The lamb in the midst of the wolves. The mock trial.
How shall one write of the trial of Joan of Arc! The cruel, illegal mockery of justice, called the trial of Joan of Arc! How describe the savior of France, the embodiment of patriotism and purity, the child leader of victorious armies, the girl winner of great battles, the womanly angel of camp and court, so suddenly and so utterly alone in the midst of a host of enemies thirsting for her death. Hundreds of classic penmen have described 'that tragic drama for us through the centuries since, with one bias or another, according as their sympathies were pro-English or pro-French, anticlerical, or enthusiastically devout and hero worshipful. But we know Joan of Arc now for a saint, and the cheer and the sneer are alike hushed in awe as the finger of God is seen in every act of that drama, and in every answer of that unlearned child of the fields, to the deep questions on faith and morals put to her by learned doctors of the schools, for her discomfiture, as they thought,
but for their own discomfiture, as they found. A lamb in a den of wolves. No matter which way she answered, she was already condemned. And not one voice raised to counsel or defend her.
There is no irreverence in seeing in her arraignment before a horde of venal French priests and English soldiers, a resemblance, in divers points, to 'the howling of the mob in Pilate's house, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" that ended in the divine tragedy on. Calvary at the hands of Jewish priests and Roman soldiers. The same mockery of law, the same utter loneliness of the victim, the same hypocritical combining of religion and politics to make assurance of condemnation doubly sure. The same ingratitude for good accomplished, the same holy horror at 'the supernatural claims supported by so many signs and prophecies, and yet denied as outrageous and impossible. The details of this long-drawn-out harrowing of the Maid of Orleans before her final martyrdom, are full of keenest interest for us, because in it are laid bare the heart and soul of this most unique human spirit. In it we get an insight into God's ways in the affairs of men, into how human a saint may be; how holy a mere mortal may be; how wise and safe it is to follow God's lead and abandon
one's will to His will; and how utterly foolish and futile to propose and plan big things without taking God's interests into account. In the chapel of the vast, fortress castle of Rouen, owned and occupied by the Earl of Warwick and his men at arms, was commenced, at eight o'clock in the morning of February 21, 1431, the trial of the Maid of Orleans.
It was now eight months since she was captured before the gates of Compiegne. Eight months' idle waiting for 'the active spirit who in one year undid a century's war! Most of that time she was in easy captivity among her own countrymen and country women; but since Christmas she was in the cruel keeping of the Earl of Warwick, bound like a wild beast and denied the Mass and the Sacraments, and the presence of a woman, or a friendly face, or one kind counselor. The English were impatient for her death. Since her capture the white flag of truce waved in many parts waiting till she would be dead to go on with the fighting more securely. An English army waited at Calais for months, loath to go into France until assured the "witch-warrior" was removed. An important siege in another place suspended operations, pending word of her execution.
And yet it took three months for the cowards and hypocrites to manufacture sufficient excuse for her death, that would at the same time remove her bodily presence from their path, and damn her memory for the French. She had already, by a pompous document, been handed over by the King of England to the English tools that infested the Church in Paris and Rouen. Chief of these was Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, who had been driven from his See by his own people because of his English politics. Rouen had no archbishop since the last incumbent died some years before. The Holy See could not recognize the English government there, and the English government would not tolerate a true Frenchman, so the Archbishopric remained vacant. The fugitive Cauchon being a Bishop, albeit a fugitive, assumed the lead in church affairs in Rouen without any authority except the political backing of the English garrison. With that backing, and all it promised of pelf and preferment, Cauchon had no trouble in getting tools enough to do his bidding and give the appearance at the same time of justice and fair play. There are among the historians of that time a great variety of opinions as to his relative vindictiveness in the whole proceedings. It certainly is between him and his English masters that Joan was
spared no cruelty, no indignity, no injustice. She should have been in a church prison as she was tried as an offender against the Faith. Instead she was jailed like the worst criminal. She should have had counsel. She should not have been condemned out of her own mouth alone, without even one witness for or against her.
Cauchon had no legal jurisdiction for the trial any more than for the government of the ecclesiastical functions, but he assumed all the jurisdiction and no one was able to prevent or even criticize one who had the English king and the Duke of Bedford behind him.
