10

THE POSTHUMOUS INFORMATION

 

To the official account of the Rouen trial certain documents are appended. They include letters, which attempt, with much sanctimonious verbiage, to vindicate the trial and its verdict, written in the name of the boy King Henry VI to the Emperor and all Christian princes, and to the nobles and cities of "his kingdom of France"; also a letter of similar tenor from the University of Paris to the Pope, the Emperor, and the College of Cardinals; and, curiously enough, the retraction and sentence to imprisonment of a Dominican friar who had been rash enough to criticize the Rouen verdict.

More important than these letters, however, is a document which precedes them, consisting of sworn depositions made to the judges by seven of the assessors, one week after Joan's execution, and professing to report statements made by Joan on the morning of her execution. These constitute the famous "Posthumous Information," concerning which, as concerning the abjuration, much controversy has raged. With some variations, these depositions represent Joan as having retracted her "re-lapse," that is to say, as having admitted that her voices had after all deceived her, since they had not delivered her, and as having agreed that they were from evil spirits, or at least declared her willingness to accept the decision of churchmen in the matter. She is also reported as admit' Ling that her account of having seen an angel bringing a crown to the Dauphin an obscure matter of which she had spoken with extreme reluctance, apparent inconsistency, and possible allegorizing, during the trial was fictitious; she herself was the angel. One deponent tells of her making sacramental confession to Brother Martin Ladvenu at that time, and receiving Communion from his hands.

Concerning these events we have considerable testimony given at the royal investigation which began the rehabilitation. Ladvenu confirms the fact that, with Cauchon's authorization, he administered the sacraments to Joan on May 30; he states that on that morning the bishop and several canons came to see Joan; but he also reports as does Brother John Toutmouille (another Dominican assessor whose alleged deposition, like Ladvenu's, is in the Posthumous Information) that Joan on that occasion bitterly reproached Cauchon for leaving her in her enemies' hands and for being the cause of her death. Far from mentioning any new retractions or admissions, how-ever, Ladvenu declared in 1456 that "up to the end of her life she maintained and affirmed that the voices she had heard came to her from God; that all she had done had been at God's command; that she did not believe that her voices had deceived her."

Now the Posthumous Information, like the documents, which follow it, forms no part of the judicial record. In the three original manuscripts, all these appendices follow the elaborate attestations of the three notaries and the seals of the judges. Nor do their pages bear the signature of any notary, as all the previous pages of the record do. Moreover, one of the notaries, namely Manchon, testified at the royal investigation of 1450, that he had refused, spite of pressure by Cauchon, to attest the Posthumous Information, and his fellow notaries seem to have taken the same stand. Manchon gives as the reason for his refusal the fact that he was not present at the conversation, but though his unwillingness to attest those pages does not, of course, disprove the allegations they report, it does emphasize their extrajudicial character. And the very different accounts of the scene given by Ladvenu and Toutmouille make the depositions published by Cauchon seem highly suspicious. Even without contrary evidence it is scarcely credible that Joan should have begged pardon of the English and Burgundians for fighting them and causing them to be slain, as Canon Loyseleur (Joan's implacable enemy) describes her as doing.

We know from Ladvenu and Toutmouille that there was an interview between Cauchon and Joan on the morning of her execution, after she had received the sacraments. Surely Cauchon tried his best to make her disavow her voices at this time, since a second abjuration, he supposed, would be a final blow to her prestige, and involved no risk of her escaping the stake, after she had once relapsed. Indeed the desire to strike such a blow is the only possible motive for adding the Posthumous Information to the record of the trial. The desire is again manifested in the letters mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, though the second abjuration is there inconsistently placed (the letters were no doubt written earlier) just before Joan's death, after a secular verdict which was never rendered!

Threatened and terrified on the morning of her execution, the Maid may have uttered words which Cauchon could twist to his purposes, but the evidence that she spoke as reported is dubious indeed. Speculation on the amount of truth in the reports is therefore greatly influenced by the opinion of a given historian as to whether Cauchon is more, or less, likely to have invented or tampered with the depositions than Ladvenu is to have perjured himself at the rehabilitation by contradicting them.