7

ABJURATION AND RELAPSE

 

Leaving a systematic criticism of the trial till that can be undertaken in connection with the study of Brehal's Recollectio (see p. 6), let us now consider in some detail two closely related episodes, concerning which the character of the record raises grave doubts as to accuracy, or, at the very least, completeness.

On the morning of May 24, 1431, according to the official account, a general public assembly was held in the cemetery of Saint Ouen at Rouen. It included, besides the two judges, Henry, Cardinal of Winchester, great-uncle of the boy king, Henry VI. It is the only time this immensely powerful prelate is mentioned as having been present at the proceedings of the trial, though he was certainly an important factor behind the scenes. There were also present three bishops, ten abbots or priors, twenty-seven theologians and canonists who are mentioned by name, many other assessors, and a great crowd of people. After Joan had been led to a scaffold in front of this formidable company, a sermon was preached by Master William Erart on the text: "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine." Needless to say, the preacher denounced the alleged heresies of the Maid, and ended by calling on her to abjure them. This she refused to do, declaring that she had previously answered the court in regard to submission to the Church, at her words and deeds came from God, and that she appealed as she had before to God and to the Pope. She was told that the Pope was too far away, that bishops were competent judges in their dioceses, and that she must recognize the Church's authority in the judgment, which had been passed against her. Bishop Cauchon then began the reading of the sentence, but when, after a lengthy preamble, he came to the mention of Joan's name, she interrupted him. She would submit, she cried, to the Church and to her judges. If her visions and revelations were condemned by churchmen, she would no longer believe in them, or uphold them.

Another document was then immediately produced and read to her in French. This was the formula of abjuration, summing up the charges already made against her. Therein she acknowledged herself guilty of inventing visions and revelations, of superstitious divinations, of blasphemy against God and the saints, of transgressing divine and ecclesiastical law, of wearing clothing abhor-rent to her sex, of bearing arms, of cruelly desiring the shedding of blood, of despising God and the sacraments, of worshiping and invoking evil spirits, of schismatical conduct, and of errors against the faith.

We are told that she repeated this formula as it was read to her and signed it with her hand. Its length, in modern printed editions, is from forty to fifty odd lines, depending on the size of type a fact, as we shall see, of great importance.

Cauchon, the account continues, then read to her another formula, which freed her from excommunication, but condemned her to a penance of perpetual imprisonment. Later in the day, the Vice-Inquisitor and others visited Joan in the prison to which she had been returned, exhorting her to remain penitent, and to resume female clothing. She did so, and her hair was shaved from her head. (It had been hitherto worn in the manner of a military man of the period, which means, not down to the shoulders, as she is often portrayed, but long to a point just above the ears and there cut off, with the lower part of the head shaved in the rear.)

Light is thrown on this account by the record of a visit which the two judges, several assessors, and the notaries, paid to Joan in her prison, on May 28, four days after the abjuration. On this occasion Joan was found to have resumed male clothing, and made in substance the following statements:

She had resumed male clothing of her own free will, not having understood that she had sworn not to do so; because being among men (the soldiers who guarded her) it was more proper that she should be dressed as a man; and because the promises made to her, namely, that she would be allowed to hear Mass and receive Communion and would be released from chains, had not been kept. If they were kept, and she were put en prison gracieuse (i.e., an ecclesiastical prison) with a woman for attendant, she would do what the Church willed.

Her voices, which had bidden her answer the preacher boldly on the scaffold, had since reproached her with having betrayed them by making the abjuration to save her life and with acknowledging things she had not done. She had not understood the formula of abjuration, nor in-tended to deny that St. Margaret and St. Catherine had appeared to her. She had never said or done anything against God and the faith, and had said at the time that she did not intend to revoke anything, except in so far as it pleased our Lord. She would damn herself if she denied that God had sent her.

She would resume female clothing if the judges willed, but would do nothing as to the rest.

A comparison between the French minute and the final Latin version of this interview reveals not only certain additions in the latter, but also certain omissions. One of these at least is of the utmost importance as an example of the "falsifications" to which Champion refers, The words of the French text are: "She said that she said at the time that she did not intend to revoke anything except in so far as it was pleasing to our Lord"; but the Latin omits the words italicized, reading: "She said that she did not intend to revoke anything" etc. Thus Thomas de Courcelles, by omitting a phrase in his Latin version, made Joan's repudiation of her "abjuration" seem an after thought, and concealed the fact that she had stated at the time that whatever she agreed to, she agreed to only conditionally. Even the Latin version shows, however, that she abjured because of certain promises made to her, and that these promises had not been kept. Joan's resumption of male clothing, previous to May 28, and her reassertion of the supernatural character of her voices and visions, constituted her "relapse," so that the account of this interview is the first document in the second trial. Returning to the abjuration itself, we find that testimony concerning it, given at the rehabilitation (or, in a few cases, at the royal investigation which preceded it), though it varies in minor details, is on the whole consistent.

