Prosecution employs priest to hear Joan’s Confession while notaries secretly take down statements to use against her in court.
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.
It is clear she shrank, through modesty, from explaining herself. The poor girl durst not explain her position in prison or the constant danger she was in. The truth is that three soldiers slept in her room, three of the brigand ruffians called houspilleurs; that she was chained to a beam by a large iron chain, almost wholly at their mercy; the man’s dress they wished to compel her to discontinue was all her safeguard. What are we to think of the imbecility of the judge, or of his horrible connivance?
Besides being kept under the eyes of these wretches, and exposed to their insults and mockery, she was subjected to espial from without. Winchester, the Inquisitor, and Cauchon had each a key to the tower, and watched her hourly through a hole in the wall. Each stone of this infernal dungeon had eyes.
Her only consolation was that she was at first allowed interviews with a priest, who told her that he was a prisoner and attached to Charles VII’s cause. Loyseleur, so he was named, was a tool of the English. He had won Jeanne’s confidence, who used to confess herself to him; and, at such times, her confessions were taken down by notaries concealed on purpose to overhear her. It is said that Loyseleur encouraged her to hold out, in order to insure her destruction.
The deplorable state of the prisoner’s health was aggravated by her being deprived of the consolations of religion during Passion Week. On the Thursday, the sacrament was withheld from her; on that selfsame day on which Christ is universal host, on which he invites the poor and all those who suffer, she seemed to be forgotten.
On Good Friday, that day of deep silence, on which we all hear no other sound than the beating of one’s own heart, it seems as if the hearts of the judges smote them, and that some feeling of humanity and of religion had been awakened in their aged scholastic souls; at least it is certain that, whereas thirty-five of them took their seats on the Wednesday, no more than nine were present at the examination on Saturday; the rest, no doubt, alleged the devotions of the day as their excuse.
On the contrary, her courage had revived. Likening her own sufferings to those of Christ, the thought had roused her from her despondency. She agreed to “defer to the Church militant, provided it commanded nothing impossible.”
“Do you think, then, that you are not subject to the Church which is upon earth, to our holy father the Pope, to the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and prelates?”
“Yes, certainly, our Lord served.”
“Do your voices forbid your submitting to the Church militant?”
“They do not forbid it, our Lord being served first.”
This firmness did not desert her once on the Saturday; but on the next day, the Sunday, Easter Sunday! what must her feelings have been? What must have passed in that poor heart when, the sounds of the universal holiday enlivening the city, Rouen’s five hundred bells ringing out with their joyous peals on the air, and the whole Christian world coming to life with the Savior, she remained with death! Could she who, with all her inner life of visions and revelations, had not the less docilely obeyed the commands of the Church; could she, who till now had believed herself in her simplicity “a good girl,” as she said, a girl altogether submissive to the Church — could she without terror see the Church against her?
After all, what, who was she, to undertake to gainsay these prelates, these doctors? How dared she speak before so many able men — men who had studied? Was there not presumption and damnable pride in an ignorant girl’s opposing herself to the learned — a poor, simple girl, to men in authority? Undoubtedly fears of the kind agitated her mind.
On the other hand, this opposition is not Jeanne’s, but that of the saints and angels who have dictated her answers to her, and, up to this time, sustained her. Wherefore, alas! do they come no more in this pressing need of hers? Wherefore is the so long promised deliverance delayed? Doubtless the prisoner has put these questions to herself over and over again.
There was one means of escaping; this was, without expressly disavowing, to forbear affirming, and to say, “It seems to me.” The lawyers thought it easy for her to pronounce these few simple words; but in her mind, to use so doubtful an expression was in reality equivalent to a denial; it was abjuring her beautiful dream of heavenly friendships, betraying her sweet sisters on high. Better to die. And indeed, the unfortunate, rejected by the visible, abandoned by the invisible, by the Church, by the world, and by her own heart, was sinking. And the body was following the sinking soul.
It so happened that on that very day she had eaten part of a fish which the charitable Bishop of Beauvais had sent her, and might have imagined herself poisoned. The bishop had an interest in her death; it would have put an end to this embarrassing trial, would have got the judge out of the scrape; but this was not what the English reckoned upon. The Earl of Warwick, in his alarm, said: “The King would not have her by any means die a natural death. The King has bought her dear. She must die by justice and be burned. See and cure her.”
All attention, indeed, was paid her; she was visited and bled, but was none the better for it, remaining weak and nearly dying. Whether through fear that she should escape thus and die without retracting, or that her bodily weakness inspired hopes that her mind would be more easily dealt with, the judges made an attempt while she was lying in this state, April 18th.
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