Thomas continues with series of blogs inspired by this month’s publication of S.J. Parris’ debut Heresy.
Sometimes you read something that just makes you squirm and which you fervently hope never happened to anyone. So it was when early on in S.J. Parris’s Heresy when it is mentioned that one of the Inquisition’s torture techniques is to place a burning poker up the victim’s rectum. Actually, I must admit that this is something that I have heard of before. During a history lesson when my class were learning about the Mediaeval monarchs of England [it’s slightly strange how all that I remember of the years of history lessons that I sat through are a few tortures and odd deaths], the teacher informed us of the demise of Edward II.
According to legend, he was murdered by the previously mentioned red-hot poker up his nether orifice. To our shocked, fourteen year-old minds, this was shocking but then quickly descended into a heated debate as to how this could be accomplished. If I remember correctly, one of my friends decided to claim that it must have been done when Edward went to sit on the loo, with the murderer hiding underneath the toilet with the offending poker! This drew a large amount of derision, as none of us believed that someone could have climbed up the chute underneath the toilet, or that he would have been able to keep the poker at the right temperature as he waited for Edward. Nevertheless, the tale [which in all probability is nothing more than a Mediaeval urban legend] left a lasting impression that made that small moment in Heresy all the more potent.
But after that rather lengthy digression I arrive at my fact [well, at least I hope it is] on the Inquisition. When Pope Gregory IX issued a number of papal bulls in the 1320s, resulting in the first organised inquisition, the inquisitors were allowed to use torture to root out heretics, but could not draw blood or kill. Thus, initially at least, the Inquisition relied upon torture methods that did not draw blood. Branding and boiling of body parts in oil, water or tar thus became part of their arsenal of torture techniques.
So, I hope that you are still sitting comfortably and next I will be dealing with a reinvention of the wheel!