The sixteenth century was a period of what is, to modern sensibilities, the most appalling religious intolerance and persecution in Europe and the settlements in the New World. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were tortured, enslaved, hanged and burnt in the name of religion.

As always, religious motives were often a cloak for political manoeuvrings, but there were fanatics on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide who believed their opponents should be eliminated purely on religious grounds. Additionally, persecutions for witchcraft were an ugly manifestation of local superstitions and personal hatred.