Joan of Arc (Domrémy, 1412 – Rouen, May 30, 1431) was a French national heroine, venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church, also known as “the Maid of Orleans” (French for “la pucelle d”Orléans”).
She recovered from France part of the territory that had fallen into the hands of the English during the Hundred Years” War, contributing to the recovery of its fortunes by victoriously leading the French armies against the English. Captured by the Burgundians in front of Compiègne, Joan was sold to the English. The English subjected her to trial for heresy, at the end of which, on 30 May 1431, she was condemned to be burned at the stake and burned alive. In 1456 Pope Callistus III, at the end of a second inquiry, declared the nullity of this trial.
Beatified in 1909 by Pius X and canonized in 1920 by Benedict XV, Joan was proclaimed patron saint of France.
Joan was born in Burgundy, in Domrémy (today Domrémy-la-Pucelle), to Jacques d”Arc, in a family of peasants from Lorraine, but belonging to the parish of Greux and the castellany of Vaucouleurs, subject to French sovereignty. Joan, according to the testimonies of the time, was a very devout and charitable girl; despite her young age she visited and comforted the sick and it was not unusual for her to offer her own bed to the homeless to sleep on the ground herself, under the cover of the fireplace.
At the age of thirteen she began to hear “heavenly voices” often accompanied by a glow and visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, as she would later claim. The first time these “voices” appeared to her, according to her own account given during her trial for heresy in Rouen in 1431, Joan was in the garden of her father”s house; it was midday one summer day: although surprised and frightened by this experience, Joan decided to consecrate herself entirely to God by taking a vow of chastity “for as long as it pleased God”.
In the summer of 1428, because of the Hundred Years” War that opposed the kingdom of France to the kingdom of England and to Burgundy, his family fled from the valley of the Meuse towards Neufchâteau, to escape the devastation caused by the troops of Antoine de Vergy, captain of Burgundy. The year 1429 had just begun when the English were about to completely occupy Orleans, which had been under siege since October 1428: the city, on the northern side of the Loire, because of its geographical position and economic role, had a strategic value as a way of access to the southern regions; for Joan, who would become an emblematic figure in the history of France, that was the moment – urged by the “voices” she said she heard – to rush to the aid of Charles, Dauphin of France, in the war for the throne against the English and their Burgundian allies.
As Joan herself declared under interrogation, at first she kept the strictest secrecy about these supernatural apparitions, which at first spoke to her about her private life and only later on would push her to leave her home to lead the French army. However, her parents must have sensed something of the change that was taking place in the girl, perhaps alerted by some confidences that Joan herself had let slip, as a friend of Domrémy would remember many years later, and they had decided to give her in marriage to a young man of Toul. Joan refused the proposal of marriage and her fiancé sued her before the Episcopal tribunal; after listening to both parties, the tribunal gave reason to Joan, since the engagement had taken place without her consent.
Having won the resistance of her parents, the girl had again freedom of action and could devote herself to her mission. The first stage of her journey brought her to Vaucouleurs where, with the support of her uncle Durand Laxart, she managed to meet the captain of the fortress, Robert de Baudricourt. He, at the first meeting, on May 13, 1428, mocked her and sent her back home as a poor fool. Not at all demoralized by her failure, Joan went twice more to the captain of Vaucouleurs and he, maybe pushed by the consensus that Joan was able to gather both among the people and among his men, changed his opinion about her, until he convinced himself (not before having subjected her to a sort of exorcism by a local priest, Jean Fournier) of her good faith and entrusted her with an escort to accompany her to the king, as the girl asked.
Joan”s journey from Vaucouleurs to Chinon to meet the “gentle Dauphin”, to use her own words, aroused no small interest in itself. Unraveling between the always uncertain and blurred borders between French and Anglo-Bourgeois villages for eleven days, bringing with them the promise of a supernatural help that would have been able to overturn the destiny of the war, by now apparently marked, the small group represented the last hope for the party that still supported the “king of Bourges”, as Charles VII was contemptuously called by his detractors. Jean d”Orléans sent two of his trusted men to Chinon, where the Maid had arrived after having passed through Gien, to gather information, and the entire country awaited her deeds.
Meeting the dolphin
Without even informing her parents, Joan left Vaucouleurs on February 22, 1429, bound for Chinon, accompanied by a squad led by a royal courier, Colet de Vienne, and composed of Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy, Robert de Baudricourt”s trusted men, each followed by his own servant, and Richard Larcher, also a soldier in the service of the captain of Vaucouleurs. The small dragoon travelled a not easy way among disputed territories, reaching the castle of Chinon at the beginning of March. The fact of being escorted by the men of a captain loyal to the Dauphin probably played a big role in favor of the meeting with the latter.
Presenting herself to Charles, after two days of waiting, in the great hall of the castle, during an imposing assembly and in the presence of about three hundred nobles, Joan approached him without delay and knelt down saying: “Most noble lord Dauphin”. Charles, pretending to be astonished, pointed at the Count of Clermont – who had dressed in royal clothes just to test the peasant girl – saying: “This is the king”. Joan continued undaunted to address Charles, affirming that “the King of France is the King of Heaven”, and that she had been sent by God to bring help to him and to his kingdom. However, the Dauphin, still not trusting her completely, subjected her to a first examination in matters of faith in Chinon itself, where the girl was heard by some well-known clergymen, including the Bishop of Castres, confessor of Charles himself.
Having learned the reports of the ecclesiastics, he sent her to Poitiers. Here Joan underwent a second, more thorough examination, which lasted about three weeks: she was questioned by a group of theologians partly coming from the young University of Poitiers, born in 1422, as well as by the Chancellor of France, and Archbishop of Reims, Regnault de Chartres. Only when the young girl had passed this test, Charles, convinced, decided to entrust her with an intendant, Jean d”Aulon, as well as with the task of “accompanying” a military expedition – even though he did not hold any official position – in rescue of Orleans besieged and defended by Jean d”Orléans, thus putting in his hands, in fact, the fate of France.
Joan therefore began the reform of the army dragging with his example the French troops and imposing a strict lifestyle and almost monastic: he did away with prostitutes who followed the army, banned any violence or looting, forbade that the soldiers blasphemed, imposed them to confess and made them gather around his banner around the army in prayer twice a day, at the call of his confessor, Jean Pasquerel. The first effect was to establish a relationship of mutual trust between the civilian population and its defenders who, however, had the inveterate habit of turning from soldiers into brigands when they were not engaged in warfare. Soldiers and captains, infected by the charisma of the young woman, supported by the population of Orleans, prepared for the uprising.
The siege of Orleans
Although she had not been formally entrusted with any military position, Joan soon became a central figure in the French armies: dressed as a soldier, holding a sword and a white banner with God blessing the French cornflower and at her sides the archangels Michael and Gabriel, now commonly known as Jeanne la Pucelle or Joan the Maiden (as the “rumors” had called her) she gathered a large number of volunteers from all over the kingdom and led the troops into battle against the English. These, on October 12, 1428, had come to lay siege to Orleans, the keystone of the Loire Valley in central France. If the city had fallen, the entire southern Loire would have been taken; Chinon itself, the seat of Charles” court, was not far away.
Orléans was encircled by the English, who had captured, built, or fortified eleven outposts around the city, from which they held the siege: le Tourelles (at the southern end of the bridge over the Loire), the bastia of Champ Saint-Privé, the fortifications of the Augustins, of Saint-Jean-le-Blanc (on the southern bank of the Loire), the bastias of Saint-Laurent, of the Croix-Boissée, of Saint-Loup, the three known as “Londre,” “Rouen,” and “Paris” (on the northern bank of the Loire), and finally the bastia of Charlemagne (on the island of the same name).
