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In the Harry Potter series we see multiple times that Muggles have killed wizards in around the 1400s. They say that witch-burning was real and that actual witches died.

Harry had to finish his essay on witch-burning of the 14th Century. (Prisoner of Azkaban)

How were the Muggles, who probably had at most bow and arrows and swords, able to kill a fully trained witch/wizard who had an entire arsenal of spells under his/her belt?

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    they wernt the wizards took a potion and pretended to die
    – Himarm
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:29
  • Why the down vote?
    – Jack
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:40
  • 4
    because literally the next line after your quote, says wizards didnt die...
    – Himarm
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:52
  • There were guns and cannons in existence in 1400s. Jun 21, 2020 at 15:04

4 Answers 4

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I think you have this a little wrong. They don't say that actual witches died - indeed, the subject of Harry's essay suggests quite the opposite:

Harry moved the tip of his eagle-feather quill down the page, frowning as he looked for something that would help him write his essay, 'Witch-Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless - discuss.'

The quill paused at the top of a likely-looking paragraph. Harry pushed his round glasses up his nose, moved his torch closer to the book and read:

Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognising it. On the rare occasion that they did catch a real witch or wizard, burning had no effect whatsoever. The witch or wizard would perform a basic Flame-Freezing Charm and then pretend to shriek with pain while enjoying a gentle, tickling sensation. Indeed, Wendelin the Weird enjoyed being burnt so much that she allowed herself to be caught no fewer than forty-seven times in various disguises.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - p.7 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 1, Owl Post

However the magical community was forced into hiding (citation needed) by persecution, so I would argue that they did feel under some threat. As to why, I have a few ideas.

There are many ways to persecute people.

The first thing to think about is that witches and wizards don't seem to be immune to physical injury, theft, the burning of their property, dynamite, cyanide and other poisons, etc., etc. Don't confuse magic - especially the magic of Harry Potter - with omnipotence. And remember there aren't that many magical people, compared to Muggles. Also, think about the children of witches and wizards, who don't have as much magic, or control over it. They're vulnerable, even though magic can explode out of them in life or death situations, yes, they're still very vulnerable to attack.

I mean, if you imagine some kind of magic vs Muggle war, I think the wizards would probably win, because their magic gives them an extraordinary capacity to do harm, as well as resist harm.

However, thinking about these days, Muggles have quite a lot of technology and weaponry. Guns, for example. You could probably use magic to deflect or stop bullets - if you knew you were about to be shot at. But that wouldn't be much use against a sniper, for example. Magic also gives you incredible abilities to be healed - even from horrible physical injuries, with little mess and little fuss. But that's always assuming you've got a chance. Being stabbed or shot in certain areas will still be fatal unless another wizard arrives very quickly.

But yeah, even at the time they went into hiding in the first place, again, the Muggles had plenty of capacity to do them harm. But that doesn't seem to have been what the witches and wizards were most afraid of, since the Muggles went about it in all the wrong ways. I just wanted to undercut any assumption that their magic would be enough to keep them completely safe.

No, it seems more that there are many ways to persecute people, many manifestations of prejudice and hatred. So even if people's attempts to do you harm are more of a minor annoyance - who wants to be a figure of hate and bigotry? Who wants to be hated by their neighbours, unable to find a place in the society around them? Who wants to be the target of abuse and maybe real and serious crimes that magic can't fix - at least, not if you weren't there at the time. I mean, if you go out and your house gets burnt down, it may not be so easy to put it back - even with magic. You could put the fire out with magic if you were there. But if you're away when it happens...

In such a situation, of course it makes sense that they would form their own community. You'd essentially have to conceal your identity anyway. Even if nobody could actually harm you, you don't wanna be a figure of hate and fear in your community do you? I mean, it's the same reason Lupin tried to hide he was a werewolf at Hogwarts.

So I think it does make plenty of sense that they would have made the decision to go into hiding back when the Statute of Secrecy was passed - even just because of persecution. It may not have been the right decision, but it's one that is easy enough to make sense of.

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  • Nice quote and discussion!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:39
  • @randal'thor thank you =)
    – Au101
    Feb 1, 2016 at 1:49
  • Hagrid, IIRC, had a different point of view: that the wizards went into hiding because all the Muggles asking for magical help got too annoying. Feb 1, 2016 at 2:46
  • @HarryJohnston I'd say Hagrid's point was that wizards stay in hiding and don't want to reveal themselves because people'd be wanting magic solutions to all of their problems. If the question had been, why don't wizards reveal themselves to Muggles or something along those lines, I'd've gone into that, but here I just wanted to focus on the persecution-y aspects, which are think are relevant, e.g. Professor Binns in CoS 'They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.'
    – Au101
    Feb 1, 2016 at 2:51
  • 2
    As for how medieval Muggles could kill Wizards, anyone is vulnerable when sleeping or otherwise incapacitated (see fx: Elder Wand, the), and having to remain constantly vigilant and "on edge" is not an enviable way to live your life. Also, as @Au101 states in his answer, a sniper (with a bow or crossbow) could do the job, assuming the Wizard in question wasn't expecting to be attacked just then.
    – MPF
    Feb 1, 2016 at 8:38
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There are at least two documented cases of a wizard killed by Muggles in medieval times.

From Wizarding World:

  1. Nearly Headless Nick or Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington:

How he died: Execution, after an attempt to beautify a lady-in-waiting at the court of King Henry VII caused her to sprout tusks.

