Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


ON the following Sunday, which was Trinity Sunday, there arose a rumour that Jeanne had resumed man's apparel. The report spread rapidly from the castle down the narrow streets where lived the clerks in the shadow of the cathedral. Straightway notaries and assessors hastened to the tower which looked on the fields.

In the outer court of the castle they found some hundred men-at-arms, who welcomed them with threats and curses.[910] These fellows did not yet understand that the judges had conducted the trial so as to bring honour to old England and dishonour to the French. They did not realise what it meant when the Maid of the Armagnacs, who hitherto had obstinately persisted in her utterances, was at length brought to confess her impostures. They did not see how great was the advantage to their country when it was published abroad throughout the world that Charles of Valois had been conducted to his coronation by a heretic. But no, the only idea these brutes were capable of grasping was the burning of[Pg ii.324] the girl prisoner who had struck terror into their hearts. The doctors and masters they treated as traitors, false counsellors and Armagnacs.[911]

In the castle yard is Maître André Marguerie, bachelor in decrees, archdeacon of Petit-Caux, King's Counsellor,[912] who is inquiring what has happened. He had displayed great assiduity in the trial. The Maid he held to be a crafty damsel.[913] Now again he desired to give an expert's judgment touching what had just occurred.

"That Jeanne is to be seen dressed as a man is not everything," he said. "We must know what motives induced her to resume masculine attire."

Maître André Marguerie was an eloquent orator, one of the shining lights of the Council of Constance. But, when a man-at-arms raised his axe against him and called out "Traitor! Armagnac!" Maître Marguerie asked no further questions, but speedily departed, and went to bed very sick.[914]

The next day, Monday the 25th, there came to the castle the Vice-Inquisitor, accompanied by divers doctors and masters. The Registrar, Messire Guillaume Manchon, was summoned. He was such a coward that he dared not come save under the escort of one of the Earl of Warwick's men-at-arms.[915] They found Jeanne wearing man's apparel, jerkin and short tunic, with a hood covering her shaved head. Her face was in tears and disfigured by terrible suffering.[916]

[Pg ii.325]

She was asked when and why she had assumed this attire.

She replied: "'Tis but now that I have donned man's dress and put off woman's."

"Wherefore did you put it on and who made you?"

"I put it on of my own will and without constraint. I had liefer wear man's dress than woman's."

"You promised and swore not to wear man's dress."

"I never meant to take an oath not to wear it."

"Wherefore did you return to it?"

"Because it is more seemly to take it and wear man's dress, being amongst men, than to wear woman's dress.... I returned to it because the promise made me was not kept, to wit, that I should go to mass and should receive my Saviour and be loosed from my bonds."

"Did you not abjure, and promise not to return to this dress?"

"I had liefer die than be in bonds. But if I be allowed to go to mass and taken out of my bonds and put in a prison of grace, and given a woman to be with me, I will be good and do as the Church shall command."

"Have you heard your Voices since Thursday?"


"What did they say unto you?"

"They told me that through Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret God gave me to wit his sore pity for the treachery, to which I consented in abjuring and recanting to save my life, and that in saving my life I was losing my soul. Before Thursday my Voices had told me what I should do and what I did do on that day. On the scaffold my Voices told me to reply boldly to the preacher. He is a false[Pg ii.326] preacher.... Many things did he say that I have never done. If I were to say that God has not sent me I should be damned. It is true that God has sent me. My Voices have since told me that by confessing I committed a great wickedness which I ought never to have done. All that I said I uttered through fear of the fire."[917]

Thus spake Jeanne in sore sorrow. And now what becomes of those monkish tales of attempted violence related long afterwards by a registrar and two churchmen?[918] And how can Messire Massieu make us believe that Jeanne, unable to find her petticoats, put on her hose in order not to appear before her guards unclothed?[919] The truth is very different. It is Jeanne herself who confesses bravely and simply. She repented of her abjuration, as of the greatest sin she had ever committed. She could not forgive herself for having lied through fear of death. Her Voices, who, before the sermon at Saint-Ouen had foretold that she would deny them, now came to her and spoke of "the sore pity of her treachery." Could they say otherwise since they were the voices of her own heart? And could Jeanne fail to listen to them since she had always listened to them whenever they had counselled her to sacrifice and self-abnegation?

