1682: Four at a Lisbon auto de fe

Add comment May 10th, 2020 Michael Geddes

(Thanks to Scottish Church of England clergyman Michael Geddes for the guest post. Geddes had occasion to witness the May 10, 1682 auto de fe in Lisbon on account of serving as the chaplain to the factory there, and left this account of it in volume I of his 1709 page-turner, Miscellaneous Tracts. Geddes’s detailed account of the Inquisition’s operation in chapter V forms the bulk of our text here, and it’s no surprise from what he writes that the Inquisition’s protests forced him out of Portugal a few years afterward. In Chapter VI, he provides brief vignettes enumerating the offenses of the dozens of subjects of our May 10 auto, from which we have highlighted only the executions — all four of them “New Christians” condemned for continuing to practice Judaism. -ed.)

A View of the Court of Inquisition in Portugal:

With a List of the Prisoners that came forth in an Act of the Faith celebrated at Lisbon, in the Year 1682.

The Court of Inquisition, which in Portugal is commonly called, The Holy Office, and The Holy House, consists of an Inquisitor General, the Supreme Council, Inquisitors, Assessors, Qualificators, a Secretary, an Advocate Fiscal, a Treasurer, Familiars, and Goalers.

The Inquisitor General, who is commonly called the Inquisidor Mor, is named by the King, but confirmed and authorized by the Pope, to act as his Delegate. He lives constantly at Lisbon, in an House in the Inquisition, which belongs to his Office. It is a Place of so great Dignity and Profit, that the Cardinal Infante Don Henry, and Albert Cardinal, Archduke of Austria, were in it, and Don Verissimo Alencastro left the Primacy of Braga for it.

The Counsellors of the Supreme Court are al named by the Inquisitor Major, but must before they act have the King’s approbation. The Council sits constantly twice at Lisbon.

The Inquisitors, who are commonly Secular Priests, do belong either to the Supreme Court which is fixed at Lisbon, or to the Inquisitions of Conimbra, Ebora, or Goa in the East Indies, which Courts have all the same inferiour Officers, and Stiles, and have all their Acts of the Faith.

The Assessors are Divines, Civilians, and Canonists, which are consulted by the Inquisitors in all difficult Cases.

The Qualificators are employed in correcting and amending of Books, and are commonly Dominican Fryars.

It [is] to be hoped, the Heresy of Doctrines is better understood by these Qualificators, than the Etymology of the word Heretick was by the Writer of their Repertorium, printed at Venice in the Year 1588, who to shew his Critical Learnings, faith, the word Hereticus, according to some, is compounded of Erro, and Recto; because an Heretick errs from what is right. According to others it is derived from Eristor, which signifies to divide; and according to some it comes from Adhereo, because it is one’s adhering obstinately to an Error, that makes him an Heretick. And with the same stocks of Learning it was, that another Inquisitor proved from St. Paul’s Words, Hereticum devita, that Christians were commanded to deprive Hereticks of their Lives.

The Secretary writes down whatever is said judicially in the Inquisition.

The Advocate Fiscal prosecutes the Prisoner with his utmost skill and diligence to convict him of Heresy.

The Treasurer has the Estate and all the Goods of the Prisoner put into his hands, when the Prisoner is apprehended.

The Familiars are the Bayliffs of the Inquisition; which tho it is a vile Office in all other Criminal Courts, is esteemed so honourable in this of the Inquisition, that there is not a Nobleman in the Kingdom that is not in it, and such are commonly employ’d by the Inquisitors to apprehend People; Neither is it any wonder, that Persons of the highest Quality do desire to be thus employ’d, since the same plenary Indulgence is by the Pope granted to every single Exercise of this Office, as was granted by the Lateran Council to those that succoured the Holy Land.

The Goalers are directed by the Inquisitors, how to dispose of, and how to treat their Prisoners, and are straitly charged not to give, nor to suffer them to have any manner of Intelligence.

The Inquisitors, and all their Officers do take an Oath, not to discover any thing that is said or done within the Walls of the Inquisition to any Person whatsoever, neither is there any thing more severely punished by this Court, than the Violation of that Oath.

