Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France
VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 9

THE MAID AT BEAUREVOIR—CATHERINE DE LA ROCHELLE AT PARIS—
EXECUTION OF LA PIERRONNE

THE Maid had been taken captive in the diocese of Beauvais.[458] At that time the Bishop Count of Beauvais was Pierre Cauchon of Reims, a great and pompous clerk of the University of Paris, which had elected him rector in 1403. Messire Pierre Cauchon was not a moderate man; with great ardour he had thrown himself into the Cabochien riots.[459] In 1414, the Duke of Burgundy had sent him on an embassy to the Council of Constance to defend the doctrines of Jean Petit;[460] then he[Pg ii.171] had appointed him Master of Requests in 1418, and finally raised him to the episcopal see of Beauvais.[461] Standing equally high in the favour of the English, Messire Pierre was Councillor of King Henry VI, Almoner of France and Chancellor to the Queen of England. Since 1423, his usual residence had been at Rouen. By their submission to King Charles the people of Beauvais had deprived him of his episcopal revenue.[462] And, as the English said and believed that the army of the King of France was at that time commanded by Friar Richard and the Maid, Messire Pierre Cauchon, the impoverished Bishop of Beauvais, had a personal grievance against Jeanne. It would have been better for his own reputation that he should have abstained from avenging the Church's honour on a damsel who was possibly an idolatress, a soothsayer and the invoker of devils, but who had certainly incurred his personal ill-will. He was in the Regent's pay;[463] and the Regent was filled with bitter hatred of the Maid.[464] Again for his reputation's sake, my Lord Bishop of Beauvais should have reflected that in prosecuting Jeanne for a matter of faith he was serving his master's wrath and furthering the temporal interests of the great of this world. On these things he did not reflect; on the contrary, this case at once temporal and spiritual, as ambiguous as his own position, excited his worst passions. He flung himself into it with all the thoughtlessness of the violent. A maiden to be de[Pg ii.172]nounced, a heretic and an Armagnac to boot, what a feast for the prelate, the Councillor of King Henry! After having concerted with the doctors and masters of the University of Paris, on the 14th of July, he presented himself before the camp of Compiègne and demanded the Maid as subject to his jurisdiction.[465]

He supported his demand by letters from the Alma Mater to the Duke of Burgundy and the Lord Jean de Luxembourg.

The University made known to the most illustrious Prince, the Duke of Burgundy, that once before it had claimed this woman, called the Maid, and had received no reply.

"We greatly fear," continued the doctors and masters, "that by the false and seductive power of the Hellish Enemy and by the malice and subtlety of wicked persons, your enemies and adversaries who, it is said, are making every effort to deliver this woman by crooked means, will in some manner remove her out of your power.

"Wherefore, the University hopes that so great a dishonour may be spared to the most Christian name of the house of France, and again it supplicates your Highness, the Duke of Burgundy, to deliver over this woman either to the Inquisitor of the evil of heresy or to my Lord Bishop of Beauvais within whose spiritual jurisdiction she was captured."

Here follows the letter which the doctors and masters of the University entrusted to the Lord Bishop of Beauvais for the Lord Jean de Luxembourg:

Most noble, honoured and powerful lord, to your high nobility we very affectionately commend us. Your noble[Pg ii.173] wisdom doth well know and recognise that all good Catholic knights should employ their strength and their power first in God's service and then for the common weal. Above all, the first oath of the order of knighthood is to defend and keep the honour of God, the Catholic Faith and holy Church. This sacred oath was present to your mind when you employed your noble power and your person in the taking of the woman who calleth herself the Maid, by whom the glory of God hath been infinitely offended, the Faith deeply wounded and the Church greatly dishonoured: for through her there have arisen in this kingdom, idolatries, errors, false doctrines and other evils and misfortunes without end. And in truth all loyal Christians must give unto you hearty thanks for having rendered so great service to our holy Faith and to all the kingdom. As for us, we thank God with all our hearts, and you we thank for your noble prowess as affectionately as we may. But such a capture alone would be but a small thing were it not followed by a worthy issue whereby this woman may answer for the offences she hath committed against our merciful Creator, his faith and his holy Church, as well as for her other evil deeds which are said to be without number. The mischief would be greater than ever, the people would be wrapped in yet grosser error than before and his Divine Majesty too insufferably offended, if matters continued in their present state, or if it befell that this woman were delivered or retaken, as we are told, is wished, plotted and endeavoured by divers of our enemies, by all secret ways and by what is even worse by bribe or by ransom. But it is our hope that God will not permit so great an evil to betide his people, and that your great and high wisdom will not suffer it so to befall but will provide against it as becometh your nobility.

