The examination at Poitiers

Unfortunately, the transcript of the hearings at Poitiers is lost and no trace of this Examination has been found: the ‘Book of Poitiers’ is referred to several times in the Trial; but it was not forth coming at the time of the Rehabilitation. It was probably lost or destroyed by Jeanne’s enemies among her own party.

The Book of Poitiers

“The Book of Poitiers”! It has long been regarded lost, or even deliberately destroyed – and still holds that status – it was (and continues to be!) one of the three most important manuscripts regarding Jeanne d’Arc – next to the minutes of her condemnation trial  in 1431 and the records of her rehabilitation trial in 1456. And because it brings together a number of statements by Jeanne, “The Book of Poitiers” ranks as one of two such sets, in addition to the process of Rouen in 1430/1431. In one respect, however, “The Book” ranks strongly in the first place in terms of the reliability of the record of Jeanne’s words, because the  minuting process of the Rouen trial was and continues to be sometimes held as being responsible for the deliberate distortion of Jeanne’s responses.

“The Book of Poitiers” came into existence as a result of more than two weeks of interrogation of Jeanne d’Arc by Catholic clerics and theologians (from March 11, 1428/29), as ordered by King Charles VII. This is the famous episode from the beginning of her public career when Charles VII, before having entrusted his army to her, supposedly desired to see if Jeanne indeed acted under the influence of a supernatural character. The examination was held in March 1429 (according to the old calendar it was still the year 1428, as the new year was not counted from January 1, but from Easter).

The examination took place in Poitiers because it was the only major French center of theology which still remained loyal to Charles VII. Other centers of ecclesiastical power recognized the sovereignty of the King of England, or more exactly, of the English regent, the Duke of Bedford.

What exactly Jeanne had been saying in Poitiers is not known. Quoted are only single sentences from other sources (mainly the rehabilitation process 1455-1456) given by different witnesses.

It was in Poitiers that she was to utter the sentences quoted by us here:

“I came from the King of Heaven, to raise the siege of Orleans and to bring the Dauphin to Reims, that he be crowned and anointed.”

When examiners have stated (according to the testimony of Brother Seguin de Seguin): “But God wants it that you not be believed unless a sign is given that you should be believed, and we shall not advise the King to trust you and risk his army for your simple statement. “

To which Jeanne replied:

“In the name of God! (“En nom Dieu!”), I came not to Poitiers to give signs! But take me to Orleans, and I’ll show you a sign, for which I was sent!” She also added: “Send me men in such numbers as it seems to be appropriate, and I’ll go to Orleans.” 

“The voice told me that it is the will of God to liberate the people of France from the scourge which befell them. “

At that point one of the clerics, Guillaume Aimery, said:

“If it is the will of God to set them free, there is no need for the army.”

To which she replied :

“En nom Dieu! The soldiers will fight, and God will give them victory!”

It was also there in Poitiers, that she gave her pungent pugnacious replies to the said Brother Seguin de Seguin. When he asked her in what dialect her “voice” spoke to her, she retorted: “Better than yours.”  When, in turn, he asked her if she believed in God, Jeanne replied: “Verily, more than you!”

Even with these few examples you can see that conversations between her and her examiners were not always smooth and Jeanne in her annoyance could also exhibit a sharp tongue.

During the trial in Rouen (1430-1431) the records of Poitiers had often been mentioned.  The “Book” was referred to at least 14 times there, of which at least 12 times were by Jeanne and at least twice by her judges. We say “at least” because it is possible that the number of references could have been much higher. Jeanne, repeatedly answering the judges’ questions, stated that she “depends on what is said elsewhere” – and this statement could refer to the “Book of Poitiers” as well as to other occasions during her trial in Rouen. The records of Poitiers were referred to twice when Jeanne replied to Article 6 of the final Articles of Accusation (2 May 1431):

“I refer to my judge, that is, to God and to what I said earlier and what is (written) in the book”

The theologians found nothing heretical in her claims

Before Jeanne could be employed in military operations she was sent to Poitiers to be examined by a numerous committee of learned bishops and doctors.