And whereas the Pope’s having thus appointed Inquisitors to be the Judges of Heresie, was a great Incroachment on the Episcopal Jurisdiction, which the Papal eyes since it pretended to be Monarchical, has sought by a thousand ways to lessen; the Popes, to make this Encroachment go down the easier, allowed two Privileges to the Bishops; the one was, that the Inquisitors should not have Authority to Imprison a Bishop: And the other was, that before they condemned any Person as a Heretick, they should send to the Bishop of the Place, to concur with them in that Sentence; which two Constitutions, though they are still in force, are of little benefit to the Bishops; who tho they may not be imprisoned upon suspicion of Heresy by the Inquisitors, may be confined to their Houses by them, until they have inform’d the Pope, as the Archbishop of Toledo was in the Reign of Philip II. And if the Bishop, when he is acquainted with the Process of the Prisoner, should refuse to agree to his being condemned, the Inquisitors may pass Sentence notwithstanding; for in this, as in all other Cases, the Divine Authority of Bishops, when it happens to clash as they term it, with the Papal, must still give way to it.

The Court of Inquisition proceeds summarily, and most commonly upon a Denuntiation, as they term it, which does not, like an Accusation, disable the Person that makes it to be a Witness. The Inquisition forceth all to inform that can do it, by Edicts in the Form following.

To all, and singular Christians, as well Ecclesiasticks as Laicks of both Sexes, of whatsoever Degree, Order, Condition, Preeminence, Dignity, or Authority, the highest not excerpted. Know ye, That we by the Series and Tenor of these Presents, and by our Authority, and by that of the Office we execute here, do Charge and Command, That within twelve Days after the Publication hereof, (the first four of which are to be as the first, and the next four as the second and the last four as a peremptory and third Canonical Admonition) all that do know or suspect any of Heresy, do come and inform against them, upon Pain of the greater Excommunication latae Sententiae, which shall be ipso facto incurred, and from which they cannot be absolved by any, but by our Lord the Pope, or by us. And we do further Certify, That whosoever, despising the Penalty of this Excommunication, shall forbear to inform us, shall moreover be proceeded against as a Favourer of Hereticks.

If the Informer, when he comes in, names any Witnesses besides himself, they are sent for privately, and before they are examined, do take an Oath, not to discover to any Person their having been with the Inquisitors, nor to speak of any thing they said, saw, or heard within that Court.

All People, tho never so infamous, and tho they stand convicted of Perjury, are in favour of the Faith, and in detestation of Hereticks, admitted by the Inquisition to be Witnesses, Mortal Enemies only excepted.

This Exception is of little Benefit to the Prisoner, by reason of his not knowing who they are that have informed and witnessed against him.

The Depositions of the Informer, and Witnesses, if there be any, being thus privately taken, a Familiar is sent for, and being come, he has the following Order put into his Hand.

By the Command of the Reverend Father N. an Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity, let N. be apprehended and committed to the Prisons of this Holy Office, and not be released out of them but by the express Order of the said Reverend Inquisitor.

If several Persons are to be taken up at the same time, the Familiars are commanded so to order things, that they may know nothing of one another’s being apprehended; and at this the Familiars are so expert, that a Father and his three Sons, and three Daughters, who lived together in the same House, were all carried Prisoners to the Inquisition, without knowing any thing of one another’s being there, until seven Years afterwards, when they that were alive, came forth in an Act of the Faith.

The Prisoner being apprehended and carried with all possible Secrecy to the Inquisition, is delivered to the Goaler.

The Prisons of the Inquisition are little dark Rooms, and have no other Furniture but a hard Quilt, and an useful Pot. The Prisoners are not suffered to see any Body but their Keeper, who brings them their Diet, and with it a lighted Lamp, which burns about half an Hour; neither must their Keeper, without Leave from the Inquisitors, entertain any Discourse with them.

After the Prisoner has spent two or three Days and Nights, perhaps Weeks or Months, in his melancholy Apartment, he is carried by his Keeper before the Inquisitors; who, before they ask him a Question, do make him take an Oath to return true Answers to all their Interrogatories; and if he has ever been guilty of any Heresy to confess it to them.

The first Question the Prisoner is asked, is, Whether he knows why he was taken up by the Inquisition? And if he answers, That he does not know; he is then asked, Whether he knows for what Crimes the Inquisition useth to imprison People? If he answers, For Heresy; he is admonished, upon the Oath he has taken, to confess all his Heresies, and to discover all his Teachers and Complices. If the Prisoner denies that he ever held any Heresies, or had ever Communication with any Hereticks, he is gravely told, That the Holy Office does not use to imprison People rashly, or without having good Grounds for what they do, and that therefore he would do well to confess his Guilt; and that the rather, because the Holy Office, contrary to the Custom of all other Courts, is severe to those that deny, but merciful to all that confess their Guilt.

