Eymeric’s cold-blooded directions for leading an accused who refused to confess into contradictions that should justify his being put to torture have already been considered.

The inquisitors could not proceed to employ the question—as the torture was euphemistically called—save under certain circumstances prescribed by law; and the strict letter of the law, as you have seen, and as you shall see further, was a thing inviolable to these very subtle judges.

These circumstances, as expounded by Eymeric in his “Directorium,”107 are (a) the inconsistence of the accused’s replies upon matters of detail whilst denying the main fact; (b) the existence of semi-plenal proof of his offence.

This semi-plenal proof is considered forthcoming—

(a) When an accused is “reputed” to be a heretic and there is but one witness against him who can depone to having seen or heard him do or say that which is against the Faith. (Two witnesses were by law required to establish his guilt.)

(b) When in the absence of witnesses there are grounds for vehement or violent suspicion.

(c) When there is no evil “reputation” attaching to the accused, but one witness against him and grounds for vehement or violent suspicion—i.e. not actual suspicion but indications of it; a suspicion of suspicion, as it were. The distinction is most elusively fine.

The scholiast Pegna adds in his commentaries that this combination of “reputation” (or grounds for suspicion) and one witness is not necessary to justify submitting the accused to the question—

(a) When to evil reputation are added evil morals, which lead easily to heresy—thus those who are incontinent and very greatly addicted to women persuade themselves that this incontinence is not in itself a sin. (Such an opinion if proclaimed would amount to heresy, therefore one who acts as if he held it lays himself open to suspicion of heresy.)

(b) When the accused who has incurred evil reputation shall have fled. (The circumstance of his flight is accepted as evidence of evil conscience.)108

Eymeric further enjoins that the question shall be employed only when all other means of obtaining the truth shall have failed, and he recommends the use of exhortation, gentleness, and ruse to draw the truth from the prisoner.109

He observes that, after all, not even the torture can be depended upon always to extract the truth. There are weak men who under the first torments confess even what they have not done; and there are others so stubborn and vigorous that they can suffer the greatest pains; there are those who having already undergone torture are able to endure it with greater fortitude, knowing how to adapt themselves to it; and there are others still who, by having recourse to sorcery, remain almost insensible to the pain and would die before divulging anything.

These last, he warns inquisitors, use passages from the Gospel curiously inscribed upon virgin parchment, intermingling in these the names of angels that are unknown, designs of circles, and magic characters. These charms they bear about their bodies.

“I don’t yet know,” he confesses, “what remedies are available against these sorceries; but it will be well to strip and closely to examine the patient before putting him to the question.”

He recommends that when the accused has been sentenced to torture, and whilst the executioners are making ready to perform it, the inquisitor should continually endeavour to induce the accused to confess. The torturers should strip him with precipitation, but with a sorrowful air and almost as if troubled for him (quasi turbati). When stripped, he should be taken aside and once more exhorted to confess. His life may be promised him, provided that the crime of which he is accused is not such as to make it forfeit.

If all proves vain the inquisitor shall proceed to the question, beginning by interrogating him upon the more trivial matters of which he is accused, as he would naturally acknowledge these more readily (and when acknowledged they can be made the stepping-stones to more), the notary being at hand to write down all that is asked and answered.

If he persists in his denials he is to be shown further implements of torture, and assured that he will have to undergo them all unless he speaks the truth.

If he still denies, the question may be continued on the second or third day, but not repeated.

Here again we have them observing the letter and flagrantly violating the spirit of the law. Torture must not be repeated because it is by law forbidden to put an accused to the question more than once, unless in the meantime fresh evidence has been forthcoming; but it is not forbidden to continue it—not forbidden because those who formulated that law never dreamt of such a quibble being raised.

It is almost incredible that men should juggle with words in this way. But here is the passage itself:

“Ad continuandum non ad iterandum, quia iterari non debent, nisi novis supervenientibus indiciis, sed continuari non prohibentur.”

Lest they should be in danger of having to repeat the torture, they took care to suspend it as soon as the patient was at the limit of his endurance, and merely resumed or continued it two or three days later, to suspend again and continue again as often as they might deem necessary.

That it can have made no difference to the wretched patient whether they described the procedure by one verb or the other does not appear to have weighed with them. There was a difference—an important verbal difference.