This testimony states that Joan had been advised of the approaching exhortation and urged to declare her submission to the Church when the sermon was made' According to the notary Manchon, Nicholas Loyseleur, canon of Rouen, unscrupulous and implacable through out the trial in his enmity to Joan, had promised her that she would suffer no harm if she submitted, but would be put into the hands of the Church, and hence into ecclesiastical prison. She had repeatedly asked for this, and again demanded it, according to Manchon and the Bailiff John Massieu, at the close of the proceedings on May 24, at which time the demand was as usual peremptorily refused by Cauchon. As we have seen, she asked once more for this prison gracieuse on May 28. The matter is of no small importance. In a church prison she would have had a female attendant, as she reminded the judges on May 28, a reminder which, be it noted, is mentioned in the French minute only, and suppressed in the Latin version. Thus situated, she would have had no reason for the resumption of male clothing, which had been obviously necessary during her career, and which gave her some degree of protection against the brutality of her guards in the military prison.

Now the wearing of male clothing was an important charge against her, being represented as not only contrary to divine and human law, but actually, with fantastic absurdity, as evidence of errors concerning the faith; and her resumption of man's apparel, resorted to for reasons to be later discussed, shortly after the abjuration, constituted therefore an element of major importance in her "relapse." If, however, the promise made to her had been kept, this part of her "relapse" would never have occurred.

Several witnesses tell us that Joan, during the sermon in the cemetery, reproached the preacher when he at-tacked her king. When she was hesitating after being bidden to abjure, a chaplain of the English Cardinal accused Cauchon of favoring Joan, and was rebuked by his master, who of course knew better. The English soldiery, encouraged by the presence of the executioner, had expected Joan to be put to death then and there. As it be-came evident that this was not to be, their anger grew more and more vociferous. Stones were thrown, Insults were heaped on Joan as she was led back to prison, says one witness, and the greatest indignation against Cauchon was expressed. Certain English nobles, says the same witness, were even reported to have menaced the bishop and his consultors with their swords. "The king fares ill," cried a noble, "Joan is saved!" "Do not worry, my lord," one of the doctors replied, "we shall know how to get her back."

By far the most important testimony, however, concerns the actual moment of abjuration. It is clear that, whatever Joan did, she did after considerable hesitation, lured by Erart's promises of deliverance, terrified by his threats of impending death if she remained obdurate, and committing herself to the Church. As to the manner of her signing, Massieu says that she made a cross, and it has been argued, not very convincingly, that she intended this as a sign of rejection. Haimon de Macy, a layman, says she made, "in derision," something round, and that an English clerk seized her hand and made her sign "Jehanne." Manchon is sure that she was smiling. John de Mailly, Bishop of Noyon, says many looked on the abjuration as a joke, and agrees with William du Desert, canon of Rouen, that an English doctor wanted the abjuration rejected because Joan was laughing. The self-effacing Courcelles, characteristically, can remember almost nothing. As to what she signed, the testimony is so important that I quote from it verbatim, transposing it from the record into direct discourse:

John Massieu: When he had finished his sermon, Master Erart, holding in his hand a form of abjuration, said to Joan: "Abjure and sign this form." Erart passed it to me to read to Joan, which I did. I remember that in this form it was stated that she would no longer bear arms or wear male clothing or short hair, and much more that I do not remember. This form contained about eight lines, no more. It is certainly not the same as the one whose text is contained in the official trial; the one, which I read to Joan, and which Joan signed, was quite different.

William Delachambre (a doctor of medicine, forced by Cauchon to assist at the trial): I was present at the sermon of Master William Erart; without remembering what he said, I recall Joan's abjuration. She took a very long time to make it. Master William Erart made her decide to do it by telling her that if she did she would be delivered from prison. She abjured only on that condition, and then read a certain little form containing six or seven lines on a double sheet of paper. I was so near her that I could see with certainty the lines and their number.

John Monnet (a clerk to one of the Parisian theologians): The Bishop of Beauvais asked the English Cardinal what he should do in view of Joan's submission. The cardinal answered the bishop that he should admit Joan to penance. Then the bishop put aside the sentence which he had already read in part, and admitted Joan to penance. I saw the form of abjuration, which was read at that moment. It was, I think, a little form of six or seven lines. I remember very well that Joan had said that she would trust the conscience of the judges as to whether she should abjure or not.

Nicholas Taquel (notary for the Vice-Inquisitor Le-maitre): At the sermon made on the Place Saint Ouen, I was not on the platform with the other notaries, but I was near enough to have seen and heard everything. I remember well, having seen a form of abjuration, written In the French language, read to Joan. John Massieu read it to her. Joan repeated it as Massieu read. It comprised about six lines of large writing, and began thus: "I, Joan," and so forth.

We thus have the testimony of four witnesses, all of whom were standing close by, and one of whom, Massieu, had himself read the form of abjuration to Joan, that the form was a very brief one, whereas the form included in the record, in which Joan states that she signed it with her name and mark, includes some forty lines of small print.

