Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 24


TO understand that which took place in the last week of Joan's life, it is necessary to know what was the feeling of the English, of Cauchon, and of Joan herself, after she had signed her abjuration and had put on woman's dress. All Englishmen in Rouen except Warwick and a few other leaders were furious. They were sure that they had been betrayed. Their greatest enemy, who had cost them so dear, in men, in territory, and in money paid to buy her, had cheated their revenge. She had been condemned to perpetual imprisonment, indeed, but they had wished and expected her death. This she had escaped, miserable witch though she was, by some legal technicality, or, as seemed more likely, by the connivance of her treacherous countrymen, whom the English had been foolish enough to make her judges. The hatred which Englishmen had naturally felt for Joan before her capture was little affected by her testimony or by her bearing at her trial. Most of them had hardly seen her; few of them could fully understand what she said. The angry, savage soldiers were read to vent their wrath on any Frenchman, especially if he were a Frenchman connected with Cauchon's tribunal.

To Cauchon, doubtless, this turbulence of the English seemed unreasonable, for he knew that his craft was serving their cause more effectually than their own blind rage. His plan had been formed for weeks, perhaps for months, and so far he had succeeded in carrying it out. He might easily have killed Joan, either after a hasty trial or by poison or ill usage in prison; and thus have made her a martyr. Instead of doing so, he had made her discredit herself by recanting her errors and changing her dress. Having destroyed her marvelous reputation, wherein lay her real strength, he prepared to complete his work by putting to death with all due formality the poor self-convicted witch, half impostor, half deluded by the Devil, who would soon revoke her recantation and so destroy her last chance of life.

After the churchmen had left her on Thursday afternoon, Joan sat in her cell, with the cut of her hair changed and in woman's dress, but chained and guarded as usual, kept just as she had been kept since she reached Rouen. In that cell, in those chains, and with like soldiers for her keepers, she was condemned to pass the rest of her life. By her abjuration she had gained nothing. She had signed the paper and had changed her dress in order to escape from the custody of brutal soldiers into that of decent priests, and in order to receive the sacrament. The sacrament had not been given her, the priests apparently had left her forever, and by her change of dress she had exposed herself more than before to the lust of her keepers.

Her voices spoke to her. For six years they had been her constant comfort. Without them, as she said, she would have died in prison, and, except for the folly of a moment at Beaurevoir, a fault easily forgiven, she had always obeyed them. That morning, even if she had not actually denied them, yet she had openly shown her distrust of them, and at the last moment had failed to answer her judges boldly for fear of death.

To escape the terrible reproach of her voices, and in the hope of regaining the peace of mind she had lost, she confessed her shame and cowardice to her keepers, prob- ably because her remorse would not let her be quiet, and they were the only persons to whom she could speak. They paid little attention to her words; the plan formed to entrap her was intended to secure more material proof of her relapse. What she endured on Friday and Satur- day cannot be precisely known,--how carefully her guards and others in the plot stopped at threats, and how far they went in actual violence and outrage. The natural exasperation of the English soldiers needed no urging; in woman's dress she was treated far worse than when she was dressed as a man. Doubtless her sufferings seemed to her the just punishment of her cowardice.

In her agony she may have cried out for the clothes she used to wear; at any rate, they were deliberately placed where she could reach them. According to one story, the guards took away the new dress while she was asleep, and refused to give it back; but such an act would have provided her with legal justification for the change, and therefore would hardly have been allowed. Within two days she had put on again her old tunic and cloak and leggings.

News of what she had done was brought to Cauchon. Thus far his plan had succeeded perfectly, and without undue haste he pursued it to the end. On the afternoon of Trinity Sunday he directed Beaupère, a delegate of the University of Paris and one of Joan's examiners, to visit her in her cell. He was commanded to admonish Joan to persist in her submission, and doubtless he was to certify her relapse, if he should find that she had returned to her former evil ways.

The prison was locked and the jailer could not be found. As Beaupère waited in the courtyard of the castle with the assessors who accompanied him, the English soldiers gathered about them, calling them false traitor Arma- gnacs. The churchmen were timid. Beaupère could not understand English, and asked Midi, one of his colleagues, what the soldiers wanted. Midi reported that the men said it would be a good job to throw them both into the river. At this all took fright and rushed out across the drawbridge into the town, followed by the soldiers shouting and brandishing their swords. Cauchon had not been able to take the whole English garrison into his secret.

