They desired that she should be really burned alive, and that, placed on the summit of this mountain of wood, and commanding the circle of lances and of swords, she might be seen from every part of the market-place.
Continuing Joan of Arc’s Trial and Execution,
our selection from History of France by Jules Michelet published in 1847. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Joan of Arc’s Trial and Execution.
She did not imagine that she could ever be deserted. She had faith in her King, in the good people of France. She had said expressly: “There will be some disturbance, either in prison or at the trial, by which I shall be delivered, greatly, victoriously delivered.” But though King and people deserted her, she had another source of aid, and a far more powerful and certain one from her friends above, her kind and dear saints. When she was assaulting St. Pierre, and deserted by her followers, her saints sent an invisible army to her aid. How could they abandon their obedient girl, they who had so often promised her “safety and deliverance”?
What then must her thoughts have been when she saw that she must die; when, carried in a cart, she passed through a trembling crowd, under the guard of eight hundred Englishmen armed with sword and lance? She wept and bemoaned herself, yet reproached neither her King nor her saints. She was only heard to utter, “O Rouen, Rouen! must I then die here?”
The term of her sad journey was the old market-place, the fish-market. Three scaffolds had been raised; on one was the episcopal and royal chair, the throne of the Cardinal of England, surrounded by the stalls of his prelates; on another were to figure the principal personages of the mournful drama, the preacher, the judges, and the bailiff, and, lastly, the condemned one; apart was a large scaffolding of plaster, groaning under a weight of wood — nothing had been grudged the stake, which struck terror by its height alone. This was not only to add to the solemnity of the execution, but was done with the intent that, from the height to which it was reared, the executioner might not get at it save at the base, and that to light it only, so that he would be unable to cut short the torments and relieve the sufferer, as he did with others, sparing them the flames.
On this occasion the important point was that justice should not be defrauded of her due or a dead body be committed to the flames; they desired that she should be really burned alive, and that, placed on the summit of this mountain of wood, and commanding the circle of lances and of swords, she might be seen from every part of the market-place. There was reason to suppose that being slowly, tediously burned, before the eyes of a curious crowd, she might at last be surprised into some weakness, that something might escape her which could be set down as a disavowal, at the least some confused words which might be interpreted at pleasure, perhaps low prayers, humiliating cries for mercy, such as proceed from a woman in despair.
The frightful ceremony began with a sermon. Master Nicolas Midy, one of the lights of the University of Paris, preached upon the edifying text: “When one limb of the Church is sick, the whole Church is sick.” He wound up with the formula: “Jeanne, go in peace; the Church can no longer defend thee.”
The ecclesiastical judge, the Bishop of Beauvais, then benignly exhorted her to take care of her soul and to recall all her misdeeds, in order that she might awaken to true repentance. The assessors had ruled that it was the law to read over her abjuration to her; the Bishop did nothing of the sort. He feared her denials, her disclaimers. But the poor girl had no thought of so chicaning away life; her mind was fixed on far other subjects. Even before she was exhorted to repentance, she had knelt down and invoked God, the Virgin, St. Michael, and St. Catharine, pardoning all and asking pardon, saying to the bystanders, “Pray for me!” In particular, she besought the priests to say each a mass for her soul. And all this so devoutly, humbly, and touchingly that, sympathy becoming contagious, no one could any longer contain himself; the Bishop of Beauvais melted into tears, the Bishop of Boulogne sobbed, and the very English cried and wept as well, Winchester with the rest.
Might it be in this moment of universal tenderness, of tears, of contagious weakness, that the unhappy girl, softened, and relapsing into the mere woman, confessed that she saw clearly she had erred, and that, apparently, she had been deceived when promised deliverance? This is a point on which we cannot implicitly rely on the interested testimony of the English. Nevertheless, it would betray scant knowledge of human nature to doubt, with her hopes so frustrated, her having wavered in her faith. Whether she confessed to this effect in words is uncertain; but I will confidently affirm that she owned it in thought.
Meanwhile the judges, for a moment put out of countenance, had recovered their usual bearing, and the Bishop of Beauvais, drying his eyes, began to read the act of condemnation. He reminded the guilty one of all her crimes, of her schism, idolatry, invocation of demons, how she had been admitted to repentance, and how, “seduced by the Prince of Lies, she had fallen, O grief! ‘like the dog which returns to his vomit.’ Therefore, we pronounce you to be a rotten limb, and, as such, to be lopped off from the Church. We deliver you over to the secular power, praying it at the same time to relax its sentence and to spare you death and the mutilation of your members.”
Deserted thus by the Church, she put her whole trust in God. She asked for the cross. An Englishman handed her a cross which he made out of a stick; she took it, rudely fashioned as it was, with not less devotion, kissed it, and placed it under her garments, next to her skin. But what she desired was the crucifix belonging to the Church, to have it before her eyes till she breathed her last. The good huissier Massieu and Brother Isambart interfered with such effect that it was brought her from St. Sauveur’s. While she was embracing this crucifix, and Brother Isambart was encouraging her, the English began to think all this exceedingly tedious; it was now noon at least; the soldiers grumbled, and the captains called out: “What’s this, priest; do you mean us to dine here?”
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