Showing posts with label trial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trial. Show all posts

05 September 2019

Holy Bastard: Pope Stephen VII & the Cadaver Synod


by Brian Thornton
Read, — how there was a ghastly Trial once Of a dead man by a live man, and both, Popes
— Robert Burns, The Ring and the Book

This week's foray into historical bastardry concerns the Papacy and a pope “convicted” of terrible crimes nearly a year after his death!

The late 9th and early 10th centuries marked a period of widespread political chaos in Italy dubbed the “Iron Age” of the Papacy. For example, no less than twenty-five men served as pope between the years 872 and 972. During this time the Papacy came to be viewed as the ultimate “plum job” by Rome’s wealthy families, many of whom vied with each other to see one of their number don the shoes of the fisherman and in turn dispense ridiculous amounts of patronage amongst his kinsmen.


Feuds developed, blood was spilled. A pope was poisoned, and the reigns of his successors became successively shorter (many of them also meeting violent ends). In the midst of all of this chaos, where a pope would change canon law by this or that decree, only to have his reforms overturned by an antagonistic successor, one pope took matters even further.

He ordered a predecessor’s corpse dug up and put on trial.
Funny, he doesn't look crazy…

Enter Pope Stephen VII, who reigned as pontiff from May of 896 to August of 897.

These days people (Catholic or not) tend to view the Pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church as a benevolent, invariably elderly man dressed in clean white robes, apolitical, a living symbol of the Church’s stances on things such as social justice and mercy.

This was not always the case.

The Papacy has been around for millennia; it is one of the oldest institutions in the Christian Church. It stands to reason that a position like this one, which has been occupied by any number of different men over the course of its existence, has been occupied by the occasional loose screw. In the case of the Papacy, one could make the case that the law of averages has been stood on its head, and the office has seen enough loose screws, screaming rivets and outright nuts to fill a toolbox.

One such loose screw was Stephen VII, a churchman so off his rocker that he was given to toasting the health of the Devil and blaspheming against God. Add in the fact that Stephen was politically beholden to the family that ruled the nearby Duchy of Spoleto, and things start to get interesting.

During the Middle Ages the idea went that if a Pope was Christ’s vicar on Earth, he ought to have actual territory to rule like any secular feudal lord. This usually included the city of Rome and varying amounts of adjacent territory.

Since the Papacy at the time was scrambling for money and troops of its own, a succession of popes (including Stephen VII and many others) made outside alliances with powerful Italian families bent on adding the prestige of the Papacy to their own names. The Popes of this period usually accomplished this end by offering to legitimize the rule of the ally in question with a formal papal coronation (literally having the Pope himself place the ruler’s crown on his blessed head) in exchange for military aid and protection.

One pope who had done this was a predecessor of Stephen’s named Formosus, whose reign lasted five years (891-896). During that time Formosus (whose name in Latin means, “good looking”) had crowned the young Duke of Spoleto Holy Roman Emperor, then turned around and offered the same crown to Arnulf, King of Germany.

Am I saying Jude Law would play him in the movie?
No. But I'm not NOT saying it..

Arnulf had answered Formosus’ invitation by invading Italy and taking Rome, where Formosus promptly crowned him Holy Roman Emperor as well. Needless to say, this caused an uproar in Spoleto, especially with Angiltrude, Queen of Italy, Duchess of Spoleto, and erstwhile Holy Roman Empress, mother of the underaged Duke of Spoleto (who, lest we forget, had already been crowned Holy Roman Emperor himself).

Struck by a sudden mysterious paralysis, Arnulf withdrew from Italy, leaving Formosus to pick up the pieces. Formosus responded by dying shortly afterward, to be initially succeeded by a couple of popes with ridiculously short reigns (one of them only lasted two weeks as pontiff!), and eventually by Stephen VII, the certifiably crazy political pawn of Spoleto’s ruling family.

About six months into his reign, Stephen had Formosus dug up and propped up in a chair in the Vatican, where he was then placed on trial (called, appropriately enough, the Synodus Horrenda in Medieval Church Latin, and known in English today as the far tamer "Cadaver Synod") with Pope Stephen himself sitting as judge. Formosus (or rather his corpse) was accused of (among other things) being ambitious enough to actually want to be pope (the nerve!).

