The name is perhaps an allusion to the fact that the proceedings took place in a room from which all daylight was excluded, the only illumination being from torches, or there may be a reference to the severity of the sentences in ardente, suggesting the burning of the prisoners at the stake. These courts were originated by the Cardinal of Lorraine, the first of them meeting in 1535 under Francis I.
The Chambre Ardente co-operated with an inquisitorial tribunal also established by Francis I, the duty of which was to discover cases of heresy and hand them over for final judgment to the Chambre ardente.
The reign of Henry II of France was particularly infamous for the cruelties perpetrated by this court on the Huguenots. The Madame de Brinvilliers and her associates were tried in the Chambre Ardente between 1675 and 1680 (the affaire des poisons). The court was abolished in 1682.
See N Weiss, La Chambre Ardente (Paris, 1889), and François Ravaisson, Archives de la Bastille (Paris, 1866-1884, 16 vols).