Brother Isambart de La Pierre, Part II
THE MAID'S BRILLIANT DEFENSE
Next morning, Father Massieu and I stood before the entrance to Jeanne's cell. Even through the thick oak door we could hear the riotous sound. When one of the soldiers opened the door, the noise and disorder that came from inside was jarring. Jeanne's guards stood around her bed in a drunken state. Pressing in on her, they sang a most foul tavern song. Some of the guards made obscene gestures while others made smacking sounds with their lips as if they were kissing her. Filled with fear, Jeanne cried as she pulled her blanket up under her chin. With a sharp command, Father Jean ordered them to stop and remove her from the restraints.
This session was held in the castle's robing chamber. There were fifty assistant judges attending Cauchon. He wore his daily purple robes instead of the opulent vestments of the opening day.
"We exhort and require you under penalty of law to swear simply and absolutely to speak the truth on all things you shall be asked."
Jeanne looked up at the ceiling. "I swore yesterday. That certainly should be quite enough. In truth, you burden me too much!"
Her answer caused the usual tumult among the judges, who shook their fists or yelled their contempt while some even cursed her. This lasted a full fifteen minutes, until Jeanne said, "I swear to speak the truth on that which concerns the Faith."
In a triumphant tone the Bishop replied, "Seeing you have now sworn to speak truthfully, answer the following question...."
"You may well ask me things that I would answer truly, but to others I won't!" Jeanne cut in before he could finish. Raising a finger of caution, she sternly advised, "If you were well informed about me, you would wish me to be out of your hands. I have done nothing except by revelation!"
The Bishop let her last comment pass. "In your youth did you learn a trade?"
She replied proudly, "Yes, to spin and sew and in these things I fear no woman in Rouen."
"When your Voices first revealed your King to you, was there a light?"
She didn't want to answer any question connected with the King, especially concerning her first meeting with him. This question was opening the door to that area. Jeanne answered sharply. "Pass on to the next question."
"When you first saw the Dauphin, was there an angel above him?"
"Spare me that! Pass on!" But a moment later she added, "Before the King put me to work, he had several visions and beautiful revelations."
CAUCHON: "What sign from heaven did your King have?"
JEANNE: "I will not tell you! Send to my King and he will answer you. Those of my party knew well that my Voice was sent by God, because they saw and recognized it. My King and several others heard and saw the Voice that came to me."
Cauchon turned the questioning over to the Promoter who thundered his order: "We demand you speak the simple and absolute truth without reservation on the questions put to you."
Again and again he repeated his demand. Each time Jeanne simply shook her head and said, "Pass on!" She was intransigent, because she knew the information this court was trying to pry from her would be used against her and against King Charles.
Yet, d' Estivet continued to press her until, loosing her temper, Jeanne jumped to her feet.
"By my faith! There are certain things that I have sworn to God not to tell. If I told you the truth, I would be breaking my vow and would sin. If I lie, I would perjure myself, and in this I would sin. You should not want that!"
The judges took this as a challenge and badgered her mercilessly to swear to tell the truth. Their real aim was to learn of her private conversations with the King.
Unexpectedly, Jeanne turned to Cauchon. "I tell you, my Lord Bishop, consider well your claim that you are my judge. For you assume a great responsibility, and burden me too much."
The Bishop would not yield. He repeatedly pressed the point and repeatedly Jeanne refused to swear. With great distress her body swayed, turning this way and that. Her eyes darted violently back and forth. At length she cried out in a loud voice.
"I have come in God's name! There is nothing more to do here! Send me back to God, from Whom I came!"
"Swear, swear, swear!" The sound of the words echoed like a drum. The Promoter took the Gospel from his desk and brought it before her. "Swear, swear, swear!" He screamed and he gave her no peace. In aggravation, she ran her fingers through her hair. She even tried to cover her ears, yet the Promoter continued his demand, "Swear, swear, swear!"
Jeanne went to her knees and placed her hands on the Gospel. "I am ready to speak the truth as to what I know concerning this trial."
D' Estivet swung the heavy Gospel under his arm as he pointed his bony finger in her face. "What counsel did your Voices give you?"
Trembling, she rubbed her face several times. Composing herself, she took in a deep breath. "I asked their advice as how I am to answer you. They reply, Answer boldly and God will help you."
"Did your Voices speak to you before your request for help?"
"My Voices spoke to me, but because of the tumult in my cell, I did not understand every thing they said. Nevertheless, the Voice did tell me to answer boldly." Jeanne was filled with emotion as she swiftly stood up. The sound of her chains scraping against the stone floor rattled through the courtroom. She advanced toward the Bishop pointed at him.
"You say you are my judge! Take good care of what you do, because, in truth, I am sent by God, and you put yourself in great danger!"
