Joan is cheated into a show of recanting.
THE farce of a trial of Joan of Arc by ecclesiastical tools of England in France was over, and Pierre Cauchon had announced that sentence would be given in the public square on the morrow.
A great many people in Rouen did not sleep that night. To be sentenced to death meant speedy execution. A public burning at the stake was an event of great moment. All night workmen were busy erecting the necessary platforms. One for the Bishop and his assistants, and one for 'the recorders and the accused. These were built quite close to the walls of the Church of St. Ouen.
One canopied and carpeted and both with a flight of steps leading up to a height just over men's heads. About ten yards off in front of both, was a little pyramid of stones, a stake rising from the midst, and bundles of dry faggots piled around and in a separate stack nearby.
People going into the church to the early Masses on the morning of the 24th of May, 1431, saw these; and as they came out again after Mass, they saw the pot of coals at the foot of the stake, and three executioners standing grim and stiff in waiting. In all the streets leading to the square were streams of people, that soon became a solid mass of dark heads in the square.
Already the English soldiers had formed—shoulder to shoulder—a solid wall around the three platforms, a square within the square. Soon the Bishop of Beauvais, Cardinal Beaufort of England, the Bishop of Norfolk, and half a dozen other eminent ecclesiastics of the English Party, filled one of the platforms—the canopied one.
The recorder and their clerks filed into the seats provided for them on the other platform, and then Joan was brought, under a strong escort, and seated in this second platform, in full view of the judges and the multitude. Loyseleur, the English spy, who was also a French priest, was by her side, as if giving counsel and comfort. But she was wearied and worried looking, according to all the accounts of eye-witnesses. All night she had been tormented in her prison by Loyseleur, Beaupre and others, urging her to save herself by submitting to the judgment
of "the Church," and acknowledging herself wrong in the whole proceedings.
She had seemed to listen to them and to half acquiesce to their demands, and now she looked so haggard and listless, Cauchon saw his opportunity. Of course they had found her guilty of numerous, most heinous crimes against God and England, and could, without five minutes delay, and with religious and legal formality, make ashes of her.
But that did not suit at all. She would die thus a martyr and her stake would be as a pillar of fire to guide and nerve the French armies, already aflame with their success against the English pretensions.
If Joan could be made to acknowledge herself and her mission a fraud, then Charles VII might feel uneasy under the crown, which she placed on his head, and the French allegiance might be saved to the English crown.
She must be made to abjure and acknowledge herself a liar and an impostor. And if she was an impostor so was the King of France.
The solidity of the French throne rested on her fame. Everything was ready for her death, but Cauchon and his aides were not at all ready.
Beaupere had told that he believed she was wavering, and so a great preacher, the bosom friend once of the confessor of her king, William Erard, Doctor of Divinity, was appointed to preach to her once more and get her to condemn herself publicly.
He made a most fervent appeal to her to tell the truth and submit to the Church. Then he stormed at her.
"0 France!" he said, "how bast thou been abused! Thou bast always been the home of Christianity; but now, Charles, who calls himself thy king and governor, indorses, like the heretic and schismatic that he is, the words and deeds of a worthless and infamous woman. I tell you that your King is a heretic and schismatic."
Joan had been a listless listener so far, but when her King's honor was attacked, she raised her eyes to the speaker's face and said, with spirit, loud enough for the recorder anyhow, who put it down faithfully:
"By my faith, sir! I make bold to say and swear, on pain of death, that he is the most noble Christian of all Christians, and the best lover of the Faith and the Church."
At last in a loud and impressive manner the reverend preacher summoned for the last time, the prisoner to submit to the Church.
Then he paused, and the whole assemblage paused, for Joan's answer:
"As to that matter I have answered my judges before. I have told them to report all that I have said and done to our Holy Father, the Pope—to whom and to God, first, I appeal."
Well might Cauchon and his English backers be furious with her now. So formal and publicly expressed an appeal to the Pope, took the case out of their hands, according to all law, civil and ecclesiastical. This was not the submission to the Church they wanted at all.
They were all angry, and while they were dumbfoundedly considering what next, she gave them another thrust:
"I charge my deeds and words upon no one, neither upon my King, nor upon any other. If there be any fault in them, I am responsible and no other."
"Will you recant those of your words and deeds that have been pronounced evil by your judges here present?"
"I submit them to God and the Pope." The appeal to Rome repeated and so openly!
Cauchon ground his teeth for a moment; then he explained to her that the Pope was too far away, and that the present judges had power and authority to deal with her case, and either to
burn her, or imprison her for life, or pardon her and set her free, just as they chose. But she must act at once and abjure; and Erard showed her a written form he had made out for her signature, which would restore her to the Church, from which she was separated by excommunication, and, "as I believe," said he, "save your life as well as your soul."
