Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 17


IN modern times the disposal of a prisoner of war belongs to the nation whose subjects make the capture. By the rules of war such a prisoner may be securely kept until peace is declared, and thus he may be prevented from doing further injury to his captors. Ordinarily, he must be treated with no more harshness than is needed to secure his safe-keeping, and when the war is over he is freely released. In the Middle Ages the rules of war were quite different. A prisoner was the property of his captor, often very valuable property, and he usually regained his liberty, whether during the war or after- wards, only by payment of a ransom agreed upon between himself and his owner. In the mean time he might be bought for speculation, he might be pledged to secure his captor's debts, or delivered in payment of them. If he was the favorite of his royal master, or if his services were greatly needed in war, he might hope to get a part of his ransom from the royal treasury, but, in most cases, to regain his liberty he must sell his estates, or beg or borrow from his friends. Until his ransom was paid, he was at his captor's disposal. Even in the Middle Ages it was considered hardly proper to maltreat severely a distinguished prisoner, unless for exceptional reasons, but it is clear that the prisoner owed his good treatment chiefly to his commercial value. His death was the destruction of his captor's property, and so it came to pass that a prisoner of war, having means or importance, was usually treated with far less rigor and cruelty than seems natural to so harsh and cruel an age.

A poor man or a common soldier was generally killed outright, or, if he were taken near his home, was sometimes tortured on the spot, until his family paid for his life whatever they had.

Five persons were concerned in Joan of Arc as a prisoner: the Picard archer, who pulled her from her horse; Lionel of Wandonne, in whose troop the archer served; John of Luxemburg, commanding the corps in which Lionel was a captain; Philip of Burgundy, commanderin-chief of the army; and Henry VI., in whose name the siege of Compiégne was carried on.

The Picard archer had no financial interest in the matter; whatever he did was done for his captain's hand. Just what was the relation between Wandonne and Luxemburg is not known, but Joan seems in some way to have become the property of them both. Very likely there was a written contract between them, providing for the division of the ransom which might be exacted from any prisoner. Such contracts were common.

John of Luxemburg and Lionel of Wandonne were men of the age. Luxemburg was the younger son of a noble house, who had inherited a part of the ancestral estate, and by his ability had largely increased his possessions. He was fond of fighting, and had lost an eye in battle; was a skillful commander and a wary politician, not quite so fickle and faithless, perhaps, as some of his neighbors. There is no reason to suppose that he was cruel for cruelty's sake, but he was altogether ruthless and unscrupulous, ready to hang a captured garrison without mercy, or to kill a prisoner, if his interests required it. At this time he was about forty years old.

The bastard of Wandonne held a much lower social position. Illegitimate sons of princely families, like the Bastard of Orleans or the Great Bastard of Burgundy, were favored men, but Lionel's father was himself obscure. The young man had long followed John of Luxemburg, and had been advanced by his master. Seven years before, he had distinguished himself in a tournament with one of the best French knights, both jousting and fighting on foot with a battle-axe. Some time afterwards, in a real battle, he had been severely wounded by the thrust of a lance, and so was lame of one arm. He was a hard-fighting soldier, not quite a brigand, inasmuch as he always followed Luxemburg's fortunes.

For two or three days Joan was kept at Clairoix in Luxemburg's quarters. The situation was too exposed for safety, however; the garrison might make another sortie, or Joan might escape. Wandonne was a poor man, and had no place fit for keeping so important a prisoner. Luxemburg was a great lord with many castles. The two captors apparently were well agreed; Joan was sent under strong escort some twenty miles northeast of Compiégne to Beaulieu, a stronghold belonging to Luxemburg of which Lionel seems to have been captain; thus the rights of all parties were secured. The life of a prisoner is not pleasant, and brutal soldiers can hardly have had much respect for a girl whom they believed to be an unsexed witch; but there is no reason to suppose that at Beaulieu Joan was treated with any especial cruelty. Undoubtedly she was a rich prize, and both her captors believed themselves in luck.

The mediæval method of treating prisoners of war had one marked inconvenience, well illustrated by the case of Joan of Arc. Luxemburg and Wandonne both looked on her simply as a means of making money. That they might get their money she must be freed, and so allowed to rejoin the French forces in the field. This might be a matter of indifference to a soldier, or even to a general, but it was a serious matter to the English, who had suffered terribly from her prowess in the year just passed. For them it was necessary at all hazards to prevent her ransom, and no time was to be lost, as it seemed certain that Charles VII. would act at once.

