Thursday, March 01, 2007

March 1

Today is the 445th anniversary of the Vassy Massacre, which launched 36 years of nearly uninterrupted religious war between French Protestants and French Catholics. When Henri II died in 1559, a struggle for power ensued between the House of Guise -- who fancied themselves defenders of the Catholic faith -- and the House of Montmorency as well as the Bourbon princes, both of whom were for the most part Protestant worshippers. In January 1562 Catherine de Medici, wife of the deceased Henri II and regent for her son, the young King Charles IX, issued the Edict of Saint-Germain that allowed Protestants the limited freedom to worship in open air so long as they did so outside town limits. This sort of “toleration” did not sit well with the Huguenots, who continued to pursue their faith indoors and in their towns, disregarding the restrictions set in place by the regent.

When Francois de Lorraine, the second Duke of Guise, traveled to the town of Vassy on Sunday, March 1, 1562, he and his armed retainers happened upon a barn filled with Protestants, six or seven hundred in all. When the Duke’s followers attempted to disrupt the service, the Duke himself was struck by a rock hurled by one of the Huguenots. Opening fire on the assembled crowd, the retainers managed to kill at least sixty people. The Duke himself would be killed the following year, assassinated prior to his forces’ assault on the town of Orleans.

One hundred and thirty years after the Vassy Massacre, magistrates John Hathorn and Jonathan Corwin examined several women accused of being witches in the Massachusetts town of Salem. After physical examinations of Sarah Osborn, Sarah Good and the slave Tituba failed to produce evidence of “witches’ teats” -- extra nipples used to suckle demons -- the magistrates questioned the women directly, accusing them of “afflicting” several young girls with fits. Court transcripts of Good’s interrogation described her as a combative witness who denied causing the girls any harm. The magistrates were unimpressed:
shee was not willing to mention the word God[.] her answers were in a very wicked, spitfull manner reflecting and retorting aganst the authority with base and abusive words and many lies . . .
It was noted, moreover, that Good was unable to recite a psalm -- clear evidence that she held consort with unholy spirits.

The fates of Good and Osborn were sealed, perhaps, with the testimony of Tituba, which was also conducted on 1 March 1692. During questioning, the West Indian slave alleged that she had been visited by a pig or a dog who had “bid her sarve” the Devil; when she refused, she was visited by a yellow bird and two cats who also commanded Tituba to do Satan's bidding. The animals instructed Tituba to “pinch the children,” which she subsequently did by sending a cat to perform the deed. Tituba also explained to the magistrates that she had flown about on a “poall” with Osborn and Good and that she had seen a creature with wings and two legs disappear into Osborn’s cloak. This “short and hary thing,” in fact, was often seen with Osborn, according to the testimony.

Sarah Good was executed on July 19 along with Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, and Elizabeth How. Sarah Osborn died in prison on May 10. Tituba, who avoided punishment by confessing to witchcraft, later recanted her confession and spent 13 months in jail before she was purchased for seven pounds. Of the rest of her life, nothing is known.