If the Prisoner persists in denying that he ever held any Heresies, his Goaler is called in, and commanded to carry him back to the Place from whence he came, and the Prisoner is admonished strictly to examine his own Conscience, that the next time they send for him, he may be prepared to make a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, Teachers, and Complices. The Prisoner having been allowed two or three Days, perhaps Weeks or Months, more to do this in, is brought before the Inquisitors a second time, and is asked, Whether he comes prepared to confess? And if he answers, That he cannot without accusing himself or others falsly, make any such Confession as they desire of him; they do then ask him, Where he was born, and what his Parents were, and where he went to School, and who were his School-masters, and where he has lived all his time, and with whom he has conversed most, and who has been his Confessor, and when he was last at Confession, and at the Sacrament? with twenty more such Questions: And being told, That they have sufficient Proof of his being an Heretick; they command him, since he cannot repent of his Heresies, unless he confesseth them all, to go back to his Prison, and there pray to God for Grace to dispose him to make a true and full Confession to the saving of his Soul, which is all they seek after. And being again allowed a considerable time to pray, and consider on what the Inquisitors have said to him, he is brought before them a third time; and in case he persists in pleading, Not guilty, he is then asked some Questions concerning divers Heretical Doctrines, but without acquainting him with the Particulars he is charged withal, for fear of leading him thereby to the Knowledge of the Informers or Witnesses: For Example, Whether he believes Christ to be bodily present in the Sacrament, and that it is lawful to adore Images, and to pray to Saints and Angels? And if he affirms, That he did always firmly believe these, and all the other Doctrines of the Roman Church; he is asked, If he always believed these Doctrines, how he came to speak against them? and if he denies that he ever did, he is then told, That since he is so obstinate in his Heresies, of which they have a sufficient Proof before them, they will order their Advocate Fiscal to form his Process, and to convict him of them. But in case the Inquisitors have not sufficient Evidence, notwithstanding that, to draw a Confession from the Prisoner, they have told him oftner than once, That they had, they do then fall a Note lower, and tell the Prisoner, That though they may not have sufficient Proof of his Heretical Words and Actions to convict him of them, that yet they have sufficient to put him on the Rack to make him confess them. And having fixed the Day when he is to undergo the Tortures, when that dismal Day comes, if he does not prevent it by such a Confession as is expected from him, he is led to the Place where the Rack is, attended by an Inquisitor, and a Publick Notary, who is to write down the Answers the Prisoner returns to the Questions which shall be put to him by the Inquisitor, whilst he is upon the Rack. During the time the Executioner is preparing that Engine of unspeakable Cruelty, and is taking off the Prisoner’s Clothes to his Shirt and Drawers the Inquisitor is still exhorting the Prisoner to have Compassion both on his Body and Soul, and by making a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, to prevent his being tortured. But if the Prisoner saith, That he will suffer any thing rather than accuse himself or others falsly, the Inquisitor commands the Executioner to do his Duty, and to begin the Torture; which in the Inquisition is given by twisting a small Cord hard about the Prisoners naked Arms, brought behind his Back, and hoisting him up from the Ground by an Engine to which the Cord is fastned: And as if the miserable Prisoner’s hanging in the Air by his Arms, were not torment enough, he has several Quassations or shakes given him; which is done by screwing his body up higher, and letting it down again with a jerk, which disjoints his arms, and after that the torture is much more exquisite than it was before.

When the prisoner is first hoisted from the Ground, an Hour-glass is turned up, and, which, (if he does not prevent it by making such a Confession of his Heresies as the Inquisitor that is present all the while, and is continually asking him Questions, expects from him,) must run out before he is taken down; To promise to make such a confession, if they will take him off the Rack, not being sufficient to procure him that Mercy, no more than his crying out that he shall expire immediately if they do not give him some Ease; that, as the Inquisitors tell us, being no more than all that are upon their Rack do think they are ready to do.

If the Prisoner endures the Rack without confessing any thing, which few, or none, though never so innocent, are able to so do; so soon as the Hour-glass is out, he is taken down, and carried back to his Prison, where there is a Surgeon ready to put his Bones in joint. And though in all other Courts, the Prisoners having endured the Rack without Confessing the Crimes for which they were tortured, clears ’em and makes void all the Evidence that was against them, yet in the Inquisition, where whatsoever Humanity and right Reason have established in favour of the Prisoner, is left to the Discretion of the Judge, it is commonly otherwise; the Prisoners that will not confess any thing, being usually racked twice; and if they stand it out, tho few of them can do that, thrice.

But if the Prisoner makes the Confession the Inquisitor expects he should on the Rack, it is writ down word for word by the Notary, and is, after the Prisoner has had a day or two’s Rest, carry’d to the Prisoner, to set his hand to it, which if the Prisoner does, it puts an end to his Process, the want of sufficient Evidence to have convicted him, being abundantly supply’d by this extorted Confession, being thus signed by him. But in case the Prisoner, when it is brought to him, refuseth to sign it, affirming it to be false, and to have been extorted from him by the Extremity of the Torture, he is then carried to the Rack a second time to oblige him to repeat and sign the same Confession.

