The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 70

The bell that is called Borgstorm – the storm of the burg – having summoned the judges to the tribunal, they met in the Vierschare, at the stroke of four, about the linden tree of judgment.

Claes was brought before them and saw seated beneath the canopy the bailiff of Damme, and beside him and opposite him the mayor, the aldermen, and the clerk.

The people flocked up at the sound of the bell in great multitude. Many said:

“The judges are not there to do the works of justice, but of imperial serfdom.”

The clerk announced that the tribunal having first met in the Vierschare, around the linden tree, had decided that, considering the denunciations and testimonies before it, there had been good ground for seizing the body of Claes, coal vendor, native of Damme, husband of Soetkin, the daughter of Joostens. They would now, he added, proceed to the hearing of the witnesses.

Hans Barbier, a neighbour of Claes, was the first heard. Having taken the oath, he said: “Upon my soul’s salvation, I affirm and asseverate that Claes, present before this court, has been known to me for almost seventeen years, that he has always lived honestly and decently, and according to the laws and rules of our holy mother the Church, has never spoken opprobriously of her, nor to my knowledge harboured any heretic, nor hidden Luther’s book, nor spoken of the said book, nor done anything that could bring him into suspicion of having transgressed the laws and regulations of the empire. So help me God and all His saints.”

Jan Van Roosebekke was next heard, and said “that during the absence of Soetkin, Claes’s wife, he had often thought he heard in the accused man’s house the voices of two men, and that often at night, after the curfew, he had seen in a small chamber beneath the roof a light, and two men, one of them was Claes, conversing together. As for saying whether the other man was heretic or no, he could not, having only seen him at a distance. As for what concerns Claes,” he added, “I will say, speaking in all truth, that since I have known him, he always kept his Easter regularly, communicated on the principal feast days, went to mass every Sunday, except that of the Blessed Blood and those following. And I know nothing further but this. So help me God and all His saints.”

Questioned if he had not seen Claes in the tavern of the Blauwe Torre selling indulgences and mocking at purgatory, Jan Van Roosebekke replied that in fact Claes had sold indulgences, but without contempt or mockery, and that he, Jan Van Roosebekke, had bought even as also was fain to do Josse Grypstuiver, the dean of the fishmongers, who was there present among the crowd.

Thereafter the bailiff said he would proclaim the actions and conduct for the which Claes was brought before the court of the Vierschare.

“The informer,” said he, “having, as it happened, remained at Damme, so as not to go to Bruges to spend his money in riot and revelry, as is too often done at these holy times, was soberly taking the air on his own doorstep. Being there he saw a man walking in the street of the Heron. Claes, perceiving this man, went to him and saluted him. The man was arrayed in black cloth. He went into Claes’s house, and the door of the cottage was left ajar. Curious to know what this man might be, the informer went into the porch, heard Claes speaking in the kitchen with the stranger, of a certain Josse, his brother, who having been taken prisoner among the reformed troops, had been for this put to death on the rack not far from Aix. The stranger said to Claes that the money he had received from his brother being money gained through the ignorance of poor folk, he was to employ it in bringing up his son in the reformed religion. He had enjoined Claes also to leave the bosom of our Mother Holy Church, and uttered other impious words to which Claes made answer only with these words: ‘Cruel murderers! my poor brother!’ And the accused thus blasphemed against our Holy Father the Pope and his Royal Majesty, accusing them of cruelty because they most justly punished heresy as a crime, being treason divine and human. When the man had made an end of eating, the informer heard Claes cry aloud: ‘Poor Josse, may God have thee in His glory, they were cruel to thee!’ Thus he even accused God of impiety, deeming that He may receive heretics into His heaven. And Claes ceased not to say ‘My poor brother!’ The stranger, then entering into frenzy like a preacher in his preaching, cried: ‘She shall fall, great Babylon the Romish whore, and she shall become the habitation of demons and the haunt of every obscene bird!’ Claes said: ‘Cruel murderers! My poor brother!’ The stranger, continuing his discourse, said: ‘For the angel will take up that stone which is as great as a millstone. And it shall be cast into the sea, and he will say: ‘Thus great Babylon shall be cast out, and she shall no more be found.’ ‘Messire,’ said Claes, ‘your mouth is filled with anger, but tell me when shall come the reign when they that are meek and lowly of heart shall be able to live in peace upon the earth?’ ‘Never,’ replied the stranger, ‘so long as Antichrist, which is the Pope and the enemy of truth, reigneth.’ ‘Ah,’ said Claes, ‘you speak of our Holy Father without respect. Assuredly he knoweth naught of the cruel torments with which the poor reformers are punished.’ The stranger made answer: ‘He is not ignorant of these, for it is he that issueth the edicts, hath them enforced by the Emperor, now by the king, who hath the profit of confiscations, inherits from the dead, and readily brings suit for heresy against the rich.’ Claes replied: ‘These things are told in the country of Flanders, I must needs believe them; man’s flesh is weak, even when it is royal flesh. My poor Josse!’ And Claes by this signified that it was through base desire of lucre that His Majesty punished heresiarchs. The stranger, wishing to harangue further, Claes replied: ‘Be so good, messire, as to hold no more such discourses with me, for if they were overheard, they would stir up some grievous suit against me.’

