A spark of decency

2008841087I’m up to the year 1551 in the Martyrs Mirror, and I’ve come across the first accounts of popular and judicial opposition to the Catholic Church’s campaign of terror against the Anabaptists. The first account is thin on detail, listing the martyr only as “a smith at Komen.” The Smith was given a choice – recant and die by the sword or otherwise die by fire.

…But seeing the multitude and fearing trouble, the authorities kept the brother in prison. Hence, some climbed to the top of the prison and broke through the roof to see what was being done with the doomed man.

The tale ends anticlimactically with someone knocking on the prison door, being allowed in and returning outside with the smith’s blood on his hands, showing that he had, indeed, been killed. The body was brought out on a ladder, head between his legs, and propped against the churchyard wall. The priest claimed that the man had recanted.

But it was firmly believed that the priest slandered the dead man…

Whether the smith recanted or the story is even remotely true, we will never know. However, a new meme seems to be emerging in the Mirror’s accounts, that of the sneaky authorities executing Anabaptists secretly, rather than in public as they had before. This theme spills over to the judiciary in the story of Willem the Cabinetmaker of Cleves. The story maintains that one of the seven judges, Claes Meselear, played sick rather than join the other six in condemning the man. So, his six peers, along with the “Burgomaster,” visited him to try to get his consent.

He said he did not want to condemn so pious a man. Thereupon, the Burgomaster said, “By this you will incur the great displeasure of our gracious prince and lord.” Claes replied, “I will rather incur the displeasure of Duke William than of the Most High.”

Claes’ dissent did not prevent the execution. And, in a two-memes-for-the-price-of-one deal, the Mirror includes a line about the Burgomaster being tormented by lice and struck dumb. As reward for his principled stand, Old Claes “resigned” and then lost his head as well.


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