Upon this point the apologist Garcia Rodrigo, in his “Historia Verdadera de la Inquisicion,” very daringly draws attention to the meekness of the courts of the Inquisition as compared with the civil tribunals. He contrasts the methods of the two, and to make out a case in favour of the former, to prove to us that those who preached a gospel of mercy knew also how to practise mercy, he tells us, rather disingenuously, that whilst in civil courts a prisoner might be ordered three times to the torture, in the courts of the Inquisition this could not be imposed upon him more than once—its rules forbidding repetition.

He does not consider it worth while to add that the “Directorium” in which he found that rule points out, as we have seen, how it may be circumvented

It is much easier to set up a case for the other side, to show that the greater mercy in the matter of torture was practised by the secular courts. In these, for instance, a nobleman was immune from torture. Not so in the courts of the Inquisition, which proceeded, no doubt, upon the grounds that all are equals in the sight of God. No exception was made there in favour of any man. And in Aragon, where the torture was never applied in civil trials, it was none the less resorted to by the inquisitors.

When the accused shall have endured torture without confessing, the inquisitors may order his release by sentence, stating that after careful examination they are unable to find anything against him on the score of the crime of which he is accused—which, of course, is no acquittal, since he may at any time be re-arrested and put upon his trial once more.

In his commentaries Pegna tells us110 that there are five degrees of torture. He does not mention them in detail, saying that they are sufficiently well known to all. These five degrees are given in Limborch.111

The first four are not so much torture as terror—or mental torture; it is only in the fifth degree that this becomes physical. The conception is of an almost fiendish subtlety; and yet its aim, we must believe, was merciful, since they accounted it more merciful to torture and terrify the mind than to bruise the flesh.

Eymeric’s directions are the basis of this, although Eymeric himself does not break up the procedure into degrees. These are:

(1) The threat of torture.

(2) Being conducted to the torture-chamber and shown the implements and their functions.

(3) Stripping and preparing for the ordeal.

(4) Laying and binding upon the engine.

(5) The actual torture.

The actual torture was of various kinds, any of which the inquisitor might employ as he considered most suitable and effective, but Pegna admonishes him not to resort to unusual ones. Marsilius, the scholiast informs us, mentions fourteen different varieties, and adds that he had imagined others, such as that of depriving a prisoner of sleep. In this he appears to have received the approval of other authors, but he does not receive Pegna’s. Even the scholiast is shocked at an ecclesiastic’s fertility of invention in this branch, and confesses that such researches are better suited to executioners than theologians.

It must be admitted that the records show none of that fiendish invention which is so widely believed to have been exercised. The cruel subtleties of the inquisitors were spiritual rather than physical, and we have just seen Pegna’s censure of an inquisitor who gave his attention to the devising of novel and ingenious torments.

It is very clear, from the records we have, that the Holy Office must have been content to depend upon the engines already in existence, or, rather, upon a limited number of the most efficacious. There were exceptions, of course. The torture of fire—which consisted in toasting the feet of the patient after anointing them with fat—appears upon rare occasions to have been employed; and a barbarous piece of supererogative cruelty was practised at a great Auto de Fé held at Valladolid in 1636: ten Jews convicted of having whipped a crucifix were made to stand with one hand nailed to an arm of a St. Andrew’s cross whilst sentence of death was being read to them.

As a rule, however, both in torturing and in punishing the inquisitors avoided novelties. For the question they usually resorted to one of three methods: the rack; the garrucha, which is the torture of the hoist, the tratta di corda of the Italians; and the escalera, or potro, or ladder, or water torture.

The inquisitors attended in person—as prescribed by Torquemada—to question the patient, accompanied by their notary, who wrote down in fullest detail an account of the proceedings.

The hoist was the simplest of all engines; it consisted of no more than a rope running through a pulley attached to the ceiling of the torture-chamber.

The patient’s wrists were pinioned behind him, and one end of the rope was attached to them. Slowly then the executioners drew upon the other end, gradually raising the patient’s arms behind him as far as they would go, backwards and upwards, and continuing until they brought him to tip-toe and then slowly off the ground altogether, so that the whole weight of his body was thrown upon his straining arms.

At this point he was again questioned and desired to confess the truth.

