War on terror, thirteenth century style

This is an extract from Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars, (2nd ed, Cambridge, 2006), which I’ve just been reading, on the Inquisition (pp 28-29):

The accused was interrogated by the inquisitor and his assistants and a summary of the proceedings was recorded by a notary. The aim was to establish guilt, either by confession or by the use of testimonial evidence. He was not allowed a defending advocate, even if he could have found one, and witnesses were reluctant to testify on his behalf for fear of guilt by association. Hostile witnesses were allowed to remain anonymous on the grounds that they might otherwise be intimidated, and the accused could only read a précis of their depositions. In contrast to secular proceedings, all kinds of witnesses could be used, even perjurers, criminals and the excommunicate. The accused could only list his enemies in the hope that some names would coincide with the witnesses. It seems, however, that the inquisitors’ real aim was to obtain a confession, for, without the admission of guilt, a heretic could not be reconciled to the Church. If confession could not be obtained spontaneously, compulsion would be used, firstly by imprisonment under increasingly harsh conditions and ultimately by torture, supposedly of a limited kind which did not involve the effusion of blood or permanent mutilation.

I’m very busy at the moment, trying to understand how the Holy Roman Empire worked, so please fill in the contemporary analogies yourself.


One thought on “War on terror, thirteenth century style

  1. And as a follow-up, here is Malcolm Barber on the trial of the Templars in England:

    ‘The contrast [in England] to the mass confessions so quickly obtained in France emphasises the differences in the legal syatems of the two countries. In France the inquisitions had been accepted and used as a tool of the monarchy, indeed almost as an arm of government…In England, however, the Norman and Angevin kings had developed a uniform legal machinery applying to all free men, which left no room for inquisitors…’

    ‘The [papal] inquisitors’ lack of progress was tacitly admitted in a letter of 16 June 1310 to Robert Winchelsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, in which they complained that they could find no one to carry out tortures properly…The body of the letter, however, dealt with eight ways in which they thought proceddings could be speeded up…The pressure could be speeded up by feeding the prisoners bread and water on alternate days and by providing really appalling lodgings, but most sweeping was the idea that all the English Templars be sent to the county of Ponthieu, just across the Channel which, although part of the lands of the English king was not subject to English law; that is, the same methods could be employed as in the rest of France…’

    Following this example of Guantanamo-sur-Mare, maybe Americans opposed to the US administration’s denial of habeas corpus etc should just start pointing out how, well, French that sounds.


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