It was out of obedience to her heavenly Council that Jeanne had returned to man's apparel, because she would not purchase her life at the price of denying the Angel and the Saints, and because with her whole heart and soul she rebelled against her recantation.[Pg ii.327]

Still the English were seriously to blame for having left her man's clothes. It would have been more humane to have taken them from her, since if she wore them she must needs die. They had been put in a bag.[920] Her guards may even be suspected of having tempted her by placing under her very eyes those garments which recalled to her days of happiness. They had taken away all her few possessions, even her poor brass ring, everything save that suit which meant death to her.

To blame also were her ecclesiastical judges who should not have sentenced her to imprisonment if they foresaw that they could not place her in an ecclesiastical prison, nor have commanded her a penance which they knew they were unable to enforce. Likewise to blame were the Bishop of Beauvais and the Vice-Inquisitor; because after having, for the good of her sinful soul, prescribed the bread of bitterness and the water of affliction, they gave her not this bread and this water, but delivered her in disgrace into the hands of her cruel enemies.

When she uttered the words, "God by Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret hath given me to wit the sore pity of the treason to which I consented," Jeanne consummated the sacrifice of her life.[921]

The Bishop and the Inquisitor had now to proceed in conformity with the law. The interrogatory however lasted a few moments longer.

"Do you believe that your Voices are Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine?"

"Yes, and they come from God."

"Tell us the truth touching the crown."[Pg ii.328]

"To the best of my knowledge I told you the truth of everything at the trial."

"On the scaffold, at the time of your abjuration, you did acknowledge before us your judges and before many others, and in the presence of the people, that you had falsely boasted your Voices to be those of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret."

"I did not mean thus to do or to say. I did not deny, neither did I intend to deny, my apparitions and to say that they were not Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine. All that I have said was through fear of the fire, and I recanted nothing that was not contrary to the truth. I had liefer do my penance once and for all, to wit by dying, than endure further anguish in prison. Whatsoever abjuration I have been forced to make, I never did anything against God and religion. I did not understand what was in the deed of abjuration, wherefore I did not mean to abjure anything unless it were Our Lord's will. If the judges wish I will resume my woman's dress. But nothing else will I do."[922]

Coming out of the prison, my Lord of Beauvais met the Earl of Warwick accompanied by many persons. He said to him: "Farewell. Faites bonne chère." It is said that he added, laughing: "It is done! We have caught her."[923] The words are his, doubtless, but we are not certain that he laughed.

On the morrow, Tuesday the 29th, he assembled the tribunal in the chapel of the Archbishop's house. The forty-two assessors present were informed of what had happened on the previous day and invited to state their opinions, the nature of which might easily be anticipated.[924] Every heretic who retracted[Pg ii.329] his confession was held a perjurer, not only impenitent but relapsed. And the relapsed were given up to the secular arm.[925]

Maître Nicholas de Venderès, canon, archdeacon, was the first to state his opinion.

"Jeanne is and must be held a heretic. She must be delivered to the secular authority."[926]

The Lord Abbot of Fécamp expressed his opinion in the following terms: "Jeanne has relapsed. Nevertheless it is well that the terms of her abjuration once read to her, be read a second time and explained, and that at the same time she be reminded of God's word. This done, it is for us, her judges, to declare her a heretic and to abandon her to the secular authority, entreating it to deal leniently with her."[927]

This plea for leniency was a mere matter of form. If the Provost of Rouen had taken it into consideration he also would have been excommunicated, with a further possibility of temporal punishment.[928] And yet there were certain counsellors who even wished to dispense with this empty show of pity, urging that there was no need for such a supplication.

Maître Guillaume Erard and sundry other assessors, among whom were Maîtres Marguerie, Loiseleur, Pierre Maurice, and Brother Martin Ladvenu, were of the opinion of my Lord Abbot of Fécamp.[929]

Maître Thomas de Courcelles advised the woman being again charitably admonished touching the salvation of her soul.[Pg ii.330]

Such likewise was the opinion of Brother Isambart de la Pierre.[930]

The Lord Bishop, having listened to these opinions, concluded that Jeanne must be proceeded against as one having relapsed. Accordingly he summoned her to appear on the morrow, the 30th of May, in the old Market Square.[931]

On the morning of that Wednesday, the 30th of May, by the command of my Lord of Beauvais, the two young friars preachers, bachelors in theology, Brother Martin Ladvenu and Brother Isambart de la Pierre, went to Jeanne in her prison. Brother Martin told her that she was to die that day.

At the approach of this cruel death, amidst the silence of her Voices, she understood at length that she would not be delivered. Cruelly awakened from her dream, she felt heaven and earth failing her, and fell into a deep despair.

