Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

The Inquisition

The Inquisition! Its very name was fraught with horror. It was indeed a tribunal from which there was no escape. Its familiars haunted every household, plumbing the secrets of the unconscious inhabitants. Its proceedings were reduced to a horrible simplicity. Wherever suspicion was aroused, arrests followed, and on arrest, torture—torture which never ceased till it wrung confession from its victim, who was then punished by death.

Midnight, and gloomy dungeons dimly lighted by torches! It was at such times and in such places torture was carried on. To add to the horror of the scene, the executioner was wrapped from head to foot in a long black robe, while his eyes gloated over his victim through holes cut in the hood which covered his face.

Among all the inquisitors in the Provinces the name of Peter Titelmann was perhaps the most dreaded. Throughout Flanders, Douay, and Tournay his name was feared and his presence loathed. Noiselessly and swiftly he descended upon these, the most thriving and populous districts of the Netherlands. Remorselessly, like a great bird of evil omen, he swooped down upon the inhabitants, bringing with him grim terror and agony worse than death. The trembling peasants offered little or no resistance as they were dragged from their firesides or their beds and thrust into the dungeons, where torture, strangling, or burning awaited them. The paralysis of fear was on the country, and Peter Titelmann knew it right well.

Walking along the highroad one day, a sheriff, who, from the colour of the wand he carried, was called Red-Rod, called to the inquisitor, "How can you venture to go about alone, or at most with but one or two attendants, arresting people on every side, while I dare not attempt to execute my office save at the head of a strong force, armed in proof, and then only at the peril of my life?"

"Ah, Red-Rod," answered Peter Titelmann, "you deal with bad people. I have nothing to fear, for I seize only the innocent and virtuous, who make no resistance and let themselves be taken like lambs." Thus out of his own mouth stood Titelmann condemned.

But while many were terrified, there were others, men, women, and children these, who were inspired with a courage that enabled them to face the inquisitor right nobly. Hearing of a schoolmaster who was "addicted to reading the Bible," Titelmann had the culprit arrested and charged with heresy. The schoolmaster demanded that, if he were guilty of any crime, he should be tried before the judges of his own town.

"You are my prisoner," cried Titelmann, "and are to answer me and none other."



It did not take long to convince the inquisitor that the schoolmaster was indeed a heretic, and he forthwith ordered him to recant. The schoolmaster refused.

"Do you not love your wife and children?" asked his tormentor.

"God knows," answered the victim, "that if the whole world were gold and my own, I would give it all only to have them with me, even had I to live on bread and water in bondage."

"You have then only to renounce the error of your opinions," answered Titelmann.

"Neither for wife, children, nor all the world can I renounce my God," answered the prisoner.

Thereupon Titelmann sentenced him to the stake. He was strangled and then thrown into the flames.

There was need to be vigilant, thought the executioner, lest any should escape his toils. Though indeed of that there seemed little chance.

A simple weaver of Tournay, copying hymns of the Reformed faith from a book printed in Geneva, was seized. There was no possible escape for such a heretic. He was condemned by Titelmann to be burned alive.

A year later the same inquisitor ordered Robert Ogier, his wife and two sons to be arrested. They were quiet citizens living in the province of Flanders. Their crime was one of both omission and commission. They had neglected to attend Mass, and they had worshipped God in their own house.

"What rites have you practised in your home?" demanded Titelmann.

One of the sons, a mere boy, answered: "We fall on our knees and pray to God that He may enlighten our hearts and forgive our sins. We pray for our Sovereign, that his reign may be peaceful and prosperous, and his life also peaceful. We pray too for the magistrates and others in authority, that God may protect and preserve them all."

Titelmann had placed the case before the civil tribunal, and the lad's simple words drew tears from the eyes of some of the judges. Nevertheless, the father and elder son were condemned to the flames. "O God," prayed the boy as he was bound to the stake, "Eternal Father, accept the sacrifice of our lives in the name of Thy beloved Son."

