Peter Stumpp, werewolf or political scapegoat
Peter Stumpp (c. 1535 – 1589, also spelled as Peter Stubbs, Peter Stube, Peter Stubbe, Peter Stübbe or Peter Stumpf) was a German farmer and alleged serial killer, accused of werewolfery, incest, witchcraft and cannibalism. He was known as Werwolf von Bedburg (Werewolf of Bedburg). At that time, the wolf in rural areas was considered a threat and danger both to farm animals and to the people themselves. Fear of wild animals, in this case the wolf, got a new proxy through the myth of the werewolf.
Peter Stumpp was executed on 31 October 1589, together with his daughter and mistress, because he had allegedly made a pact with the devil and could transform himself into a wolf. In this guise, he had allegedly cruelly killed at least thirteen people. The case was described in detail in a voluminous pamphlet printed in London in 1590, the only real source, but the accounts have to be given all kinds of question marks. It has been suggested that Peter Stump was a victim of the Counter-Reformation.
There is evidence that he was executed in a particularly cruel manner (including tearing out flesh alive with red-hot tongs and wheels) to deter the population of Bedburg, which had converted to Protestantism, and that the accusation of Werwolferei (werewolfery) was only a pretext that people easily saw through and understood as a massive warning from the Catholic authorities, especially from the Kurfürst and Archbishop of Cologne.
All information on Peter Stumpp comes from just one source, an English pamphlet produced by George Bores, who translated a 16th century German (high Dutch) text published in Cologne, Germany. The full text of the English pamphlet is given here:
A true Discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked Sorcerer, who in the likeness of a Wolf committed many murders, continuing this devilish practice 25 Years, killing and devouring Men, Women, and Children. Who for the same fact was taken and executed the 31st of October last past in the town of Bedbur (Bedburg) near the City of Collin (Cologne) in Germany.
Truly translated out of the high Dutch, according to the copy printed in Collin, brought over into England by George Bores ordinary post, the 11th day of this present month of June 1590, who did both see and hear the same.
AT LONDON Printed for Edward Venge, and are to be sold in Fleet Street at the sign of the Vine.
A most true discourse, declaring the life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, being a most wicker sorcerer.
Those whom the Lord doth leave to follow the imagination of their own hearts, despising his proffered grace, in the end through the hardness of heart and contempt of his fatherly mercy, they enter the right path to perdition and destruction of body and soul for ever: as in this present history in perfect sort may be seen, the strangeness whereof, together with the cruelties committed, and the long time therein continued, may drive many in doubt whether the same be truth or no, and the rather fore that sundry false and fabulous matters have heretofore passed in print, which hath wrought much incredulity in the hearts of all men generally, insomuch that now of days few things do escape be it never so certain, but that it is embased by the term of a lie or false report.
In the reading of this story, therefore I do first request reformation of opinion, next patience to peruse it, because it is published for example’s sake, and lastly to censure thereof as reason and wisdom doth think convenient, considering the subtlety that Satan useth to work the soul’s destruction, and the great matters which the accursed practice of sorcery doth effect, the fruits whereof is death and destruction for ever, and yet in all ages practiced by the reprobate and wicked of the earth, some in one sort and some in another even as the Devil giveth promise to perform. But of all other that ever lived, none was comparable unto this Hell hound, whose tyranny and cruelty did well declare he was of his father the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning, whose life and death and most bloody practices the discourse doth make just report.
In the towns of Cperadt and Bedbur near Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evil and the practicing of wicked arts even from twelve years of age till twenty, and so forwards till his dying day, insomuch that surfeiting in the damnable desire of magic, necromancy, and sorcery, acquainting himself with many infernal spirits and fiends, insomuch tat forgetting the God that made him, and that Savior that shed his blood man man’s redemption: In the end, careless of salvation gave both soul and body to the Devil for ever, for small carnal pleasure in this life, that he might be famous and spoken of on earth, though he lost heaven thereby.
The Devil, who hath a ready ear to listen to the lewd motions of cursed men, promised to give him whatsoever his heart desired during his mortal life: whereupon this vile wretch neither desired riches nor promotion, nor was his fancy satisfied with any external or outward pleasure, but having a tyrannous heart and a most cruel bloody mind, requested that at his pleasure he might work his malice on men, women, and children, in the shape of some beast, whereby he might live without dread or danger of life, and unknown to be the executor of any bloody enterprise which he meant to commit.