For if without the retribution that behoveth she were to be delivered, irreparable would be the dishonour which should fall on your great nobility and on all those who have dealt in this matter. But your good and noble wisdom will know how to devise means whereby such[Pg ii.174] scandal shall cease as soon as may be, whereof there is great need. And because all delay in this matter is very perilous and very injurious to this kingdom, very kindly and with a cordial affection do we beseech your powerful and honoured nobility to grant that for the glory of God, for the maintenance of the Holy Catholic Faith, for the good and honour of the kingdom, this woman be delivered up to justice and given over here to the Inquisitor of the Faith, who hath demanded her and doth now demand her urgently, in order that he may examine the grievous charges under which she labours, so that God may be satisfied and the folk duly edified in good and holy doctrine. Or, an it please you better, hand over this woman to the reverend Father in God, our highly honoured Lord Bishop of Beauvais, who it is said hath likewise claimed her, because she was taken within his jurisdiction. This prelate and this inquisitor are judges of this woman in matters of faith; and every Christian of whatsoever estate owes them obedience in this case under heavy penalty of the law. By so doing you will attain to the love and grace of the most High and you will be the means of exalting the holy Faith, and likewise will you glorify your own high and noble name and also that of the most high and most powerful Prince, our redoubtable Lord and yours, my Lord of Burgundy. Every man shall be required to pray God for the prosperity of your most noble worship, whom may it please God our Saviour in his grace, to guide and keep in all his affairs and finally to grant eternal joy.

Given at Paris, the 14th day of July, 1430.[466]

At the same time that he bore these letters, the Reverend Father in God, the Bishop of Beauvais was charged to offer money.[467] To us it seems strange indeed that just at the very time when, by the mouth of the University, he was representing to the Lord of[Pg ii.175] Luxembourg that he could not sell his prisoner without committing a crime, the Bishop should himself offer to purchase her. According to these ecclesiastics, Jean would incur terrible penalties in this world and in the next, if in conformity with the laws and customs of war he surrendered a prisoner held to ransom in return for money, and he would win praise and blessing if he treacherously sold his captive to those who wished to put her to death. But at least we might expect that this Lord Bishop who had come to buy this woman for the Church, would purchase her with the Church's money. Not at all! The purchase money is furnished by the English. In the end therefore she is delivered not to the Church but to the English. And it is a priest, acting in the interests of God and of his Church, by virtue of his episcopal jurisdiction, who concludes the bargain. He offers ten thousand golden francs, a sum in return for which, he says, according to the custom prevailing in France, the King has the right to claim any prisoner even were he of the blood royal.[468]

