Posts filed under '13th Century'

1213: Peter of Pontefract, oracle

Add comment May 28th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1213, the hermit Peter of Pontefract (or Peter of Wakefield) was hanged by King John.

Reluctant Magna Carta signer and ridiculous Robin Hood villain, John has never been the most highly regarded sovereign. (A recent BBC poll saluted him as the 13th century’s very worst Briton.)

The papacy ranked among John’s many irritants. A 1205 dispute with Pope Innocent III over the successor to the late Archbishop of Canterbury — John wanted control of ecclesiastical appointments in his own realm, a little preview of coming attractions in English history — extended so far as Innocent’s excommunicating John, and laying England under a papal interdict prohibiting administration of any sacraments save baptism and last rites. There’s no bargaining chip quite like “do what I say or everyone goes to hell.”

John didn’t sweat the eternal damnation stuff much but in 1212 the specter of war with France — gleefully justified by Philip II on grounds of the English king’s impiety — started twisting the screws a little. Philip had already seized English holdings in Normandy; now, he was gathering forces to invade across the English Channel.

With discontent already afoot among the domestic nobility, some of whom were extending feelers to King Philip, the Yorkshire hermit Peter ran out a prophecy that John’s crown would pass to other hands by the next Ascension Day — which happened to be Thursday, May 23, 1213.

Peter’s prophecy gained no little folk following, prompting John to take him into custody.

And here a prophet, that I brought with me
From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found
With many hundreds treading on his heels;
To whom he sung, in rude harsh-sounding rhymes,
That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon,
Your highness should deliver up your crown.

-Shakespeare’s King John

But days before the momentous date arrived, John resolved the crisis and saved himself from potential deposition with a timely submission to the papal legate Pandulf, before whom he dramatically laid the crown and resumed it pledging an annual tribute of 1,000 marks from the throne of England to that of St. Peter.*

This was either — take your pick — a deft political masterstroke instantly neutralizing the threats to John’s throne, or else it was a craven surrender to the Vatican.

Peter of Pontefract gives us a hint of a judgment on that question.

John held Peter past the May 23 date — and then, just for good measure, past May 27, for that had been the calendar date of John’s coronation in 1199, which was also Ascension Thursday that year, and had been floated as a fallback interpretation of the prophecy — the seer had been duly discredited and, being made ridiculous, could now be made an example of.

Or had he been?

For,

the wise and the foolish alike began to see that John had prevented a literal fulfilment of the prophecy by lending himself to a figurative one. He had ‘ceased to be king’ by laying his crown at the feet of Pandulf, to take it back again on conditions which unquestionably helped to fix it, for the time at least, more securely than ever on his brow. The scapegoat of all parties was the unlucky prophet himself. Next day he and his son, who had been imprisoned with him, were tied each to a horse’s tail, dragged thus from Corfe to Wareham, and there hanged. (Source)

* John stopped paying in 1214, and Innocent left well enough alone.

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1253: P. Morret, poor guesser

Add comment January 29th, 2014 Headsman

Henry Charles Lea‘s A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages brings us the following anecdote of the Kafkaesque legal trap in which those denounced to the Inquisition found themselves.

In reality no advocate could be of material service to the accused, save in the most exceptional cases. The men who organized the Holy Office knew too well what they wanted to leave open any possibilities of which even the shrewdest advocate could take advantage, and it was admitted on all hands as a recognized fact that there was no method of defence save disabling the witnesses for the prosecution. It has been seen that enmity was the only source of disability in a witness, and this had to be mortal — there must have been bloodshed between the parties, or other cause sufficient to induce one to seek the life of the other. If, therefore, the case rested on witnesses of this kind, their testimony had to be rejected and the prosecution fell. As this was the only possible mode of escape, the cruelty of withholding from the prisoner the names of the adverse witnesses becomes doubly conspicuous. He was forced to grope around in the dark and blindly name such persons as he imagined might have a hand in his misfortunes. If he failed to hit upon any who appeared in the case, the evidence against him was conclusive, as far as it went. If he chanced to name some of the witnesses, he was interrogated as to the causes of enmity; the inquisitor examined into the facts of the alleged quarrel, and decided as he saw fit as to the retention or the rejection of their testimony. Conscientious jurists like Gui Foucoix and inquisitors like Eymerich warned their brethren that as the accused had so slender a chance of guessing the sources of evidence, the judge ought to investigate for himself and discard any that seemed to be the product of malice; but there were others who sought rather to deprive the poor wretch of every straw that might postpone his sinking. One device was to ask him, as though casually, at the end of his examination, whether he had any enemies who would so disregard the fear of God as to accuse him falsely, and if, thus taken unawares, he replied in the negative, he debarred himself from any subsequent defence; or the most damaging witness would be selected and the prisoner be asked if he knew him, when a denial would estop him from claiming enmity. It is easy to imagine other tricks by which shrewd and experienced inquisitors could save themselves the trouble of admitting the accused to even the nugatory form of defence to which alone he was entitled. As to allowing him to call witnesses in his favor, except to prove enmity of the accusers, it was never thought of in ordinary cases. By a legal fiction, the inquisitor was supposed to look at both sides of the case, and to take care of the defence as well as of the prosecution. If the accused failed to guess the names of enemies among the witnesses and to disable their testimony, he was condemned.

