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DOMREMY TO POITIERS

 

JOAN OF ARC, called Jeannette in her childhood, was born January 6, 1412, in Domremy, on the confines of Lorraine, the third child of Jacques d'Arc, a highly respected peasant who was later doyen of his village, an Isabelle (or Zabillet) Romee, his wife.

Her early childhood, concerning which her own statements at Rouen are confirmed and amply supplement by numerous deponents at the rehabilitation, was marked by exceptional piety. Relatives, friends, and neighbors clerical and lay, including three godmothers (she ha several godparents of either sex, as was then the custom) agreed, mostly from personal observation, that Joan's con duct as a child was always exemplary, that she knew he prayers, was suitably instructed in the faith, knelt in the fields when she heard the angelus bell, loved to go Mass and other services, often went to confession, and received Communion at Easter and other great feasts Later, during her military career, she received Communion almost weekly, which was at that time most unusual for a lay person, however devout usual for a lay person, however devout.

Joan tells us at Rouen that she first saw her visions and heard her voices when she was "about thirteen," but said nothing about them to anyone, fearing parental opposition to the mission which the saints had laid upon her, and also lest the Burgundians, who held territory near Domremy, might hear of her and try to prevent her going to join the Dauphin. She could, of course, have safely spoken of her visions to her confessor, but her certainty of their divine origin no doubt made her regard this as unnecessary. She must, however, have spoken of her mission in a general way to her cousin's husband or "uncle," Durand Laxart, when she persuaded him to take her to Vaucouleurs in the spring of 1428; and her claim to be the divinely commissioned means of delivering France then became generally known. Yet, as far as the record shows, she did not describe her visions of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine in detail until her questioners at Rouen wrung the facts from her.

Captain Robert de Baudricourt, in command at Vaucouleurs, rebuffed Joan when she pleaded to be sent to the Dauphin, and she returned home. Later in the same year, the menace of a raid by Burgundian troops caused her family, together with other villagers of Domremy, to flee for a short time to the near-by town of Neufchateau.

 

After further urging by her voices, Joan returned to Vaucouleurs with Laxart early in 1429; whence, owing to the good offices of John de Metz (afterwards her treasurer) and Bertrand de Poulengy, she started for Chinon late in February, dressed as a soldier, and accompanied by the two gentlemen mentioned, and by four followers. The little cavalcade, avoiding the menace of hostile soldiery, reached its destination on March 6.

The Dauphin at first hesitated to see Joan. She told the officials who received her that God had sent her to deliver Orleans and to have the Dauphin crowned at Rheims. When Charles at length ordered her brought into his Presence, "he retired apart," says an eyewitness, "behind the others; she recognized him none the less, and made obeisance to him." (The chronicler John Chartier, accurately or not, describes this famous recognition with details that make it more remarkable.) Joan told the Dauphin things known only to God and to himself. Either before or after her first interview with Charles (the testimony on this point is conflicting), he caused her to I questioned by several bishops and theologians, who r ported favorably. These interrogatories at Chinon ma] Joan's first encounter with ecclesiastical authority in regard to her mission.

The Dauphin then decided that a more thorough examination of Joan should be held by the clerics of the University of Poitiers, where the royal council was also about to convene. Thither Joan accompanied the court, later in the month of March.

The sessions at Poitiers lasted three weeks. An official record was kept, or at least Joan thought it had bee since she appealed several times at Rouen to the "book or "register" of Poitiers; but this important document was not produced at the rehabilitation. It seems to have bee already lost at that time, and has not been discovered since. We depend, therefore, on other sources for our knowledge of the proceedings. Several chroniclers give the opinion, which the doctors rendered to the Dauphin after their investigations of Joan, and several witnesses at the rehabilitation supply further information.

By far the most important deposition, and the only one by a member of the examining board, is that of Brother Seguin de Seguin, professor of theology at Poitiers. After mentioning other theologians on the board, Brother Seguin tells us that Joan was questioned at the house of John Rabateau, where she lodged. Master Rabateau's wife (says another witness) was greatly edified by Joan's frequent and prolonged devotions. When a theologian asked Joan, the friar reports, why God needed soldiers to deliver France, she answered: "In God's name, the men-at-arms will fight, and God will give the victory!" Friar Seguin, who came from Limoges, asked Joan what "idiom" her voices spoke. "A better one than yours," she replied. Asked for a sign, Joan demanded that she be given troops and sent to Orleans.

"And she foretold," Seguin continues, "to me and to all the rest of us who were there, that these four things would happen: that the siege of Orleans would be raised and the city delivered, the English destroyed, the King crowned at Rheims, Paris restored to its obedience, and the Duke of Orleans brought back from England. And in-deed I myself have seen these four things accomplished.

"We reported all this to the royal council, and were of the opinion that, in view of the extreme necessity and the great peril in which the city lay, the king might use her help and send her to Orleans.

"Before this, we had investigated her life and her morals, and we had found that she was a good Christian, living as a Catholic should, never idle. That her life and habits might be better known, women had been placed with her whose duty it was to report to the council her actions and thoughts."

The investigation at Poitiers, though somewhat informal in its procedure, was none the less official, carefully and thoroughly conducted under the authority of Reginald of Chartres, Archbishop of Rheims. The opinion, which the board reported though necessarily contingent upon the fulfillment of the chief "sign" which Joan had offered namely, the deliverance of Orleans was emphatic. "The king," its final sentences declare, "since he has made probation of the said Maid as far as possible, and finds no evil in her, and considering her answer, which is to show a divine sign before Orleans; in view of her constancy and her perseverance in her proposal, and her urgent requests to go to Orleans to show there a sign of divine help, should not prevent her from going to Orleans with his men-at-arms, but, with hope in God, should cause her to be honorably taken there. For to doubt her or dismiss her without any appearance of evil, would be to oppose the Holy Ghost and to render one's self unworthy of God's help, as said Gamaliel, in a council of the Jews, in regard to the Apostles."

Such a decision obviously acquired greater force when the deliverance of Orleans was actually accomplished. That Joan, in spite of replies so sturdily independent as to seem lacking in respect, should have gained it from a, formidable group of churchmen who had no predisposition in her favor, is a fact of great importance. Joan realized its bearing on the legality of the Rouen trial as is shown by her own words. We shall see, in our study of Master Brehal's Recollectio, that she was not mistaken.