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Secret Societies of the Middle Ages

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Author Topic: Secret Societies of the Middle Ages  (Read 1695 times)
Trena Alloway
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« Reply #195 on: February 04, 2009, 01:23:36 pm »

emperor or king. A prince, town, or community, that incurred the sentence of outlawry, lost thereby at once all liberties, privileges, and graces.

Should the sentence passed be a capital one, the count flung the halter over his head out of the in-closure of the tribunal, the schöppen spat on it, and the name of the condemned was entered in the blood-book. If the criminal was present he was instantly seized, and, according to the custom of the middle ages, when, as in the East, no disgrace was attached to the office of executioner, the task of executing him was committed to the youngest schöppe present, who forthwith hung him from the nearest tree. The quality of the criminal was duly attended to; for if he was initiated he was hung seven feet higher than any other, as being esteemed a greater criminal. If the accused was not present, all the schöppen were, as we have already described, set in pursuit of him, and wherever they caught him they hanged him without any further ceremony.

The sentence was kept a profound secret from the uninitiated. A copy of it, drawn up in the usual form, and sealed with seven seals, was given to the accuser.

We thus see that the proceedings in the Fehm-courts were strictly consonant to justice, and even leaned to the side of mercy. But this was not all: the right of appeal was also secured to the accused in case the schöppen who consulted about the verdict did not agree, or that the witnesses did not correspond in their evidence; or, finally, if the verdict found was considered unjust or unsuitable; which last case afforded a most ample field of appeal, for it must have been very rarely that a sentence did not appear unjust or over-severe to the party who was condemned. It was, however, necessary that the appeal should be made on publication of the sentence,

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« Reply #196 on: February 04, 2009, 01:23:55 pm »

or at least before the court broke up. The parties were allowed to retire for a few minutes, to consult with their friends who had accompanied them. If they did not then say that they would appeal, the sentence was declared absolute, and they were forbidden, under heavy penalties, to oppose it in any other court. If they did resolve to appeal, both parties were obliged to give security de lite prosequenda. Should either party, being poor or a stranger, be unable to give security, his oath was held to be sufficient, that, as the law humanely and justly expresses it, "the stranger or the poor man may be able to seek his right in the Holy Roman Empire as well as the native or the rich man."

The appeal lay to the general chapter of the Secret closed Tribunal of the Imperial Chamber, which usually, if not constantly, sat at Dortmund; or it lay to the emperor, or king, as the supreme head of these tribunals. In case of the monarch being initiated, he could examine into the cause himself; otherwise he was obliged to commit the inquiry to such of his councillors as were initiated, or to initiated commissioners, and that only on Westphalian soil. Of this species of appeal there are numerous instances. Finally, the appeal might be made to the imperial lieutenant, who then inquired into the matter himself, with the aid of some initiated schöppen, or brought it before the general chapter of which he was president. There was no appeal to the emperor from his sentence, or from that of the chapter.

There were, besides the right of appeal, other means of averting the execution of the sentence of a Fehm-court. Such was what was called replacing in the former state, of which, however, it was only the initiated who could avail himself. Sentence having been passed on a person who had not appeared, he might voluntarily and personally repair to

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where the secret tribunal was sitting, and sue for this favour. He was to appear before the court which had passed the sentence, accompanied by two frei-schöppen, with a halter about his neck, with white gloves on him, and his hands folded, with an imperial coin and a green cross in them. He and his companions were then to fall down on their knees, and pray for him to be placed in the condition which he was in before the proceedings commenced against him. There was also what was called the complaint of nullity, in case the prescribed form of the proceedings had been violated. Some other means shall presently be noticed.


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Footnotes
363:* In German, Dienstag, probably Dinstag, i.e. Court-day.



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« Reply #197 on: February 04, 2009, 01:24:14 pm »

p. 372

CHAPTER IV.
The General Chapter--Rights of the Emperor--Of his Lieutenant--Of the Stuhlherrn, or Tribunal-Lords.

To complete the sketch of the Fehm-tribunals and their proceedings, we must state the rights and powers of the general chapter and of the emperor, his lieutenant, and the tribunal-lords.

The general chapter was a general assembly of the Westphalian tribunal-lords, counts, and schöppen, summoned once a-year by the emperor or his lieutenant. Every count was bound by oath to appear at it. It could only be holden in Westphalia, and almost exclusively at Dortmund or Arensberg. No one could appear at it who was not initiated, not even the emperor himself. The president was the emperor, if present and initiated, otherwise the lieutenant or his substitute.