In England, under the barbarous custom of the peine forte et dure, a prisoner who refused to plead either guilty or not guilty was pressed to death, because the trial could not go on without either confession or defence. Cruel as was this expedient, it was the outcome of a manly sense of justice, which based its procedure on the rule that the worst felon should have a fair opportunity to prove his innocence. Far worse was the system of the Inquisition, which was equally resolved that its culprits should have no such easy method of escape as a refusal to plead. It had no scruples as to proceeding in such cases, and the obstinacy of the accused only simplified matters. The refusal was an act of contumacy, equivalent to disobeying a summons to appear, or it was held to be tantamount to a confession, and the obdurate prisoner was forthwith handed over to the secular arm as an impenitent heretic, fit only for the stake. The use of torture, however, rendered such cases rare.

The enviable simplicity which the inquisitorial process thus assumed in the absence of counsel and of all practical opportunities for defence can perhaps best be illustrated by one or two cases. Thus in the Inquisition of Carcassonne, June 19, 1252, P. Morret is called up and asked if he wishes to defend himself against the matters found in the instructio or indictment against him. He has nothing to allege except that he has enemies, of whom he names five. Apparently he did not happen to guess any of the witnesses, for the case proceeded by reading the evidence to him, after which he is again asked thrice if he has anything further to say. To this he replies in the negative, and the case ends by assigning January 29 for the rendering of sentence. Two years later, in 1254, at Carcassonne, a certain Bernard Pons was more lucky, for he happened to guess aright in naming his wife as an inimical witness, and we have the proceedings of the inquest held to determine whether the enmity was mortal. Three witnesses are examined, all of whom swear that she is a woman of loose character; one deposes that she had been taken in adultery by her husband; another that he had beaten her for it, and the third that he had recently heard her say that she wished her husband dead that she might marry a certain Pug Oler, and that she would willingly become a leper if that would bring it about. This would certainly seem sufficient, but Pons appears nevertheless not to have escaped. So thoroughly hopeless, indeed, was the prospect of any effort at defence, that it frequently was not even attempted, and the accused, like Arnaud Fabri at Carcassonne, August 26, 1252, when asked if he wished a copy of the evidence against him, would despairingly decline it. It was a customary formula in a sentence to state that the convict had been offered opportunity for defence and had not availed himself of it, showing how frequently this was the case.

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1284: Alice Bowe and her friends

Add comment November 29th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

At some unspecified day in November 1284, in Edward I’s England, Alice Bowe or Alice at the Bowe (not the garden designer of the same name) was burned at the stake for murder, and seven of the men who took part in her same crime were hanged.

Alice and sixteen others had lynched a guy who’d attacked their friend.

Alfred Marks’s 1908 book Tyburn Tree: Its History and Annals, available for free here, tells the story:

In the year 1284, the 13th of Edward I., Laurence Ducket, goldsmith, having grievously wounded one Ralph Crepin in Westcheape, fled into Bow church, to the which, in the night time, entered certain evil persons, friends unto the said Ralph, and slew the said Laurence, lying in the steeple, and then hanged him up, placing him so by the window as if he had hanged himself, and so was it found by inquisition: for the which fact Laurence Ducket, being drawn by the feet, was buried in a ditch without the City: but shortly after, by relation of a boy, who lay with the said Laurence at the time of his death, and had hid himself there for fear, the truth of the matter was disclosed.

