Henry Boguet: The Burner of Burgandy

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Retentum. A supposed merciful act. A whisper of pity passed from the Grand Judge to the executioner. The accused, now having been damned to endure the crude and torturous methods of the Ancien Régime, shall be secretly spared. By sleight of smoke, the executioner would position himself behind the victim and, using a cord, strangle them before the flames could claim their sacrifice. In some cases, those sentenced to the stake would be bludgeoned before the burning. The act of Retentum was, at times, used to coerce the accused to confess. A manipulative method, no doubt, but when faced with flame or fluid freedom, the choice was clear for the soon-to-be-convicted.

The tainted tome pictured above, Discours des Sorciers, was transcribed by demonologist and Grand Judge, Henry Boguet. The book was reprinted nearly a dozen times in the decade after it’s release, which also coincides with the cruel convictions of early 17th century France. Boguet was allegedly personally opposed to extreme acts of torture, though his distaste for the diabolical deeds of Witchcraft outweighed his shaky stomach. Having amassed over 1,500 victims in his career as Grand Judge, Henry Boguet offered upwards of forty witches the right of Retentum, none of which were honored at the stake. A promise broken. A peace unknown.

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In this book, Henry Boguet details his many supernatural proceedings and investigations. In 1584, he claims to have observed a group of Lycanthropes while they were contained in a cell. Under the eye and ire of Boguet, the Gallion family, accused of Werewolfery, would confess to carnal visitations with the Devil. Boguet noted that the family crawled on all fours, glared through red eyes, sprouted hair, produced claw-like fingernails, and howled like mad. Also described in the manuscript are the signs and traits one should look for to identify a witch. Of the unfortunate souls to cross paths with the dreaded demonologist, few are more unsettling than the tale of eight-year-old Louise Mailat.

On the 5th of June, 1598, the parents of Mailat took her before Henry Boguet. The girl was accused of shape-shifting into a wolf. According to Boguet, the child was possessed by five spirits: Wolf, Cat, Dog, Pretty, and Griffon. In his testimony, Boguet states:

The demons came out of her mouth in the shape of a ball, as big as a fist, as red as fire, except the cat was black. All those demons made three or four volts around the fire before disappearing

When priests asked little Mailat who had cast this affliction upon her, the girl named Francoise Secretain. According to the child, Secretain offered her bread crust which resembled the color of dung and her curse began to manifest soon after the consumption. After a severe questioning session and the shaving of her head, Francoise Secretain confessed that she had long been in league with the devil. The sorceress said had known him carnally four times, each time in a different form. Dog, cat, hen, goat. She then describes the Witch’s Sabbaths she attended, which culminated in her transformation into a wolf.

Francoise Secretain would commit suicide while in custody of the court. Perhaps, almost prophetically, she knew that the Retentum promised would not be delivered. Another hapless victim to the subject of our heretical highlight: Henry Boguet, The Burner of Burgandy.

Read more within the Hall of Heresy on Monster’s, Madness and Magic here:

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