Jeanne d'Arc's Trial of Nullification 1455

Procès de condamnation et de réhabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc, dite la Pucelle
Also known as The Rehabilitation Trail

Table of Contents

Jeanne's mother, Isabelle Romée bring the suit before the Pope.

Two months after the election of Pope Calixtus III, Isabelle Romée and her two sons appealed for justice concerning Jeanne’s case. The Pope authorized the investigation and appointed the judges. The process to right the wrongs done to Jeanne was begun on November 7, 1455. Isabelle Romée, who was now somewhere between sixty and seventy years old, her two sons and a group of friends from Orleans, came to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Tearfully and filled with emotion, Isabelle approached the Pope’s representative judges and began to recite her request for justice for her daughter.

The Court heard the request with some emotion. When Isabelle threw herself at the feet of the Commissioners, showing the Papal Legit Rescript and weeping aloud, while her Advocate, Pierre Maugier, and his assistants prayed for justice for her and for the memory of her martyred daughter, so many of those present joined aloud in the petition, that at last, we are told, it seemed that one great cry for justice broke from the multitude.

“I had a daughter born in lawful wedlock who grew up amid the fields and pastures. I had her baptized and confirmed and brought her up in the fear of God.

I taught her respect for the traditions of the Church as much as I was able to do given her age and simplicity of her condition.

I succeeded so well that she spent much of her time in church and after having gone to confession she received the sacrament of the Eucharist every month. Because the people suffered so much, she had a great compassion for them in her heart and despite her youth she would fast and pray for them with great devotion and fervor.

She never thought, spoke or did anything against the faith. Certain enemies had her arraigned in a religious trial.

Despite her disclaimers and appeals, both tacit and expressed, and without any help given to her defense, she was put through a perfidious, violent, iniquitous and sinful trial.

The judges condemned her falsely, damnably and criminally, and put her to death in a cruel manner by fire.

For the damnation of their souls and in notorious, infamous and irreparable loss to me, Isabelle, and mine… I demand that her name be restored.”

Procès de réhabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc Orléans - BM - MS. 1673. ca.1520

Overcome with grief, she had to be escorted to the sacristy of the cathedral and thus began Jeanne’s Trial of Nullification.

The Case was solemnly opened on November 7th, 1455, in the Church of Notre Dame at Paris.

Following Jeanne d’Arc’s death in 1431, Charles VII was said to have “felt a very bitter grief” when he heard the news, “promising to exact a terrible vengeance upon the English and women of England”. However, for many years his government failed to make much headway on the battlefield, and the English held on to most of their conquests in northern France.

Prior to 1449, a number of factors stood in the way of any possible review of Jeanne’s condemnation. Firstly, the English were still in possession of Paris. The University of Paris had provided assessors for the trial of condemnation at Rouen. In May 1430, Paris had been held by the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, and the theologians and masters of the university had written to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy asking that Jeanne be transferred to the English so she could be placed on trial. Since the university had played an active part in the proceedings, they could only be brought to account once Paris was captured on 13 April 1436.

Secondly, Rouen – the site of the trial – was also still held by the English. The documents relating to the original trial were kept in Rouen, and the town did not fall into Charles VII’s hands until November 1449. Historian Regine Pernoud makes the point that “So long as the English were masters of Rouen, the mere fact that they held the papers in the case, a case which they had managed themselves, maintained their version of what the trial had been”. She adds: “to reproach the King or the Church with having done nothing until that time is tantamount to reproaching the French government with having done nothing to bring the Oradour war criminals to justice before.

The Retrail


Upon the reconquest of Normandy in 1449 by Charles VII, Jeanne’s supporters rallied. Popular outcry demanded an investigation of her trial. Charles himself had every reason to justify Jeanne, for the validity of his kingship was at stake. Jeanne had escorted him to be anointed at the cathedral at Reims after her victory at Orléans and he owed his crown to her. If Jeanne were a heretic, what did that make him? The archives in Rouen were opened and the papers of the condemnation trial delivered to the king’s counselor Bishop Guillaume Bouillé for a preliminary investigation. So began the rehabilitation process that was conducted in the years 1450-57 and culminated in the official decision to nullify the condemnation.