It is a very hard matter for any one that is a Prisoner in the Inquisition for Heresy, to escape the Rack, since neither the professing and maintaining the Doctrines to be true wherewith he is charged, nor the denying of them, can secure him from it, the first being commonly Racked, to make them discover their Teachers and Accomplices; and the second, to oblige them to confess their own Guilt. And if a Prisoner does confess his having spoke some Heretical Words, but to save his Estate, stands in his having spoke them rashly, and in a Passion, without an Heretical Mind, he is racked to make him discover whether it was so or not, or whether his Thoughts were not the same with his Words. If a Prisoner either makes no Confession at all, or does not confess the particular Heretical Words or Facts wherewith he stands charged, and with which the Inquisitors will never acquaint him; he is asked whether he has any thing besides his Denial to offer in his own Defence, and if he has to make use of it: For now the Advocate Fiscal, upon their having Evidence enough against him, is ordered to form his Process. Here, if the Prisoner alledgeth, that unless they will be pleased to let him know the particular Heretical Words, or Facts, he stands charged withal, and who the Persons are that have informed and witnessed against him, it will not be possible for him to make any Defence; he is told, that cannot be done, because, to let him know the particular Heretical Words or Facts, might lead him to the Knowledge of the Informers and Witnesses; who by the fundamental Law of the Inquisition, must never either directly or indirectly be discovered to him.

Now for this singular and inhuman Custom of not letting their Prisoners know the particular Facts they stand charged withal, nor who they are that have informed and witnessed against them, the Inquisitors have nothing to say, but that it is necessary to the Security of the Lives of the Accusers and Witnesses, who if they were known, would be in so great danger; that none would dare to venture to inform or bear Witness against Hereticks in their Court. Which Pretence, tho it might have some Ground when Courts of Inquisition where first erected, no Cty, no not Rome itself, having submitted quietly to them when they were first introduced; it is now notorious to all the World, and to none more than to the Inquisitors themselves, that it is altogether groundless, and especially in Spain and Portugal, where the Inquisition is not only established by Law, but by a wonderful Fascination, is so fixed in the Hearts and Affections of the People, that one that should offer the least Affront to another, for having been an Informer or Witness in the Inquisition, would be torn in a thousand Pieces: And did the Prisoners that have been in the Inquisition but know certainly, who the Persons were, that had informed and witnessed against them, they durst not for their ives speak one word against them, or shew them the less Respect on that account.

Now for a Court to continue a Custom so singularly unjust and cruel, and upon a Pretence all the World knows to be altogether groundless, is a Confidence not to be matched any where, that I know of.

The Prisoner being thus deny’d the knowledge of the Things and Persons, without which it is scarce possible for him, tho never so innocent, to make any Defence, he is notwithstanding that, graciously asked by the Inquisitors whether he desires to have an Advocate and Proctor to help him to make it. If the Prisoner saith he would, he is not to name them, but must take those the Inquisitors shall appoint, who before they have seen their Client, must take the following Oath.

J.N. Doctor of both Laws, do in the Presence of the Lord’s Inquisitors of this Place against Heretical Pravity, having my Hand on the Holy Gospel of God, promise and swear sncerely and faithfully to defend and maintain the Cause of N. a Prisoner in the Prisons of this holy Office, who stands accused and impeached for Causes mentioned in its Acts; but so, as not to use any Trick or Cavil, or to instruct my said Client how to conceal the Truth in Judgment. And I do farther promise and swear, That if I shall by any way discover my said Client to be guilty of the Crime or Crimes wherewith he stands charged, I will thereupon immediately dismiss his Cause. And if by having searched narrowly into his Case, I shall discover that he has had Complices in his Heresies, I will give Information against them to this holy Office: All which I do promise upon Pain of Perjury, and of an Excommunication, from which I cannot be absolved by any but by this holy Office. So help me God, and these holy Gospels.

The same Oath is taken by the Prisoner’s Proctor, as the Inquisitors call him, tho in Truth, both he and the Advocate are the Inquisitors Engines, made use of to fish what they can out of the Prisoner against himself and his Friends, rather than any thing else.

The Prisoner being thus fitted with an Advocate and Proctor, who are not suffered to know any thing more of his Accusers, and of the Witnesses against him, than he himself knows; he is asked by them whether he would have any Questions put by the Inquisitors to those that have informed and witnessed against him, or would have them examined upon any Points: And in case the Prisoner furnisheth his Advocate with any such Questions or Points, they are put by him into Form, and delivered to the Inquisitors.

