Rises now before my mind a portentous figure which has bulked more and more upon me as I have advanced in this narrative, second only in point of insistence to that of Jeanne herself. Please God, we shall do him no more than simple justice.
Remark at first that there is something evilly significant about his mere name—Cauchon! Blunt and forthright like himself, so easy for posterity to remember, aye, as easy as Judas! Note also that the French word for pig used often in opprobrium—cochon—has the same pronunciation. In this appears a certain accidental fitness, for he was Peter the Pig in certain respects of character, while in learning and natural parts he had few superiors in his day.
What secures to Cauchon his unique infamy is that he took upon himself the most odious function of any man recorded in history—save one! And Pontius Pilate seems a blameless, almost irresponsible person beside Pierre Cauchon.
The guilt of this man is so complete and manifest, admitting of no shadow of extenuation, his reprobation by Christian sentiment is so overwhelming, he stands so far outside the pale of human tolerance,
that one is, in despite of oneself, moved to a sort of pity for a wretch so friendless and alone—solitary among great criminals, foremost among unjust judges, peerless among the shedders of innocent blood.
But so long as the forces of good and evil contend in this world it would be false pity to waste any more softness on Cauchon than he did on his gentle victim. Her last words, almost from amidst the flames, accused him of her death—Bishop, I die through you! If they are ever to be effaced, it can only be by the act of Heaven itself, at the intercession of his victim!
Cauchon was born near Reims, of a humble family of vine-growers. It is not known how he obtained his education. He was first a lawyer, and as a practitioner regarded as able, but partial and dangerous. The University of Paris honors him with the office of rector (1403), and from this time he applies himself to politics, which assuredly was his natural vocation. His priestly character strikes one as anomalous, but, as we shall see, it by no means so appeared to his contemporaries—the hard self-seeking men of that period were very intent upon the soft things to be gained within the church. Peter the Pig would not lose his share at any trough, however crowded. He got firm hold of the ecclesiastical teat and let go only when his breath finally failed him.
We find him (1407) among the ambassadors sent by Charles VI to the anti-pope, Benedict XIII, at
Avignon, in order to put an end to the great schism. From this time he is a notable figure in church politics, and begins to accumulate benefices (church livings).
In Paris he is a Burgundian and against the Armagnacs; a vigorous partisan, too, bold in speech and in action. Expelled from Paris, he takes refuge with the Duke of Burgundy, Jean sans peur, who sends him to the church council of Constance to defend this thesis—"that it is permissible to kill tyrants without formality of justice." This Duke of Burgundy had assassinated the Duke of Orleans, who was no more a tyrant than himself. Cauchon is opposed by Gerson (later a champion of Jeanne d'Arc), the most distinguished man for learning and virtue in that council. But though Cauchon fails to get his thesis approved, he contrives to save it from formal condemnation, which partial success further commends him to his patron.
The reader will note that Cauchon has always a foot in the Burgundian camp, an ear in the Burgundian councils. Cauchon was one of the counselors of the treaty, which delivered England to France. In 1423 he has himself named conservator of the privileges of the University of Paris and is also appointed master of requests to the king. He now solicits the provostship of Lille, and backing him therefor the University of Paris hands him this touching certificate:
"Those who have proved their courage and perseverance in labors, watchings, sufferings, and torments
for the good of the church, are worthy of the highest recompense."
Behold the martyr Cauchon laboring, suffering, watching, but also consoling himself with these little perquisites: Master of requests, Vidame de Reims, Archdeacon of Chartres, canon of Reims, of Chalons, of Beauvais, chaplain to the Duke of Burgundy at Dijon, beneficiary at St. Clair in the diocese of Bayeux. In 1409 he becomes Referendary to Pope Martin V, whom he had greatly contributed to elect, and in the year following, largely through influence of the Duke of Burgundy, he is named Bishop of Beauvais—which makes him an ecclesiastical peer of the kingdom.
Another strong trait in Cauchon is his attachment to the English, which, on account of its depth and constancy, has some color of virtue, like the unconquerable pride and steadiness of Lucifer. For this reason he still finds some softness among the English, some deprecating apologists, who would transfer his errors to time and circumstance rather than charge them to the man himself. Among these half friends of Cauchon may be noted that very incomplete Englishman, Mr. Bernard Shaw, who has cleverly interpolated for him a sort of posthumous plea in the drama on Jeanne d'Arc.
Cauchon was, in fact, a man without a country. He seemed to hate the French interest, except as regards Burgundy. He is hand and glove with the Duke of Bedford and close crony to Louis of Luxembourg, a bishop on the way to be cardinal, chancellor of France
for the English pretenders. From 1423 Cauchon is named to the council of Henry VI and made chancellor to the Queen of England. He is charged by the English and Burgundian party with the handling of grave ecclesiastical matters, especially such as required negotiation with Rome. In 1425 he takes up the question regarding the liberties of the French church (Gallican liberties) and acquits himself in such a manner as to obtain high praise from the Pope, Martin V (previously his friend), and the promise that Rome would not forget his services. That she did not forget them was soon made evident in the trial of Jeanne d'Arc.
About this time Cauchon was aiming to be Archbishop of Rouen, and his chance seemed good, with the support of Bedford and Winchester. But the business to which he now set his hand at their instance and carried to its fatal conclusion, was to ruin his best hopes for the future. Five years later he was chased from Paris with Louis of Luxembourg, chancellor for the English: par nubile fratrum! Luck had turned against the English, as Jeanne had accurately predicted, and they were unable to promote his churchly ambitions. He managed to get himself transferred from Beauvais, where he was detested, to the bishopric of Lisieux, which was his last charge. In transferring him (six months after the death of Jeanne) the Pope, Eugene IV, praises the "good odor of his reputation" and urges him to spread it still farther by his commendable acts!
Cauchon underwent excommunication by the council
of Basel, but it didn't seem to take. It was not, as has been mistakenly supposed, on account of Jeanne d'Arc, but was due to some mishandling of church funds. At any rate, it gave him little concern and no practical inconvenience. He was of the ripe age of sixty when there devolved upon him the affair, which will keep his memory ever fresh in abhorrence until the end of time.
In personal appearance Cauchon did not belie his character: gross features, flattened nose, drooping mouth, the whole physiognomy short and massive. It has been remarked that one ignorant of the facts of his life would not pick him for a good man, even as he lay in marble repose, with the miter on his head and the crucifix in his hand.
This is the terrible man, armed with great spiritual and temporal powers, crafty, unscrupulous, resolute, who now appears to take a leading part in the tragical fifth act of the Maid's career. His principals were undoubtedly the Duke of Bedford, the Cardinal of Winchester and Philip of Burgundy. But he was not himself without a personal grudge, a long-hoarded spite against Jeanne; through her efforts he had been chased from his episcopal house at Beauvais. He partook to the full of those malignant feelings of his ecclesiastical superior, the Archbishop of Reims, enemy and betrayer of the Maid; and he longed to complete the work which the latter had begun.
The English did not trust merely to the requisition of the University of Paris and the negotiations of Cauchon; they took a more powerful and decisive
measure in order to secure their victim. While the machinations referred to were still pending, the royal council in England prohibited all traffic with the Low Countries and especially with Antwerp. This was a body blow to Philip as Count of Flanders, spelling disaster as it did to the great commercial interests of his Flemish subjects; and he quickly perceived the necessity of coming to terms.