In troubled times, people looked for scapegoats. Typically, people accused of witchcraft were social outcasts—beggars, poor widows, midwives blamed for infant deaths, or herbalists whose potions and cures were seen as gifts of the devil.
In the charged religious atmosphere of the Reformation, many people were convinced that witchcraft and devil worship were on the rise. Most victims of witch hunts died in the German states, Switzerland, and France, all centers of religious conflict. When the wars of religion came to an end, the persecution of witches also declined.
The Reformation brought hard times to Europe's Jews. For many Jews in Italy, the early Renaissance had been a time of relative prosperity. Unlike Spain, which had expelled its Jews in 1492, Italy allowed them to remain. Some Jews followed the traditional trades they had been restricted to in medieval times. They were goldsmiths, artists, traders, and moneylenders. Others expanded into law, government, and business. A few well-educated Jews served as advisers to powerful rulers.
Yet the pressure remained strong on Jews to convert. By 1516, Jews in Venice had to live in a separate quarter of the city called the ghetto. Other Italian cities set up walled ghettos in which Jews were forced to live.
At first, Luther hoped that Jews would be converted to his teachings. When they did not convert, he called for them to be expelled from Christian lands and for their synagogues to be burned.
During the Reformation, restrictions on Jews increased. Some German princes expelled Jews from their lands. All German states confined Jews to ghettos or required them to wear a yellow badge if they traveled outside the ghetto.
In the 1550s, Pope Paul IV reversed the lenient policy of Renaissance popes and restricted Jewish activities. After 1550, many Jews migrated to Poland-Lithuania and to parts of the Ottoman Empire. Dutch Calvinists also tolerated Jews, taking in families who were driven out of Portugal and Spain.
How did the increased religious fervor among Protestants and Catholics lead to persecutions?
People gather on a street in a Jewish ghetto in Rome. The gate at the end of the street would likely be closed and locked at sundown. This was for the protection of the Jewish residents from mobs bent on violence.