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The trial of Joan of arc was far from an actual trial. A trial is a formal examination of evidence to prove one’s guilt or innocence. Joan of arc received no such treatment in her trial. She was condemned before her trial began. Her trial was simply a cover to enact revenge against her for her part in the Hundred Years war. This trial and plot for revenge will be discussed in two parts. The first part will be giving a list of Joan of Arc’s military achievements and events that sparked the English’s hatred of Joan of Arc. The second will be the English government’s manipulation of inquisitorial tribunals to exact vengeance upon Joan and the eventual appeal of that trial.
At the Height of the Hundred Years War the combined forces of England and of Burgundy controlled the northern parts of France. The right to rule France was contested between English King Henry the VI, who gained the right from the treaty of Troyes, and the Dauphin Charles. The French lords and their soldiers were becoming worried that France was lost. Charles was even considering fleeing to the Iberian Peninsula. France may have very well lost the war and became part of England. That was before Joan of Arc came to the restore the French Monarchy and free France from the English.
Joan came to Dauphine Charles saying that it was her calling from God to reinstate him as the King and lift the siege of the town of Orleans. Despite earnest nature of her claims Charles had a series of theologians and priests validate her claims and character. Over a period of three weeks her piety and motives were called into question. Finally having satisfied the theologians Joan was deemed legitimate enough for the King to receive her and have her lead his troops to Orleans. With her pennon and standard emblazoned with the images of angels, The Virgin Mary, and Christ, and a sword believed to have belonged to St. Catherine. Joan led the royal troops to Orleans. (Williamson) Before she had even fought a single battle the reputation of, and devotion to, The Maid was developing within her troops.
While it was relatively common to have religious visionaries or women leading troops in symbolic role known as “titular command,” Joan did more than just fill a role of symbolic leader. To ensure the troops were worthy enough to be doing the work of God she heavily focused on their spiritual life. All vices such as drinking, gambling, looting, swearing, sex with the prostitutes following the camp were forbidden. (Williamson) The troops were required to regularly attend mass and confess their sins, to the contingent of mendicant monks that were part of the army.
With such extreme rules and regulations it would be easy to believe that a group of hardened mercenaries and soldiers would not follow such strictures. Surprisingly the troops willingly followed Joan’s regulations. Some even remarked that they never had the will to sin when around Joan, (Williamson) Joan believed that the neglecting of religious obligations had been what was allowing the English to win the war. What could have led to this ready and eager acceptance to rally behind this untrained and unseasoned teenage girl? When Joan was before the troops her passion and force of personality inspired and gave the troops hope. Many of the commanders under her followed her because of her passion to take the war to the English. In addition to her passion and personality Joan was sent by God. At a time when the church held as much if not more sway than the secular leaders, believing that some was divinely empowered was not a far fetch, especially when that religious visionary has been personally checked and validated by theologians and has the complete backing from the king. The common man would have no problem accepting the divinity of Joan and her actions.
Word of Joan of Arc had already spread by the time she and her troops reached Orleans. Rumors abounded amongst the English that Joan was a sorceress, to explain her sudden appearance and leadership of the French Royal Army. The people of Orleans had heard of Joan and her mission and excitedly greeted on Joan on her arrival. The made “such joy” as if God himself was walking through their city. (Williamson) Joan’s mission and rise to leadership were not the only peculiarities that raised questions and hopes.
When Joan led her troops into battle it was nut with brandished sword but her standard unfurled. She used herself as a symbol to inspire her troops not as a warrior. She did not personally want to harm anyone. Her grief was sincere for the loss of life on both sides. When she arrived at Orleans she attempted to parley with the English three times. She wanted to give them the option to surrender. The first time her messengers were arrested. The second and third time she stood atop the walls and shouted her message to the English. Their only response was to sling vulgarities and death threats at her.
