The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 72

On the morrow, the Borgstorm summoned with loud peals the judges to the court of the Vierschare.

When they were seated on the four benches, about the tree of justice, they interrogated Claes afresh and asked him if he wished to recant his errors.

Claes raised his hand towards heaven:

“Christ, my Lord, seeth me from on high,” said he, “I looked upon his sun when my boy Ulenspiegel was born. Where is he now, the runagate? Soetkin, my gentle goodwife, wilt thou be brave against ill fortune?”

Then looking at the linden tree, he said, cursing it:

“Storm winds and drought! make all the trees of the land of our father die as they stand rather than see freedom of conscience condemned to death under their shade. Where art thou, my son Ulenspiegel? I was hard to thee. Messieurs, have pity upon me and judge me as Our Compassionate Lord would judge me.”

All that heard him wept, save the judges.

Then he asked if there was no pardon for him, saying:

“I toiled all my days, earning but little; I was good to the poor and comfortable to all men. I left the Romish Church to obey the spirit of God that spoke to me. I ask for no other boon than to commute the penalty of the fire into that of perpetual banishment for life from the land of Flanders, a penalty already full grievous.”

All that were present cried aloud:

“Pity, sirs! Mercy!”

But Josse Grypstuiver did not cry with them.

The bailiff signed to the people there to be silent and said that the edicts contained an express prohibition against asking mercy for heretics; but that if Claes would abjure his error, he should be executed by the rope instead of by fire.

And among the people ran the word:

“Fire or rope, it is death.”

And the women wept, and the men growled sullen and low.

Then said Claes:

“I will not abjure. Do with my body as your mercy pleases.”

The dean of Renaix, Titelman, cried out:

“It is intolerable to see such heretic vermin lift up its head before its judges; to burn their bodies is but a fleeting pain; we must save their souls and force them by the torment to deny their errors, that they may not give the people the dangerous spectacle of heretics dying in final impenitence.”

At this word the women wept more and more and the men said:

“Where confession is made, there is penalty, but no torture.”

The court decided that, torture not being laid down in the Ordinances, there was no ground for making Claes undergo it. Once more called upon to abjure he replied:

“I cannot.”

He was, in accordance with the edicts, declared guilty of simony, because of the sale of the indulgences, a heretic, harbourer of heretics, and as such, condemned to be burned alive until death ensued before the doors of the Townhall.

His body would be left for two days’ space fastened to the stake to serve as an example and warning, and thereafter interred in that place where the bodies of executed criminals are wont to be buried.

The court awarded to the informer, Josse Grypstuiver, who was not named, fifty florins on the first hundred florins of the inheritance, and a tenth part of the remainder.

Having heard this sentence, Claes said to the dean of the fishmongers:

“Thou shalt come to an ill death and a bad end, thou man of evil, who for wretched pelf dost make a widow of a happy wife, and an unhappy orphan of a lighthearted son.”

The judges had allowed Claes to speak, for they also, all but Titelman, held in scorn and loathing the informing of the dean of the fishmongers.

The latter appeared all livid with shame and rage.

And Claes was taken back to gaol.