Wherefore a certain woman, Alice atte Bowe, the mistress of Crepin, a clerk, the chief causer of the said mischief, and with her sixteen men, were imprisoned, and later, Alice was burnt, and seven were drawn and hanged, to wit, Reginald de Lanfar, Robert Pinnot, Paul de Stybbenheth, Thomas Corouner, John de Tholosane, Thomas Russel, and Robert Scott. Ralph Crepin, Jordan Godchep, Gilbert le Clerk and Geoffrey le Clerk were attainted of the felony and remained prisoners in the Tower.

The church was placed under an interdict by the archbishop: the doors and windows stopped up with thorns. But the body of Laurence was taken from the place where it lay, and given burial by the clergy in the churchyard. After a while, the bishop of Rochester, by command of the archbishop, removed the interdict.

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1290: Zavis of Falkenstein

2 comments August 24th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1290, the vaunting nobleman Zavis of Falkenstein was beheaded below the walls of Hluboka Castle.

For from this eminence ye shall discern
Better the acts and visages of all,
Than in the nether vale among them mix’d.
He, who sits high above the rest, and seems
To have neglected that he should have done,
And to the others’ song moves not his lip,
The Emperor Rodolph call, who might have heal’d
The wounds whereof fair Italy hath died,
So that by others she revives but slowly,
He, who with kindly visage comforts him,
Sway’d in that country, where the water springs,
That Moldaw’s river to the Elbe, and Elbe
Rolls to the ocean: Ottocar his name:
Who in his swaddling clothes was of more worth
Than Winceslaus his son, a bearded man,
Pamper’d with rank luxuriousness and ease.

-Dante’s ungenerous assessment of Wenceslaus in the Purgatorio

The Bohemian Premyslid dynasty was at the height of its power in the 13th century. King Ottokar II, ruling a vast swath of central Europe, twice mounted unsuccessful bids for election to the imperial throne.

The second man to defeat him, Rudolph,* Ottokar refused to recognize, and open warfare ensued between the men — a war that Rudolph won when Ottokar was killed in battle in 1278.

The late sovereign left to his six-year-old son Wenceslaus II a reduced patronage, a betrothal to Rudolph’s daughter, and a strong domestic noble faction like to oppose the crown internally.

Zavis of Falkenstein was among the foremost of the many complications afflicting the young Wenceslaus. His Vitkovci family had been among the late Ottokar’s most potent domestic opponents,** and Claudius-like slithered right into the royal bed with Ottokar gone. Zavis paid court to the widow of his great foe, the Queen Regent Kunhunta, and married her in 1285. He was the first man in the kingdom for several years.

Wenceslaus, still a teenager, was becoming frantic at the prospect of Zavis usurping him altogether. When Kunhunta died and Zavis left town to marry again, the monarch turned the tables on his “protector”. When Zavis returned to Prague, he found himself clapped in prison. Wenceslaus then packed Zavis up for a Bohemian tour, where the hostage was brandished at belligerent Vitkovci fortresses to force their submission. Hluboka Castle, commanded by Zavis’s brother, refused to knuckle under, so the threat — and Zavis — were executed.

When your South Bohemia holiday stops over for a visit to this still-extant castle consider a stay at Hluboka nad Vltavou‘s four-star Hotel Zavis z Falkenstejna. Zavis himself is interred much further south at the borderlands’ Vyssi Brod monastery, which also boasts a jeweled crucifix donated for the salvation of the ambitious magnate’s soul.

* Rudolph I (Formerly Count Rudolph IV) was the first Habsburg king.

** Ottokar founded the city of Ceske Budejovice to project his power into the Vitkovci’s South Bohemia stomping-grounds. The city is still going strong; from its name derives the disputed Budweiser beer brand.

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1278: Pierre de La Brosse, “out of spite and envy”

1 comment June 30th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1278, humiliatingly dressed like a buffoon, Pierre de La Brosse was strung up at Montfaucon without benefit of trial.

De La Brosse (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a court figure of the petty nobility.

