Alfred de Vigny and Michelet, each recalling the deep analysis made by the Church on the passion of love, were able to say that the romantic novel “is born from confession” (Vigny) and that Manon Lescaut is nothing more than a commentary on cases of conscience (Michelet).

Louis Ulbach, who reminds us of these two famous authors’ opinions, adds a rather singular remark:  all the Popes who have put their noses into these slightly scabrous questions, are all marked by the number 3.  They are Gregory III, Alexander III, Luca III, Innocent III, Celestin III, Honorius III.  Does this uneven number have a special virtue which makes the Popes particularly expert in resolving these sorts of problems?

This number 3 seems to have been a real obsession for the sovereigns of the Church.  According to Canon theory, the woman only has a chance of obtaining the nullity of her marriage, even if she has proven her virginity, if her husband is “useless” because of a vice of conformation or by flagrant frigidity.  Even then, it requires three years of co-habitation, after which a visit can be ordered.

Pope Honorius III ordered husbands and wives, “precipitating into such a process, to do penance”;  after which, after three years, if patience and penance had produced nothing, and if the woman was recognized intacta virgo, the marriage was declared null.

In most of these cases, it was believed that the frigidity was due to a curse.  So the Church launched its anathemae against those who used these diabolical manoeuvres.  The Councils hit them with the most severe sentences, notably the one which met at Melun in 1579.  The 1621 Rituel of Evreux also forbids this superstitious practice, and declares excommunicated ipso facto all those who do it.  The 1677 Ritual of Reims excommunicates as well “all the wizards and witches, fortune-tellers, and those who, by bindings and spells, prevent the use and consummation of marriage.”.

The magistrates are not afraid to punish “this nastiness” with capital punishment.  The Paris Parliament pronounced on it in 1582 and in 1597.  In 1718, one of the people known as “binders” or “knotters of laces” was burnt by order of the Bordeaux Parliament.

It must be remembered that clothes, in those days, were not fastened with buttons or zippers.  They were held together by metal-tipped cords – rather like today’s shoe-laces.  They were threaded into holes on either side of the opening, thereby lacing it shut.  The “binders” were accused of figuratively knotting the cord which fastened men’s breeches – a delicate way of describing the problem.

A legal expert of the time of Henri IV, Bodin, finds that such an atrocious crime cannot be too rigorously punished.  He points out that the knotters “are the cause of adulteries and debaucheries which are the result of it, for those who are bound, burning with cupidity for one another, ‘go adulterating’.”.

The same gentleman, in his Treatise on demonology, laments about the ravages and the extent of the problem:  “Of all of the most disgusting magical things, there is none so frequent everywhere, even children who make a profession of it with such impunity and licence that they don’t even hide it, and several boast about it…  ”

Boguet, still under the reign of Henri IV, writes:  “The practice is today more common than ever, as even children knot laces, a thing which merits an exemplary punishment…  ”

Pierre de Lancre, a contemporary of Boguet, tells us that the terror of this curse is so widespread at the beginning of the XVIIth Century, that most marriages are celebrated in great secret and hidden away.

According to Bodin, there are more than fifty ways to bind a man’s sexuality.  He can be bound for a day, for a year, or forever.

The most usual rite is commonly accomplished at the church, during the nuptial ceremony.  You take a lace to the wedding celebration.  When the rings are exchanged, you make a first knot in the lace.  You make a second one at the moment when the priest pronounces the essential words of the sacrement.  You make a third one when the couple is between the sheets.  The husband is bound.

Another method consists in lacing your fingers together with your hands twisted so that the palms are on the outside.  You start by the little finger of the left hand and continue slowly, until the two thumbs are joined.  Then the charm is perfect.  This rite must be accomplished in the church, at the moment when the husband presents the ring to his wife.

Abbot Thiers, the enemy of all superstition, does not go as far as casting doubt on the existence of such spells:  “It is not an imaginary and fantastic curse, it is real and effective.”.

The legal expert Fevret, invoking daily experience, adds:  “It is as easy to render a man impotent in the art of marriage by this magical art, as it is to bind the tongue and remove the use of speech, stop for a moment galloping horses, immobilise and block the wheels of a mill, charm the barrel of a hunter’s arquebus, and similar things, by spells that the sorcerers do with the help of the demon.”

To be continued.