"Alas!" she cried, "shall so terrible a fate betide me as that my body ever pure and intact shall to-day be burned and reduced to ashes? Ah me! Ah me! Liefer would I be seven times beheaded than thus be burned. Alas! had I been in the prison of the Church, to which I submitted, and guarded by ecclesiastics and not by my foes and adversaries, so woeful a misfortune as this would not have befallen me. Oh! I appeal to God, the great judge, against this violence and these sore wrongs with which I am afflicted."[932]

While she was lamenting, the doctors and masters,[Pg ii.331] Nicolas de Venderès, Pierre Maurice and Nicolas Loiseleur, entered the prison; they came by order of my Lord of Beauvais.[933] On the previous day thirty-nine counsellers out of forty-two, declaring that Jeanne had relapsed, had added that they deemed it well she should be reminded of the terms of her abjuration.[934] Wherefore, according to the counsel of these clerics, the Lord Bishop had sent certain learned doctors to the relapsed heretic and had resolved to come to her himself.

She must needs submit to one last examination.

"Do you believe that your Voices and apparitions come from good or from evil spirits?"

"I know not; but I appeal to my Mother the Church."[935]

Maître Pierre Maurice, a reader of Terence and Virgil, was filled with pity for this hapless Maid.[936] On the previous day he had declared her to have relapsed because his knowledge of theology forced him to it; and now he was concerned for the salvation of this soul in peril, which could not be saved except by recognising the falseness of its Voices.

"Are they indeed real?" he asked her.

She replied, "Whether they be good or bad, they appeared to me."

She affirmed that with her eyes she had seen, with her ears heard, the Voices and apparitions which had been spoken of at the trial.[Pg ii.332]

She heard them most frequently, she said, at the hour of compline and of matins, when the bells were ringing.[937]

Maître Pierre Maurice, being the Pope's secretary, was debarred from openly professing the Pyrrhonic philosophy. He inclined, however, to a rational interpretation of natural phenomena, if we may judge from his remarking to Jeanne that the ringing of bells often sounded like voices.

Without describing the exact form of her apparitions, Jeanne said they came to her in a great multitude and were very tiny. She believed in them no longer, being fully persuaded that they had deceived her.

Maître Pierre Maurice asked about the Angel who had brought the crown.

She replied that there had never been a crown save that promised by her to her King, and that the Angel was herself.[938]

At that moment the Lord Bishop of Beauvais and the Vice-Inquisitor entered the prison, accompanied by Maître Thomas de Courcelles and Maître Jacques Lecamus.[939]

At the sight of the Judge who had brought her to such a pass she cried, "Bishop, I die through you."

He replied by piously admonishing her. "Ah! Jeanne, bear all in patience. You die because you have not kept your promise and have returned to evil-doing.[940] Now, Jeanne," he asked her, "you have always said that your Voices promised you deliver[Pg ii.333]ance; you behold how they have deceived you, wherefore tell us the truth."

She replied, "Verily, I see that they have deceived me."[941]

The Bishop and the Vice-Inquisitor withdrew. They had triumphed over a poor girl of twenty.

"If after their condemnation heretics repent, and if the signs of their repentance are manifest, the sacraments of confession and the eucharist may not be denied them, provided they demand them with humility."[942] Thus ran the sacred decretals. But no recantation, no assurance of conformity, could save the relapsed heretic. He was permitted confession, absolution, and communion; which means that at the bar of the Sacrament the sincerity of his repentance and conversion was believed in. But at the same time it was declared judicially that his repentance was not believed in and that consequently he must die.[943]

Brother Martin Ladvenu heard Jeanne's confession. Then he sent Messire Massieu, the Usher, to my Lord of Beauvais, to inform him that she asked to be given the body of Jesus Christ.

The Bishop assembled certain doctors to confer on this subject; and after they had deliberated, he replied to the Usher: "Tell Brother Martin to give her the communion and all that she shall ask."[944]

Messire Massieu returned to the castle to bear this reply to Brother Martin. For a second time Brother[Pg ii.334] Martin heard Jeanne in confession and gave her absolution.[945]

A cleric, one Pierre, brought the body of Our Lord in an unceremonious fashion, on a paten covered with the cloth used to put over the chalice, without lights or procession, without surplice or stole.[946]

This did not please Brother Martin, who sent to fetch a stole and candles.

Then, taking the consecrated host in his fingers and presenting it to Jeanne, he said: "Do you believe this to be the body of Christ?"

"Yes, and it alone is able to deliver me."

And she entreated that it should be given to her.

"Do you still believe in your Voices?" asked the officiating priest.

