Retentum. A supposed merciful act. A whisper of pity passed from the Grand Judge to the executioner. The accused, now having been damned to endure the crude and torturous methods of the Ancien Régime, shall be secretly spared. By sleight of smoke, the executioner would position himself behind the victim and, using a cord, strangle them before the flames could claim their sacrifice. In some cases, those sentenced to the stake would be bludgeoned before the burning. The act of Retentum was, at times, used to coerce the accused to confess. A manipulative method, no doubt, but when faced with flame or fluid freedom, the choice was clear for the soon-to-be-convicted.
The tainted tome pictured above, Discours des Sorciers, was transcribed by demonologist and Grand Judge, Henry Boguet. The book was reprinted nearly a dozen times in the decade after it’s release, which also coincides with the cruel convictions of early 17th century France. Boguet was allegedly personally opposed to extreme acts of torture, though his distaste for the diabolical deeds of Witchcraft outweighed his shaky stomach. Having amassed over 1,500 victims in his career as Grand Judge, Henry Boguet offered upwards of forty witches the right of Retentum, none of which were honored at the stake. A promise broken. A peace unknown.
Read more about Henry Boguet, The Burner of Burgandy on Monster’s, Madness and Magic: