Part 11 – Lesions and Legalisms

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The Trial Approaches

In late September, 1901, Doctor Stephen Conrad received word from the Reading Assize Court: the date for Victor Gorenhoff’s trial had been set for late May of the following year.

Sally JessopShortly after this, another letter was sent to him from Hugo Jameson, the barrister appointed to lead Gorenhoff’s defence. Jameson was now beginning to plan strategy and wanted to know how much progress Conrad had made in his assessment of Gorenhoff’s mental state. Had Conrad’s patient killed the children in a delusional state? Or were his actions the result of pure malice?

The M’Naghten Rules – which remain the standard by which a plea of insanity is judged by English Law – are long and complex and lead to a rebuttable presumption, a legal term meaning that the burden of proof is on the party denying it: Gorenhoff would be presumed to be sane unless strong evidence to the contrary was presented and proven.

Dr Conrad had studied Gorenhoff for many months, and was convinced that Gorenhoff fulfilled two of the requisites for a legal plea of insanity: first, that he suffered from a disease of the mind which caused his perception of the world to become warped; and second that, as a corollary of his diseased mind, the nature of his acts must therefore have been committed while in a delusional state – Gorenhoff claimed to serve a ghostly “master”, whom he had identified as a 14th century knight, Kernan Haustvald.

Conrad had a detailed list of all that Gorenhoff had said about this “master”, which he summarised as follows:

Fleet Pond1 – Haustvald’s spirit had first appeared to Gorenhoff at Fleet Pond, emerging from the waters while Gorenhoff fished

2 – The spirit had offered to heal Gorenhoff’s cleft palate

3 – It had subsequently visited Gorenhoff in dreams, showing him how to find the ruined lazaret in Railroad Heath

4 – It had explained the details of the ritual necessary to cure Gorenhoff and had urged him to kill children as part of it

Conrad wrote back to Jameson that the figure of Haustvald was of a most singular importance as it proved Gorenhoff was truly insane: unable to face the implications of his own maniacal urges, Gorenhoff had externalised them by fixating upon a “master” whose bidding he was forced to obey.

Jameson asked if he could meet the prisoner with the intention of securing a deposition from him.

Amyl NitrateConrad replied, stating that Gorenhoff had lapsed into near catatonia, convinced that his “master” had abandoned him. There were various drugs he could use to try to rouse Gorenhoff – an oral solution of cocaine combined with the inhalation of ampoules of amyl nitrate would almost certainly work – but given the prisoner’s immense strength and propensity for sudden and terrible violence, he feared using such powerful stimulants before more conventional methods had been exhausted.

On September 29th, Dr Conrad wrote to Professor Albert Longden and told him to cease his work in the Winchester Archives and to bring everything to Broadmoor. “Perhaps your historical research might serve to break him from his melancholia,” Conrad wrote.

The Leper King Unveiled

By this point, Longden had unearthed a great deal of historical details relating to the Knights of the Pale Saint and their fall from grace 500 years ago.

Upon arriving at Broadmoor, Longden showed these to Conrad, drawing particular attention to the hurried notes he had made detailing the results of the religious inquest ordered by Richard II.

KriegsmesserOnce the preceptory of the Knights of the Pale Saint had been fired and destroyed in May of 1389, Longden explained, only one of the knights emerged alive from the blazing ruin: their preceptor, Kernan Haustvald, clad head-to-toe in the black plate armour he wore into battle, and carrying with him a Kriegsmesser sword which measured “a yard-and-a-half in length”.

A Dominican friar, Bernard de Luis, commanded the forces, and at a word from him, foot soldiers rushed forward to arrest the man; but they recoiled when they came close, ‘such was the foetor which emerged from beneath his armour’.

When De Luis stepped forward to confront Haustvald, he, too, noticed the stench of sickly flesh that enveloped the man – noticed it and recognised it for what it was.

‘Go ahead, Black Friar,’ Haustvald said, throwing his war-blade to the ground, his hoarse voice filled with a curious mixture of scorn and mirth. ‘Thou hast me now in thy noose, denuded of all trappings of glory save my armour. Strip it from me and make my fall complete.’

A man was found who had once served as squire to a great lord and knew how to remove the armour quickly. De Luis sprinkled him with Holy Water and blessed him, then bade him strip the plate armour from Haustvald’s body.

