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La sorcellerie et la ville

 | 
Antoine Follain
, 
Maryse Simon

Controverses autour des procès de sorcellerie en ville de Lausanne pendant l’épiscopat de Benoît de Montferrand (1476-1491)

Controversies about witch-trials in the city of Lausanne during the episcopate of Benoît of Montferrand (1476–1491)

Georg Modestin

Résumé

Prince-bishop Benoît of Montferrand is unloved by local historiography in Lausanne. This can be explained by the continuous tensions that existed between him and his subjects throughout his reign (1476–1491). Quite shortly after acceding to his Episcopal see, Benoît of Montferrand met with resistance because his subjects were no longer accustomed to a strong hand, as the Lausanne see had witnessed a procession of weak figures from the death of Bishop George of Saluzzo in 1461 to the coming to power of Benoît of Monterrand fifteen years later. One of the areas in which Bishop Benoît clashed heavily with his subjects were the witch-trials held in the Episcopal castle of Ouchy, just outside the cathedral city. The townspeople of Lausanne blamed the bishop’s officers in particular for violating their rights, which stipulated that torture was not to be used unless unanimously agreed upon by the secular court of Lausanne consisting of noblemen and citizens of Lausanne. Moreover, even if decreed in due form, torture was not to be used shrouded in secrecy but rather in public—a principle that was contrary to inquisitorial practice. So, in January 1478, the bishop’s ecclesiastical judge Baptiste d’Aycard was summoned to appear before the city council because rumours had spread that he had proceeded against so-called heretics without notifying the municipal authorities. Between 1479 and 1488, three major controversies broke out about trials for witchcraft, mainly because the townspeople of Lausanne considered that their rights had been violated by the bishop’s officials. In the “Magnyn affair” (1479–1480), the city fathers hired a high-profile lawyer to defend the accused and appealed to the metropolitan court of the archbishop of Besançon against the Dominican inquisitor. Unfortunately, the outcome of this case is not known. In 1482, the city counsellors appealed to the resident court of the duke of Savoy in Chambery. They blamed the bishop and his officers for arresting suspects without preliminary enquiry, using torture without previously consulting the secular court, and torturing suspects in secrecy. One of them, Jean Huguet, had died in prison after a long period of incarceration, possibly under torture, and the bishop’s officers had burnt his corpse in a barrel. The last case was the “Vuibert affair” (1487–1488). In the course of this affair, the local Dominican vice-inquisitor admitted that the arrest of Claude Vuibert had taken place at the bishop’s behest. This confession made the existing tension explode: crowds of people besieged the bishop’s prison until Vuibert was handed over to them and freed. However, all these affairs did not originate in any purported scepticism regarding the crime or the possibility of witchcraft. What really made the citizens stand up against the bishop and his officers was the fear that their rights might be violated.

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Extrait du texte

Benoît de Montferrand compte, après Georges de Saluces (1440-1461), comme le deuxième grand chasseur de sorciers et sorcières parmi les évêques de Lausanne à l’époque médiévale. Pendant son épiscopat, le diocèse de Lausanne fut en proie à une persécution endémique qui toucha prioritairement la campagne. Certaines affaires suscitèrent cependant de grandes controverses dans la ville de Lausanne, même si les accusés n’étaient pas des Lausannois. Si les autorités municipales se saisirent néanmoins de ces cas pour en faire les leurs, c’est parce qu’elles estimaient que les franchises lausannoises, dont l’application dépassait le territoire de la ville, étaient lésées par la tenue, à leurs yeux abusive, de ces procès.

Un évêque mal-aimé

L’évêque Benoît de Montferrand est le mal-aimé de l’historiographie lausannoise. Encore de nos jours, il a été caractérisé comme ayant été « très imbu de ses droits », et il aurait « véc[u] en mauvaise intelligence avec ses sujets auxquels une longue période...

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