There can be no doubt whatever that the high and solemn ecclesiastic, Pierre Cauchon, suspected Jeanne of witchcraft. Wishing to bring her to trial, he exercised his ecclesiastical functions. But he knew her to be the enemy of the English as well as of himself; there is no doubt on that point. So when he wished to bring her to trial he acted as the Councillor of King Henry. Was it a witch or the enemy of the English he was buying with his ten thousand gold francs? And if it were merely a witch and an idolatress that the Holy Inquisitor, that the University, that the Ordinary demanded for the glory of God, and at the price of gold, wherefore so much ado, wherefore so great[Pg ii.176] an expenditure of money? Would it not be better in this matter to act in concert with the ecclesiastics of King Charles's party? The Armagnacs were neither infidels nor heretics; they were neither Turks nor Hussites; they were Catholics; they acknowledged the Pope of Rome to be the true head of Christendom. The Dauphin Charles and his clergy had not been excommunicated. Neither those who regarded the Treaty of Troyes as invalid nor those who had sworn to it had been pronounced anathema by the Pope. This was not a question of faith. In the provinces ruled over by King Charles the Holy Inquisition prosecuted heresy in a curious manner and the secular arm saw to it that the sentences pronounced by the Church did not remain a dead letter. The Armagnacs burned witches just as much as the French and the Burgundians. For the present doubtless they did not believe the Maid to be possessed by devils; most of them on the contrary were inclined to regard her as a saint. But might they not be undeceived? Would it not be good Christian charity to present them with fine canonical arguments? If the Maid's case were really a case for the ecclesiastical court why not join with Churchmen of both parties and take her before the Pope and the Council? And just at that time a Council for the reformation of the Church and the establishment of peace in the kingdom was sitting in the town of Bâle; the University was sending its delegates, who would there meet the ecclesiastics of King Charles, also Gallicans and firmly attached to the privileges of the Church of France.[469] Why not have[Pg ii.177] this Armagnac prophetess tried by the assembled Fathers? But for the sake of Henry of Lancaster and the glory of Old England matters had to take another turn. The Regent's Councillors were already accusing Jeanne of witchcraft when she summoned them in the name of the King of Heaven to depart out of France. During the siege of Orléans, they wanted to burn her heralds and said that if they had her they would burn her also at the stake. Such in good sooth was their firm intent and their unvarying intimation. This does not look as if they would be likely to hand her over to the Church as soon as she was taken. In their own kingdom they burned as many witches and wizards as possible; but they had never suffered the Holy Inquisition to be established in their land, and they were ill acquainted with that form of justice. Informed that Jeanne was in the hands of the Sire de Luxembourg, the Great Council of England were unanimously in favour of her being purchased at any price. Divers lords recommended that as soon as they obtained possession of the Maid she should be sewn in a sack and cast into the river. But one of them (it is said to have been the Earl of Warwick) represented to them that she ought first to be tried, convicted of heresy and witchcraft by an ecclesiastical tribunal, and then solemnly degraded in order that her King might be degraded with her.[470] What a disgrace for Charles of Valois, calling himself King of France, if the University of Paris, if the French ecclesiastical dignitaries, bishops, abbots, canons, if in short the Church Universal were to declare that a witch had sat in his Council and that a witch led his host, that one possessed had conducted him to his[Pg ii.178] impious, sacrilegious and void anointing! Thus would the trial of the Maid be the trial of Charles VII, the condemnation of the Maid the condemnation of Charles VII. The idea seemed good to them and was adopted.

The Lord Bishop of Beauvais was eager to put it into execution. He, a priest and Councillor of State, was consumed with a desire, under the semblance of trying an unfortunate heretic, to sit in judgment on the descendant of Clovis, of Saint Charlemagne and of Saint Louis.

Early in August, the Sire de Luxembourg had the Maid taken from Beaulieu, which was not safe enough, to Beaurevoir, near Cambrai.[471] There dwelt Dame Jeanne de Luxembourg and Dame Jeanne de Béthune. Jeanne de Luxembourg was the aunt of Lord Jean, whom she loved dearly. Among the great of this world she had lived as a saint, and she had never married. Formerly lady-in-waiting to Queen Ysabeau, King Charles VII's godmother, one of the most important events of her life had been to solicit from Pope Martin the canonisation of her Brother, the Cardinal of Luxembourg, who had died at Avignon in his ninetieth year. She was known as the Demoiselle de Luxembourg. She was sixty-seven years of age, infirm and near her end.[472]

Jeanne de Béthune, widow of Lord Robert de Bar,[Pg ii.179] slain at the Battle of Azincourt, had married Lord Jean in 1418. She was reputed pitiful, because, in 1424, she had obtained from her husband the pardon of a nobleman of Picardy, who had been brought prisoner to Beaurevoir and was in great danger of being beheaded and quartered.[473]

These two ladies treated Jeanne kindly. They offered her woman's clothes or cloth with which to make them; and they urged her to abandon a dress which appeared to them unseemly. Jeanne refused, alleging that she had not received permission from Our Lord and that it was not yet time; later she admitted that had she been able to quit man's attire, she would have done so at the request of these two dames rather than for any other dame of France, the Queen excepted.[474]

A noble of the Burgundian party, one Aimond de Macy, often came to see her and was pleased to converse with her. To him she seemed modest in word and in deed. Still Sire Aimond, who was but thirty, had found her personally attractive.[475] If certain witnesses of her own party are to be believed, Jeanne, although beautiful, did not inspire men with desire.

This singular grace however applied to the Armagnacs only; it was not extended to the Burgundians, and Seigneur Aimond did not experience it, for one day he tried to thrust his hand into her bosom. She resisted and repulsed him with all her strength. Lord Aimond concluded as more than one would have done[Pg ii.180] in his place that this was a damsel of rare virtue. He took warning.[476]

Confined in the castle keep, Jeanne's mind was for ever running on her return to her friends at Compiègne; her one idea was to escape. Somehow there reached her evil tidings from France. She got the idea that all the inhabitants of Compiègne over seven years of age were to be massacred, "to perish by fire and sword," she said; and indeed such a fate was bound to overtake them if the town were taken.

