Page:A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages-Volume I .pdf/467

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447
REFUSAL TO PLEAD.

casually, at the end of his examination, whether he had any enemies who would so disregard the fear of God as to accuse him falsely, and if, thus taken unawares, he replied in the negative, he debarred himself from any subsequent defence; or the most damaging witness would be selected and the prisoner be asked if he knew him, when a denial would estop him from claiming enmity. It is easy to imagine other tricks by which shrewd and experienced inquisitors could save themselves the trouble of admitting the accused to even the nugatory form of defence to which alone he was entitled. As to allowing him to call witnesses in his favor, except to prove enmity of the accusers, it was never thought of in ordinary cases. By a legal fiction, the inquisitor was supposed to look at both sides of the case, and to take care of the defence as well as of the prosecution. If the accused failed to guess the names of enemies among the witnesses and to disable their testimony, he was condemned.[1]

In England, under the barbarous custom of the peine forte et dure, a prisoner who refused to plead either guilty or not guilty was pressed to death, because the trial could not go on without either confession or defence. Cruel as was this expedient, it was the outcome of a manly sense of justice, which based its procedure on the rule that the worst felon should have a fair opportunity to prove his innocence. Far worse was the system of the Inquisition, which was equally resolved that its culprits should have no such easy method of escape as a refusal to plead. It had no scruples as to proceeding in such cases, and the obstinacy of the accused only simplijied matters. The refusal was an act of contumacy, equivalent to disobeying a summons to appear, or it was held to be tantamount to a confession, and the obdurate prisoner was forthwith handed over to the secular arm as an impenitent heretic, fit only for the stake. The use of torture, however, rendered such cases rare.[2]


  1. Guid. Fulcod. Quasst. xv.— Eymeric. Direct. Inq. pp. 446, 450, 607, 610, 614. — Zanchini Tract, de Hseret. c. ix., xli. — Litt. Petri Albanens. (Doat, XXXL 5).
    In the register of the Inquisition of Carcassonne from 1249 to 1258 M. Molinier has found two cases in which the accused was allowed to introduce evidence in his favor. In one of these G. Vilani^re called two witnesses to prove an alibi; in the other Guillem Nfegre brought forward a letter of reconciliation and penitence. In neither case was the defendant successful (L'Inq. dans le midi de la France, p. 346).
  2. Coll. Doat, XXXI. 149.— Bernardi Comens. Lucerna Inquisit. s. v. Taciturnitas.