If he refused to speak, or if he spoke to no such purpose as his questioners desired, he was hoisted towards the ceiling, then allowed to drop a few feet, his fall being suddenly arrested by a jerk that almost threw his arms out of their sockets. Again was the question put, and if he continued stubborn he was given a further drop, and so on until he had come to the ground once more, or until he had confessed. If he reached the ground without confessing, weights were now attached to his feet, thus increasing the severity of the torture, which was resumed. And so it continued. The weights were increased, the drops were lengthened—or else he might be left hanging—until confession was extracted, or until with dislocated shoulders the patient had reached the limit of his endurance.112

In the latter case the torture might be suspended, as we have seen, to be continued two or three days later, when the prisoner should sufficiently have recovered.

The notary made a scrupulous record of the audiencia—the weights attached, the number of hoists endured, the questions asked and the answers delivered.

The potro, or water-torture, was more complex, far more cruel, and appears to have been greatly favoured by the Holy Office.

The patient was placed upon a short narrow engine, in the shape of a ladder, and this was slanted a little so that his head was below the level of his feet, for reasons that will soon be apparent. His head was now secured by a metal or leather band which held it rigidly in position, whilst his arms and legs were lashed to the sides of the ladder so tightly that any movement on his part must cause the whipcord to cut into his flesh.

In addition to these bindings garrotes were applied to his thighs and legs and arms. This was a length of cord tied firmly about a limb—upon occasion round the whole torso over the arms; a stick was thrust between the cord and the flesh, and by twisting this stick a tourniquet was formed; first strangury, then the most agonizing pain was thus occasioned, whilst if the twisting was carried far enough the cords would sink through nerve and sinew until they reached the bone.

The mouth of the patient was now distended and held so by a prong of iron—called a bostezo. His nostrils were plugged, and a long strip of linen was placed across his jaws, and carried deep into his throat by the weight of water poured into his gaping mouth. Down this toca—as the strip was called—water continued to be slowly poured. As this water filtered through the cloth, the patient was subjected to all the torments of suffocation, the more cruel because he was driven by his instincts to make futile efforts to ease his condition. He would constantly exert himself to swallow the water, hoping thus to clear the way for a little air to pass into his bursting lungs. A little would and did pass in—just enough to keep him alive and conscious, but not enough to mitigate the horrible sufferings of asphyxiation, for the cloth was always wet and constantly charged with water.

From time to time the toca was brought up, and the gasping wretch would be invited to confess. Further to combat stubbornness on his part, and also, it would seem, to revive him when he was failing, the executioners would give an agonizing turn or two to the garrotes upon his—or her—limbs; for the Holy Office did not discriminate between the sexes in these matters.

To prevent the vomiting which any form of torture might produce, and the potro in particular, the inquisitors, with their never-failing attention to detail, provided that no patient should be given food for eight hours before the question was applied. The notary present at this audiencia de tormento was required to set down, in addition to questions asked and answers returned, the fullest details of the torture applied, and particularly how many jars of water were administered, these being the measure of the severity of the ordeal.113

The rack is too well-known to need describing here, having in its time been used in all European countries. Cruel as it was, it was perhaps one of the least cruel engines of torture that have been employed.

It was required by law that any confession extracted under torture should afterwards be ratified by the prisoner. This was one of the prescriptions of Alfonso XI in the Partidas code. It recognizes that a man might be driven by pain to say that which is not true, and therefore it forbids the courts to accept as evidence what might be declared under torture.

Therefore on one of the three days after the question had been applied—as soon, presumably, as the prisoner was sufficiently recovered to attend—the prisoner was brought once more into the audience-chamber.

His confession, reduced to writing by the notary, was placed before him, and he was invited to sign it—the act being necessary to convert that confession into admissible evidence. If he signed, the proceedings now ran swiftly and uninterruptedly to their end. If he refused to sign, repudiating the statements made, the inquisitors proceeded upon the lines laid down by Torquemada in Article XV of his “Instructions” to meet the case.

Pegna warns inquisitors against delinquents who feign madness to avoid the torture. They should not, he says, delay on that account, for the torture may be the best means of ascertaining whether the madness is real or simulated.114

Finally let it be added upon this gruesome subject that it was not only the accused who was liable to be put to the question. A witness suspected of falsehood, or one who had lapsed into contradictions in the course of his evidence, might be put to torture in caput alienum.115

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