He cut his teeth — and a holy beard — as a surgeon and barber in the court of Saint Louis. When Louis died on crusade in 1270, Philip the Bold succeeded to the throne. Philip was tight with Pierre, so this seemed like great news for the chamberlain — and indeed, de La Brosse advanced rapidly with the new king’s patronage in wealth and influence.

The power of this Touraine arriviste did not fail to attract the enmity of the realm’s hereditary lords. As their grandchildren would do in Enguerrand de Marigny‘s time, they nursed their resentments and awaited only their chance.

King Philip’s marriage in 1274 to Marie of Brabant* gave them that chance.

His influence eclipsed by the new bride, de La Brosse developed a dangerous rivalry with the royal consort. When Philip’s firstborn son by his previous marriage and the heir to the French throne died suspiciously in 1276, Pierre de La Brosse allegedly made bold to suggest that the new queen herself might have poisoned the youth off.**

Philip “investigated” this by sending emissaries to consult a clairvoyant who, knowing she was speaking to representatives of the royal family, gave a judiciously positive appraisal of the queen, leaving de La Brosse on very tenuous footing indeed. The barons cut that footing out from under their foe a few months later when they produced documents, likely forged, implicating de La Brosse in a treasonable arrangement with the Spanish crown. De La Brosse was imprisoned for six months and condemned without a regular judicial proceeding: he has the unenviable distinction of being the first victim of an extraordinary royal commission in France. That commission destroyed the evidence (or “evidence”) in the case, but to judge from the positive appraisal de La Brosse enjoyed from chroniclers the popular sentiment for his innocence was widespread.

Pierre de La Brosse is among the several French royal counselors who are sometimes apocryphally said to have built the Montfaucon gallows only to hang upon them. The last word on him (and the more interesting trivia) belongs to Dante, who stationed the man in Purgatory as one who was unjustly slain but without opportunity to cleanse his soul with a last repentance.

I saw the soul
cleft from its body out of spite and envy —
not, so it said, because it had been guilty —
I mean Pier de la Brosse,
and may the Lady of Brabant
while she’s still in this world, watch
her ways—or end among a sadder flock

* Not to be confused with the Bavarian princess of that name who was put to death for adultery.

** Another way to interpret this: poisoning suspicions that were afoot generally came to be ascribed specifically to de La Brosse.

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1205 or 1206: Jamukha, Genghis Khan’s brother and rival

2 comments April 4th, 2013 Headsman

It was in the spring of 1206 that the Mongol warlord Temujin was formally elevated by a council of nomadic chiefs to the title posterity knows him — “Genghis Khan”.

Sun Honglei as Jamukha in the 2007 Russian epic Mongol.

That makes this as good a time as any to mark the completely undated but deeply personal execution that Temujin inflicted on his childhood friend turned rival Jamukha in order to attain that position.

Jamukha was one of the last obstacles to consolidating Temujin’s own rule. His elimination cleared the way for the spring 1206 council adorning Temujin with the title Genghis Khan; this event also marks the traditional founding moment for the renowned Mongol Empire.

Temujin was by this time already past his 40th year, and he had spent that lifetime — for this much was already a plentiful allotment for a steppe warrior — maneuvering by conquest and diplomacy into leadership of Mongolia’s multifarious clans and confederations.

According to our only source for the execution, The Secret History of the Mongols,* Jamukha (or Jamuka, or Jamuga) was the young Temujin’s blood-brother; he had risked himself as a companion-at-arms with the teenage Temujin to recover the latter’s kidnapped bride from a neighboring tribe.

But Jamukha, too, was a young man on the make then, and it was not yet written that it was he who would be a foil in Temujin’s story instead of the other way around; indeed, it was Jamukha’s Jadaran clan that had rank and to whom Temujin’s family had once owed allegiance. Genghis Khan began his political life as a parvenu with questionable innovations like raising commoners to military command and sharing spoils outside of aristocratic circles. To judge from the results, history vindicated these decisions.

As both men rose to prominence in their own webs of family and alliance, it chanced that Jamukha headed the last bloc of nomadic Mongols opposing Temujin. They sparred, often savagely, for close to a decade before Temujin finally prevailed.

The Secret History records a spring 1205 campaign commencing against the Naiman and Merkids, tribes of Jamukha’s holdout coalition who eventually succumbed to Temujin’s arms over what reads like a period of months. This sent Jamukha fleeing into the wilderness with just a handful of followers.

