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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1815: William Sawyer, guns and roses

Add comment May 15th, 2016 Headsman

William Sawyer hanged on this date in 1815* at London’s Newgate Gaol for a murder he committed while in Portugal.

Dispatched to Iberia during the 1814 mopping-up stages of the Peninsular War, Sawyer preferred to make time with a young Englishwoman named Harriet Gaskett who was supposed to be there as the mistress of Sawyer’s friend and fellow-officer. (Both of the men in question had wives back in Blighty.)

When this third wheel discovered their liaison,** Sawyer and Gaskett fell into that death-seeking tragic mooning that lovers do and after dinner one night in April they wandered off to the garden. Other guests soon heard three pistol shots crack the evening air. The reports proved to correlate with a dead Harriet, and a severely (but not mortally) wounded William.

After he was cleaned up — and after he once more failed to kill himself by slashing his own throat — his friends solicited a forthright confession.

Having laid violent hands upon myself, in consequence of the death of Harriet, I think it but justice to mankind and the world, being of sound mind, solemnly to attest that her death was occasioned by her having taken part of a phial of laudanum and my discharging a pistol at her head, provided for the occasion. I took the residue of the laudanum myself, and discharged two pistols at my head. They failing in their effect, I then retired to the house and endeavoured to put an end to my life, leaving myself the unfortunate object you now behold me.

William Sawyer

Besides doing the tragic lover thing, Sawyer was obviously intent on doing the officer-and-a-gentleman thing. His friends did very well believe the convenient-sounding version of events that he presented, such was his rectitude and lovesickness.

But under any construction of motive and circumstance, this narrative of “discharging a pistol at her head” amounted to confession to a hanging crime and Sawyer was convicted with ease.

Sympathetic to a fault, the Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough who personally tried the case reserved judgment as to the penalty pending a review by a panel of the king’s judges of several technical legal points. These were all defeated as entirely as was Sawyer’s wife’s attempt to see him in prison.

Despite his avoiding such an awkward interview Sawyer went to the gallows “very dejected,” in the words of the Newgate Calendar.

During the ceremony a profound silence prevailed throughout the populace. He died under evident symptoms of paroxysm, and a quantity of blood gushed from his mouth, from the cut in his throat. At nine o’clock the body was taken to Bartholomew’s Hospital in a cart, attended by the under-sheriff and officers. He was dressed in a suit of black, and [it] was not ironed.

* The Newgate Calendar, whose command of detail is often unreliable, mistakenly gives May 22 as the execution date — a week later than the true event.

** Intent on layering on the melodrama, Sawyer’s story was that the friend had actually given the two lovebirds leave to go live together. Great! Except Gaskell was convinced the permission was insincere and that he meant on killing himself once they did so and “although she had promised not to live with me, she had not promised not to die with me.” Anything for love.

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1603: Marco Tulio Catizone, the false Dom Sebastian

Add comment September 23rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1603, a man claiming to be the long-lost Portuguese king was publicly hanged on a square in the Andalusian city of Sanlucar.

Not Marco Tulio Catizone, but pretty close: the real Dom Sebastian

Dom Sebastian — so named because he was born on the Feast of St. Sebastian in 1554 — would be remembered longingly after his untimely death at age 24 as o Desejado, the Desired. What was truly desired was a return to Portugal’s golden age.

In its day, little Portugal had flourished as a great maritime empire of the Age of Discovery

One could say that trade was the calling-card of this realm of venturesome explorers, but there is no empire but that bears a sword, too. Sebastian, his young head probably bursting dreams of Alexander, undertook in 1577-78 to intervene under the glorious banner of Crusade in a disputed succession of the Moorish kingdom of Morocco.

This sort of personal valor makes for great press in the woodblocks when things go to script, and the allure must be correlated to the disproportionate odds engaged in gratuitously chancing one’s royal person to war. Sebastian was unmarried and had no children; his own father had succumbed to consumption at age 17 so he had no siblings, either. When this sole pillar of royal authority suicidally crashed himself headlong into a superior Moroccan force at the so-called Battle of Three Kings, his chivalrous self-immolation exacted a crippling toll on his kingdom.

