HOW DID DEFENDANTS DO IN ORDEALS? How did the defendant do in trials by ordeal? I would have bet that in a fair ordeal, without divine intervention, the defendant would always lose. Professor Leeson’s article is based on his earlier scholarly paper, which tells a lot more about trials by ordeal. In the paper, he quotes Maitland, the great authority on English legal history that “success at the ordeal” was “far commoner than failure”; and Pollock and Maitland say that the “evidence …we have seems to show that ordeal of hot iron was so arranged as to give the accused considerable chance of escape.”–which provides some support that the ordeals were rigged. There are some statistics. Records of 208 ordeals from Hungary in the early 1200’s show that the defendant lost 37.5% of the time and in three reported cases from England, all three defendants prevailed —much better than I would have expected, but on the whole not very comforting for the innocent defendant facing an ordeal.

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