Confiding her distress and her unconquerable desire to Saint Catherine, she asked: "How can God abandon to destruction those good folk of Compiègne who have been so loyal to their Lord?"[477]

And in her dream, surrounded by saints, like the donors in church pictures, kneeling and in rapture, she wrestled with her heavenly counsellors for the poor folk of Compiègne.

What she had heard of their fate caused her infinite distress; she herself would rather die than continue to live after such a destruction of worthy people. For this reason she was strongly tempted to leap from the top of the keep. And because she knew all that could be said against it, she heard her Voices putting her in mind of those arguments.

Nearly every day Saint Catherine said to her: "Do not leap, God will help both you and those of Compiègne."

And Jeanne replied to her: "Since God will help those of Compiègne, I want to be there."

And once again Saint Catherine told her the marvellous story of the shepherdess and the King: "To all things must you be resigned. And you will not[Pg ii.181] be delivered until you have seen the King of the English."

To which Jeanne made answer: "But in good sooth I do not desire to see him. I would rather die than fall into the hands of the English."[478]

One day she heard a rumour that the English had come to fetch her. The arrival of the Lord Bishop of Beauvais who came to offer the blood money at Beaurevoir may have given rise to the report.[479] Straightway Jeanne became frantic and beside herself. She ceased to listen to her Voices, who forbade her the fatal leap. The keep was at least seventy feet high; she commended her soul to God and leapt.

Having fallen to the ground, she heard cries: "She is dead."

The guards hurried to the spot. Finding her still alive, in their amazement they could only ask: "Did you leap?"

She felt sorely shaken; but Saint Catherine spoke to her and said: "Be of good courage. You will recover." At the same time the Saint gave her good tidings of her friends. "You will recover and the people of Compiègne will receive succour." And she added that this succour would come before Saint Martin's Day in the winter.[480]

Henceforth Jeanne believed that it was her saints who had helped her and guarded her from death. She knew well that she had been wrong in attempting such a leap, despite her Voices.

Saint Catherine said to her: "You must confess and ask God to forgive you for having leapt."[Pg ii.182]

Jeanne did confess and ask pardon of Our Lord. And after her confession Saint Catherine made known unto her that God had forgiven her. For three or four days she remained without eating or drinking; then she took some food and was whole.[481]

Another story was told of the leap from Beaurevoir; it was related that she had tried to escape through a window letting herself down by a sheet or something that broke; but we must believe the Maid: she says she leapt; if she had been attached to a cord, she would not have committed sin and would not have confessed. This leap was known and the rumour spread abroad that she had escaped and joined her own party.[482]

Meanwhile the Lenten sermons at Orléans had been delivered by that good preacher, Friar Richard, who was ill content with Jeanne, and whom Jeanne disliked and had quitted. The townsfolk as a token of regard presented him with the image of Jesus sculptured in copper by a certain Philippe, a metal-worker of the city. And the bookseller, Jean Moreau, bound him a book of hours at the town's expense.[483]

He brought back Queen Marie to Jargeau and succeeded in obtaining her favour. Jeanne was spared the bitterness of learning that while she was languishing in prison her friends at Orléans, her fair Dauphin and his Queen Marie, were making good[Pg ii.183] cheer for the monk who had turned from her to prefer a dame Catherine whom she considered worthless.[484] Only lately the idea of employing Dame Catherine had filled Jeanne with alarm; she wrote to her King about it, and as soon as she saw him besought him not to employ her. However the King set no store by what she had said; he agreed to Friar Richard's favourite being allowed to set forth on her mission to obtain money from the good towns and to negotiate peace with the Duke of Burgundy. But perhaps this saintly dame was not possessed of all the wisdom necessary for the performance of man's work and King's service. For immediately she became a cause of embarrassment to her friends.

Being in the town of Tours, she fell to saying: "In this town there be carpenters who work, but not at houses, and if ye have not a care, this town is in the way to a bad end and there be those in the town that know it."[485]

This was a denunciation in the form of a parable. Dame Catherine was thereby accusing the churchmen and burgesses of Tours of working against Charles of Valois, their lord. The woman must have been held to have influence with the King, his kinsmen and his Council; for the inhabitants of Tours took fright and sent an Augustinian monk, Brother Jean Bourget, to King Charles, to the Queen of Sicily, to the Bishop of Séez, and to the Lord of Trèves, to inquire whether the words of this holy woman had been believed by them. The Queen of Sicily and the Councillors of King Charles gave the monk letters wherein they announced to the towns[Pg ii.184]folk of Tours that they had never heard of such things, and King Charles declared that he had every confidence in the churchmen, the burgesses and the other citizens of his town of Tours.[486]

Dame Catherine had in like manner slandered the inhabitants of Angers.[487]

Whether, following the example of the Blessed Colette of Corbie, this devout person wished to pass from one party to the other, or whether she had chanced to be taken captive by Burgundian men-at-arms, she was brought before the Official at Paris. In their interrogation of her the ecclesiastics appear to have been concerned less about her than about the Maid Jeanne, whose prosecution was then being instituted.

