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German History in Documents and Images
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Crime and Execution of a Child Murderess (18th Century)
Crime rose during and after the Thirty Years War, especially among the itinerant and urban poor. Judicial reactions to women found guilty of infanticide and child murder were often ferocious. For lesser offenses, however, fines or prison sentences might be handed down. The images below come from a broadsheet that was widely distributed among ordinary people. The scenes show (counterclockwise, from the upper left): the murderess’ crime, her sentencing, and her public execution. Sentencing and punishment were understood as acts of purification and redemption, both for society and the “poor sinner.” Copperplate engraving by an unknown artist, eighteenth century.