At an unspecified point presumably either late in 1205 or early in 1206, those followers turned on Jamukha and handed him over to Temujin.

The Secret History says Temujin was maybe still a little sentimental about his old friend even after the bloodshed that had passed between him. For one thing, he immediately executed Jamukha’s betrayers.

But now that he had the humbled Jamukha in hand, defeated and no longer a threat, Temujin implored his rival to accept forgiveness and a place in that future greatest land empire in history.

Let us be companions. Now, we are joined together once again, we should remind each other of things we have forgotten. Wake each other from our sleep. Even when you went away and were apart from me, you were still my lucky, blessed sworn brother. Surely, in the days of killing and being killed, the pit of your stomach and your heart pained for me. Surely, in the days of saying and being slain, your breast and your heart pained for me.

Jamukha was, maybe, a little more realistic about things.

Now, when the world is ready for you, what use is there in my becoming a companion to you? On the contrary, sworn brother, in the black night I would haunt your dreams, in the bright day I would trouble your heart. I would be the louse in your collar, I would become the splinter in your door-panel.

Kill me and lay down my dead bones in the high ground. Then eternally and forever, I will protect the seed of your seed, and become a blessing for them.

And on that prophecy, too, you’d say that history vindicated the Mongols.

Temujin had his old friend and rival’s back broken — a noble death without any blood spilled — and gave him a decent burial. And then, perhaps with Jamukha watching over them as promised, Temujin and his heirs started conquering pretty much everything in sight.

* There are full text transcripts of the Secret History in various languages here.

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1300: Gerard Segarelli, Apostolic Brethren founder

2 comments July 18th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1300 saw the execution in Parma, Italy of Gerard Segarelli, the founder of the order of the Apostolic Brethren who are perhaps better known for Segarelli’s apocalyptic successor, Fra Dolcino.

Despite the tendency of his follower to eclipse his star, Segarelli was himself a formidable religious reformer in a time flowering with expressions of popular piety that regularly confounded the prelates.

Joined as Dolcino and Segarelli are in this fascinating period, Executed Today aptly welcomes back Dr. Jerry Pierce to talk Segarelli. He’s already shed some light on Dolcino in these pages.

Dr. Pierce is completing a forthcoming book on the Apostles.

You view Segarelli as a very different sort of character from Dolcino.

One of the big issues in studying Segarelli is that he’s always tied to Dolcino. I mean, Segarelli does die a heretic, but he’s always tied to the biggest heresy. He actually founds his order in 1260 and he’s not executed until 1300, so that’s 40 years.

Doctrinally, the reason Segarelli didn’t have any issues for so long is that as far as we can tell, he never had an anti-clerical agenda. Unlike Dolcino, he doesn’t go around calling the Church the “Whore of Babylon”.

Even at the end?

No. Basically, the reason he’s executed is that he refuses to renounce his movement, it’s not that he has any doctrinal errors or anything like that.

He’s basically like a Franciscan, just 50 years later. It’s this popular, penitential movement. They have tons of support throughout central Italy, support from the lay people who provide them with shelter and food. They’re basically doing the stuff that Francis and the early Franciscans did, wandering around exhibiting the ascetic lifestyle. And it’s okay for lay people to do this at this point. Everybody does this.

Why does everybody do this? This century has an explosion of penitential religious mass movements.

Personally, I think it has to do with economics — you have the growth of cities, growth of money economy. These are urban movements. Segarelli’s in Parma, the flagellants are in Parma and other cities.

It has to do with living in this world of growing wealth, growing towns, hearing this message of poverty preached from the pulpit and then they look around and say, “wait a minute.”

Different individuals come to this conclusion — Francis, Peter Waldo, Segarelli — I don’t think they had an idea about founding a movement. They were just trying to do something to preserve their souls.

And these other groups like the Franciscans also face an internal tension between the spirit of ascetic poverty and the institutional Church.

Even before Segarelli, the guy who’s the head of the Franciscans in one letter that he wrote said, “people wandering in Italy would rather run into robbers on the road than two begging Franciscans because at least they know the robbers’ intentions.”

