C-4UCHON'S GOOD THING
Accident plays a great part in human affairs; perhaps it is the only thaumaturgist. Had the English destroyed the record of Jeanne d'Arc's trial before they were driven out of Rouen eighteen years later, it is likely that the whole question would have to-day a different aspect. The Maid would appear less great, since we should not hear her living voice, the voice that has given her a world-wide audience. Nor should we be possessed of the divine story of her mission, as conferred upon her by the apparitions at Domremy, which the judges drew from her in its fullness; nor of many enlightening facts in her subsequent career. In laboring to shame and convict her they but increased her glory. At the same time, lacking this witness, we should know far less of the turpitude of her judges. But the English ran away, leaving behind them this inestimable document—a fact that has meant something to them!
The trial of Jeanne d'Arc is perhaps the most celebrated in secular history . . . not quite that either, for she was tried by priests, an immense sanhedrin of them. But it was really their trial and that of the great principals behind them. The accused was found guilty of no offense before heaven or earth—i.e., no
offense that is now on the calendar of human crimes. She was innocent, and they became guilty of her blood and of the condemnation it has earned for them.
The trial occupied nearly three months, with many sittings and examinations; the record of it, in mediaeval Latin and old French, is very long, sometimes perplexed, often tedious. It remains hard reading even in the elucidation of modern scholars. We are compelled to report it briefly, indeed to condense it beyond our desire, in order to keep within our limitations. But we shall endeavor to do justice to its more salient phases, to pass over nothing of real significance, to exhibit the implacable cruelty of the prosecution and the heroic bravery of the defense. We are not bound to give particular attention to the many persons who figure in the proceeding as judges, consultants, assessors, etc., but we shall take note of the more important ones in the course of our summary or thereafter. It shall be our care to avoid the trite, the over-well known so far as consistent with justice to the story; and we have drawn chiefly upon French texts for our authority. Some advances have been made in the critical history of Jeanne d'Arc and her times even since Quicherat and Michelet. We shall try to avail ourselves of this new knowledge rather than lean overmuch upon matter already familiar to persons interested in the subject.
The tribunal before which Jeanne was to appear would have given importance to any cause less celebrated
than that of the heroine of Orleans; with her as the accused it took on a responsibility before France, before the world, and the Christian conscience that might well have daunted its boldest members. But with scarcely an exception they went to the work cheerfully, with zeal and promptitude; they stood not upon the order of their coming but came at once. And in cheerful humor indeed they began it—witness Cauchon's bon proces ("a good trial"!).
It was also a representative tribunal, as the leaders had planned to make it, in order that its findings and its verdict might have the widest acceptance throughout the Christian world and stand without appeal. And why all this pomp of priestly learning and authority, this marshaling of the powers of the church militant, to try this scarcely nineteen-year old girl, a peasant too, a bergerette, on a foolish and impossible charge? Doth it not ill become their eminences and sanctities and spiritual lordships, their mighty scholastics from Paris, puffed up with a factitious learning long since exploded, their mitered abbots, and all the rest of that sacerdotal assembly, to sit in so paltry a cause?
Ah! but it is a cause that involves the highest political interests, and also the very dear personal interests of the judges themselves, down to the humblest acolyte there present. They are all held in the hand of power, personified by Bedford and Winchester.
A poor ignorant peasant, a shepherd girl, you say?
But behind her stands the King of France, who obtained through her a vantage which we, partisans of the English, shall be long in overcoming. We must damn her as a witch, an agent of the devil, and thereby discredit that infernal work of hers—the consecration of this "King of Bourges." By showing her up in this odious character we shall attains his "Majesty" with dishonor, diminish the effect of her victories (produced by witchcraft), restore the prestige of the English and Burgundian arms. (To the last she maintained, "Whether I have done well or ill, the king is without fault; it was not he who counseled me.")
It was very foolish, was it not? But such was the best wisdom of the time, applied to cruel and unworthy ends.
Cauchon had another reason for making the tribunal, the court, which should try Jeanne, as large and representative as possible. He wished to divide up the odium of the business as much as he might, and to share it with the highest priests in the land. Hence the cardinal, and the two archbishops who were to become cardinals later, and the throng of bishops, the grand abbots, the robed doctors of the University of Paris, who had long before prejudged this case and in strict justice had no right to be there.
We note the absence of Regnault de Chartres, Archbishop of Reims, hierarchical superior of Cauchon, secret and inveterate enemy of the Maid. He would not be there on account of his ostensible political attachments, but he is in sympathy with the proceedings,
and there is some evidence that he has supplied matter to the prosecution.
Cauchon shrewdly calculated that his own share of accountability would be small among so many associates and abettors. But God is not so mocked! Cauchon's burden of guilt still remains the greatest among those judges, though he has plenty company and about as high, ecclesiastically, as he could desire.
We pause to make one great fact clear to the reader: there is no possible escape for Jeanne, however this court of priests may pronounce upon her. She is under the lion's paw and no human power can snatch her thence, nor shall any be interposed to save her—eternal shame to the king whom she made!
Bedford having bought her in the name of his king, Henry VI, will deliver her to the Bishop of Beauvais (Cauchon) in order that the latter may have her condemned as a witch. It is, however, carefully provided in a formal pact that, if she is not condemned by the priests, she shall be retaken by the English!
"TEN THOUSAND POUNDS GOLD!" says Bedford with stern unction. The king has paid too much for Jeanne to suffer a thought of losing her.
Cauchon also united to his jurisdiction that of the Inquisition—a hateful power, never loved by the French and seldom invoked by them. Jean Lemaitre, vicar of the Inquisition at Rouen, would have evaded the honor, but Cauchon knew how to put the screws on him, and the Dominican was obliged to serve. A promoter, d'Estivet; a counselor, Delafontaine, with
three secretaries and a bailiff, constituted the tribunal, properly so called.
Lemaitre was a cold and prudent man, with no special interest in the prosecution; nevertheless, he drew a good sum for his "labors, pains, and diligences."
J. d'Estivet, called "benedicite" promoter or prosecutor of the trial, has been described as the right arm and damned soul of Cauchon. Of a foul tongue and violent zeal, he pursued the Maid with inhuman rigor. Died appropriately in a sewer.
Cauchon authorized himself to call as many consultants and assessors (persons sitting with the court), specious supernumeraries, as he cared to use. In short it was a bon proces—an emphatically GOOD THING, and he proposed to pass it around.