The business of the general chapter was to inquire into the. conduct and proceedings of the different Fehm-courts. The counts were therefore to give an account of all their proceedings during the past year; to furnish a list of the names of the schöppen who had been admitted, as well as of the suits which had been commenced, with the names of the accusers, the accused, the forfehmed, &c. Such counts as had neglected their duty were deposed by the general chapter.

The general chapter was, as we have above observed, a court of appeal from all the Fehm-tribunals. In matters of great importance the decrees of the

p. 373

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« Reply #198 on: February 04, 2009, 01:24:24 pm »

lower courts were, to give them greater weight, confirmed by the general chapter. It was finally at the general chapter that all regulations, laws, and reformations, concerning the Fehm-law and courts, were made.

The emperor, even when the imperial authority was at the lowest, was regarded in Germany as the fountain of judicial authority. The right of passing capital sentence in particular was considered to emanate either mediately or immediately from him. The Fehm-courts were conspicuous for their readiness to acknowledge him as the source of their authority, and all their decrees were pronounced in his name.

As superior lord and judge of all the counts and tribunals, the emperor had a right of inspection and reformation over them. He could summon and preside in a general chapter.; he might enter any court; and the presiding count was obliged to give way and allow him to preside in his stead. He had the power to make new schöppen, provided he did so on Westphalian soil. Every schöppe was moreover bound to give a true answer to the emperor when he asked whether such a one was forfehmed or not, and in what court. He could also depose disobedient counts, but only in Westphalia.

The emperor could even withdraw a cause out of the hands of the tribunals. The right of appeal to him has been already noticed; but, besides this, he had a power of forbidding the count to proceed in the cause when the accused offered himself to him for honour and right; and it was at his own risk then that the count proceeded any further in the business. The emperor could also grant a safe-conduct to any person who might apply for it under apprehension of having been forfehmed, which safe-conduct the schöppen dared not violate. Even when

p. 374

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« Reply #199 on: February 04, 2009, 01:24:36 pm »

a person had been forfehmed, the emperor could save him by issuing his command to stay execution of the sentence for a hundred years, six weeks, and a day.

It is plain, that, to be able to exercise these rights, the emperor must be himself initiated, for otherwise he could not, for instance, appear where a court was sitting, make alterations in laws with which, if ignorant, he must necessarily be unacquainted, or extend mercy when he could not know who was forfehmed or not. In the laws establishing the rights of the emperor it was therefore always inserted, provided he be initiated, and the acts of uninitiated emperors were by the Fehm-courts frequently declared invalid. The emperor had, therefore, his choice of setting a substitute over the Fehm-courts, or of being himself initiated. The latter course was naturally preferred, and each emperor, at his coronation at Aix-la-Chapelle, was initiated by the hereditary Count of Dortmund. Though Aix-la-Chapelle was not in Westphalia, the law sanctioned this departure from the general rule that frei-schöppen should only be made in that country.

The emperor's lieutenant, who was almost always the Archbishop of Cologne, had the right of confirming such counts as were presented to him by the Tribunal-lords, and of investing them with the powers of life and death. He could also summon general chapters, and preside and exercise the other imperial rights in them. He might decide, with the aid of some schöppen, in cases of appeal to him, without bringing the affair before the general chapter; and he had the power of making schöppen at any tribunal in Westphalia, which proves that, like the emperor, he had free access to them all. Hence it is clear that he also must have been initiated.

The dignity and pre-eminence of the Archbishop

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« Reply #200 on: February 04, 2009, 01:24:47 pm »

of Cologne, when this office had been conferred on him, caused a good deal of envy and jealousy among the lords of Westphalia, who had been hitherto his equals, and who considered themselves equally entitled to it with him. They never let slip an occasion of showing their feelings, and they always had their counts invested by the emperor, and not by the archbishop; nay, there are not wanting instances of their having such counts as he had invested confirmed and re-invested by the emperor.

There now remain only the Tribunal-Lords (Stuhlherrn) to be considered.

The Tribunal-lord was the lord of the district in which there was a Fehm-tribunal. He might himself, if initiated, become the count of it, having previously obtained the power of life and death from the emperor, or his lieutenant; or, if he did not choose to do so, he might, as we have already seen, present a count to be invested, for whose conduct he was held responsible; and, if the count appointed by him misconducted himself, the Stuhl-herr was liable to a forfeiture of his rights. He was, in consequence, permitted to exercise a right of inspection over the Fehm-courts in his territory; no schöppé could be made, no cause brought into the court, not even a summons issued, without his approbation. There even lay a kind of appeal to him from the sentence of the count; and he could also, like the emperor, withdraw certain persons and causes from his jurisdiction. But as his power did not extend beyond his own territory, the count might refer those causes in which he wished, but was prohibited, to proceed, to the courts in other territories; he might also, if he apprehended opposition from the Tribunal-lord, require him (if initiated) to be present at the proceedings.

