The Pretended Abjuration
All the solemn trial of Joan had resulted in nothing but an admirable revelation of her character and life. To achieve at least his first purpose—that of discrediting Joan and Charles VII—Bishop Cauchon must make Joan deny her mission and revelations and abjure her acts. This is what he endeavored to do on May 24th.
The promoter, or defender, of the cause of Joan at the trial of Rehabilitation affirmed that the abjuration of Joan was prepared beforehand. The scene was in the cemetery at Rouen—a curious place. Two platforms were erected. On the one reserved for the ecclesiastics there were five bishops, Cardinal Beaufort, de Luxembourg, de Mailly of Noyon, William Andwick, Bishop of Norwich in England, and guardian of the king's private seal, and His Lordship of Beauvais. With these were eight abbots, two priors, twenty-seven graduates in theology or law, and many others. On the see, and platform was Joan and Erard, who was to preach violently at her. His text was from St. John xv, "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine." Joan, he said, by crimes and errors manifold was
separated from the vine; that is, the Church. There is only a short and dry analysis of the sermon in Manchon's minutes. Richer, an authority, who had read the original text characterizes it as "full of impostures and violence." At the end, the preacher turned to Joan, and said, "Here are Messeigneurs the judges, who have often demanded your submission to the Church regarding your deeds and words. "I will answer," replied the courageous Joan. "In what concerns my submission to the Church, I have told them to submit all my words and deeds to Rome, to our Holy Father the Pope, to whom, after God, I appeal. My words and acts have been inspired by God." "Will you retract what is found blameworthy in your words and acts?" "I refer the matter to God and our Holy Father the Pope." "That is not enough," said Erard. Be his words noted well: "We cannot interrupt the trial to seek the Pope so far away. The bishops are also judges in their own dioceses. You must submit to our Holy Mother the Church and people here in their judgment on your acts and words:" Erard unmasks the whole matter; nothing could be clearer. "And, thereupon, Joan received a triple admonition." Then, says the written account of the trial, when the reading of the sentence began, Joan declared she wished to obey in what the Church and the judges demanded, and made an abjuration substantially as follows; since the men
of the Church said her revelations were false, she did not wish further to believe them, but left all to the judges and Holy Mother Church. The French translation says, that when Bishop Cauchon had read the greater part of the sentence handing Joan over to the secular arm, that is to death, she spoke of submitting to the judges; that she then repeated the abjuration such as we find it in the Process; and that she signed it with her own hand. These things are not in the minutes of the affair; and it is clear they give no true idea of what happened. The story of the witnesses is quite different.
Bishop Cauchon had come with two written sentences; one delivering Joan to the civil power, i. e., to fire, if she did not retract; the other, condemning her to perpetual imprisonment, if she retracted. The English, who thought the trial excessively long, expected to have Joan handed over to them on that day. It would seem that there were a great many in the assembly who believed her innocent, The bishop, perhaps, would not venture to hand her over to death against the opinion and wish of the crowd.
