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Late Medieval criminal case records, medieval legal records, torture and confession


Medieval legal records frequently feature parties and lawyers willing to stretch the truth and weave tales that fulfill statutory requirements and promote their cases, but what happens when defendants testify against themselves? When Giambono of Matraia, a monk from the monastery of San Ponziano in Lucca, appeared before Lucca’s episcopal court in 1356, he found himself facing charges of adultery, robbery, and murder. After four witnesses testified against him, Giambono confessed. When all seemed lost, Ser Giovanni Folchini, a well-known Lucchese notary, appeared as Giambono’s legal representative and claimed his client’s confession was false, since “he said these things while stricken by terror and fear of torture.” So when is a confession not a confession? How do we tell the story of a case when we are unsure of its purpose and meaning? This study explores the medieval legal theory of torture and confession and the politics of fourteenth-century Lucca, all while seeking to unravel the mystery of Giambono’s case and, in so doing, to suggest useful analytical strategies for “knowing how to see” when working with criminal court records.