Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 27
For Her Country

There was grandeur in that peasant girl,––in her
exalted faith at Domremy, in her heroism at Orléans, in
her triumph at Reims, in her trial and martyrdom at
Rouen. But unless she had suffered, nothing would have
remained of this grandeur in the eyes of posterity.

Lord. “Great Women” in “Beacon Lights of History.

In the afternoon the Duchess of Bedford sent a tailor to Jeanne with a woman’s dress. She put it on without a word, allowed her hair to be dressed in feminine fashion, and to be covered by a coif. Courcelles, Loyseleur, Isambard and other priests also visited her, telling her of the great pity and mercy of the churchmen, and warning her that should she return to her errors the Church must abandon her. And so at last they left her.

Left her to her thoughts and her conscience which now began to trouble her. For in that moment of recantation Jeanne had been false to the highest that was in her: the Voice of God speaking in her heart which was higher than the Church.

“I have sinned,” she cried in anguish. “I have sinned grievously.” And piteously she invoked her Saints.

In the meantime life in that cell was a horror of which it is well not to think. She was supposed now to be under the gentle ministrations of the Church, but she was still a captive, shorn, degraded, hopeless, lacerated by fetters, and weighed down by heavy chains; for even at night when she lay on her bed her feet were in irons, with couples fastened to a chain, and attached by a log to a great beam of wood. Cauchon had been given to understand that the English would not be content with “perpetual imprisonment on bread of anguish and water of affliction” for this captive. The girl must burn, but now this could not be done unless she relapsed. Relapse she must, willingly or unwillingly. A word to John Grey’s varlets would help matters, and the word was given.

It was on Thursday, May twenty-fourth, that Jeanne recanted, and took the woman’s dress. On Sunday following she awoke to find that her feminine attire had been taken from her while she slept, and on her bed lay the old page’s suit of black.

“Sirs,” she said protestingly in her gentle voice, “this dress is forbidden me. Give me the woman’s dress, I pray you.”

The guards refused, laughing. Jeanne knew what the end would be now, but she accepted her fate calmly. The tidings flew that by this act she had revoked her abjuration. Monday word was sent to Cauchon and his acolytes, who flocked at once to the castle. They found the girl overborne with grief, her face tear-stained and disfigured; the hearts of some of them were moved to compassion.

“Why have you done this?” demanded Cauchon.

“It is more suitable for me to wear it, being among men,” said the Maid, taking the blame of the whole matter. “I have resumed it because the promise to me has not been kept; that is to say, that I should go to mass and should receive my Saviour, and that I should be taken out of irons.”

“Did you not promise and swear not to resume the dress of a man?”

“No; I am not aware that I took any such oath. I would rather die than be in irons. But if you will release me from these irons, and let me go to mass, and lie in gentle prison, I will be good and do as the Church desires.”

“Since last Thursday have you heard your Voices?” asked the Bishop, wishing to find some basis for the charge of “relapse.”

“Yes;” Jeanne’s sad face brightened at once.

“What did they say to you?”

“God made known to me by Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret the great pity there was for the treason to which I consented by making revocation and abjuration in order to save my life. I have condemned myself that my life might be saved. On Thursday my Voices told me to answer that preacher boldly, and he was a false preacher, who preached. He accused me of many things that I never did. If I said that God did not send me, I should condemn myself, for God did send me. My Voices have told me that I committed sin in declaring that what I had done was wrong. All that I said and revoked, I said for fear of the fire.”

And Manchon, the clerk, wrote on the margin of his record: “Responsio mortifera.” “The answer that caused her death.”

“Do you believe that your Voices are St. Margaret and St. Catherine?”

“Yes, I do believe it,” she cried gladly. “And I believe that they come from God. I would rather do penance once for all; that is to say, in dying, than endure any longer the misery of a prison. I have done nothing against God and the faith, in spite of all they have made me revoke. What was in the schedule of abjuration I did not understand. I did not intend to revoke anything except according to our Lord’s pleasure. If the judges will have me do so, I will resume woman’s dress; for the rest, I can do no more.”