An uncle in the cardinalate, Henry, was surprised to find himself suddenly elevated to the now-precarious Portuguese throne; Henry was 66 years old at the time and had taken vows of chastity that he could not maneuver to shed before he too died in 1580 with no heir at all.* In the ensuing succession crisis, the Spanish king soon swallowed up Portugal in a personal union.

It was only natural that the many Portuguese distressed by this staggering sequence of events would indulge the dream of their late king. Besides having the advantage of being frozen in time at the height of his youthful potential, Sebastian had never actually been found after that bloody Battle of Three Kings — or, at least, the identity of the body that the Spanish produced in the way of ending discussion was deeply doubted. Without convincing royal remains, such a dream began to spawn here and there pretenders who would emerge from unhappily unified Iberia to claim the name and the patrimony of the lost desired king.


The Recovering of the Desired King’s Body at Alcácer Quibir by Caetano Moreira da Costa Lima (1888)

The wild cast of longshot characters, according to Bryan Givens in Braudel Revisited, featured the likes of “the anonymous ‘King of Pernamacor’ in 1584; Mateus Alvares, the ‘King of Ericeira’ in 1585; and Gabriel Espinosa, the ‘Pastry-Maker of Madrigal’ in 1595.” These guys are claimants to a sleeping-king tradition aptly named “Sebastianism” which also fronted the prophecy of a visionary Azores blacksmith named Balthasar Goncalves who insisted to the Inquisition that the fallen King would return like a Messiah to liberate Portugal from Spain — and conquer Africa and the Holy Land — and defeat the Antichrist.** These beliefs in turn eddied out of currents of already-existing mystical eschatology, like the Trovas of Antonio Goncalves de Bandarra from earlier in the 16th century, mystically prophesying the return of a Hidden King.

Our man Marco Tulio Catizone (Italian link), a native of the south Italian town of Taverna, was one of these. In Venice he had made the chance acquaintance of an Italian mercenary who had joined Dom Sebastian’s catastrophic crusade, and this soldier was amazed by Catizone’s resemblance to the late king.

Thus handed a compelling calling in life, Catizone announced himself the very man himself, who had wandered the world in penance after the battle but now would like Portugal back if you please. The Venetians jailed and then expelled him (in the vein of the “King of Ericeira” and the “Pastry-Maker of Madrigal”, this one is the “Prisoner of Venice”); the Florentines re-arrested him and eventually deported him to Spain; and in Spain under the gentle suasions of hostile interrogators he coughed up his real name and purpose and was condemned a galley slave for life in 1602.

But no such sentence could squelch the desiring of a return to king and country, and for such a purpose the least plausible pretender could serve a sufficient rallying-point. João de Castro, the illegitimate son of a Portuguese nobleman who would become “the St. Paul of the sebastianista religion”† met the imprisoned “Sebastian” in Italy and became the convinced herald of his return as Bandarra’s Hidden King, the restorer of Portuguese glory and the scourge of Spain and Islam alike.

De Castro was nothing daunted by Catizone’s confession and confinement and from exile in Paris wrote a tome “with the license of the King” entitled Discurso da Vida do Sempre Bem Vindo et Apparecido Rey Dom Sebiao nosso Senhor o Encuberto, advancing the Prisoner of Venice’s claims. An attempt by De Castro and others like-minded to stir a Sebastianist rebellion in Lisbon in 1603 on Catizone’s behalf led to the latter’s trial for treason, with the outcome we have already noted.

Yet even this did not abate de Castro’s prophetic vigor.

“The man executed by the Spanish had, in fact, been Catizone, de Castro admitted, but Catizone had been switched with Sebastian by the Spanish so that they could quell the growing support for Sebastian without having the guilt of royal blood on their hands,” writes Givens. Our St. Paul would spend the remaining quarter-century of his life churning out treatises in exile “to prove Sebastian’s providential destiny, citing predictions from the full range of the Western prophetic corpus to prove that Sebastian was destined to rule the world.”

