The First Trial: May 1460


Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, Ms. 11209, fol. 1r

(The following is adapted or paraphrased from Singer (90-94); we have retranslated the excerpts from du Clercq's Mémoires.)

It was in this atmosphere of growing anxiety and hysteria that clerics from both the cité and the ville of Arras were summoned to the bishop’s palace in early May 1460. (The cité was the portion of the city ruled by the bishop, while the ville was an adjacent municipality overseen by secular échevins, or aldermen.) They ruled on the cases of seven people who had by then been accused. On 9 May 1460, five women, together with Lavite and the body of another accused man who had already committed suicide, were brought onto a scaffold in the bishop’s courtyard. Each wore a mitre on which an image of the accused paying fealty to the Devil had been painted. Jacques du Clercq describes the scene as follows:

[T]here was a remarkable number of people [in the audience], for there were people from all of the villages around Arras and from 10 or 12 leagues roundabout and more; and the inquisitor said and declared that the above named people had been [involved] in vauderie, and the manner in which they had, as follows:

That when they wished to go to the vauderie, from an ointment that the Devil had given to them, they anointed a yard’s length of quite thin wood, and their palms and their hands, then put that branch between their legs, and soon they were flying themselves where they wanted to go over the cities, forests and waters, and the Devil was taking them to the place where they were to have their assembly, and in this place they found each other. The tables were laden with wines and meats, and there they found a devil in the form of a goat, of a dog, of an ape, and sometimes of a man.

And they made oblations and paid homage to the Devil, and adored him, and most of them gave him their souls and almost all, or at least some, of their body; then they kissed the Devil in the form of a goat on his posterior, that is on the anus, with candles burning in their hands. And the Abbot of Folly was the real director and master making them pay homage when they were newly arrived. And after paying this homage, they trod upon the cross and spat upon it, in defiance of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity; and then they showed their anus toward the sky and the firmament, in defiance of God. (du Clercq 20-21)

The inquisitor, le Broussard, went on to describe other outrageous crimes: feasting and fornicating with the Devil in various forms; desecrating the host and combining it with vile substances in order to make magical ointments; and, most shocking of all, denying the promise of the afterlife. He then asked for their confessions, which they all delivered. The sentences of the assembly were delivered: the accused were to have their property seized, and were to be delivered to the secular authorities for punishment.

Most of the accused were subsequently burned at the stake, even after reversing their confessions; in the ville of Arras, three of the condemned women accused their assigned lawyer, Gilles Flament, of promising a lenient sentence in exchange for confession. They went to the stake protesting their innocence in a scene that, as du Clercq writes, “prompted the people to think a great deal and to grumble. Some people said that it was wrong to put them to death; others said the Devil had commanded them to speak this way” (du Clercq 25).

Next: Later Trials: Summer and Fall 1460