Brother Isambart de La Pierre, Part V
May 2nd, 1431: It had been a month since Jeanne first became sick and still she was not well. The court cared little about her physical condition and called her to appear before them again.
I was approaching her prison when I heard a terrible commotion coming from within. The sound of deep thuds, one right after the other, as if a body were hitting against stone. Jeanne emerged from the darkened doorway. Her face was drawn and pale. How white she looked, in stark contrast to the dark rings that encircled her eyes. Constantly shaking, she struggled to walk. With each awkward step her chains clanked and scraped as she dragged them along the ground.
The guards pushed her along, trying to make her walk faster than she could. I saw her face turn heavenward as she let out a gasp. Then she fell. The guards laughed. They slapped each other on the back, taunting her with wagging heads and outstretched tongues. They made obscene gestures. With all their hate and vengeance, each took his turn burying his foot into her torso, abdomen or back.
"On your way, witch! We don't have all day for you, whoring bitch!" The guard let fly another kick.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I watched her struggle to her feet. All the while her jailers screamed curses at her, so foul that I can't repeat them.
I followed timidly as they made their way slowly across the courtyard. I noticed Bishop Cauchon conferring with the Earl of Warwick and words from the "Book of Wisdom" came to mind: Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life. He reproaches us for our breaches of the law and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
In that instant, I beheld the Bishop and his trial in a new light. She claims to have knowledge of God and calls herself Daughter of God. Before us stands a reproof to our way of thinking. The very sight of her weighs down our spirits. Her way of life is not like other women. The paths she treads are unfamiliar. In her opinion we are debased; she holds aloof from our doings as though from filth. She proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy and boasts of having God for her Father. Let us see if what she says is true; let us observe what kind of end she herself will have. If this virtuous woman is God's daughter, God will take her part and rescue her from our clutches. Let us test her then with cruelty and with torture, to see for ourselves her gentleness and endurance. Let us condemn her to a shameful death since she will be looked after and see if her words are true.
In a vain attempt to reassure myself, I thought, She's strong. She will save herself. With my mind thus occupied, we entered the courtroom. She limped to her usual spot where the stool awaited.
Jeanne was a miserable sight. She tried to sit erect but found herself starting to sway. She tried to support her head in her hands, but the weight of the chains dug painfully into her legs. Up and down, back and forth the constant change in her position became a pathetic dance of pain!
Rising from his seat, Bishop Cauchon began the day's session. "Jeanne, we counsel you to attend to the advice and warnings of the Lord Archdeacon. He will speak many things profitable for the salvation of your body and soul, to which you must agree." As he pointed his finger at her, he wiggled it back and forth, admonishing her like a little child. "For if you do not, you will lay yourself open to great peril of body and soul!"
The Archdeacon, Jean de Chatillon, bowed to the Bishop and stepped forward. "Do you not know that all faithful Christians are compelled and obliged to believe and hold firm to the Christian faith and its articles? I warn and require you in a general admonition to correct and reform yourself."
Jeanne was barely able to lift her hand as she pointed feebly at the sermon he was about to read. "Read your book, and then I will answer you. I trust in God, my Creator, for everything. I love Him with my whole heart."
Annoyed, the Archdeacon peered over his papers. "Do you have anything further to say?"
Jeanne replied in a barely audible voice. "I trust in my Judge. He is the King of Heaven and of earth."
Chatillon shuffled his documents noisily as he prepared to read. "You said, Jeanne, that if you did or said anything against the faith, you wanted to be told so that you could reject it. Christians must be meek and render themselves to the judgment of wiser and more learned men than themselves. Even so, you refuse our judgment about your words and deeds, and persist in your arrogant ways. You wear men's clothing and cut your hair in the fashion of a man, which is contrary to your sex. This is scandalous! For it is written: The woman shall not wear man's clothing, for it is an abomination in the sight of God. You continue to wear men's clothing rather than to receive the Eucharist, even at Easter time, which is against your duty to the Church. By your refuse to wear women's dress, you err greatly!" He lowered the papers for a moment, pleased with his performance. Finally, he went on, "Please Jeanne! Do as you are counseled and put away your men's dress. You blaspheme God and His Saints by attributing this sin of yours to them."