The ecclesiastical process was established as via extraordinaria nullitatis, “the extraordinary means of nullification,” derived from Roman law and transmitted through Gratian. It was a procedure by which a dissatisfied litigant or his/her advocate might challenge a legal decision. Normally employed while the litigant was still alive, in the case of Jeanne it was her surviving family–her mother Isabelle and her two brothers Jean and Pierre who presented themselves as the unfairly injured party. The family’s name had wrongly suffered and they sought rehabilitation. Since the Church had conducted the condemnation trial, only the Church could conduct the nullification trial. Papal approval was necessary to carry out the investigation. Nicolas V (1447-1455) and Calixtus III (1455-58) complied. The Inquisitor of France, Jean Bréhal engineered the new trial. An extensive process of interviewing eyewitnesses and gathering legal opinions was conducted over the course of six years. The unique dossier of legal documents from this process has not received the attention by historians it deserves and provides the subject for the remainder of this essay.

Two original manuscripts of the rehabilitation trial are extant, each bearing the signatures of the official notaries. They are MS 5970 of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and Stowe 84 of the British Library in London. MS 5970 alone is complete. The hefty dossier of documents, nine chapters, was preserved in Latin. There are no traces of original French minutes and to date no complete English translation is available. Only excerpts of the eyewitness interrogations appear in English translation in Pernoud’s The Retrial of Jeanne d’Arc. The present essay draws from the Latin edition published by Pierre Duparc, 1977-1988.

Chapter One contains the rescript submitted to delegates of the pope by Jeanne’s family. The trial officially opened on November 7, 1455 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The grieving Isabelle, Jeanne’s mother, bowed low with groans and sighs before the Inquisitor of France, Jean Bréhal who represented Rome. The rescript requested that the previous trial be pronounced null and void. A number of irregularities were cited and included the impassioned partiality of the judges, the rigor and violence of the imprisonment, malevolent behavior on the part of guards, insidious questions that had nothing to do with the subject of the trial, threats, falsified articles, the abjuration obtained by violence, and fraudulent verdicts.

Chapter Two of the dossier assigned judges and notaries to the case and ordered that documents pertaining to the previous trial be handed over. Chapter Three consisted of a statement that changed the process from an open inquisition to a directed accusation against Pierre Cauchon. In Chapter Four, 101 challenges to the procedures of the condemnation trial were spelt out. Chapter Five reported the eyewitness testimonies gathered by the traveling tribunal in 1456 of which more will be said below. Chapter Six cited the immoral conduct of the accused. Chapter Seven identified the bases in canon law that nullified the trial. Eight legal consilia provided by prelates who judged the first trial comprised Chapter Eight. The ninth and final chapter ordered public display of the documents that pronounced the nullification.

The testimonies in Chapter Five were gathered in 1456 by a tribunal that traveled to the sites where Jeanne had lived or visited. The condemnation trial lacked eyewitness testimonies, one of its procedural violations. The eyewitness testimonies of the nullification trial are among the most fascinating documents that survive the Jeanne d’Arc tale. The interrogations were conducted over a period of several months in a sequence that roughly followed the chronology of Jeanne’s life: Lorraine (her birthplace), Orléans (her first battle victory), Paris (numerous of her later acquaintances lived there), and Rouen (the place of her heresy trial and execution). The eyewitness interrogations were held in locations popularly favorable towards Jeanne. The condemnation trial had been stacked against Jeanne, and now the nullification trial tipped the balance in her favor. Jeanne’s supporters put in the final word.

