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Secret Societies of the Middle Ages

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Author Topic: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages  (Read 1744 times)
Trena Alloway
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« Reply #180 on: February 04, 2009, 01:21:07 pm »

in his hand; the Blickende Schein (looking appearance), such as the wound in the body of one who was slain; and the Gichtige Mund (faltering mouth), or confession of the criminal. Still, under all these circumstances, it was necessary that he should be taken immediately; for if he succeeded in making his escape, and was caught again, as he was not this time taken in the fact, he must be proceeded against before the tribunal with all the requisite formalities.

The second condition was, that there should be at least three initiated persons together, to entitle them to seize, try, and execute a person taken in the fact. These then were at the same time judges, accusers, witnesses, and executioners. We shall in the sequel describe their mode of procedure. It is a matter of uncertainty whether the rule of trial by peers was observed on these occasions: what is called the Arensberg Reformation of the Fehm-law positively asserts, that, in case of a person being taken flagranti delicto, birth formed no exemption, and the noble was to be tried like the commoner. The cases, however, in which three of the initiated happened to come on a criminal in the commission of the fact must have been of extremely rare occurrence.

When a crime had been committed, and the criminal had not been taken in the fact, there remained two ways of proceeding against him, namely, the inquisitorial and the accusatorial processes. It depended on circumstances which of these should be adopted. In the case, however, of his being initiated, it was imperative that he should be proceeded against accusatorially.

Supposing the former course to have been chosen,--which was usually done when the criminal had been taken in the fact, but had contrived to escape, or when he was a man whom common fame charged openly and distinctly with a crime,--he was not cited

p. 357

to appear before the court or vouchsafed a hearing. He was usually denounced by one of the initiated; the court then examined into the evidence of his guilt, and if it was found sufficient he was outlawed, or, as it was called, forfehmed *, and his name was inscribed in the blood-book. A sentence was immediately drawn out, in which all princes, lords, nobles, towns, every person, in short, especially the initiated, were called upon to lend their aid to justice. This sentence, of course, could originally have extended only to Westphalia; but the Fehm-courts gradually enlarged their claims; their pretensions were favoured by the emperors, who regarded them as a support to their authority; and it was soon required that their sentence should be obeyed all over the empire, as emanating from the imperial power.

Unhappy now was he who was forfehmed; the whole body of the initiated, that is 100,000 persons, were in pursuit of him. If those who met him were sufficient in number, they seized him at once; if they felt themselves too weak, they called on their brethren to aid, and every one of the society was bound, when thus called on by three or four of the initiated, who averred to him on oath that the man was forfehmed, to help to take him. As soon as they had seized the criminal they proceeded without a moment's delay to execution; they hung him on a tree by the road-side and not on a gallows, intimating thereby that they were entitled to exercise their office in the king's name anywhere they pleased, and without any regard to territorial jurisdiction. The halter which they employed was, agreeably to the usage of the middle ages, a withy; and they are said to have had so much practice, and to have arrived at such expertness


p. 358

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