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Trials And Proofs Of Guilt In Superstitious Ages
by [?]

The strange trials to which those suspected of guilt were put in the middle ages, conducted with many devout ceremonies by the ministers of religion, were pronounced to be the judgments of God! The ordeal consisted of various kinds: walking blindfold amidst burning ploughshares; passing through fires; holding in the hand a red-hot bar; and plunging the arm into boiling water: the popular affirmation–“I will put my hand in the fire to confirm this,” was derived from this custom of our rude ancestors. Challenging the accuser to single combat, when frequently the stoutest champion was allowed to supply their place; swallowing a morsel of consecrated bread; sinking or swimming in a river for witchcraft; or weighing a witch; stretching out the arms before the cross, till the champion soonest wearied dropped his arms, and lost his estate, which was decided by this very short chancery suit, called the judicium crucis. The bishop of Paris and the abbot of St. Denis disputed about the patronage of a monastery: Pepin the Short, not being able to decide on their confused claims, decreed one of these judgments of God, that of the Cross. The bishop and abbot each chose a man, and both the men appeared in the chapel, where they stretched out their arms in the form of a cross. The spectators, more devout than the mob of the present day, but still the mob, were piously attentive, but betted however now for one man, now for the other, and critically watched the slightest motion of the arms. The bishop’s man was first tired:–he let his arms fall, and ruined his patron’s cause for ever. Though sometimes these trials might be eluded by the artifice of the priest, numerous were the innocent victims who unquestionably suffered in these superstitious practices.

From the tenth to the twelfth century they were common. Hildebert, bishop of Mans, being accused of high treason by our William Rufus, was prepared to undergo one of these trials, when Ives, bishop of Chartres, convinced him that they were against the canons of the constitutions of the church, and adds, that in this manner Innocentiam defendere, set innocentiam perdere.

An abbot of St. Aubin, of Angers, in 1066, having refused to present a horse to the Viscount of Tours, which the viscount claimed in right of his lordship, whenever an abbot first took possession of that abbey, the ecclesiastic offered to justify himself by the trial of the ordeal, or by duel, for which he proposed to furnish a man. The viscount at first agreed to the duel; but, reflecting that these combats, though sanctioned by the church, depended wholly on the skill or vigour of the adversary, and could therefore afford no substantial proof of the equity of his claim, he proposed to compromise the matter in a manner which strongly characterises the times: he waived his claim, on condition that the abbot should not forget to mention in his prayers himself, his wife, and his brothers! As the orisons appeared to the abbot, in comparison with the horse, of little or no value, he accepted the proposal.

In the tenth century the right of representation was not fixed: it was a question whether the sons of a son ought to be reckoned among the children of the family, and succeed equally with their uncles, if their fathers happened to die while their grandfathers survived. This point was decided by one of these combats. The champion in behalf of the right of children to represent their deceased father proved victorious. It was then established by a perpetual decree that they should thenceforward share in the inheritance, together with their uncles. In the eleventh century the same mode was practised to decide respecting two rival Liturgies! A pair of knights, clad in complete armour, were the critics to decide which was the authentic.