In this way, river communications were blocked downstream of the city by three bastions (Saint-Laurent and Champ Saint-Privé, located almost opposite each other on the opposite banks of the Loire, at the height of Charlemagne Island, where the third prevented an otherwise easy crossing of the river); Moreover, the construction, in March 1429, of the bastion of Saint-Loup to the east of the city, on the right bank, in order to control the Roman road to Autun, announced the will to prevent any navigation on the Loire upstream.
The northern side of the bridge over the Loire terminated in the fortress of the Châtelet, still in French hands, and culminated in the middle in the fortified island known as “Belle-Croix,” from which the defenders were within range of the enemy”s fire and voice, barricaded in the Tourelles. Every attempt to break the stranglehold that was tightening more and more around the city had failed. On February 12, 1429, after four months of siege, Jean d”Orléans had attempted a sortie that ended in defeat at the Battle of the Herrings; worse still, on the 18th of the same month, the Count of Clermont abandoned Orléans along with his troops, and so did other captains.
Defended by an increasingly thin garrison, exhausted by the shortage of provisions, the population convinced Jean to let a delegation led by Jean Poton de Xaintrailles reach the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, to ask for an end to hostilities, even if this would mean the passage of the city to Burgundy without blow. The duke, interested in the offer, submitted it to the English allies, who rejected it: Orleans was obviously too important for them to delegate control to the Burgundians. On April 17 the delegation led by Xaintrailles was back. The only effect, moreover marginal, was that the Burgundian soldiers were recalled, a measure more than anything else symbolic since almost all the besieging troops were English. The situation of the city remained critical.
However, the besieged had managed to keep free the Burgundy gate, on the eastern side of the city walls, and when Joan left Blois on 27 April and arrived on the southern bank, riding a white steed and preceded by a long procession of priests singing the Veni Creator, in front of the small village of Chécy, on 29 April, she found Jean d”Orléans waiting for her, who asked her to enter the city by that route while his men were performing diversionary manoeuvres; The rescue army, prepared by the king with the help of the Gascon captain La Hire, and the foodstuffs – necessary to feed the exhausted population – that the Maid brought to the city, would have waited instead to be ferried across the river as soon as the wind had become favorable.
The meeting between the young commander and Jeanne was stormy; before the decision to wait for the wind to turn so as to allow the entry of supplies and men, Jeanne harshly reproached the man of war, claiming that his task would have been to lead her and the army directly into battle. Jean didn”t even have time to reply because almost immediately the wind changed direction and became favorable to the transit on the Loira, allowing the entrance by water of the provisions that Joan had brought with her, while the army corps – about 6500 men.
That evening Joan, whose arrival had been feverishly awaited since the beginning of March, entered the city amidst a cheering crowd, and went to the house that had been destined to her, with the treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, Jacques Boucher. The following day, April 30th, Joan, who on the way to Orléans had been unexpectedly joined by two of her brothers, John and Peter, who had joined the soldiers, went to Jean d”Orléans, receiving the order to refrain from any action of war until the arrival of the royal army. Filled with impatience, the girl went to the bastion of “Belle-Croix” so that she could address the English garrison in the Tourelles, ordering them to surrender. The English responded by insulting her, shouting at her to go back to watching the cows and threatening to burn her if they took her prisoner.
The next day Jean d”Orléans left to reach the rest of the army, camped in Blois. Here he found the army almost dispersed; the chancellor Regnault de Chartres, archbishop of Reims, always hostile to the projects of the Maid and to her alleged supernatural revelations, did not want to proceed further. Jean threatened to arrest the captains if they did not set out immediately and had, on the other hand, to beg the archbishop to continue on to the besieged city. Finally, on the morning of May 4, the army finally reached Orleans; waiting for it outside the walls were Jeanne and La Hire who, at the head of a handful of soldiers, protected the entrance to the city.
In the meantime Jeanne, who remained in Orleans, went to inspect the enemy fortifications; the people followed her everywhere, outside the walls as well as in the religious processions, so close was the bond that had been created in a short time between the girl and the population. After the army was safe within the walls, Jean d”Orléans, immediately after lunch, went to Joan bringing her the news that Captain John Fastolf was approaching with a large armed contingent. The girl, happy perhaps because for the first time a captain was telling her about his military plans, warned him with a pungent spirit to inform her as soon as Fastolf was near, otherwise she would have his head cut off: Jean accepted the joke and agreed to the request.
That same evening Joan went to bed, but a short time later she rushed down to her page”s room and woke him up reproaching him: “the blood of France is dripping and you don”t warn me!”; then, she quickly armed herself, got on her horse, took her banner through a window of the house and galloped towards the Burgundy gate. An attack on the bastia of Saint-Loup was in progress; the French soldiers, wounded, were falling back, but at the sight of him they regained their spirits and turned again to the assault. Finally Jean d”Orléans arrived, he too unaware of the manoeuvre, and the bastion was conquered and set on fire. Many English disguised themselves as priests to try to escape. Joan understood, took them under her protection, and prevented them from being harmed. At her first battle, Joan wept seeing how much death followed victory.
The next day, May 5, festivity of the Ascension, Joan wanted to make a last warning to the English, so that they would abandon the siege, if they did not want to suffer a defeat that would be remembered for centuries. However, since the besiegers held back, against the right of war, one of her heralds, she instructed an archer to wrap the letter around an arrow and to shoot it into the English camp, accompanying the launch with the cry: “Read! It”s news!” When the soldiers had read the missive, however, they only replied, “It”s news of the Armagnacs” whore!” Later, Jean d”Orléans, the captains, and Joan held a council of war to decide the next steps.
Not all, moreover, willingly accepted to take orders from the Maid, nor did they like her frank tone; the sire of Gamaches had blatantly made an act of rendering the sword to Jean d”Orléans, who, kindly but firmly, had persuaded him to desist from his intentions and to apologize to her. On May 6 the army left the walls by the Burgundy gate, the eastern side being now sufficiently safe after the taking of Saint-Loup; it crossed by a bridge of boats the Loire, leaning on the island of Toiles, until it reached the southern shore. Here he found the fortification of Saint-Jean-le-Blanc abandoned; the English had gathered in that of the Augustins from which they enjoyed a favorable position. The French began to retreat but, when Joan and La Hire saw the enemies come out of their positions and strike the soldiers, they turned and counterattacked; in a short time the whole army followed them: the English were overwhelmed and those who could took refuge in the Tourelles, at the end of the bridge.
In this battle Joan received her first wound, caused by a chausse-trape, an iron with many points of which the ground of the clash had been disseminated. In the evening the army encamped in sight of the Tourelles and the citizens of Orléans during the whole night supplied it with provisions. The next day, May 7, at dawn, Joan listened to mass as usual, then armed herself and led the army to the reconquest of the bridge and the Tourelles. The assault was violent, the French hit the bastions with artillery and tried to climb them. In the melee, trying to lean a ladder against the wall, Joan was pierced by an arrow. The wound, deep and painful, between the neck and the scapula, forced the men to drag her away from the battle.
A soldier suggested that she apply a “spell” to stop the bleeding, but Joan refused, and was medicated with lard and olive oil. In the evening Jean d”Orléans was about to sound the retreat, for the sun was setting and the men were exhausted. Jeanne approached him and asked him to wait; for the soldiers to rest, eat, drink, but that no one leave. She retired to pray in a vineyard for a few minutes, when she returned she saw her banner waving near the Tourelles, in the hands of a soldier to whom her attendant, Jean d”Aulon, had entrusted it without her knowledge. He rode up to the bridge and took it from his hands. The soldiers interpreted that gesture as a signal and launched a furious assault.