For the next forty-five minutes he droned on. At its completion, it was Jeanne's right to answer him, point by point. "As to articles I and II, I will answer you as I have answered before. As to the Church Militant: I truly believe in the Church on earth, but as to my words and deeds, I will maintain what I have answered before. I trust in and refer myself to God. I believe the Church Militant cannot err or fail. But as to my words and deeds, I submit them entirely to God, my Creator, Who caused me to do what I have done."
"Do you believe you have no judge on earth? Is the Pope not your judge?"
"I will not say anything more. I have a good Master that is God. It is to Him that I look to in everything and to none other."
"Jeanne, Jeanne! Be warned of what you are saying! If you do not believe in the Church as being 'One, Holy, Catholic' you are a heretic and will undergo the punishment of fire!"
Her lowered eyes widened with fear. "I will say no more to you, and if I saw the fire, I would say all that I am saying now, and nothing else."
I saw Manchon write in the margin of his page. "Superba responsio" meaning "Arrogant response."
Chatillon hastily rose from his seat and with an outstretched hand he came toward her. "If the Council General or our Holy Father, the Pope, the cardinals or the other men of the Church were here, would you submit to them?"
There was a hopeful strain in his words that Jeanne only dimly caught. With her eyes closed she wearily moved her head back and forth. "You will drag nothing else from me."
Again the Archdeacon pleaded loudly. "Will you not submit yourself to the Pope?"
She answered as forcefully as she could, "Take me to him and I will answer him!"
The Bishop sent the young Archdeacon a menacing look, and he quickly changed his approach. "Jeanne, will you not leave off that shameful attire and dress as becomes your sex?"
Once more with her eyes closed she shook her head.
JUDGE: "Concerning the matter that occurred at Chinon, will you put yourself into the hands of your party advisers?" (It would be logical to assume the person from Charles' court would say that they had not seen any angel.)
JEANNE: "Let them come and I will answer."
JUDGE: "Would you submit to the clerics of the Church of Poitiers?"
JEANNE: "Do you think you will trick me in this way and make me succumb to you?"
D' Estivet angrily interrupted. "We warn you, Jeanne, that if you persist in your obstinacy the Church will abandon you to the fire!"
The stillness of the courtroom was suddenly disturbed by the sound of papers dropping to the floor and there hurriedly gathered up again.
Jeanne rallied her last remaining strength struggled to her unsteady feet. "You will not do such a thing against me without evil overtaking your bodies and souls!" Her words were almost a scream. This caused a stir among the judges, and one or two of them crossed themselves.
Taken back by her words, D' Estivet softened his tone as he stepped toward her. "Give us one reason why you will not submit to the Church."
Jeanne was exhausted. She made no answer but to stare at the Bishop and that was answer enough!
For many days, they left Jeanne to the silent terrors of her cell. When the court summoned her again, it was not to the usual courtroom but to the torture chamber of the castle.
The room had no windows. It was dark and damp, with green slime covering the walls. The air was rancid, filled with the smell of putrid flesh, drying blood and urine. Lighting the room were a few torches, while in the corner was the glow of the red-hot coals and irons. She saw before her the instruments of suffering: the rack, the funnels, the hooks, the knives, the boot and the pincers. Graphically, the torturer demonstrated them. The longer I watched, the more my flesh crawled.
The Bishop stood quietly, giving Jeanne plenty of time to take in all the horrors. "Jeanne, I require and admonish you to speak the truth on many different points contained in your trial, to which you have given false replies." His voice quickly took on a callous tone. "If you do not confess them truthfully, you will be put to the torture." He pointed to those craftsmen of pain who stood near the glowing irons. "These men here are ready to do it, in order to restore you to the way of knowledge and truth. By these means we may save you, body and soul, from your lying inventions."
Her face convulsed with fear as she stared at the instruments. "Truly, if you were to tear me limb from limb and separate my soul from my body, I would not tell you anything more. If I did say anything else, I would always declare afterwards that you made me say it by force!"
