On the Friday and the Saturday the unfortunate prisoner, despoiled of her man’s dress, had much to fear.
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.
According to English notions, Warwick was the mirror of worthiness, the accomplished Englishman, the perfect gentleman. Brave and devout, like his master, Henry V, and the zealous champion of the Established Church, he had performed the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as well as many other chivalrous expeditions. With all his chivalry, Warwick was not the less savagely eager for the death of a woman, and one who was, too, a prisoner of war. The best and the most looked-up-to of the English was as little deterred by honorable scruples as the rest of his countrymen from putting to death on the award of priests, and by fire, her who had humbled them by the sword.
The Jews never exhibited the rage against Jesus which the English did against the Pucelle. It must be owned that she had wounded them cruelly in the most sensible part — in the simple but deep esteem they have for themselves. At Orleans the invincible men-at-arms, the famous archers, Talbot at their head, had shown their backs; at Jargeau, sheltered by the good walls of a fortified town, they had suffered themselves to be taken; at Patay they had fled as fast as their legs would carry them, fled before a girl. This was hard to be borne, and these taciturn English were forever pondering over the disgrace. They had been afraid of a girl, and it was not very certain but that, chained as she was, they felt fear of her still, though, seemingly, not of her, but of the devil, whose agent she was. At least, they endeavored both to believe and to have it believed so.
But there was an obstacle in the way of this, for she was said to be a virgin; and it was a notorious and well-ascertained fact that the devil could not make a compact with a virgin. The coolest head among the English, Bedford, the regent, resolved to have the point cleared up; and his wife, the Duchess, entrusted the matter to some matrons, who declared Jeanne to be a maid; a favorable declaration which turned against her by giving rise to another superstitious notion; to wit, that her virginity constituted her strength, her power, and that to deprive her of it was to disarm her, was to break the charm, and lower her to the level of other women.
The poor girl’s only defense against such a danger had been wearing male attire; though, strange to say, no one had ever seemed able to understand her motive for wearing it. All, both friends and enemies, were scandalized by it. At the outset, she had been obliged to explain her reasons to the woman of Poitiers; and when made prisoner, and under the care of the ladies of Luxemburg, those excellent persons prayed her to clothe herself as honest girls were wont to do. Above all, the English ladies, who have always made a parade of chastity and modesty, must have considered her so disguising herself monstrous and insufferably indecent. The Duchess of Bedford sent her female attire; but by whom? By a man, a tailor. The fellow, with impudent familiarity, was about to pass it over her head, and, when she pushed him away, laid his unmannnerly hand upon her — his tailor’s hand on that hand which had borne the flag of France. She boxed his ears.
If women could not understand this feminine question, how much less could priests! They quoted the text of a council held in the fourth century, which anathematized such changes of dress; not seeing that the prohibition specially applied to a period when manners had been barely retrieved from pagan impurities. The doctors belonging to the party of Charles VII, the apologists of the Pucelle, find exceeding difficulty in justifying her on this head. One of them — thought to be Gerson — makes the gratuitous supposition that the moment she dismounted from her horse, she was in the habit of resuming woman’s apparel; confessing that Esther and Judith had had recourse to more natural and feminine means for their triumphs over the enemies of God’s people. Entirely preoccupied with the soul, these theologians seem to have held the body cheap; provided the letter, the written law, be followed, the soul will be saved; the flesh may take its chance. A poor and simple girl may be pardoned her inability to distinguish so clearly.
On the Friday and the Saturday the unfortunate prisoner, despoiled of her man’s dress, had much to fear. Brutality, furious hatred, vengeance, might severally incite the cowards to degrade her before she perished, to sully what they were about to burn. Besides, they might be tempted to varnish their infamy by a “reason of state,” according to the notions of the day — by depriving her of her virginity they would undoubtedly destroy that secret power of which the English entertained such great dread, who perhaps might recover their courage when they knew that, after all, she was but a woman. According to her confessor, to whom she divulged the fact, an Englishman, not a common soldier, but a gentleman, a lord, patriotically devoted himself to this execution — bravely undertook to violate a girl laden with fetters, and, being unable to effect his wishes, rained blows upon her.
“On the Sunday morning, Trinity Sunday, when it was time for her to rise — as she told him who speaks — she said to her English guards, ‘Leave me, that I may get up.’ One of them took off her woman’s dress, emptied the bag in which was the man’s apparel, and said to her, ‘Get up.’ ‘Gentlemen,’ she said, ‘you know that dress is forbidden me; excuse me, I will not put it on.’ The point was contested till noon; when, being compelled to go out for some bodily want, she put it on. When she came back, they would give her no other, despite her entreaties.”
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