The Tribunal-lord, if uninitiated, could, like the

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« Reply #201 on: February 04, 2009, 01:24:58 pm »

emperor in the same case, exercise these powers only by initiated deputies.

The great advantage which resulted from the right of having Fehm-tribunals induced the high lords, both spiritual and temporal, to be very anxious to become possessed of this species of territorial property, and in consequence nearly all the lords in Westphalia had Fehm-tribunals. Even towns, such as Dortmund, Soëst, Münster, and Osnabrück, had these tribunals, either within their walls, or in their districts, or their neighbourhood, for it would not have been good policy in them to suffer this sort of Status in Statu, to be independent of their authority.



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« Reply #202 on: February 04, 2009, 01:25:26 pm »

p. 377

CHAPTER V.
Fehm-courts at Celle--At Brunswick--Tribunal of the Knowing in the Tyrol--The Castle of Baden--African Purrahs.

WE have now gone through the constitution and modes of procedure of the Fehm-tribunals of Westphalia, as far as the imperfect notices of them which have reached the present age permit. It remains to trace their history down to the last vestiges of them which appear. A matter of some curiosity should, however, be previously touched on, namely, how far they were peculiar to Westphalia, and what institutions resembling them may be elsewhere found.

Fehm-tribunals were, in fact, as we have already observed, not peculiar to Westphalia. In a MS. life of Duke Julius of Celle, by Francis Algermann *, of the year 1608, we read the following description of a Fehm- court, which the author remembered to have seen holden at Celle in his youth:--

"When the Fehm-law † was to be put in operation, all the inhabitants of the district who were above twelve years of age were obliged to appear, without fail, on a heath or some large open place, and sit down on the ground. Some tables were then set in the middle of the assembly, at which the prince, his councillors, and bailiffs, took their seats. The Secret Judges then reported the delinquents and the offences; and they went round with a white wand



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« Reply #203 on: February 04, 2009, 01:25:41 pm »

and smote the offenders on the legs. Whoever then had a bad conscience, and knew himself to be guilty of a capital offence, was permitted to stand up and to quit the country within a day and a night. He might even wait till he got the second blow. But if he was struck the third time, the executioner was at hand, a pastor gave him the sacrament, and away with him to the nearest tree.

"But if a person was struck but once or twice, that was a paternal warning to him to amend his life thenceforward. Hence it was called Jus VeniŠ, because there was grace in it, which has been corrupted and made Vim-richt."

There were similar courts, we are told, at places named W÷lpe and Rotenwald. Here the custom was for the Secret Judges, when they knew of any one having committed an offence which fell within the Fehm-jurisdiction, to give him a private friendly warning. To this end they set, during the night, a mark on his door, and at drinking-parties they managed to have the can sent past him. If these warnings took no effect the court was held.

According to an ancient law-book, the Fehm-court at Brunswick was thus regulated and holden. Certain of the most prudent and respectable citizens, named Fehmenotes, had the secret duty of watching the conduct of their fellow-citizens and giving information of it to the council. Had so many offences been committed that it seemed time to hold a Fehm-court, a day was appointed for that purpose. Some members of the council from the different districts of the town met at midnight in St. Martin's churchyard, and then called all the council together. All the gates and entrances of the town were closed; ail corners and bridges, and the boats both above and below the town, were guarded. The Fehm-clerk was then directed to begin his office, and the Fehmenotes

p. 379

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« Reply #204 on: February 04, 2009, 01:26:00 pm »

were desired to give their informations to him to be put into legal form if the time should prove sufficient.

At daybreak it was notified to the citizens that the council had resolved that the Fehm-court should be holden on this day, and they were directed to repair to the market-place as soon as the tocsin sounded.

When the bell had tolled three times all who had assembled accompanied the council, through the gate of St. Peter, out of the town to what was called the Fehm-ditch. Here they separated; the council took their station on the space between the ditch and the town-gate, the citizens stood at the other side of the ditch. The Fehmenotes now mingled themselves among the townsmen, inquired after such offences as were not yet come to their knowledge, and communicated whatever information they obtained, and also their former discoveries (if they had not had time to do so in the night) to the clerk, to be put by him into proper form and laid before the council.

The clerk having delivered his protocol to the council, they examined it and ascertained which of the offences contained in it were to be brought before a Fehm-court, and which not; for matters under the value of four shillings did not belong to it. The council then handed the protocol back to the clerk, who went with it to the Fehm-court, which now took its seat in presence of a deputation of the council.

