Friday, 15 March 2013

The Burning Times

On 9th December, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII published the Bull Summis desiderantibus which condemned the alleged outbreak of witchcraft and heresy in Rhine River valley area.  Pope Innocent had apparently heard that in northern Germany many people of both sexes,
...unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to incubi and sccubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offenses, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herb beasts as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pastureland, corn, wheat and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd beasts as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains, both enternal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving... over and above this they blasphemously renounce the faith which is theirs by the sacrament of baptism, and at the instigation of the enemy of mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, whereby they outrage the Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many...
Wherefore We... decree and enjoin that the aforesaid Inquisitors [James Sprenger and Henry Kramer] be empowered to proceed to the just correction, imprisonment and punishment of any persons, without let or hindrance...

Malleus Maleficarum (Original)

Shortly after Pope Innocent's announcement Sprenger and Kramer pubished what became the standard witch-hunter's manual, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches).  This looked at literature on demonology and witchcraft, and suggested guidelines for those prosecuting suspected witches, outlining strategies for the use of torture and lies.  Under their direction, an inquisitor should order his officers to bind the ''witch,'' and ''apply to her some engine of torture.''  However, this should be done under a guise of remorse and reluctance, with someone later asking that the accused be released.  At this point the inquisitor can promise the suspect their life, providing she supplies evidence which would lead to the conviction of other witches.  Obviously the suspect would not escape with her life, but the judge could ease his conscience by appointing another judge to pass sentence on the accused.

Both Sprenger and Kramer were aware that the torture of a witch was dangerous work, and they were careful to give their students safety tips.  It was important, for example, to strip the witch naked and to shave their hair ''from wvery part of her body,'' because ''in order to preserve their power of silence... [witches] are in the habit of hiding some superstitious object in their clothes or in their hair, or even in the most secret parts of their bodies, which must not be named.''  During his search, the inquisitor needed to keep a close eye out of demonic charms and ''witch's marks,'' or for any physical blemish which had been put their by the Devil.  This meant that anything from a birthmark or a mole could provide the inquisitor with damning evidence that you were part of a satanic pact.

After the torture, false promises, and minute examination of your shaved and naked body, you would be taken to a cells where you were given food and water.  At this point it was believed that the witch should be allowed to consort with ''honest persons who are under no suspicion.''  They should speak with the witch informally before they
...advise her in confidence to confess the truth, promising that the Judge will be merciful to her and that they will intercede for her.  And finally let the judge come in and promise that he will be merciful, with the mental reservation that he will be merciful to himself or the State; for whatever is done for the safety of the Sate is merciful.

Witchfinders at work (Original)

By the last few decades of the 15th century, the Catholic Church turned to the promising tradition of ecclesiastical muder for reassurance.  The first sign of the Church's troubles came in around 1176, when a wealthy merchant, Peter Walds, gave away his money and decided to preach clerical poverty as a road to salvation.  His supporters, who became known as Waldenses, also began to preach, much to the disliking of the Catholic Church, who had them excommunicated.  However, the Waldenses continued to preach, declaring the supermacy of the Bible and rejecting the sacraments, the sale of indulgences and Papal authority.

At around the same time, an ancient heresy which was probably the most difficult for the Church to eradicate, once again became popular.  This was called Manicheanism, once embraced by St. Augustine, which explained Good and Evil as two powers which warred against one another with no predictable outcome.  Advanced by the philsopher Mani, with a mixture of Gnosticism, it had come from the east and by the 13th century had reached the southern French region around Albi.  The Albigensians were declared heretics, with a crusade being launched against them in 1208. Pope Innocent III established the first Inquisition in 1233 as a system for the legal investigation of Albigensians crimes, putting the Dominicans, who were popularly considered the Domini canes (the hounds of God), in charge of it.