"What is 'to abjure'?" she asked, and the meaning of the word was explained to her.
"I appeal to 'the Universal Church whether or not I ought to abjure."
"You shall abjure instantly or instantly be burned," said Erard.
Joan's face blanched at the words, and she looked pitifully from one to, the other of the priests and lawyers surrounding her. "God and St. Michael counsel me!" she cried.
Erard had his paper ready and they crowded round her urging her. "Ah! You do not do well to seduce me," she said, as she probably ran over in her mind the delights of freedom. Cauchon rose at this point to read the sentence of death, the first words pealing out in frightful solemnity.
"In the name of the Lord, Amen."
"All the pastors of the Church who have it in their hearts to watch faithfully over their
flocks, should, when the pernicious Sower of Errors, works by his machinations and deceits, etc., etc. - "
Joan held up her hands appealingly as the Bishop went on; and when silence was obtained, she said with a moan: "I submit."
And, repeating Loyseleur's prompting: "I will hold all that the Church ordains, all that you, the judges, wish to say and decree —in all I will refer myself to your orders."
Cauchon stopped his sentence to hear her and made her repeat, which she did, saying:
"Inasmuch as the clergy decide that the apparitions and revelations which I have had are not to be maintained or believed, I will not believe nor maintain them; in all I refer me to you and to our Holy Mother Church!"
Immediately Massieu was ready with the paper for her to sign. A short paper of half a dozen lines, as many on the platform testified to afterwards. He read it for her, and she repeated the words after him. Then he told her she must sign it.
Now everything was confusion. The people who had come to see a burning were dissatisfied and got into rows with the people who were glad the prisoner was to escape.
The English lords were in a tumult and one of them accused Cauchon of treachery to England. But Cauchon and Massieu. and Erard and Loyseleur knew what they were doing.
Joan was urged to sign quickly and so get into ecclesiastical hands and out of excommunication, etc., etc.
Dazed and weary she took the pen while a Secretary of the King of England held and guided her hand, signing "Jeanne," to a paper that was deftly substituted for the one read to her, and which contained a detailed list of crimes and abominations committed by her.
The Substituted Paper.
"I confess that I have most grievously, sinned, in pretending untruthfully to have revelations and apparitions from God, from the Angels, from St. Margaret and St. Catherrine, etc. * * *
"I swear to my lord Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles, to our Holy Father the Pope of Rome, Christ's Vicar, and his successors, and to you my Lords, the reverend Father in God my Lord the Bishop of Beauvais, the religious person, Brother Jean Lemaitre, Deputy of my Lord the Inquisitor of the Faith, as my judges, that never, will I return 'to the aforesaid errors, etc., etc."
"It was a long document and is still in the Archives at Paris, with Joan's signature attached.
But various eye-witnesses testified later 'that the document read to Joan to sign was but a matter of five or six lines for which the other was substituted in the confusion. She was not scrutinizing and alert as she had been. She had in reality signed a paper confessing herself a liar, an impostor, a sorceress, a dealer with devils, a blasphemer of God and His saints. Over her signature was the promise not to wear her soldier dress, and to wear hair like other women, and so on. She did not know it. She seemed too weary to care. Then Cauchon read aloud the words dissolving the excommunication and brought a ray of light at last to her countenance. She smiled and raised her eyes to heaven. The next sentence dispelled that light all too quickly:
"And that she may repent of her crimes, and repeat them no more, she is sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, with 'the bread of affliction and the water of anguish."
"Perpetual imprisonment! " That was something Joan never dreamed of. It was never even hinted to her in all the tricks and cruelties put upon her. It came upon her now with an awful suddenness that crushed her. Only for a moment.
The buoyancy of youth, the quick intuitions that served her so well as a general, maybe the whisper of her Voices, came to her relief. She remembered that she was to be in the hands of ecclesiastics, now that she had submitted to the ecclesiastics who judged her. She snatched at that ray of comfort. There was almost exultation in her voice as she turned to Erard and said:
"Now you men of the Church take me to your prison, and leave me no longer in the hands of the English."
And she stood as if ready and eager to go.
Cold and cruel and deliberate came 'the voice of Cauchon as her jailers looked to him for orders:
"Take her back to the prison whence she came."
And for the first time since she was captured, exactly that day one year before, Joan lost her brave, patient attitude towards her enemies. She collapsed and had to be carried rather than led back to the Earl of Warwick's Castle, and to the steady companionship of the three English boors with whom she had not made friends in all her months of imprisonment.
There were anguish and tumult in Joan's heart in that hour.