The Devil, who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischief as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle which, being put around him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brands of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body and mighty paws. And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appear in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never been changed.
Stubbe Peeter herewith was exceedingly well pleased, and the shape fitted his fancy and agreed best with his nature, being inclined to blood and cruelty. Therefore, satisfied with this strange and devilish gift, for that it was not troublesome nor great in carriage, but that it might be hidden in a small room, he proceeded to the execution of sundry most heinous and vile murders; for if any person displeased him, he would incontinent thirst for revenge, and no sooner should they or any of theirs walk abroad in the fields or about the city, but in the shape of a wolf he would presently encounter them, and never rest till he had plucked out their throats and tear their joints asunder. And after he had gotten a taste hereof, he took such pleasure and delight in shedding of blood, that he would night and day walk the fields and work extreme cruelties. And sundry times he would go through the streets of Collin, Bedbur, and Cperadt, in comely habit, and very civilly, as one well known to all the inhabitants thereabout, and oftentimes was he saluted of those whose friends and children he had butchered, though nothing suspected for the same. In these places, I say, he would walk up and down, and if he could spy either maid, wife, or child that his eyes liked or his heart lusted after, he would wait their issuing out of the city or town. If he could by any means get them alone, he would in the fields ravish them, and after in his wolfish likeness cruelly murder them.
Yea, often it came to pass that as he walked abroad in the fields, if he chanced to spy a company of maidens playing together or else a milking their kine, in his wolfish shape he would incontinent run among them, and while the rest escaped by flight, he would be sure to lay hold of one, and after his filthy lust fulfilled, he would murder her presently. Beside, if he had liked or known any of them, look who he had a mind unto, her he would pursue, whether she were before or behind, and take her from the rest, for such was his swiftness of foot while he continued a wolf that he would outrun the swiftest greyhound in that country; and so much he had practiced this wickedness that the whole province was feared by the cruelty of this bloody and devouring wolf.
Thus continuing his devilish and damnable deeds within the compass of a few years, he had murdered thirteen young children, and two goodly young women big with child, tearing the children out of their wombs, in most bloody and savage sort, and after ate their hearts panting hot and raw, which he accounted dainty morsels and best agreeing to his appetite.
Moreover, he used many times to kill lambs and kids and such like beasts, feeding on the same most usually raw and bloody, as if he had been a natural wolf indeed, so that all men mistrusted nothing less than this his devilish sorcery.
He had at that time living a fair young damsel to his daughter, after whom he also lusted must unnaturally, and cruelly committed most wicked incest with her, a most gross and vile sin, far surmounting adultery or fornication, though the least of the three doth drive the soul into hell fire, except hearty repentance, and the great mercy of God. This daughter of his he begot when he was not altogether so wickedly given, who was called by the name of Stubbe Beell, whose beauty and good grace was such as deserved commendations of all those that knew her. And such was his inordinate lust and filthy desire toward her, that he begat a child by her, daily using her as his concubine; but as an insatiate and filthy beast, given over to work evil, with greediness he also lay by his own sister, frequenting her company long time, even according as the wickedness of his heart led him.
Moreover, being on a time sent for to a gossip of his there to make merry and good cheer, ere he thence departed he so won the woman by his fair and flattering speech, and so much prevailed, that ere he departed the house, he lay by her, and ever after had her company at his command. This woman had to name Katherine Trompin, a woman of tall and comely stature of exceeding good favor and one that was well esteemed among her neighbors. But his lewd and inordinate lust being not satisfied with the company of many concubines, nor his wicked fancy contented with the beauty of any woman, at length the Devil sent unto him a wicked spirit in the similitude and likeness of a woman, so fair of face and comely of personage, that she resembled rather some heavenly Helfin than any mortal creature, so far her beauty exceeded the choicest sort of women; and with her, as with his heart’s delight, he kept company the space of seven years, though in the end she proved and was found indeed no other than a she-Devil.