* The best who could be advanced as the Cardinal-King’s homegrown successor candidate was an illegitimate cousin of the late Dom Sebastian.

** Instead of burning this fellow as a heretic, the Inquisition instead mercifully judged him a lunatic and released him to some intensive personal indoctrination.

† J.L. de Azevedo in A evolucao do sebastianismo (1918), cited in Portuguese Studies Review, vol. 17, no. 1 (2009).

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1624: Antonio Homem, at the hands of the Portuguese Inquisition

Add comment May 5th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1624, Coimbra University theologian Antonio Homem was burned at the stake in a Lisbon auto de fe.

Homem came from a “neo-Christian” family, Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity. Considering the compulsion, one could fairly question the piety of such “Christians”; in a great moment in damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t, the Spanish Inquisition fired up to probe the potential un-Christian activity of neo-Christians.

Neighboring Portugal was just a beat behind Spain in all this; Spain expelled its Jews — the ones who weren’t willing to convert — in 1492, and Portugal did so in 1497. The Portuguese Inquisition began in 1536 and, like Spain’s, took conversos as a primary focus.*

Homem’s family’s response was to be more Catholic than the Pope and have Antonio trained for the clergy; he became canon of the Cathedral of Coimbra and a doctor at the University of Coimbra.

Homem was in his fifties when it became known among his colleagues that he was of New Christian stock, and this circumstance soon attracted unwanted attention — and eventually, his denunciation for allegedly leading a secret Judaic cell. Homem, it is said, “often took the part of priest”; The Other Within: The Marranos, Split Identity and Emerging Modernity describes a Kippur ceremony from the Inquisition records.

The public, all fasting and dressed in white, used the Christian Bible (the Vulgate) to recite Latin Psalms that expressed a Jewish-Marrano sentiment (Psalms such as “When Israel came out of Egypt,” “On the rivers of Babylon,” and “From the Abyss I called you, O God”). In those ancient Jewish poems the Marranos expressed their own, specific sense of exile and yearning for redemption. A few “priests of the Law of Moses,” replicating a Catholic ceremony, dressed Homem in a long elegant garment and put “a sort of miter” on his head, decorated with golden plaque. There was an altar there, and incense, and painted images of Moses and of a Marrano martyr or saint “who had been … burned as a Jew.”

The inner life of the converso is a great riddle from our distance of time and context. It is immediately tempting to perceive religious martyrs here, people who were forced underground but still kept what they could of the faith of their fathers at risk of life and limb.

Such a reading paradoxically allies us with their persecutors, for it is by the Inquisition’s hand that we have the evidence — and this is a source whose evidence we greet very skeptically when it, for instance, charges conversos with murdering Christian children. Inquisitors all around Europe were after all involved in these very years in scaring up secret witches’ covens to incinerate, and it was not unknown for the deadly judicial apparatus to be borrowed here and there from restraining the minions of Hell in order to service business opportunities, political aspirations, or private grudges of the personal or professional variety. Try asking a present-day academic how easy they’d sleep knowing their colleagues on the tenure committee also had a few buddies in the Holy Inquisition.

Antonio Jose Saraiva’s The Marrano Factory: The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians 1536-1765** contends that most “Judaizing” Christians were just plain Christians — caught up like accused witches and warlocks could be in some specious neighborhood rumor that became a self-fulfilling accusation. “Inevitably,” says Saraiva, “a family quarrel or a commercial intrigue would lead to several series of denunciations, followed by arrests. Arrests led to trials which spiraled into new rounds of arrests and trials.” Saraiva argues that Homem’s recently-exposed Jewish heritage probably just made him a ready target when a commercial dispute of some sort led the Inquisition’s Coimbra tribunal to seize “scores of merchants engaged in the triangular commerce between Brazil, Oporto and Amsterdam.”