A lot of authors say that Segarelli is an offshoot of the poor spiritual Franciscans. But he has no connection. He tried to join the Franciscan order, but the poor order founded by St. Francis says, “yeah, you don’t have the right pedigree to be a Franciscan,” which really goes to show how institutionalized and closed the Franciscans had already become.

Most of the stuff we have about Segarelli for his first 20 years or so is from a rival Franciscan named Salimbene who’s mad that he’s making such headway. He actually says that he can’t believe that his fellow citizens are giving more to Segarelli and his Apostles than they ever did to the Franciscans. And that colors how they talk about them: in his eyes, Segarelli is a rustic from the country.

Did Segarelli preach at all?

He goes around telling people to do penance, and the Franciscan chronicler makes fun of him because he doesn’t say the Latin version, he uses the vernacular: penitenziagite instead of the Latin penitentiam agite.

Most of it was by example. You don’t have access, really, to a Bible as a lay person; this was a way for people to sort of experience the religious life without becoming a nun or a monk.

So for these first decades of his career, if he’s attracting all this criticism, why is he still tolerated?

Because he’s not really a threat. It’s a good way to channel lay piety without it becoming a threat or anything.

Bear in mind, this is after the Waldensians, after the Crusade against the Albigensians — and both of those groups talked about poverty. This gives Church figures a pretty good idea that, hey, maybe we should be accepting of these movements.

The Bishop of Parma accepted Segarelli. There was apparently a group of Apostolic sisters who did the same thing, and the Bishop of Parma sort of wrote a document saying that you get a partial indulgence for giving to them.

Given this institutional semi-support, why wasn’t Segarelli’s movement also corrupted?

There are other leaders than Segarelli, and some do have this issue. One guy is the brother of the podesta of Bologna, a pretty wealthy dude. He takes over this movement and he’s basically using people’s donations to buy horses and ride around in nice clothes. There’s a huge civil war within the Apostles. At one point Segarelli himself gets kidnapped by rival members.

It’s not until the 1280s that they start really running into problems with respect to the Catholic hierarchy, and the problem is because of the general proliferation of the lay movements. Two different popes lay out guidelines saying unestablished religious orders need to join established orders or just disband. But then you see people in the Apostolic movement ignoring that, moving into actually preaching things, which is potentially heretical, and they start attacking the Franciscans, the Friars Minor, by referring to themselves as the Friars Minimi, “the least.” The Franciscans are pretty powerful and they start going against the Apostles.

But Segarelli himself stays clear of this?

Segarelli himself doesn’t really take a leadership role even though he’s the founder. He’s sort of hands-off.

You can argue that he has some issues because he won’t follow authority when they tell him to disband. But it was after the group had been around for so long, it’d be like telling the Franciscans 40 years on, “sorry.” Early in the movement, the Apostles had actually gone to different members of the hurch hierarhy asking for a rule under which they could operate. So they’re not trying to be insurrectionaries.

How does it all break down for the Apostles, then?

It’d be too easy to say that it’s just greedy Franciscans. I think the other part is you have people who are getting into the movement, people like Dolcino, who have other agenda. And the Church is worried that they’re unregulated and without control you get improper doctrine being preached.

When it comes to it, Segarelli just refuses to disband. The Apostles had really grown beyond his personal control anyway. But at one point he escapes from the bishop’s palace where he’s sort of under house arrest and resumes his preaching, and they’re like, “all right, enough.”

What do we know about Segarelli’s relationship with Dolcino?

We think that Dolcino may have joined the order around 1290, but it’s all hearsay. Dolcino talks some about Segarelli.

What’s Segarelli’s long-term legacy?

It’s not heresy to be associated with Segarelli after he’s executed. We have Inquisitional trial records for several years after Segarelli in places like Bologna and other areas. There’s even some evidence that there were followers in France and Germany.

As time goes on, there’s a lot of people in Italy itself like Dolcino who appropriate the movement, so you have modern writers who talk about Segarelli and Dolcino as proto-Communists, or Segarelli as the real Franciscans. Some of them have an axe to grind against the institutional Church.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Activists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,God,Heresy,History,Interviews,Italy,Martyrs,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1244: Two hundred-plus Cathars at Montsegur

1 comment March 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1244, over two hundred Cathar heretics submitted themselves to the stake rather than submit to the Catholic church.

