Trial of Jeanne d’Arc trial introduction

Note: This introduction was written for the 1932 book from which this trial is reprinted.


By Coley Taylor

A little over five hundred years ago there was a trial in the King of England’s military headquarters and capital in France — a trial that has become second in importance only to the Trial of Christ. The young woman who was examined, tried and condemned in that medieval, strong-castled town of Rouen has been the central figure of a whole literature of controversy. Shakespeare, Voltaire, Michelet, Schiller, Quicherat, Lang, Mark Twain, Anatole France, Frank Harris, Shaw, Paine and others far too numerous to mention have demonstrated by their writing about her that minds throughout the centuries from her time to the present find her as dynamic and challenging a figure as did the people of her own time.

The Maid’s followers believed that she came from God and adored her as a prophet, saint and military idol. The Burgundians and English were stricken with fear at her success and when she was captured condemned her as a witch and apostate. The Roman Catholic Church has canonized her as a saint. Mr. Shaw has hailed her as the first Nationalist and the first Protestant. Other interpretations of her personality are as completely far apart. Every book about her adds to the controversy.

Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. It was not until some time later, almost certainly not before 1435 that the record of her trial was translated by Thomas de Courcelles, one of her judges, and Guillaume Manchon, trial notary, into Latin from the minutes taken daily during the process of the trial, together with all the forms of letters patent emanating from Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, Jean Le Maistre, Vice Inquisitor of the Faith, the doctors of the University of Paris and other dignitaries.

Five copies were made of the official record. Manchon, the notary, wrote three in his own hand: one was given to the Inquisitor, another to the King of England, a third to Pierre Cauchon. These five copies were signed and authenticated by the notaries Manchon, Boisguillaume and Taquel, and were given the seal of the judges.

“Of these five copies,” says Pierre Champion, the greatest modern authority on Jeanne d’Arc, “the one that Guillaume Manchon retained was given to the judges of the Rehabilitation proceedings on December 15, 1455 and torn up by order of that tribunal. According to the testimony of Martial d’Auvergne one of the copies had been sent to Rome; another copy was found at Orléans in 1475. Etienne Pasquier kept one copy for four years. To-day there are three copies at Paris:

“A. Bibliothèque de la Chambre des Députés. ms. no. 1119, the only known copy on vellum, and of large format, which Quicherat believed destined for the King of England by Manchon. It seems more likely, by considering the variations in certain titles and headings, that this was Pierre Cauchon’s copy . . . which Boisguillaume decorated. It was used in the preliminary work of the Rehabilitation and was part of the library of Parlement in the middle of the Seventeenth Century (III folios, 26×33 cm.).

“B. Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. lat. 5965, a copy carefully collated and presenting numerous changes (erasures and crossings-out) and writing over in different handwriting (169 folios, paper, 29 x 20 cm., traces of seals).

“C. Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. lat. 5966, a copy in uniform handwriting, without any writing over or scratching out, and of which the seals have fallen away since the time when Edmond Richer consulted it (220 folios, paper, 28 x 21 cm., traces of seals).

“These manuscripts have substantially the same value; they are authenticated copies, derived from a common original,” Pierre Champion assures us, adding that the variations betray chiefly the individual habits of the scribes who transcribed them, and are therefore insignificant.

The original source of these manuscripts was the Trial Minutes in French (minuta in gallico) which the notary Manchon wrote. To quote Champion further, “With his colleagues Pierre Taquel and Boisguillaume, Manchon recorded every morning during the trial the questions and Jeanne’s answers. After déjeuner, the three notaries worked in turn in putting the record in order. They had to do their work carefully, for Jeanne answered with prudence. Whenever she was asked about a point already treated upon, she did not answer anew; she had the notaries read her former answers. . . .

“These minutes, in French, formed a manuscript, paper, written entirely in Manchon’s hand; he showed it to the judges of the Rehabilitation [twenty-five years later]. It was from this record that the Latin translation which we have to-day was made. The French minutes, produced before the judges of the Rehabilitation, we no longer have. As Quicherat was able so brilliantly to prove, we have only a fragment of it in the d’Urfé manuscript, beginning with the Twelfth Session of the trial. . . .

“If we compare Manchon’s minutes with the definitive version there can be no doubt that the Latin version was built upon the minutes, of which it espouses exactly the form of the French, except for rendering the concrete and rapid words of our quick language in the more general Latin terms; we find here not French based upon Latin, but Latin based upon French. . . .” M. Champion points out, as others have, that the Latin translators, “when in despair of translating exactly, admitted the French words” used by Jeanne and her inquisitors.

