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peine forte et dure

peine forte et dure. After the Lateran Council of the church in 1215 forbade the clergy to take part in ordeals, the king's justices had no means of trying the guilt or innocence of suspected criminals. After a number of experiments they developed the trial jury of twelve men to decide. Since this jury was an innovation and not part of the Englishman's customary rights, the accused was always asked if he was willing to be tried by jury—to ‘put himself upon the county’—and if he refused, jury trial would not be proceeded with. Under the statute of Westminster I (1275), Parliament provided that anyone who refused to accept jury trial should be put into a ‘prison forte et dure’ until he agreed to it. By some error this section came to be interpreted as ‘peine forte et dure’, which in turn came to be literally interpreted as the placing of weights upon the hapless prisoner, increasing until he either consented to jury trial or perished. In 1772 the peine forte et dure was abolished.

Maureen Mulholland

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peine forte et dure

peine forte et dure a medieval form of torture in which the body was pressed with heavy weights, to death if necessary. It was used in England on prisoners who refused to accept jury trial; St Margaret Clitherow (1558–86), arrested for harbouring priests, refused to enter a plea, and died while undergoing this torture. The phrase is French, and means literally ‘strong and hard suffering’.

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