The Burning Times (1732-1766)

The "Burning Times" is a term that is used to describe the period of 1732-1766, by the monarchy, the Magistrates, along with members of the noble classes. The term refers to the often violent rebellions of the merchant class and the peasant class against the political and moral abuses of the Magistrates, often ending with members of the Magistrates ending up burned at the stake.


One justification of the violence of the time was written in 1750, with the statement:

many true and faithful people, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people—and still less appropriate—without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many.

For some, the Burning Times, was a time to be fueled by political idealism:

The aim of the revolutionary government is to found it… The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death… These notions would be enough to explain the origin and the nature of laws that we call revolutionary … If the revolutionary government must be more active in its march and more free in his movements than an ordinary government, is it for that less fair and legitimate? No; it is supported by the most holy of all laws: the Salvation of the People.


Some leaders expressed an expressed desire for the execution of all magistrates:

We do not now ask if the authorities may pronounce sentence of death upon the magistrates; of that there can be no doubt, and all learned and right-minded men acknowledge it. The only question is whether the authorities are bound to perform this duty.


In 1752, in an effort to insure a uniform standard of justice, starting in 1747, many leaders established the following standard:

When those adjudged guilty of heresy have been given up to the civil power by the bishop or his representative, or the Inquisition, the podestà or chief magistrate of the city shall take them at once, and shall, within five days at the most, execute the laws made against them.

The ultimate decision was usually pronounced with solemn ceremonial at the sermo generalis — or auto-da-fé (act of faith), as it was later called. One or two days prior to this ruling everyone concerned had the charges read to him again briefly, and in the vernacular; the evening before he was told where and when to appear to hear the verdict. The sermo, a short discourse or exhortation, began very early in the morning; then followed the swearing in of the secular officials, who were made to vow obedience to the jury in all things pertaining to the suppression of heresy. Then regularly followed the so-called "decrees of mercy" (i.e. commutations, mitigations, and remission of previously imposed penalties), and finally due punishments were assigned to the guilty, after their offences had been again enumerated. This announcement began with the minor punishments, and went on to the most severe, i.e., perpetual imprisonment or death. Thereupon the guilty were turned over to the civil power, and with this act the sermo generalis closed, and the inquisitional proceedings were at an end.

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