To everybody the capture of Joan was a matter of interest, and on the evening of her capture the duke of Burgundy wrote to the men of St. Quentin and told them the great news, which exposed, he said, the mistaken and foolish belief of all those who had put faith in Joan's deeds. That night or the next morning, John of Luxemburg wrote to his brother Louis, bishop of Thérouanne and chancellor of France for Henry VI. The bishop was in Paris, the regent Bedford at Rouen, but the former did not wait for orders. He saw at once the danger of Joan's release, and acted within four and twenty hours.

To ask simply that Joan should not be held to ransom, would be asking her captors to disregard almost universal custom. Some reason must be found for treating her differently from other prisoners, and such a reason was not far to seek. The authorities of the University of Paris, most of them Burgundian partisans, held conference with the vicar-general of the inquisitor of France, and a letter was sent off to Philip on May 26, only three days after Joan's capture. Written in the name of the vicar-general, it reminded the duke that all loyal Christian princes were bound to root out heresy, and to save simple Christian folk from scandal. It went on to rehearse that a certain woman named Joan, called by the enemies of the realm the Maid, had brought scandal upon the honor of God and upon holy religion, to the destruc- tion of the souls of many simple Christians. This woman was in the duke's hands, or in the hands of his vassals. Wherefore the vicar-general begged the duke and the vassals aforesaid, acting as true guardians of the faith and defenders of God's honor, to send this Joan to him without delay. The letter concluded with a formal summons to all persons concerned, to bring Joan before the inquisitor and the University of Paris.

In treating of the trial and condemnation of Joan, it is customary to speak of the accusation of witchcraft brought against her as if it had been a mere pretext, invented to accomplish her ruin. To suppose this, however, is to misconceive utterly the minds of men in the fifteenth century, and to attribute to them the knowledge of the nineteenth. To Joan's contemporaries, to Joan herself, witchcraft was a crime quite as real as larceny, and, being real, naturally much more dangerous to the community, and especially hateful to God. This no one thought of doubting. It might be difficult to persuade a very sensible man of the guilt of a particular person accused, and he might treat a given case as one of insan ity or of imposture, while a credulous man would find witches at every turn; both believed with equal assurance that witchcraft was a reality.

To an Englishman or to a Burgundian partisan the evidence of witchcraft in Joan's case was overwhelming, and one of her enemies could hardly have thought her innocent. She had done great things, deeds too marvelous for the work of a simple peasant girl. All Europe was full of the wildest legends about her, and the English soldiers had seen with their own eyes quite enough to make these legends probable. Plainly she had gained her victories by the aid either of God or of the Devil. No man is willing to believe that God is against him, and so Joan's enemies set down her supernatural helper as the Devil without possibility of doubt. How much their belief was changed as they came to know her better, we shall consider hereafter, but, without seeing her, every one of them presumed, and presumed reasonably, that she was a witch.

Witch or no witch, neither Luxemburg nor Wandonne proposed to sell her except at a high price. The English council could hardly have expected that she should be presented to them as a gift, and the inquisitor's letter to Philip probably was not intended to accomplish the delivery of Joan to the English, but only to prevent her captors from putting her to ransom before the English had time to interfere. So far as is known, no particular attention was paid to the inquisitor's summons, and the agents of Henry VI. speedily began negotiations on a more substantial basis.

In the council which represented Henry in France were men of two sorts. There were Englishmen, trying to extend English power, sturdy patriots, some of them, even if mistaken ones. There were Frenchmen, members of the old Burgundian political party, who hated an Armagnac worse than they could possibly hate any for eigner. Throughout France party feeling had greatly abated, as has been said already, and most Frenchmen were coming to see that English rule was an impossibility, and that the hope of the country lay with the loyalists. The plainer this became, the more closely drew together the little band of anti-Armagnac politicians, the fierce and bitter defenders of a lost cause. Except for the savage mob of Paris, they had no popular support, and even the mob of Paris was beginning to waver. When an emissary was needed to negotiate for the purchase of Joan, he was naturally chosen, not from the English, but from this band of Anglo-Burgundian Frenchmen.