For two weeks in Lorraine, the tribunal interviewed Jeanne’s childhood friends and associates. A key point concerned her upbringing and personal conduct, about which all witnesses attested that she was an exemplary Christian. Much attention was also directed to the matter of the “Fairies’ Tree” in Domrémy and its nearby spring. Popular legend among the local folk in Lorraine had it that the waters at this tree possessed healing powers. The assessors at Rouen suspected paganism connected with this tree and insinuated that Jeanne conjured evil spirits there, an accusation that she firmly denied. Jeanne’s companions defended her and testified concerning the yearly rite in spring for all village youth to picnic, sing and dance at the tree. According to the testimonies, Jeanne played there with the other youth but was never known to have conjured spirits there or even visited the tree alone.

Next, the tribunal visited Orléans for three weeks. Jeanne was much beloved by the people of that town whom she had liberated from the English. The chief witness was the knight Jean Dunois, known as the Bastard of Orléans, who had fought valiantly on behalf of Charles VII against the English. Dunois and Jeanne had worked together to raise the siege of Orléans in May, 1429. Dunois ardently defended “la Pucelle”­”the Maid”– and applauded her military prowess. He believed that she had divine powers. “Asked if he believed that Jeanne was sent by God, he answered that he believed that Jeanne was sent by God and her activity in battle was divinely inspired rather than humanly.” In Paris for six weeks, nineteen individuals including several assessors from the heresy trial and several military companions gave their testimonies. These reports gave a detailed account of Jeanne’s daily activities from the time she left home in 1429 to the day she was executed in 1431. The portrait that emerges is of a devout and disciplined young woman single-minded in purpose. She ate sparingly, confessed frequently and attended mass daily. On the battlefield she planned strategy, carried a standard and encouraged the troops. The condemnation verdict declared Jeanne to be bloodthirsty, but the testimony of her military comrades indicated that she hated blood and even comforted an English soldier as he lay dying. Jean Tiphaine, a priest and master in arts and medicine and canon of Saint Chapelle in Paris, remarked that Jeanne conducted herself beautifully at the trial, that she spoke prudently and wisely and demonstrated much courage. He reported that an important Englishman had quipped at the time, “She is truly a fine woman. If only she were English!”

The final nullification hearings took place at Rouen where witnesses gave detailed accounts of their participation in the condemnation trial of 1431. Guillaume Manchon, official court notary, stated that he had been forced to participate in the condemnation trial and dared not go against the order of the English king. He testified that secret notaries were concealed behind curtains. They recorded Jeanne’s responses to the interrogations in the worse possible light and urged Manchon to alter his minutes to match their own. Manchon had refused however. He reported that the trial had been a set-up and the judges would not have treated Jeanne in the same manner had she been English. Manchon’s assistant notary reiterated that the trial against Jeanne was clearly motivated by hate on the part of the English. Colles spoke poignantly of the final moments of Jeanne’s life as a heart-wrenching event:

He stated that the following Wednesday Jeanne was taken to the Old Market in Rouen; Nicolas Midi had the sermon there, and the sentence of relapse was pronounced by the lord Bishop of Beauvais; after the pronouncement of the sentence, she was taken immediately, without further sentence or trial, to the executioner to be burnt. While she was lead there she lamented piously, invoking the name of Jesus, and almost all who were present were unable to hold back their tears.

Colles reported also that Cauchon inspired hatred on the part of many people on that day, and subsequently died suddenly in a barber’s chair, and thus was justice served.

The eyewitness testimonies of the nullification trial disarmed the accusations of the condemnation trial and restored Jeanne’s name to good standing. Companions from each stage of her life remembered her as virtuous, strong, and according to some, a gift from God. Now the official task of arguing the nullification remained.

Inquisitor of the faith Jean Bréhal examined the illegality of procedures. These included the following: lack of defense counsel, the youth of the defendant, mortal hatred on the part of her judges, leading questions intended to entrap her, the secular rather than ecclesiastical prison, the location of the trial, omission of evidence favorable to her case and omission of eyewitness testimonies.

