« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
after some time, became certain for a term of years ; at length they began to be granted for the life of the feudatory; and as a last improvement, were made hereditary. But every one of these gradual steps brought new incumbrances, and the vassal was impoverished by extortions of the most ingenious description. If the lord were taken prisoner, the vassal must pay his ransom; if his daughter were about to be married, he must provide a dower; when his son was of sufficient age, the expensive ceremony of knighthood was to be defrayed for bim. Upon the death of the tenant, the heir could not enter upon the estate without a heavy composition, or relief, payable to his lord, besides, if he held immediately of the king, the payment of one whole year's profit of his lands for what was termed primer-seisin. But in case of the minority of the heir, the hardships were still greater : during his infancy, the lord was entitled to the custody of his person, and the possession of his land, without any account of the profits, or any other abatement, than such pittance as his avarice or illiberality might consider sufficient for maintenance. The lord had also the right of disposing of his infant ward in marriage; and if he refused to accept the match proposed, a fine was payable to the guardian, and double that sum if he married without his consent. Upon his coming of age, the guardian was entitled to the first half year's profits of bis estate, in consideration of his delivering it into the hands of the heir; and if he held a knight's fee, he was obliged to obtain the expensive honor of knighthood, or in case of refusal, to pay a fine to the king; " and when,” remarks an elegant legal writer, " by these deductions his fortune was so shattered and ruined that perhaps he was obliged to sell his patrimony, he had not even that poor privilege allowed him, without paying an exorbitant fine for a licence of alienation." Let the admirers of the “olden times” look back upon this complicated system of extortion, and compare with it the present state of things, which demagogues delight to declaim against as one of gross tyranny and oppression.
My pretty rose, thou'lt early fade,
G. C. C.
ON THE TRIAL BY ORDEAL.
They say blood will have blood :
Or all the devices which cunning bas imposed upon the credulity and superstition of the world, none appear more absurd or profane than the appeals which, in the dark ages, were often made to what was termed the decision or judgment of God. Whenever circumstances were not sufficiently notorious to render guilt or innocence obvious, the accused person was put upon this mode of trial; our ancestors ignorantly imagining that the Almighty would always interfere to protect innocence, and consequently that he must be guilty in whose behalf no miracle was performed. We are assured that there is a Supreme Being, who is the “ Great, First Cause,” but of himself we know nothing, and comparatively little of the mode in which he regulates the government of the universe. We perceive him in his works, and can discover that we are surrounded by secondary causes, which, acting according to laws laid down by him, maintain the order and regularity of his creation. They are fixed upon the firm basis of his ordinance, and the wit and ingenuity of man can never shake or displace them. He who formed, hath, indeed, thought proper to suspend-he who limited the powers of nature, hath sometimes enlarged their boundaries for a moment, and wrought deeds in the sight of the world, which only the Almighty could achieve; but such interpositions have been unfrequent, and never upon slight or frivolous occasions. That God will succour innocence and punish guilt, is true; but experience proves that neither in the one case nor in the other will he suspend the laws of nature whenever he may be presumptuously required so to do. Our ancestors, however, thought differently-for with them religion had degenerated into the grossest superstition. The marvellous legends of fictitious miracles, which they were taught to believe, were filled with instances of pretended supernatural occurrences, and in giving credit to these idle tales they became accustomed to suppose that the Deity would interfere whenever man's wisdom was unable to solve a difficulty, or his power insufficient to extricate himself from danger. Upon all occasions they were prepared to expect wonderful displays of Almighty power, and anticipated a miracle whenever there was a doubt. In such minds, we cannot wonder that a preference for the trial by ordeal soon became firmly rooted, more especially since it is not without a foundation in Scripture, the water of jealousy mentioned in the law of Moses, being, in fact, a species of trial by ordeal instituted by divine appointment. In a short time, questions the most serious or the most frivolous-of ecclesiastical cognizance, or of political importance-whether relating to princes, or to private individuals—were all solemnly referred to the decision of the Almighty, and various modes were adopted by which it was conceived his will might be made manifest. Nor was it to the European and Christian nations that this practice was confined; it has been found in Siam, Pegu, Malabar, and other parts of the world, where Christianity has never made its way; and " however with us it may have arisen from an abuse of revelation, its existence in these remote states, shews clearly that credulity and superstition will, in all climates and in all ages, produce the same or similar effects.”
Of the modes usually adopted, the chief were, the fire-ordealthe water-ordeal, and the trial by the corsed or consecrated bread, for each of which there was a particular mass or form of prayer.
The first of these was confined to freemen and persons of rank, and was of two sorts: either by taking up, with the uncovered hand, a piece of red-hot iron, or walking bare-foot upon a nụmber of red-hot plough shares, which were placed length-wise at equal distances, and on all of which the suspected person trod. In either of these cases, if, after three days, the hand or foot of the accused presented a
clean” appearance—that is, if it was healed or healing, he was declared innocent; but if, on the contrary, it was foul,” that is, sore, it was construed into a manifestation of guilt.
