Oudewater

Bad weather, failed harvest, illness or even death … In the middle ages and long after that people believed that witches and their demonic, magic powers were responsible for this.

At night, they would fly around on their brooms or on goats. To expel the witches they must be hunted, traced, tested, and if they were indeed proven to be witches, punished.

Many of the accused travelled to Oudewater, where you can find the world famous Witches’ Scale. What happened here and why is this scale so famous? Like many medieval towns, Oudewater was a market town. The Weigh house was rebuilt in 1595, by order of emperor Karel V; the first scales date back to 1482. Merchants would come to the Weigh house to weigh their merchandise after which they needed to pay tax. Hemp, flax, cheese and rope, and much more, was weighed here.

After some time, it was also people who were put on the scales! This strange change was a result of the 16th century witch hunts.

In those days, it wasn’t very difficult to accuse someone of witch craft. Not only could famine or disease be a ‘good’ reason, adultery or just disliking someone was enough oftentimes to be accused. And it wasn’t a light accusation! According to the church, users of witch craft have a pact with the devil. It was Satan who gave them their magic powers.

Before an accused could be prosecuted, evidence must be presented that proved the person really was witch.  How did they prove this? In the 16th century the most logical theory was that you had no weight, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to fly on your broomstick at night. Now, that makes sense, right? Based on these ‘characteristics’ it was possible to prove someone was indeed a user of black magic. The scales in Oudewater were used to weigh a person and because of its fame, even in the 16th century, people travelled from near and far to be weighed in Oudewater.  But why? What made Oudewater so special?

The witch hunters knew no mercy. The accused were tortured to force a confession. The weigh masters were often corrupt because they were prepared to accuse a person for money or goods. In total about 50.000 people were accused and executed in Europe between 1450-1700!

But Oudewater was an exception. In this Weigh house not a single witch (male or female) was ever proven guilty. The weighing process in Oudewater was remarkably honest, so much so that emperor Karel V heard about it.

It is for this reason that Oudewater was granted, by Karel V, a special ‘De Certificaet van Weginghe‘, a Weighing Certificate. People who were declared innocent could go home free with this certificate.

Men or women who were accused were put on the scale. The accused could be acquitted if their weight was considered normal for their age and height, and after that they would receive their Weighing Certificate that proved they weren’t light weights and therefore no witch.  After 1595, no witch was ever again accused in Oudewater.




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