From the University of Paris he got more of the same kind as himself 'to sit with him in the judgment.
The University of Paris was one of the great law schools of Europe. Civil law and Canon law were studied by thousands of young men under hundreds of professors, unchallenged for accuracy and keenness and depth of their learning. But here again English influence had damned righteousness. For a quarter of a century Paris had been in English hands, and English politics had driven to the law schools of Florence and Bologna, 'the true Frenchman from the Paris University.
It was easy for Cauchon to find fifty and more learned men in the university, to come to Rouen and say "Amen " to his cut-and-dried condemnation of the Maid of Orleans as a heretic and a witch. On the 21st of February, 1431, forty-two of the doctors, learned in civil and canon law, the number varied from forty to seventy some days—sat in a semicircle on both sides of Bishop Cauchon, who occupied a throne in the center.
Before and a little below them sat numerous clerks and reporters, with pens and paper ready to 'take down as ordered all that would be said and done.
Three of these in particular, were the official recorders of the proceedings, and to the records of these, translated into Latin, and still preserved, we are indebted for the account of the trial. On a raised dais, in a clear space in front and 'to one side, in full view of everybody, was a seat for Joan. The body of the chapel was full of English soldiers and retainers of the Earl, as much as it would hold. Probably numbers of the citizens of Rouen were present also, for we read in the account of the trial that because of the tumult and applause on the first day it was no more held in the chapel, but in another and more private hall of the castle.
Among the judges, registries, clerks, etc, there were few if any Englishmen. But it was well understood, not only by the pathetic little victim sitting in the midst, but by the circles of judges and reporters that hemmed her round, that outside of all these was all the power of the English King and court and army, to urge and hurry and if need be force the sentence of ignominious death. Three Registrars, each with his clerks, took down the proceedings publicly; but behind curtains were two English Clerks under the direction of Loyseleur, a renegade priest, who had tried secretly to wring damaging admissions from Joan, while he had concealed witnesses, listening.
The Public Registrars had their difficulties from the very beginning. The notes taken by them at the morning sittings were read over in presence of some of the Bishop's assessors at his house in the afternoons, and compared with those made by the concealed English clerks. They did not always agree, and then 'there was trouble. Between what they recorded and what Cauchon wanted them to record there were many discrepancies, and there were long arguments from the Bishop to make them to suit. But to their credit the Registrars were honest. One of them especially, named Manchon, secretly friendly to
Joan, and a fearless man, stood by the truth and fought for it. He it was who finally drew up all 'the notes in a complete form—they were then translated into Latin by another recorder, Thomas de Courcelles, and in this shape are preserved intact to this day. Judges and recorders and clerks were all early in their places and the chapel filled to its utmost on the morning of that February 21, when the call was given: "Produce the accused."
There was a great buzz, then a silence deep and painful, and then the sound of clanking chains came gradually nearer. All eyes were on the pathetic little figure in a page's suit of soft, dead black, moving slowly because of the chains, until 'the pale face was raised directly before the double row of judges or assessors, as they were called and are called in the documents. For a brief space of time she stood and the clear gaze ran along the lines of judges as if searching for a smile or a kind look. But the guards shoved her to her place on the dais and she seated herself, gathering her chains into her lap and holding them 'there. Her white face scanned the rows of judges, the row of registrars and their clerks, among whom were some sympathizers, though none dared avow themselves so. It is told that as
her eyes rested on the lines of English soldiers in the body of the chapel, one soldier meeting her look respectfully put his hand to his head, giving her the military salute. With a friendly smile she put up her chained hand to her head, and returned the salute, whereat there was a little burst of applause which the judge sternly rebuked.
The trial began with the reading of the royal letters conveying Joan to 'the hands of the court for trial, letters of the chapter of Rouen giving concession of territory to the Bishop of Beauvais. Then Jean d'Estivet, appointed by the court promoter of the case, summarized with a great show of legal forms the circumstances of the case and 'the public reports and suspicions on which it was based. Then he called upon Joan to kneel and take oath that she would answer truthfully and exactly the questions to be put to her.