At this command, Haustvald began to laugh.

plate armourAs each piece clattered to the floor, and the padded gambeson jacket worn below the metal plates was cut away, more and more of Haustvald’s lesioned, lumped and discoloured skin was revealed. The surrounding soldiers stepped back, for they recognised immediately that Haustvald was a leper.

Once the armour was stripped away, Haustvald was revealed as a once strong and broad man now broken by infirmity: his limbs bent and twisted inwards upon themselves, his chest and neck scaled with diseased skin.

De Luis knew now why the man laughed. Haustvald was so enfeebled that torture would have been useless, as it would likely kill him; and even were he to be put to the question, few torturers would be willing to go near a leper, given the mistaken beliefs at the time as to the extremely contagious nature of the disease.

Besides this, English Common Law forbade the extraction of confessions through torture (which was the principal reason the Inquisition never gained a foothold in England) and De Luis would need a special warrant should he wish to employ extreme methods.

Haustvald laughed again, as if having read De Luis’s thoughts, his eyes flaring behind the mask of stitched leather that was still bound tightly to his face and which no amount of tugging or pulling would remove.

torture‘Fear not, Black Friar, for I will tell thee all thou needest to know, but on my conditions. I have foreseen this moment and there is a Lazaret house I have had built not far from here.

‘There thou mayst inflict what woes upon my fleshly form as thou might desire. And there I will tell thee all you wish to know anent the Pale Saint and the privileges he grants.’

Interrogation at the Lazaret

At mention of the lazaret, Dr Conrad turned excitedly to Longden. Was this the same house in which Gorenhoff had lived? Longden nodded then gestured for the doctor to read further.

While Haustvald was shackled and bound in chains, De Luis ordered his soldiers to sally forth and find the lazaret. His scouts soon reported back that the “stone house is small and possesses a deep and much tunnelled cellar; but it seems an adequate place for both imprisonment and interrogation”.

Woodcut of leprosy in medieval timesDe Luis ordered that Haustvald be taken there in a cart, for such was the condition of his legs, the man could hardly walk. De Luis followed, taking with him a number of lesser Dominican friars to act as assessors (a position between jury and legal advisor in medieval religious inquests) and two scribes. These men set up their tables, cut the tips of their goose-feather quills and unrolled pages of vellum parchment.

All the while, Haustvald maintained a sardonic and mocking demeanour, even when he was strapped down to a chair and a second – unsuccessful – attempt made to remove the mask from his face.

It was a most horrible thing,’ De Luis wrote, ‘a full-face mask with holes for eyes and a slit for a mouth, comprised of a patchwork of crudely stitched leather the prisoner claimed he had skinned personally from the faces of slaughtered pagans. I know not how, but the thing seems attached to his face by some form of mucilaginous paste which has dried and hardened; and tiny runes of a dark and devilish nature are tattooed into the skin along each of the seams.’

As De Luis’s soldiers tugged and pulled at the mask, Haustvald laughed hysterically. Then he began spitting on the soldiers, who immediately fled the building in search of water to wash their clothes and skin, believing themselves at risk of infection. The scribes and lesser friars stayed in the room, but pressed themselves against the walls.

Only Bernard de Luis maintained his calm. ‘Whether you are a witch and a heretic remains to be seen,’ he said, ‘but I see you are neither a knight nor a gentleman, spitting as you do like an ale-fuddled peasant.’

scribeFor the first time, Haustvald’s derisive composure seemed shaken. He sat upright in the chair and ceased to laugh. He glared balefully from behind his mask.

‘Let us be done with this business, then, for I tire of both thee and of thy pious posturing. Ask me what thou wilt, I will not hesitate to answer truthfully for I have nothing to hide, and thou hast a great deal to learn.’

‘Six children have disappeared from this region,’ De Luis said. ‘What know you of this?’

‘They were taken by my men and brought to me.’

‘And where are they now?’

By way of answer, Haustvald looked towards the principal scribe.

‘Hast thou eaten today, snip-quill?’

The man nodded.

‘Good,’ Haustvald said. ‘For when I am finished with my testimony, thou wilt not crave food again soon . . .’

Part 12: Crimes and Confessions


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