“It is to thee, Jeanne, that I address myself; and I tell thee that thy King is a heretic and schismatic.” Putting the King of France on trial in abstentia made the trial political and the defendant a national patriot.
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 was by this time the 23d of May, the day after Pentecost; Winchester could remain no longer at Rouen, and it behooved to make an end of the business. Therefore it was resolved to get up a great and terrible public scene, which should either terrify the recusant into submission, or, at the least, blind the people. Loyseleur, Chetillon, and Morice were sent to visit her the evening before, to promise her that, if she would submit and quit her man’s dress, she should be delivered out of the hands of the English, and placed in those of the Church.
This fearful farce was enacted in the cemetery of St. Ouen, behind the beautifully severe monastic church so called, and which had by that day assumed its present appearance. On a scaffolding raised for the purpose sat Cardinal Winchester, the two judges, and thirty-three assessors, of whom many had their scribes seated at their feet. On another scaffold, in the midst of huissiers and torturers, was Jeanne, in male attire, and also notaries to take down her confessions, and a preacher to admonish her; and, at its foot, among the crowd, was remarked a strange auditor, the executioner upon his cart, ready to bear her off as soon as she should be adjudged his.
The preacher on this day, a famous doctor, Guillaume Erard, conceived himself bound, on so fine an opportunity, to give the reins to his eloquence; and by his zeal he spoiled all. “O noble house of France,” he exclaimed, “which wast ever wont to be protectress of the faith, how hast thou been abused to ally thyself with a heretic and schismatic!” So far the accused had listened patiently; but when the preacher, turning toward her, said to her, raising his finger: “It is to thee, Jeanne, that I address myself; and I tell thee that thy King is a heretic and schismatic,” the admirable girl, forgetting all her danger, burst forth with, “On my faith, sir, with all due respect, I undertake to tell you, and to swear, on pain of my life, that he is the noblest Christian of all Christians, the sincerest lover of the faith and of the Church, and not what you call him.”
“Silence her,” called out Cauchon.
The accused adhered to what she had said. All they could obtain from her was her consent to submit herself to the Pope. Cauchon replied, “The Pope is too far off.” He then began to read the sentence of condemnation, which had been drawn up beforehand, and in which, among other things, it was specified: “And furthermore, you have obstinately persisted, in refusing to submit yourself to the holy Father and to the council,” etc. Meanwhile, Loyseleur and Erard conjured her to have pity on herself; on which the Bishop, catching at a shadow of hope, discontinued his reading. This drove the English mad; and one of Winchester’s secretaries told Cauchon it was clear that he favored the girl — a charge repeated by the Cardinal’s chaplain. “Thou art a liar,” exclaimed the Bishop. “And thou,” was the retort, “art a traitor to the King.” These grave personages seemed to be on the point of going to cuffs on the judgment-seat.
Erard, not discouraged, threatened, prayed. One while he said, “Jeanne, we pity you so!” and another, “Abjure or be burned!” All present evinced an interest in the matter, down even to a worthy catchpole (huissier), who, touched with compassion, besought her to give way, assuring her that she should be taken out of the hands of the English and placed in those of the Church. “Well, then,” she said, “I will sign.” On this Cauchon, turning to the Cardinal, respectfully inquired what was to be done next. “Admit her to do penance,” replied the ecclesiastical prince.
Winchester’s secretary drew out of his sleeve a brief revocation, only six lines long — that which was given to the world took up six pages — and put a pen in her hand, but she could not sign. She smiled and drew a circle: the secretary took her hand and guided it to make a cross.
The sentence of grace was a most severe one: “Jeanne, we condemn you, out of our grace and moderation, to pass the rest of your days in prison, on the bread of grief and water of anguish, and so to mourn your sins.”
She was admitted by the ecclesiastical judge to do penance, no doubt, nowhere save in the prisons of the Church. The ecclesiastic in pace, however severe it might be, would at the least withdraw her from the hands of the English, place her under shelter from their insults, save her honor. Judge of her surprise and despair when the Bishop coldly said, “Take her back whence you brought her.”
Nothing was done; deceived on this wise, she could not fail to retract her retractation. Yet, though she had abided by it, the English in their fury would not have allowed her to escape. They had come to St. Ouen in the hope of at last burning the sorceress, had waited panting and breathless to this end; and now they were to be dismissed on this fashion, paid with a slip of parchment, a signature, a grimace. At the very moment the Bishop discontinued reading the sentence of condemnation, stones flew upon the scaffolding without any respect for the Cardinal. The doctors were in peril of their lives as they came down from their seats into the public place; swords were in all directions pointed at their throats. The more moderate among the English confined themselves to insulting language — “Priests, you are not earning the King’s money.” The doctors, making off in all haste, said tremblingly, “Do not be uneasy, we shall soon have her again.”
And it was not the soldiery alone, not the English mob, always so ferocious, which displayed this thirst for blood. The better born, the great, the lords, were no less sanguinary. The King’s man, his tutor, the Earl of Warwick, said like the soldiers: “The King’s business goes on badly; the girl will not be burned.”
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