The cruel death scene—The illegal trial ends in illegal
EARLY in the morning of May 30, 1431, Joan's jailer admitted to her cell the Dominican Friar, Martin Ladvenu and Jean Massieu, a Dean of Rouen, Doctor of Theology, and who as Usher and Citer of Cauchon's Court, was prominent in the trial from the beginning and always had access to Joan's cell. Joan noted the portentous gravity of their looks.
"You bring me a message? " she asked of Friar Ladvenu.
"I. am come to prepare you for death,"
"Death! How soon? "
"Even now. You are cited to appear In the Old Market Place at 8 o'clock."
"What kind of death?"
And he hardly had uttered the words "by fire," when she cried out agonizingly:
"I knew it ! I knew it! Oh! it is too cruel; too cruel! And must this body which has never been defiled, be consumed to-day reduced to ashes!
Sooner would I that my head were cut off seven times than suffer the flames. I had the promise of the Church's prison when I submitted, and if I had been in the Church's prison and not left here in the hands of my enemies, this had not befallen me. Oh, I appeal to the Great Judge against this injustice done me!"
Just then Cauchon accompanied by Warwick and Pierre Maurice showed himself at the door.
"Bishop, it is by you that I die."
"Patience, Joan; you die because you have not kept your promise but have returned to your sins," said the Bishop.
"Alas! if you had kept your promise and put me in the Church's prison, this would not come to pass. And for this I summon you to answer before God."
The Bishop winced and turned away with Warwick; Pierre Maurice before leaving put his hand as if in compassionate farewell benediction on her head.
"Master Peter, where shall I be this night? Have you not good hope in God?"
"Master Peter, where shill I be this night?"
"Have you good hope in God?"
"Yes, and by His grace I shall be in Paradise."
Friar Ladvenu heard her confession and sent to Cauchon asking if she might not receive the Holy Communion.
"Give her whatever she wants now," was Cauchon's answer, and he ordered the Blessed Sacrament conveyed to her as quietly and secretly as possible, without lights or acolytes.
Ladvenu would not have it so. He got together the proper accessories and formed a procession of priests and acolytes, and the Body of her Saviour was brought to Joan's cell through lines of kneeling, weeping, praying people on the streets adjacent to the Castle, saying aloud the prayers for the dying. The tolling of the bell had been the signal that brought them out for the public execution.
Quickly a long white robe was thrown over Joan and the two friars, Isambard and Ladvenu, climbed with her into the felon's cart sent to convey her to the Old Market Place. A regiment of eight hundred English soldiers surrounded the cart. For the English feared she would escape them somehow.
As the cart turned a corner of a street leading to the square a great commotion was caused by a howling man darting through the lines of the military and clinging to the cart, crying: "Pardon, pardon, pardon." It was Loyseleur who, for English promise of preferment, had spied on her, and lied to her and then gave false reports to blacken her character to suit his masters.
Joan willingly forgave him, but not so the English soldiers for seeking her pardon. Only for the Earl of Warwick's quick interposition, he would have met his deserts at their hands, right there and then.
The platforms of the day before at St. Ouen's had been moved to the Market Square, and on one of these Joan was placed, all alone, to signify her abandonment by the Church. On the other platform sat Cauchon, Warwick, the English Cardinal Winchester, and a number of Divines from the Paris University. The Rouen clergy had largely during the trial become sympathisers with Joan and showed it as far as they dared, and so won the distrust of Cauchon and his Englishmen. One of these Paris Doctors of Divinity, Nicholas Midi, was, as soon as the bustle of getting into place quieted down, bidden to preach. He took his text from St. Paul to the Corinthians: "If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it," applying it to Joan, that the corrupt member was to be cut off to save 'the whole body. It was not long and Joan seemed to listen respectfully, her pale countenance cast down over her clasped hands.
Then the Bishop in a brief, bitter speech, harangued her before reading the long sentence of excommunication, that handed her over to the civil authorities for judgment and sentence and execution.
But the civil authorities failed to condemn her, though the Bailly of Rouen, the civil magistrate was there on a raised platform. According to the Friar Ladvenu (who testified under oath years later):
"When she had been finally preached to in the Old Market Place and abandoned to the secular authority, although the secular judges were seated on the platform, in no way was she condemned by any of these judges, but without being condemned she was forced by two sergeants to come down from the platform, and was taken by the said sergeants to the place where she was to be burned, and by them delivered into the hands of the executioner."
The illegal trial was to end in illegal execution.
