Case of Witchcraft

Case of Witchcraft: The Trial of Urbain Grandier

Robert Rapley
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Case of Witchcraft
    Book Description:

    As a Catholic priest, Grandier was an influential figure in the Loudun community and local government. A brilliant speaker, he was popular with his parishioners. But he had enemies, including Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII, who was trying to wrest political autonomy from local governors and centralize power in Paris. Grandier's support of the governor of Loudun meant that he was seen as an enemy of the crown. In addition, the debonair priest's romantic intrigues brought him into conflict with some of the town's most influential power brokers.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6711-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 3-4)

    At five o’clock in the morning the judges met to deliver their verdict:

    We declare the said Urbain Grandier duly guilty of the crime of sorcery, evil spells, and the possession visited upon some Ursuline nuns of this town of Loudun and of other laywomen mentioned at the trial, together with other crimes resulting from the above. For redress of these, he has been condemned ... to be taken to the Place of Sainte-Croix of this said town, to be tied to a post on a pile of faggots that is to be burned alive ... and his ashes are...

  5. Twelve Good Years
    (pp. 5-21)

    Loudun was a magnificent sight, set on a hill in the middle of a wide, rich valley. On the peak of the hill sat the enormous fortress within its own walls, guarding the city and its ten thousand souls.¹ To approach the fortress, an enemy had first to get through the wall that encompassed the town, with its turrets, strong points, and defensive towers, and then fight his way over a succession of drawbridges, each a major defence point in itself. Even then, he would only be outside the main defensive tower of the château. Loudun was a very strong...

  6. Disaster
    (pp. 22-40)

    Grandier had twelve good years. In his life as a parish priest, he was outstandingly successful, with a reputation as a preacher that extended far beyond the limits of the town. In the town itself he was accepted into the best society as an equal. Although of “good stock,” he could not normally have aspired to be accepted on such terms by the cream of Loudun society. In the fixed social structure of his time, he had come up in the world. His advice was sought not only in matters of conscience and religion but in financial concerns and for...

  7. Grandier and His Bishop
    (pp. 41-60)

    Grandier had been ordered by the Parlement of Paris to go to Poitiers immediately and hand himself over to his bishop, but he delayed for a day before leaving Paris in order to see his patron, Jean d’Armagnac. Grandier may have considered this essential, but it was typical of him to think that his powerful friends and his own exceptional qualities permitted him to interpret the parlement’s decision the way he wanted to. It was foolish to disregard the court order. D’Armagnac made it clear to Grandier that he was as appalled as the priest at the accusations that had...

  8. Destruction and Plague
    (pp. 61-74)

    One reason why Grandier returned to Loudun was that d’Armagnac needed him there to protect his interests. The governor had been the priest’s strong right arm during his long tribulations, but having such a patron implied giving service in return. The time for this had come. D’Armagnac had by now accepted that the château and the town walls would be razed, but within the château was the donjon, a great round tower eighty feet high with walls thirteen feet thick, surrounded by its own protective fortifications. It was his home in Loudun and the seat of his administration over the...

  9. Possession
    (pp. 75-87)

    There is a common view that convents were places where young girls were forced to go against their will. It is widely assumed that they were locked up for life by parents or other authorities because they were unable to find a husband or were suffering from unrequited love; or because they were too poor to marry or were so wild or difficult that it was best to put them in a convent before they caused any more trouble. According to this portrayal, these misfits lived a life of boredom, saying their prayers regularly but being open to all sorts...

  10. Grandier the Accused
    (pp. 88-108)

    Up to this point, only priests had been present at the exorcisms. This was natural because it was a religious matter without any criminal implications. But the nature of the case was changing. If an individual was about to be named by the devils as being responsible for introducing them into the convent, the civil authorities would have to be brought in, since sorcery or witchcraft was a criminal offence.¹ This presented the priests with a problem. When the civil authorities were brought in, acting for the king, who would now be in charge? If they thought that the exorcisms...

