Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 19

Joan of Arc as a prisoner statue in Rouen, France

NOW that Joan was bought and paid for, and safely in their hands, the English were free to act on the theory that she was a witch, or to treat her as a prisoner of war. For a short time they seemed to hesitate, and kept her at Le Crotoy, where she was allowed to confess to the chancellor of Amiens, himself a prisoner of some distinction, and to attend the masses which he celebrated in the castle. The hesitation of the English angered the authorities of the University of Paris, fierce partisans as they were, and on November 21 they wrote both to Cauchon and to Henry VI.

"We greatly wonder, reverend father," they wrote to the bishop, "that the dispatch of this woman, vulgarly called the Maid, has been so long put off, to the injury of the faith and of the church's jurisdiction, and our wonder is the greater now that she is, as we hear, in the hands of the king. Perchance if your Grace had shown keener diligence in this matter, the cause of the said woman would already have been brought before the ecclesiastical courts. With the utmost diligence, therefore, your Grace's zeal should be directed to prevent the authority of the church from suffering greater injury by longer delay in this matter." They further begged Cauchon to arrange for Joan's trial in Paris, "where there is a great number of wise and learned men, so that her cause can be quickly heard and properly decided to the enlightenment of Christian people and to the glory of God."

The letter to Henry VI. was not quite so sharp in its tone, but its substance was the same. The king was re- minded of his duty to put down heresy; several earlier letters on the subject, written to him by the university, were recalled to his attention, and he was begged to hand Joan over to the bishop and to the inquisitor-general, that she might be tried by them and punished as she de- served. Paris, he was told, was the place best suited to her trial, both on account of the learned men who lived there, and also because her punishment should be inflicted in the place where her crimes had been committed.

It has been suggested that these letters were procured by Cauchon and the English council, in order to justify themselves for the course which they afterwards followed. No doubt the letters served as a justification of Joan's trial, but they were probably written in good faith, for Cauchon would hardly have dictated a rebuke as sharp as that which was sent him. The University of Paris was proud of its orthodoxy, and had gained in France no small part of the authority which in some other countries belonged to the Inquisition. Bitterly prejudiced against Joan, it longed to have her in its hands, and, with the other authorities of Paris, it had spared no pains to stir up the people of the city against her. On September a Breton woman had been burned to death, after a sermon rehearsing her crimes had been preached to the crowd which had gathered for the show. The poor creature believed that God had visited her, and she had dared to say that Joan was a good girl, doing good and obey- ing God's will. The conduct of the university during Joan's trial showed that it needed no urging to take sides against her.

Thus pressed by the university and probably also by Cauchon, the English were perplexed. As has been said already, if they carried Joan to England and kept her there as a prisoner of war, they would greatly irritate the only real friends left to them in France, and they would leave themselves under the imputation of having opposed the will of God as declared by his messenger. Even if they should secretly put Joan to death in prison, they would not destroy the glory which she and her visions had brought to the French arms. That could be done only by proving her to be the messenger of Satan.

To try her for a witch, on the other hand, was no simple matter. If the trial were held in England, the decision of the court would lose much of its proper effect; there was reason in the remark of the university, that the fitting place for Joan's punishment and disgrace was that in which her crimes had been committed. To try her in Paris, however, was out of the question. She was safe in Le Crotoy, an impregnable fortress; the road between that place and Paris was long and beset by the French. The English councilors could hardly believe that Charles VII. was willing to leave Joan to her fate without a struggle, and they dreaded her rescue by her friends, either her old companions in arms, or her supposed master, Satan. Moreover, Paris was largely in the control of the duke of Burgundy, as Henry's lieutenant, amiably patriotic Bretons have tried to make a heroine of the poor wretch, but the material is too scanty and, after buying Joan for themselves with a great price, the English were not ready to let her fall again into Philip's hands. She could not be tried in Normandy before English judges. Only the clergy of the province had the necessary jurisdiction, and few Englishmen had been preferred to Norman benefices, though Normandy had been a conquered country for more than ten years.

The trial of Joan, then, to be both safe and effective, must be held in Normandy before French judges. To give it proper importance, to make her condemnation decisive in the eyes of the world, the trial must be solemn and imposing, carried on with due appearance of fairness. Cauchon was a man well fitted to preside over it, but a number of other men like-minded with Cauchon were needed to sit with him. Such men were not very numerous.