The Prisoner is asked also whether he has any Witnesses of his Orthodoxy; and if he names any, they are sent for, and heard by the Inquisitors. And as these Witnesses do go to the Inquisition with trembling Hearts, so they are extremely cautious, not to say any thing concerning the Prisoner, that shall imply their having lived in any intimacy with him, for fear of bringing themselves under a Suspicion of Heresy. And by the Laws of the Inquisition, no Relation of the Prisoners within the fourth Degree can be a Witness for him. When the Prisoners Advocate and Proctor are dismissed, they take an Oath that they have no Copy of the Defence the Prisoner made for himself, and that they will never speak of it to any Person whatever, neither is the Prisoner ever suffered to see the Depositions of his own fearful Witnesses, no more than the Depositions of those that are against him.

Beside the fore mentioned, there is another common Process in the Inquisition, which is against those that have murder’d themselves, or died a natural Death in their Prisons. The Process against the first is short; A Prisoner’s having murdered himself being judged such an Evidence of his Guilt, as is sufficient to convict him of the Heresies wherewith he was charged. The Process against the second is carry’d on by the Advocate Fiscal in the same manner as it would have been, had the Prisoner been alive, and the Prisoner’s Relations and Friends, or any other that have any thing to offer in Defence of the Deceased, are by a publick Edict summon’d to appear before the Inquisitors within forty Days, to give their Evidence; and if upon this Summons none do appear to offer any thing in Vindication of the Deceased, as I believe few are ever so hardy as to do that, the Deceased, after the Expiration of that Term of Days, is acquitted, or condemned, in the same manner that he would have been had he been alive. And if he is condemned, his whole Estate is forfeited, and his Body and Effigies are burnt at the next Act of the Faith, as are the Bodies and Effigies of those that have murdered themselves.

But the Power of the Inquisition extends not only to those that died in its Prisons, but to the Bodies, Estates and good Names of all, that, after their Decease, shall be convicted of having died Hereticks. And tho as to the Estates of those that are convicted of having dy’d Hereticks, they can go no farther than forty Years, as to the taking of their Bones out of their Graves and burning them, and the depriving them of their good Name, there is no Limitation of Time.

When a competent number of Prisoners are convicted of Heresy, either by their own voluntary, or extorted Confession, or upon the Evidence of certain Witnesses, a Day is fix’d by the chief Inquisitor for a Jayl-delivery, which is called by them, an Act of the Faith, and which is always upon a Sunday. In the Morning of the Day the Prisoners are all brought into a great Hall, where they have the Habits put on they are to wear in the Procession, which begins to come out of the Inquisition about 9 of the Clock in the Morning.

The first in the Procession are the Dominican Fryars, who carry the Standard of the Inquisition, which on the one side hath their Founder, Dominic’s Picture, and on the other side the Cross, betwixt an Olive Tree and a Sword, with this Motto, Justicia & Misericordia: Next after the Dominicans come the Penitents, some with Benitoes, and some without, according to the nature of their Crimes. They are all in black Coats without Sleeves, and barefooted, with a Wax Candle in their hands. Next come the Penitents who have narrowly escap’d being Burnt, who over their black Coat have Flames painted, with their Points turned downward, to signify their having been saved, but so as by Fire. This Habit is call’d by the Portugueze, Feugo [sic] revolto, or Flames turned up side down. Next come the Negative or Relapsed that are to be Burnt, with Flames upon their Habit, pointing upwards, and next come those who profess Doctrines contrary to the Faith of the Roman Church, and who besides Flames on their Habit pointing upward, have their Picture, which is drawn two or three days before upon their Breasts, with Dogs, Serpents, and Devils, all with open Mouths painted about it.

Pegna, a Famous Spanish Inquisitor, calls this Procession, Horrendum ac tremendium Spetaculum, and so it is in truth, there being something in the Looks of all the Prisoners, besides those that are to be Burnt, that is ghastly and disconsolate, beyond what can be imagined; and in the Eyes and Countenance of those that are to be Burnt, there is something that looks fierce and eager.

The Prisoners that are to be Burnt alive, besides a Familiar, which ll the rest have, have a Jesuit on each hand of them, who are continually preaching to them, to abjure their Heresies; but if they offer to speak any thing in defence of the Doctrines they are going to suffer Death for professing, they are immediately gagg’d, and not suffer’d to speak a Word more.