Another insult to the Papal authority came from John Wyclif, a Yorkshire born priest and scholar, who led the public against the abuse of clerics and declared the supremacy of the Bible over priestcraft and bad translations from Latin into English.  In 1380 and 1382 Wyclif was declared a heretic, but he was allowed to live out his life without prosecution.  However, Wyclif's followers, known as the Lollards, were not so lucky. In 1417, on order of King Henry IV, the statute De Hoeretico Combureendo (On the Burning of Heretics) was confirmed.  While few Lollards were burned, a second wave of suppression in 1431 forced the Lollards into hiding, helping their beliefs to survive until the 16th century.

In what is now the Czech Republic, then Bohemia, John Hus was inspired by Wyclif's ideas and observations.  Hus opposed the suppression of Wyclif's writings and decided to translate Wyclif's Triologus into Czech, denying that the Pope could fulfill his duties as he should and opposing the sale of indulgences.  He firmly believed that the Chuch, in cases of abuse, should be subject to civil supervision.  Hus was declared a heretic in 1410, but was given the protection of King Wenceslaus and, in 1414, was given safe conduct to the Council of Constance in Switzerland.  However, he was arrested there and tried as a heretic.  He refused to renounce the beliefs which the inquisitors tried to convince him were heretical, firmly denying that he followed the a number of the beliefs ascribed to him.  This included some of Wyclif's vaious propositions.  In 1415 Hus was burned at the stake, partially for beliefs which the judges knew he had never held.

After Hus's death the Hussites split into two groups, one of which was more radical and continued to oppose Papal abuse.  This group was called the Taborites, after a castle to which Hus had retreated when he was condemned for heresy, and they went beyone Hus's teachings, denying the real presence of Jesus in the sacraments and looking to replace feudalism with a classless society.  They were defeated at the battle of Lipany in 1434 by an alliance of less extreme Hussites, called the Ultraquists, and Papal forces.  However, this did not stop the ideas of the Taborites and, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg castle church, before later acknowledging his debt to John Hus in the preface of Confession to Faith:
For indeed, while I was yet a Papist, I was for long a most fervent emulator of the Roman traditions.  (The Papists of our times who write against us, are not as serious as I was, but are wholly cold, and are motivated either by hatred or by the desire for profit; they would do the same against the Papists if they could expect from us greater profit or glory.)  But while I was a Papist I hated the Picard Brethren sincerely and from my heart, out of a great zeal for God and religion, and not on account of desire for lucre or glory.  For when by chance I came upon some books by John Hus, and found them to be powerful, and in accordance with the pure word of God, I began to feel terrified why the Pope and the Council had burned such and so great a man.  Terror-stricken I closed the book, fearing that with the honey there might lurk poison by which my simplicity might be infected.  So violently had the name of the Pope and Council fascinated me!
But when it pleased Him who had separated me from my mother's womb to reveal to me that son of perdition... searching out all whom the Pope had condemned and put to death as heretics, I praised them as saints and martyrs.

There really was no limit to the suffering enforced by religious and political fanatics throughout the aftermath of the Reformation.  Lutherans, for example, were totally opposed to Anabaptists on the question of whether children should be baptised, or whether only those old enough to understand it.  The city of Muenster was, during the last phase of its siege, ruled by Lutheran forces, by John Bockelson of Leiden, who was a 26-year-old prophet and self-styled King-Elect of the World.  He issued, in 1535, various orders, including:

Polygamy to be the rule.  This was announced after Bockelson was discovered to be an adulterer.  Bockelson had, in devout conformity with his own ruling, taken 16 wives along with a large number of concubines.  Those opposing this were beheaded and four women refusing to take additional husbands were executed.  Knipperdolling, the executioner, beheaded his own wife when she tried to escape the city.  His excuse? ''The father irresistibly prompted me to do this.''  When one of Bockelson's ''Queens'' asked if it were right for them to gorge themselves while others went hungry, he personally executed her and danced on her corpse, shouting: Gloria in excelsis.
Polandry (a woman's taking more than one husband) to be a capital offense.
All girls over 12 to be forced to marry.
Theft to be a capital offense.