On the next day, Monday, May 28, four days after the recantation, Cauchon himself, with the viceinquisitor, several assessors, and the notaries, went to Joan's cell in order to establish formally the fact of her relapse. This time the English soldiers were kept under control, and the journey was made in safety. They found Joan in her old dress, her face stained with tears and so marked and disfigured that one assessor took pity on her. The kindly Dominican knew nothing of her remorse and the reproach of her voices, and he laid all her distress to the outrages of her keepers.

Cauchon proceeded at once to business, and asked when and why she had put on again the dress of a man. For a little while, according to the official report, Joan tried to evade an answer, saying that she had acted of her own free will, that she preferred man's dress, that she did not think she had sworn never to wear it again. Apparently she was shamefaced, as she had been before, but at last she was forced to answer plainly. While living among men, she said, it was more fitting and decent for her to wear a man's dress than a woman's, and she added that they had not kept their promises to her, namely, that she should receive the sacrament and have her irons knocked off. Being further questioned, she answered that she would rather die than be kept in chains, and that, if they would commit her to a proper prison, she would dress as they pleased.

From her dress Cauchon passed to her voices. He had heard, so he told her, that she now held to the deceitful and pretended visions which she had just abjured, and he asked her if, since last Thursday, she had heard her voices. She answered yes.

What had they said to her, pursued Cauchon. God had bidden St. Catherine and St. Margaret tell her, Joan answered, what a great shame was the treason to which she had consented in forswearing and recanting to save her life. Her voices warned her that she was damning herself to save her life. Up to last Thursday they had told her what to do, and she had done it. Even when she was on the scaffold in face of the people, they had told her to answer Erard boldly. "He was a lying preacher," she continued, "and charged me with many things which I had not done. If I should say that God did not send me, I should damn myself, for it is true that God did send me. Since last Thursday my voices have been telling me that I did great wrong in confessing that what I had done was not well done. Whatever I said was said from fear of the fire."

"Do you believe that your voices are those of St. Catherine and St. Margaret?" asked Cauchon. "Yes," Joan answered, "theirs and God's."

Opposite one of Joan's replies, the scribe wrote on the margin of the page the words "fatal answer." Cauchon had heard enough to send her to the stake, but he continued his examination, seeing, perhaps, that she was worn out, and hoping that in her distress she had lost some of her usual keenness. He told her that when she stood on the scaffold, before the judges and the people, she had confessed that her story about St. Catherine and St. Margaret was a lying boast. Joan replied that she did not understand that she had confessed anything of the sort. She did not understand that she had denied that the voices were those of St. Catherine and St. Margaret; whatever she had said, she had said through fear of the fire. She would rather do penance once, by dying, than suffer longer in prison; she had really done nothing against God or the Christian faith, whatever she might have said in her recantation; and, as to the writing she had signed, she did not comprehend it. She had intended to admit nothing, except with the proviso that it should so please God. If the judges wished, she would again put on woman's dress, but she would do nothing more. Cauchon thereupon withdrew; in leaving the castle, he laughed and told the English to make themselves quite easy, as the job was done. Though her fate was settled, Joan was left in suspense for thirty-six hours or more, partly, perhaps, in more neglect, partly that she might yield the more easily at the last.

The day after his visit to her cell, on Tuesday, May 29, Cauchon held the last sitting of his court. To some forty assessors he rehearsed the history of Joan's abjuration and relapse, reading the minutes of her answers made on the preceding day. He then asked the assessors to advise him what he should do.

There was but one thing to be done, and the assessors, with more or less reluctance, voted to do it. Some with bald directness, some in gentler phrase, voted that Joan was a relapsed heretic, and should be delivered to the lay tribunal for punishment. One man only, Peter, prior of Longueville Giffard, wished to give her another chance to recant. The sergeant was ordered to bring her to the place of execution at eight o'clock on the next morning.

Hitherto Cauchon's plans had succeeded. Throughout her trial Joan had been obstinate, and her obstinacy had insured her conviction. At sight of the fire her obstinacy had given way and she had seemed to confess herself a witch, thus admitting what Cauchon had found it so hard to prove. After she had been taken back to her cell, her obstinacy had reappeared and caused her relapse, thus condemning her irrevocably to death. But one thing was left for Cauchon to do, namely, to overcome her obstinacy a second time and secure another recantation, which would send her to the stake confessing the justice of her punishment.