In the meantime, from the north bank of the bridge, the Orléans had thrown a gutter over a destroyed arch, and after a knight of Rhodes, fully armed, had crossed it, the others followed him and threw themselves into the attack. The English fled and some, like the commander of the garrison, William Glasdale, fell into the Loire and drowned. The Tourelles had been taken and two hundred men taken prisoner. In the evening, Joan, wounded, tired, and moved, re-entered the city across the bridge. The people welcomed the army with “a great transport of joy and emotion”, as Jean d”Orléans would later recall. The following day, 8 May 1429, the besieging army demolished its bastions, abandoning its prisoners, and prepared to give battle in the open field.
Joan, Jean d”Orléans and the other captains also deployed their forces and for an hour the two armies faced each other; finally the English withdrew and Joan ordered the French not to pursue them, both because it was Sunday and because they were going away of their own free will. Joan and the army, before going back inside the walls, together with the people attended a mass in the open air, still in sight of the enemy. The success was fundamental for the destiny of the war, because it prevented the Anglo-Bourgeois from occupying the whole southern part of the country and marching towards the south faithful to Charles, it re-established the communications between the two banks of the Loire and, moreover, it started an advance in the valley of the Loire culminated in the battle of Patay.
The countryside of the Loire
After only two or three days from the liberation of Orléans, Joan and Jean d”Orléans set out to meet the Dauphin in Tours, following the royal army as far as Loches; in fact, although the popular enthusiasm had been kindled in a single instant, as had the interest of the rulers including the Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg, the risk was that it would be extinguished with equal ease, leaving only the memory of the deeds to the poems of Christine de Pizan or Alain Chartier. The court was divided and many nobles, tempted to take personal advantage of the unexpected victory, delayed or suggested war objectives of secondary interest compared to the path that Joan had traced along the Loire valley to Reims. Jean d”Orléans, with his long military experience, had to exert all his influence on the Dauphin before he finally decided to organize an expedition to Rheims.
The command of the royal army, once again gathered near Orléans, was entrusted on June 9, 1429 to Duke John II d”Alençon, prince of blood, who was immediately joined by the companies of Jean d”Orléans and Florent d”Illiers of Châteaudun. The army, strong of 1200 lances, that is almost 4000 men, reached Jargeau the 11 of the same month; here it was again Jeanne to resolve a council of war with impetuosity, exhorting to attack without hesitation. At their arrival the French were intending to camp in the suburbs of the city but they were almost overwhelmed by an English offensive; Joan led her own company to the counterattack and the army was able to quarter.
The following day, thanks to a diversion improvised by Jean d”Orléans, the unguarded walls were conquered and so was the city itself. During the hostilities Jeanne, with the standard in her fist, incited the men who gave the assault; she was wounded again, this time hit to the head by a heavy rock; however the Maiden, fallen to the ground, was immediately surprisingly able to get up again. On June 14 the French army, just returned to Orleans, left for an offensive on Meung-sur-Loire.
With a lightning attack on June 15 was taken the bridge over the Loira and placed a garrison on the same; the army then passed over, to camp in front of Beaugency. The English withdrew in the castle, trying to maintain at least the control of the bridge, but they were reached by a heavy artillery assault. In fact, in the English camp the reinforcing army corps commanded by Sir John Fastolf, one of the most famous captains, was mainly awaited. It had even freed itself from the burden of supplies and now proceeded at forced marches.
Almost at the same time, however, the French army acquired a new, and in some ways uncomfortable, ally: Constable Arthur of Richemont, on whom weighed the ban from the lands of the Dauphin for ancient disputes, at the head of his Bretons. The reactions within the army were mostly hostile to the constable; the Duke of Alençon refused to give the command of the royal army to Richemont, who would have had the right to do so, as Constable of France, without even informing the Dauphin (and possibly waiting for his decisions) but without even consulting with the other captains or, at least, with Jean d”Orléans, still a cousin of the sovereign.
Joan, on her own account, more attentive to the needs of the army and at the same time, in her candor, heedless of the rancors and internal struggles that divided the nobility, asked the Constable if he was ready to help them honestly; in other words, to offer his word and his sword to the Valois. Having received full assurance from Richemont, Joan did not hesitate, on her own initiative, to admit him into the army. From that moment on, the Constable proved his loyalty to Charles; however, the acceptance of this disgraced man into the army compromised her trust. Someone probably pointed this out to her, but Joan simply answered that she needed reinforcements.
This was certainly true. The castle of Beaugency, seeing the company of Bretons arrive, finally decided to surrender. The English negotiated the surrender against a safe-conduct that allowed them to leave the city on the morning of June 17. With the light-heartedness and desire for peace that were her own and with the impetus of youth, Joan had exposed herself in favor of a man in disgrace, putting at risk her credit with the court. The French army set out once again; in the vanguard, the companies of Jean d”Orléans and Jean Poton de Xaintrailles, followed by the main army corps, commanded by La Hire, a captain of fortune and brigand who had already participated in the siege of Orléans but who had now espoused the cause of the Maid body and soul; in the rearguard, the Lord of Graville and, this time, Joan herself.
In the evening of the 17th of June, the army was blocked by the English army, lined up in battle array in an open field. Two English heralds were sent to launch the challenge to the royal army, positioned on top of a low hill. However, mindful of past defeats, the Duke of Alençon hesitated to accept the confrontation. It was Joan who, arriving from the rear, gave an answer to the enemy, inviting him to retire to his quarters, given the late hour, and postponing the battle to the next day. That night, while an uncertain Duke of Alençon asked for comfort to Joan, who reassured him both of the victory and of the relative ease with which it would have been achieved, the English army, under the orders of the Earl of Shrewsbury John Talbot, repositioned itself in order to surprise the enemies in a bottleneck, in which the French would have had to pass. However, things turned out differently.
On the 18th of June 1429 a deer crossed the English camp, encamped near Patay, and the soldiers, shouting a loud cry, went in pursuit of it; the French scouts, who were at a short distance, were then able to indicate with rapidity and precision the position of the enemy to the captains, who did not let the opportunity slip away. The vanguard of the army, which was also joined by the companies of La Hire and Joan herself, suddenly attacked the camp, before the English had a chance to erect the usual barrier of pointed logs in front of them, which usually prevented the cavalry from overwhelming them and gave the archers the opportunity to make massacres among the ranks of the enemy. Without this protection, in the open field, the English vanguard was crushed by the French heavy cavalry.
After this first fortuitous event, an incredible chain of mistakes, misunderstandings and wrong tactics left the English army in total confusion. At first, some contingents tried to rejoin in a hurry the main army corps, led by Count Talbot; but this made the captain of the vanguard believe that they were defeated, so he himself, accompanied by the standard bearer, gave himself up to a disorderly flight, which was soon joined by the other companies placed in defense of the main army corps, leaving the bulk of the army exposed to French attacks without any further protection.
Arriving, Sir John Fastolf realized the danger and took the decision to retreat, instead of helping Talbot, saving at least his army corps. For the English it was a complete defeat as much as completely unexpected; in what would have been remembered as the battle of Patay they left on the field more than 2.000 men, while on the French side there were only three dead and some wounded. The echoes of the battle reached Paris, in the belief that an attack on the city was imminent; in the opposite camp the fame of Joan the Maiden grew enormously, at least as much as her importance in the French ranks.
The battle of Patay was also a way for Joan to confront, once again, with the hard reality of war: if she used to pray for the fallen soldiers on both sides, here, after a victory in the open field, she saw “her” soldiers abandon themselves to every brutality (moreover, they were no longer held by the guide of Jean d”Orléans, who had made the iron discipline imposed by the Maid reign in the army, but entrusted to the command of the Duke of Alençon). In front of an English prisoner who was so violently hit that he fell to the ground, Joan got off her horse and held him in her arms, consoling him and helping him to confess until death came.