Notwithstanding, this lewd sin of lechery did not any thing assuage his cruel and bloody mind, but continuing an insatiable bloodsucker, so great was the joy he took therein, that he accounted no day spent in pleasure wherein he had not shed some blood, not respecting so much who he did murder, as how to murder and destroy them, as the matter ensuing doth manifest, which may stand for a special note of a cruel and hard heart. For, having a proper youth to his son, begotten in the flower and strength of his age, the first fruit of his body, in whom he took such joy that he did commonly call him his heart’s ease, yet so far his delight in murder exceeded the joy he took in his son, that thirsting after his blood, on a time he enticed him into the fields, and from thence into a forest hard by, where, making excuse to stay about the necessaries of nature, while the young man went forward, incontinent in the shape and likeness of a wolf he encountered his own son and there most cruelly slew him, which done, he presently ate the brains out of his head as a most savory and dainty delicious mean to staunch his greedy appetite: the most monstrous act that ever man heard of, for never was known a wretch from nature so far degenerate.
Long time he continued his vile and villainous life, sometime in the likeness of a wolf, sometime in the habit of a man, sometime in the towns and cities, and sometimes in the woods and thickets to them adjoining, whereas the Dutch copy maketh mention, he on a time met with two men and one woman, whom he greatly desired to murder, and the better to bring his devilish purpose to effect, doubting by them to be overmatched and knowing one of them by name, he used this policy to bring them to their end. In subtle sort he conveyed himself far before them in their way and craftily couched out of the sight; but as soon as they approached near the place where he lay, he called one of them by his name. The party, hearing himself called once or twice by his name, supposing it was some familiar friend that in jesting sort stood out of his sight, went from his company toward the place from whence the voice proceeded, of purpose to see who it was; but he was no sooner entered within the danger of this transformed man, but incontinent he was murdered in the place; the rest of his company staying for him, expecting still his return, but finding his stay over long, the other man left the woman and went to look him, by which means the second man was also murdered. The woman then seeing neither of both return again, in heart suspected that some evil had fallen upon them, and therefore, with all the power she had, she sought to save herself by flight, though it nothing prevailed, for, good soul, she was also soon overtaken by this light-footed wolf, whom, when he had first deflowered, he after most cruelly murdered. The men were after found mangled in the wood, but the woman’s body was never after seen, for she the caitiff had most ravenously devoured, whose flesh he esteemed both sweet and dainty in taste.
Thus this damnable Stubbe Peeter lived the term of five and twenty years, unsuspected to be author of so many cruel and unnatural murders, in which time he had destroyed and spoiled an unknown number of men, women, and children, sheep, lambs, and goats, and other cattle; for, when he could not through the wariness of people draw men, women, or children in his danger, then, like a cruel and tyrannous beast, he would work his cruelty on brute beasts in most savage sort, and did act more mischief and cruelty than would be credible, although high Germany hath been forced to taste the truth thereof.
By which means the inhabitants of Collin, Bedbur, and Cperadt, seeing themselves so grievously endangered, plagued, and molested by this greedy and cruel wolf, who wrought continual harm and mischief, insomuch that few or none durst travel to or from those places without good provision of defense, and all for fear of this devouring and fierce wolf, for oftentimes the inhabitants found the arms and legs of dead men, women, and children scattered up and down the fields, to their great grief and vexation of heart, knowing the same to be done by that strange and cruel wolf, whom by no means they could take or overcome, so that if any man or woman missed their child, they were out of hope ever to see it again alive, mistrusting straight that the wolf had destroyed it.
And here is to be noted a most strange thing which setteth forth the great power and merciful providence of God to the comfort of each Christian heart. There were not long ago certain small children playing in a meadow together hard by the town, where also some store of kine were feeding, many of them having young calves sucking upon them. And suddenly among these children comes this vile wolf running and caught a pretty fine girl by the collar, with intent to pull out her throat; but such was the will of God, that the wolf could not pierce the collar of the child’s coat, being high and very well stiffened and close clasped about her neck; and therewithal the sudden great cry of the rest of the children which escaped so amazed the cattle feeding by, that being fearful to be robbed of their young, they altogether came running against the wolf with such force that he was presently compelled to let go his hold and to run away to escape the danger of their horns; by which means the child was preserved from death, and, God be thanked, remains living at this day.
An that this thing is true, Master Tice Artine, a brewer dwelling at Puddlewharfe in London, being a man of that country born, and one of good reputation and account, is able to justify, who is near kinsman to this child, and hath from thence twice received letters concerning the same; and for that the first letter did rather drive him into wondering at the act then yielding credit thereunto, he had shortly after, at request of his writing, another letter sent him, whereby he was more fully satisfied; and divers other persons of great credit in London hath in like sort received letters from their friends to the like effect.
