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Mansenée, Desle la (c. 1502–1529)

Mansenée, Desle la (c. 1502–1529)

French victim of the Inquisition who was convicted of murder, heresy, and renunciation of the Catholic faith . Name variations: Desle la Mansenee. Born around 1502; executed on December 18, 1529, in Anjeux, France; married.

What has been called "the witch-craze" in Europe, which resulted in thousands of grisly deaths, mostly of women, from the mid-13th century through the 18th century, is aptly illustrated by the last months of Desle la Mansenée. Her trial also offers evidence of the continuing involvement of the Inquisition in witch trials.

In early 1529, France's inquisitor-general traveled to the village of Anjeux to collect villagers' reports of possible witches. There he heard rumors that a local woman named Desle la Mansenée was involved in communication with the devil and other acts of sorcery. Although many accused of such crimes against the faith were elderly women without protectors, usually widowed and poor, Mansenée was young, married, and, by all accounts, attractive. However, even the most unlikely candidates could, and did, fall victim to rumor, and nothing more substantial than such rumors was necessary to launch the prosecution of a suspected witch. All of the claims against Mansenée were unsubstantiated; some of the prosecution's witnesses could offer nothing more than testimony that they had heard rumors of her alliance with the devil.

Despite the weakness of the prosecution's case against her, Mansenée was questioned repeatedly, beginning in March 1529. She adamantly insisted that she was innocent of all such charges throughout these interrogations. The prosecution could not produce any real evidence of her guilt, and the trial itself uncovered nothing of significance. Therefore the prosecution ordered that Mansenée be subjected to squassation, a method of torture that was a mainstay of the Inquisition. There were five degrees to the torture, the first being the threat of it, and the second being taken to the place set aside for torture. The third degree (from which comes the phrase "put to the third degree") involved stripping the prisoner and tying her arms tightly behind her back, and the fourth consisted of raising her some five or six feet off the floor on a pulley through which was strung the rope tying the arms. Sheer body weight alone would be grievously painful, but heavy weights were also attached to the feet. If this was not enough to produce a confession from the prisoner, the final, fifth degree was employed, in which the torturer released the rope, plunging the prisoner down a few feet, and then pulled it taut again. The extreme strain produced by the weights attached to the prisoner's feet caused agonizing pain, and often dislocated arms and legs. This fifth degree could be repeated as often as the torturer cared to do so. Under the torture of squassation, Desle la Mansenée, by April 8, 1529, was willing to confess to anything, including a disclosure that the devil had promised to make her rich if she would reject Jesus Christ. She also claimed that the devil had empowered her to alter the weather and to poison cattle, and that in addition to worshiping the devil, she had had sexual relations with him. This was, of course, all the prosecution needed. Mansenée was convicted, however, not of witchcraft but of murder, heresy, and renunciation of the Catholic faith. On December 18, 1529, she was hanged at Anjeux, and her body burned.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

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