Johannes Janssen.

History of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) online

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prisons ? I was always incensed when I saw them,
my hair stands on end when I write about them ;
my heart seems nigh to bursting when I reflect that
one human being, for the sake of a few sins (for are we
not all unrighteous ?), can torment another so brutally.'
' you judges, do you not think that you are guilty
of the terrible deaths of your prisoners ? I say : Yes.'
According to imperial law, ' the prisons ought to be
so constructed as to afford shelter and protection, and
not to be a torment to the poor inmates. He who
can preserve and protect a human being and does
not do so is a murderer. . . . Woe unto those through
whom offences come ! but how much more woe
to that man who not only causes offence, but leads
another straight on the road to desperation and into
the chamber of death ! Isaiah says : " God looked that
he should do judgment, and behold iniquity ; and do
justice, and behold a cry." Bethink you, you judges,
" God marks and hears and writes it in his tal)lcs." '

' Praetorius, 51 ff. - Sco above, p. 202 f.


To all tho liorrors of imprisonment is then added
the barbarous torturing. * I have something more to
say to yo\i judges. Take it in good part from me,
for I mean it well. You are much too brutal, unjust,
superstitious, scandalous and tyrannical in your trials
by torture. I am not well pleased to see that the rack
is being used, for pious kings and judges among the
first people of God did not use it, because it was intro-
duced by heathen tyrants, because it is the mother
of many and great lies, because it often does great
bodily injury to men and women, and finally because
on account of it many people succumb to death without
fair trial and sentence, yea even before they have been
found guilty : tortured to-day, dead to-morrow. You
think, no doubt, you are doing right when you act thus
cruelly, and you drag in secular law and imperial
ordinances and old custom to justify you.' But human
laws must give way to the ordinances of God, which
teach that we may question, examine, take oaths from
accused persons, but not torture them.

* And what sanction do you gentlemen get from
imperial ordinances ? They are dead against you. I
admire them, but you do not abide by them. With
your lips you praise them, with your deeds you dis-
grace them. Charlemagne, the first German Emperor,
decreed that people who practised sorcery were to be
shut up, and that the Bishop was to interrogate and
examine them carefully, until they confessed their sins
and promised to reform. Their imprisonment also was
to be of such a kind as to make them pious and of
sound mind, not to drive them to death. Hear,
ye judges, what the imperial ordinance says. How
does your procedure fit in with that ? There is


not a word in it which you do not overstep. He
says : " Shut them up," and so you chain and lock
them in. He says : "by the Bishop or minister
of the Church/' and you take the executioner to them.
He says : " they are to be persuaded to confess,"
and so you force and torture them. He says that
they are "to be healed and live," so you maim and
kill them. In hke manner you defy the criminal
ordinance of Charles V., and forget all justice and right
of which other laws and learned la^vyers, besides this
same ordinance, earnestly remind you.'

' When the executioners advise you to try some
fresh dodge, you should let them try it on themselves
first, as Phalaris made Perillus the first victim of the
brazen bull he had invented for torture. Thus they
would learn what others have to suffer and would give
up recommending such tyrannical deeds. You are
too much led by them and are too cruel in everything.
You do not even torment as kindly, as softly and as
moderately, as the devil tormented Job, for Satan let
him five : but with you some of the victims die under
your hands, some of them you are obliged to carry from
the rack to the place of execution, and you find them
dead after a few hours. This is contrary to all secular
law and to imperial orders. You are hable to punish-
ment from the Emperor.'

' When such people die under your hands, when
their evil deeds have neither been confessed nor proved,
you are no better than wilful murderers, and you are not
worthy of the name and office of judges. On you hes
the guilt and the blame that poor orphans, whose
parents you have thus slaughtered, are badly brought
up, go astray and, to escape reproach, run away ;


thou t'loiu siniplirit y or poverty fall into bad company,
or oven come to an mitimely end. According to
im}ierial law the accusers of innocent persons are bound
to make fair and adequate compensation for the suffering,
disgrace and expenses they have caused them : but
what nmst be your liabilities for the pitiful death of
.such people, who had not been proved guilty, and who
had confessed nothing, and who therefore according to
all laws were to be regarded as innocent ? Verily their
children and friends would be justified in going to law
against you, and if from poverty or fear they should be
hindered from doing so, God will surely in His own
good time find you out, if you do not betimes earnestly
repent and reform, to which course I faithfully admonish

' But hear me still further, you gentlemen ; I '11
tell you what worse brutahties you are guilty of in
your trials by torture.'

' When you have got hold of people who by no
amount of martyrdom and torture can be brought
to give information, for your satisfaction, either against
themselves or others, you then forsake the ways of
human might and coercion and address yourselves to
devil's arts, to debauched and wholly bestial means,
by which you rob the poor creatures of their reason,
till in frenzy and madness they make the wildest state-
ments. The executioners give them special drinks, or
put on them medicated shifts and clothes : then they
become quite frenzied and say " Yes " to everything
that is suggested to them. Item, you singe and scorch
with hghted candles their ... do that which is forbidden
in the law under pain of having the hands chopped off.
. . . This is verily devihsh and not human. Is it not


all true ? You say : the executioner does it. I ask you
then, is the executioner your master or your servant?
May he do and leave undone just as he hkes, mthout
your consent? If, however, you consent, it is you
who are acting through him, just as he does other
things in your name. And tell me, pray, where have
you learnt such things ? Do you find them in the
imperial judicial ordinance ? Are they ^vritten also in
other statutes of the Roman empire ? By whom then ?
In what words? On what page, in what book? Oh,
you cannot answer ! You cannot show any proof, you
have no ground to go on. Therefore I say with truth :
you act brutally according to yom- own bloodthirsty
lust and not according to law.' i

While, however, the witches, accused of every
imaginable iniquity and crime, were so cruelly persecuted
and killed, the magistrates allowed all sorts of fortune-
tellers, ' blessers,' jugglers and planet-readers to pursue
with impunity their wicked ways in the land. ' Like
the gluttons and drunkards, whoremongers and cursers,
so too they tolerate in their land open and avowed
sorcerers. Open and avowed, I say, namely fortune-
tellers, or rather vendors of hes, and who with their
false tales set good friends against each other, and
stir up secret suspicion, bring about open quarrels,
irreconcilable hatred, envy, scolding, blows and murder.
They put up with the scoundrelly jugglers, allow them to
go openly into the common houses — even on Sundays
which should be sanctified to the Lord, and even during
the sermon time — and to carry on their cheating
monkey-play mth indecent jokes and scandalous

' Practorius, 117-123 ; cf. 'Jl If. Soo also above, p. 310, Iho ({uolationa
from J. Scultetus,

35- iiisruKY OF THi

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 29 of 45)