Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 23


AFTER Cauchon had thus found the facts of the case to his satisfaction, he prepared to take the next step in the proceedings, and to determine if the facts thus found established Joan's guilt. He did not propose to pass upon this question unaided, and as soon as the articles were framed, on April 5, he submitted them to the assessors and to many learned men in Rouen and elsewhere, asking if any part of the language Joan had used appeared to contradict the true faith, Holy Scripture, the Roman church, or the decisions of the church's doctors; also, if the same appeared scandalous, rash, seditious, insulting, criminal, immoral, or in any way offensive. An answer was requested in five days.

The time was far too short, even for such a tribunal, and almost immediately it seems to have been extended. On April 12, one week after the articles were published, twenty-two doctors and learned men, most of whom had served as assessors, met in the chapel of the archbishop's palace. Some of them were men upon whom Cauchon could rely, others were indifferent or even friendly to Joan. Sitting almost in public, dreading the English soldiers, who were angry at the law's delay, all those present yielded and joined in one opinion. This declared that Joan's visions did not come from God, and that the admitted facts showed her to have been guilty of conduct scandalous, irreligious, and presumptuous, of blasphemy, impiety, schism, and heresy. Many other persons to whom the articles were sent eagerly availed themselves of this opinion, and simply declared their adherence to it, without further comment. Cauchon doubtless intended that it should have this effect, and that it should serve to quiet uneasy consciences.

About the middle of April, Joan fell ill. Warwick and the cardinal of Winchester, having the command in Rouen, sent for several physicians, to whom the earl spoke with great frankness. On no account, said he, was the king willing that Joan should die a natural death. She was dear to him, for he had bought her dear, and the physicians must take good care to cure her. They went to her cell accordingly, and found her feverish and sick at the stomach, certainly not an unnatural condition, when the foul air of the cell, her close confinement in chains, and the long-continued strain upon her nerves are considered. They felt her pulse, sounded her on the left side, and recommended bleeding, according to the practice of the day. Warwick hesitated to allow it. "Take care," he said, "she is tricky, and may kill herself." He yielded to their advice, however, and she began to mend at once; it is needless to say that she had no more intention of suicide than had Warwick himself.

Before her recovery was complete, Cauchon visited her again to ask the oft-repeated question about her submission to the church. His precise intention is not quite clear. Her refusals, becoming more and more obstinate as she became sure that he meant only to entrap her, undoubtedly were persuading the hesitating assessors to find her guilty, and at times Cauchon plainly wished to be refused. On the other hand, at some time or other she must be brought to submission. If she died unrepentant, the French might still believe in her, and might maintain that she had been put to death unjustly. Cauchon's original position, that of a prejudiced judge who wishes justly to punish a person undoubtedly guilty, had gradually changed to that of an advocate, wishing by all means to convict an accused person, concerning whose guilt or innocence he cares little.

Having gone to Joan's cell, accompanied by several assessors, he told her that they all were come to bring her consolation and comfort in her sickness. He pointed out to her that she was illiterate and ignorant, and again he offered her honest and benevolent men for her instruction. He then exhorted the assessors present to give her counsel fruitful for the saving of her soul and body, and he added that they all were churchmen willing and ready in all possible ways to help her as they would help their neighbors and themselves. If she refused to hear them, and trusted to her own judgment and to her inexperience, they must leave her; in that case she must consider the peril into which she would fall, a peril from which with all his strength and affection he was seeking to save her.

This discourse was highly edifying to the assessors, no doubt, but the sick girl had come to distrust Cauchon so thoroughly that she disbelieved what he said, simply because he said it. "Considering how sick I am," she answered, "it seems to me that I am in great peril of death. If so be God wills to do his pleasure on me, I beg you to let me be confessed, and receive my Saviour, and be buried in consecrated ground."

Cauchon told her that she could not be treated as a good Catholic unless she submitted to the church. "If my body dies in prison," said Joan, "I depend upon your putting it in consecrated ground; if you do not do so, I depend upon our Lord." The bishop insisted, and the discussion was continued between him and Joan in the usual fashion, though her answers are marked by weariness. At last Cauchon asked her if she did not wish to have made a fine and notable procession in order to bring her back into a good state, if she was not in one. Thus qualified, Cauchon's proposition seemed a fair one, but the proposed procession, if authorized by Joan, would have appeared to be a notable proof of her repentance for her evil deeds. Joan answered that she wished very much that the church and all Catholics should pray for her. Thereupon the bishop withdrew.

Contests like these did Joan no good, and the foul abuse heaped upon her one day by Estivet, the prosecuting attorney, brought back her fever. The cautious Warwick interfered and forbade Estivet access to her cell. Thus relieved, her youth and healthy constitution soon got the better of her sickness, as they had done at Beaurevoir, and she was well again.