They questioned her for 3 weeks. The examination was of the most searching and formal character. It is regrettable in the extreme that the minutes of the proceedings, to which Jeanne frequently appealed later on at her trial, have altogether perished.

All that we know is that her ardent faith, simplicity, and honesty made a favourable impression. The theologians found nothing heretical in her claims to supernatural guidance, and, without pronouncing upon the reality of her mission, they thought that she might be safely employed and further tested.

Salle des Pas Perdus,' now the Great Hall of the Palais de Justice. Poitiers

Brother Seguin de Seguin, Dominican, Professor of Theology, Dean of the Faculty of Theology of Poitiers​

“I saw Jeanne for the first time at Poitiers.

The King’s Council was assembled in the house of the Lady La Macée, the Archbishop of Reims, then Chancellor of France, being of their number. I was summoned, as also were Jean Lombart, Professor of Theology of the University of Paris; Maitre Guillaume le Maire, Canon of Poitiers and Bachelor in Theology; Maitre Guillaume Aymerie, Professor of Theology, of the Order of Saint Dominic; Brother Pierre Turrelure; Maître Jacques Maledon; and many others whose names I do not remember.

The Members of the Council told us that we were summoned, in the King’s name, to question Jeanne and to give our opinion upon her.

We were sent to question her at the house of Maître Jean Rabateau, where she was lodging.
We repaired thither and interrogated her.”

Among other questions, Maitre Jean Lombart asked her why she had come; that the King wished to know what had induced her to come to him. She answered, in a grand manner, that “there had come to her, while she was minding the cattle, a Voice, which told her that God had great compassion for the people of France, and that she must go into France.” On hearing this, she began to weep; the Voice then told her to go to Vaucouleurs, where she would find a Captain who would conduct her safely into France and to the King, and that she must not be afraid. She had done what the Voice had ordered, and had come to the King without meeting any obstacle.

Thereupon, Guillaume Aymerie put to her this question: “You assert that a Voice told you, God willed to deliver the people of France from the calamity in which they now are; but, if God wills to deliver them, it is not necessary to have soldiers.” ” In God’s Name !” Jeanne replied, “the soldiers will fight, and God will give the victory.” With which answer Maître Guillaume was pleased.

I, in my turn, asked Jeanne what dialect the Voice spoke? “A better one than yours,” she replied. I speak the Limousin dialect. “Do you believe in God ?” I asked her. ” In truth, more than yourself!” she answered. ” But God wills that you should not be believed unless there appear some sign to prove that you ought to be believed; and we shall not advise the King to trust in you, and to risk an army on your simple statement.” “In God’s Name! “ she replied, “I am not come to Poitiers to show signs : but send me to Orleans, where I shall show you the signs by which I am sent: and she added: “Send me men in such numbers as may seem good, and I will go to Orleans.”

And then she foretold to us – to me and to all the others who were with me – these four things which should happen, and which did afterwards come to pass: first, that the English would be destroyed, the siege of Orleans raised, and the town delivered from the English; secondly, that the King would be crowned at Reims; thirdly, that Paris would be restored to his dominion; and fourthly, that the Duke d’Orleans should be brought back from England. And I who speak, I have in truth seen these four things accomplished.

We reported all this to the Council of the King; and we were of opinion that, considering the extreme necessity and the great peril of the town, the King might make use of her help and send her to Orleans. Besides this, we inquired into her life and morals; and found that she was a good Christian, living as a Catholic, never idle. In order that her manner of living might be better known, women were placed with her who were commissioned to report to the Council her actions and ways.

As for me, I believed she was sent from God, because, at the time when she appeared, the King and all the French people with him had lost hope: no one thought of nothing but to save himself.