“Claes arose to go to the cellar and came up thence with a jug of beer. ‘I will shut the door,’ said he then, and the informer heard no more, for he must needs lightly leave the house. The door that had been shut was nevertheless opened again at nightfall. The stranger came out, but went back speedily and knocked at it saying: ‘Claes, I am cold, I have nowhere to lodge: give me shelter, no one has seen me come in, the town is deserted and empty.’ Claes received him in his house, lighted a lantern, and was seen preceding the heretic, mounting the stairs and bringing the stranger underneath the roof to a little chamber whose window looked towards the country…”

“Who, then,” cried Claes, “who can have recounted all if not thou, vile fishmonger, whom I saw on that Sunday upon thy threshold, stiff as a post, hypocritically watching the swallows flying through the air?”

And with his finger he pointed to Josse Grypstuiver, the dean of the fishmongers, who showed his ugly face amid the crowd of the people.

The fishmonger smiled cruelly, seeing Claes betray himself in this fashion. All the people, men, women, and girls, said one to the other:

“The poor fellow, his words will past doubt cause his death.”

But the clerk continued his announcement:

“The heretic and Claes,” said he, “conversed together for long that night, and also during other nights, during which the stranger could be seen making many gestures of threatening or blessing, and lifting his arms to heaven as the manner is of his fellows in heresy. Claes seemed to approve of his words.

“Certes, during these days, evenings and nights, they talked opprobriously of the mass, of confession, of indulgences, and of His Royal Majesty…”

“No man hath heard it,” said Claes, “and I cannot be accused thus without proofs!”

The clerk continued:

“Another thing was heard. When the stranger came out from thy house, on the seventh day at the tenth hour, the night being fallen already, thou didst walk in the way with him as far as close to the boundary of the field of Katheline. There he asked what thou hadst done with the wicked idols” – and at that the bailiff crossed himself – “of Madame Virgin, Master Saint Nicholas, and Master Saint Martin. Thou didst answer that thou hadst broken them to pieces and cast them into the well. And they were in fact found in thy well last night, and the fragments are in the torture-chamber.”

At this word Claes appeared overwhelmed. The bailiff asked him if he had nothing to say in answer: Claes made a sign with his head to say no.
The bailiff asked him if he did not wish to retract the evil thought that had made him break up the images and the impious error that by reason whereof he had uttered words opprobrious to His Divine Majesty and His Royal Majesty.

Claes answered that his body was His Royal Majesty’s but that his conscience was Christ’s, whose law he meant to follow. The bailiff asked him if this law was that of our Mother Holy Church. Claes made answer:

“It is contained in the holy Gospel.”

Called upon to answer the question whether the Pope is the representative of God upon earth:

“No,” said he.

Asked if he believed it was forbidden to worship the images of Madame the Virgin and Messieurs the Saints, he replied that it was idolatry. Questioned on the point as to whether auricular confession be a good and salutary thing, he replied:

“Christ said: ‘Confess yourselves one to another’.”

He was valiant and stout in his answers, though he seemed sorely troubled and affrighted at the bottom of his heart.

Eight o’clock having struck, and the night falling, the members of the court withdrew, deferring till the morrow their final judgment.