When the actual battles started outside the walls of Orleans, The French quickly began suffering greatly at the hands of the English and the Burgundies. Until the Maid joined the battle and rallied her troops with her banners flying, when her troops saw Joan they shouted and surged on. Some sources say that the moment she showed up the English defenses crumbled and they were forced to fall back to make a final stand, which the lost. At the end of the battle she grieved for the dead that were not able to confess their sins, and told her troops to confess their sins and give God thanks, for their victory and pray the siege would be lifted within five days. Their prayers were answered. Within Five days Orleans was free of the English siege. The sudden loss word of Joan’s victory spread.
After the siege was lifted many nobles that had previous been allied with England switched their allegiances back to Charles, further weakening the English’s hold on France. Joan insisted that Charles take the army deep into enemy held territory to Reims, so he could be crowned king. Charles and Joan sent letters to the towns that lie between Orleans and Reims. These letters encouraged the towns to ally themselves with Charles. Then the army marched. The major towns paid their obedience to Charles with no blood being shed. The taking of city of Troyes would play a significant role in Joan’s future trial.
The Burgundies troops that were garrisoned at Troyes initially left the city to gather reinforcements to attack the French. The commanders told the city’s leaders to hold out until their return. The next day the leaders met with Joan and sided with Charles. Many of the citizens of Troyes were loyal to the English and were allowed to leave the city if they did not want to swear fealty to Charles. One citizen in particular, the Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon was incredibly loyal to the English and had worked for the government many times previously, left the city and was extremely embittered having to give up his diocese. Later he would be able to have his vengeance against Joan and orchestrate her trial and her death.
Finally Reims was reached and Charles was crowned King Charles VII. Joan’s initial missions had been completed. She was quoted as saying the she wished God would allow her to return home to her family. That wish would not come true. After a series of unsuccessful attacks and attempted siege on Paris, Charles agreed to four month peace treaty during the winter. This treaty was a ruse to provide the English and Burgundies to strengthen and recover so they attack the French when spring came. During this period of inactivity Joan began to lament she was running out of time to finish her mission. She began to fear that eventually she would be betrayed and captured.
Outside of the town of Compiegne Joan and a small contingent of troops staged an attack on an enemy encampment. On the way she was ambushed by Burgundies troops. She was forced to retreat. She stayed with the rearguard and ended up being trapped out the city of as the draw bridge had been in explicably lifted after the left to attack the enemy camp. Joan was surrounded by Burgundies troops and they all called for her surrender, which she refused. Finally she was pulled off her horse by an archer (Williamson).
The French were devastated and the English and Burgundies elated and “overjoyed more so than if they had taken 500 combatants.” (Williamson) Joan was taken to and imprisoned at the Chateau of Bearevoir by the Burgundies troops. Charles attempted to recover Joan by the standard ransom procedures of the time. The Burgundies refused to ransom her. The French staged four campaigns attempting to rescue her, all failed. Joan attempted to escape several times, every attempted failed as well.
Eventually the English paid 10,000 livres to the Burgundies in exchange for Joan. (Williamson) Pierre Cauchon was hired by the English for the job of procuring Joan and setting up her trial that would be used to murder Joan. The entire trial was an elaborate way to get revenge and remove her influence from the French Military. They would ensure at all costs Joan would die and in the process defame and discredit her memory King Charles. Many attempts were made to prove her use of sorcery and witchcraft. Claims were made that her banners were infused with magic giving her powers that were used to ensure victory. These charges were dropped early in the trial and focus was placed on her heresy as a cross dresser. Being proven as a heretic by an inquisitorial trial could ensure Joan would not become a martyr after she died. Her martyrdom would only help the French and their cause.