Peter (pierre) Cauchon was born in Champagne of a family without particular distinction. He had been a hard student in the University of Paris, and had there taken his degree in arts and canon law. Having gained the respect of its authorities, he was named its Rector as early as 1403. A priest of learning, energy, and ability, as well as of correct life, he had filled important positions for many years. Firmly attached to the Burgundian party, he had been one of the commission appointed in 1413 to enforce the laws against the Armagnacs, and he had incited the Parisian mob to slaughter them. He had, therefore, been banished when the Armagnacs regained power, but had been protected both by John the Fearless and by Philip the Good, and by the former had been sent to the council of Constance, there to defend the righteousness of his patron's murder of the duke of Orleans. In time he rose to higher offices, and became vidame of Chartres and master of the court of requests. After the Burgundians had retaken Paris, he again stood high in the university, represented it at court, and was named its Conservator. Though a politician by choice, he received ecclesiastical preferment, being helped by Philip to the bishopric of Beauvais, and thus becoming one of the spiritual peers of France. Since the treaty of Troyes, without neglecting his Burgundian friends, he had devoted himself especially to the English, and had labored incessantly for Henry VI. in his council and elsewhere. When Charles came to northern France in the summer of 1429, the people of Beauvais, Cauchon's episcopal city, rose against him and drove him out. Thus humiliated, he sought the vacant archbishopric of Rouen, and had persuaded the privy council of England to recommend him for the place to the court of Rome. At the time of Joan's capture, he was probably between fifty and sixty years old.

The character of Cauchon is manifested plainly by his career. Thoroughly worldly, a bitter partisan, he hated the followers of Charles VII. with a pitiless hatred, while he owed Joan in particular a hearty grudge for the loss of his diocese and its revenues. It needs no argument to prove that his belief in her possession by the Devil was sincere; and his tireless energy and eminent respectability made him a most suitable agent to treat for her surrender to the English.

Cauchon was a man of the world, and therefore not likely to believe that Luxemburg and Wandonne would give up their prisoner, even if a witch, without the payment of a good sum of money. Before long, at any rate, he began to bid for her purchase, just as other prisoners were bid for at that time, and just as stocks and houses are bid for to-day. Although he was offering money, he still laid stress upon Joan's witchcraft and heresy, thus seeking to cheapen the wares he was buying. Economy was not his only motive. While the charges made against Joan, however sincerely believed, may at first have been nothing more than a pretext to get her into the hands of the English without paying full price for her, they soon had an additional purpose. If the English should secure her as an ordinary prisoner of war, she would be to them a constant embarrassment. They themselves could hardly refuse a reasonable offer for her ransom, and her name, though she were in captivity, might still arouse the enthusiasm of the French soldiers. The best thing the English could do with Joan was to discredit her. Believing her to be a witch, they wished to exhibit her as a witch to all Europe, and so discredit not only Joan herself, but the king and the cause she had served. The plan of trying Joan was formed very soon after her capture, though its details were not fixed until months afterwards. In the plan Cauchon had a peculiar interest. Joan had been taken within the limits of his diocese, and might be tried before his tribunal. In every way such a proceeding would be agreeable to him. He was ambitious and vindictive; by sitting as judge in one of the great trials of the age, he would both gain renown and gratify his wish for political and personal revenge. He seems to have entered heartily into the plans of his employers, having obtained, before beginning his labors, the promise of ample wages while engaged in the business.

About July 12 he set out from Paris for Philip's headquarters, being well supplied with letters to the duke and Luxemburg. The University of Paris wrote to Philip, calling his attention to the fact that its former letters to him still remained unanswered, which neglect in correspondence the authorities of the university attributed to the deceitful wiles of the Evil One, and to the subtlety of the duke's enemies, who were craftily laboring to get Joan out of his hands. The university prayed God that this might not happen, for the true faith had never received so great a hurt, nor within the memory of man had so mighty a danger and injury come to the realm, as would arise from her escape by these damnable means. After complimenting the religious zeal of Philip and his ancestors, the letter begged him to deliver Joan either to the inquisitor or to the bearer, the Reverend Father in God, my Lord Bishop of Beauvais, and so to act for the glory of God, the ad- vancement of the true faith, the profit of all good Catholics, the welfare of the realm, and the duke's own honor.

The letter of the university to John of Luxemburg was much like that sent to Philip. The count was thanked for his great service in taking Joan, and was reminded of his knightly oath to defend God's honor, the Catholic faith, and Holy Church. He, too, was warned that his enemies were trying to deliver Joan by craft and, which would be still more shameful, by way of purchase or ransom. The danger of delay was pointed out, and Luxemburg was summoned to deliver her instantly to the inquisitor or to the bishop, in order that God might be pleased and the people be duly edified.

