The False Jeanne d'Arc
We have several times mentioned Catherine of Rochelle, the false mystic and pretended seer who annoyed Jeanne and was by her exposed to the king;
and we have seen how the lying testimony of this worthless creature was used by Cauchon in the trial. Now we are bound to notice the most remarkable fraud of all in connection with the legend of Jeanne d'Arc. Even after death her name and personality were to be counterfeited, with apparent success, and the deception was to hold during several years.
The impostor, a woman from the neighborhood of Metz, gave out that she was La Pucelle herself, although she was known by the name of Claude. This "revelation" was made five years after the tragedy of Rouen, in May, 1431. The story is one of marvels. At the very outset the two surviving brothers of Jeanne (Pierre and Jean) went to see this woman, identified and acknowledged her as their sister. It seems that she furnished them with certain documents or "signs" proving her claim. At any rate, they appear to have accepted her in full faith. When questioned as to what she had been doing since Rouen, she answered vaguely or in fables, avoiding mention of the past, and declared that her "power" would not be returned to her until the feast of St. John the Baptist. She was fitted up with a man's suit of clothes and a horse, a la Jeanne d'Arc, and rode away with the two brothers.
Here is matter for astonishment, but the tale is only begun. Always with the brothers, she traveled through Lorraine—the scene of Jeanne's glory—to the great wonderment of the people; was honorably received by the Duchess of Luxembourg (a niece of Philip of Burgundy), and passed into Germany.
Thence the false Jeanne returned to Arlen in Belgium, where she was treated with much respect, and there she married a poor but well-born chevalier, Robert des Armoises, worse luck for him! But she continued the fraud, claiming always to be "Jeanne la Pucelle" or "La Pucelle d'Orleans."
Presently the city of Orleans hears of this forward person—Orleans where so many people had seen Jeanne and preserved a vivid memory of her, together with an idolatrous veneration! What we relate is in the official register. The false Jeanne writes to the civic powers, they write to her in all faith. One Jean du Lys (perhaps an accomplice) visits Orleans as a sort of advance agent for the clever hussy. It seems he also has an audience with the king, who in gratitude for the good news gives him a piece of money for his expenses. The city fathers of Orleans respond even more liberally. The smooth lady writes to the king himself. Everything is going to a marvel.
But suddenly she disappears, and later it is rumored that, after some merry passages, she had gone to Rome in order to obtain absolution from the Pope.
Three years later she turns up again and gets herself honorably and bounteously received by the simple folk of Orleans. It is in the record, July, 1439. Nobody exposes her or denies her claim in this city which owed so much to the true Jeanne d'Arc; where so many had seen her often, going and coming (for she had made several visits there after the siege); where no small number of persons had intimately known her. An official entry records a payment of
money to the impostor, naming her Jeanne des Armoises—"for the good she had done the City during the siege!"
Madame des Armoises enjoyed herself heartily in Orleans but left somewhat in a hurry before the expected coming of the king. She was accompanied by the brothers d'Arc.
About this time her melon began to spoil. The sheriff of Touraine had written a letter to Charles concerning her; one can only guess the purport thereof. Not long afterward she turned up in Paris with the same escort, and here the fraud so long maintained broke down. She was made to confess publicly the whole truth of the imposture and of her journey to Rome. Then she was banished from the city.
It seems the king sent for her and she avowed the deception to him. She was last heard of in 1457 —twenty-one years after beginning the hoax—under conditions which went to prove that she had not profited by it. A Lorraine family had caused her to be imprisoned for passing herself off as Jeanne d'Arc and thereby abusing several persons who had actually seen the Maid in Orleans. She was discharged with a reprimand and is heard of no more.
Such is the legend of the false Jeanne d'Arc. That the deception succeeded to such a degree was owing to the atmosphere of the wonderful and the miraculous in which the true heroine had fulfilled her career, and which, no doubt, to the simple and credulous
seemed to permit of a further development. But the part which Jeanne's brothers played in the imposture is not so easily passed over; at the same time we may not condemn them unheard.