This pamphlet tells the story of Peeter Stubbe, a farmer who was convicted of being a werewolf in the late 16th century. The first page folds out to show scenes from his life, capture, trial, torture and execution.
Stubbe was from Bedbur in Germany, but the story of his trial was so sensational that it was translated and printed throughout Europe. This London edition became the main English language source on werewolves, and it greatly influenced early modern ideas about werewolf behaviour.
Under threat of torture Stubbe admitted to making a pact with the Devil in return for a belt which gave him the power to transform into a wolf at will. Stubbe was convicted of 16 murders, and the pamphlet states that he committed other crimes such as incest, rape and cannibalism. He was also found guilty of murdering his own young son and eating his brains: ‘the most monstrous act that ever man heard of’.
Werewolves and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi
In Act 5 of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, Ferdinand Duke of Calabria, the Duchess’s twin brother, believes that he is a werewolf. Earlier in the play, after being confronted with the bodies of his niece and nephew, he scoffs, ‘The death / Of young wolves is never to be pitied’ (4.2.250–51), foreshadowing his own unlamented fate.
Throughout the play Ferdinand is gripped by manic jealousy at the thought of his sister having sex. It is often suggested by scholars that he desires the Duchess sexually. It is this, as well as the horror of her death, that warps his mind and creates the werewolf delusion.
Ferdinand’s crimes are very similar to Peeter Stubbe’s. Ferdinand causes murders, and like Stubbe he commits the ‘monstrous act’ of killing the next generation of his family. His incestuous desires are also comparable to Stubbe’s alleged relationships with his sister and daughter.
What did people in the Renaissance believe about werewolves?
Like witches, werewolves were believed to be in league with the Devil. However, there was more academic and theological scepticism surrounding werewolf-ism or lycanthropy.
In 1597 James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) published Daemonologie, a treatise on sorcery. In it he declared that lycanthropy is a mental disease caused by a ‘naturall super-abundance of Melancholie’ (p. 61).
Surprisingly, on this matter James’s beliefs match those of Reginald Scot, author of The Discovery of Witchcraft, who was famously cynical about the supernatural.
- Full title:
- A true discourse. Declaring the damnable life and death of one Stubbe Peeter, a most wicked sorcerer ... Trulye translated out of the high Duch, according to the copie printed in Collin.
- 1590, London
- Octavo / Pamphlet / Ephemera / Woodcut / Illustration / Image
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Dympna Callaghan
- Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Renaissance writers, Tragedies, Power, politics and religion
The Duchess of Malfi is an unusual central figure for a 17th-century tragedy not only because she is a woman, but also because, as a woman, she combines virtue with powerful sexual desire. Dympna Callaghan places Webster's character in the context of contemporary drama, politics and discourses about widows and female sexuality.
- Article by:
- Michael Billington
- Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Tragedies, Renaissance writers, Power, politics and religion
Michael Billington explores the source material for The Duchess of Malfi and the play's reception over the last 200 years, and argues that Webster uses the tragedy to offer a vision of human existence as chaotic and unstable.