In spite of the threats of the English and the wheedling and ingenuity of Cauchon, the opinion of the assessors concerning Joan's guilt was not so decided as the bishop had hoped. Some wished to wait for the opinion of the University of Paris, some professed their ignorance and wished to leave the decision to those more learned than themselves, others took refuge in generalities. She was guilty, wrote John Basset, provided that her pretended revelations did not come from God; "which I do not believe," he added in his timid perplexity. Three others were more outspoken in their doubt. If Joan's statements proceeded from an evil spirit or were made up by herself, they were as bad as the bishop's questions implied; if, on the other hand, they came from God, which was not evident, no unfavorable interpretation should be put upon them. 1 Even the chapter of the cathedral of Rouen hesitated. At the first meeting no quorum appeared, and it was found necessary to threaten the absentees with the loss of a week's rations. When the chapter met a second time, the majority refused to pass upon Joan's guilt until she had again been warned to submit, and until the answer of the University of Paris should be received.

Under these circumstances there was nothing for it but to send messengers to the university, and to administer another "charitable warning." On May 2, nearly a month after he had originally published the twelve articles, Cauchon gathered a great assembly of more than sixty assessors and made them an address. He informed them that for some time he had known well that the woman was very faulty, though no final judgment against her had been rendered. Before rendering judgment, it had seemed to many honest and conscientious men that he ought by every means to try to bring her into the way of truth. This had been attempted with all kindness by many learned doctors, but, through the craft of the Devil, as yet nothing had been accomplished; wherefore he had deputed John of Castillon, archdeacon of Evreux, to reason with the woman in the presence of the whole assembly, and to induce her to depart from her faults and crimes.

Joan was then brought before the court, and was generally warned by the archdeacon to mend her deeds and words. When he paused, Joan advised him to go on and finish the written address which he held in his hand. "Then," said she, "I will answer you. I leave all to God, my Creator; I love Him with all my heart. I leave it to my judge,1 who is the King of heaven and earth." Castillon went forward, accordingly, with an address in six heads, concerning her clothes, her want of submission, her boasted sinlessness, her sign to Charles, her leap at Beaurevoir, and other matters. His tone and his assumptions were such as to make Joan's submission an impossibility, and probably he, or Cauchon for him, intended to prevent any submission.

This, at any rate, was the result. "I am sure that the church militant can neither err nor fail," said Joan, "but as to my deeds and words, I leave them altogether to God, who made me do whatever I have done." If she did not submit, they told her, she would be adjudged a heretic and burned. "I will say nothing more to you," she answered. "Even if I should see the fire, I should say what I am saying now." The steady insistence of Cauchon had driven her to refuse submission much more emphatically than she would have done two months be- fore. Not improbably, also, Loiseleur had been at work, strengthening her suspicions.

Encouraged by her obstinacy, Cauchon risked an offer bolder than any he had yet made. Would she leave to the archbishop of Rheims, La Trémoille, La Hire, and others of her own party, the determination of the sign shown to Charles VII., asked the examiner. Joan was caught in her own play upon words, for no one but herself understood her double meaning, and, besides, she did not trust Cauchon to state the question fairly to the French. "Give me a messenger, and I will write to them all about this trial," she answered; upon no other terms would she accept their decision. Supposing that three or four knights of her own party should be brought to Rouen by safe-conduct, would she leave the matter of her visions to their decision, insisted the bishop, who saw that she was ready to refuse everything. Joan told him to bring the men first, and then she would answer him. She feared, as he intended her to fear, that he was tricking her, or, perhaps, that some knights of La Trémoille's faction might be found who would not be unwilling to condemn her. Her obstinacy satisfied Cauchon, and he closed the hearing, warning her solemnly that she was in danger of being abandoned by the church, and so of losing her soul in eternal, her body in temporal fire. He could not cow her. "You cannot do to me as you say," she answered, "without evil befalling you, both body and soul."

At last the chapter of Rouen was convinced, and declared its belief that Joan was a heretic, basing its opinion largely upon her refusal to submit to the judgment of those of her own party. Some other waverers were won over, and nearly all the persons consulted committed themselves in writing to the opinion that Joan was guilty. Cauchon could trust the University of Paris, whose opinion had not yet come to hand.

