Kramer, Heinrich (ca. 1430-1505)

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Kramer, Heinrich (ca. 1430-1505)

Dominican inquisitor who played a leading part in the great witchcraft persecutions as author of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, (literally, the Witches' Hammer), the authoritative sourcebook for inquisitors, judges, and magistrates.

Born at Schlettstadt, in Lower Alsace, near Strasbourg, Kramer entered the Dominican order, where he progressed so rapidly that he was appointed prior to the Dominican House in Schlettstadt while still a young man. He became preacher-general and master of sacred theology (two Dominican Order distinctions) and around 1474 was appointed inquisitor for the districts of Tyrol, Salzburg, Bohemia, and Moravia. He received praise from Rome and from the archbishop of Salzburg, becoming spiritual director of the Dominican church in Salzburg.

In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII was responsible for the famous bull Summis desiderantes affectibus of December 9, which deplored the power of the witch organization and redefined witchcraft in such a way as to bring it into the scope of the Inquisition. The pope also delegated Kramer and Sprenger as inquisitors throughout northern Germany, especially in Mainz, Cologne, Treves, Salzburg, and Breman.

In 1485 Kramer wrote a treatise on witchcraft that initially circulated in manuscript; it was published in 1486 as Malleus Maleficarum, , with the name of his colleague Jacob Sprenger added as coauthor. This became the working manual for inquisitors, judges, and magistrates in the great witchcraft persecutions and went into many editions in French, Italian, and English, as well as in German.

Kramer resided for a period at the priory of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (X. Zanipolo), returning to Germany in 1497, where he lived at the convent of Rohr, near Regensburg. On January 31, 1500, he was appointed nuncio and inquisitor of Bohemia and Moravia by Alexander VI and empowered to proceed against the Waldenses and Picards as well as witches. He died in Bohemia in 1505.


Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Crown Publishers, 1959.

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Kramer, Heinrich (ca. 1430-1505)

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