year of 1589 also does not include the detail of the cut off-hand in the story of Petter Stump. However, the pamphlet describes two witches who had their right-hand cut off during torture suggesting it was a form of punishment (Anonymous, Warhafftige und erschreckliche beschreibung von einem zauberer, 1589, p. 4). In some translations of Micah 5.12, it describes sorcery being cut out of witches’ hands. Therefore, perhaps the cutting of Stump’s paw or hand was symbolic of this punishment.

The English pamphlet which elaborates on the story of Stump described a wolf disappearing in the woods followed by the hunters encountering Stump taking a stroll, thereby associating Stump with the wolf (Anonymous, A True Discourse Declaring the Damnable Life and Death of One Stubbe Peeter, 1590; The text is also reproduced in modern English in Otten, 1986, pp. 69-77 ). A narrative of discovering a man in the woods after chasing wolves was also described in a diary of Lucas Geizkofler from Dôle in 1573, who recorded an arrest of a peasant in similar circumstances (Oates, 1989, p. 337). It was unlikely a coincidence that Lucas Geizkofler wrote of a werewolf the same year that Dôle was described as ‘infested with wolves.’ As they were described as the size of donkeys who ate people, they were consequently believed to be werewolves (Briggs, 2002, p. 66). The above contradictions and similar stories resemble the re-telling of folklore and constructions of ‘otherness’ rather than of an actual trial and execution of a suspected werewolf.

It cannot be definitively said which broadsheet was the original. The portrayal of the cut-off paw or hand in the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets could have been a latter addition to enhance the veracity of the tale from folklore. The publication of the etching by Franz Hogenberg (1539-1590) in the same region of the alleged incident gives some weight to it being the original. Although etching can be a superior and highly detailed technique to woodcuts, the artist had failed the convey the same quality as Mayers giving the impression that the etching is the copy. Hogenberg’s etching has created a rushed impression in comparison to his oeuvre and the thoughtful and deliberate lines of Mayer’s woodcut.

The detail of the cut-off hand was not included in any other source than the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets; therefore, it was not merely an overlooked motif. Instead, a deliberate decision was made to exclude the motif of the cut-off hand from subsequent versions. The English pamphlet may well have been familiar with the Nuremberg or Augsburg broadsheets as it included details that originated from them. These details include the belt given by the Devil and reference to Stump sleeping with a She-Devil. The reason why the motif of the cut-off hand was omitted from subsequent representations of Petter Stump, therefore, remains inconclusive. If the Nuremberg broadsheet was the original, as it appears likely, then the distance of the execution from publication diminishes the likelihood that the broadsheet was a representation from real life. It also ‘Others’ the region of western Germany, not unlike the East and the New World during the sixteenth century. However, the existence of a similar drawing suggests that the case of Petter Stump existed prior to the dated broadsheets or it evolved orally from earlier tales.

The water-coloured pen drawing by Zurich pastor, Johann Jakob Wick (1522-1588), is very similar to the broadsheets of Petter Stump (Wick, 1580, ms. F. 29, fol. 167v; Zika, 2007, p. 194). It appears in Wick’s Sammlung von Nachrichten zur Zeitgeschichte aus den Jahren 1560-1587. It is a compilation consisting of twenty-four volumes of drawings and broadsheets of sensational gruesome and devilish news and stories. In Wick’s account, a man in Geneva was similarly tortured with burning hot pincers and executed in October. The year is not dated but the chronology of the book suggest it occurred in 1580, nine years before the publication of the broadsheets depicting the execution of Stump. Another similarity between the two accounts was that the man from Wick’s drawing was convicted of killing 16 children, whereas Stump was similarly convicted of killing 16.

Johann Jakob Wick, Sammlung von Nachrichten zur Zeitgeschichte aus den Jahren 1560-1587, Zürich, 1580 ms. F. 29, fol. 167v.
Coloured pen drawing,
Zentral Bibliothek Zürich. EU directive copyright on public domain images:

The composition of the drawing was also similar to the Stump broadsheets, with the man shown being tortured with hot pinchers in a loincloth before a group of witnesses. The torture wheel, however, remained unused in the background. The tortured man in the drawing appears to be portrayed grasping his right arm that seems to have been bandaged suggesting it was similarly cut off. This detail could support the view that Mayer’s broadsheet was the original as it includes the same motif of the cut-off hand. The man in Wick’s drawing was also depicted in the right frame in wolf form, surrounded by his victims left bloodied on the ground. This scene, although bloodier and more gruesome, is not dissimilar to the broadsheets of Stump shown attacking a man in the background. In this way, the broadsheets of Petter Stump could have been inspired by Wick’s drawing, further providing evidence that it was not an actual recording of a werewolf execution, but a retelling of stories passed down. People regularly travelled allowing the spread of rumour and gossip, with variations of the tale resulting in the muddling of details.