Bréhal drew together eight legal opinions from an assortment of prelates who examined the condemnation trial transcript and composed a summary of their reflections. Bréhal synthesized the material and wrote a recollectio, a compilation of arguments that favored Jeanne. Bréhal’s piece justified Jeanne’s mystical experience as the freedom of God to choose his prophet in the world and make himself known on his own terms. Through Jeanne God demonstrated the prerogative of divine freedom to select a lowly instrument to proclaim his great glory and power.

Bréhal considered carefully the matter of Jeanne’s visions. According to traditional doctrine on the discernment of good and evil spirits four components must be examined in the believer: time, place, mode, and purpose or end. Concerning time, Bréhal explained in Jeanne’s defense that she was thirteen-years-old when she first received a vision–the number “13” having sacred significance. Thirteen is 10 + 3, ten being the number of the Ten Commandments and three being the number of the holy Trinity. Thirteen therefore, according to Bréhal, is a number of divine perfection. Concerning time of day, Jeanne heard the voices at the hour of mass in the morning and at mid-day and vespers, the hours of Christian prayer. As for place, just as an angel appeared to Christ in a garden, so too did the angel appear to Jeanne in a garden. Moreover, the angel came from her right side (the side of righteousness) and from the direction of the church. With respect to mode, Bréhal laid out a three tier typology of spiritual substances derived from Augustine. The Christian experiences divine revelations in one of three possible ways. First is the intellectual and spiritual mode in which neither bodies nor physical images are seen, but through incorporeal means God’s will is intuitively perceived by the mind. This is the most excellent mode. Second is the mode by which God signifies something symbolically through images appearing in ecstasy or sleep. Third is the corporeal mode by which God reveals divine secrets in tangible, outward form. This last mode is the form in which Jeanne experienced her divine revelations. Jeanne had experienced specifically the faces of Michael the archangel and Saints Catherine and Margaret. Bréhal argued the face is superior to the lower body for, in the words of Proverbs 17:24, “On the face the wisdom of knowledge shines.” Finally, as to the purpose or end of revelations, Bréhal stated simply that they ought to reveal God’s secret mysteries and be congruent with God’s character, which was fully evident in Jeanne’s report.

In sum, the rehabilitation trial exposed the corruption and malice evident in the procedures and verdicts of the condemnation. The rehabilitation explicitly “assumed the best” about Jeanne. The freedom of God to demonstrate power through a weak and humble servant was a key argument. Bréhal cited Paul in the New Testament, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” (1 Corinthians 2: 27).

Retrial and rehabilitation - 1455/56

Nevertheless, almost two years were to elapse before a new push emerged to clear Jeanne’s name. War with the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1453 distracted the Church with attempts to organize a crusade. Impetus for renewed attention to Jeanne’s case came from the surviving members of Jeanne’s family, her mother Isabelle and two of her brothers, Jean and Pierre. Addressing a petition to the new pope, Callixtus III, with help from d’Estouteville who was the family’s representative in Rome, they demanded the reparation of Jeanne’s honor, a redress of the injustice she suffered and the citation of her judges to appear before a tribunal. Inquisitor Bréhal took up their cause and traveled to Rome in 1454 to meet with the Pope “touching the trial of the late Jeanne the Maid”. In response to this plea, Callixtus appointed three members of the French higher clergy to act in concert with Inquisitor Bréhal to review the case and pass judgment as required. The three men were Jean Juvenal des Ursins, archbishop of Rheims, Richard Olivier de Longueil, bishop of Coutances, and Guillaume Chartier, bishop of Paris.

Of the three, the Archbishop of Rheims was the most prestigious, occupying the highest ecclesiastical seat in France. He also demonstrated a great deal of reticence towards the case and Jeanne’s memory, going so far as to advise Jeanne’s mother in 1455 not to proceed with her claim. There were reasons for this. He had held the see of the Diocese of Beauvais from 1432, which had been the diocese where Jeanne had been condemned just the year before. He was also a supporter of Gallicanism, and was very concerned with Pope Callixtus’ and d’Estouteville’s interference in the affairs of the French Church. He was however, concerned about the claims that Charles had recovered his kingdom by using a heretic and a sorceress, and thus by default he too was a heretic.

