For Joan death and sainthood; for Henry V death and failure. For France victory, for England defeat. For the Hundred Year War the end.
Today’s installment concludes Joan of Arc’s Trial and Execution,
our selection from History of France by Jules Michelet published in 1847.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of eight thousand words. Congratulations! 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.
Then, losing patience, and without waiting for the order from the bailiff, who alone had authority to dismiss her to death, they sent two constables to take her out of the hands of the priests. She was seized at the foot of the tribunal by the men-at-arms, who dragged her to the executioner with the words, “Do thy office.” The fury of the soldiery filled all present with horror; and many there, even of the judges, fled the spot, that they might see no more.
When she found herself brought down to the market-place, surrounded by English, laying rude hands on her, nature asserted her rights and the flesh was troubled. Again she cried out, “O Rouen, thou art then to be my last abode!” She said no more, and, in this hour of fear and trouble, did not sin with her lips.
She accused neither her King nor her holy ones. But when she set foot on the top of the pile, on viewing this great city, this motionless and silent crowd, she could not refrain from exclaiming, “Ah! Rouen, Rouen, much do I fear you will suffer from my death!” She who had saved the people, and whom that people deserted, gave voice to no other sentiment when dying — admirable sweetness of soul! — than that of compassion for it.
She was made fast under the infamous placard, mitred with a mitre on which was read, “Heretic, relapser, apostate, idolater.”
And then the executioner set fire to the pile. She saw this from above and uttered a cry. Then, as the brother who was exhorting her paid no attention to the fire, forgetting herself in her fear for him, she insisted on his descending.
The proof that up to this period she had made no express recantation is, that the unhappy Cauchon was obliged — no doubt by the high satanic will which presided over the whole — to proceed to the foot of the pile, obliged to face his victim to endeavor to extract some admission from her. All that he obtained was a few words, enough to rack his soul. She said to him mildly what she had already said: “Bishop, I die through you. If you had put me into the Church prisons, this would not have happened.” No doubt hopes had been entertained that, on finding herself abandoned by her King, she would at last accuse and defame him. To the last, she defended him: “Whether I have done well or ill, my King is faultless; it was not he who counseled me.”
Meanwhile the flames rose. When they first seized her, the unhappy girl shrieked for holy water — this must have been the cry of fear. But, soon recovering, she called only on God, on her angels and her saints. She bore witness to them, “Yes, my voices were from God, my voices have not deceived me.” The fact that all her doubts vanished at this trying moment must be taken as a proof that she accepted death as the promised deliverance; that she no longer understood her salvation in the Judaic and material sense, as until now she had done, that at length she saw clearly; and that, rising above all shadows, her gifts of illumination and of sanctity were at the final hour made perfect unto her.
The great testimony she thus bore is attested by the sworn and compelled witness of her death, by the Dominican who mounted the pile with her, whom she forced to descend, but who spoke to her from its foot, listened to her, and held out to her the crucifix.
There is yet another witness of this sainted death, a most grave witness, who must himself have been a saint. This witness, whose name history ought to preserve, was the Augustine monk already mentioned, Brother Isambart de la Pierre. During the trial he had hazarded his life by counselling the Pucelle, and yet, though so clearly pointed out to the hate of the English, he persisted in accompanying her in the cart, procured the parish crucifix for her, and comforted her in the midst of the raging multitude, both on the scaffold where she was interrogated and at the stake.
Twenty years afterward, the two venerable friars, simple monks, vowed to poverty and having nothing to hope or fear in this world, bear witness to the scene we have just described: “We heard her,” they say, “in the midst of the flames invoke her saints, her archangel; several times she called on her Savior. At the last, as her head sunk on her bosom, she shrieked, ‘Jesus!'”
“Ten thousand men wept. A few of the English alone laughed, or endeavored to laugh. One of the most furious among them had sworn that he would throw a fagot on the pile. Just as he brought it she breathed her last. He was taken ill. His comrades led him to a tavern to recruit his spirits by drink, but he was beyond recovery. ‘I saw,’ he exclaimed, in his frantic despair, ‘I saw a dove fly out of her mouth with her last sigh.’ Others had read in the flames the word ‘Jesus,’ which she so often repeated. The executioner repaired in the evening to Brother Isambart, full of consternation, and confessed himself; he felt persuaded that God would never pardon him. One of the English King’s secretaries said aloud, on returning from the dismal scene: ‘We are lost; we have burned a saint.'”
Though these words fell from an enemy’s mouth, they are not the less important, and will live, uncontradicted by the future. Yes, whether considered religiously or patriotically, Jeanne d’Arc was a saint.
Where find a finer legend than this true history? Still, let us beware of converting it into a legend; let us piously preserve its every trait, even such as are most akin to human nature, and respect its terrible and touching reality.
This ends our series of passages on Joan of Arc’s Trial and Execution by Jules Michelet from his book History of France published in 1847. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history