The consecration of the King at Reims
After Patay, many towns and minor strongholds, starting with Janville, voluntarily surrendered to the French army. While the royal army returned, victorious, to Orleans, the king lingered, however, in Sully-sur-Loire, probably to avoid an embarrassing meeting with Richemont. Joan, the Jean d”Orléans and the Duke d”Alençon rode quickly to the Dauphin, getting, despite the recent and striking success, a cold reception. The contrast between the colors of the festive city, which had already seen her triumphant and now acclaimed her, and the gloomy, glassy mood of the court, must have created a harsh dissonance in the soul of Joan who, however, tirelessly, did not cease to reassure and exhort the “gentle Dauphin” so that he went to Reims.
In the following days, the Maid rode at the side of the sovereign until Châteauneuf-sur-Loire, where on June 22 the council would have been held on how to continue the military campaign. Here it took place, once again, the confrontation between those who advised prudence and waiting or, in the most daring hypothesis, the use of the army to consolidate the position reached, and the majority of the captains, less influential at the court but who had experienced the formidable potential at their disposal. The army was not only strong with 12,000 soldiers, but also with their enthusiasm and loyalty, and, for the first time in a long time, it could also count on popular support, so much so that new volunteers were added every day.
Finally, the insistence of the Maid, impatient and dominated by the recurring thought of the Consecration, that the army march resolutely on Reims, was granted. On June 29, 1429, near Gien, the “army of the Consecration”, commanded at least nominally by the Dauphin himself, marched into Burgundian territory. Along the way, the first city in enemy hands that the royal army encountered was Auxerre which, when ordered to surrender, replied, through the voice of the bourgeois, that it would only grant its obedience if Troyes, Châlons and Reims itself did so; the war council decided to accept.
Preceded by a letter from Joan, the army arrived in front of Troyes, the very place where the Dauphin had been ousted from the succession to the throne. The large garrison of English and Burgundians in Troyes refused to surrender and prepared for battle; moreover, food and supplies were beginning to run out in the French camp. The council of the captains of war, reunited in front of the Dauphin, seemed inclined to interrupt the expedition or, at the most, to reach Reims leaving behind Troyes still in Anglo-Burgundian hands. Joan, at the limit of her patience, dared to knock at the doors of the council, being received with skepticism; in front of the difficulties that were presented to her, she objected that the city would have been taken without any doubt and, when she asked to be granted only two or three days, she was granted them. With no time in between, the Maiden had the army lined up in battle array and, threateningly, the artillery, which laboriously advanced until it was within range of the walls, waving its banner in the wind.
The citizens were panicked, as was the garrison. The deployment of forces that Joan was preparing was impressive. In short, messengers were sent to the French camp: Troyes surrendered and recognized Charles as its sovereign. The English and Burgundian troops obtained to leave the city with what they had and also with their prisoners, but Joan opposed: she asked that they were freed and Charles paid their ransom. On July 10 Joan the Maiden entered in Troyes with her own company and, in a few hours, Charles made his triumphal entrance in the city: without a blow, the biggest obstacle between the army and Reims had fallen.
The “Army of the Consecration”, still under the impulse of the Maiden, quickly resumed the road to Reims. It headed first towards Châlons, where it was met by the bishop of the city accompanied by a delegation of citizens who made an act of full obedience to Charles, on July 14; then, towards Sept-Saulx, where the inhabitants had forced the Anglo-Burgundian garrison to abandon the city. On the way, Joan had the joy of meeting some inhabitants of her native village, Domrémy, who had faced a difficult journey to attend the solemn consecration of the king, as well as a multitude of people from the most diverse parts of France, and of re-embracing her father, reconciling with her parents for that secret departure to Vaucouleurs only a few months before. Meanwhile, on July 16, the Dauphin received in the castle of Sept-Saulx a delegation of bourgeois of Reims who offered the total obedience of the city.
The same day, the army made its entrance and preparations were made for the ceremony of the consecration of the king. On July 17, 1429, after having spent the night in vigil of prayer, the Dauphin made his entrance into the Cathedral of Reims, in the midst of a festive crowd, together with the “hostages” of the Holy Ampulla, four knights charged with escorting the relic that had been used since the time of Clovis I to consecrate and crown the King of France; he then pronounced the prescribed oaths before the officiating Archbishop Regnault de Chartres. On the one hand, six “ecclesiastical peers” were present, on the other hand, six “lay peers”, exponents of the nobility – replacing the “peers of France”, who were absent – among whom, representing his imprisoned half-brother, Jean d”Orléans.
In front of all the other banners, however, just a step away from the altar, the white one of the Maiden had been placed, and Joan herself attended the ceremony very close to the king; finally the sovereign, anointed with the chrism, was dressed with the ritual vestments and received the crown, taking the name of Charles VII. While the “lay peers” announced the consecration to the people and the festivities began in the streets of the city, Joan threw herself before Charles, embracing his knees, weeping, and exclaiming, “O gentle King, now God”s will is accomplished, who wanted me to lead you to Reims to receive the Consecration, proving that you are the true king, and the one to whom the Kingdom of France must belong!”
After that day, which had represented the apex of the enterprises of which Joan felt invested, the girl felt enveloped by an aura of discouragement that would not leave her until the day of her capture. After the joy of having seen “her” king consecrated, after having reconciled with her parents who had opposed her departure and now looked at her in wonder and emotion, she felt that her task was over. Feeling the full weight of the mission she had taken on, she confided to Jean d”Orléans that she would have gladly, by now, left her arms to return to her father”s house and that if she had to choose a place to die it would have been among those peasants who had followed her, simple and enthusiastic.
Other military campaigns
After the Consecration, Charles VII stayed for three days in Reims, surrounded by the enthusiasm of the people; finally, accompanied by his army, he resumed his journey when the echoes of that apparently impossible undertaking had already spread throughout the country. He entered Soissons and Château-Thierry, while Laon, Provins, Compiègne and other cities made an act of obedience to the King. The royal army found the road cleared before it. Joan rode together with Jean d”Orléans and La Hire, assigned to one of the “battle corps” of the royal army.
While the success was coming to Joan”s project, the envies and jealousies of the court resurfaced. On the very day of the Consecration, among the absences, the Constable Richemont stood out, who should have symbolically held the sword during the ceremony but who, still in disgrace, had to give up the task to Sire d”Albret. Moreover, the rift between the nobles who supported Joan and would have wanted to head towards Saint-Denis to then reconquer Paris itself and those who, in the sudden rise of the sovereign, saw an opportunity to increase their personal power, especially if they had been given the necessary time and if relations with Burgundy had improved, was getting deeper and deeper.
Among the latter, besides La Trémoïlle, the king”s favorite and Richemont”s bitter rival, there were many members of the Royal Council; taking time, delaying, acquiring power and influence were objectives diametrically opposed to those of the Maid, whose aim had always been only one, victory, and whose rapidity of action now hindered the plans of the faction closest to La Trémoïlle. In the meantime, the army, which had left Crépy-en-Valois on August 15, 1429, was confronted by the English army, which was deployed in battle formation near Montépilloy; this time, the English had carefully prepared the hedge of pegs that would have prevented any frontal charge of the cavalry and were waiting for the French to arrive; the latter were unable to move the enemy from his positions, despite the efforts of Joan, who tried in vain to engage him in battle, to the point of striking the enemy”s palisade with her sword, in order to give the other units a chance to intervene.
After an exhausting day, among the wind and the dust, the English withdrew towards Paris. The French army returned to Crépy, then reached first Compiègne and, from there, Saint-Denis, place of the royal burials. Here, by order of Charles VII, began the dissolution of the “army of the Consecration”, waiting for the negotiations with Burgundy that, beyond a truce of fifteen days, never arrived to that “good stable peace” that Joan hoped for. Jean d”Orléans and his company were dismissed and sent back to Blois.