This I saw done to a Prisoner, presently after he came out of the Gates of the Inquisition, upon his having look’d up to the Sun, which he had not seen before in several Years, and cry’d out in a Rapture; How is it possible for People that behold that glorious Body, to worship any Being but him that created it? After the Prisoners comes a Troop of Familiars on Horseback, and after them the Inquisitors, and other Officers of the Court upon Mules; and last of all comes the Inquisitor General upon a White Horse, led by 2 Men, with a black Hat, and a green Hatband, and attended by all the Nobles, that are not employ’d as Familiars in the Procession.

In the Terreiro de Paco (which may be as far from the Inquisition as White-hall is from Temple-bar) there is a Scaffold erected, which may hold two or three thousand People; at the one end sit the Inquisitors, and at the other end the Prisoners, and in the same order as they walked in the Procession, those that are to be burnt, being seated on the highest Benches behind the rest, which may be ten Foot above the Floor of the Scaffold.

After some Prayers, and a Sermon, which is made up of Encomiums of the Inquisition, and Invectives against Hereticks, a Secular Priest ascends a Desk, which stands near the middle of the Scaffold, who having first taken all the Abjurations of the Penitents who kneel before him, one by one in the same Order they walked in the Procession, at last recites the final Sentence of the Inquisition upon those that are to be put to Death, in the Words following:

We, the Inquisitors of Heretical Pravity, having, with the Concurrence of the most Illustrations N. Lord Archbishop of Lisbon, or of his Deputy, N. called on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his Glorious Mother, the Virgin Mary, and sitting on our Tribunal, and Judging, with the Holy Gospels lying before us, that in our Judgment may be, is the sight of God, and our Eyes may behold what is just in all Matters betwixt the Magnifick Doctor N. Advocate Fiscal on the one part, and you, N. now before us on the other, we have Ordained, that is this place, and on this day you should receive your definitive Sentence;

We do therefore by this our Sentence put in Writing, define, pronounce, declare, and sentence thee, N. of the City of Lisbon, to be a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative, and Professed Heretick, and so be deliver’d, and left by us as such, to the Secular Arm: and we by this our Sentence, do cast thee out of the Ecclesiastical Court, as a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative and Professed Heretick, and we do leave and deliver thee to the Secular Arm, and to the Power of the Secular Court; but at the same time do most earnestly beseech that Court so to moderate its Sentence, as not to touch thy Blood, or to put thy Life in any danger.

Is there in all History, an Instance of so gross and confident a Mockery of God, and the World, as this of the Inquisitors earnestly beseeching the Civil Magistrates not to put the Hereticks they have condemned, and delivered to them, to death? For were they in earnest when they make this Solemn Petition to the Secular Magistrates, why do they bring their Prisoners out of the Inquisition, and deliver them to those Magistrates, in Coats painted over with Flames? why do they teach, that Hereticks, above all other Malefactors, ought to be punished with Death? And why do they never resent the Secular Magistrates having so little regard to their earnest and joynt Petition, as never to fail to Burn all the Hereticks which are delivered to ’em by the Inquisition, within an Hour or two after they have them in their hands? And why in Rome, where the Supreme, Civil, and Ecclesiastical Authority are lodged in the same Person, is this Petition of the Inquisition, which is made there as well as in other places, never granted? Certainly, not to take any notice of the old Canon, which forbids the Clergy to have any hand in the Blood of any Person whatsoever, would be a much less Dishonour to the Inquisition, than to pretend to go on, observing that Canon, by making a Petition which is known to be so contrary to their Principles and Desires.

The Prisoners are no sooner in the hands of the Civil Magistrate, than they are loaded with Chains, before the Eyes of the Inquisitors, and being carried first to the Secular Goal, are within an Hour or two brought from thence before the Lord Chief Justice, who, without knowing any thing of their particular Crimes, or of the Evidence that was against them, asks ’em one by one, In what Religion they do intend to die? If they answer, that they will die in the Communion of the Roman Church, they are condemned by him, To be carried forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes. But if they say, They will die in the Protestant, or in any other Faith that is contrary to the Roman, they are then sentenced by him, To be carry’d forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be burnt alive.