It was enough. She had relapsed, and the will of her enemies could now be accomplished. The next day Cauchon assembled his assessors in the chapel of his house, the palace of the Archbishop of Rouen. They all agreed that Jeanne must be handed over to the secular arm of the Church, praying that it “might deal gently with her.” If she showed signs of sincere penitence, she was to be allowed to receive the sacrament of confession so long denied to her. Then the Maid was cited to appear the next morning at eight o’clock in the Old Market Place, “in order that she may be declared relapsed, excommunicate, and heretic, and that it may be done to her as is customary in such cases.”

Very early on Wednesday morning, May the thirtieth, Brother Martin Ladvenu went to the cell to tell the Maid of her approaching death, and “to lead her to true contrition and repentance, and also to hear her confession.”

Terrified and trembling, Jeanne received the announcement with bitter weeping; her heart failing before the imminence of the stake. She was but a girl, and it was a terrible ordeal that lay before her. What wonder that she wept?

“Alas!” she cried, “will they treat me so horribly and cruelly, and must my body, which has never been corrupted, be burned to ashes to-day! Ah! I would far rather be beheaded seven times than burned. Had I been in the prison of the Church, to which I submitted, and been guarded by church-folk, and not by my enemies and adversaries, this would never have befallen me. Oh, I appeal before God, the great Judge, against these wrongs that they do me.”

In the midst of the girl’s outburst, Cauchon entered the cell. She turned upon him quickly.

“Bishop, I die through you.”

“Ah, Jeanne, be patient. You die because you have not kept your promise, but have returned to errors.”

“If you had put me in the Church’s prison, and given me women for keepers, this would not have happened. For this I summon you before God.”

“Now then, Jeanne, did not your Voices promise you deliverance?”

“Yes;” she admitted sadly.

“Then you must perceive that they are evil and come not from God. Had this not been true they would not have deceived you.”

“I see that I have been deceived,” she said. They had said, “Take all things peacefully: heed not this martyrdom. Thou shalt come at last into the Kingdom of Paradise.” They had spoken also of deliverance by a great victory, but Jeanne misunderstood the message. So now she said sadly, “I see that I have been deceived. But,” she added, “be they good spirits or bad spirits, they really appeared to me.”

And now she was allowed to receive the Sacraments, for this would be proof that the Maid had again recanted. The sacrament was brought irreverently, without stole or candles, so that Ladvenu remonstrated indignantly, not being willing to administer a diminished rite. And at his request the Host was sent with a train of priests chanting litanies as they went through the streets with torches burning.

Without the prison in the courtyard, in the streets, everywhere in the city the people gathered to pray for her, their hearts touched with pity at her sad fate.

The maiden received the Sacrament with tears and devotion, the churchmen expounding views and exhorting her during all the time that it was administered. Pierre Maurice spoke kindly to her at its close.

“Ah, Sieur Pierre,” she said, “where shall I be to-night?”

“Have you not good faith in the Lord?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered. “God helping me I shall be in Paradise.”

Dressed in the long black robe that the victims of the Inquisition wore, with a mitre set on her head, bearing the inscription: “Heretic, Relapsed, Apostate, Idolater,” she was led for the last time out through the corridor and down the steps to the cart which was waiting to carry her to the place of doom. Isambard, Massieu, the usher of the court, both her friends, accompanied her. As the cart, escorted by one hundred and twenty English men-at-arms, started, a man pushed his way through them, and flung himself weeping at Jeanne’s feet. It was Loyseleur, the spy, who now implored her pardon. Jeanne forgave him, and the guards, who would have killed him but for the intervention of Warwick, drove him away.

The streets, the windows and balconies of the houses, every place where a foothold could be had, were crowded with people who wished to get a good view of the Maid on her last journey. Many secretly sympathised with her, but dared not show it for fear of their English masters.

Three scaffolds had been erected in the Old Market Place: one for the high ecclesiastics and the great English lords; one for the accused and her preacher,––for Jeanne was not allowed to go to her doom without another exhortation; while in the middle of the square a wooden platform stood on a mass of plaster with a great beam rising perpendicularly from it. At the foot of this innumerable faggots of wood were piled. The pile was purposely built high so that the executioner could not shorten her sufferings, as was often done. A placard was set over the mass of plaster and faggots with the words, “Jeanne, self-styled the Maid, liar, mischief-maker, abuser of the people, diviner, superstitious, blasphemer of God, presumptuous, false to the faith of Christ, boaster, idolater, cruel, dissolute, an invoker of devils, apostate, schismatic, heretic.”