Those on whom theft had been committed were first brought forward and asked if they knew the thief. If they replied in the negative, they were obliged to swear by the saints to the truth of their answer; if they named an individual, and that it was the first charge against him, he was permitted to clear himself by oath; but if there was a second charge against him, his own oath was not sufficient,

p. 380

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« Reply #205 on: February 04, 2009, 01:26:14 pm »

and he was obliged to bring six compurgators to swear along with him. Should there be a third charge, his only course was to clear himself by the ordeal. He was forthwith to wash his hand in water, and to take in it a piece of glowing-hot iron, which the beadles and executioners had always in readiness on the left of the tribunal, and to carry it a distance of nine feet. The Fehm-count, according to ancient custom, chose whom he would to find the verdict. The council could dissolve the court whenever they pleased. Such causes as had not come on, or were put off on account of sickness, or any other just impediment, were, on such occasions, noted and reserved for another session.

It is evident, however, that this municipal court, of which the chief object was the punishment of theft, the grand offence of the middle ages, though called a Fehm-court, was widely different from those of the same name in Westphalia.

The Tribunal of the Knowing (Gericht der Wissenden), in Tyrol, has also been erroneously supposed to be the same with the Westphalian courts. The mode of procedure in this was for the accuser to lay his finger on the head of the accused, and swear that he knew him to be an infamous person, while six reputable people, laying their fingers on the arm of the accuser, swore that they knew him to have sworn truly and honestly. This was considered sufficient evidence against any person, and the court proceeded to judgment on it.

The ideal Fehm-court beneath the castle of Baden must not be passed over without notice, as it seems to be the model after which our popular novelist described his Fehm-tribunal in Switzerland! A female writer in Germany * informs us that beneath the


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« Reply #206 on: February 04, 2009, 01:26:24 pm »

castle of Baden the vaults extend to a considerable distance in labyrinthine windings, and were in former times appropriated to the secret mysteries of a Fehm-tribunal. Those who were brought before this awful tribunal were not conducted into the castle-vaults in the usual way; they were lowered into the gloomy abyss by a cord in a basket, and restored to the light, if so fortunate as to be acquitted, in the same manner; so that they never could, however inclined, discover where they had been. The ordinary entrance led through a long dark passage, which was closed by a door of a single stone as large as a tombstone.. This door revolved on invisible hinges, and fitted so exactly, that when it was shut the person who was inside could not distinguish it from the adjoining stones, or tell where it was that he had entered. It could only be opened on the outside by a secret spring. Proceeding along this passage you reached the torture-room, where you saw hooks in the wall, thumb-screws, and every species of instruments of torture. A door on the left opened into a recess, the place of the Maiden's Kiss. When any person who had been condemned was led hither, a stone gave way under his feet, and he fell into the arms of the Maiden, who, like the wife of Nabis, crushed him to death in her arms, which were thick set with spikes. Proceeding on farther, after passing through several doors, you came to the vault of the Tribunal. This was a long spacious quadrangle hung round with black. At the upper end was a niche in which were an altar and crucifix. In this place the chief judge sat; his assessors had their seats on wooden benches along the walls.

We need not to observe how totally different from the proceedings of a genuine Fehm-tribunal is all this. That there are vaults under the castle of Baden is certain, and the description above given is possibly

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« Reply #207 on: February 04, 2009, 01:26:35 pm »

correct. But the Fehm-court which was held in them is the mere coinage of the lady's brain, and utterly unlike any thing real, unless it be the Holy Office, whose secret proceedings never could vie in justice or humanity with those of the Westphalian Fehm-courts. It is, moreover, not confirmed by any document, or even by the tradition of the place, and would be undeserving of notice were it not for the reason assigned above.

The similarity between the Fehm-courts and the Inquisition has been often observed. In the secrecy of their proceedings, and the great number of agents which they had at their devotion, they resemble each other; but the Holy Office had nothing to correspond to the public and repeated citations of the Fehm-courts, the fair trial given to the accused, the leaning towards mercy of the judges, and the right of appeal which was secured.

The most remarkable resemblance to the Fehm-tribunals is (or was) to be found among the negroes on the west coast of Africa, as they are described by a French traveller *. These are the Purrahs of the Foollahs, who dwell between Sierra Leone river and Cape Monte.

There are five tribes of this people, who form a confederation, at the head of which is a union of warriors, which is called a Purrah. Each tribe has its own separate Purrah, and each Purrah has its chiefs and its tribunal, which is, in a more restricted sense, also called a Purrah. The general Purrah of the confederation is formed from the Purrahs of the five tribes.