Mention has been made already of the little body of politicians to which he belonged, the Burgundian partisans who were more Burgundian than the duke himself, and who hated the Armagnacs so fiercely that their utter fidelity to the English followed as matter of course. Among the Norman ecclesiastics there were a few who belonged to this party, but most of the clergy of the province were of a temper quite different. To most Normans, English rule was an accepted fact. They had no intention of revolting against their rulers; revolt had been tried, and had ended in disaster. The English had made some show of consulting them in the government of the province, had called together its estates, had protected some of its liberties, and had installed comparatively few English officials. For all this, the Normans did not greatly love their new rulers. Norman soldiers could not be trusted in battle, and English captains were forbidden to enroll in their companies any Frenchmen except those from Bordeaux and its neighborhood, a district as loyal as Kent or Norfolk. The people of Normandy would make no attempt to rescue Joan, and the clergy would not interfere to prevent her trial and condemnation, but there was reason to fear that neither people nor clergy would be zealous in condemning her.

In this state of affairs, the English might well hesitate, but they decided to take the risk, and to send Joan to Rouen for trial before Cauchon. Upon his zeal they could rely; the inquisitor, who should sit with him, was not ill-disposed toward them, and the opinion of the University of Paris could at any time be taken and used to overcome the scruples of doubting Norman assessors.

After a short stay at Le Crotoy, Joan was therefore sent to Rouen, probably in the first days of December. Like other cities, Rouen had its citadel or castle, a fortress built by Philip Augustus, close to the city's walls, but protected by its own walls, ditch, and towers, and able to stand a siege even after the capture of the city. Joan was imprisoned near the postern gate in one of these towers, a great mass of masonry one hundred feet high and something over forty feet in diameter, with walls twelve feet thick. The room was nearly dark, feebly lighted by a slit just wide enough to shoot an arrow through, or receiving, perhaps, all its light and air through the doorway. Here she was closely watched by half a dozen common soldiers, who had both the leisure and the disposition to mock her, to taunt her with the certainty of impending death, and to threaten her with every sort of violence, which they seem occasionally to have attempted.

Joan had almost escaped between the planks of her prison at Beaulieu, and so the confinement just described was considered insufficient. The English caused to be made an iron cage in which she could be held sitting upright, chained by her neck, her hands, and her feet. It is not certain that this fearful instrument of torture was put into use. During most of her imprisonment only her feet were fettered, the chains that held them being attached to another chain which passed between the legs of her bedstead, and was locked to a heavy wooden beam. Her irons were taken off only when she was brought into court. Harsh treatment like this had an object beyond safe-keeping or the gratification of spite; a trial for sorcery and witchcraft was not completely successful without the confession of the accused, and that was most easily obtained either by judicial torture or by ill treatment in prison. A confession Cauchon and the English were determined to get.

Left to her chains and her warders, seeing no human faces but those of her enemies, Joan called upon her voices, and daily and nightly the saints visited her. They promised her deliverance, not in any particular manner or at any fixed time, but deliverance somehow for herself and for France, and they assured her of God's care and love. Having this promise and assurance, she bore her captivity with brave and unbroken spirit.

Various proceedings must be had before her trial could be begun. As soon as it was determined upon, Cauchon caused an inquiry to be made at Domremy and there- abouts concerning Joan's way of life as a child and as a girl. That this should be possible in a French village like Domremy is unaccountable, unless the political confusion of eastern France is borne in mind. Joan's triumphs had not reached the valley of the Meuse. In October, 1429, soon after the retreat to the Loire, while Philip of Burgundy was wavering in his allegiance, Bedford had made him lieutenant, not only of Paris, but of pretty much all eastern France. In that part of the country the English and French, the partisans of Burgundy and the partisans of Charles VII., held at the end of 1430 much the same position they had held at the beginning of 1429, when Joan set out for Chinon. During the summer of 1430, indeed, one of Charles's generals had carried on a successful war in Champagne, but on the borders of Lorraine the Anglo-Burgundians were masters of nearly everything except Vaucouleurs.

Cauchon's instructions were addressed, as it seems, to John of Torcenay, bailiff of Chaumont, in which bailiwick Domremy was situated. Torcenay had held his office for some years, and was a stanch hater of all Armagnacs. He sent to Domremy the provost of Montesclar and one Bailly, a notary, who then and there summoned twelve or fifteen witnesses and took their depositions. The provost and the notary stayed a short time at Domremy in the house of a peasant, and learned what they could. It is impossible to say if any of Joan's family were then living in the village. Those of the neighbors who would not testify willingly were generally let alone, for delay was dangerous with Baudricourt and the garrison of Vaucouleurs near at hand. The depositions were duly authenticated and were dispatched to the bailiff.

The notary and the provost, as it appears, were honest men, possibly not over zealous in the cause of England and Burgundy. What they learned at Domremy was in no way discreditable to Joan, and had no tendency to prove her a witch. When this was pointed out to them, however, they stoutly affirmed that they had taken down the statements of the witnesses correctly, at which reply the bailiff became very angry and called them traitor Armagnacs. There was nothing to do, however, but to send the depositions to Cauchon, and let him treat them as he would. They reached Rouen about New Year's day.