"I believe in God alone, and will place no trust in the Voices who have thus deceived me."[947]

And shedding many tears she received the body of Our Lord very devoutly. Then to God, to the Virgin Mary and to the saints she offered prayers beautiful and reverent and gave such signs of repentance that those present were moved to tears.[948]

Contrite and sorrowful she said to Maître Pierre Maurice:[949] "Maître Pierre, where shall I be this evening?"

"Do you not trust in the Lord?" asked the canon.[Pg ii.335]

"Yea, God helping me, I shall be in Paradise."[950]

Maître Nicolas Loiseleur exhorted her to correct the error she had caused to grow up among the people.

"To this end you must openly declare that you have been deceived and have deceived the folk and that you humbly ask pardon."

Then, fearing lest she might forget when the time came for her to be publicly judged, she asked Brother Martin to put her in mind of this matter and of others touching her salvation.[951]

Maître Loiseleur went away giving signs of violent grief. Walking through the streets like a madman, he was howled at by the Godons.[952]

It was about nine o'clock in the morning when Brother Martin and Messire Massieu took Jeanne out of the prison, wherein she had been in bonds one hundred and seventy-eight days. She was placed in a cart, and, escorted by eighty men-at-arms, was driven along the narrow streets to the Old Market Square, close to the River.[953] This square was bordered on the east by a wooden market-house, the butcher's market, on the west by the cemetery of Saint-Sauveur, on the edge of which, towards the square, stood the church of Saint-Sauveur.[954] In this[Pg ii.336] place three scaffolds had been raised, one against the northern gable of the market-house; and in its erection several tiles of the roof had been broken.[955] On this scaffold Jeanne was to be stationed, there to listen to the sermon. Another and a larger scaffold had been erected adjoining the cemetery. There the judges and the prelates were to sit.[956] The pronouncing of sentence in a religious trial was an act of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. For the place of its pronouncement the Inquisitor and the Ordinary preferred consecrated territory, holy ground. True it is that a bull of Pope Lucius forbade such sentences to be given in churches and cemeteries; but the judges eluded this rule by recommending the secular arm to modify its sentence. The third scaffold, opposite the second, was of plaster, and stood in the middle of the square, on the spot whereon executions usually took place. On it was piled the wood for the burning. On the stake which surmounted it was a scroll bearing the words:

"Jehanne, who hath caused herself to be called the Maid, a liar, pernicious, deceiver of the people, soothsayer, superstitious, a blasphemer against God, presumptuous, miscreant, boaster, idolatress, cruel, dissolute, an invoker of devils, apostate, schismatic, and heretic."[957]

The square was guarded by one hundred and sixty men-at-arms. A crowd of curious folk pressed behind the guards, the windows were filled and the[Pg ii.337] roofs covered with onlookers. Jeanne was brought on to the scaffold which had its back to the market-house gable. She wore a long gown and hood.[958] Maître Nicolas Midi, doctor in theology, came up on to the same platform and began to preach to her.[959] As the text of his sermon he took the words of the Apostle in the first Epistle to the Corinthians:[960] "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." Jeanne patiently listened to the sermon.[961]

Then my Lord of Beauvais, in his own name and that of the Vice-Inquisitor, pronounced the sentence.

He declared Jeanne to be a relapsed heretic.

"We declare that thou, Jeanne, art a corrupt member, and in order that thou mayest not infect the other members, we are resolved to sever thee from the unity of the Church, to tear thee from its body, and to deliver thee to the secular power. And we reject thee, we tear thee out, we abandon thee, beseeching this same secular power, that touching death and the mutilation of the limbs, it may be pleased to moderate its sentence...."[962]

By this formula, the ecclesiastical judge withdrew from any share in the violent death of a fellow creature: Ecclesia abhorret a sanguine.[963] But every one knew how much such an entreaty was worth; and all were aware that if the impossible had happened and the magistrate had granted it, he would have been subject to the same penalties as the heretic.[Pg ii.338] Things had now come to such a pass that had the city of Rouen belonged to King Charles, he himself could not have saved the Maid from the stake.

When the sentence was announced Jeanne breathed heart-rending sighs. Weeping bitterly, she fell on her knees, commended her soul to God, to Our Lady, to the blessed saints of Paradise, many of whom she mentioned by name. Very humbly did she ask for mercy from all manner of folk, of whatsoever rank or condition, of her own party and of the enemy's, entreating them to forgive the wrong she had done them and to pray for her. She asked pardon of her judges, of the English, of King Henry, of the English princes of the realm. Addressing all the priests there present she besought each one to say a mass for the salvation of her soul.[964]

Thus for one half hour did she continue with sighs and tears to give expression to the sentiments of humiliation and contrition with which the clerics had inspired her.[965]

And even now she did not neglect to defend the honour of the fair Dauphin, whom she had so greatly loved.