To be a member of the inferior Purrahs, a man must be thirty years of age; no one under fifty can have a seat in the general Purrah. The candidate


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« Reply #208 on: February 04, 2009, 01:26:50 pm »

for admission into an inferior Purrah has to undergo a most severe course of probation, in which all the elements are employed to try him. Before he is permitted to enter on this course, such of his relatives as are already members are obliged to pledge themselves for his fitness, and to swear to take his life if ever he should betray the secrets of the society. Having passed through the ordeal, he is admitted into the society and sworn to secrecy and obedience. If he is unmindful of his oath, he becomes the child of death. When he least expects it a warrior in disguise makes his appearance and says, "The great Purrah sends thee death." Every one present departs; no one ventures to make any opposition, and the victim falls.

The subordinate Purrahs punish all crimes committed within their district, and take care that their sentences are duly executed. They also settle disputes and quarrels between the leading families.

It is only on extraordinary occasions that the great Purrah meets. It then decides on the punishment of traitors and those who had resisted its decrees. Frequently too it has to interfere to put an end to wars between the tribes. When it has met on this account it gives information to the belligerents, directing them to abstain from hostilities, and menacing death if a drop more of blood should be spilt. It then inquires into the causes of the war, and condemns the tribe which is found to have been the aggressor to a four days' plundering. The warriors to whom the execution of this sentence is committed must, however, be selected from a neutral district. They arm and disguise themselves, put horrible-looking vizards on their faces, and with pitch-torches in their hands set out by night from the place of assembly. Making no delay, they reach the devoted district before the break of day, and in parties of

p. 384

from forty to sixty men, they fall unexpectedly on the devoted tribe, and, with fearful cries, making known the sentence of the great Purrah, proceed to put it into execution. The booty is then divided one half is given to the injured tribe, the other falls to the great Purrah, who bestow one half of their share on the warriors who executed their sentence.

Even a single family, if its power should appear to be increasing so fast as to put the society in fear for its independence, is condemned to a plundering by the Purrah. It was thus, though under more specious pretexts, that the Athenian democracy sought to reduce the power of their great citizens by condemning. them to build ships, give theatrical exhibitions, and otherwise spend their fortunes.

Nothing can exceed the dread which the Purrah inspires. The people speak of it with terror and awe, and look upon the members of it as enchanters who are in compact with the devil. The Purrah itself is solicitous to diffuse this notion as much as possible, esteeming it a good mean for increasing its power and influence. The number of its members is estimated at upwards of 6000, who recognise each other by certain words and signs. Its laws and secrets are, notwithstanding the great number of the members, most religiously concealed from the knowledge of the uninitiated.


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Footnotes
377:* Berck, p. 231, from Spittler's History of Hanover.

377:† Vimricht, i.e. Fehm-law, the German word, of which the author presently gives a childish etymology.

380:* Friederika Brun. Episoden aus Reisen durch das Südliche Deutschland, &c,

382:* Golberry, Voyage en Afrique, t. i. p,114, and seq.



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« Reply #209 on: February 04, 2009, 01:27:16 pm »

p. 385

CHAPTER VI.

The Emperor Lewis the Bavarian--Charles IV.--Wenceslaus--Rupertian Reformation--Encroachments of the Fehm-courts--Case of Nickel Weller and the town of Görlitz--Of the City of Dantzig--Of Hans David and the Teutonic Knights--Other instances of the presumption of the Free-counts--Citation of the Emperor Frederic III.--Case of the Count of Teckenburg.

THE history of the Fehm-gerichte, previous to the fifteenth century, offers but few events to detain at-attention. The Emperor Lewis the Bavarian appears to have exerted his authority on several occasions in granting privileges in Westphalia according, as it is expressly stated, to the Fehm-law. His successor, the luxurious Charles IV., acted with the same caprice respecting the Fehm-tribunals as he did in every thing else, granting privileges and revoking them just as it seemed to accord with his interest at the moment. This monarch attempted also to extend the Fehm-system beyond Westphalia, deeming it perhaps a good mean for bringing all Germany under the authority of his patrimonial kingdom of Bohemia. He therefore gave permission to the Bishop of Hildesheim to erect two Free-tribunals out of Westphalia. On the representations of the Archbishop of Cologne and the lords of Westphalia, however, he afterwards abolished them.

Wenceslaus, the son of Charles, acted with his usual folly in the case of the Fehm-tribunals; he is said, as he could keep nothing secret, to have blabbed their

p. 386

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