Though he had brought the assessors to agree to Joan's condemnation, the bishop knew well that more remained to be done. Had she submitted to the church at any time before the assessors had agreed that she was guilty, he might not have been able to secure that agreement; at any rate, there might have been indefinite delay. Now that her guilt was established, to secure her submission was become a moral necessity, in order that she might be shown to the world a self-confessed impostor or a witch. That very submission which Cauchon had feared she might make only a few days before, he was now most anxious to force upon her. He knew that the task would not be easy, but he had one method as yet untried. On May 9, a week after his last charitable warning, Joan was brought into the donjon of the castle, where were placed the rack and other instruments of torture.

Cauchon requested her to tell the truth in those matters about which she had lied at her trial. He showed the instruments of torture set out before her, and pointed to the men who, as he said, were ready at his command to put her to the torment in order to bring her back into the way of truth and salvation.

"In truth," Joan answered, "if you tear me limb from limb, and make my soul leave my body, I will tell you nothing but what I have told you already; and, if I shall say anything else, hereafter I will always declare that you made me say it by force." She went on to tell them that she had asked her voices if she ought to submit to the church; they had told her that if she wished our Lord to help her, she must leave all her deeds to Him. She knew well that our Lord had been the master of her deeds, and that the Enemy never had had power over them. She had asked her voices if she should be burnt, and they had told her to leave herself in God's hands and He would help her. The court had not determined to put her to actual torture, so she was taken back to her cell and left there in suspense. The wretch who should have tortured her testified afterwards that she answered so discreetly that the assessors were amazed. Sulted had declared their belief that Joan was guilty; but the formal judgment of guilty was not yet rendered.

After three days, Cauchon summoned thirteen assessors to his house and asked them if they thought it advisable to put Joan to the torture. The first who gave his opinion, a canon of influence and importance, said that the trial had hitherto been so well managed that it ought not to be brought into disrepute. The large majority, including the vice-inquisitor, agreed to this decision. One of them observed that there was plenty of proof without torture, some thought that torture was inexpedient for the time, some even wished that still another "charitable warning" should be administered. Three only voted for torture,-- Morel, a lawyer; Courcelles, a deputy of the University of Paris; and the spy Loiseleur, the last saying that it seemed to him well to torture Joan for the healing of her soul. Eleven were on the side of mercy. How much their votes were governed by pity for Joan, how much by other reasons, is not clear; many assessors did pity her sincerely. Probably Joan was given no notice of this vote, and so was left day after day to expect another call to the torture chamber.

About a week later, the men deputed to visit the University of Paris returned to Rouen. They had taken with them letters from the English royal council and from Cauchon, and they had been received with much honor. They brought back a dutiful letter to Henry VI., and a fulsome address to the bishop, very different from the sharp complaints which the university had made to him when it believed him to be backward in prosecuting Joan. "May the Great Shepherd when He shall appear," so the last sentence ran, "deign to reward your shepherdlike care with an immortal crown of glory."

The substance of the university's message was contained in two elaborate opinions, rendered by the faculties of theology and of canon law and adopted by the whole university, concerning the guilt of Joan as manifested in the twelve articles. These opinions admitted neither doubt nor condition of any sort. Her visions were either lies manufactured by herself or the productions of Satan, Belial, and Behemoth. She was declared to be boastful, foolish, treacherous, deceitful, cruel, bloodthirsty, seditious, blasphemous, undutiful, rash, a fatalist, uncharitable, idolatrous, schismatical, apostate, and finally a heretic. One argument of the faculty of canon law is worth repeating. She lies, said the faculty, in saying that she is sent by God, for she shows no miracle or particular testimony of Scripture, like Moses, who turned his rod into a serpent and back again into a rod, or like John the Baptist, who said of himself, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, as saith the prophet Isaiah." If Joan had applied to herself some passage of Scripture, it seems that she might have passed for orthodox.

Cauchon caused these decisive letters to be read in the presence of a great body of assessors, and then asked them one by one what ought next to be done in the case. Many accepted the opinion of the university as to Joan's heresy, and advised that she be handed over at once to the secular arm. Many were willing to declare her a heretic without qualification, but would not condemn her to death without another "charitable warning." Several desired a "charitable warning" before pronouncing on her heresy. In some way or other the "charitable warning" must be given, and Cauchon appointed it for

It was delivered to Joan in a chamber near her cell by Peter Maurice, a canon of Rouen. The substance of the twelve articles was rehearsed, together with the abusive comments of the university. There followed an address, reasonably temperate in language, but assuming throughout Joan's guilt. It closed as follows: "Therefore I warn, beseech, and exhort you, by the love you bear to the passion of your Creator, and the desire you have for the safety of your soul and body, that you correct the sins I have mentioned and return to the way of truth, by obeying the church and submitting to its judgment. By so doing you will save your soul, and you will, as I think, redeem your body from death. If you do not return, but persist, know that your soul will fall into damnation -- and I fear your body will be destroyed. From all which may Jesus Christ deign to keep you." "I refer you,"Joan answered, "to what I have done and said in the trial, and that I will uphold." Would she submit to the church, they asked her for the last time. "What I have said and done during the trial, I will stand by," she repeated. "If I were now at the judgment seat, and if I saw the torch burning, and the fagots laid, and the executioner ready to light the fire; if I were in the fire, I would say nothing else, and would stand by what I said at the trial, even to death." There was no question left to put. Cauchon asked Estivet and Joan if they had anything more to say, and, as they had not, he withdrew. In the margin of the record, opposite her last words, the scribe wrote his comment, "The proud answer of Joan."

