Death and a Maiden: Infanticide and the Tragical History of Grethe Schmidt

Death and a Maiden: Infanticide and the Tragical History of Grethe Schmidt

by William David Myers

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On the feast of St. Michael, September 1659, a thirteen-year-old peasant girl left her family's rural home to work as a maid in the nearby city of Braunschweig. Just two years later, Grethe Schmidt found herself imprisoned and accused of murdering her bastard child, even though the fact of her pregnancy was inconclusive and no infant's body was found to justify the severe measures used against her. The tale spiraled outward to set a defense lawyer and legal theorist against powerful city magistrates and then upward to a legal contest between that city and its overlord, the Duchy of Brunswick, with the city's independence and ancient liberties hanging in the balance. Death and a Maiden tells a fascinating story that begins in the bedchamber of a house in Brunswick and ends at the court of Duke Augustus in the city of Wolfenbettel, with political intrigue along the way. After thousands of pages of testimony and rancorous legal exchange, it is still not clear that any murder happened.

Myers infuses the story of Grethe's arrest, torture, trial, and sentence for "suspected infanticide" with a detailed account of the workings of the criminal system in continental Europe, including the nature of interrogations, the process of torture, and the creation of a "criminal" identity over time. He presents an in-depth examination of a criminal system in which torture was both legal and an important part of criminal investigations. This story serves as a captivating slice of European history as well as a highly informative look at the condition of poor women and the legal system in mid-seventeeth century Germany. General readers and scholars alike will be riveted by Grethe's ordeal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609090142
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 04/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 283
File size: 598 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

William David Myers is associate professor of history at Fordham University. He is the author of Poor, Sinning Folk.

Table of Contents

Illustrations Acknowledgments Introduction Part I: Grethe 1. In Brunswick, Near Hannover City 2. Anatomy of a Crime 3. A Girl, Purportedly a Maiden 4. Family Values 5. Common Repute: Women and Neighbors 6. Corpus Delicti 7. Knowledgeable Women: The Midwives' Tale 8. Legal Maneuvering and the Question of Torture 9. Terror, Torture, and Grethe Schmidt Part II: Justus10. Case for a Defense 11. Defending Grethe 12. The Thick Wilderness of Lies 13. The Way to a Confession 14. "Even to the Devil Himself" Conclusion: Many Vigorous Enemies Notes Bibliography Index

What People are Saying About This

Mary Lindemann

"The story Myers has to tell is a fascinating one and he skillfully constructs a strong narrative as he unravels testimonies and follows step-by-step the investigation, the machinations of government, the protests of the maiden's family, and the role played by the lawyer who defended her. With the talent of a good mystery writer, Myers holds us in suspense as to the outcome of the case until the very end."

R. Emmet McLaughlin

"Myers draws upon remarkably complete archival sources complemented by print polemics published by the city and the defense attorney. The translations and paraphrases he includes are sensitive and accurate. Myers uses the documents well to present a coherent story. One of the strongest aspects of his treatment is the care that he takes to tease the larger implications and often invisible assumptions that guided the interrogations. For students these pages will be a wonderful introduction to the way in which historians use sources in reconstructing an always elusive past."

Customer Reviews