No one is sure of Stephen’s reasons for putting on this, the ultimate show trial, but historians speculate that he was feeling pressure from Angiltrude and her supporters to delegitimize Formosus’ reign (thereby also wiping out Arnulf’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor) and suffering from some well-documented psychosis.

The trial lasted for weeks, during which time Stephen would frequently interrupt his own papal prosecutor in order to rant at Formosus’ moldering corpse, calling it all manner of names, accusing it of murder, blasphemy and several other crimes with which it was not actually charged. How the corpse responded is not recorded.

The Lateran Palace today. The "trial?" took place here.

The trial’s outcome was a foregone conclusion. The corpse was stripped of its expensive papal vestments, the first three fingers of its right hand (the three with which a pope blesses his subjects) were cut off, and the body was briefly reburied, this time in an unmarked grave in a graveyard reserved for foreigners. Within a couple of days it had been dug up yet again and tossed in to the Tiber River, only to be pulled out by a monk loyal to the dead pope’s memory.

This “Cadaver Synod” resulted in riots throughout Rome which eventually cost Stephen first his papal throne and eventually his life. He was strangled in prison less than six months after “condemning” the dead Formosus (once again, Formosus’ reaction, if any, to this news is not recorded).

A fitting end for one crazy bastard.

15 September 2016

Kirk O'Field, or How To Blow Up a King


by Eve Fisher

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587).  How you view her depends on if you see her as a romantic, beautiful young woman who had the tragic luck to be rebelled against by her own subjects and executed by the jealous, paranoid Elizabeth I; or if you see her as a beautiful young woman who was stupid enough to marry an unvetted idiot, then marry that idiot's murderer and then flee to England rather than France.  Guess which school of thought I belong to?

FrancoisII.jpg
Francis - looks a
bit sulky, doesn't he?
Mary at 13
Mary, Queen of Scots spent very little time in Scotland until she was 18.  She was shipped over to France at the age of 5 to marry Francis, heir to the French throne.  Her father in law, Henry II, and her mother in law, Catherine de Medici, both found her charming.  Her fiance/husband, probably not so much:  For one thing, Mary was at least 5'11" tall, beautiful, healthy, active, and eloquent, while Francis was "abnormally short", stuttered, and always ailing.  They married in 1558.  (The marriage was probably never consummated, but the debate continues.)  The next year, Henry II died in a jousting accident when a lance splintered and a splinter went up into his helmet and into his eye.

NOTE:  This was foretold by Nostradamus in the following memorable quatrain which is the source for all of Nostradamus' future fame and reputation:
"The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death." 
Anyway, Francis was 15 when he became king.  He immediately turned the management of France over to his mother, Catherine, who turned it over to the House of Guise, who promptly ran amok on power.  Barely 2 years later, he died, of anything from meningitis to an ear infection.

And Mary, Dowager Queen in a kingdom that already had one of those (Catherine de Medici was no shrinking violet), was out - sent back to Scotland, which she barely remembered.  And promptly disliked.  Compared to France, Scotland was crude, rough, cold, and besides she was practically met at the boat by John Knox, ultra-Presbyterian, whose whole attitude towards "The Monstrous Regiment of Women" was summed up in his pamphlet of the same name.  (He walked back on this to Elizabeth I, when he realized she was the only Protestant ruler around, explaining that he really didn't include her. She was not amused.)

And of course, everyone wanted her to marry again, fast, because she was only 18, and Scotland needed an heir to beat back the English.  Preferably Scots.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.jpgInstead, over the border came a young, handsome, TALL young man, of both English and Scots noble blood, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany, Lord Darnley.  Six foot three inches, TALLER than Mary, one of her nobles described the meeting:  "Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen."  They were married in 3 months.  She got pregnant almost immediately.  Great rejoicing.

