Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring witchcraft

Shown here is one of Senate House Library’s two copies of the 1494 edition of the Malleus Maleficarum. Harry Price, the psychical researcher and writer who owned this volume, hated its contents, describing the book as ‘one of the most terrible books known to students of the occult’. Its author, Heinrich Institoris (1430-1505) was an inquisitor and a dubious figure, in and out of trouble, who wanted to prove that witches and witchcraft were a real, not an imaginary, danger and to facilitate their persecution. He wrote his book quite quickly in 1486 and divided it into thee parts. Part I was addressed to fellow theologians and comprised an essay in demonology. Part II, aimed at preachers, reinforced Part I’s message of witchcraft being a reality and all witches (even white ones) being Satanic devotees and supplied anecdotes for sermons. In Part III, Institoris armed ecclesiastic and secular judges with technical points on arresting, examining and sentencing witches.

            The work was printed eight times between 1486 and 1496 and on another sixteen occasions between 1511 and 1621. Price’s distaste did not prevent him from acquiring five editions printed between 1494 and 1615 in addition to the first English translation, made by Montague Summers in 1928. The edition selected as a library treasure is Price’s earliest, printed by Anton Koberger, owner of Southern Germany’s largest printing and publishing house, in Nuremberg on 17 March 1494. While smaller than the other examples of Koberger’s output in Senate House Library (his Latin Bible of 1477, Golden Legend of 1478 and the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493), it is a fitting title to feature in the year marking the 500th anniversary of Koberger’s death. We selected it for our treasures volume for its contemporary German binding.

Malleus Maleficarum, 1494

Malleus Maleficarum, 1494

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