Likewise in the town of Germany aforesaid continual prayer was used unto God that it would please Him to deliver them from the danger of this greedy wolf.
And, although they had practiced all the means that men could devise to take this ravenous beast, yet until the Lord had determined his fall, they could not in any wise prevail: notwithstanding, they daily continued their purpose, and daily sought to entrap him, and for that intent continually maintained great mastiffs and dogs of much strength to hunt and chase the beast. In the end, it pleased God, as they were in readiness and provided to meet with him, that they should espy him in his wolfish likeness at what time they beset him round about, and most circumspectly set their dogs upon him, in such sort that there was no means of escape, at which advantage they never could get him before; but as the Lord delivered Goliath into the hands of David, so was this wolf brought in danger of these men, who seeing, as I said before, no way to escape the imminent danger, being hardly pursued at the heels, presently slipped his girdle from about him, whereby the shape of a wolf clean avoided, and he appeared presently in his true shape and likeness, having in his hand a staff as one walking toward the city. But the hunters, whose eyes were steadfastly bent upon the beast, and seeing him in the same place metamorphosed contrary to their expectation, it wrought a wonderful amazement to their minds; and, had it not been that they knew the man so soon as they saw him, they had surely taken the same to have been some Devil in a man’s likeness; but for as much as they knew him to be an ancient dweller in the town, they came unto him, and talking with him, they brought him by communication home to his own house, and finding him to be the man indeed, and no delusion or fantastical motion, they had him incontinent before the magistrates to be examined.
Thus being apprehended, he was shortly after put to the rack in the town of Bedbur, but fearing the torture, he voluntarily confessed his whole life, and made known the villainies which he had committed for the space of 25 years; also he confessed how by sorcery he procured of the Devil a girdle, which being put on, he forthwith became a wolf, which girdle at his apprehension he confessed he cast it off in a certain valley and there left it, which, when the magistrates heard, they sent to the valley for it, but at their coming found nothing at all, for it may be supposed that it was gone to the Devil from whence it came, so that it was not to be found. For the Devil having brought the wretch to all the shame he could, left him to endure the torments which his deeds deserved.
After he had some space been imprisoned, the magistrates found out through due examination of the matter, that his daughter Stubbe Beell and his gossip Katherine Trompin were both accessory to divers murders committed, who for the same as also for their lewd life otherwise committed, was arraigned, and with Stubbe Peeter condemned, and their several judgments pronounced the 28 of October 1589, in this manner, that is to say: Stubbe Peeter as principal malefactor, was judged first to have his body laid on a wheel, and with red hot burning pincers in ten several places to have the flesh pulled off from the bones, after that, his legs and arms to be broken with a wooden ax or hatchet, afterward to have his head struck from his body, then to have his carcass burned to ashes.
Also his daughter and his gossip were judged to be burned quick to ashes, the same time and day with the carcass of the aforesaid Stubbe Peeter. And on the 31st of the same month, they suffered death accordingly in the town of Bedbur in the presence of many peers and princes of Germany.
This, Gentle Reader, have I set down the true discourse of this wicked man Stub Peeter, which I desire to be a warning to all sorcerers and witches, which unlawfully follow their own devilish imagination to the utter ruin and destruction of their souls eternally, from which wicked and damnable practice, I beseech God keep all good men, and from the cruelty of their wicked hearts. Amen.
After the execution, there was by the advice of the magistrates of the town of Bedbur a high pole set up and strongly framed, which first went through the wheel whereon he was broken, whereunto also it was fastened; after that a little above the wheel the likeness of a wolf was framed in wood, to show unto all men the shape wherein he executed those cruelties. Over that on the top of the stake the sorcerer’s head itself was set up, and round about the wheel there hung as it were sixteen pieces of wood about a yard in length with represented the sixteen persons that was perfectly known to be murdered by him. And the same ordained to stand there for a continual monument to all ensuing ages, what murders by Stub Peeter was committed, with the order of his judgment, as this picture doth more plainly express.
Witnesses that this is true: Tyse Artyne. William Brewar. Adolf Staedt. George Bores. With divers others that have seen the same.
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