Did the grave great judges in two solemn rows before her, scare the lonely little woman or throw her off her guard? Their demand that she take oath to speak the truth was apparently reasonable enough.
But Joan's simplicity and candor were her strength. Calmly and very gently she refused 'to take the oath, saying:
"No; for I do not know what you are going to ask me; you might ask of me things which
I would not tell you." Cauchon got angry and excited immediately. He forgot the dignity with which he opened the court. He said, rising his voice: "Swear to speak truth on the things which shall be asked you concerning the Faith and of which you know."
"Of my father and mother and of what I did after taking the road to France, willingly will I swear; but of the revelations which have come to me from God, to no one will I speak or reveal them, save only to Charles, my King; and to you I will not reveal 'them, even if it cost me my head, because I have received them in visions and by secret counsel, and am forbidden to reveal them."
At this, every one, it seemed, of the forty-two judges had something to say of threat or command, until in a lull in the tumult Joan begged: "Pray thee, speak one at a time, fair lords, then will I answer all of you."
For whole hours they argued and threatened in vain to force Joan to take an unmodified oath. She herself was the only one not excited. Finally they agreed to let her take oath under the conditions she said. She sank to her knees at once, put her two hands on the Mass book before her, and swore solemnly to tell the truth on what should be asked of her on matters concerning the Faith and' her work in France.
Then she was asked her name and surname, age, place of birth, and such like questions touching her own personal history.
"In my own country (Lorraine was on the borders of France) they called me Jeannette; since I came into France I have been called Jeanne. Of my surname I know nothing. I was born in the village of Domremy, which is really one with the village of Greux. The principal church is at Greux. My father is called Jacques d'Arc, my mother, Ysabelle. I was baptized in the village of Domremy. * * * I was, I believe, baptized by Messire Jean Minet; he still lives, so far as I know. I am, I should say, about nineteen years of age. From my mother I learned my Pater, my Ave Maria, and my Credo."
"Say your Pater."
This was from Cauchon, and suddenly. The idea was to hint at witchcraft for it was supposed a witch could not say The Our Father. But Joan resented the imputation.
"No, I will not say my Pater to you unless you will hear me in confession."
Many times the effort was made to have her say the Our Father, but her answer was still, "Hear me in confession and I will say it willingly." Having already exhausted some hours
in trying to force her oath and have her say the Pater, the court prepared to rise. Cauchon ordered her back to prison. She had hoped for a change of prison. Cauchon forbade Joan under pain of great penalty to try to leave the prison, which had been assigned her in the castle.
"I do not accept such a prohibition," she answered. If ever I do escape, no one shall reproach me with having given my word to any one."
"You have before this, and many times sought, we are told, to escape from the prison, where you were detained and it is to keep you more surely that it has been ordered to put you in irons."
"It is true I wished to escape; and so I wish still; is not this lawful for all prisoners?" And again they had to content themselves without getting her promise.
Then John Gray was appointed solemnly as chief jailer to Joan, with John Berwoist and William Talbot as assistants, and all three were made to swear, with their hands on the gospels, to keep her close and let no one see her or speak to her without order from Pierre Cauchon—and they were further ordered to bring the prisoner next morning at eight O'clock in the ornament room of the same castle for continuance of the trial.
Thus ended the first day of the most dramatic trial of a prisoner for life on record in all history. There were forty-two learned men against one woman that the world would call ignorant. Yet she proved a match for the great array of technical talent, because versed in the science of the saints which single-eyed, keeps God and God's interest in sight always and so makes no mistakes. The grueling lasted for three months, with intermissions, which the judges needed more than did their victim. They even showed her at the first, as a reminder to be careful of her answers, the torture room and hinted at its possibilities. In the face of this tribunal, learned, able, powerful and prejudiced, the peasant girl of nineteen stood like a rock, unmoved by all their cleverness, undaunted by all their severity, never losing her head nor her temper, her modest steadfastness nor her high spirit.
The official record of the first day ends thus: "Finally, having accomplished all the preceding, we appointed the said Jeanne to appear the next day, at 8 o'clock in the morning, before us, in the ornament room, at the end of the great hall of the Castle of Rouen."