One ten-year-old girl was, due to these new orders, executed when caught stealing a turnip.

After the fall of Muenster, Bockelson, Knipperdolling and a man called Bernard Krechting were paraded through the country in chains for six months.  They were then taken back to Muenster where, in front of a large crowd, they were tortured with red hot pincers, before being executed by a red-hot dagger.  The crowd were apparently somewhat unnerved by Bockleson's screams of agony and the smell of roasting flesh, which filled the market place.  As a final show of disfavour, the bodies of these three were hanged in iron cages from the tower of St. Lambert's Church.

While the witchfinder's powers were practically unlimited, no matter how many were prosecuted and burned, the number of witches continued to increase.  With every confession came yet more names of witches yet to be examined and, with those examinations more names.  After many years of devoted work, even the best of witchfinders must be discouraged, wondering if there might not be more they could do to improve his results.
Even Nicholas Remy, Procurer General, who became known as ''Scourge of Witches'' after dispatching 900 people, five witches a month, became plagued with self-doubt and loathing when it came to children.  While  he sentenced many children who had been ''led away at a tender age by their parents to sin'' to being stripped naked and whipped while they watched their parents being burned to death, Remy ''never thought that the law was fully satisfied by such methods.''  Remy also sentenced a sixteen-year-old to crucifixion for theft (the boy had, after all, ignored three whippings and one branding), but this wasn't compensation enough.  In Wurzburg 300 children as young as three or four confessed to sexual intercourse with demons, with many considering the seven-year-old minimum age for execution to be too lenient.

Henri Boguet, a jurist, was one that believed the minimum age was too lenient condemned 600 to death, personally supervising the torture of an eight-year-old girl.  This man cited the ancient law of Excipiuntur as precedent: a child below the age of puberty who was not moved to tears by its master's death was thereby guilty of a capital offense.

In some places a decree was passed whereby a child below the age of twelve could not be executed, but the law could be patient.  When she was barely seven, Anne Hauldecoeur was imprisoned for witchcraft by the Lieutenant of Bouchain, Charles van der Camere.  She spent the next five years in prison until she reached her twelfth birthday.   On 11th July 1619 she was taken from her cell and executed.

While children were treated badly during this period,  women fared much worse.  The Malleus Maleficarum taught that women were evil, making it much easier to prove their guilt.  Henri Boguet, a torturer of little girls, in his Discours des Sorciers, gave judges a useful outline for the signs which indicated guilt sufficient enough to allow torture:

1.  If the accused generally turns his eyes to the ground during his examination...
2.  If the parents of the accused were witches...
3.  If the accused has a mark upon him...
4.  If the accused is prone uneasily to fall into a mad and trembling rage and blaspheme and use other execrations...
5.  If the accused makes as though to weep, and yet sheds no tears; or evenif he only sheds a very few...
6.  If the accused has no cross on his rosary; or if the cross is defective in some particular...
7.  If the accused has at times been reproached with being a witch, and has let the reproach pass unanswered, without seeking redress...
8.  If he asks to be re-baptised...

From time to time judges were inconcenienced by a witness who testified that the accused had been elsewhere at the time of the sorcery.  There was, however, a solution to this problem, which was admitted by Judge Matthew Hale during England's Bury St. Edmunds witch trials in 1645.  While a person could prove that they were somewhere else at the time of the supposed witchery, it was actually no proof at all.  The person could have projected a specter as a form of alibi.  This was a widely used solution in the Salem witch trials, with Cotton Mather reporting, ''...divers were condemned, against whom the chief evidence was founded in the spectral exhibitions.''

After the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Germany, between 1587 and 1593, Johan von Schoneburg, the Prince-Archbishop of Trier, and his Suffragan Bishop Peter Binsfield burned more than 300 people in 22 villages.  In 1585 they left two villages with only a single female inhabitant between them.  The children of the executed were banished, with their property being confiscated.

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