The same day she was formally served with a summons to appear next morning and receive final sentence. Before beginning the account of the last week of her life, with its many remarkable and sudden changes, it is necessary to consider her state of mind.

Throughout her trial, as is made clear by her answers, she was sustained by the belief that God and his saints would by some means deliver her. This belief, indeed, was not constant and unwavering; at one time she almost expected to die of fever, more than once she faced the possibility of death by fire. Nevertheless, her voices, in telling her to be of good courage and to answer boldly, had promised her God's help if she obeyed, and her courage had been kept up by her belief in this promise. She was no ascetic, no mediæval saint, and she shrank from death with the fear and horror natural to a girl of nineteen. As it became certain that she would be burnt if she persisted, in spite of the promise on which she had relied, the natural temptation to escape by submission must, at times, have been strengthened by a suspicion that the spirits who were abandoning her might come from the Devil.

Had she been left to herself and to her brutal keepers, this suspicion probably would not have greatly troubled her, but the shrewdest means were used to increase it. More and more frequently learned doctors and eloquent friars visited her, most of them in all kindness trying to save her body and soul. It was infinitely harder for her to resist their arguments than if she had been a Hussite or a Waldensian heretic. Such a man would have received the condemnation of the whole Roman church, from the pope downward, with defiant scorn, and would absolutely have refused to submit to it at the outset of his trial; he would have been quite unmoved, therefore, by the spiritual threats or the blandishments of his judges. Joan was no heretic, but a simple and devout Catholic. She believed in the supremacy of the pope, she recognized the authority of the church and her duty of submission.

This duty had seemed at times incompatible with complete faith in her voices, but she always held it in theory, and tried hard to reconcile the two things in word and action. When her visitors urged submission, they appealed not only to the weariness of chains and imprisonment, the weakness of recent sickness, the fear of pain, the shrinking from insult and outrage, to her love of life and her dread of death, but also to the plainest teachings of her childhood.

The appeal was skillfully made by some of the timid assessors, who had strained their consciences to condemn her, and hoped that she would escape after all. Cauchon approved, having already, as is likely, planned the manner of her death. Early on the morning of Thursday, May 24, the day appointed for her sentence and execution, several of the assessors visited her. They passed over all details of wrong-doing, and said nothing about most of the matters mentioned in the articles. A simple submission to the church, they told her, would be sufficient, and, as evidence of submission, a change of dress. To what they said Joan listened.

The cemetery of St. Ouen, just south of the magnificent abbey church, was the place chosen for the ceremony of Joan's sentence. In the large open space two plat- forms had been built, one for the judges and the distinguished spectators, the other for exhibiting Joan to the people. Early in the morning she was taken from her cell, put into a wagon, and driven to the place. Being led upon the platform, she found herself in the presence of a great crowd, assembled by the liveliest curiosity. Before her, on the other platform, beside Cauchon, the vice-inquisitor, and many of the assessors whom she had seen at her trial, were Cardinal Beaufort, the great-uncle of Henry VI., Louis of Luxemburg, bishop of Thérouanne, Henry's chancellor in France, the English bishop of Norwich and the French bishop of Noyon, the great Norman abbots of Mont St. Michel and of Abélard's monastery of Bec. Warwick and the English captains, also, were in the audience, with English soldiers, citizens of Rouen, and strangers passing through the town.

The church's sentence of condemnation was usually preceded by a sermon, which exhorted the sinner to repentance and improved his example as a warning to the multitude. The preacher at St. Ouen was William Erard. According to his servant, he had no liking for the duty, and wished himself in Flanders. He did not dare to refuse, however, and, having undertaken the task, he spoke with much vehemence from the text, "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine." In order to please his English hearers, he reviled Charles VII. for trusting in a witch and seeking to recover his kingdom by her aid. Sitting near him upon the same platform, Joan had listened in silence to his abuse of herself, but at this remark she interrupted Erard, and told him not to speak of her king, inasmuch as he was a good. Christian. "Silence her," cried the angry preacher.