But no one was there to protest. The fear of the English was more than the fear of God, and the English were in a hurry.
It was drawing towards noon time. The Dominicans, Isambard and Ladvenu, drew near to Joan and spoke words of courage.
Joan kneeled down between them and in loud clear tones prayed for France, for her King. She begged the prayers and forgiveness of all those around her, her enemies, as well as those who wept with her. The cries of the women beyond the
cordon of soldiers came to her ears and almost unnerved her. She begged for a cross.
An English soldier took a fagot from the pile prepared for her burning, broke it in two and fastened it in the shape of a cross. She thankfully took it, kissed it, and placed it in her bosom. Then she remembered that the Church of St. Savior was near and asked one of the Dominicans to get her a Crucifix from there. He did so, bringing the tall processional cross which she embraced with tears running down her cheeks, and uttering most beautiful words of love and gratitude to God in a firm clear voice.
Bishop Cauchon came down from his platform to speak to her. Once more she addressed to him the words that made him shiver: "It is by you that I die."
"Do you still believe in your Saints?" he asked, but she answered him no more, praying instead in a loud voice to St. Michael and St. Catherine and St. Margaret to come to her quick release.
All this time the executioners were placing her in position and fastening her body with chains to the stake, in several places, from her shoulders to her knees.
Friar Isambard was speaking words of comfort and courage and holding the Crucifix to her lips.
The executioner descended and Joan was alone, and looking once around her at the sky and the distant hills and the multitudes near by, she exclaimed:
"Oh, Rouen, Rouen, must I die here and must you be my tomb?"
Again Isambard was at her side to encourage her, but her enemies were in a hurry.
"What, priest! Wilt thou have us dine here?" Joan herself begged him to step down, but to keep the cross before her eyes till the last. On her head was placed a paper cap bearing the inscription:
"Heretic, Relapsed, Apostate, Idolater," and out of reach of the fire was a large placard bearing her record according to these judges, that she blasphemed God, reviled the Saints, despised the Church, held dealings with Satan and other vile charges.
High up and close to her eyes, Isambard held the Crucifix, while the executioner placed the coals among the dry faggots below, and the first whiff of smoke drew an agonizing cry from her lips. Only one. Doubtless her Saints came to her aid. Begging Isambard to step out of danger but keep the Cross up high, she called from out the flame the sweet name of Jesus and repeated it many times.
Most of the people, and a great many of the judges went away at the first sign of the smoke rising, not wanting to see what would harrow their souls.
Swiftly the flames shot up and enveloped her. Once the executioner forcibly parted them 'to let those interested see she was really there and had not vanished nor been rescued.
With one last loud cry of "Jesus" her sufferings were at last ended, and a black page fastened forever in England's history. Joan of Arc was no more on earth. She was with her Saints in Paradise.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The executioner, when the fire died down, gathered her ashes and threw them into the Seine to be sure she was really gone. He found her heart unconsumed by the fire and threw it after her ashes into the swift river.
A certain Englishman who hated her greatly because of her victories over the English, had sworn to bring a faggot for her stake. When he did so and heard her calling on the name of Jesus, he fainted and had to be dragged away from the fire. He confessed afterward that he felt he had raised his hand against a holy one. He saw, he said, as he looked up at her and heard her last cry, her spirit leaving her body, in the shape of a white dove.
That afternoon the executioner came to the Convent of the Dominicans to confess, saying he feared he was damned because he had burned a saint.
"He never before felt so great dread of his office as in this burning of the Maid, and for many reasons, but mostly for the cruel manner of fastening her to the stake—for the English had caused a high scaffold to be made of plaster, so all might see her, and the executioner could not well reach her to hasten matters, at which he was much vexed, as it was wanton and unnecessary cruelty."
Her death did more to bring back the allegiance of the people of Rouen to their lawful King than did even the victories of the French armies. The multitude went home that day weeping and crying that a Saint had been burned in their midst, and a great wrong put upon their city by it.
Even in death she was not out of the reach of her enemies. Knowing that it would be asked of him why if Joan had returned to her sins and died a heretic, she was allowed the Sacraments, Cauchon drew up a document explaining that she had at 'the last few moments in her cell, made all proper submission and confession.
That document was brought out later, but it lacked the signatures of the only honest men on the trial and was discounted.
This document is dated June 7, a week after the execution of Joan. With it are letters of guarantee of safety from the King of England to those responsible for the trial and execution, and a letter from the University of Paris to the Pope explaining in their own pro-English way the whole proceedings.