The torchlight reflected on Jeanne's face, revealing a mask of terror. Yet, she haltingly faced the Bishop. "At the last feast of the Holy Cross, I received comfort from Saint Gabriel. I firmly believe that it was Saint Gabriel because my Voices told me it was he. I asked counsel of my Voices, if I ought to defer myself to the Church since the clergy were pressing me so hard to do so. My Voices told me that if I wanted God to help me, I must trust in Him for all I did. I know well that Our Lord had always been the Master of all my doings and the devil had never had power over them. I asked my Voices if I would be burned and they answered that I must trust God and He would help me!"
The Bishop was angered by her defiance. "What about the crown which you say was given to the Archbishop of Reims? Will you abide by what he says?"
"Have him come here and let me hear him speak. Then I will answer you. He will never dare to deny what I have told you!"
Disgusted, the Bishop ended the session.
On May 23, a year to the day that Jeanne was captured, she was taken to the great hall of the castle. She listened for over two hours while Father Pierre Maurice exhorted her to renounce her errors and scandals. He pounded his desk as he ended his lengthy sermon.
"This is the last time we will admonish you. Tomorrow you will be sentenced to the fire, if you do not submit yourself to this holy court!"
Jeanne struggled to stand erect. "As for my words and deeds that I have declared in this trial, I refer to them and will always maintain them. And if I were condemned and I saw the torch lit and the faggots ready, and the executioner ready to kindle the fire, and if I were within the fire, yet I would say nothing else and I would maintain unto death all I have said in this trial! I have nothing more to say!" She abruptly sat down.
Here in the margin of his page, Chief Clerk Manchon wrote: "Johannae responsio superba" meaning "Jeanne's arrogant response."
The next morning around eight, Father Beaupère and I came to take Jeanne to the cemetery of the Abbey of Saint Ouen. As we were leaving the prison tower, Father Loyseleur, court spy, confessor, and supposed friend to the prisoner unexpectedly stepped out from the shadows.
"Jeanne, trust me, because if you will, you may be saved! Take the dress of your sex and do all that you are told, otherwise, you are in peril of death. If you do what I tell you, you will be saved. You will have much good and not much ill. You will be given up to the Church." With that he disappeared back into the shadows.
As Jeanne stepped into the morning sunlight, she raised her arm to shield her eyes. The guard behind her gave her a quick push, making the girl lurch forward. I was close enough to catch her and took hold of her arm, supporting her unsteady body. Ahead of us was the cart that would convey us to the cemetery. The cart was about eight feet high and had an open frame railing. The cart's floor rested above two large wheels that were about five feet in diameter. Pulling the cart was a half-dead nag. Father Beaupère and I both got into the cart at the same time. Together, we took hold of Jeanne and helped her inside.
Lining our route was a guard of eight hundred English soldiers. Standing shoulder to shoulder, these men held back the townspeople who had gathered to watch. The noise was deafening with the people screaming and yelling. In some places people were standing three and four deep. I even saw people hanging out of their upper windows, all straining to get a look at her. Some were truly filled with grief and cried openly. Others were filled with hate. Still others acted as if they were at a fair, laughing, applauding and waving in delight.
Squinting, Jeanne clung to the rails of the cart as we slowly made our way to Saint Ouen. She had been kept apart for so long that all the noise and flashes of sunlight off the soldiers' armor, caused her pain. When the cart arrived at the cemetery, she was pulled from it and shoved by her guards onto a high platform. Waiting for her there was Father Massieu, three court clerks, Brother Martin and the preacher for the day, Father Erard. Sitting on another platform, were the dignitaries. Bishop Cauchon, the English Cardinal of Winchester and the English command, including the Earl of Warwick, all waited impatiently for Father Erard to begin. In addition to the numerous English soldiers, the townspeople crowded into the cemetery. They all had come to see the show.
Overcome with joy at being outside, Jeanne paid no attention to the sermon. She watched a flight of pigeons swoop and dive high overhead. Father Erard noticed her lack of attention and became angry. He shouted as he pointed at her. "It is to you, Jeanne, that I speak! I tell you that your King is a heretic and a schismatic!"
"He is the most noble of all Christians. And no one loves the faith and the Church more than him and he is not what you say!"
