The Hangman’s Daughter is a novel about witchcraft.  At the core of the mystery surrounding the orphans’ deaths is the town’s belief in witchcraft and its association with midwifery and the Devil.

When the first orphan, Peter Grimmer, turns up dead and with a mysterious tattoo on his shoulder the town quickly decides that it’s the mark of a witch.  Knowing that Peter spent much of his free time with Martha Stechlin, the town’s midwife, town leaders are quick to raid Martha’s house for herbs that only a witch would use.  Once they have found their proof, the town imprisons Martha for her alleged crimes.

There is a constant conflict in this novel between those who believe in witchcraft and those who do not.  Characters like Martha, Jakob, and Simon believe in the healing powers of plants, but the majority of the town is convinced that certain plants, like a mandrake, serve no legitimate purpose other than evil ones.  What the townspeople do not know is that every time they give birth or are in pain Martha, Jakob, and Simon use mandrake to lessen their suffering.

A belief in witchcraft was alive and well in the 1600’s and many women lost their lives over these accusations.  Below, you will find some resources for learning more about witchcraft during this time period, as well as some suggested titles.

A History of Witchcraft

A Short History of Witchcraft.

Witch Trials in the Early Modern Period.

A List of Those Executed for Witchcraft.

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses.

Want to Read More About Witches?

The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Learner.  Another detailed work of historical fiction, this novel takes place in the 17th century and follows a Jewish midwife as she is persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition.

Witches and Witch Hunts: A History of Persecution by Milton Meltzer.  This is a non-fiction read that traces the origin and progression of witch-hunts in western societies.  Readers of historical fiction may enjoy the amount and accuracy of historical detail in this book.

Corrag by Susan Fletcher.  This novel follows a Scottish woman who has been accused of witchcraft and imprisoned for the murder of 38 people.  The first person narration in this novel gives the reader an intimate look into the life of a woman accused of witchcraft for reasons beyond her control as well as daily life in 17th century Scotland.  Readers who enjoy relaxed, character-driven novels with rich details may enjoy this novel.


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