She was heard to say: "It was never my King who induced me to do anything I have done, either good or evil."[966]

Many of the bystanders wept. A few English laughed. Certain of the captains, who could make nothing of the edifying ceremonial of ecclesiastical justice, grew impatient. Seeing Messire Massieu in the pulpit and hearing him exhort Jeanne to make a good end, they cried:[Pg ii.339]

"What now, priest! Art thou going to keep us here to dinner?"[967]

At Rouen, when a heretic was given up to the secular arm, it was customary to take him to the town hall, where the town council made known unto him his sentence.[968] In Jeanne's case these forms were not observed. The Bailie, Messire le Bouteiller, who was present, waved his hand and said: "Take her, take her."[969] Straightway, two of the King's sergeants dragged her to the base of the scaffold and placed her in a cart which was waiting. On her head was set a great fool's cap made of paper, on which were written the words: "Hérétique, relapse, apostate, idolâtre"; and she was handed over to the executioner.[970]

A bystander heard her saying: "Ah! Rouen, sorely do I fear that thou mayest have to suffer for my death."[971]

She evidently still regarded herself as the messenger from Heaven, the angel of the realm of France. Possibly the illusion, so cruelly reft from her, returned at last to enfold her in its beneficent veil. At any rate, she appears to have been crushed; all that re[Pg ii.340]mained to her was an infinite horror of death and a childlike piety.

The ecclesiastical judges had barely time to descend and flee from a spectacle which they could not have witnessed without violating the laws of clerical procedure. They were all weeping: the Lord Bishop of Thérouanne, Chancellor of England, had his eyes full of tears. The Cardinal of Winchester, who was said never to enter a church save to pray for the death of an enemy,[972] had pity on this damsel so woeful and so contrite. Brother Pierre Maurice, the canon who was a reader of the Æneid, could not keep back his tears. All the priests who had delivered her to the executioner were edified to see her make so holy an end. That is what Maître Jean Alespée meant when he sighed: "I would that my soul were where I believe the soul of that woman to be."[973] To himself and the hapless sufferer he applied the following lines from the Dies iræ:

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

But none the less he must have believed that by her heresies and her obstinacy she had brought death on herself.

The two young friars preachers and the Usher Massieu accompanied Jeanne to the stake.

She asked for a cross. An Englishman made a tiny one out of two pieces of wood, and gave it to her. She took it devoutly and put it in her bosom, on her[Pg ii.341] breast. Then she besought Brother Isambart to go to the neighbouring church to fetch a cross, to bring it to her and hold it before her, so that as long as she lived, the cross on which God was crucified should be ever in her sight.

Massieu asked a priest of Saint-Sauveur for one, and it was brought. Jeanne weeping kissed it long and tenderly, and her hands held it while they were free.[975]

As she was being bound to the stake she invoked the aid of Saint Michael; and now at length no examiner was present to ask her whether it were really he she saw in her father's garden. She prayed also to Saint Catherine.[976]

When she saw a light put to the stake, she cried loudly, "Jesus!" This name she repeated six times.[977] She was also heard asking for holy water.[978]

It was usual for the executioner, in order to cut short the sufferings of the victim, to stifle him in dense smoke before the flames had had time to ascend; but the Rouen executioner was too terrified of the prodigies worked by the Maid to do thus; and besides he would have found it difficult to reach her, because the Bailie had had the plaster scaffold made unusually high. Wherefore the executioner himself, hardened man that he was, judged her death to have been a terribly cruel one.[979]

Once again Jeanne uttered the name of Jesus; then she bowed her head and gave up her spirit.[980]

As soon as she was dead the Bailie commanded[Pg ii.342] the executioner to scatter the flames in order to see that the prophetess of the Armagnacs had not escaped with the aid of the devil or in some other manner.[981] Then, after the poor blackened body had been shown to the people, the executioner, in order to reduce it to ashes, threw on to the fire coal, oil and sulphur.

In such an execution the combustion of the corpse was rarely complete.[982] Among the ashes, when the fire was extinguished, the heart and entrails were found intact. For fear lest Jeanne's remains should be taken and used for witchcraft or other evil practices,[983] the Bailie had them thrown into the Seine.[984]


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