The Appeals: 1461-1491


A lit de justice (meeting of the Parlement
with King Charles VII) in 1458

(Le Lit de justice de Vendôme. Boccace, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, enluminure de Jean Fouquet. Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliotek, Cod. Gall. 6, fol. 2v.)

Despite these setbacks, Beaufort and some of his co-accused would eventually win redress against an inquisition that had finally, fatally, over-reached. He, Taquet, and others launched appeals to the Parlement (or royal law-court) of Paris, which had nominal jurisdiction over the county of Artois (whose feudal head, Duke Philip of Burgundy, owed fealty to the king of France) (Singer 112; on the appeals, see 112-132).

Under pressure, the inquisition lost momentum, even as the vicars faced a growing backlash among members of the public (Singer 115). Satirical ballads mocking the inquisitors were distributed anonymously in the city; Jacques du Bois, the dean of Arras, seems to have suffered a kind of mental breakdown (115-116). The inquisition was effectively stalled after December 1460 (110).

The appeals were heard over a long period stretching from May 1461 to July 1469, at which time the court issued an arrêt (or decision) in favour of the appellants (Singer 133). While the proceedings of earlier trials are lost to us, records of the appeal proceedings remain. They reveal a remarkably sophisticated set of legal arguments—challenges to judicial torture and other extralegal procedures that would not be out of place in a twenty-first century human rights trial. Although the Parlement was not in a position to enforce its arrêt in 1469, another decision, rendered in 1491, mandated the payment of reparations to the heirs of those who had been persecuted (Singer 139-141; on the arrêts in general, see 133-144).

Yet while the tide turned very quickly against the inquisitors of Arras, the “witchy” ideas upon which they had based their prosecutions did not fall into disrepute. On the contrary, the “elaborated theory” of witchcraft, which had faced one of its earliest legal tests in Arras, would remain fixed in the minds of witch-hunters in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

Indeed, the fate of Tinctor’s treatise testifies to the enduring power of these ideas. Not long after the Paris jurists were challenging the barbarism of the Arras inquistors' methods, the middle French translation of the treatise was being copied into deluxe manuscripts and printed for wealthy burghers. These were ideas whose time, tragically, had come. 

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