At the place of Execution, which at Lisbon is the Ribera, there are so many Stakes set up as there are Prisoners to be burnt, with a good quantity of dry Furz about them. The Stakes of the Profess’d, as the Inquisitors call them, may be about four Yards high, and have a small Board [whereupon] the Prisoner is to be seated, within half a Yard of their top. The Negative and Relapsed being first strangled and burnt, the Profess’d go up a Ladder betwixt the two Jesuits which have attended them all Day; and when they are come even with the forementioned Board, they turn about to the People, and the Jesuits spend near a Quarters of an Hour, exhorting the Profess’d to be reconciled to the church of Rome; which if they refuse to be, the Jesuits come down, and the Executioner ascends, who, having turned the Profess’d off the Ladder upon the Seat, and chained their Bodies close to the Stakes, he leaves them, and the Jesuits go up to them a second time, to renew their Exhortation to them, and at parting tell them, That they leave them to the Devil, who is standing at their Elbow to receive their Souls and carry them with him into the Flames of Hell-Fire, so soon as they are out of their Bodies. Upon this a great Shout is raised, and as soon as the Jesuits are off the Ladders, the cry is, Let the Dog’s Beards, Let the Dog’s Beards be made; which is done by thrusting flaming Furzes fastened to a long Pole against their Faces. And this Inhumanity is commonly continued until their Faces are burnt to a Coal, and is always accompanied with such loud Acclamations of Joy as are not to be heard upon any other occasion; a Bull-Feast, or a Farce being dull Entertainments to the using of a profess’d Heretick thus inhumanely.

The Professt’s Beards having been thus made, or trim’d, as they call it in jollity, Fire is set to the Furz which are at the bottom of the Stake, and above which the Professt are chained so high, that the top of the Flame seldom reacheth higher than the Seat they sit upon; and if there happen to be a Wind (to which that Place is much exposed) it seldom reacheth so high as their Knees: So that though if there be a Calm, the Professt are commonly dead in about half an hour after the Furz is set on fire; yet if the Weather prove windy, they are not after that dead in an hour and a half, or 2 Hours, and so are really roasted, and not burnt to Death. But tho out of Hell there cannot possibly be a more lamentable Spectacle than this, being joined with the Sufferers (so long as they are able to speak) crying out, Misericordia por amor de Dios, Mercy for the love of God; yet it is beheld by People of both Sexes, and of all Ages, with such Transports of Joy and Satisfaction, as are not on any other occasion to be met with.

And that the Reader may not think that this inhumane Joy may be the Effect of a natural Cruelty that is in those Peoples disposition, and not of the Spirit of their Religion, he may rest assured, that all publick Malefactors, besides Hereticks, have their violent Deaths no where more tenderly lamented, than among the same People, and even when there is nothing in the manner of their Deaths that appears inhumane or cruel.

Within a few Days after the Execution, the Pictures of all that have been burnt, and which were taken off their Breasts when they were brought to the Stake, are hung up in St. Domingo’s Church, whose West End, tho very high, is all covered over with these Trophies of the Inquisition hung up there in honour to Dominic, who, to fulfil his Mother’s Dream, was the first Inventor of that Court; Dominic’s Mother, when she was ready to be brought to Bed of him, having dream’d that she was delivered not of a humane Creature, but of a fierce Dog, with a burning Torch in his Mouth.


A List of the Persons who received their Sentences n the Act of the Faith, celebrated in the City of Lisbon, on the 10th of May, 1682.

[We omit numerous people whom Geddes itemizes having died in prison or sentenced sub-capitally, e.g., flogging, imprisonment, deportation to colonial Brazil, the galleys, and so forth. -ed.]

The Persons delivered to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 43, Gaspar Lopez Pereire, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Batchelor, the Son of Francisco Lopez Pereire, a Native of the Town of Mogadouro, an Inhabitant of Madrid, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, and Impenitent.

[Age] 33, Antonio de Aguiar, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Native of Lamilunilla, near to Madrid, an Inhabitant of Sevil, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

[Age] 42, Miguel Henriques da Fonseca, a New Christian, an Advocate, Native of the Town of Avios, an Inhabitant in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

These three were burnt alive, within two Hours after the Inquisition had delivered them to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 32, Pero Serraon, more than half a New Christian, a Batchelor the Son of Antonio Serraon, an Apothecary, who is in the List, a Native, and Inhabitant of this City, convicted, Negative, and Obstinate.

This last was first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes with the other Three.

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1682: Ivan Khovansky

Add comment September 17th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1682, the boyar Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky went from being the power behind the throne to one of the skulls under it.

A veteran military commander, Khovansky (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) became a key figure in the months after the death of Tsar Feodor III of Russia. This perilous political moment left the throne in the hands of two underage half-brothers overseen by a female regent.

With benefit of hindsight we know that 10-year-old (in 1682) Peter will emerge from this troika to become the mighty Tsar Peter the Great. In 1682, it was anybody’s guess whether any of these dubious prospective autocrats might survive at all.