Furthermore, the iconography in the scenes of torture appears to be inspired by earlier prints rather than based on eye-witness accounts. The iconography of the man being tortured in the drawing is almost identical to an earlier broadsheet published in Nuremberg in 1534 that also belonged to Wick’s collection. Therefore, the broadsheets of Petter Stump were not only based on earlier stories but on established pictorial motifs from the crime and punishment genre that had proliferated during the sixteenth century.

Erhard Schön, ‘Execution of Hans Reichart Glaser,’ Anno XXXIII am freytag noch Sonntag Judica/hat Hans Reichart Glaser von Dietfurt/Bürger allhie zu Regenspurg/an peynlicher frag/Nachmals auch gütlich bedendt/Wie hernach volgt, Nuremberg: Steffan Hamer,
1534, coloured woodcut, 14 x 26 cm, sheet 40.5 x 30.5 cm,
Graphische Sammlung und Fotoarchiv, Zentralbibliothek Zurich. EU directive copyright on public domain images:

Although they could have since been lost, there was a lack of substantial evidence of Stump’s trial or execution such as juridical proceedings. Usually, an execution was a public affair, and an execution as notorious as Stumps would have drawn a large crowd (Dülmen, 1990, p.108; Wiesner-Hanks, 2006, p. 212). However, the broadsheets do not include names of attendees as evidence. Although the case was mentioned in several broadsheets and pamphlets, the medium was regularly used for propaganda purposes during sixteenth-century Germany (The case of Petter Stump was also mentioned in some demonologies: Prieur, 1596, p. 38; Delrio, 1617, p. 190). Interestingly the case was not mentioned by prominent contemporaneous authors of witchcraft who included sections on werewolves. These authors include French judges Henri Boguet and Pierre de Lancre, or French magistrate Nicholas Rémy despite the story of Petter Stump travelling at least as far as England (Boguet, 1929; Rémy, 1930; Lancre, 2006). Despite the popularity of the broadsheets, they were not accompanied by the same level of evidence, but more so a sensation of the story they drove.

Some scholars, such as Homayun Sidky, however, have assumed that the execution of Petter Stump was a real account of an execution of a mass murderer. Sidky claims that Stump (like Garnier) was likely a multiple murderer yet asserts that his crimes could be compounded by wolf attacks on children in the area. (Sidky, 1997, pp. 224, 236). Cologne pastor, Hermann Weinsberg (1518-1597), referenced hearing rumours of Stump prior to his execution in a diary entry (Münster-Schröer, 2017, p. 276). Wick’s drawing and the spread of the tale orally could account for this. Willem de Blécourt noted a Dutch chronicler, Arnoud van Buchell (1565-1641), who travelled through Germany and apparently spoke to an eyewitness to Stump’s execution in 1591 (Blécourt, 2009, p. 197; Münster-Schröer, 2017, p. 278; see Buchelius, c.1593-1600 ). However, a second-hand account does not substantiate as evidence as it is hearsay, and travel tales have been shown to be dubious as evidenced by the fanciful accounts of John Mandeville (d.1371), for example. The focus on the execution of Stump would have given the story the appearance of authenticity as they were a frequent occurrence during the witch trails. However, it was more than likely that the broadsheets were created because such a grotesque and fabulous story would have undoubtedly sold well. They captured the people’s imagination as demonstrated by their multiple copies that spread internationally, just as it continues to do so today.

However, it is not to say that its viewing audience did not find it to be an accurate recording of an execution since similar executions occurred during the sixteenth century. Erika Münster-Schröer cites an extract from the diary entry of Cologne pastor, Hermann Weinsberg, who expressed doubt over the shape-shifting aspect of the broadsheet (Münster-Schröer, 2017, p. 276). Although there were only two executions of witches in its original place of publication of Nuremberg between 1581-1600 (Dülmen, 1990, p. 140). Executions in the major German cities, in general, were also rare, averaging three a year (Rublack, 1999, p. 44 ). As the primary audience of the original broadsheet were also likely in Nuremberg, the broadsheet reflects a fascination of the wondrous and morbid in the remote rural regions of German-speaking lands. Nuremberg’s conversion to Protestantism (and its Augsburg’s copy in a Protestant majority) could partly explain why there were no reported werewolves within its own region (Johnston, 2014, p. 29). Therefore, the broadsheet resembles a current day’s tabloid magazine whose readership would have consisted of true believers to those who simply enjoyed fabulous tales. Although the broadsheet of the trial of Petter Stump was likely fictitious, it offers an example of how perceived outsiders were regarded during the sixteenth century.

