Overview of the trial
By Professor Gerhard Rempel, Western New England College
Of no other trial of the fifteenth century have we a report approaching this in detail and accuracy. The official records of the Great Trial of 1431 and of the Process of Rehabilitation of a quarter of a century later are still preserved in the National Archives of France, and they furnish with remarkable fulness the facts of her life. The record gives the questions put to her and her replies to them. They are remarkably direct and full, not infrequently touched with the native shrewdness of the French peasant, occasionally resentful of repetition or of the incredulity of her hearers.
There emerges from the record the story of a sensitive child, raised in simple piety, for whom the saints were as real as the people she saw around her, and who saw St. Catherine, St. Michael and other saints just as they were represented by their images in the parish church.
As she grew to adolescence the stories she heard of tee ravages of the English in her country became part of her general conception of warfare of the powers of evil. What set her apart from other young girls–she grieved over it in her testimony–was the intense conviction of her personal mission–the voices of the saints told her she must herself go to the aid of the dauphin. He had been appointed by God to rule France and it was her duty to see that he was placed upon the throne. It was this impulsion that brought her reluctantly and after overcoming a long series of obstacles to Chinon, to Orleans, to Rheims, to Rouen. The expulsion of the English, the rescue of France from her enemies, was also part of her mission and of her strength.
It was her pure and vivid patriotism That gave her power. She embodied the growing conception of a single, united France, free under her king from foreign occupation or interference. It was this mission that made her an important factor in the political history of the time.
The trial at Rouen could end in but one way. She was in the hands of those who could not afford not to destroy her. A moment of weakness on Jeanne’s part gave them the opportunity. wearied, frightened by threats of torture and tempted by hopes of release, abandoned, as she thought, by her “voices,” she broke down, declared herself an imposter, confessed that her voices had been feigned and threw herself on the mercy of the court.
Sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, returned to a cell and subjected to neglect and insult, she regained her courage, withdrew her confession and sought peace in the reassertion of her guiding voices and the reality of her mission. This was her end. She was summoned again before her judges, declared a relapsed heretic and a sorceress, and on the 3Oth of May 1431, she was burned at the stake in the market place in Rouen.
Those whom she led to victory believed that she was inspired of God, and the English, not denying her inspiration, believed that it was of the devil.
A full and authentic report of her trial remains, and from it is extracted the passage in which she answers questions relative to her Voices.
She maintained that she raised the siege of Orleans in obedience to the divine call, and that all her important acts were prompted by a voice from heaven. Her trial for witchcraft at Rouen was conducted by Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, to whom she had been handed over by the English for that purpose. She was little more than nineteen years old at the date of her execution.
We next required and admonished Jeanne, appearing before us in the said place, to take, under penalty of law, the oath which she had taken the day before; and that she should swear simply and absolutely to tell the truth in answer to what was asked her in the matter concerning which the charge had been brought and which was generally known.
To this she answered that she had sworn yesterday and that was enough. Again we required that she should swear; for every one, though he be a prince, when required to take the oath on a point of faith cannot refuse. And she answered again: “I took the oath for you yesterday; that should suffice you quite well. You burden me too much.” Finally she swore to tell the truth in whatever related to faith.
Then a distinguished professor of sacred theology, Master John Beaupère, acting by our order and behest, questioned Jeanne on the points which follow. And first he urged here to answer his questions truly, just as she had sworn to do. Whereupon she replied “You might very well ask me one sort of question which I would answer truly, and another sort which I would not answer.” And she added: “If you were well informed about me, you should wish that I were out of your hands. I have done nothing save by revelation.”
Next asked about her age when she left home: she said that she did not know. Asked whether in her girlhood she had learned any art: she said yes, that she had learned to sew linen cloth and to knit; and that she did not fear any woman in Rouen when it came to knitting and sewing.
She further confessed that, through fear of the Burgundians, she left home and went to the town of Neufchâteau in Lorraine 1 to live with a woman named La Rousse, where she stayed a fortnight; adding furthermore that when she was at home she was exempt from household work nor went with the sheep and other animals to pasture.
Again asked whether she confessed her sins each year: she answered yes, to her own curé; and when the curé was hindered she with his permission confessed to another priest. Sometimes also, twice or thrice as she believed, she confessed to the friars. And this was in the said town of Neufchâteau. And she had been in the habit of receiving the Eucharist at Easter.
Asked whether she had been in the habit of receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist at any other feasts save Easter: she told her questioner to pass on. She further confessed that when she was thirteen years old she had a voice from God to aid her in self-discipline. And the first time she was greatly afraid. And this voice came about noon in summer in her father’s garden, and she had fasted the day before.