The entire trial was financed and controlled by the English government.(Oursel) Documentation kept by the English proves the length and cost they went too to ensure that Joan would die. There is record of Cauchon being paid for his services, the payment and hiring of English loyal and English born clergy to judge the trial was fully documented as well. Paying and hiring judges was only one of the major discrepancies in this trial. A standard Inquisitorial trial is supposed to be judged by a diverse group of clergy members to ensure an unbiased judgment; if this measure was not met the trial could automatically be considered null and void under standard practice. The accused was also allowed to appeal to the pope, which was denied Joan every time she asked. As part of a standard trial prisoners are supposed to be kept in a church ran prison, and female prisoners are supposed to be overseen by nuns. Joan was not she was held in secular military prison and watched over by English guards. Normally many witnesses are meant to bear testimony against the accused. Only Joan was allowed to bear witness at her trial. No one involved in the trial was allowed to speak positively of Joan or against the tribunal. Anyone who did received death threats or was bribed to ensure silence.(Oursel)
In the end Joan was convicted of the heresy of being a relapsed cross dressier. AS a rule cross dressing was not allowed by the church and repeat offense received capital punishment. Though in cases of safety of a man’s life or a women’s chastity it was allowed. (Aquinas) The entire campaign Joan had worn men’s clothing. Especially at night she would wear breeches that were tied to her shirt, or she even slept in her armor to ensure she would not be raped while she slept. While she was in prison since she was not watched by nuns Joan continued wear tunics and breeches. In fact it is documented that she wore two pairs of pants. An under layer that was tied to her shirt and an over pair that was either leather or a heavier material in attempt to make rape attempts for difficult. Cauchon knew this cross dressing could be his linchpin and he played heavily on it. During the trial Joan stated that the clothes were for the protection of her chastity and was allowed to wear them, finally to prove her piety she conceded and wore women’s clothing. Several attempts were made by guards to rape her. Even a great English Lord entered her cell and attempted to rape her. Finally her female clothes were forcibly taken from her body and removed from her cell. All she was given were male clothing. She argued with the guards to return her clothes, telling them that she was not allowed to wear them. Finally she had to use the latrine and had to go outside. She put on the men’s clothing and was accused of heretical relapse, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. Eyewitness accounts state that after Cauchan proclaimed Joan a relapsed heretic he was heard saying to English commanders “Farewell, be of good cheer, it is done.” (Williamson)
On the day of her execution she was strapped to a pillar and burned to death. While she was burned she shouted and implored and called on Jesus and the Saints of Paradise. After the flames died down the ashes were moved aside to reveal her corpse and prove to the onlookers she was dead. She was burned two more times to ensure there would be no remains to use as relics by the French. Many of the onlookers and people involved with the execution lamented for their involvement in the murder of a “holy person” and feared damnation for their. The English authorities subsequently punished any one that publicly spoke in Joan’s favor. (Williamson)
It was not until twenty years later, after the English were driven out of France that investigations into Joan’s conviction were conducted, and then three years later a formal appeal was conducted. This trial involved a wider range of clergy and inquisitors, these clergy men were from both sides of the war and some from Italy and Vienna. Many of the clergy were of higher ranking than in the first trial; there were archbishops and cardinal overseeing the process. (Williamson) The appellate court heard witness testimonies for over a year, compared to the three months of the first trial. Ultimately Bishop Cauchon was denounced for “Manifest malice against the Roman Catholic Church and indeed heresy.” Joan’s death was deemed martyrdom and the trial was overturned and considered null and void due to the partisan clergy overseeing the original tribunal. A copy of the original accusation against Joan was ceremonially ripped up. (Williamson)
The trial and execution of Joan of Arc was nothing more than a tactic of war by the English government. It was an excuse to make someone suffer for the loss of momentum that their military suffered after the loss of Orleans. Joan was the soul of the French Royal army and revived the French and gave hope that they could beat the English. The English wanted to attempt that the soul of the French would dwindle and make then easy to defeat. They attempted this by taking all efforts to ensure her death would not be a case of martyrdom and all her actions and messages from god were discredited. In the end their attempts and plan failed. The impact Joan of Arc made on the French was too great. The hope and strength they found because of her was to powerful, enough that she is still remembered and revered to this day. The only thing the English ensured by killing Joan of Arc is that she would never be forgotten.
Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologica. Benziger Bros. New York, 1947. 169. Web. .
Oursel, Raymond. Le procès de condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc . Paris: Éditions Denöel, 1959. 311, 332. Web. .
Williamson, Allen. Joan of Arc archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar 2013. .