On 7 November 1455 the retrial opened at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Jeanne’s family were present, and Isabelle made an impassioned speech which began: “I had a daughter born in lawful wedlock, whom I had furnished worthily with the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and had reared in the fear of God and respect for the tradition of the Church… yet although she never did think, conceive, or do anything whatever which set her out of the path of the faith… certain enemies … had her arraigned in religious trial… in a trial perfidious, violent, iniquitous, and without shadow of right… did they condemn her in a fashion damnable and criminal, and put her to death very cruelly by fire… for the damnation of their souls and in notorious, infamous, and irreparable damage done to me, Isabelle, and mine”.

The appellate process included clergy from throughout Europe and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from some 115 witnesses, most of whom had more or less unanimously testified to her purity, integrity and courage. The witnesses included many of the tribunal members who had placed her on trial; a couple dozen of the villagers who had known her during her childhood; a number of the soldiers who had served during her campaigns; citizens of Orleans who had met her during the lifting of the siege; and many others who provided vivid and emotional details of Jeanne’s life. Some of the former tribunal members were less forthcoming under examination, repeatedly claiming not to remember the details of the 1431 proceedings, especially regarding whether Jeanne had been tortured. After the final depositions had been taken and the theologians had given their verdicts, Inquisitor Bréhal drew up his final analysis in June 1456, which described Jeanne as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta.

The court declared her innocent on 7 July 1456 by annulling her sentence. They declared that Jeanne had been tried as a result of ‘false articles of accusation’. Those articles and Cauchon’s sentence were to be torn out of a copy of the proceedings and burnt by the public executioner at Rouen. The Archbishop of Rheims read out the appellate court’s verdict: “In consideration of the request of the d’Arc family against the Bishop of Beauvais, the promoter of criminal proceedings, and the inquisitor of Rouen… in consideration of the facts…. We, in session of our court and having God only before our eyes, say, pronounce, decree and declare that the said trial and sentence (of condemnation) being tainted with fraud (dolus malus), calumny, iniquity and contradiction, and manifest errors of fact and of law… to have been and to be null, invalid, worthless, without effect and annihilated… We proclaim that Jeanne did not contract any taint of infamy and that she shall be and is washed clean of such”.

Jeanne’s elderly mother lived to see the final verdict announced, and was present when the city of Orleans celebrated the event by giving a banquet for Inquisitor Bréhal on 27 July 1456. Although Isabelle’s request for punishment against the tribunal members did not materialize, nonetheless the appellate verdict cleared her daughter of the charges that had hung over her name for twenty-five years.

MS LATIN 5970 Bibliothèque Nationale

Procès de réhabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc 1456.

Parchment, 182 leaves, measuring 20 inches and a half 12 and a half

Bouillé's review of 1450

On 15 February 1450, Charles ordered the clergyman Guillaume Bouillé, theologian of the University of Paris, to inquire into the ‘faults and abuses’ committed by Jeanne’s judges and assessors at Rouen, whom Charles accused of having “brought about her death iniquitously and against right reason, very cruelly”. This could potentially cause some difficulties, as a member of the University of Paris was being asked to investigate the verdict based on advice given by other members of the same university, some of whom were still alive and holding prominent positions within Church and State. Charles therefore was very cautious, limiting Bouillé’s brief to a preliminary investigation in order to ascertain ‘the truth about the said process and in what manner it was conducted.’ Although there was a suspicion of an unjust condemnation, there was no suggestion at this stage of an inquiry leading to the Inquisition revoking its own sentence.

Yet there were too many prominent people who had been willing collaborators in 1430 that had changed their allegiance once Charles had regained Paris and Rouen that had too much to lose for the proceedings against Jeanne to be reopened. They included men such as Jean de Mailly, now the Bishop of Noyon, who had converted to Charles’ cause in 1443, but in 1431 had signed letters in the name of King Henry VI of England, guaranteeing English protection to all those who had participated in the case against Jeanne. An even greater obstacle was Raoul Roussel, archbishop of Rouen, who had been a fervent supporter of the English cause in Normandy and had participated in Jeanne’s trial, until he too took an oath of loyalty to Charles in 1450.