Whether Homem really did head a covert cult with 100-plus adherents reading Old Testament verses from the Latin Bible — or whether this was what an inquisitor goaded by Homem’s enemies supposed a secret Jew might do — he was left to rot in prison several years† after his 1619 condemnation while the Inquisition investigated dozens of his alleged adherents. These included other cathedral canons, professors and students at the university, nuns from four nearby convents, and other persons of some stature. (Homem, to his credit, refused to accuse anyone else.)

Homem was eventually among eight burned (Portuguese link) at an auto this date at the Ribeira de Lisboa, and his house was torn down to be replaced with a pillar inscribed “Praeceptor infelix”. Prior to their destruction they were favored with the preachings of Friar Antonio de Sousa who railed against the insidious Semitic threat to homeland security.

For our sins of the last years people of quality have been cross-breeding with these perverse Jews to whom I am referring. They became corrupted by their contact with them and have become Jews like they are. Just a few years ago only low-class, trashy Jews were paraded at the autos-da-fe. See what now appears for sentencing in the autos-da-fe and in this very one at which I am preaching: ecclesiastical personnel, friars, nuns, holders of master’s degrees, licentiates, doctors and professors with family connections to the nobility, people only half of New Christian origin, or a quarter, or an eighth, all confessing and convicted of Judaism. (Translated excerpt via Saraiva)

Readers with Portuguese proficiency can find more on this case in this 1999 book exploring the Inquisition’s Coimbra archives, or in Antonio Homem e a inquisição.

* For the setting of this post, the 1620s, Spain and Portugal are under the personal union of a common monarch, Philip IV.

** We’ve mentioned it before.

† One of the great (and eventually fatal) inefficiencies of the auto-de-fe system was its tendency to leave its future exhibits to languish for years in prisons before the prescribed spectacle could be properly arranged.

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1761: Gabriel Malagrida, Jesuit nutter

2 comments September 21st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1761,* the Jesuit Gabriel Malagrida became a late casualty of the Tavora Affair and the Lisbon earthquake when he was garroted for heresy.

Malagrida (English Wikipedia entry | Portuguese) was a 72-year-old Italian with decades of missionary service to the Portuguese New World colonies under his belt.

He had, in his time, been a prominent exponent of the Jesuits missions’ policy in the Amazon, which amounted to asserting their own jurisdiction against the secular government’s attempt to order its overseas territories. (There’s more on that conflict here.)

And this only exacerbated his principal sin of being a Jesuit — an order whose diminution was eagerly sought by the rising statesman of Enlightenment Portugal, the Marquis of Pombal.

The shock of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake would deal Pombal the trump hand he needed to start reshaping both city and society to his liking.

Malagrida, meanwhile, carped that the earthquake’s causes

“are not comets, are not stars, are not vapors or exhalations,** are not phenomena, they are not natural contingencies or causes; but they are solely our intolerable sins … I do not know how a Catholic subject dares to attribute the present calamity of this tragic earthquake to causes and natural contingencies. Do not these Catholics understand this world is not a house without an owner?”

This published pamphlet merely echoed what many of the order were saying in the pulpits, and Pombal was not about to let the backwards, superstitious crowd** own the catastrophe.

Malagrida was banished from Lisbon: and, when the Tavora family was implicated in an attempt to assassinate the Portuguese king, Malagrida, their confessor, found himself clapped in prison.

Though the now-septuagenarian priest did not share the Tavoras’ grisly public butchery, he was left to molder. A couple years in a dungeon saw him go a bit strange, and supposedly he published treatises with such eccentric features as God’s personal instructions to Malagrida, and Malagrida’s fascination with St. Anne’s uterus. Catholic sources, which consider Malagrida a martyr, doubt that he ever published any such thing; if he did, it seems apparent that it was dementia rather than heresy that afflicted the old man.