The attitude of the court towards the Maid had undoubtedly changed; in Saint-Denis Joan must have felt the difference, and her “voices” advised her, in those circumstances, not to proceed further. This time, however, her words were received as those of one of the many captains of war at the service of the crown; the aura of enthusiasm that surrounded her was diminishing, at least among the nobility. Next to Joan, for the moment, remained the Duke of Alençon and La Hire. The king and the court, in fact, instead of taking advantage of the propitious moment to march on Paris, had begun a series of negotiations with the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, to whom the English had entrusted the custody of the capital, renouncing to use the military resources at their disposal.
On August 21, in Compiègne, a city defended by William of Flavy, the lines of a longer truce began to take shape. Indeed, the English simply had no more financial resources to sustain the war. Nevertheless, the truce with the Anglo-Burgundian power did not seem to take into account the weakness of the other party and was conducted, on the French side, in such a way as to ensure, in fact, a pause in the hostilities without obtaining significant advantages in return. Joan and the other captains, in the meantime, settled near the walls of Paris; the duke of Alençon maintained contact with the court, unaware of the negotiations in course, finally convincing Charles VII to reach Saint-Denis.
On September 8, 1429, the captains decided to storm Paris and Joan agreed to the offensive, tired of continuous postponements. Leaving the camp of La Chapelle, halfway between Saint-Denis and Paris, the army stormed the Saint-Honoré gate with artillery fire, until the defenders of the walkway above it retreated inside; While D”Alençon commanded the troops to defend the artillery, Joan went with her company to the city walls, surrounded by a first and a second moat; the second moat was flooded and here the Maiden had to stop, measuring the depth of the water with her lance. Suddenly she was wounded by an arrow that went through her thigh, but she did not want to leave her position, ordering to throw bundles and other material to fill the moat; she retreated to the shelter of the first moat until evening, when the retreat was commanded. The Duke of Alençon caught up with her and had her forcibly dragged away while, defeated, the army retreated back to the camp at La Chapelle.
The following day, despite her wound, Joan prepared for a new assault, when she and the Duke of Alençon were joined by two emissaries, the Duke of Bar and the Count of Clermont, who ordered her by order of the king to stop the offensive and return to Saint-Denis. Joan obeyed. Probably reprimanded for this failure due to an initiative that was not her own, but essentially decided by the captains who acted in the name of the king, Joan the Maiden finally returned to the banks of the Loire, after having solemnly placed her armour on the altar of the church of Saint-Denis.
On September 21, 1429, in Gien, the King disbanded the army of the Consecration. Joan, separated from the troops and the Duke of Alençon, was reduced to inaction; entrusted to the Sire d”Albret she was taken to Bourges, guest of Marguerite de Tourolde, wife of a counsellor of the king, where she remained three weeks. Charles VII, finally, ordered Joan to accompany an expedition against Perrinet Gressart, Anglo-Burgundian commander; the expeditionary corps, formally commanded by Sire d”Albret, laid siege to Saint-Pierre-le-Moûtier. On November 4, the city was stormed but the army was repeatedly repulsed; finally, the retreat was sounded.
Jeanne instead remained under the walls with few soldiers; when her attendant, Jean d”Aulon, asked her why she did not go back with the others, she answered that she had fifty thousand men around her, while in reality he saw only four or five. Having regained courage, the army turned again to attack, crossed the moat and took the city. The army then moved towards La Charité-sur-Loire and began at the end of November an exhausting siege that lasted for about four weeks, at the end of which had to withdraw, leaving on the field even the best pieces of artillery. Joan returned to court, at the king, spending the time mainly in Sully-sur-Loire after spending Christmas in Jargeau.
The dark winter spent by Joan first at Mehun-sur-Yèvre and then at Sully-sur-Loire, at the court and the king, was characterized by inaction and by the acute awareness that Burgundy was intensifying diplomatic and military relations with the English crown. Charles VII ennobled Joan and her family, giving her a heraldic coat of arms (two golden lilies on an azure field and a sword surmounted by a crown) and the privilege to transmit the title of nobility through the female line, but always refusing to comply with the requests of the girl to be allowed to take up arms again. Joan, already separated from the Duke of Alençon, was more and more lonely, but she came back to Orleans, where she was welcomed by Jean, “kind and faithful”, on the occasion of a banquet in her honor. On March 16, she finally sent a letter to the inhabitants of Reims, who feared to be surrounded by siege, in which she announced that she was ready to take up arms again.
Tired of the forced inactivity, Joan left the court of Charles VII between March and April 1430, engaging again in sporadic fighting with the Anglo-Burgundians. The Maiden was at the head of a contingent partly made up of volunteers and partly of mercenaries, among whom were two hundred Piedmontese under the orders of Bartolomeo Baretta; under her command was Arnaud Guillaume de Barbazan, a famous captain who had always been under the orders of Charles VII who, as soon as he was freed (by the hand of La Hire) from his English captivity, had met Joan in February 1430. Passing through Melun, Joan finally reached Compiègne on May 6th 1430, defended by William of Flavy; the city was besieged by the Anglo-Burgundian troops, and Joan began a series of striking sorties but with little result. At Montargis, Jean d”Orléans was reached by the news of the new Burgundian offensive and set out to ask the king for the command of an army corps; he obtained it, but too late to bring help to Joan under the walls of Compiègne.
On May 23, 1430 Joan attempted a surprise attack against the city of Margny, where she found a stronger resistance than expected; after having been repulsed three times, seeing other reinforcements arriving to the enemy from the nearby positions, she commanded the retreat to the shelter of the walls of Compiègne. At a certain point the governor of the city, William of Flavy, gave order to close the doors of the walls despite the last companies had not yet returned; order that, according to some, would be a proof of his betrayal, as he had secretly agreed with the enemy to make possible the capture of the Maid.
According to other historians, however, although this eventuality is possible, it is not demonstrable. In any case, while the army was returning to the city, Joan, who was protecting the retreat, surrounded by a few men of her company, was belted and dragged from her horse, having to surrender to Jean of Wamdonne fighting under the orders of John of Ligny, vassal of the Duke of Burgundy, but in the service of the King of England.
Taken prisoner together with her steward, Jean d”Aulon, and her brother Peter, Joan was first taken to the fortress of Clairoix, then, after a few days, to the castle of Beaulieu-les-Fontaines where she remained until July 10th, and finally to the castle of Beaurevoir. Here, Joan was treated as a prisoner of high rank and, finally, she succeeded in conquering the sympathy of three ladies of the castle who, strangely enough, had the same name as her: Jeanne de Béthune, wife of Jean de Luxembourg, her first daughter Jeanne de Bar and finally Jeanne de Luxembourg, aunt of the powerful vassal, who came to the point of threatening to disinherit him if the Maid was delivered to the English. In the same way, Joan would have remembered with affection these three women during the interrogations, putting them on a level of respect immediately lower than that due only to her queen.
However, after the death of Jeanne de Luxembourg on September 18, 1430, Joan”s worst fear came true; After four months of imprisonment in the castle of Beaurevoir, the bishop of Beauvais, Pietro Cauchon, in whose diocese the capture had taken place, presented himself to Jean de Luxemborg paying into his hands the rançon, the sum under which the Maid had been ransomed, on behalf of the king of England and, at the same time, claiming his right to judge her according to ecclesiastical law. The sum, ten thousand lire, was enormous, comparable to that required for a prince of royal blood, and to collect it, an increase in taxes had been decreed in Normandy, a province still in English hands.