According to the testimony of Massieu, Erard presented to Joan a formula of abjuration, while she protested she understood not what abjuration meant, and said she would ask counsel regarding it. Witnesses tell of the preacher's long-continued efforts to make Joan consent in
order to save her life. Those around cried out to her to do as she was told and save, herself. Loyseleur, who had treacherously gained her confidence, acknowledged afterwards, that, as Joan was ascending the platform, he advised her to take woman's dress as she was ordered; that it would do no harm; otherwise, she should die. Joan resisted long. Boisguillaume and La Chambre testified that she did not know what the abjuration meant. A great murmur meanwhile arose in the crowd. Bishop Cauchon read slowly, and made a long pause before concluding; so that many of the audience complained of the delay, and of his wish to receive the abjuration. According to Bishop de Mailly, who was present, Lawrence Calot, a clergyman in the suite of Cardinal Beaufort, publicly accused Bishop Cauchon of favoring Joan. According to Manchon, Calot called the bishop a traitor. The bishop called him a liar, and demanded instant reparation, and threw down his paper on the ground. According to Massieu, Joan finally said, "I leave all to the universal Church; if the clergy and
the Church tell me I should sign the paper, I will do so." " Sign immediately," said Erard: "if not, you will end your life to-day in the flames." The executioner was near, his wagon loaded with wood for the fire; he was awaiting the handing over of the victim. Joan answered, according to Massieu, that she preferred to sign rather than be burned. Then
Bishop Cauchon asked Cardinal Beaufort what to do; and he answered, "Admit her to penance." The bishop laid aside the first sentence, and took up the second. According to Mapsieu, Erard offered a formula of abjuration to Joan; but Aymond de Macy says Calot drew it out of his own sleeve. Massieu read the words, and Joan repeated. Then a great tumult arose; the English were enraged, and Joan's friends rejoiced; in consequence "many stones were thrown." De Macy states that Joan for signature made a sort of circle in mockery; then Calot took her hand and made her write something, what it was, he did not remember; but in the Process it is the name Jehanne, followed by a cross U - "I do not remember," said Manchon, "that the abjuration was ever explained or shown to Joan beforehand." Boisguillaume agrees with him, and believes she did not understand the formula. If signed, it was signed through fear—not freely. Massieu assures us she understood neither the formula nor the danger she was in. Even in the story of the Process, she says she wished to sign only in so far as the paper was examined by the clergy and the Church, and it was declared and insisted upon that it was her duty to sign. Moreover, they had deceived her by the promise of an ecclesiastical prison to be given her after signing. She laughed while signing, said Manchon. The same is repeated by Canon du Desert. It was said by many, affirms de Mailly, that the abjuration was only a mockery; that Joan laughed at it, and
little attention to it, and did not consider it serious. She signed at the prayer of those present. The Process of Rehabilitation declares the abjuration "pretended, false, perfidious, extorted through fear, not seen beforehand nor understood by the Maid. "
After all this, it is hard to say that the Maid abjured. Massieu, who read the formula to her, testified, that in it Joan promised not to bear arms more, nor wear man's dress, nor her hair cut short, and many other things he did not remember. But he knew, he said, for certain that the entire formula was not more than eight lines, and that it was not that given in the Process. Taquel, the third notary, who was near and saw everything, gives the same testimony. So do La Chambre and Miget.
The longer formula of abjuration given in the Process, which consists of some fifty lines, makes Joan accuse herself of "mortal sin in lying about her revelation, and seducing by her stories, practicing superstitious divination, blaspheming God and His Saints, violating the Divine Law, the Scripture, and Canon Law, wearing dissolute and indecent dress, cruelly shedding human blood, despising God and His Sacraments, causing sedition, adoring evil spirits, becoming schismatic, and sinning in many other ways against the Faith." She is made to swear to St. Peter, to the Pope, and to Monseigneur of Beauvais – a curious combination and deceptive – never to return to the things condemned.
One says naturally in reading this that a greater piece of knavery was never seen. No one with any knowledge of the trial would dream for a moment that this infamous document was honest. On the following Monday Joan would declare that she never meant to deny her revelations by the abjuration, and that she never knew such a thing was demanded of her. The minutes of Manchon have no word of this abjuration; the story was written a long time after. According to him, this long, fraudulent formula was written out at the instance of the assessors, after one of the sessions preceding the scene in the cemetery. It begins with the words, "Every one that has erred"; whereas, Taquel assures us the formula said to have been signed by Joan begins with "I Joan—"
The danger of relapse is spoken of at the beginning of the longer act of abjuration; and some have seen here an indication of a criminal plot to declare Joan relapsed should she again proclaim her mission, as she was sure to do; for the bishop and his associates knew that Joan had no chance of life from the English.
The second sentence, namely of condemnation to prison, was read by Bishop Cauchon instead of the first. "Relying on the famous declaration of the University of Paris," it accuses
Joan more briefly of the excesses mentioned in the formula of abjuration; and condemns her "to perpetual imprisonment on the bread of affliction and water of sadness—" just plain bread and water.