But Pombal had installed his own brother as judge of the tribunal, so the matter was prearranged. The execution itself was

staged in a dramatic way, even to the point of Malagrida’s appearing on the scaffold in Jesuit habit, to impress upon the Portuguese and the world at large that an old order had come to an end and a new one was to be established … one might say that … symbolism at the cost of one human life was a relatively humane procedure in comparison with the symbolic elimination of whole classes of society in the twentieth century.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Malagrida executed at a Lisbon auto de fe. CC image from Ricardo Mealha, original provenance unknown.

Pitying the superstitious Jesuit at the stake, Enlightenment secularist Voltaire inveighed against Enlightenment secularist Pombal for conducting the execution … just part of Voltaire’s queer ideas about not killing people over their religious beliefs.

“It is all pity and horror,” Voltaire wrote in a private correspondence. “The Inquisition has found the secret to inspire compassion for the Jesuits.”

Voltaire’s appraisal in Candide (already published by this time) of a country in the grip of religious superstition unjustly stands as one of the lasting literary monuments to an event that actually rolled back clerical influence: “the sages of [Portugal] could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fé; for … the burning of a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible secret to hinder the earth from quaking.” That the philosophe who penned those words waxed so immoderately outraged at the demonstrative chastisement of a man who preached precisely all that hocus-pocus — that Voltaire ascribed his execution to “the Inquisition” — plants the cherry on the irony sundae.‡

But Pombal’s expedient use of the Inquisition’s medieval machinery to make an example of Father Malagrida would not be the start of a pattern; the Pombaline reforms of the years to come brought the Inquisition sharply to heel, and it was Malagrida himself who was its last victim (pdf) in Portugal in its classical ecclesiastic form.


The house where Malagrida was born in Menaggio, Italy is marked with a plaque. Image (c) kallipyg and used with permission.

* Some sources give September 20 as the date.

** The “God is pissed” hypothesis was posited against theories of earth’s vapors promulgated by the Pombal-sponsored scientist Ribeiro Sanches.

† Anti-Jesuit sentiment was widely abroad in Europe at this time; increasingly resented as political manipulators, the Society would be suppressed by papal order in 1773, only to revive during the post-Napoleonic reaction.

‡ Malagrida was well-known to contemporaries in Europe, but that does not mean sympathy for him was universal. The British pol Lord Shelburne was satirized as “Malagrida” for his putative duplicity.

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1759: The Tavora family

18 comments January 13th, 2009 Headsman

Two and a half centuries ago today, Portugal’s noble Tavora family was extirpated in Belem.

[A] scaffold eighteen feet in height was erected in the market-place of Lisbon, during the night of the 13th, round which was drawn up a cordon of military. Precisely at 7 o’clock in the morning, the old Marchioness of Tavora, as the most guilty, was brought upon the scene, her hands bound, and a rope round her neck. She was placed on a chair, and her eyes being bound, the executioner struck her head off without the previous utterance by her of any complaint. After her came the twenty-one-year-old son, Joseph Maria de Tavora. They bound him on a cross raised aloft, broke his arms and legs with iron clubs, and then strangled him with a rope. The same fate befell [Tavora son-in-law] Jeronimo de Ataide, Count of Atouguia, the young Marquis Luiz Bernard de Tavora, colonel of cavalry, his servant Blasius Joseph Romeiro, Corporal Emanuel Alvarez Fereira, valet of the Duke of Aveira, and the body-page, John Michael. Their corpses were all flattened upon wheels, which were placed on poles, and this proceeding took up so much time that fully half an hour elapsed before another execution could be proceeded with.


Other outstandingly gory images of this day’s business are here.

After the page Miguel or Michael, the executioner took the old Francis d’Assis de Tavora, bound him on a St. Andrew’s cross, gave him three blows on the chest with an iron rod that resounded to a distance, shattered his arms and legs, and then gave him his coup de grace through the heart. The executioner’s men then, amidst wild shrieks, shattered the arms, legs, and thighs of the ninth victim, the old Duke of Aveiro, while still alive, then killed him by a blow on the chest, and threw him into the blazing fire. Finally, the tenth delinquent, the valet Anton Alvarez Fereira, brother of the above-mentioned Emanuel, was conducted before the corpses of the nine who had been previously executed, each one being shown to him; he was then bound to a stake, round which was placed a heap of wood, and this being set fire to, was raked together until he was completely consumed* … When the execution was over, the scaffold, together with all the dead bodies, was set on fire and burnt to ashes, which were thrown into the Tagus.