These pious admonitions were meant to add weight to the formal written demand made upon Philip, Luxemburg and Wandonne by Cauchon himself. This document made slight mention of the nobility of Joan's captors; in pretty straightforward fashion the bishop made his offer. In King Henry's name and in his own, he demanded that the woman, commonly called Joan the Maid, be delivered up to the king, so that she might be tried by the church for witchcraft and idolatry. Considering the charges made against her, she ought not to be accounted a prisoner of war, the letter continued, yet as a recompense to those who had taken her Henry VI. would freely give six thousand pounds, and an annuity to Wandonne of two or three hundred besides. So eager was Cauchon, or his English employer, that he did not wait to find out whether his terms were accepted or not; in another paragraph of the same document he made a larger offer. By the custom of France, if a king or prince was made prisoner, the sovereign whose soldiers had captured him could buy him for the fixed sum of ten thousand pounds. If Luxemburg and the rest were not content with the first offer, so Cauchon's letter ran, then, although Joan's capture was not like the capture of a king or prince, yet in order to buy her the bishop was willing to give them proper security for the ten thousand pounds. All these letters were publicly handed over to the duke and to Luxemburg in the presence of many nobles and officers, and the notary whom Cauchon had brought with him from Paris made due record of the fact. It seems that no definite answer was made at the time; John of Luxemburg may have been willing to sell Joan for ten thousand pounds, but he wished to see the ready money.

Some of the letters to Philip and Luxemburg mentioned efforts made by the French to ransom Joan. The writers undoubtedly believed that the efforts had been made, as they were reasonably to be expected from the French court; nevertheless, the fear of ransom was quite uncalled for. Neither the king nor his council, nor any of his captains, so far as can be discovered, ever made the slightest attempt to save her. She had, of course, no money of her own; poor as Charles was, he used to spend on his favorites many times the sum needed to ransom her, yet he never offered a pound. The plans of the English soon became evident; they never pretended that they meant to treat Joan as a prisoner of war, yet the French authorities did not even protest against her treatment. During the months that her trial lasted, they kept quiet. English prisoners were in their hands and retaliation was not impossible, yet they did not even threaten it. From the time of her capture to her death, there came to Joan from the king she had crowned, from the council whose orders she had obeyed, and from the captains with whom she had served, not a word or a sign. Except for a few of her enemies who came at last to pity her, she was left alone. She lived and died as if king and court and soldiers and the French nation had ceased to exist at the moment of her capture, and as if there were left to her none but enemies.

Nothing can make the conduct of the French brave or honorable, but there is much to explain it. Charles had fallen back into the cowardly imbecility from which Joan had half roused him only for a moment. At no time had he will enough to give him control of his own actions. La Trémoille and his followers had passed from indifference to suspicion, and from suspicion to dislike, until they had come to hate Joan with a hatred meaner than that of Cauchon. As to Alençon, the Bastard, La Hire, and the rest, they knew that it was hopeless to attempt Joan's rescue by force of arms, and they weakly left the way of negotiation to the court. They had been taught that the Devil was exceedingly crafty, and they may have been awed by the haunting fear that Joan was a witch after all. Among the common people she was not quite forgotten. In a remote part of France, in Dauphiny, these prayers were offered in her behalf:--"Almighty and everlasting God, who of Thine unspeakable mercy and marvelous goodness hast caused a virgin to arise for the uplifting and preservation of France and for the confusion of its enemies, and hast permitted her by their hands to be cast into prison, as she labored to obey Thy holy commandments; Grant unto us, we beseech Thee, through the intercession of the ever blessed Virgin and all the Saints, that she may be delivered from their power unhurt, and finally may accomplish the same work which Thou hast commanded her.

"Give ear, Almighty God, to the prayers of Thy people, and through the sacrament of which we have partaken, and by the intercession of the ever blessed Virgin and all the Saints, break in pieces the fetters of the Maid, who labored to perform the work which Thou hadst appointed her, and now by our enemies is held in prison. Grant that she by Thy goodness and mercy may go forth to finish unhurt that which remains for her to accomplish, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The prayers of the people of Dauphiny were unknown to Joan. For a year she lived in prison, for many months in constant physical distress, at nearly every moment of the day and night in danger of the foulest indignity and outrage, for weeks in daily danger of the rack, daily subjected to the keenest mental torture which experts could devise, with death at the end. During all this time, her every word and act were watched by the shrewdest of her enemies, eager to catch her in error by fair means or by foul, and more than once these enemies believed themselves successful. It is plain, at any rate, that Joan's successes from her capture to her death were not helped by generals or soldiers, by friends or enthusiastic crowds. As to the aid of man, she stood alone.


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