I remember that Jeanne was asked why she always marched with a banner in her hand? “Because,” she answered, “I do not wish to use my sword, nor to kill any one.”

When she heard any one taking in vain the Name of God, she was very angry; she held such blasphemies in horror: and Jeanne told La Hire, who used many oaths and swore by God, that he must swear no more, and that, when he wanted to swear by God, he should swear by his staff. And afterwards, indeed, when he was with her, La Hire never swore but by his staff.

Maître François Garivel, Councilor-General to the King.

I remember that, at the time of the coming of Jeanne the Maid, the King sent her to Poitiers, where she lodged with Maître Jean Rabateau, then King’s Advocate in Parliament. In this town of Poitiers were deputized [to examine Jeanne], by the King’s order, certain venerable Doctors and Masters, to wit, Pierre de Versailles, then Abbot of Talmont, afterwards Bishop of Meaux; Jean Lambort; Guillaume Aimery, of the Order of Saint Dominic; Pierre Seguin, of the Carmelite Order Doctors in Theology; Mathieu Message, and Guillaume Le Marie, Bachelors in Theology, with many others of the King’s Councilors, licentiates in Canon and Civil Laws.

Many times and often, during the space of three weeks, they examined Jeanne, studying and considering her deeds and words; and finally, taking into consideration her condition and her answers, they said that she was a simple girl, who, when interrogated, persisted in her answer, that she was sent from the God of Heaven in favor of the noble Dauphin, to replace him in his kingdom, to raise the siege of Orleans, and to conduct the King to Reims for his consecration; and that first she must write to the English and command them to retire, for such was the Will of God. When I asked Jeanne why she called the King Dauphin, and not King, she replied that she should not call him King till he had been crowned and anointed at Reims, to which city she meant to conduct him.

Afterwards, the Clergy told Jeanne she ought to show them a sign by which it might be believed that she was sent from God; but she replied: “The sign given to me from God is to raise the siege of Orleans; I have no fear that it will be done, if the King will give me soldiers, as few as he may like.”

She was a simple shepherd-maiden, who confessed often; she was entirely devoted to God, and frequently received the Sacrament of the Eucharist. At last, after long examinations made at great length by clerics of various faculties, all decided and concluded that the King might lawfully receive her, and might send a body of soldiers to the siege of Orleans, for that there was nothing found in her which was not Catholic and reasonable.

Fourth Public Examination​

Tuesday, February 27th, in the same place.

The Bishop and 54 Assessors present. “I did not distinguish them at first. I knew well enough once, but I have forgotten. If I had leave, I would tell you willingly : it is written in the Register at Poitiers. …. (This Examination at Poitiers had taken place in the Chapel attached to the Palace of the Counts of Poitou, which still exists and adjoins the ‘Salle des Pas Perdus,’ now the Great Hall of the Palais de Justice.

It was conducted under the direction of the Archbishop of Reims during the months of March and April, 1429, and extended over three weeks.

At the conclusion, the assembly sent, as the result of their inquiries, a resolution to the King to the effect that he should follow the Maid’s guidance, and seek for the sign she promised him in the relief of Orleans, as a proof of the Divine origin of her mission, “for,” they added, “to doubt or forsake her without any appearance of evil would be to vex the Holy Spirit, and to make himself unworthy of the help of God: so said Gamaliel in the Council of the Jews with regard to the Apostles.”

Unfortunately, no trace of this Examination has been found: the ‘Book of Poitiers’ is referred to several times in the Trial; but it was not forth coming at the time of the Rehabilitation. It was probably lost or destroyed by Jeanne’s enemies among her own party.

The Archbishop of Reims ‘would have had it in his charge: and he was consistently opposed to Jeanne throughout.

During her stay at Poitiers the Maid lodged in the house of Jean Rabatier.)

In Salle des Pas Perdus, Poitiers, Jeanne is examined by theologians

Source: Wikipedia, Michael Monikowski, The Trial of Condemnation,