"Thou liest, scoundrel!" fiercely interrupted a monk, as he stooped to light the pile, "God is not your Father, and ye are the devil's children."

As the flames rose above them the boy cried out once more, "Look, Father, all heaven is opening, and I see ten hundred thousand angels rejoicing over us; let us be glad, for we are dying for the truth."

"Thou liest, thou liest!" screamed the angry monk; "ten thousand devils shall receive your souls."

Such were the scenes enacted throughout the Netherlands after Philip, with Granvelle's aid, had established the new bishoprics, and with them the increased number of inquisitors. Little wonder that the Cardinal, to whom the people attributed the whole infamous machinery of persecution, should be not only unpopular, but already in 1562 hated of all men. In the Council of State, Vigilius and Berlaymont, it is true, were still his followers; the other members, to whom there had been added Glayon, Aerschot, and Hoorn, however, sympathised with the popular hatred felt towards Granvelle. Even the Regent had begun to feel that she was but a plaything in the hands of her chief adviser, and to dislike him accordingly.

The Cardinal, however, was not deterred either by the popular clamour or by the opposition of the nobles from resolutely endeavouring to carry out his master's intentions. For this purpose he did all that was in his power to increase the zeal of his underlings, yet heresy spread like wildfire, and both judges and executioners began to quail before the signs of hatred and defiance that were meted out to them.

If Granvelle had expected to crush the people without resistance, he was now to discover his mistake. In the autumn of 1562 two ministers, Fareau and Mallart, had been condemned for preaching the new doctrines to their disciples. They were avowed heretics, and, moreover, had been accused of working miracles. In reality their offence consisted in reading the Bible and explaining its meaning to a few friends in the city of Valenciennes. The Governor, Marquis Berghen, was of set purpose constantly absent from the province, for he hated with his whole soul the cruel system of persecution inflicted by the Inquisition. In his absence it was difficult to have the sentence passed on Fareau and Mallart carried out, owing to the increasing hesitation of judges, and even inquisitors, to face the rage of the populace. Granvelle sent express orders to Berghen to return at once to his province, and meanwhile perpetually denounced him to Philip.

"The Marquis says openly," he writes, "that it is not right to shed blood for matters of faith. With such men to aid us your Majesty can judge how much progress we can make."

Six or seven months passed and still the ministers were lying in the dungeons into which they had been cast in the autumn. Day and night the streets of the city were thronged by muttering crowds, who pressed about the prison windows, hurling threats of defiance at the authorities, and encouraging the prisoners with promises of rescue should an attempt be made to carry out their sentence.

At length Granvelle's patience was exhausted, and he sent down imperative orders that the two ministers should suffer immediate death by fire. On the 27th April 1562 Fareau and Mallart were accordingly taken out of prison and brought to the market-place to be burned. As Fareau was being tied to the stake he exclaimed, "O Eternal Father!" A woman in the crowd at the same moment took off her shoe and flung it at the cruel pile. It was the signal that had been arranged. On the instant the crowd was in motion. Some dashed upon the barriers surrounding the place of execution, while others seized the already flaming faggots and scattered them in every direction. To carry out the sentence was impossible, but the guards succeeded in carrying the condemned ministers again to prison. The authorities were in dismay, the inquisitors furious, shouting, "We will put them to death in prison and throw their heads out on the streets." But the people, who had been marching along the streets singing the Psalms of David, had at last determined to act. In a body they directed their steps to the prison, and so vigorous was their onslaught that the prisoners were rescued and succeeded in escaping from the city.

But Fareau continued to preach and heal, and a few years later was again seized and put in prison. "He was then," says the chronicler drily, "burned well and handsomely" in the very place from which he had formerly been rescued.

The Government at Brussels was furious when informed of all that occurred, and vengeance sharp and swift descended on the unfortunate city. On the 29th April 1562 the military were marched into Valenciennes. The prisons were crowded with men and women suspected of taking part in the tumult. On the 16th May the executions began. Some were burned, others were beheaded, and only when all had suffered death did Government feel that the demands of justice were fulfilled.