Quicherat, in his Aperçus nouveaux, does his best to minimize the importance of this fact, in keeping with his general tendency to defend the regularity and legality of the trial against contrary evidence given at the rehabilitation. He denies that Joan either repeated and signed a form different from that included in the record, or that she repeated one form and was made to sign another. Cauchon, in Quicherat's estimation, was too clever to have resorted to such gross trickery. Even if there were two documents, he concludes, the longer differed from the shorter only by the addition of legal and theological verbiage.

Few historians have followed Quicherat in his denial of a substitution of documents, but many, sharing his general tendency, have agreed that the difference between the two forms was not a substantial one.

Now the denial of any substitution involves a wholly gratuitous rejection of the sworn testimony of four eye-witnesses, merely because of an a priori assumption as to what Cauchon, whom Quicherat himself describes as a "passionate, guileful, and corrupt man," would or would not have done; and the assumption for it is an assumption that the two forms differed only in the addition of technical phrases to the shorter one, is, to say the least, hazardous. It contradicts the explicit statement of Massieu, who had read the form to Joan, and who is certain that it was "quite different" from the one inserted in the record. Even if the form Joan signed was merely expanded for the record, the latter would still be guilty of misrepresenting the facts, for Joan is therein stated to have repeated and signed that form. There is, moreover, an enormous difference between repeating and signing a long formula, admitting, with many expressions of repentance, a lengthy list of charges, and signing, in a bewildering atmosphere of disorder and confusion, a much more summary one.

What did the shorter form contain? Massieu mentions only promises not to wear male clothing or bear arms. No doubt the form included also some general expression of submission to the Church. Did it disavow Joan's inspiration and if so, to what extent? We can never know positively, though her bitter self-reproaches, uttered in the prison interview four days later, speak of "betrayal" of her voices. For the evidence as a whole shows, not that Joan had been in any real sense guilty, with full deliberation and consent, of such a betrayal, but that her sensitive conscience made her blame herself, on subsequent reflection, to a very exaggerated extent. To sum up the whole complicated matter, it is clear that Joan, distraught and bewildered, was coerced into signing, conditionally upon the fulfillment of certain promises which were after-wards broken, and stating at the time (as the French minute tells us) that she subscribed "only in so far as it pleased our Lord," to some short form of recantation, the exact contents of which we shall never know. Whereas the official record, omitting all mention of disorder, threats, promises, or conditions, represents her as having repeated and signed a much longer form. This fact alone is sufficient to destroy the fable of Cauchon's good faith.

Why, it may be asked, did Cauchon desire an abjuration? Certainly he not only wanted it but expected it, since (as the record itself states) he had had a form prepared, and his consultation of Cardinal Beaufort as to what was to be done after Joan's submission was therefore a mere formality.

In the first place, an abjuration would make Joan appear to have lost the courage of her convictions, to the great damage of her prestige. An abjuration, moreover, if followed by a relapse made Joan's doom absolutely certain; a relapsed heretic had no further legal hope, but was perforce "handed over to the secular arm" for execution. Cauchon's aim was thus by hook or by crook attained. It seems, however, that though Joan would surely have retracted her "abjuration" sooner or later, her enemy was not content to wait for this, but resorted once more to trickery. Of events between the scene in the cemetery of Saint Ouen and the interview in Joan's prison, that is to say, of May 25, 26, and 27, the official record says nothing. Six witnesses at the rehabilitation, however, give highly interesting testimony concerning the happenings of these days.

The fury of the English, who supposed that Joan's "abjuration" had enabled her to escape the death penalty, continued to rage. John Beaupere, former Rector of the University of Paris, together with several other assessors, was sent by Cauchon to ascertain Joan's dispositions on May 25 or 26. They were received at the prison with threats of violence, and driven away without accomplishing their errand. The same treatment was accorded to others, including Manchon and the other recorders, on these days and the following. It was only because of special protection by the Earl of Warwick, who knew, of course, that Joan had by no means escaped her doom that the three recorders ventured to go into the prison chamber on May 28. There they found Cauchon and several others, and the interview already described took place. Its tenor is confirmed by the rehabilitation witnesses; but important additional information is also given. Two Dominican friars, Martin Ladvenu and Isambard de la Pierre, who, though they had concurred in Joan's condemnation, showed great sympathy for her in her last hours, report that Joan herself told them that an English lord had actually tried to assault her and that for this reason she had reassumed male clothing, which afforded some measure of protection, and which, as Brother Isambard said, "had been treacherously left within her reach." Massieu reports Joan's statement somewhat differently. On May 27, he says, Joan's female clothing was forcibly removed, and male clothing dumped upon her. After a long argument with the guards, being compelled by bodily necessity to seek temporary release from her place of confinement she was chained by her feet to a bed she donned the only clothing available. The two statements are not necessarily contradictory, and in any case, there is no question but that male clothing was available. This fact alone proves that her "relapse," in its most obvious and visible aspect, was deliberately planned, as her "abjuration" had been planned, and that her doom was thus made certain. Small wonder that, as Boisguillaume says, many rejoiced at Joan's resumption of male clothing, and that, as Brother Isambard reports, Cauchon exclaimed to the Earl of Warwick: "This time she is well caught!"