A large number of soldiers ranged around the square keeping back the turbulent crowd who pressed upon them. Openly these soldiers rejoiced as the cart that contained the Warrior Maid was driven into the square. Soon the Witch who had humbled the pride of England would be done to death. The victor of Orléans and Patay would ride no more. An humbled France would soon be prostrate before the might of England. Jeanne looked on all that sea of faces, some sympathetic, others openly exultant, with brimming eyes.

“Rouen! Rouen!” she cried wonderingly; “and am I to die here?”

A silence fell upon the multitude as the Maid took her place upon the platform with the preacher, Nicholas Midi, and he began his sermon from the text. “If any of the members suffer, all the other members suffer with it.”

Jeanne sat quietly through the sermon, her hands folded in her lap, praying silently. After a flood of invective the preacher closed his sermon and bade her, “Go in peace.”

When the words that flung her from the communion of the Holy Church ended Pierre Cauchon rose, and once more exhorted her, heaping a shower of abuse upon her helpless head, and so delivered her to the secular arm of the Church, with the words:

“We give you over to the secular power, entreating it to moderate its sentence and spare you pain of death and mutilation of limb.”

A great hush of awe fell upon the people that was broken presently by a sweet, girlish voice, broken by sobs, as Jeanne knelt upon the platform, and offered up her last supplication.

She invoked the blessed Trinity, the blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints of Paradise. She called pleadingly upon her own St. Michael for help and to aid her “in devotion, lamentation, and true confession of faith.” Very humbly she begged forgiveness of all men whether of her party or the other. She asked the priests present to say a mass for her soul, and all whom she might have offended to forgive her, and declared that what she had done, good or bad, she alone was to answer.

And as she knelt, weeping and praying, the entire crowd, touched to the heart, broke into a burst of weeping and lamentation. Winchester wept, and the judges wept. Pierre Cauchon was overwhelmed with emotion. Here and there an English soldier laughed, and suddenly a hoarse voice cried:

“You priests, are you going to keep us here all day?”

Without any formal sentence, the Bailiff of Rouen waved his hand, saying, “Away with her.”

Jeanne was seized roughly by the soldiers and dragged to the steps of the stake. There she asked for a cross. One of the English soldiers who kept the way took a piece of staff, broke it across his knees in unequal parts, and, binding them hurriedly together, handed to her. She thanked him brokenly, took it, and kissing it pressed it against her bosom. She then prayed Massieu to bring a cross from the church that she might look upon it through the smoke.

From the church of Saint Saviour a tall cross was brought, and Brother Isambard held it before her to the end; for she said:

“Hold it high before me until the moment of death, that the cross on which God is hanging may be continually before my eyes.”

Then bravely as she had climbed the scaling ladders at Orléans and Jargeau the Maid ascended the steps of the scaffold to the stake. The good priest, Isambard, accompanied her with words of consolation. As she was being bound to the stake she looked her last upon the towers and hills of the fair city, and again the cry escaped her lips:

“Ah, Rouen! I greatly fear that you shall suffer for my death.”

Cauchon, hoping that now some word of denouncement against her King might be uttered, came to the foot of the scaffold; once again she cried to him:

“Bishop, I die through you.”

Only once did her spirit falter. When the executioner applied the torch to the faggots, and a dense volume of smoke rolled up she gasped,

“Water, holy water!”

Then, in quick forgetfulness of self, for Brother Isambard still remained with her, though the pitiless flames had already begun to ascend––she bade him go down lest the fire should catch his robes. And so at last she was left alone.

Upward leaped the red flames, eager for their prey; upward curled the dense, suffocating smoke; the air quivered and whirled with red, stifling heat; and suddenly, from out of that fiery, awful furnace, there came the clarion tones of the Maid, clear as on the battle field, exultant with the triumph of a great victory:

“My Voices were from God! They have not deceived me! Jesus! Jesus!”

And so died the Maid; a martyr, not for religion, but for her country. She died, but the lesson of her life lives on: faith and work; for by these two may marvels be wrought and the destiny of nations changed.

“The men-at-arms will fight; God will give the victory.”

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 28 Warrior Maid

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