There were anger and tumult also In the square of St.Ouen. Hundreds were glad the stake was cheated, though they did not understand all that was done on the two platforms that day. Hundreds were angry that she had escaped—they did not know why; and there were small riots everywhere. Among the English Lords and their French tools of clergymen, there was tumult, too. Nothing but her death by fire would satisfy the Earl of Warwick and his fellows and they turned on Cauchon with fury.
When the King of England formally handed her to the care of Cauchon, it was with the plainly expressed provision that if he did not find her guilty of death, she was to be remanded back to the King of England's care. As Cauchon failed to send her to the stake he was out of it now, and they owed him nothing, except blame for delaying so long with his trials and preaching.
Cauchon's smile of congratulation is down in every record of this day's doings. He even rubbed his hands with glee, we are told, and bade them be patient, he would soon satisfy them. He and Cardinal Beaufort had their plans and they were working beautifully. There was only one more act in the farce, and then the final scene would be in the bands of the English soldiers to there own content.
The great meeting in the square broke up. The platforms and the stake remained.
Cauchon and some of his clique went straight to Joan's prison and brought her a woman's dress, and made her put it on, and told her if she wore any other it would be a sign of relapse into her sins and would mean immediate death to her. That was Thursday afternoon. Joan lay like one dazed and despairing on her cot all Friday and Saturday. Early Sunday morning she woke from a sleep of exhaustion and wished to get up. While she had slept her guards had taken her woman's dress and left in its place the forbidden costume.
Joan begged for the other, reminding them it meant death for her to resume the male dress. They would not give her the other, nor any explanations as to why they would not, and in sheer desperation, and with a calm resignation to meet the worst and fight no more, Joan put on the only dress, the man's dress, she could get.
She was obliged to get up and had to cover herself.
As if watching for the moment and knowing it would come, Cauchon burst in upon her and with great show of anger reproached her for relapsing into her old sins.
Out he went with the news to his English masters and before noon the word was all over Rouen: Joan has relapsed! Joan has relapsed!"
Cauchon's victory was complete. He could condemn her now as a relapsed heretic without any further delay and the whole world would believe that she got what she deserved. A heretic was bad and deserved death—but so much more so, one who acknowledged her sin and swore 'repentance, and then immediately went back to her crimes.
To be sure Joan answered when questioned about it stubbornly. When she saw how she was 'tricked she made up her mind that it was no use to fight any longer for her life. So instead of complaining that she had to put on male dress because no other dress was left her, she stoutly maintained that she never meant or understood herself to promise that she would not resume it. She said, too, as the promises made to here were not kept, neither was she bound. It was never her way to blame anybody.
"Do you still believe in your Voices?" asked Cauchon.
"Yes, and that they come from God.
"Yet you denied them on the scaffold."
"If I made retractions and revocations on the scaffold it was from fear of the fire, and
was a violation of the truth. --- I would rather do my penance all at once. Let me die. I cannot endure captivity any longer."
Cauchon went from Joan to the Earl of Warwick. "Make yourselves comfortable. It is all over with her."
The next day he summoned his serfs and forty-two (out of the original sixty-two) came at his call. It took very little time for them to decide Joan was a relapsed heretic, and condemned her to be delivered over to the secular arm of the law, that is, to the civil authorities, for punishment.
Orders were immediately issued that Joan be conveyed in the morning to the place known as the Old Market, there to be delivered to the civil judge and by him to the executioner.
It was Joan of Arc's last night upon earth. For once her persecutors left her alone all night.
In spirit bowed she kneels alone,
And prays that Power at whose command
She rose to free her fettered land,
To be her shield in every ill,
And give her strength to do His will.
Then swift as light her thoughts go back.
Along the past's familiar track
The fields where oft in childhood's hours
She watched her flock and gathered flowers;
The lowly hamlet chapel, where
Each day was breathed her fervent prayer;
Her cottage homestead's humble walls,
To her more dear than palace halls—
All meet her view; she pictures there
Her father with his silvery hair
Grown brighter, and her mother's brow
By sorrow marked, and silent now
Her gay young brothers, whose light mirth
Of old made glad the household hearth.
She knows ‘tis sorrow for her fate.’
That makes their hearts so desolate;
The warrior's sternness disappears,
The woman's cheek is wet with tears.
At length by weariness oppressed,
The captive closed her eyes in rest,
And peaceful slumber deep and calm,
That brings a sweet though transient balm
For every ill, in pity stole
Its downy pinions o'er her soul.
She slept—the dreaded funeral pyre,
The yelling crowd the blistering fire
Forgot, for God perhaps had given
To bless her dreams a glimpse of heaven
While angels spread their wings to shade
The slumbers of the martyr maid.