To seem to do this was not hard. No one could visit Joan's cell except by Cauchon's permission, and so he could tell an uncontradicted story of what went on there. The assessors who pitied Joan would wish to believe that she died penitent, and, in all kindness, would give to her words a meaning which allowed her a last chance of eternal salvation. In one matter Joan herself would help the bishop's plan; for months she had been demanding the Eucharist, and, with death only a few hours distant, she was sure to ask it more earnestly than ever. It could be given, of course, only to a contrite penitent, and Joan's reception of it would seem proof of her contrition for the great sin of which she was accused. Cauchon knew, moreover, that the fearful strain of the past week had weakened Joan more than months of imprisonment. By the sudden announcement that she was to be burned in a few hours, he expected to break her down completely.

A week later, when all was over, he assembled the priests who saw her in her cell on the last morning of her life, and caused their statements of what had happened there to be written down, in order to show that she had again abjured her errors. This irregular evidence the official notary would not attest, though ordered to do so by Cauchon; some of it is manifestly false, some of it was afterwards contradicted by the witnesses themselves. Untrustworthy as it is in important particulars, yet the true story of the morning may be gathered from it, when it has been corrected by other testimony and by the probabilities of the case. Allowance must be made, also, for the pressure applied to the witnesses by Cauchon, and for their natural bias.

Soon after daylight on Wednesday morning there went to Joan's cell Peter Maurice, a respectable priest, and the spy Loiseleur, in whose friendship she still believed. They warned her that her end was near, and begged her to speak the truth, particularly about the angel who, as she said, had brought the crown to Charles. In the face of death Joan would no longer play upon words; without more ado, she told them the exact truth, acknowledging that she was the angel, and that the crown she had brought was the promise of coronation fulfilled at Rheims.

Maurice then asked about the saints she had seen and the voices she had heard, hoping that she would confess that they, too, were only fictions or allegories. This was not true, and Joan stoutly affirmed that both visions and voices were real. Again and again Maurice repeated his question in varying form. Joan said that she often heard her voices at Compline, when the church bells rang, and Maurice suggested that church bells sometimes sound in men's ears like human voices. Joan persisted that she had really heard the voices. Maurice then told her that they must be the voices of evil spirits, intending thus to shake her belief, but she answered simply, "Be they good spirits or bad, they did really appear to me." From this she could not be shaken.

While Maurice and Loiseleur were laboring with her, two Dominicans joined them, Martin Ladvenu and John Toutmouillé. The former was especially commissioned by Cauchon to tell Joan that, within two or three hours, she was to be burnt at the stake. Ladvenu was a man of no great force, easily induced to say and to do what he was told, but he pitied Joan sincerely. As gently as he could he gave her his message. To Joan it came as a shock. She had spoken of death, doubtless she had expected to die, but she had a sanguine temper and had not quite given up the hope of deliverance. At first the girl could not contain herself, and broke down before the four priests. It was cruel, she told them, and she had rather be beheaded seven times over than burnt. Had she been guarded by churchmen, and not by her enemies, this would not have happened, and she appealed to God, the great judge, against the wrong that had been done her. In her distress Maurice thought that another appeal might move her, and he pointed out that her voices must be those of lying spirits, since, in promising her deliverance, they had deceived her. This horrible thought had been present to her mind for days; she could not be sure that Maurice was wrong, and he persuaded her to say that she had been deceived. Probably she meant to admit only that she had misunderstood her voices, but the churchmen took her to mean that the voices had betrayed her. In her agony she hardly knew what she was saying or what she dared to believe; she was too simple and devout a Catholic utterly to disregard the learned priests about her, as she might have done if she had been a stubborn heretic. "Master Peter," she asked Maurice, "where shall I be tonight?""Do you not have good hope in God?" said the well meaning canon. With returning confidence, Joan answered that she had good hope, and that, with God's help, she would be in paradise.

Cauchon himself came to the prison with several attending assessors. Joan knew that he, at any rate, was her enemy, and she spoke to him boldly. "Bishop, I die by your act." This the crafty bishop did not intend to acknowledge. "Ah, be patient, Joan," he said. "You die because you have not done what you promised, and because you have returned to your old sin." "If you had put me into the prisons of the church, and had left me in the hands of proper churchly keepers," said the poor girl, "this would not have happened; therefore I appeal against you to God."

Cauchon saw her agony, and, dissatisfied with the efforts of Maurice, himself attempted to bring her to submission. "Listen, Joan," he began; "you always told us that your voices promised you that you should be delivered; you see how they have deserted you. Now tell us the truth." Again Joan was forced to admit that she had been deceived. Cauchon triumphantly declared that she must understand that voices like hers could not be those of good spirits, nor could they come from God; if they had come from Him, they could neither deceive her nor lie. To this Joan made no answer, and they could get nothing more out of her, except rather vague professions of devotion to the church and of willingness to submit to it.