Except that she had married an arrogant, vain, power-hungry man who had no intention of "just" being King Consort - he wanted the Crown Matrimonial, i.e., to be KING, with Mary as his subordinate queen.  She refused.  Darnley was also not the most cultured of men, and she spent more and more time with her secretary and lute-player, David Rizzio.  Now the Scots lairds all already hated Rizzio (Catholic, Italian, plays a lute, what's not to hate?), and since she was spending so much time with him rather than her husband, rumors flew that she was pregnant by him.  (And stuck for a very long time:  Years later, when one man called Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, "the Scottish Solomon", another quipped, "Aye, for he is the son of David".)

Anyway, Darnley joined in the hatred, and joined with the lairds to murder him.  And they did:  lairds and King came storming into Mary's supper chamber and stabbed him 56 times in front of her.  I have to hand it to her:  she was tough.  She was 7 months pregnant, and didn't miscarry.  She managed to, after the murder, to persuade Darnley that the lairds would murder him next, and got him to help her escape.  They fled on horseback, and again, she didn't miscarry.  Some of the lairds fled to England, which did them little good.  (Elizabeth I wasn't thrilled by lords rebelling against their queen.)  Mary had a bonny baby boy, for which all rejoiced.  

So, everyone was great, everything was fine - except that Darnley had developed a bad case of the pox.  Arguments still abound whether it was smallpox or syphilis, but at the time, it was assumed to be syphilis.  (He'd never been known for his faithfulness or sobriety.)

And four months after the birth of James, Mary and her lairds held a meeting to discuss the "problem of Darnley".  Divorce was discussed, but somewhere - and, hopefully, when Mary was not in the room, the nobles agreed that :"It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth ... that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; ... that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend."[114]

Darnley wasn't entirely stupid - he went to stay on his father's estates in Glasgow, but in January, Mary persuaded him to come back to Edinburgh.  (The rumor was that she promised to bed him again.)  He was staying in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at Kirk o'Field. Mary visited him daily.  On the night of February 9, 1567, Mary visited him and then went to a wedding at the palace.  In the late night/early morning hours, a massive explosion blew up the house - later it was proved that the basement had been packed full of gunpowder, and not by accident.  However, Darnley managed to get out before the explosion:  he was found dead in the garden.  There were no marks of violence on the body, or so they said.  (We have no autopsy or photographs, of course.)  It was assumed, however, that he was smothered to death:  and that Mary had ordered it.  And that an old friend and strong ally, James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, was deeply involved.

Elizabeth I wrote her:  "I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not ... tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought."[124]
NOTE:  And indeed she did not:  when Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley, was suspect of murdering his wife, Amy - who'd fallen down a flight of stairs while he was at court, breaking her neck - Elizabeth sent him away from the court, and ordered a trial.  He was acquitted, and Elizabeth did receive him at court again.  But she never married him, and never would.  In fact, at one point she offered Mary a signed document, guaranteeing her succession to the English throne, if Mary would marry Robert Dudley, which was pretty insulting.  Mary married Darnley almost immediately afterwards.  

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, c 1535 - 1578. Third husband of Mary Queen of Scots - Google Art Project.jpg
Lord Bothwell
But, back to the murder.  Lennox, Darnley's father, demanded Bothwell be put on trial.  He was, on April 12, 1567.  Seven hours later, he was acquitted.

Now here's where it gets tricky.  12 days later, Mary was "abducted" by Lord Bothwell, and taken to Dunbar Castle.  Was she raped, or did she consent?  (I confess, that I have always wondered why, if he did rape her, she didn't have him executed. I mean, fine, agree to marry him, go with him back to Edinburgh, and then call in the palace guards.  By God that's what Elizabeth I would have done...) Either way, something happened, because they returned to Edinburgh and she married him on May 15.  (And she had a miscarriage in July that was far enough along so that they knew there were twins.)

Nobody was happy with the marriage other than (perhaps) Mary and Bothwell.  Everyone was shocked that she had married the man accused and tried of murdering her husband.  Twenty-six Scots peers raised a rebellion against them, and by June 15, Mary was their prisoner.   On July 24, she was forced to abdicated in favor of her son, James, who was 1 year old.  Bothwell was driven into exile. (He fled to Denmark, where he died, insane, in 1578.)