The sermon over, Erard turned to her, and in milder phrase told her that inasmuch as she had done some things which could not be defended, the judges required her to submit her words and deeds to mother church. His demand was not merely formal; there were other priests on the platform, and they crowded about her, begging her to submit. It was submission or death, they told her; the executioner with his cart was waiting close by to carry her to the stake. While Erard was preaching, Joan's voices had told her to answer him boldly, and she had done so, but at the thought of being burnt within an hour she wavered for the first time. The priest said nothing to her now about the petty matters with which they had harassed her at the trial. They asked only submission to the church, and that, as she knew, priests were accustomed to ask. Submission to the church, it seemed, could hardly be wrong.

Once more her voices prevailed. "I will answer you," she said. "Let my deeds and words be sent to Rome to our holy father the pope, to whom, and to God, first of all, I trust myself. As for the words and deeds I have done, I have done them by the command of God." Doubt had entered her mind, however, and it found characteristic expression. "I hold no one responsible for my acts," she went on, "neither my king nor any one else, and, if there is any fault, it is mine and not another's." She was still willing to stake her own salvation on the truth of her voices, but not the reputation of her king.

Would she recant those things which had been found blameworthy by the churchmen, they asked her. "I leave all to God and to our holy father the pope," she answered. They told her that the pope was far away, and that the bishops were judges, each in his own diocese; still she would not yield. The solemn warning was repeated a second time and a third, while the priests labored with her, asking only submission.

To the English soldiers the delay seemed long, and there were murmurs in the crowd. Some angrily called on Cauchon to pronounce sentence, others threatened the priests who surrounded Joan. Still the bishop paused, determined to accomplish his purpose; but Joan did not yield. At last he arose and began reluctantly to read the sentence of condemnation which delivered Joan to the secular arm, that is, to death. The priests, however, did not give over their efforts, some acting in good faith, others under Cauchon's orders. "Joan, do as you are told; do you want to make us kill you? Believe me, you may be saved if you wish. Change your dress, and do as you are bidden, otherwise you will be put to death. If you do what I tell you, you will be saved; you shall be well off, and come to no harm; you shall be delivered up to the church." A paper was thrust into her hands; she hesitated, they almost forced her to sign it. In the confusion she said something which was taken for submission, and they begged Cauchon to stop. He did so, willingly enough, but the tumult increased; some called Cauchon a traitor, and stones were thrown at Joan.

How she signed the abjuration--indeed, what abjuration she signed--cannot be known with certainty. The document which appears in the report of the trial she never signed with knowledge of its contents. She could not read; in the great crowd of shouting people, she could hardly have heard the abjuration, even if it was read to her. Some of the lookers-on thought that she made her mark upon a writing of a few lines, and that a longer document was forged for official use; according to the recollection of others, she signed a document which was never explained to her. However that may be,--and Cauchon was quite capable of forgery,--she certainly believed that she promised simply to submit to the church and to put on women's dress, leaving other matters to be settled afterwards. "You take great pains to persuade me," she said to the priests,--with a smile on her lips, as the bystanders thought. Then she put her mark on something.

The abjuration signed, Cauchon pronounced the sen- tence, which he had made ready in the hope of her sub- mission. It was in Latin, and Joan could not have un- derstood it, even if the noise about her and her distress of mind had allowed her to hear it. After setting forth her crimes, it showed that she had abjured them, and with a contrite heart had returned to the bosom of the church; wherefore Cauchon released her from excommunication. For salutary penance, he sentenced her to perpetual imprisonment on the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, in order that she might repent her sins, and commit no more deeds to be repented of. As she was led away to her perpetual prison, there was question what that prison should be. Joan seems to have asked, as was reasonable, that, having been condemned by the church, she should be kept in the church's prison. Many, perhaps most, of the assessors would have liked to grant her request, but their opinion was not asked. "Lead her to the place from which you took her," said the bishop; and they led her back to her old cell, letting her hope, it may be, that she was soon to be removed. There, in the same afternoon, she was visited by the vice-inquisitor, and, after hearing a little homily on the duty of persisting in her submission, she put on women's clothes and allowed her hair to be cut and arranged so that she no longer wore it man-fashion.

Some of the English were so angry with Cauchon for favoring Joan that he appealed to the cardinal for protection. He was entitled to it. He had spared Joan's life for the moment, indeed, but she herself had destroyed her own reputation, as no power of his could have destroyed it. To take her life at any time was a matter comparatively easy. When Warwick complained to the bishop and those with him, saying that the king would be displeased at Joan's escape, one of them answered, "Do not vex yourself, my lord; we shall soon have her again."


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