Bouillé only managed to summon seven witnesses – Guillaume Manchon, Isambart de la Pierre, Martin Ladvenu, Guillaume Duval, Jean Toutmouillé, Jean Massieu, and Jean Beaupere – when his inquiry was suddenly broken off in March 1450. He had not even managed to review the dossiers and minutes of the trial of condemnation. Of the seven witnesses, most denounced the English for their desire for revenge against Jeanne, and their attempt to dishonor Charles VII’s title by associating him with a finding of heresy against Jeanne. Only one was hostile against Jeanne – Jean Beaupere, the Canon of Rouen. Interviewed by Bouillé, he refused to answer questions about the procedure at the trial of condemnation. He stated that Jeanne was a fraud, believing that if Jeanne ‘had wise and frank teachers, she would have said many things serving to justify her, and withheld many which led to her condemnation.’ His testimony was not included in the report which Bouillé wrote up for Charles written later that year after Charles had closed down the inquiry. Circumstances had changed – the war against the retreating English was still occupying much of his attention, and there was trouble brewing with the Papacy over the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. Charles could afford to wait, but Bouillé made it clear that it was in the king’s interest to clear up the matter once and for all.

Cardinal d’Estouteville's intervention of 1452

This argument, that the condemnation of Jeanne had stained the king’s honor, was enthusiastically taken up two years later with a man keen to make a good impression of Charles VII – the cardinal Guillaume d’Estouteville. d’Estouteville was the Papal legate in France appointed by Pope Nicholas V in 1451 to negotiate an Anglo-French peace. His commission was hampered by two things: the ongoing success of the French army in throwing the English out of Normandy, and the ongoing debates about the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges.

d’Estouteville had a number of reasons to take up the cause of Jeanne’s rehabilitation. Firstly, his family had been devoted partisans in the cause of Charles VII in Normandy, losing land during the English occupation. Secondly, he desired to clear the king’s name through any association with a convicted heretic. Finally, he was very anxious to demonstrate his loyalty to his homeland, and to support his sovereign in any matter that did not impact upon the pope’s traditional rights.

Even so, it wasn’t until February 1452 that Charles finally consented to see d’Estouteville. In his capacity as papal legate, he handed over the inquiry to the Inquisitor of France, Jean Bréhal. On 2 May 1452, the inquisitor questioned witnesses connected with the case, followed by more thorough testimony beginning on May 8th. This inquiry included most of the former tribunal members who were still living. Though Charles was keen to know the facts behind the case, he was not enamored of the thought of the Inquisition running a high-profile case in France outside of royal control. But through d’Estouteville’s intervention, by December 1452 the case had taken on a life of its own, independent of Charles.

But still the problems of the collaborators would not go away. At d’Estouteville’s inquiry of May 1452, two vital but highly placed witnesses were not called – Raoul Roussel, archbishop of Rouen and Jean Le Maître, vicar of the Inquisition in 1431. Though new testimonies were taken from two canons of Rouen cathedral, neither of them remembered very much about the events of 1431. By January 1453, d’Estouteville had returned to Rome, his principal mission to negotiate a peace having been unsuccessful. However, the Inquisitor Bréhal had been busy collecting information and learned opinions from canonists and theologians on the case. Even more importantly, the month before saw the death of the Archbishop Roussel, removing a substantial obstacle to the reopening of the trial and the rehabilitation of Jeanne.

Pre-trial investigation rehabilitation of Jeanne d Arc. Parchment, 1452.

Article about the survey for the retrial of Jeanne d Arc, the second half of 1452. Mention of payment to the theologian Jehan Bochal for pre-trial investigation rehabilitation of Jeanne d Arc. Parchment. Fragment of a register of the Royal Treasury “donations recompensation and bienffais”