The payment of the ransom of a prisoner had the purpose of giving him back his freedom; in this case, instead, Joan was sold to the English, to whom she was delivered on November 21, 1430 at Le Crotoy, as a prisoner of war, and transferred, between November and December, several times in different strongholds, maybe for fear of a coup d”état of the French aimed to free her. On December 23rd of the same year, six months after her capture under the walls of Compiègne, Joan finally arrived in Rouen.
After Joan”s capture, Charles VII did not offer a ransom for the prisoner, nor did he take official steps to negotiate her release. According to some, Joan, who had become too popular, was abandoned to her fate. According to others, instead, Charles VII would have secretly charged first La Hire, who was captured in a military action, and then Jean d”Orléans to free the prisoner during the transfers from one stronghold to another, as it would prove some documents attesting two “secret enterprises” near Rouen, one of which dated March 14, 1431 in which Jean d”Orléans charges the receipt of 3,000 lire for a mission beyond the Seine. In fact, the expeditions of Jean took place in April and May and in fact for two months all traces of him were lost.
Joan had already tried to escape from imprisonment both in Beaulieu-les-Fontaines, taking advantage of a distraction of the guards, and in the castle of Beaurevoir, tying a knot in the sheets to fall from a window and then letting herself fall to the ground; the first attempt was foiled by a whisker, the second one (caused by Joan”s preoccupation for a new Anglo-Bourgeois offensive, as well as, probably, by the feeling of being about to be handed over to other hands) resulted in a trauma, due to the fall, so strong to leave her stunned: When she was locked up again, Joan could neither eat nor drink for more than two days. The Maiden, however, recovered from her bruises and wounds.
The University of Paris, which considered itself repository of civil and ecclesiastical jurisprudence and which, deploying the best rhetorical weapons in favor of the English, since the moment of her capture had requested her surrender, as the young woman would have been “strongly suspected of numerous crimes in odor of heresy”, finally had her, at least formally, in custody: the prisoner was now locked up in the castle of Rouen, in English hands. Here the detention was very hard: Joan was locked up in a narrow cell of the castle, watched by five English soldiers, three inside the same cell, two outside, while a second patrol had been placed on the upper floor; the prisoner”s feet were locked in iron shackles and her hands were often tied; only to attend the hearings the shackles were removed from her feet, but at night they were firmly fixed so that the girl could not leave her bed.
There were many difficulties in setting up the trial: first, Joan was being held as a prisoner of war in a military prison and not in ecclesiastical prisons as with Inquisition trials; secondly, her capture had taken place on the fringes of the diocese governed by Cauchon (furthermore, the Inquisitor General of France, Jean Graverent, declared himself unavailable and the vicar of the Inquisition of Rouen, Jean Lemaistre, refused to participate in the trial for “the serenity of his own conscience” and because he did not consider himself competent for anything other than the diocese of Rouen; It was necessary to write again to the Inquisitor General of France to get Lemaistre to bow out, on February 22, when the hearings had already begun; Finally, Cauchon had sent three delegates, including the notary Nicolas Bailly, to Domrémy, Vaucouleurs and Toul to obtain information about Joan, without them finding the slightest foothold to formulate any charge; It would have been only from Joan”s answers to the interrogations that the judges, that is Peter Cauchon and Jean Lemaistre, and the forty-two assessors (chosen among theologians and ecclesiastics of reputation) would have put to her, that the Maid would have been judged, while the trial began without a clear and explicit charge against her.
The trial of Joan formally began on January 3, 1431. Cauchon, having obtained jurisdiction over Rouen (at that time a vacant archiepiscopal see), began the procedure by redefining the trial itself, which had at first been started “for witchcraft”, into one “for heresy”; he finally conferred the task of “procurator”, a sort of public accuser, on Jean d”Estivet, canon of Beauveais who had followed him to Rouen. The first public hearing was held on February 21, 1431 in the chapel of the Castle of Rouen. The imprisonment had not weakened Joan”s spirit; from the beginning of the audience, when she was asked to swear on any question, she demanded – and obtained – to limit her commitment to what concerned the faith. Moreover, when Cauchon asked her to recite the Lord”s Prayer, she replied that she would certainly do so, but only in confession, a subtle way of reminding him of his role as a clergyman.
The interrogation of Joan was convulsive, both because the defendant was continually interrupted and because some English secretaries transcribed her words omitting everything that was favourable to her, something that the notary Guillame Manchon complained about threatening to abstain from attending further; from the following day Joan was thus heard in a room of the castle guarded by two English guards. During the second hearing, Joan was questioned about her religious life, the apparitions, the “voices”, the events of Vaucouleurs, the assault on Paris on a day in which there was a religious solemnity; the Maiden answered that the assault took place on the initiative of the captains of war, while the “voices” had advised her not to go beyond Saint-Denis.
A not insignificant question posed that day, although at first it passed almost unnoticed, was the reason why the girl wore men”s clothes; to the answer suggested to her by those who were questioning her (i.e. if it had been a suggestion of Robert de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucouleurs), Joan, sensing the seriousness of such an assertion, answered: “I will not let such a heavy responsibility fall on others!” On this occasion Cauchon, perhaps touched by the request to be heard in confession made by the prisoner the previous day, did not question her personally, limiting himself to asking her, once again, to take the oath. During the third public hearing Joan answered with a vivacity unexpected in a prisoner, going so far as to admonish her judge, Cauchon, for the salvation of her soul.
The transcript of the minutes also reveals an unexpected humorous streak that the girl possessed in spite of the trial; when asked if she had any revelations that she would be able to escape from prison, she replied, “And I should come and tell you that?” The following interrogation, about Joan”s childhood, her games as a child, the Tree of Fairies, around which the children played, danced and intertwined garlands, did not bring anything relevant to the outcome of the trial, nor did it make Joan fall into statements that could make her suspected of witchcraft, as was perhaps the intention of her accusers. Of considerable importance, instead, was the presence, among the assessors of Nicolas Loiseleur”s jury, of a priest who had pretended to be a prisoner and had listened to Joan in confession while, as reported under oath by Guillame Manchon, several witnesses listened secretly to the conversation, in open violation of ecclesiastical norms.
In the three public hearings that followed, the difference in perspective between the judges and Joan became more pronounced; while the former were increasingly insistent as to why Joan wore men”s clothes, the girl seemed at ease talking about her “voices”, which she indicated came from the Archangel Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, a difference evident in the answer given about the brightness of the room in which she had first met the Dauphin: “fifty flashlights, not counting the spiritual light!” And again, despite her imprisonment and the pressure of the trial, the girl did not give up ironic answers; to a judge who had asked her if the Archangel Michael had hair, Joan replied, “For what reason would they have to cut it off?”
The interrogations behind closed doors
Starting from March 10, 1431 all the hearings of the trial were held behind closed doors, in Joan”s prison. The secrecy of the interrogations coincided with a more incisive inquisitorial procedure: the accused was asked if she did not think she had sinned by undertaking her journey against the advice of her parents; if she was able to describe the appearance of the angels; if she had attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the tower of the castle of Beaurevoir; what was the “sign” given to the Dauphin that would have convinced him to lend his faith to the girl; if she was certain she would no longer fall into mortal sin, that is, if she was sure she was in a state of Grace. Paradoxically, the more serious the accusations made against Joan, the more surprising were the answers.
Joan affirmed, about the disobedience to her parents, that “since it was God who asked me, even if I had had a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers, even if I had been born the daughter of a king, I would have left anyway”; about the appearance of the angels, she went far beyond what her accusers asked her, asserting naturally: “They often come among men without anyone seeing them; I myself have seen them many times among people”; about the presumed attempt to take her own life, she reiterated that her only intent was to escape; regarding the “sign” given to the Dauphin, Joan told that an angel had given the Dauphin a crown of great value, symbol of the divine will that guided her actions in order to make Charles regain the kingdom of France (represented by the crown), a metaphorical representation in line with the way of expressing herself at that time, especially regarding what was considered ineffable; Concerning sin and if she thought she was in a state of Grace, Joan answered “I submit myself in everything to Our Lord”, as she had answered a few days before during the public audiences: “If I am not, may God put me there; if I am, may God keep me there! “.