How noble and loyal she was to the king who had abandoned her!
Father Erard yelled like a little boy. "Father Massieu, make her keep silent!" He ended his sermon. "Here are my lords, your judges, who summon you to submit all your words and deeds to our Holy Mother the Church."
Jeanne rallied her last bit of strength. "I will answer you. As to my submission, I have already answered. Let all that I have said and done be sent to Rome to Our Holy Father, the Pope, to whom after God I appeal. As for my deeds, I have done them by God's command. I blame no one, neither my King nor any other. If there be any fault, it is mine alone."
"Will you revoke all your sayings and deeds that are disapproved by the clerks?"
Jeanne shook her head slowly. "I abide by God and Our Holy Father, the Pope."
"That is not enough. The Pope is too far away! You must submit to us!" Erard blustered, but Jeanne said no more. Three times the Bishop ordered her to submit and three times her silence answered. Then Cauchon began to read the sentence of Excommunication. Jeanne became agitated and her body swayed. All of us who were on the platform became distressed at her plight and urged her to abjure. I pleaded with her kneeling at her side.
"Jeanne, have pity on yourself and retract what you have said. For if you do not, you will be handed over to secular justice and burnt! Recant Jeanne! Recant and save your life!"
"You take great pains to lead me astray." Jeanne became increasingly distraught. Her eyes were wild with dread as she pulled at her doublet. Another priest ran over to her holding a small piece of paper and urged her to sign it. Jeanne seemed out of her mind. "Let this note be read by the clerks of the Church into whose hands I must be placed. If they are of the opinion that I must sign it, and do as I am told, I shall do it willingly."
Father Massieu gently urged her. "If you sign, you will be put into a Church prison."
Father Erard angrily yelled. "Do it now, or at once you will burn!"
Jeanne swayed uncontrollably, her head bobbed aimlessly. Father Massieu became agitated by her silence. In exasperation, he shook her. "Don't you understand? This means your death!" But still Jeanne's mind was vacant. Many of the judges who secretly favored Jeanne leaped to their feet, pleading with her to sign the paper and save her life.
Finally, the Maid fell to her knees and cried so pitiably that it would have cracked the hardest heart. At last yielding to the pressure of the pleading priests, she said between her sobs, "I would rather sign than be burned!"
Father Massieu promptly read the abjuration to her.
"I, Jeanne, a miserable sinner, having now realized my errors, do wish to return to the grace of God and the union of the Holy Mother Church. I swear and promise never again to carry arms, nor wear men's clothing, nor cut my hair in the fashion of a man - at - arms. I will submit myself to Holy Mother Church and obey her will for me, whereto I sign my name."
Father Massieu then placed the paper before her.
"But I can neither read or write." Jeanne cried.
Massieu placed a pen into her trembling hand and said, "Now make your mark." She did so by drawing a circle. This did not satisfy Father Erard, who took hold of Jeanne's hand and formed a cross on the paper. Then he printed out her name, JEANNE. At that she laughed uncontrollably. Father Erard ran over to Cauchon, waving the abjuration in the air.
The English lords were outraged. They expected Jeanne to be burnt that very day. A riot broke out as they drew their swords howling, "We are betrayed!" Denied the spectacle they had come to see, the crowd also became unruly and they began to throw stones. It took many long minutes for the tumult to subside before Bishop Cauchon could admit Jeanne to penitence. When every one was silent, he solemnly read the sentence of abjuration:
In the name of the Lord, Amen. You, Jeanne, commonly called the Maid, have been arraigned to account for many pernicious crimes and heresies. In as much as you have returned to the bosom of our Holy Mother Church, having openly renounced your errors, We declare you free from the bonds of excommunication that enchained you. But in as much as you have rashly sinned against God and Holy Mother Church, we condemn you to perpetual imprisonment, with the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, that you may weep for your faults and never commit them again.
Jeanne was happy, thinking she would at last be free of her English tormentors. "Now, men of the Church, take me to your prison and let me never again be in the hands of the English!"
In response, Cauchon waved Jeanne's old guards forward. "Take her back to her cell!"