Oh, and one last thing:

[T]he palaces of the high nobility who had been executed were pulled to pieces and levelled to the ground, and salt strewed on the places where they had stood, as a sign that they should never be built up again.

Yikes.


This stone marker was placed on the site of the razed palace of Jose Mascarenhas, the Duke of Aveiro. “On this infamous land,” it announces, “nothing may be built for all time.” Copyrighted image courtesy of Ludgero Paninho.

Seems someone got the idea that the Tavoras tried to kill (and more problematically, failed to kill) Portuguese king Joseph I.

Circumstantial, torture-adduced evidence put the scheming Marchioness Eleonora de Tavora and clan behind an apparent assassination attempt, wherein a couple of assailants had shot at the king’s unmarked carriage as it returned on a little-used road from a rendezvous with his mistress. (One of the circumstances was that the mistress was a Tavora, which put the accused in a position to know the king’s secret travel plans. Others argue the gunmen might have just been common highwaymen who had no idea they were setting upon the royal person.)

Whatever the facts of the matter, obscure behind a quarter-millennium, its attribution to the Tavoras and the spectacular revenge thereupon visited was effected by the king’s competent and ruthless minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the future Marquis de Pombal.


A monumental plinth surmounted by Pombal dominates the present-day Lisbon plaza named for him.

His able handling of the recent Lisbon earthquake had cemented his position as the throne’s right-hand man in a trend of centralizing absolutism not much appreciated by the old aristocracy (nor by the hidebound clerical orders, which explains why the aforesaid gory account of the execution ground comes from a German anti-Jesuit polemic).

And he would not miss the opportunity an attack on the king’s person gave him to sweep away his opponents.

The peers of the realm were summoned to witness their fellow blue-bloods so nauseatingly dispatched, and the Jesuits — “reported to have inflamed the Tavora family to their [the Jesuits’] desired pitch … in revenge for what had justly been done to them in South America”** — were forthwith suppressed.

(Functionally a progressive secular dictator — or an enlightened despot, to use a more 18th-century description — Pombal would eventually push political conflict with Rome so near the brink of outright schism that the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on Melo characterizes it as “a sort of disguised Anglicanism,” adding that “many of the evils from which the Church now suffers are a legacy from him.” His ascendancy is the “Pombaline Terror” in Catholic annals.)

Melo/Pombal exercised the power of the state for the rest of Joseph’s life, but the king’s daughter and successor Maria I dismissed him — though she did not take punitive action against Pombal for his persecutions, as his enemies demanded.

* Also doomed to burning alive was one Joseph Policarpo, who was able to escape the mass arrest a few weeks before and fled the kingdom. He was executed by effigy.

** This comment is from the letters of Christopher Hervey, an Englishman abroad in Portugal at the time of the execution whose 100+ pages’ worth of correspondence include live-at-the-scene reporting and English translations of the public pronouncements against the supposed culprits. As to the South American roots of Pombal’s conflict with the Jesuits, the order had resisted Pombal’s early schemes to reorganize and rationalize Portugal’s New World holdings in order to make the country a more competitive colonial power. Jesuit resistance to giving up the order’s control of education, and its humanitarian efforts to protect Indians, had been seen as contributing to an Indian rebellion that broke out in Jesuit-controlled territory — even to the point that Jesuits themselves were suspected of arming Indians in an effort to carve out church-controlled states. Hervey’s version has the Jesuits behind the plot in order to eliminate Pombal’s threat to their power. Others share this opinion … and Pombal, obviously, was keen to have his rivals inculpated for lese majeste in the public mind.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Executed in Effigy,Execution,History,Infamous,Mass Executions,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Portugal,Power,Public Executions,Scandal,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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