Her words threw the court into a frenzy. The clerks looked helplessly at each other. Motionless, the Bishop locked his eyes on her glowering with contempt and rage. Jeanne bravely stood her ground unaffected by either his hateful gaze or the tumult that spun around her. After what seemed to be a very long time, the hostility in the courtroom died down. The Bishop ordered d' Estivet to continue with his questioning. Not bothering to rise from his seat, the Promoter flung his questions at her.
"Do you believe it is displeasing to God to tell the truth?"
"My Voices entrusted me with certain things to confide to my King Charles, and not to you. Last night my Voices told me many things for the benefit of the King, which I wish he could know, even if I go without wine until Easter. My King would eat more happily because of it."
"Did your Voices tell you that you would escape from prison?"
"Must I tell you that? There is a saying among little children: Men are sometimes hanged for telling the truth." She responded coolly.
"Superbe responsum," or "proud answer," one of the scribes scratched in his margin.
"Do you know that you are in God's grace?"
All the judges leaned forward. The secretaries poised over their work, quills in the air.
"This is a serious question and she is not required to answer." Bishop Jean Lefevre, exclaimed, his voice carrying throughout the room.
"Better for you to be silent!" Cauchon turned on him fiercely. As Lefevre shrank back, Cauchon insisted she answer.
All ears strained to hear her answer.
"If I am not, may God place me there, and if I am, may God so keep me! I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I was not in His grace."
Stunned into silence, every member of the court acknowledged the wisdom of her answer. They were impressed that she eloquently avoided the trap. But this serenity did not last long, and the courtroom once more erupted in disordered questioning from judges who impatiently shouted questions at her, allowing no space for an answer. Finally, the chief clerk, Manchon, yelled and threw up his hands in disgust.
"I will leave, if this chaos does not cease!"
One English Lord shouted out a question: "Have you ever been present when English blood was shed?"
She turned quickly to face him. "In God's name, surely! How mildly you put it. Why did they not leave France, and go back to their own country?"
To this he exclaimed, "Truly this is a brave woman. If she were English, she would not be here a moment longer!"
At that, Cauchon closed the session. We took the Maid back to her cell. Father Massieu, whose job it was to bring her to and from the courtroom, allowed Jeanne a few minutes of prayer in the castle's chapel of Saint Gilles whenever she passed it. This went on for several days, until Father d' Estivet caught her praying there.
"Traitor! How do you dare let this excommunicated whore come so near the church without permission? Massieu, I will have you put in a prison where you will not see the sun for a month if this is done again!"
"I am sorry you are in trouble on my account, Father." Jeanne whispered, dragging her chains across the courtyard.
"I do not fear him!" The priest answered proudly.
But Father Massieu had taken a great personal risk. The Promoter was his superior and could have caused him much suffering. D' Estivet discovered that Father Massieu continued to stop at the chapel with the prisoner. From then on, the Promoter stood before the chapel door after the court sessions to enforce his decree. He held himself stiffly with his arms crossed high over his chest, his face was distorted by a scowl. Despite this, Jeanne would attempt to enter the chapel. She tried sidestepping the Promoter, but he countered each of her moves.
Jeanne turned to us in frustration. "Is the love of Christ in him?"
Once, we were escorting Jeanne back to her cell when she wistfully spoke. "What dreams I had for the future, Brother Isambart! Two weeks after the coronation I thought we would take Paris, and within a month the city of Rouen would be ours. I would have had enough prisoners to ransom the Duke of Orleans out of England. Driven like sheep to the shores of France, the English would beg for a good and lasting peace. Then, I would have King Charles raise an army of Crusaders. I would lead them to the Holy Land and free it forever from the infidels! I would have asked all the good Christians to join us."
"Even Bedford and Philip?" I questioned.
"Yes, Brother, for they would be God's good children. But look at my dreams." In the cold air a puff of vapor came from her lips. "They have all vanished like smoke."
"Nevertheless, it was a good and fine dream that you had. I think someday it will come to pass, if God so wills." By this time, we had arrived at her cell, and the guards interrupted us. They pushed Jeanne to her bed and applied the wrist cuffs, iron belt and the two sets of leg manacles, slipping the chain through them. Thoughts of what might have been, caused tears to run down her dirty cheeks. The captain of the guard caught sight of that.
"The poor little slut is crying! What's the matter? You finally realize that your King will lose his crown to us?"
"You lie! It is you English that will lose a greater prize than at Orleans. You will lose everything in France, for God will send the French a great victory!"
The captain laughed contemptuously. "How do you know this? Did your Voices tell you?"
"Yes! They told me that within seven years this will happen. But I am very much annoyed that it will take so long, as I wish it would happen before Saint John's day!"
He let fly his ferocious fist, sending her crashing against the stone wall.