On the subject of the Maid, Catherine said: "Jeanne has two counsellors, whom she calls Counsellors of the Spring."[488]

Such was the confused recollection of the conversations she had had at Jargeau and at Montfaucon. The term Council was the one Jeanne usually employed when speaking of her Voices; but Dame Catherine was confusing Jeanne's heavenly visitants with what the Maid had told her of the Gooseberry Spring at Domremy.

If Jeanne felt unkindly towards Catherine, Catherine did not feel kindly towards Jeanne. She did not assert Jeanne's mission to be nought; but she let it be clearly understood that the hapless damsel, then a prisoner in the hands of the Burgundians, was addicted to invoking evil spirits.

"If Jeanne be not well guarded," Catherine told[Pg ii.185] the Official, "she will escape from prison with the aid of the devil."[489]

Whether Jeanne was or was not aided by the devil was a matter to be decided between herself and the doctors of the church. But it is certain that her one thought was to burst her bonds, and that she was ceaselessly imagining means of escape. Catherine de la Rochelle knew her well and wished her ill.

Catherine was released. Her ecclesiastical judges would not have treated her so leniently had she spoken well of the Maid. The La Rochelle Dame returned to King Charles.[490]

The two religious women who had followed Jeanne on her departure from Sully and had been taken at Corbeil, Pierronne of Lower Brittany and her companion, had been confined in ecclesiastical prisons at Paris since the spring. They openly said that God had sent them to succour the Maid Jeanne. Friar Richard had been their spiritual father and they had been in the Maid's company. Wherefore they were strongly suspected of having offended against God and his Holy Religion. The Grand Inquisitor of France, Brother Jean Graverent, Prior of the Jacobins at Paris, prosecuted them according to the forms usual in that country. He proceeded in concurrence with the Ordinary, represented by the official.

Pierronne maintained and believed it to be true that Jeanne was good, and that what she did was well done and according to God's will. She admitted that on the Christmas night of that year, at Jargeau, Friar Richard had twice given her the body of[Pg ii.186] Jesus Christ and had given it three times to Jeanne.[491] Besides, the fact had been well proved by information gathered from eye-witnesses. The judges, who were authorities on this subject, held that the monk should not thus have lavished the bread of angels on such women. However, since frequent communion was not formally forbidden by canon law, Pierronne could not be censured for having received it. The informers, who were then giving evidence against Jeanne, did not remember the three communions at Jargeau.[492]

Heavier charges weighed upon the two Breton women. They were labouring under the accusation of witchcraft and sorcery.

Pierronne stated and took her oath that God often appeared to her in human form and spoke to her as friend to friend, and that the last time she had seen him he was clothed in a purple cloak and a long white robe.[493]

The illustrious masters who were trying her, represented to her that to speak thus of such apparitions was to blaspheme. And these women were convicted of being possessed by evil spirits, who caused them to err in word and in deed.

On Sunday, the 3rd of September, 1430, they were taken to the Parvis Notre Dame to hear a sermon. Platforms had been erected as usual, and Sunday had been chosen as the day in order that folk might benefit from this edifying spectacle. A famous doctor addressed a charitable exhortation to both women. One of them, the youngest, as she listened to him and looked at the stake that had been erected,[Pg ii.187] was filled with repentance. She confessed that she had been seduced by an angel of the devil and duly renounced her error.

Pierronne, on the contrary, refused to retract. She obstinately persisted in the belief that she saw God often, clothed as she had said. The Church could do nothing for her. Given over to the secular arm, she was straightway conducted to the stake which had been prepared for her, and burned alive by the executioner.[494]

Thus did the Grand Inquisitor of France and the Bishop of Paris cruelly cause to perish by an ignominious death one of those women who had followed Friar Richard, one of the saints of the Dauphin Charles. But the most famous of these women and the most abounding in works was in their hands. The death of La Pierronne was an earnest of the fate reserved for the Maid.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 10

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