This Trial Record, inconceivable as it must seem, has never, before this present translation, been completely given into English. Portions of it have been used. Many of the Maid’s biographers have consulted it, summarized it, or used as much of it as suited their purposes; some have translated important and lengthy sections of it. Its details are generally known. But the whole trial has never before been accessible to the reader who is not either a French or a Latin scholar, and editions in those languages are extremely difficult to procure.

Barrett’s translation, notably faithful to the original in letter and spirit, takes us into the very room with Jeanne and her judges: into the great room of the Castle of Rouen, into the tower cell where she was in chains and had to endure the cross-questioning of lawyer, skilled in subtle examination. We, as well as Jeanne, hear the formal letters of authority read out in court; the legal red tape of that day was no less ornate and magniloquent than it is at present. The court adjourns after dramatic and damning answers, to take up the burden next day or the day after. While she was “on the stand” questions were shot at her from all sides, as we may easily see for ourselves. Questions that some of her judges complain of as too subtle. She has no counsel to aid her, except her Voices, and she protests that she cannot hear Them, frequently, for the noise in the court and her prison drowns them out.

That she was tried by an extraordinary confrèrie of experts Pierre Champion’s magnificent biographical researches, translated here in Dramatis Personae prove. Most of her judges were graduates and members of the faculty of the University of Paris which at that time served the church through a kind of dictatorship of the General Council. Many of them had served the King of England or his regent the Duke of Bedford, as ambassadors or councillors. Nearly all of them were at one time or another on the English payroll, directly, or indirectly through ecclesiastical appointments that were in the hands of the English King.

We see Jeanne pitted against sixty skilled politicians, lawyers, ambassadors, trained in all the complexities of legal questioning, all of them versed in academic casuistry. Most of them were avowedly her enemies. Her victories for Charles VII had driven many of them, including Bishop Cauchon, out of their dioceses, away from their seats of authority and revenue. They were of the University of Paris and Jeanne had threatened Paris. If she had succeeded in that they would have been utterly ruined.

She was imprisoned, not in the ecclesiastical prison where women would have attended her, but in the Castle of Rouen, at that time the English citadel, governed by the Earl of Warwick. The little English king lived there, and the regent Bedford. Jeanne was closely guarded and was kept in irons even when she was extremely ill. Her guards annoyed her and abused her and she lived in constant fear of them, although Warwick restrained them somewhat, for she was a valuable prisoner; the English had paid 10,000 livres for her. Ten or twelve francs was the price of a horse.

There has surely been no more dramatic or horrible trial in history than hers. Sixty of the ablest politicians and academicians, endowed with authority no less impressive because it was largely usurped, were summoned by their military masters to try, under the elaborate forms of law, a girt nineteen years old: an extraordinary girl whose military genius had made her the wonder of Europe, a King-maker, and the archenemy of her judges.

The world had seen nothing like her since Christ. The judges and assessors at Rouen knew as they assembled there that the eyes of Christendom were upon them and that dynasties trembled in the balance. They also were aware that the King of Heaven spoke through His saints. They knew that Jeanne had prophesied that she would raise the siege of Orléans and had done so. They knew that she had prophesied would have the Dauphin crowned at Reims. She led the Dauphin and his court through English-conquered territory to Reims, subduing Meung, Beaugency, Jargeau and Patay, and had seen him crowned Charles VII, King of France. She had captured the greatest English generals of the time. The judges as they awaited the formal opening of the trial could ponder on these wonders, and her faith that she was sent by God and Saint Michael. She was called putain, harlot, often enough by her enemies, but her judges knew that committees of women had. examined her and found her an intact virgin. The latest such examination had been conducted by the Duchess of Bedford and her ladies. Her judges must have known by rumor that at Beaurevoir, the castle of Jean de Luxembourg, who sold her to the English, the three Joans his, aunt, wife and daughter, approved of Jeanne and begged him not to sell her. The judges knew that an ecclesiastical examination at Poitiers, conducted by the Archbishop of Reims, then in exile, Cauchon’s superior in the Church, had found her good and a true Catholic inspired. This examination had been held before Charles was permitted to accept her offered help. They knew, too, that Le Maistre, Vice Inquisitor, was hesitant about proceeding against Jeanne. With all these things in mind, the judges must have gone in fear and trembling to the opening of the trial in the heart of the English military headquarters, for all their knowledge of their authority and power. They knew what was expected of them and they knew their own abilities.

The Trial Record shows us, day by day, how they prosecuted the case, and what their individual decisions were. It is one of the most fascinating narratives in all history.

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