The instances of appeal to this ordeal, which have come down to us, are numerous and satisfactory. It was known amongst the Greeks, as appears from the Antigone of Sophocles, where a suspected person declares that he and his companions
“stood prepared to lift the glowing mass
Unknowing who devised, or who performed it t." By walking upon plough shares, Queen Emma cleared her character in the reign of Edward the Confessor; and in the reign of William Rufus, a company of persons who were suspected to be stealers of the King's deer, submitted to the test of handling hot irons, and escaped unhurt; upon which occasion the King is reported to have made us of an impious expression, calling in question the justice of the Deity, in allowing such fellows to go unpunished. There is also a remarkable instance of an appeal to this ordeal in the fourth century-its singularity must be our excuse for relating it. Simplicius, Bishop of Autun, before his promotion to the episcopal order, had married an amiable wife, who loved him tenderly, and being unwilling to live apart from him, continued to inhabit the same house with her husband even after his advancement. The voice of fame took occasion to impeach the sanctity of Simplicius, by reason of the constancy of his wife's affection, and it was rumoured
* Vide Blackstone's Commentaries, 4, 346.
that the holy man continued, in opposition to the ecclesiastical canon, to enjoy the society of his wife. Upon which, in the presence of a great concourse of people, she took up a quantity of burning coals, which she held in her clothes, and applied to her breasts, without the least injury to her garments or pain to her person; and her example having been followed by her husband with like success, the multitude, astonished at the miracle, proclaimed their innocence. In the following century, St. Brice also underwent a similar trial, with like success.
The trial by water-ordeal, which was in use amongst bondsmen and rustics, was also of two kinds—by hot water and by cold. The proof by the former mode was, the plunging the bare arm into boiling water; by the latter, it was performed by casting the person suspected, bound hands and feet, into a pond, and if he floated, it was deemed a proof of guilt, if he sunk, he was acquitted. It is easy to trace the relics of this water-ordeal, in the ignorant barbarity practised in many countries, and till lately in our own, in order to discover witches, namely, the casting them into a pool of water, and drowning them, to prove their innocence. Grotius mentions instances of water-ordeal in Bithynia, Sardinia, and other places. On the Coast of Malabar, persons accused of crimes are obliged to swim over a large river abounding with crocodiles, and those who escape unhurt, are reputed innocent; and in Siam, in addition to these tests, a tiger is sometimes let loose upon the parties, and those whom it spares are accounted guiltless. With us, these tests might be performed by deputy for hire or friendship; and to this day a man can declare attachment by few expressions more forcible than the common one of “going through fire and water" to serve another, which is evidently derived from this circumstance. Without collusion, or fraud, of course these trials usually ended in the establishment of the guilt of the accused; but safety might be bought from the monks, who were acquainted with compositions which rendered the skin, or whatever else was washed with it, unsusceptible of the power of fire-a secret which is now practised at country fairs, to the astonishment of our peasantry.
The trial by the corsned or consecrated bread, was also in frequent use, and consisted in giving to the accused, after a solemn declaration of innocence, bread consecrated by the priest, under the devout expectation that it would prove mortal to him who dared to swallow it with a lie in his mouth. The bread was of peculiar composition, being of unleavened barley; and if, as was sometimes the case, cheese also was administered, that was made of ewe's milk of the month of May. Amongst the prayers offered up on these occasions, was the following: “We beseech thee, O Lord! that he who is guilty of this theft (or murder), when the consecrated bread is offered to him, in order to discover the truth, that his jaws may be shut, his throat so narrow that he may not swallow, and that he may cast it out of his mouth, and not eat it.” In the reign of Edward the Confessor, Godwin, Earl of Kent, being accused of the death of
the king's brother, appealed to the corsned, which, our chroniclers inform us, stuck in his throat, and killed him. In Pegu, there is a trial by the corsned substituting raw rice for bread ; and in Monomotapa, there is a mode of deciding lawsuits somewhat similar. Amongst our lower classes, the memory of this mode of trial subsists in the phrases of abjuration still used—“ May this morsel be my last;" “ May this piece of bread choak me,” &c.
There was yet another mode of trial, and that is, the bleeding of the corpse of a person murdered. The opinion, that at the touch or approach of the murderer, blood would gush out and flow from the person murdered, appears most ridiculous. It may not be a marvellous thing for wounds to break out bleeding anew; but that they should thereby indicate the guilt of those who touched them, is an excess of superstition which it requires the utmost credulity to believe. It is' very certain that such things were practised and relied upon; and this fact alone furnishes sufficient evidence that the state of society at the time was barbarous in the extreme. Religion must have been extinguished when its sacred rites were employed to sanction presumption the most profane; and all sense of justice lost, when the trial by evidence was laid aside, and guilt or innocence determined by chance.
In the proceedings in our criminal courts of justice, there still remains a relic of these old customs, which has now degenerated into error, and might well be spared. When a criminal has pleaded “not guilty,” he is aked, “ how will you be tried ?" and the answer put into his mouth is, “ by God and my country.” It evidently must originally have been, “ by God or my country," that is, either by ordeal, which was called the judgment of God, or by a jury, which is called the trial by the country. The question asked, supposes an option in the prisoner, which does not now exist; in fact, the whole ceremony has become obsolete and useless, and would be much better omitted.
He that loves a rosy cheek,
Or a coral lip admires,
Fuel to maintain his fires ;
But a smooth and steadfast mind,
Gentle thoughts, and calm desires,
Kindle never-dying fires.