Though not literally the last of the Cathars, that outlawed dualistic sect in the south of France whose extirpation occupied the papacy for much of the 13th century, this date was the last great stand and the signature massacre of the Albigensian Crusade. Afterwards, only minor outposts and isolated individuals would remain available for mop-up duty.

Heretical holdouts, fleeing a malevolent Inquisition established in the Languedoc by victorious Catholic armies, holed up at a few Cathar strongholds of which the most impressive was the mountain citadel of Montsegur.


The spectacular attraction of Montsegur tourists see today is not the legendary Cathar castle — which was razed by its conquerors — but a subsequent rebuild. (cc) image from SarahLouiseHathaway

Finally in 1243-1244, a massive Catholic army invested Montsegur; one can’t help but compare this hopeless confederation of fearless zealouts ranged against the mighty temporal powers to the Jews at Masada — and as with Masada, it were death to succumb to the besiegers.

When Montsegur finally surrendered, two hundred-some — the reported counts differ slightly — were burned at the stake for refusing to renounce their faith; many of them had actually taken sacred vows in the days before Montsegur fell.

They were Nazis, Dude?

The National Socialists’ weird quest to outrace Indiana Jones for mystical artifacts also brought the swastika to Montsegur, under the direction of the occult medievalist Otto Rahn.

Rahn thought the Holy Grail may have been secreted at Montsegur under Cathar protection, a half-literal, half-metaphorical secret goblet carrying the heretics’ forbidden gnostic wisdom from the day of Mani.

(Other Nazis, allegedly including Heinrich Himmler himself, favored the similar-sounding Spanish fortress of Montserrat. Dan Brown prefers the Knights Templar, who could have laid their gauntlets on the cup of Christ when a few Cathars allegedly slipped through Montsegur’s encirclement carrying some unidentified mysterious secret.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Heresy,History,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,The Supernatural

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1256: Marie of Brabant, on suspicion of infidelity

Add comment January 18th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1256, Louis II, Duke of Bavaria, had his wife Marie of Brabant beheaded at Donauworth for adultery.

Louis II depicted with the first two of his three wives: Marie, and the more fortunate Anna of Glogau.

This 26-year-old uncle of the doomed Conradin was kept away from his spouse for many months on state affairs.

At some point, he returned furiously convinced of his wife’s infidelity.

One representative version of the legend has it that

[Lewis] held his Court in Heidelberg, and by him stood ever his dearest friend, Henry, Count of Leiningen, and to him one day the anxious wife sent a letter, beseeching he would use his influence to quicken her husband’s return. Another missive was dispatched at the same time to Duke Lewis … The old mistake was made, Duke Lewis received the letter destined for his friend, wherein the artless Duchess had assured Henry of Leiningen that, if he accompanied her lord in his return, her pleasure in welcoming him would be great.

Etcetera.

That Marie really did exist and really was beheaded on her husband’s authority for adultery appears to be about the extent of the certain information available to us.

This poignant scenario became embroidered into popular legend (and is supposed to have inspired the tale of one of the classic medieval faithful-accused-wife tales: that of Genevieve of Brabant).

The accusation evidently appeared quite doubtful in real life, since her husband and executioner Louis subsequently founded the Cistercian Furstenfeld Abbey in penitence.

She is not to be confused with Marie de Brabant, Queen of France later in the 13th century and a suspect in the poisoning death of the French heir … an affair that cost chamberlain Pierre de la Brosse his life. The words Dante wrote of that later Marie of Brabant would have suited our day’s heroine, too.

may the Lady of Brabant
while she’s still in this world, watch
her ways—or end among a sadder flock

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Myths,Nobility,Scandal,Sex,Women,Wrongful Executions

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Unspecified Year: The Robbers of Nordenshaw

1 comment December 24th, 2010 Headsman

This Yule, we present an ancient Danish ballad which “is probably too true a picture of the lawless conduct of men of the highest rank, and of a state of things not confined at that period to the islands of Denmark.”

The Robbers at Nordenshaw

The Robbers lurking at Nordenshaw*
From out the green-wood creep,
And march by night to the farmer’s house,
Their Yule with him to keep.**

They’ve march’d away to the farmer’s house
With each in hand a spear;
“Come, cousin, see, we are kith and kin,
“Tap us thy Christmas beer.

