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Burning alive was a penalty for certain criminal offences in late Roman and early Germanic law and was subsequently adopted in most W. European penal codes. The burning of convicted heretics was a medieval development. In 1022 Robert II of France burned some ten convicted heretics at Orléans, and burning subsequently became the normal penalty for heresy throughout the W. Initially such executions were carried out against the wishes of the Church authorities, but in 1184 Pope Lucius III decreed that unrepentant heretics should be handed over to the secular authorities for punishment and this practice was followed by the Inquisition from its inception. By 1298 all rulers punished heresy by burning. In England the Crown claimed the right to issue a writ to order the burning of condemned heretics. The act De Haeretico Comburendo (1401) gave statutory force to the burning of heretics; it was repealed in 1533, restored by Mary, and again repealed in 1558. Elizabeth I and James I ordered heretics to be burnt for Arianism and Anabaptism. The last such burning took place in 1610. In the rest of Europe burning for heresy declined in the 17th cent. and even in Spain and its dependencies became rare. Burning was the penalty for witchcraft in Catholic and some Protestant countries, including Scotland; the last burning for witchcraft in the British Isles took place at Dornoch in 1727. In parts of Europe witches were burned until at least the 1750s.

Subjects: Christianity.

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