And she heard the voice on her right hand toward the church, and she seldom heard it without a light. Which light comes from the same side as the voice, but is usually great. And when she came to France she often heard this voice.
Asked how she saw the light which she said was there present when it was on one side; to this she answered nothing, but passed to other things. She moreover said that if she were in a grove she distinctly heard voices coming to her. She also said that the voice seemed to her worthy, and she believes that it was sent by God; and after she had heard it three times she knew that it was the voice of an angel. She also said that it always guarded her well, and that she knew it well.
Asked about the teaching which her voice gave her respecting the salvation of her soul, she said that it taught her to govern herself well, to go often to church, and that it said she also must go to France. And Jeanne added that the questioner would not this time learn from her in what guise the voice had appeared to her. She furthermore confessed that the voice told her twice or thrice a week that she must leave home and go to France; and that her father knew nothing of her departure.
She also said that the voice told her to go to France, and that she could no longer remain where she was, and that the voice told her that she should raise the siege of Orleans. She further said that her voice had told here that she should go to Robert de Baudricourt, Captain of the fortress of Vaucouleurs, and he would give her attendants; and she then answered that she was a poor girl who knew not how to ride a horse nor head a campaign. She also said that she went to her uncle and told him that she wished to stay with him for a little while; and she stayed there about eight days; and she then told her uncle that she must go to the fortress of Vaucouleurs; and he conducted her.
She also said that when she came to Vaucouleurs she recognized Robert de Baudricourt, although she had never seen him before; and she recognized him by the aid of her voice, for the voice told her that it was he; and she told Robert that she must go into France. Twice he denied and withstood her, and the third time he took her and gave her attendants; and so it happened even as her voice had said. . . . Moreover she confessed that in leaving Vaucouleurs she put on men’s dress, wearing a sword which Robert de Baudricourt had given her and no other arms. Accompanied by a knight, a shield-bearer and four servants, she reached the town of St. Urbain, and there passed a night in the abbey.
She also said that in this journey she passed through the town of Auxerre and there heard mass in the cathedral, and at this time she was often wont to hear her voices. Asked to say by whose advice she put on men’s dress, she refused several times to answer. At last she said that she would not laden any man with this; and she several times changed her answer. She also stated that Robert de Baudricourt made those who took her swear that they would convey her well and safely, and Robert on parting with her said: “Go, go, and let whatever good can, come of it.”
She also said that she well knew that God loved the Duke of Orleans;2 and that she had had more revelations about him than about any living man, save him whom she called her king. She said, too, that she was obliged to change her own dress for a man’s. She also said that she believed that she had been well advised.
She said that she sent letters to the English before Orleans telling them to raise the siege, just as is set down in many letters which have been read to her in this town of Rouen, save for two or three words in them; for instance, “yield to the Maid” should be “yield to the King.” These words also occur there which were not in the original letters, “body for body,” and “head of the war.”
Jeanne further said that she went to him whom she called her king the Dauphin3 without hindrance, and when she reached to town of Ste. Catharine de Fierbois she was sent to Chinon, where he whom she called her king was. She reached this place about noon and lodged in an inn; and after dinner she went to him whom she called her king who was in the castle. She also said that when she entered his chamber she knew him from the rest by the revelation of her voice. And she told her king that she wished to go making war against the English.
Asked if when the voice disclosed the king, there was any light in the place: she answered: “Pass on.” Asked whether she had seen an angel above her king: she answered: “Spare me, pass on.” Still she said that before her king gave her a charge she had many beautiful visions and revelations.
Asked how the king regarded the revelations and visions: she answered: “I shall not tell you this. This is not to be answered you; but send to the king himself and he will tell you.”
Jeanne also said that the voice promised her that as soon as she came to her king he would receive her. She said that they on their part well knew that the voice came to her from God, and that they had seen and known her voice, stating that she was confident of it. She further said that her king and several others had heard and seen voices coming to her; and Charles de Bourbon with two or three others were present.
She moreover said that there was no day when she did not hear this voice, and that she stood in great need of it. She said that she had never asked from her voice any other final reward except the salvation of her soul. She further confessed that the voice told her to remain at the town of St. Denis in France; and she had wished to remain there; but they had led her out against the will of this master.
Nevertheless if she had not been wounded she would not have retired; and she was wounded in the trenches before Paris after she had gone there from St. Denis; but in five days she was healed. She confessed that she had directed an attack, called in French a skirmish, before Paris. And when she was questioned whether that were a feast day: she answered to that to the best of her belief it was. Asked if she approved of this: she answered: “Pass on.”
After these things had been thus transacted, because it seemed quite enough for one day, we, the said bishop, postponed the trial until Saturday next following, at eight o’clock in the morning.
By Professor Gerhard Rempel, Western New England College