The jurisdiction which Cauchon claimed over Joan rested upon the fact that she had been taken prisoner within the bounds of his diocese of Beauvais. This was deemed sufficient to give him jurisdiction over the accused, and over her crimes wherever committed; but, under ordinary circumstances, his tribunal should have sat within the limits of his own diocese. To try Joan at Beauvais was impossible, however, as the bishop had been driven out of the place by the patriotic feeling which she had stirred up. To hold his court in the archdiocese of Rouen, he must get leave from the diocesan authorities.

John of La Rochetaillée, the last archbishop, had been translated to Besançon about a year before, and it de- volved upon the chapter of the cathedral to administer the diocese during the vacancy.

The chapter of Rouen was a body of considerable independence of judgment. None of the canons actively sympathized with the royalist cause, few of them were strong partisans of Henry VI., most of them belonged to that almost neutral party which has been mentioned already. The chapter had no great love for Cauchon. It had quarreled with the last archbishop and had forced him to agree not to come to Rouen without its consent, which consent he had hardly once obtained; in this quarrel Cauchon had meddled. He wished to become the next archbishop, and had gained the recommendation of the English; the canons had another candidate. Bedford had got permission from the pope to levy a tax of thirty thousand pounds on the clergy of Normandy and had charged Cauchon with its collection; in this the bishop had been so zealous that the clergy had appealed from him to the pope.

In spite of their want of friendliness, the canons could hardly resist Cauchon's demand, not unreasonable in itself, and backed by English influence. Some of them, though Frenchmen, owed their seats to English nomination. Only two months before, on his recovery from a severe illness, the regent Bedford himself, a man of religion and of high character according to the standard of the times, had asked and obtained admission to a canonry. Accompanied by his wife, he had been received with great pomp by the chapter, Cauchon acting as bishop, and both duke and duchess had borne themselves with great humility through the long ceremony. In honor of his admission, Bedford had made large gifts to the cathedral, for which he seems to have had a real affection, and in which, five years later, he was buried at his own request. Bedford doubtless wished that Cauchon's request should be granted, and it was impossible for the chapter to disregard the wish of a man who was at once its master and friend. On December 28, accordingly, letters were issued to Cauchon.

They set forth that Cauchon sought to proceed against a certain woman, who had not only east aside all decency and behaved shamelessly and as one unsexed, but also had held and spread abroad many things contrary to the Catholic faith and in derogation of its articles. By God's pleasure this woman had been taken in Cauchon's diocese, and he had prevailed upon her captors to deliver her up, so that she was now come into his hands in the city of Rouen. Here he proposed to hold his court, to examine witnesses, to question the accused herself, and, if necessary, to put her in prison. In acting thus he did not intend to thrust his sickle into the harvest of the chapter, but begged it to grant him for his purpose sufficient territorial rights. These the chapter graciously accorded, commanding all persons to assist the bishop, and authorizing him to proceed, either in company with the inquisitor or without him, as if he were acting within his own diocese. All which was done saving the dignity of the archdiocese of Rouen.

After Cauchon had acquired the right to exercise his jurisdiction in Rouen, the English government delivered to him its prisoner. On January 3, 1431, the proclamation issued, rehearsing Joan's attempt to seduce simple people into the belief that she was sent by God, and declaring that the king, for the reverence and honor of God's name, and for the defense and exaltation of Holy Church, at the request of his dear and well-beloved daughter the University of Paris, was willing to hand over Joan to the bishop for trial. "It is our intention, however," the proclamation continued, "to retake into our custody the aforesaid Joan, in case she should not be convicted of any of the aforementioned crimes." The English were not willing to trust their prisoner without reserve, even to the vigorous zeal of Cauchon.

Before entering upon the history of the trial of Joan of Arc, it is well to consider just what was the temper and intention of the bishop at the time the trial began. Most certainly he did not look upon Joan with that freedom from prejudice which is the habit of every good judge at the present day. Before he ever saw her, he had a most decided opinion concerning her guilt, and he tried her with the distinct intention of condemning her, the possibility of an acquittal never having entered his mind. On the other hand, he had no intention of condemning the innocent, or of rendering a judgment in any way unjust. Joan's guilt was so certain that it would be a grievous failure of justice if that guilt was not made to appear plainly. For the purpose of mere justice, indeed, a trial was hardly needed, and its principal object was not to determine Joan's guilt, but to make that guilt manifest to all the world. At the outset of the trial Cauchon's tem- per was neither judicial nor hypocritical, but that of a sincerely bigoted partisan. How far it changed as the trial went on is another matter.


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