Lancre, Pierre De

Lancre, Pierre De (1553-1631)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A trial judge who boasted of having burned 600 people as witches. In 1612 he published his Tableau de l'inconstance des mauvais anges, or "Description of the Inconstancy of Evil Angels." Two other notable books of his were L'Incredulité et mescréance du sortilège, "Incredulity and Misbelief of Enchantment" (1622) and Du Sortilège, "Witchcraft" (1627).

He was born Pierre de Rosteguy, Sieur de Lancre, in Bordeaux, France, in 1553. His father was a rich vineyard owner who became a royal official. Pierre studied law at Turin and became a doctor of law in 1579. Three years later he was a lawyer for the Parlement of Bordeaux.

On December 10, 1608, King Henri IV commissioned De Lancre to investigate the Basque-speaking area of Pays de Labourd. This was in response to a petition presented by two sailors who had visited that region and claimed that it was overrun with witches. On February 4, 1609, the Parlement restricted De Lancre's investigations purely to witchcraft. He enthusiastically sought out witches, looking particularly for the Devil's Mark. He came to believe that the whole population of that southwest area of the country was "infected" by witchcraft and accused 30,000 people, including priests. De Lancre found instances of demonology, pacts with the devil, and witches' sabbats. He also spoke of lycanthropy (werewolves) and vampirism. A young woman named Margarita was the first to confess, in great detail and without torture, possibly hoping to save herself by naming others. De Lancre started arresting suspects, soon implicating virtually every family in the region. De Lancre relied a great deal on the testimony of children, some as young as five years of age. He amassed details of weekly sabbat meetings, with as many as 2,000 naked witches dancing, drinking, and copulating together.

For his services, De Lancre was granted a leave of absence in 1610 and visited Rome and Naples. Two years later he was made a State Counsellor in Paris. He died there in 1631.

(See also French Witchcraft.)