CHAPTER 2. HUNCHBACKED, ONE EYED, LAME.
Every city during the Middle Ages, and every city in France
down to the time of Louis XII. had its places of asylum.
These sanctuaries, in the midst of the deluge of penal and
barbarous jurisdictions which inundated the city, were a
species of islands which rose above the level of human justice.
Every criminal who landed there was safe. There were in
every suburb almost as many places of asylum as gallows.
It was the abuse of impunity by the side of the abuse of
punishment; two bad things which strove to correct each
other. The palaces of the king, the hotels of the princes, and
especially churches, possessed the right of asylum. Sometimes
a whole city which stood in need of being repeopled was
temporarily created a place of refuge. Louis XI. made
all Paris a refuge in 1467.
His foot once within the asylum, the criminal was sacred;
but he must beware of leaving it; one step outside the sanctuary,
and he fell back into the flood. The wheel, the gibbet,
the strappado, kept good guard around the place of refuge, and
lay in watch incessantly for their prey, like sharks around a
vessel. Hence, condemned men were to be seen whose hair
had grown white in a cloister, on the steps of a palace, in the
enclosure of an abbey, beneath the porch of a church; in this
manner the asylum was a prison as much as any other. It
sometimes happened that a solemn decree of parliament
violated the asylum and restored the condemned man to the
executioner; but this was of rare occurrence. Parliaments
were afraid of the bishops, and when there was friction
between these two robes, the gown had but a poor chance
against the cassock. Sometimes, however, as in the affair of
the assassins of Petit-Jean, the headsman of Paris, and in
that of Emery Rousseau, the murderer of Jean Valleret, justice
overleaped the church and passed on to the execution of
its sentences; but unless by virtue of a decree of Parliament,
woe to him who violated a place of asylum with armed force!
The reader knows the manner of death of Robert de Clermont,
Marshal of France, and of Jean de Châlons, Marshal of
Champagne; and yet the question was only of a certain Perrin
Marc, the clerk of a money-changer, a miserable assassin;
but the two marshals had broken the doors of St. Méry.
Therein lay the enormity.