Joan of Arc

QuynhNhu Phan
Professor Thomas Rushford
Western Civilization I
25 November 2013

Joan of Arc

The Maid of France obeyed Christian teachings, lived a pious life and inspired those who were around her to live their lives to the fullest; nonetheless, she was falsely accused of heresy and burned at the stake in Rouen’s square in 1431.  Ignoring her overall character, the biased judges focused on her dress and pronounced that she was corrupt.  In fact, not only was Joan of Arc threatened with torture, but also harassed by her guards, which means she neither signed the abjuration nor put men’s clothes on voluntarily.  Harboring a host of irregularities, her ecclesiastical trial was no doubt an unfair procedure aimed at executing an innocent girl onbehalf of the English government.

Nothing about the trial of Joan of Arc was ordinary.  The venue was wrong, for example. Joan was captured in Compiegne and was tried in Rouen, but “no assent of the chapter of Rouen could give jurisdiction in such a case” (Murray 11).  Throughout the proceedings, Joan was bound in iron chains and fetters, imprisoned in the castle of Rouen with English soldiers as guards, “regardless of the fact that this was not a civil trial” and that Inquisitorial procedure stipulated a female defendant to be guarded by nuns (Hobbins 19 and Williamson, “Joan of Arc, Brief Biography”).  What is more, the judges ought to have provided the articles of accusation at the beginning of the trial, on February 21, 1431, but the articles were read to her very late, on March 27th and March 28th, 1431 (Hobbins 22).  For this reason, she had no knowledge of what the specific charges were or what the judges would interrogate her about.  They kept demanding her that she take an oath to answer all of their questions honestly, but all she could do was insist that she was not allowed to reveal any revelations from God (49).  Moreover, her judges ignored her desperate appeals to the Pope on March 17, May 2, and May 24, 1431, though they were legally permissible (24).  Above all, unlike other trials of the Middle Ages, Joan’s was fully recorded in detail and translated into Latin, showing that “the judges took very seriously the task of recording their involvement,” and that Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, had carefully and confidently planned to distribute the text (18).  This implies that his motivation from the beginning was to persuade the public of her guilt and that the outcome of her trial was predetermined.  In brief, Joan’s trial was by no means normal, if not biased against her.

Not only was the trial of Joan of Arc heavily prejudiced, but it was also highly political.  As a result of the Treaty of Troyes signed in 1420, Henry VI of England would inherit the throne of France, and the dauphine, Charles VII, would be disinherited from royal succession.  However, thanks to Joan’s support and the voices she claimed were from God, Charles VII successfully drove the English out of France, restored his kingdom and claimed the crown (Warner 67).  The main goal of her pro-English judges, therefore, was probably to prove that her voices were misleading, implying the illegitimacy of Charles VII (Hobbins 20).  Her chief accuser and chief judge, Bishop Cauchon, always believed in the Treaty of Troyes and allied himself with the pro-English Burgundians.  The jury that he packed, which included Courcelles, Beaupère and Midi to name but a few, took bribes from English officials.  In fact, there are English records documenting  payments made to them (Williamson, “Joan of Arc: English Records Documenting Their Involvement in Joan of Arc’s Trial”).  Considering all of the evidence, it is not surprising that the whole process “[violated] generally recognized inquisitorial procedure” (Hobbins 17).

Having strong motives for revenge, it is most likely that Bishop Cauchon and his assistants manipulated Joan’s treatment because “the Inquisition could not hand over a simple heretic to the secular arm for burning, but could condemn only a relapsed heretic” (Warner 148).  On May 9, 1431, they showed Joan the instruments of persecution, to which she would be subjected, and sternly warned her that she would be severely tortured if she did not confess the truth (Hobbins 178).  Feeling terrified, she honestly admitted that “if I tell you anything, later I will say that you forced it out of me” (Hobbins 179).  On May 24, 1431, Joan gave up, yielded to the clergy, signed the abjuration and put on women’s attire, although she never meant to deny her voices (Hobbins 195). According to some witnesses at the nullification trial, one or two days later, an English lord attempted to rape her, while this young girl was in chains, and her guards replaced the women’s garments with male clothing (Michelet 110).  This should have been regarded as an extenuating circumstance. It is possible that Joan had to wear men’s clothes because she did not have any other choice, yet she was unjustly sent to death.

Focusing on Joan’s transvestism, and not taking into account her overall character, was a mistake.  Trying to please God until her last breath, Joan was always famous for her piety (Michelet 9).  Specifically, she loved to hear Mass, eagerly obeyed Church teachings, vowed to be a virgin and had positive influence on those who were around her.  Soldiers confessed their sins, went to church, stopped swearing and started new joyful lives, for instance (Williamson, “Joan of Arc, Brief Biography”).  Her initial examiners, learned theologians believed that her voices were real (Anastaplo 210).

Undoubtedly, it is hard for the readers to analyze this trial as its dual nature, being both political and religious, easily leads to misunderstanding (Hobbins 21).  But in the final analysis, Joan of Arc was unfairly convicted.  Fortunately, justice speaks for itself.  On May 16, 1920, she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV and has become one of the greatest French heroines ever.

Works cited

Anastaplo, George. On Trial: from Adam and Eve to O.J. Simpson. New York: Lexington Books, 2004. Print.

Bullough, Vern L. “Transvestites in the Middle Ages.” American Journal of Sociology 79.6 (1974): 1381-1394. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.

Hobbins, Daniel. The Trial of Joan of Arc. Cambridge: Havard UP, 2005. Print.

Hunt, Lynn, et al. The Making of the West. 3nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.

Michelet, Jules. Joan of Arc. Trans. Albert Guerard. Binghamton: University of Michigan, 1957. Print.

Murray, T. Douglas. Jeanne D’Arc, Maid of Orleans, Deliverer of France. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902. Print.

Twain, Mark. “The Maid’s Sword and Banner.” Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. N.p., 1896. N. pag. Jeanne Darc. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.

Williamson, Allen. “Joan of Arc, Brief Biography.” Joan of Arc Archive. N.p., 2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.

—. ”Joan of Arc: English Records Documenting Their Involvement in Joan of Arc’s Trial.” Joan of Arc Archive. N.p., 2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.

Warner, Marina. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. New York: Penguin Books, 1981. Print.

Wood, Charles T. Joan of Arc and Richard III: Sex, Saints and Government in the Middle Ages. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. Print.


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