Cauchon went away with most of his assessors to prepare for the execution. Ladvenu stayed behind, having been directed to give Joan all needful ghostly advice.

She had now no hope of escape, and she gave herself at once to devout preparation for death, confessing her sins to Ladvenu, and meekly receiving from him the sacrament of penance. She begged earnestly for the Eucharist, and Ladvenu sent the sergeant Massieu to Cauchon, asking for instructions. Cauchon gave his permission readily; for the reasons already mentioned, he had always intended to do so. The host was brought in state with litany and candles through the castle yard, so that all by-standers might know how Joan had again recanted her errors and acknowledged her sins. By the time the cell was reached, however, all need of pomp had ceased, for want of spectators, and the host was delivered to Ladvenu in a manner so slovenly, without candle, surplice, or stole, that the outraged priest would not administer the sacrament until decent furnishing was provided. Joan had already put on woman's dress; months before, she had asked her judges that it might be given her when she came to be executed. In it she received the Eucharist for the first time at Rouen.

She had been cited to appear before the court at eight o'clock, and she was arrayed for the procession through the streets. They put upon her a long black robe, such as those condemned by the Inquisition used to wear, and on her head a mitre with these words written, "Heretic, relapsed, apostate, idolater." Guarded by several score of English soldiers, accompanied by the sergeant and by Ladvenu, she was led from the castle to the Old Market, a few hundred yards distant, in the heart of Rouen. There had been erected three platforms or scaffolds, one for the court, one for the distinguished spectators, and one on which was set up the stake. The market-place was filled with a great crowd, English soldiers, townspeople, and peasants who had flocked in from the country to see the show. Apparently the execution had been advertised at least a day beforehand.

About nine o'clock Joan reached the Old Market, and was brought upon the platform near the Church of St. Saviour. According to custom, there was a sermon, preached by Nicholas Midi, a member of the University of Paris and a canon of Rouen. His text was from Corinthians, "If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it."Joan sat quiet throughout the discourse, while the crowd had its fill of gazing at the famous witch. When Midi had finished, Cauchon for the last time warned Joan to look well to the safety of her soul, and advised her to heed especially the counsel of the two Dominican friars, Ladvenu and Isambard of La Pierre, appointed to stay by her till her death. He then read the final sentence. This set forth that it was fitting to separate heretics from the company of the righteous, lest the deadly poison which transformed the heretic into a limb of Satan should spread through the other members of the mystic body of Christ. Joan had previously been found guilty of the sin of schism, idolatry, and witchcraft, so the sentence declared, and, as now clearly appeared, she had never truly repented of these sins, but had returned to her evil ways, like a dog to his vomit. Therefore fore the judges declared her excommunicated and cut off from the unity of the church, like a rotten member, and they delivered her over to the power of the state.

The sermon and the rest of the ceremony had taken a considerable time, and some of the English soldiers became impatient. The power of the state, represented by the bailiff of Rouen, should have passed sentence of death, but in the confusion this formality was omitted, or was passed over so hastily that those who stood close by heard nothing of it. Joan was brought down from the judge's platform, delivered at once to the executioner, and taken to the scaffold. As she went, she begged the priests to say masses for her soul, and again she declared that for what she had done, good or bad, she alone would answer, and that her king was not to blame. With her old confidence, she cried, "Ah, Rouen, I greatly fear that you will have to suffer for my death."

Before the scaffold a sign was placed on which was written for the instruction of the multitude, "Joan, who has taken the name of the Maid, liar, wrong-doer, de- ceiver of the people, witch, superstitious, blasphemer of God, presumptuous, unbeliever, braggart, idolater, cruel, lewd, sorceress, apostate, schismatic, and heretic." The scaffold itself, on which the wood was piled, had been made high, so that all the crowd might see the burning. As Joan was about to mount it with her confessor, she asked for a cross. An English soldier gave her one made on the spot from two sticks fastened together; she kissed it devoutly and, praying all the time, thrust it into her bosom under her dress. From the church of St. Saviour opposite they brought her the crucifix, and this, too, she kissed and embraced while they bound her to the stake.After the fastenings had been secured, the executioner set the fagots afire. The scaffold was so high that he was hindered in his work, and the wood did not burn as quickly as he had expected. When Joan saw the flame, she told La Pierre to descend with the crucifix, and she begged him, when he had done so, to hold it up for her to look on as long as she could see. She had not lost her faith in her voices, or else it came back to her in the fire, for those standing near by heard her speak the name of St. Michael, who had appeared to her in her first vision in Domremy. At the last, through the flames, they heard her call again and again with a loud voice, " Jesus, Jesus."


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