The most prolific serial killer in medieval europe, and possibly ever, was executed by having all of his limbs broken and threaded through the spokes of a wheel. He was kept alive and conscious on the wheel for 9 days by a daily dose of a “strong drink”.
“As noted by historian Joy Wiltenburg, concerning Early Modern Germany
It was in the 1570s that reports of robber bands multiplied, reaching a peak in the 1580s.
Furthermore, she observes:
Economic conditions for the poor worsened notably after about 1570. At the same time that inflation cut increasingly into real wages, climatic change brought a period of unusually harsh weather. In the Little Ice Age that started in the 1570s and continued into the first decades of the seventeenth century, harvest failures caused severe hunger and disease. Reports of crime, such as witchcraft, reached their height during this period of most intense social dislocation.
The story of Christman Genipperteinga belongs therefore, in a literary and social context in which such reports were particularly frequent, relative to immediately preceding or succeeding periods, and should be interpreted with that in mind. For example, as Wiltenburg points out, the literary peak in report survival from the 1580s is partially explained by the 1588 death of report collector Johann Wick, whereas the historical context from other sources does not yield evidence for a comparable decline of crime in the 1590s relative to the 1580s. Although Wiltenburg acknowledges that there may well have been an increase in crime in the latter quarter of the sixteenth century, she cautions a framing and delimiting of that increase, with respect to murders in particular, relative to the immediately preceding 16th century, rather than stretching it much further back in time. For example, she states:
The late Middle Ages may well have been the heyday of homicide.
One important reason behind this discrepancy, apart from those connected with how new printing methods enabled more reports on crime relative to earlier periods, is the new role of the Early Modern State in actively pursuing, publicizing and punishing crimes, rather than the passive role of the Medieval State, content with arbitration or mediation between aggrieved parties. If no one actively accused another person for a given injury/crime, then no crime existed in the eyes of the medieval authorities. This passive, accusation-dependent system of justice was gradually replaced with the more active, independently investigative and inquisitorial system of justice in the Early Modern period.
Comparing Genipperteinga’s time with earlier times, Wiltenburg makes the folllowing pertinent obesrvation relative to the changes in the social composition of the archetypically presented lawless/violent men of previous eras to those from the latter quarter of the 16th century:
A particular urbanite concern in the High/Late Middle Ages were the depredations caused by lawless/feuding nobles:
discussion of crime appeared notably in urban chronicles, a late medieval genre with its own distinctive aims. Beginning in the fourteenth century and into the sixteenth, members of urban elites produced such records, for various purposes, but mainly to serve the political interests of the semi-independent imperial cities. Most paid scant attention to the crimes comitted by ordinary people, focusing instead on crimes with political significance. This raised the profile of violent nobles as a dangerous class and contributed to late medieval criticism of feuding. When compared with the picture of crime that emerged in later popular print, they show how differences in genre as well as change over time could shape perceptions of crime.
The 16th century contrast to this earlier picture of “”the lawless noble”” is borne out by the following observations of Wiltenburg:
In popular crime publications of the sixteenth century, however, the nobility is largely tamed—a sign of both historical change and a shift in genre. While chronicles served the purposes of the urban authorities, and reformers’ critiques might address mainly the very elites they hoped to reclaim, popular printing about crime had a far more miscellaneous clientele. Here, respect for social superiority was very much the norm.
The few nobles who appear in crime accounts of the sixteenth century are mainly on the right side of the law, protecting the weak and ensuring that justice is carried out. They figure among the admirable authorities who track down criminals and defend public security.
If the nobility was depicted as mostly harmless or even beneficial, this was not true of another traditional source of danger: the rootless poor. Outsiders and vagrants, already recognized as potentially disruptive, were increasingly demonized. Many worried that loose and ungoverned elements would foment crime, and vagrants were frequently arrested for theft and other offenses that most modern societies deem petty. They were also more likely to be executed than were settled residents.
Thus, the report of Christman Genipperteinga appeared at a time when particular fears of the savage Outsider in the Wild were at their most acute, and when people generally regarded the Criminal as coming primarily from the idle, roaming poor, in contrast to previously primary concerns of haughty, predatory nobles, their brutal, willing henchmen and corrupt magistrates who chose to ignore the crimes committed by the former.
However, Wiltenburg cautions against a general, facile dismissal of sixteenth century tales of murder and mayhem (to which genre Genipperteinga’s story belongs) as if they merely were to be considered as literary fictions or as pieces of state propaganda:
The topical crime accounts that flowed from the early presses were not fiction. Although some sloppily borrowed language from accounts of similar crimes elsewhere, very few seem to have been wholly invented.Nevertheless they both mirrored and altered the picture of actual crime Partly by selection and partly by their modes of representation, they reshaped events to reflect cultural conceptions. This process did not necessarily request conscious manipulation, rather, it flowed naturally from the selection of, and reaction to, the crimes considered most worthy of attention.”