During the sixth and last interrogation, the inquisitors finally explained to Joan that there was a “triumphant Church” and a “militant Church”; the accused merely reaffirmed what she had already answered: “That God and the Church are one, seems clear to me. But you, why do you make so many quibbles?” The same contemporaries who were present at the interrogations, especially the more erudite ones, as testified by the doctor Jean Tiphaine, noted the shrewdness and wisdom with which Joan answered; at the same time she defended the truthfulness of her “voices”, recognized the authority of the Church, and entrusted herself completely to God, just as a few days later, when asked if she believed she had to submit to the Church, she would answer: “Yes, God served first”.
On March 27th and 28th the seventy articles that made up the accusation formulated by Jean d”Estivet were read to the accused. Many articles were obviously false or at least not supported by any testimony, least of all by the answers of the accused; among them it was stated that Joan had blasphemed, carried a mandrake, bewitched a standard, a sword and a ring giving them magical virtues; frequented fairies, worshipped evil spirits, traded with two “counsellors of the spring”, had her armour worshipped, made divinations. Others, such as the sixty-second article, could have been more insidious, in that they saw in Joan the desire to enter into direct contact with the divine, without the mediation of the Church, yet they passed almost unnoticed. Paradoxically, Joan”s habit of wearing men”s clothes became more and more important.
On the one hand there was the formal and literal application of the doctrine, which considered the male dress as a mark of infamy, and on the other hand Joan”s “mystical” vision, for which the dress was nothing compared to the spiritual world. On the 31st of March Joan was again interrogated in her prison and agreed to submit to the Church, as long as she was not asked to affirm that the “voices” did not come from God; that she would obey the Church as long as God was “served first”. Thus Easter, which that year fell on the first day of April, passed without Joan being able to hear Mass or receive Communion, despite her pleas.
The seventy articles in which the accusation against Joan the Maid consisted were condensed into twelve articles extracted from the formal act drawn up by Jean d”Estivet; such was the normal inquisitorial procedure. These twelve articles, according to which Joan was considered “idolater”, “invoker of devils” and “schismatic”, were submitted to the assessors and sent to theologians of clear fame; some approved them without reserve but there were several discordant voices: one of the assessors, Raoul le Sauvage, thought that the whole process should be sent to the Pontiff; the bishop of Avranches answered that there was nothing impossible in what Joan asserted. Some clerics of Rouen or arrived there considered Joan innocent or, at least, the trial illegitimate; among them Jean Lohier, who considered the trial illegal in form and substance, as the assessors were not free, the sessions were held behind closed doors, the subjects treated were too complex for a little girl and above all that the real reason of the trial was political, as through Joan it was intended to besmirch the name of Charles VII.
Because of his frank answers, which revealed the political purpose of the trial, Lohier had to leave Rouen in great haste. On April 16, 1431 Joan was struck by a serious illness accompanied by a violent fever that made people fear for her life, but she recovered within a few days. Three doctors were sent to her, among which Jean Tiphaine, personal doctor of the Duchess of Bedford, who was able to report that Joan felt sick after having eaten a fish sent by Cauchon, which raised the suspicion of an attempted poisoning, which was never proved. Two days later, however, Joan managed to sustain the “charitable admonition”, which was followed by a second one on May 2, without Joan giving in on anything, even though she recognized the authority of the Pontiff. Moreover, more than once she had appealed to the Pope, an appeal that had always been denied to her despite the obvious contradiction, since it was impossible to be a heretic and at the same time recognize the authority of the Pope.
On May 9, Joan was taken to the tower of the castle of Rouen, where she found herself before Cauchon, some assessors and Maugier Leparmentier, the executioner; threatened with torture, she denied nothing and refused to yield, even though she confessed her fear. The court finally decided not to resort to torture, probably for fear that the girl could withstand the test and perhaps also not to risk putting an indelible stain on the process. On May 23rd, in the presence of many members of the court, the twelve articles against Giovanna were read to her. Joan replied that she confirmed everything she had said during the trial and that she would support him to the end.
On May 24, 1431 Joan was taken from her prison to the cemetery of the church of Saint-Ouen, on the eastern edge of the city, where a platform had already been prepared for her, so that the population could see and hear her distinctly, and tribunes for the judges and assessors. Further down, the executioner waited in his chariot. In the presence of Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester and cardinal, the girl was admonished by the theologian Guillame Erard who, after a long sermon, asked Joan once again to abjure the crimes contained in the twelve articles of the accusation. Joan answered: “I submit myself to God and to Our Holy Father the Pope”, an answer that must have been suggested to her by Jean de La Fontaine, who, even in his capacity of councillor, had evidently considered it correct to inform the accused of her rights (moreover, the Dominicans Isambart de la Pierre and Martin Ladvenu, experts in the inquisitorial procedures, were with the girl.
As was the practice of the time, the appeal to the Pope should have interrupted the inquisitorial procedure and led to the translation of the accused before the Pontiff; however, in spite of the presence of a cardinal, Erard dismissed the matter claiming that the Pontiff was too far away, continuing to admonish Joan three times; finally Cauchon took the floor and began to read the sentence, when he was interrupted by Joan”s cry: “I accept everything that the judges and the Church will want to sentence!”
Joan was then given a declaration by the usher, Jean Massieu; although Massieu himself warned her of the danger she was in by signing it, the girl signed the document with a cross. In reality Joan, although illiterate, had learned to sign with her name, “Jehanne”, as it appears in the letters that have come down to us and indeed the Maiden had declared during the trial that she used to put a cross on a letter sent to a war captain when she wanted to signify that he should not do what she had written to him; it is probable that this sign had, in Joan”s mind, the same meaning, so much so that the girl drew it with an enigmatic laugh.
The abjuration Joan had signed was no longer than eight lines, in which she undertook not to take up arms again, nor to wear a man”s dress, nor short hair, while a document of abjuration of forty-four lines in Latin was put on record. The sentence passed was very harsh: Joan was condemned to life imprisonment in the ecclesiastical prisons, to “bread of pain” and “water of sadness”. Nevertheless, the girl would be supervised by women, no longer constrained by irons day and night and free from the torment of constant interrogations; however, she was surprised when Cauchon ordered her to be locked up in the same prison for prisoners of war that she had left in the morning.
This violation of the ecclesiastical norms was in all probability wanted by Cauchon himself for a precise purpose, to induce Joan to wear again the dress of a man to defend herself from the abuses of the soldiers. In fact, only the relapsed, that is, those who, having already abjured, fell into error, were destined to be burned at the stake. The English, however, convinced that Joan had already slipped out of their hands, not very used to the procedures of the Inquisition, exploded in a tumult and in the throwing of stones against Cauchon himself. Back in prison, Joan became the object of even greater anger on the part of her jailers; the Dominican Martin Ladvenu reports that Joan told him of an attempt to rape her by an Englishman who, failing, beat her with ferocity.
On the morning of Sunday May 27th, Joan asked to get up and an English soldier took away her women”s clothes and threw the men”s ones into her cell; despite the Maiden”s protests, she was not allowed to have any more. At midday, Joan was forced to surrender; Cauchon and the vice-inquisitor Lemaistre, together with some assessors, went the following day to the prison: Joan bravely affirmed that she had taken back the male dress on her own initiative, since she was among men and not, as her right, in an ecclesiastic prison, guarded by women, where she could hear mass.
