The chronological framework of this study encompasses the High and Late Middle Ages, that is, from the early twelfth century until about the second quarter of the fifteenth. It has sometimes been necessary to refer to an earlier period in order to trace the origins of a particular idea, law or custom, or the beginning of a process, and in the section dealing with witches it was necessary to follow the subject into the second half of the fifteenth century, which was when the great witch-hunting era began in Western Europe, although the ideas and beliefs comprising the doctrine of the witch as Satan’s accomplice had arisen in the Late Middle Ages. Here the chronological boundaries had to be exceeded, while illustrating the culmination of a process whose origins lie well within the period under discussion.
Geographically, the study covers Western Europe, not including the Scandinavian countries, Scotland and Ireland. England, the Low Countries, Germany, France, Italy and the Iberian peninsula all had feudal social systems. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are commonly described as the second feudal age in Western Europe, whereas the fourteenth saw the decline of feudalism, especially in the military and political spheres. The above-named countries had much the same kind of economic system, material culture and class structure; they were also united in the Roman faith and Church organization. In all these countries Latin was the language of higher culture, and the same literary genres prevailed, even when written in the local languages.
Given this uniform background, it is possible to discuss the