Postgraduate Lives: Wanda Wyporska, DPhil at Hertford College, Oxford

'It's harrowing reading about the torture'

Wanda Wyporska, 34, is media officer for Unionlearn, the TUC's education and training branch, and is writing her DPhil on the persecution of witches in Poland, at Hertford College, Oxford

When I started my research into the persecution of witches in Poland, I thought I wouldn't find many trials. This was what the secondary literature had led me to believe - after all, Poland has a reputation for being tolerant. But while Poland's persecution might have come later than most of Europe, I have found 700 trials in the period 1511-1775, which means around 1,400 people burnt at the stake.

I started off thinking that I would compare Polish literature about witches with the court cases. But there were so many trials, I realised I had bitten off more than I could chew, so I had to narrow the thesis down to a smaller area and just 250 trials.

The trial records are still in the court archives, and they make fascinating reading. They're written in Polish and Latin, both of which I read (my grandfather is Polish, although I didn't grow up speaking it).

The period I'm looking at was when the nobility made up nearly 10 per cent of the population and had total power. Some held vast swaths of the country - they had their own villages and private towns, and each one could vote for the next king. They controlled everything, so if there was a witch trial then the noble (usually a man) decided the outcome. The vast majority of those put on trial as witches were peasants, and 90 per cent were women.

Some of the accusations were the result of some kind of problem at the lord's manor. For example, someone might bring him meat, his child might become ill, and that person would be suspected of witchcraft. But most of the time it was neighbours accusing other neighbours. Life was so precarious, they couldn't afford for a pig or a cow to die, or the crops to fail, and if it did happen, they blamed someone else.

During the trials, there was liberal use of torture, people were stretched on the rack and had candles burnt under their arms. The subsequent confession was taken as truth - there was no proper judicial procedure in Poland.

Reading about the torture and people being burnt alive is harrowing. Sometimes, you find mothers and daughters on trial together (witchcraft was believed to be hereditary), or 12-year-old girls being beheaded before being burnt.

My research is the first big study in English, and the first scholarly assessment of early modern Polish witch persecution. I have a contract with Palgrave Macmillan to publish the thesis as a book. For me, it is retrospective journalism - delving into the past of those whose voices, and supposed vices, live on.

caitlind1@aol.com

News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003