“And, farmer, lodge us all tonight,
“And well with liquor ply,
“And with us leave thy pretty wife,
“Or, farmer, thou shalt die.”

“I’ll freely pour my mead and ale,
“And well I’ll serve you too;
“But, Sirs, by all that’s good above,
“No outrage on us do.

“Now if upon my house ye seize,
“And lord it at your will,
“And if ye put my wife to shame,
“That were outrageous ill.”

Some on the table threw their swords,
Some cloaks of fur so fine,
Some bade the honest farmer’s wife
Bring in the beer and wine.

A cloth of woven silk she took,
And over the table spread;
And there her ale and wine they drank,
And ate her meat and bread.

A cautious wife was Oaselille,
And used her words with care;
She rose and told the robber guests
She would their beds prepare.

No thought had she, good Oaselille,
With them to share her bed;
But left them feasting, and for help
Through the dark forest sped.

With hurried step through bush and field
Ran on the lusty dame,
And after four long weary miles
To Drost Sir Peter’s† came.

She reach’d Sir Peter’s courtyard gate,
Drew on her mantle blue,
And boldly up to the upper room,
Sir Peter’s chamber, flew.

“Wake up, Drost Peter Hoseale, wake,
“No moment longer sleep;
“The thieves, that lurk’d at Nordenshaw,
“With us their Christmas keep.

“What! still, Sir Peter, slumbering on
“Nor yet but half awake?
“Those robbers twelve are at the Grange,
“All twelve are now to take.”

Then rose the Drost and call’d his men,
And bade them all to arm;
“Wake up, my men, there’s come tonight
“Good news from yonder farm.

“Wake up, no moment more delay,
“And d’on your trusty mail;
“For Nilus Ufridson is there,
And not the man to quail.”

“Where,” ask’d those sturdy robbers twelve,
They’d drunk of ale so deep,
“Where’s now the farmer’s pretty wife?
“We’ll have her here to sleep.”

“Chide not, good Sirs, a short delay”
The grey-coat farmer said;
“She is even now to the chamber gone
“To make her guests their bed.”

The farmer out of his window look’d,
And saw the Drost’s array;
“There stop here thirty men at arms,
“Are dress’d like cushats gray.”

Then answer’d Nilus Ufridson,
“Of such I’m not afraid,
“If but my comrades stand as firm,
“And faithful prove my blade.”

“No,” answer’d Lave Rimordson,
“And scann’d the troop afield,
“For such men care we not a bean,
“To them we’ll never yield.”

They beat the door with sword and spear
And rais’d a fearful shout;
“Up up, Sir Nilus Ufridson!
“Thy gang and thou come out.”

“Seven tons of gold I’ll give thee, Drost,
“And silver other five,
“To let us hence in peace depart
“My men and me alive.”

“Thy silver, Nilus, heed I not,
“As little heed thy gold;
“Through thee weeps many an orphan child
“For friends beneath the mould.”

Hard fought Sir Nilus Ufridson,
And well he kept his ground,
And heavy were from bar and beam
The blows he dealt around.

Nor less did Lave Rimordson,
But fought with might and main
Till at the hilt by dint of blows
He broke his sword in twain.

He dash’d the hilt against a stone,
The blade stuck in the mould;
“And now, my only chance of life,
“I’ll try good words and gold.

“Drost Peter Hoseale, spare my life,
“And do me no disgrace;
“I’m near of kin to the Danish Queen
“And of an Emperor’s race.”

“If near of kin to the Queen thou art,
“And all so nobly born,
“Why to the Farmer’s didst thou go,
“And treat his rights with scorn?”

So seized Sir Peter all the twelve,
And townward march’d them off;
And set them side by side on poles,
The people’s jest and scoff.

And there they lie on rack and wheel
To bear the heat and cold;
But to the King the Drost has brought
Twelve heavy chests of gold.

* Located on the Danish island of Fyen, Fyn, or Funen.

** The Danish Jul runs all through December up to Christmas Eve, Dec. 24; that date, Christmas Eve, is the big Yule celebration in Denmark.

† I situate this execution in the 13th century based on Drost Peter’s appearance in this historical romance of Danish King Erik VI Menved‘s youth.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Fictional,Gruesome Methods,Mass Executions,Nobility,Outlaws,Pelf,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Theft,Uncertain Dates

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