Peter in particular had cause to fear for his life in May 1682 when the Streltsy, a hereditary guard of Moscow musketeers, bloodily rebelled in favor of his co-heir’s privileges and against his own, rampaging through the Kremlin murdering princes in Peter’s circle. And at the head of these furies stood Khovansky.

Many years later, Peter would revenge himself upon the Streltsy for this horror but in the moment it carried the day, incidentally also carrying Khovansky to a preeminent position in the state.

But he was pitted almost immediately against his erstwhile patron and ally, the regent Sophia Alekseyevna.

Even though the Streltsy rebellion had been conducted on Sophia’s behalf, she could see as well as the next tsar the perils of embracing these latter-day praetorians‘ authority to remake the government by force … and the Streltsy made sure to remind her of it almost immediately when the “Old Believer” movement that predominated among its ranks started raising complaints about Sophia’s religious accommodations.*

Fearing an overmighty nobleman at the head of a treasonable host — and Khovansky has been suspected by both his contemporaries and posterity of coveting the regency for himself — Sophia and the young co-tsars briefly fled Moscow “because we could not tolerate the many offences, unlawful and gross actions and violations committed by criminals and traitors.” Meanwhile she maneuvered adroitly to isolate him politically and had the boyar Duma vote his attainder.

His fate was sealed by the discovery of an anonymous (probably fabricated) letter of denunciation. On 17 September, her own name day, Sophia succeeded in luring Ivan Khovansky and his son Ivan to the royal summer residence at Vozdvizhenskoe outside Moscow. The charges against them centred on their ‘evil designs upon the health and authority of the great sovereigns’ which involved no less than plotting to use the strel’tsy to kill the tsars, Tsaritsa Natalia, Sophia and the patriarch, then to raise rebellion all over Moscow and snatch the throne. The lesser charges included association with ‘accursed schismatics’, embezzlement, dereliction of military duty, and insulting the boyars. The charges were full of inconsistencies and illogicalities, but their sheer weight sealed the Khovanskys’ fate and Prince Ivan and his son were beheaded on the spot … The strel’tsy were forced to swear an oath of loyalty based on a set of conditions, the final clause of which threatened death to anyone who ‘speaks approvingly of the deeds of late, or boasts of committing murder or makes up phrases inciting rebellion as before, or stirs up people to commit criminal acts.’ (Source)

He’s the subject of the Mussorgsky opera Khovanshchina.

* Old Believers wanted a rollback of religious reforms decreed in recent years; Sophia said no dice. Once Peter the Great took over, Sophia and Old Believers alike would end up in the same boat.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Russia,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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1682: Alexander Cockburn, hangman, condemned

Add comment January 16th, 2010 Headsman

Domestic annals of Scotland: from the reformation to the revolution (reporting an item initially recorded by Lord Fountainhall):

1682. Jan. 16. Alexander Cockburn,* the hangman of Edinburgh, was tried before the magistrates as sheriffs, for the murder, in his own house, of one Adamson or Mackenzie, a blue-gown beggar. The proof was slender, and chiefly of the nature of presumption — as, that he had denied Adamson’s being in his house on the alleged day, the contrary being proved, groans having been heard, and bloody clothes found in the house; and this evidence, too, was chiefly from women. Yet he was condemned to be hanged within three suns. One Mackenzie, whom Cockburn had caused to lose his place of hangman at Stirling, performed the office.

Condemned by the evidence of women. How much worse can it get?

There is no report I have been able to locate of Cockburn’s actual hanging date; the “within three suns” sentence was standard for the time.

In days of yore, (says Aubrey) lords and gentlemen lived in the country like petty kings, had jura regalia belonging to the seignories, had castles and boroughs, had gallows within their liberties, where they would try, condemn, and execute; never went to London but in parliament time, or once a year to do homage to the king. Justice was administered with great expedition, and too often with vindictive severity. Pennant informs us that “originally the time of trial and execution was to be within three suns!” About the latter end of the seventeenth century** the period was extended to nine days after sentence; but since a rapid and unjust execution in a petty Scottish town, 1720,† the execution has been ordered to be deferred for forty days on the south, and sixty on the north side of the Tay, that time may be allowed for an application to the king for mercy.

* Not to be confused with barrister Alexander Cockburn (we’ve already met him) … nor, of course, with the late acerbic journalist.

** Specifically, 1695 — well after our day’s hangman had turned hanged man.

† This picturesque over-hasty execution detail appears to me to be folklorish and of questionable reliability. The bottom footnote here attributes the legal change to a cracking yarn about a dancing-master and an officer (here’s the broadside). This source puts it down to a man who committed murder while drunk and was caught, tried, and hanged before he so much as sobered up.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Executioners,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland,Uncertain Dates

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