The wide dissemination of the tale of Petter Stump could be interpreted as providing the execution legitimacy. Despite the broadsheets’ apparent popularity, it did not inspire werewolf hunts in the German-speaking territories of the Holy Roman Empire as was seen in Franche-Comté (Schulte, ‘“She transformed into a werewolf,”” 2015, p. 47). However, the broadsheets of Stump could have instead been partly responsible for subsequent werewolf reports within the region of western Germany. There were several reports of werewolves in current day Switzerland during the fifteenth century. However, it was not until the drawing by Wick in 1580 which appeared to correlate with reports of werewolves after a long break of 120 years in the German-speaking lands. One similar example includes an alleged werewolf named Johann Nothoff from Horst in 1609 who reportedly had a wooden wolf on a pole erected where he was executed approximately 100km from Bedburg (Wegener, 2016, p. 40). This could indicate that this was general practice at executions of suspected werewolves, or, more compellingly, that the latter case was inspired by the Stump broadsheet. What makes the latter explanation more persuasive are the similarities, including intercourse with the Devil, receiving the transformative belt from the Devil, and incest (Blécourt, 2009, p. 204). In this way, the circulation of the broadsheet of Petter Stump likely contributed to heightened fears and suspicion. It eventually led to the highest peak of werewolf reports in 1630 western Germany during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). However, this peak also correlated with the climax of the European witch persecutions up until the 1630s (Trevor-Roper, 1968, p. 156).

The Policing of Sexuality during the Moral Reform of Post-Reformation

The focus on werewolves’ sexually perverse nature was also a recurring motif. The text on the Nuremberg and Augsburg broadsheets further developed upon the perverse nature of Stump to justify his execution by briefly describing an incestuous relationship with his daughter and his god-mother. In the background on the right, Stump’s decapitated body was depicted between the two women burning to death on the stake. He also reportedly confessed to sleeping with a she-devil for twenty-five years. Stump’s sexual conquests were elaborated still in the English pamphlet. It described an incestuous relationship with his sister, bore a child with his daughter, and expanded upon the tale of him sleeping with a she-Devil (Otten, 1986, p. 71). The pamphlet further described an unnumbered amount of women he killed after raping them (Otten, 1986, p. 70). There are few details that remain consistent across the Petter Stump broadsheets and pamphlets. The common details include Stump’s sorcery, the number of 13 children he was accused of killing, as well as an alleged incestuous relationship with his daughter. Other examples of accused werewolves in the Germanic region include aforementioned Johann Nothoff who was accused of incest and was bound to the Devil through intercourse before receiving the transformative belt (Blécourt, 2009, p. 204). Peter Kleikamp, who was executed for transforming into a wolf in 1615 near Münster, was similarly described as sleeping with a she-devil several times, as well as bestiality (Schulte, ‘She transformed into a werewolf’, 2015, pp. 1-2; Blécourt, 2009, p. 204). These alleged werewolves like Stump were both accused of deviant sexual acts, sorcery, as well as murder, thus tainting them with the worse crimes thought imaginable.

However, Rolf Schulte argues that the association between accused werewolves and sexual deviancy are only selective cases and does not characterise the norm, at least for the Franche-Comté region (Schulte, ‘She transformed into a werewolf,’ 2015, p. 49). Although, sexual perversion was a trait of witches generally who were bound to the Devil through intercourse (Rublack, 2012, pp. 48-9). Werewolves were after all witches who metamorphosed into wolves with the aid of the Devil and a magical fur belt. It was believed that sexual urges that bound people to the realm of the flesh was the work of the Devil. As sexuality was instinctual, controlling one’s urges was what was believed to separate man from animal (Fernandez-Armesto, 2004, p. 181). Therefore, the sexuality of purported werewolves went hand in hand with their animalistic side, losing control of reason and becoming bloodthirsty. The focus on sexuality further reflected the policing of sexual relations that accompanied state-building where civil courts took responsibility for expression of sexuality including legislating against sodomy, prostitution, and adultery (Rublack, 2012, p. 44; Hsia, 1989, p. 145). Sexual deviance, from bestiality to promiscuity, was a feature of monsters in general in early modern Europe. This idea appears to have been inherited from the demi-gods and other human-animal hybrids in ancient mythology. They were often symbolic of fertility or representative of sexual behaviour as was the case with sirens, satyrs, and centaurs (Husband, 1980, p.11). In this way, it was a construction of the Other, and fuels doubt that the highly sensationalised broadsheets of Petter Stump were anything other than a representation of sixteenth-century Germany anxieties.


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