Let them fight it out by hand, or by sticking each other with flag lapel pins, or by ordeal – anything but more of these goddamn commercials.
Trial by combat became legal in 501 by decree of Gondebaldus, King of the Burgundians. By the time of Charlemagne, trial by combat was in all legal proceedings. (Charlemagne flourished from around 745 until 814, if you call that flourishing.)
Trial by combat was more interesting than you might think. Not only the “suitors for justice,” but the witnesses might be required to submit to combat – and the judge might have to fight, too.
Talk about a long day at court.
Charlemagne’s successor, Louis the Debonair, tried to reform his dad’s legal system by permitting trial by combat only when a man’s honor was involved, or for civil cases and felonies.
That didn’t leave out many cases – misdemeanors only, I guess. Maybe Louis figured petty criminals weren’t debonair enough to swing a sword for justice.
But the Catholic Church – those spoilsports – objected to trial by combat and insisted upon trial by ordeal.
Later historians – Protestants, I presume – said the reason the Church objected to trial by combat was because it could control the ordeals, while it was powerless to control the combats.
But you know how Protestant historians are – bitter men who cling to their beliefs.
The church approved five types of trial by ordeal, if you can believe Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws.” Don’t laugh. This is all true.
The first ordeal was called the Oath Upon the Evangelists. This difficult test was reserved for the nobility. To pass this grueling ordeal, the defendant had to swear upon the New Testament, or upon a relic of a holy martyr, that he was innocent. And – here comes the hard part – he had to find twelve other men who would swear that they thought he was innocent, too.
I know what you’re thinking: Between the droit de seigneur and the Oath Upon the Evangelists, how was a feudal lord to have any fun?
Well, he might try the Ordeal of the Cross, or the Fire Ordeal. In the Ordeal of the Cross, a defendant had to choose between two bundles, one of which contained a stick, and one of which contained a stick marked with a cross. If he picked the stick with the cross, he was innocent.
Another tough test for the barons.
In the Fire Ordeal, the nobles’ holy judges scattered coals or hot ploughshares around, and the suspect had to walk through them.
It’s easy to see how the Holy Fathers could fix the Ordeals of the Cross and the Fire, so maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the Protestant historians.
Commoners had to take the Water Ordeal, in which they were tied up and thrown into a river. If they floated, it was the devil’s work, so they were fished out and killed. If they drowned, they were innocent. Dead, but innocent. Yet you still heard some commoners complain. Whiners.
My favorite ordeal was called the corsned, and it was reserved for members of the clergy. This was also known as the Ordeal of Bread and Cheese.
In this horrible ordeal – I am not making this up – the suspect priest had to pray fervently, and aloud, in his full canonical robes, while surrounded by other holy fathers, that if he were guilty, God would stop up his throat. Then – brace yourself – he had to eat a piece of bread and cheese.
If he got it down, he was innocent.
So much for the Ordeal of Bread and Cheese.
I maintain that any one of these ordeals – trial by combat, by swearing, by fire, by water, by the cross, or by bread and cheese – would be preferable, and cheaper, and just as accurate, and just as enlightening, as listening to one more goddamn TV commercial by any goddamn presidential candidate in this goddamn year of 2008.
If the candidates refuse, I say we arrange for a couple of beefy televangelists to hold the candidates down, and stuff their mouths full of bread and cheese.
Then I, personally, will deal with the televangelists.