Painful Questioning and Breaking on the Wheel

Doing a bit of research I came across the online version (g) of the Bambergische Peinliche Halsgerichtsordnung, one of the first European criminal codes. It was written by a German knight, one Johann the Strong, Baron of Schwarzenberg and Hohenlandsberg. Johann was 'Hofmeister' (a senior court official) to the Bishop of Bamberg.

From a legal perspective the Bamberg code is forward-looking in many ways, but in other ways it's, er, medieval. And what's even more awesome is that the medieval stuff is illustrated. Directly below we see court officials preparing for interrogation under torture, the so-called peinliche Befragung (g). It's even accompanied by a short poem (anyone want to try a translation in comments?). Below that we see a man about to be beheaded with a sword in the foreground, with a poor bastard broken on the wheel in the background.

Bambi046

Bambi080

6 thoughts on “Painful Questioning and Breaking on the Wheel

  1. The poems are Early New High German, a proper translation will take a trained /Germanist/. I’ll try my hand at a transcription below and offer a few words on their meanings. Glyphs I cannot parse are represented with /?/.

    Seytsich auf dich erfunden hat
    Redlich anzeig der Misetat
    ??urstu nit vuschuld auk nach radt
    Die peynlich frag sol haben stat

    Gist: I read this as “confess if you’re a criminal or be questioned under torture”. But this one is a tentative reading.

    Wem trewe straff nit bzinget frucht
    Der kumpt dick in des meysters zucht
    Des werck vnd zeug wirt hie anzeygt
    Wol dem der sich zu tugent neygt

    Gist: Whomever is not helped by more lenient methods
    whall feel the masters heavy punishment
    whose work and tools are shown below
    Praise him who tends to reighteousness.

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  2. Well, I’m no Germanist, but I’m a German. Here’s my translation.

    Seyt sich auf dich erfunden hat // Since there has been found against you
    Redlich anzeig der missetat // a righteous charge of evil deed
    Furstu nit unschuld auß nach radt // You shall not seek advice innocently
    Die peynlich frag sol haben statt // Let the painful questioning begin

    Wem trewe straff nit bringet frucht // Those for whom righteous penalty doesn’t bear fruit
    Der kumpt dick in des meysters zucht // Shall be brought fully under the master’s control
    Des werck und zeug wirt hie anzeygt // Their works and deeds are hereby made known
    Wol dem der sich zu tugent neigt // Happy the man who’s inclined to be virtuous

    The ‘Furstu’ line is really hard to understand. My guess is that ‘Furstu’ = “Fährst du”. Literally, “Fährst du nicht Unschuld aus nach Rat” = ‘You shall not extend innocence to get advice’.

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  3. On second thought, the second verse might also be read as

    Wem trewe straff nit bringet frucht // Those for whom righteous penalty doesn’t bear fruit
    Der kumpt dick in des meysters zucht // Shall be brought fully under the master’s reign
    Des werck und zeug wirt hie anzeygt // Whose working and parts are displayed here
    Wol dem der sich zu tugent neigt // Happy the man who’s inclined to be virtuous

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  4. Thanks both for the suggested translations! I find them pretty convincing, except I have an alternate reading for the line:

    Furstu nit unschuld auß nach radt // You shall not seek advice innocently.

    Couldn’t this also be read as ‘You will not continue to protest your innocence (Unschuld ‘führen’) after the wheel (radt)’?

    Seems to make a bit more sense in context, but I’m no expert.

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  5. That’s an intriguing riddle.

    The ‘Furstu’ line (? – still not sure about the correct spelling) seems to indicate, that once the accusation is made (‘anzeig der missetat’) and you can’t claim your innocence after a simple questioning you will be painfully tortured (‘… nit unschuld … nach radt’ – I think it makes no sense to translate radt with ‘wheel’ at this time, as the torture as the then following treatment will only be introduced in the next line ‘die peynlich frag sol haben stat’ ‘die Folter soll stattfinden’).

    So the gist of the first paragraph is in my amateurish opinion:
    Should you be accused of a misdeed and can’t claim your innocence in a believable way, you will be tortured.

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