  1. The Fat Friar

How he died: Execution, at the hands of his fellow churchman, who apparently didn’t appreciate him using magic to cure the pox.

In the first case I guess the Muggles just managed to take the wand of Sir Nicholas and he was a very weak wizard.

For the second case - most probably the Fat Friar was taken by surprise and/or backstabbed by someone he generally trusted.

1

Excerpt from Harry's History of Magic text book:

Non-magic people (more commonly known as Muggles) were particularly afraid of magic in medieval times, but not very good at recognizing it. On the rare occasion that they did catch a real witch or wizard, burning had no effect whatsoever. The witch or wizard would perform a basic Flame Freezing Charm and then pretend to shriek with pain while enjoying a gentle, tickling sensation. Indeed, Wendelin the Weird enjoyed being burned so much that she allowed herself to be caught no less than forty-seven times in various disguises.

Wizards were not scared of Muggles.

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Magic doesn’t guarantee wizards safety.

While wizards do have more power than Muggles, in his footnote for “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” in “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, Albus Dumbledore stated that Muggles were indeed able to kill some wizards in their witch hunts despite wizards having the advantage of magical ability.

1 It is true, of course, that genuine witches and wizards were reasonably adept at escaping the stake, block, and noose (see my comments about Lisette de Lapin in the commentary on “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump"). However, a number of deaths did occur: Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington (a wizard at the Royal Court in his lifetime, and in his death-time, ghost of Gryffindor Tower) was stripped of his wand before being locked in a dungeon, and was unable to magic himself out of his execution; and Wizarding families were particularly prone to losing younger members, whose inability to control their own magic made them noticeable, and vulnerable, to Muggle witch-hunters.”
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard

So Muggles have indeed been known to successfully kill wizards. In addition to killing wizards, they have also injured wizards. Ariana Dumbledore was attacked by Muggle boys when she was a child.

“Aberforth glared at her: his lips moved as if he were chewing the words he was holding back. Then he burst into speech.

‘When my sister was six years old, she was attacked, set upon, by three Muggle boys. They’d seen her doing magic, spying through the back garden hedge: she was a kid, she couldn’t control it, no witch or wizard can at that age. What they saw scared them, I expect. They forced their way through the hedge, and when she couldn’t show them the trick, they got a bit carried away trying to stop the little freak doing it.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 28 (The Missing Mirror)

Their attack had lasting repercussions on her as well. She refused to use magic after it so it turned inwards and drove her mad.

“Aberforth stood up, tall as Albus, and suddenly terrible in his anger and the intensity of his pain.

‘It destroyed her, what they did: she was never right again. She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it: it turned inwards and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet, and scared, and harmless.”
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 28 (The Missing Mirror)

So yes, Muggles have been shown as being able to kill wizards despite wizards having the advantage of magic.

Material from Pottermore:

In fact, writings on Pottermore stated two of the Hogwarts ghosts, the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor house ghosts, are wizards killed by Muggles. The Fat Friar was executed because the church became suspicious of his abilities.

Hufflepuff house is haunted by the Fat Friar, who was executed because senior churchmen grew suspicious of his ability to cure the pox merely by poking peasants with a stick, and his ill-advised habit of pulling rabbits out of the communion cup.
- Hogwarts Ghosts (wizardingworld.com)

As Dumbledore mentioned in his footnote, Nearly Headless Nick was also executed by Muggles.

Gryffindor house is home to Nearly Headless Nick, who in life was Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington. Something of a snob, and a less accomplished wizard than he believed, Sir Nicholas lounged around the court of Henry VII in life, until his foolish attempt to beautify a lady-in-waiting by magic caused the unfortunate woman to sprout tusks. Sir Nicholas was stripped of his wand and inexpertly executed, leaving his head hanging off by a single flap of skin and sinew.
- Hogwarts Ghosts (wizardingworld.com)

Additionally, several wizards were executed in the Salem Witch Trials.

The famous Salem Witch Trials of 1692-93 were a tragedy for the wizarding community. Wizarding historians agree that among the so-called Puritan judges were at least two known Scourers, who were paying off feuds that had developed while in America. A number of the dead were indeed witches, though utterly innocent of the crimes for which they had been arrested.
- Seventeenth Century and Beyond (wizardingworld.com)

Material from the Fantastic Beasts movies:

Additionally, the fear of being persecuted could lead to young wizards turning into Obscurials.

“NEWT
I met one in Sudan three months ago. There used to be more of them but they still exist. Before wizards went underground, when we were still being hunted by Muggles, young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. Instead of learning to harness or to control their powers, they developed what was called an Obscurus.
TINA
(off JACOB’S confusion)
It’s an unstable, uncontrollable dark force that busts out and – and attacks . . . and then vanishes . . .”
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

Obscurials generally did not survive past the age of ten.

“TINA
(to Newt)
Obscurials can’t survive long, can they?

NEWT
There’s no documented case of any Obscurial surviving past the age of ten. The one I met in Africa was eight when she—she was eight when she died.”
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (The Original Screenplay)

Their deaths would have been indirectly caused by Muggles.

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    As Steven Brust says, "No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will severely cramp their style"
    – LAK
    Jun 10, 2021 at 19:33
  • I think that the quote about the Salem Witch Trials is the most elucidating. We cannot always assume that the Muggles involved had no magical help.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 21, 2021 at 16:57

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