Mary had a knack for persuasion, though: She managed to get the brother of the owner of Loch Leven Castle (where she was imprisoned) to help her escape on May 2, 1568.  She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men, but lost to the forces of the Earl of Moray.  She fled south, and crossed the Solway Firth into England in a fishing boat.  On May 18, she was in "protective custody" at Carlisle Castle.

A really good question is why she didn't try to get to France.  France and Scotland had always had a strong alliance against the English.  The House of Guise was still powerful, and would have helped her one way or another. If nothing else, she would have been a valuable dynastic pawn.  But she somehow thought that Elizabeth would help her get back her throne, which (imho) is ultimate proof of how stupid she was.  After all, Elizabeth I's position as Queen of England was infinitely safer with an infant King of Scotland than with this loose romantic cannon, still reeking of strong scandal.  Mary spent the rest of her life in England, a prisoner, plotting to regain her throne and, eventually, plotting to have Elizabeth I dethroned and murdered.  After a trial, that was more or less rigged, she was convicted.  And on February 8, 1587, at Fotheringay, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded...

Elizabeth I never had any children.  James VI of Scotland became James I of England after Elizabeth's death in 1603.  It's almost impossible to know what James really thought about his mother, but two points leap out at me:  
(1) James never tried to get his mother released, never wrote to her, and never spoke of her to anyone during the years before her death.  
(2) After he became King of England, it took him 9 years (in 1612) to have her body transferred from Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire to Westminster Abbey in London.  
Make of that what you will.  




24 June 2012

Absurdity Trumps Common Sense


by Louis Willis

In my March post, “The 13th Juror,” I discussed how a judge addicted to pain pills was removed from the bench because of his criminal activities in obtaining the pills. A special judge was appointed to decide if defendants in a 2007 carjacking-torture-murder case should get new trials. After the three male defendants were convicted, two of them were given life sentences. The ring leader received a death sentence. At the time the original judge was removed from the case, the female defendant had been found guilty of facilitation but had not been sentenced. The original judge I called P. The special Judge, whom I called G, without holding hearings, granted all four defendants new trials.

I’ve been following the latest developments in the case through the Knoxville News Sentinel because my daughter could still be on the witness list.

In his decision, Judge G concluded that Judge P’s addiction and criminal activities deprived the defendants of “constitutionally sound trials”. He also decided that he could not act as the 13th juror because of credibility issues with Judge P and the witnesses. The prosecutor appealed the decision to grant new trials to the three male defendants, but did not appeal the decision on the female because of Judge P’s erratic behavior during her trial.

The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that Judge G was wrong in granting new trials and directed him to address the issue of whether the credibility of the witnesses was crucial in the state’s case. The Court stated that if Judge G concluded the witnesses’ credibility was key and could not evaluate their candor from the transcript alone, he must grant new trials. The Court further ruled that the defense must show proof of error before new trials may be granted. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, Judge G again ordered new trials for the three male defendants without holding hearings.

The prosecutor filed a motion with Judge G requesting that he recuse himself. Judge G refused to recuse (On my, I’m channeling Johnny Cochran!). He even threaten the DA with contempt of court, and told the DA’s special counsel he should report himself to the state board that polices lawyers.

Failure to follow the Supreme Court’s directive is bad enough but what is most disturbing is Judge G’s off the record actions in an attempt to prevent public scrutiny. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, he removed documents from the court records and ordered prosecutors not to refer to them in public. He corresponded with prosecutors through emails instead of issuing orders that would become part of the court record. He held meetings with lawyers in chambers instead of holding hearings. In his motion asking Judge G to recuse himself, the prosecutor cited emails in which the judge said little birdies were putting thoughts in his head.

Anyone should know, but especially a judge, that trying to keep judicial proceedings secret from the press in a high profile case is like trying to hide meat from a hungry pack of dogs. The press will smell something wrong in a New York minute (by the way, what is a New York minute?). Judge G allowed absurdity to trump common sense.

On Thursday, June 21, 2012, Judge G scheduled a hearing on the prosecution’s recusal motion for October 8, which will allow the DA to put his objections into the official record. Maybe, just maybe, common sense will begin to trump absurdity in this case.

The Blue Bird of Common Sense