In May 1617, Leonora Galigai, lady-in-waiting to Marie de Medici and Queen Mother to Louis XIII of France, was arrested and charged with two of the most heinous crimes imaginable: lèse majesté against the king, and sorcery. Her trial, which became fodder for the Parisian press, laid bare fears about sorcery and witchcraft, abuse of power and the influence of women.
Nearly 400 years later, this fascinating tale of magic, intrigue and murder was on full display as the Department of History hosted the third annual Halloween lecture on the occult, on October 25 in the Carriage House at Liberty Hall. Dr. Elizabeth Hyde, assistant professor in the department, presented the lecture, titled Kings, Queens, and Witches: Leonora Galigai and the Politics of Witchcraft in 17th Century France.
More than 100 students gathered for the event, which has become for many an annual “ritual” of the Halloween season.
I think these annual lectures on the occult are popular with students because witch trials and magic and monsters appeal to our curiosity about the sensational, the fantastical and the scary, just as they did to peoples in the past. But they also offer students a window into a magical world view that has largely – though not completely – disappeared. - Dr. Elizabeth Hyde
According to Hyde, Galigai had come to France from Italy with Marie de Medici and had married another Italian, Concino Concini. Together, as the Queen’s favorites, they rose in influence and wealth. Then with the 1610 assassination of Henri IV and the subsequent regency of Marie de Medici, the favorites found themselves at the height of their power and influence.
But Concini seems to have overreached, Hyde said. “When the teenaged Louis XIII began to chafe under the rule of his mother, Louis ordered Concini murdered and Leonora Galigai arrested and tried for lèse majesté and sorcery,” she said. “She was accused of using sorcery to manipulate the queen, thereby explaining their rise to power.”
As Hyde explained, search of Galigai’s home and the subsequent trial uncovered a ring with Hebrew letters, draperies embroidered by a Turk with magical characters on them, rumors of the performance of sacrilegious rituals, and evidence that she had been given an exorcism and had sought relief from a Jewish doctor named Montalto. The items, practices, and her very sex (women were believed to be more likely than men to engage in witchcraft) made her suspect. “And while none of these lines of investigation could confirm Leonora’s conversion to Judaism, practice of sorcery, or conspiracy to manipulate the queen, she was convicted anyway and executed,” she said. “The trial and pamphlet literature show that Galigai’s execution for sorcery must be understood not only as revealing of fears of sorcery and witchcraft, but also of anxieties about dynastic monarchy, politics and the relation of women to all of them.”
This year marked the third annual Halloween lecture on the history of the occult. In past years, Dr. Brian Regal has offered talks on belief in werewolves and other monsters. In addition to the talks, Dr. Regal regularly offers courses on the history of alchemy and pseudo-science, while I teach a course on the history of the witch trials in Europe and America between 1500 and 1800.