  11. Bishop versus Archbishop
    (pp. 109-122)

    Grandier knew that the exorcists would not give up now that they were convinced that demonic possession had taken place. When things had quietened down, they would feel compelled to return to their investigations and exorcisms; their spiritual concern for the nuns would demand that they bring everything to a conclusion. And if the exorcists returned, all of Grandier’s problems would return as well, together with the accusation against him. Like de Cerisay, he soon came to the conclusion that it was not the exorcisms that were a threat to him; it was the fact that the leading exorcists were...

  12. Arrest
    (pp. 123-133)

    By the beginning of 1633 the city walls had gone. Throughout that spring and early summer, the cardinalists openly conspired for the fall of the donjon – and successfully so. Eventually the secretary of state, who was both protector and friend to d’Armagnac, warned him that the battle was lost; the cardinal was determined to have the donjon razed. Any further resistance, he said, would be useless and would bring down on him the wrath of the cardinal and, eventually, of the king. From that day d’Armagnac left the field to his enemies. Sad, sick, and discouraged, he wrote to Grandier...

  13. Appeal of Innocence
    (pp. 134-144)

    Immediately after the arrest on 7 December 1633, Laubardemont went to Grandier’s house, accompanied by Mesmin, Hervé, Moussaut, the avocat du roi Menuau, and other magistrates. Trincant, of course, could not be there; he now had no official position, having resigned in disgrace. But he was well represented. When they entered the house, Grandier’s mother, Jeanne d’Estièvre, was there. A determined old lady, she stood firmly at the door of her son’s bedroom, barring the way and refusing to move. Hervé and another of Mesmin’s sons-in-law grasped her and pulled her aside, holding her out of the way so that...

  14. The Exorcisms
    (pp. 145-166)

    Now that Laubardemont had returned to Loudun and Grandier had been moved there, the commissioner was able to turn his attention to the nuns once more. The first thing he did, with the bishop’s agreement, was to have them sequestered. This was the step Grandier had been asking for, over a period of months. It was quickly accomplished now that it was Laubardemont, the king’s commissioner, who was making the demand. In twos, threes, and fours the nuns were placed in the private homes of respectable people, who were to be responsible for their care. Two were lodged with one...

  15. The Trial
    (pp. 167-179)

    In spite of the gravity of the situation, there were some in Loudun who were prepared to treat the affair with humour. Every day posters were found attached to the walls of the churches making fun of the commissioner. One event during an exorcism in the Church of Sainte-Croix was particularly galling to him. When the devil who possessed one of the nuns was ordered by the priests to speak the truth, it proclaimed in a loud voice, “Monsieur de Laubardemont is a cuckold.” The commissioner was absent at the time at another exorcism, so the clerk duly transcribed these...

  16. Torture and Death
    (pp. 180-197)

    On the evening of 17 August, the judges held public prayers to implore God’s aid in helping them search their consciences and do their duty. The following day, at five o’clock in the morning, they met at the Carmelite convent to give their judgment.¹ Without calling the curé of Saint-Pierre to the bar, the sentence was read out:

    We declare the said Urbain Grandier duly guilty of the crime of sorcery, evil spells, and the possession visited upon some Ursuline nuns of this town of Loudun and of other laywomen mentioned at the trial, together with other crimes resulting from...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 198-208)

    When the fire had burned out, the executioner took some of the ashes and threw them to the four winds as the sentence required. Many of the spectators then rushed forward to get some small part of the victim’s remains as a souvenir of the event.¹

    After the principal actor had gone from the stage, many of the cast also disappeared from view in that they lived out unrecorded and unremembered lives. But a surprising number left further traces of themselves.

    On 18 September 1634, exactly one month after Grandier’s execution and death at his hands, Lactance died in convulsions...

  18. Appendix One
    (pp. 211-221)
  19. Appendix Two
    (pp. 222-224)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 225-262)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-277)