When questioned again, she repeated that she firmly believed that the voices that appeared to her were those of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, that she was sent by God, that she had not understood a single word of the act of abjuration, and added: “God sent me to tell through the mouths of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret what a miserable betrayal I have committed by accepting to recant everything for fear of death; He made me understand that, wanting to save myself, I was about to damn my soul! ” and again, “I prefer to do penance at once and die rather than endure longer the suffering of this prison.” On May 29, Cauchon convened the tribunal for the last time to decide Joan”s fate. Out of forty-two assessors, thirty-nine declared that it was necessary to read the formal abjuration back to her and offer her the “Word of God.” Their power, however, was only advisory: Cauchon and Jean Lemaistre condemned Joan to the stake.
On May 30, 1431 two Dominican friars, Jean Toutmouillé and Martin Ladvenu, entered Joan”s cell; the latter listened to her confession and told her what fate had been decreed for her that day; in her last lamentation, the Maiden, seeing Bishop Cauchon enter, exclaimed: “Bishop, I die because of you”. Later, when he had gone away, Joan asked to receive the Eucharist. Martin Ladvenu did not know what to say to her, since it was not possible for a heretic to receive communion, and asked Cauchon how he should behave. Surprisingly, and in violation of all ecclesiastical norms, he answered that he would administer the sacrament to her.
Joan was taken to the Old Market Square in Rouen and the ecclesiastical sentence was read. Then, without the bailiff or his lieutenant taking custody of the prisoner, she was abandoned in the hands of the executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, and led to where the wood was already ready, in front of a large crowd gathered for the occasion. Dressed in a long white dress and escorted by about two hundred soldiers, she climbed the pole where she was chained to a large pile of wood. In this way it would have been more difficult to lose consciousness by asphyxiation: she would have had to burn alive.
Joan fell to her knees and invoked God, the Virgin, the Archangel Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret; she asked and offered forgiveness to all. She asked for a cross, and an English soldier, moved to pity, took two dry branches and tied them together to form a cross, which the girl clutched to her breast. Isambart de La Pierre ran to get the cross from the church and placed it in front of her. The fire rose quickly and Joan first asked for holy water, then, struck by the flames, she cried out in a loud voice: “Jesus!”. She burned to death at the age of 19.
In 1449 Rouen capitulated in front of the French army, under the orders of Jean d”Orléans, after decades of English domination (during which the population had gone from 14,992 to 5,976 inhabitants). Seeing the vanguards of the royal army, the inhabitants of the city tried to open the door of Sant”Ilario to them, but they were executed by the English garrison. However, the rebellion in the “second capital of the kingdom” was clearly close. The governor, Edmond de Somerset, obtained a safe-conduct for himself and his men, and a general amnesty for those who had collaborated with the English during the period of occupation; in exchange, he left Rouen as well as other smaller towns such as Honfleur and, safe and sound, retired near Caen.
When Charles VII entered the city he was welcomed as a triumphant, and shortly afterwards he ordered his advisor Guillame Bouillé to investigate the trial suffered by Joan eighteen years earlier. In the meantime, many things had changed or were changing: with the French victory in the battle of Castillon in 1453 the Hundred Years” War came to an end, even in the absence of a peace treaty; the English retained control only of the port of Calais. The schism that troubled the Church had ceased with the abdication of the last antipope, Felix V; among the negotiators who persuaded him to submit to the authority of the Church was Jean d”Orléans himself, by now the king”s right-hand man on the battlefield, his advisor and representative in all relevant diplomatic matters.
In 1452, the papal legate Guillaume d”Estouteville and the Inquisitor of France, Jean Bréhal, also opened ecclesiastical proceedings that led to a rescript signed by Pope Calixtus III authorizing a revision of the 1431 trial, which lasted from November 7, 1455 to July 7, 1456. After hearing one hundred and fifteen witnesses, the previous trial was declared null and void and Joan was, in retrospect, rehabilitated and found innocent.
Her former companion in arms, Jean d”Orléans, by then count of Dunois, had a cross erected in memory of Joan in the woods of Saint-Germain, the “Croix-Pucelle”, still visible today. Four centuries later, in 1869, the Bishop of Orleans presented a petition for the canonization of the young girl. Pope Leo XIII, on January 27, 1894, proclaimed her venerable and began her process of beatification.
Joan was beatified on April 18, 1909 by Pope Pius X and proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict XV on May 16, 1920, after she had been recognized as having intercessory power for the miracles prescribed (healing of two nuns from incurable ulcers and of one nun from chronic tubercular osteo-periostitis, as far as beatification is concerned, and the “instantaneous and perfect” healing of two other women, one suffering from a disease piercing the sole of her foot, the other from “peritoneal and pulmonary tuberculosis and organic lesion of the mitral orifice”, as far as canonization is concerned).
Joan was declared patroness of France, telegraphy and radio. She is also venerated as patroness of martyrs and the religiously persecuted, the armed forces and the police. Her liturgical memory is celebrated by the Catholic Church on May 30. Joan of Arc is referred to explicitly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as one of the most beautiful demonstrations of a soul open to saving Grace. Today she is the most venerated French saint.
Openly defining herself as “the Maiden”, Joan declared that she wanted to put herself totally at God”s service, body and soul; her virginity clearly symbolized her purity, both physically and spiritually. Had she been caught lying, she would have been removed immediately. Consequently, to ascertain the truthfulness of the affirmation acquired importance above all with regard to Joan”s trustworthiness. Thus, she was examined twice by matrons, in Poitiers in March 1429 (where she was examined by Jeanne de Preuilly, wife of Raoul de Gaucourt, governor of Orléans, and by Jeanne de Mortemer, wife of Robert le Maçon) and in Rouen on January 13, 1431, by order of bishop Cauchon, under the supervision of Anne of Burgundy, duchess of Bedford, being found a maiden.
Joan”s habit of wearing men”s clothes, at first dictated by the necessity of riding and wearing armor, in prison was probably meant to prevent the ill-intentioned from raping her. During the trial the question of men”s clothes was repeated several times and, according to Jean Massieu, during the imprisonment she started to wear women”s clothes again, but the English guards would have removed them by throwing the sack in which there was a man”s dress into the cell.
Joan of Arc was executed at the stake on May 30, 1431 and the execution proceeded in a manner well described in the chronicles of the time. The condemned girl was killed directly by the flames, contrary to what usually happened to those condemned to death, who were suffocated by inhaling the red-hot fumes produced by the combustion of wood and straw. At the end, of the Maid”s body remained only the ashes, the heart and some bone fragments. According to the testimony of Isambart de La Pierre, Joan”s heart was not consumed in the fire and, no matter how much sulfur, oil or coal the executioner put in it, it did not burn. The remains of the stake were then loaded onto a wagon and thrown into the Seine, by order of the Earl of Warwick.
Even though the meticulousness of the executioners and the rigid dispositions of the Burgundian and English authorities had made this eventuality very unlikely, in 1867 some presumed relics of Joan of Arc were found in the Parisian residence of a pharmacist. Among these there was also a cat”s femur whose presence, according to those who supported its authenticity, could be explained by the fact that one of these animals had been thrown into the stake where the girl was burning. Recent analyses conducted by Philippe Charlier have shown, however, that the relics attributed to the saint are in fact datable between the sixth and third centuries BC and are fragments of an Egyptian mummy (the alleged signs of combustion are actually, according to Charlier, the product of a process of embalming).
The strong impression that Joan”s life aroused among her contemporaries and, later, the lack of knowledge of historical sources, gave rise to a “mythicization” of the character, reinterpreting her in very different and, sometimes, diametrically opposed ways, even in the political sphere.
The incredible and short life, passion and dramatic death of Joan of Arc have been recounted countless times in essays, novels, biographies, plays for the theater; cinema and opera have also dealt with this figure.