On January 9, 1431, there opened in Rouen before a church tribunal chaired by Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais. It was a “trial in matters of faith” and one which that would lead Joan of Arc the stake on 30 May of the same year.
As we remember Joan was the fifteen year old divine “mad woman” who inspired the French to repel English invaders. She was captured during the siege of Compiègne in 1430. Her subsequent trial for heresy was the documented fully. Of no other trial in the 15th Century do we have a record as accurate and detailed. It is considered one of the most significant and moving trials ever conducted in human history.
FIRST PUBLIC EXAMINATION
On Wednesday, February 21st, at 8 o’clock in the morning, in the Chapel Royal of the Castle of Rouen.
The Bishop and 42 Assessors Present.
We did first of all command to be read the Royal letters Conveying surrender and deliverance of the said woman into Our hands; afterwards the letters of the Chapter of Rouen, making concession of territory for Our benefit. This reading ended, Master Jean d’Estivet, nominated by Us as Promoter of the Case, did, in Our presence, show that the aforesaid woman of the name of Jeanne had been, by the Executor of Our Mandate, cited to appear in this place at this hour and day, here to answer, according to law, to the questions to be put to her.
The said Promoter did then produce Our Mandate, to which is attached the document confirming its execution, and did read them all. Our said Promoter did then require that the said woman should be placed before us, and, in terms of the citation, questioned by Us on divers Articles concerning the Faith, to the which We did agree. But as a preliminary, because the said woman had asked to hear Mass beforehand, We did show to the Assessors that, by the advice of well-known Doctors and Masters consulted by Us, it had been decided, considering the crimes of which she is accused and the impropriety of the dress which she is wearing, that it is right to postpone permission to hear Mass and to assist in Divine Service.
In the meantime, the said woman was brought by the Executor of Our Mandate, and set before Us.
We did then saw that the said Jeanne had been lately taken in the territory of Beauvais ; that many acts contrary to the Orthodox Faith have been committed by her, not only in Our Diocese, but in many others; that the public report, which imputes these misdeeds to her, had spread in all estates of Christendom; that, in the last place, the most Serene and most Christian our lord the King had sent and given her up to Us in order that, according to law and right, an action may be brought against her in the matter of the Faith; that, acting upon this common report, upon public rumor, and also on certain information obtained by Us, of which mention had already been often enough made, by the advice of men versed in sacred and secular Law, We have officially given commandment to cite the said Jeanne to appear before Us, in order through her to obtain truthful answers to the questions to be put to her in matters of the Faith, and in order to act towards her according to law and right; which do so appear in the letters that the Promoter has shown.
Then, desiring in this, particular the blessed succor of Jesus Christ, Who is concerned in this, and wishing only to fulfill the duties of Our office for the exaltation and preservation of the Catholic Faith, We did first charitably warn and require the said Jeanne, seated in Our presence, for the more prompt resolution of the Action and the relief of her own conscience, to speak the whole truth upon all questions which should be addressed to her touching the Faith; and We did exhort her to avoid all subterfuges and falsehoods of such a nature as should turn her aside from a sincere and true avowal.
And in the first instance we did require her, in the appointed form, her hand on the Holy Gospels, to swear to speak truth on the questions to be addressed to her.
To which she did reply:
“I know not upon what you wish to question me; perhaps you may ask me of things which I ought not to tell you.”
“Swear,” We did then say to her, “to speak truth on the things which shall be asked you concerning the Faith, and of which you know.”
“Of my father and my mother and of what I did after taking the road to France, willingly will I swear; but of the revelations which have come to me from God, to no one will I speak or reveal them, save only to Charles my King; and to you I will not reveal them, even if it cost me my head; because I have received them in visions and by secret counsel, and am forbidden to reveal them. Before eight days are gone, I shall know if I may reveal them to you.”
Again did We several times warn and require her to be willing, on whatsoever should touch on the Faith, to swear to speak truly. And the said Jeanne, on her knees, her two hands resting on the Missal, did swear to speak truth on that which should be asked her and which she knew in the matter of the Faith, keeping silence under the condition above stated, that is to say, neither to tell nor to communicate to any one the revelations made to her.
After this oath, Jeanne was interrogated by Us as to her name, and surname, her place of birth, the names of her father and mother, the place of her baptism, her godfathers and godmothers, the Priest who baptized her, etc.
“In my own country they call me Jeannette; since I came into France I have been called Jeanne. Of my surname I know nothing. I was born in the village of Domremy, which is really one with the village of Greux. The principal Church is at Greux. My father is called Jacques d’Arc ; my mother, Ysabelle. I was baptized in the village of Domremy [The Font and Holy water stoup in the old Church at Domremy are 15th century, and to have been used at Jeanne’s baptism.] One of my godmothers is called Agnes, another Jeanne, a third Sibyl. One of my godfathers is called Jean Lingué another Jean Barrey. I had many other godmothers, or so I have heard from my mother. I was, I believe, baptized by Messier Jean Minet; he still lives, so far as I know. I am, I should say, about nineteen years of age. From my mother I learned my Pater, my Ave Maria, and my Credo. I believe I learned all this from my mother.”
“Say your Pater.”
“Hear me in confession, and I will say it willingly.”
To this same question, which was many times put to her, she always answered: “No, I will not say my Pater to you, unless you will hear me in confession.”
“Willingly,” We said to her, “We will give you two well-known men, of the French language, and before them you shall say your Pater.”
“I will not say it to them, unless it be in confession.”
And then did We forbid Jeanne, without Our permission, to leave the prison which had been assigned to her in the Castle, under pain of the crime of heresy.
“I do not accept such a prohibition,” she answered; “if ever I do escape, no one shall reproach me with having broken or violated my faith, not having given my word to any one, whosoever it may be.”
And as she complained that she had been fastened with chains and fetters of iron, We said to her:
“You have before, and many times, sought, We are told, to get out of the prison, where you are detained; and it is to keep you, more surely that it has been ordered to put you in irons.”
“It is true I wished to escape; and so I wish still; is not this lawful for all prisoners?”
We then commissioned as her guard the noble man John Gris, [John Gris, or Grey, a gentleman in the Household of the Duke of Bedford, afterwards knighted. He was appointed chief guardian to the Maid, with two assistants, all members of the King’s Body Guard. They appear to have left her entirely in the hands of the common soldiers, five of whom kept constant watch over her.] Squire, one of the Body Guard of our Lord the King, and, with him, John Berwoit and William Talbot, whom We enjoined well and faithfully to guard the said Jeanne, and to permit no person to have dealings with her without Our order. Which the forenamed, with their hands on the Gospels, did solemnly swear.
Finally, having accomplished all the preceding, We appointed the said Jeanne to appear the next day, at 8 o’clock in the morning, before Us in the Ornament Room, at the end of the Great Hall of the Castle of Rouen.