From Elation in Reims to Execution in Rouen

Jeanne d’Arc fulfilled her central mission with the crowning of King Charles VII in Reims on July 17 1429, just a little over five months since she set out from Vaucouleurs on February 12. This was a remarkable achievement.

Continued Action against the English

Rather than returning to her home in Domremy, she turned her attention to driving the English out of France. The newly-crowned King, however, was more interested in making a truce or failing this, an armistice with the Burgundians who were allied with the English.  Jeanne led the French armies to a modest victory in a number of inconclusive skirmishes.

Jeanne d’Arc’s Military Travels, from Reims to Compiegne

An assault on Paris – the largest city in Europe at the time – was begun on August 25. This was unsuccessful and the French withdrew from the attack on September 8. Jeanne was wounded in the assault – for the fourth time. Further attacks in Burgundian territory took place, with success at St. Pierre de Mouthier on November 2 but with failure at La Charite in November-December. The King had disbanded the much of the royal forces, leaving a smaller army with Jeanne.

Capture at Compiegne


Capture at Compiegne


Jeanne entered a period of relative inactivity during the winter of 1430 but began military actions again in the spring time. On May 23, at an assault on the Burgundians who had laid siege to Compiegne, she was captured. Then came seven months in captivity with the Burgundians,

On January 3, 1431, she was acquired by Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, in whose territory she had been captured, with the English paying the ransom. The professors of the University of Paris pressed the case for handing Jeanne to Church officials rather than the English military authorities.

The French King had refused to pay the ransom.

The “Trial of Condemnation”

The religious procedures against Jeanne began on January 9, 1431. She was tried in an Ecclesiastical Court organized by Bishop Cauchon (Ph.D., former rector of the University of Paris). She faced 62 leading Church and Inquisition officials and theological professors from the University of Paris.

Bishop Pierre Cauchon’s Interrogation, by Paul Delaroche, 1797-1856

The motivation of the English was to remove Jeanne as an inspiration for the French armies, in hopes that the tide of battle would then turn in their favor. Bishop Cauchon and the church officials were willing partners in the proceedings though the English applied pressure on them. Cauchon had his eye on further religious promotion. The ecclesiastical officials supported the claim of the English King to the throne.

Jeanne faced her persecutors and judges alone, with no legal counsel and with little advance notice of the arguments to be brought against her. She was isolated, poorly nourished, in worsening health, unkempt, and perhaps abused by her guards who remained in the prison cell with her. She was denied access to churches and Communion which were so important to her.

Nonetheless, judging from the transcripts of the trial, she defended herself skillfully despite the tricks and ruses that were used against her. In the words of Mark Twain in his essay entitled Saint Joan of Arc:

Although she was on trial for her life, she was the only witness called on either side; the only witness summoned to testify before a packed jury commissioned with a definite task: to find her guilty, whether she was guilty or not. She must be convicted out of her own mouth, there being no other way to accomplish it. Every advantage that learning has over ignorance, age over youth, experience over inexperience, chicane over artlessness, every trick and trap and gin devisable by malice and the cunning of sharp intellects practiced in setting snares for the unwary — all these were employed against her without shame; and when these arts were one by one defeated by the marvelous intuitions of her alert and penetrating mind, Bishop Cauchon stooped to a final baseness which it degrades human speech to describe. A priest who pretended to come from the region of her own home and to be a pitying friend and anxious to help her in her sore need was smuggled into her cell, and he misused his sacred office to steal her confidence; she confided to him the things sealed from revealment by her Voices, and which her prosecutors had tried so long in vain to trick her into betraying. A concealed confederate set it all down and delivered it to Cauchon, who used Joan’s secrets, thus obtained, for her ruin.

Throughout the Trials, whatever the foredoomed witness said was twisted from its true meaning when possible, and made to tell against her; and whenever an answer of hers was beyond the reach of twisting it was not allowed to go upon the record. It was upon one of these latter occasions that she uttered that pathetic reproach — to Cauchon: “Ah, you set down everything that is against me, but you will not set down what is for me.”

Not surprisingly, she was found guilty.  Her crimes were wearing mens’ clothes, attempting suicide, sorcery with regard to her “voices”, and refusal to submit to the “church militant.”

On May 24, 1431 she was burned alive at the stake at the central marketplace in Rouen as a “relapsed heretic, idolater and apostate.”

Preparing for Execution

Burning Alive at the Stake, Photo of stain glass window at Orleans Cathedral; photo by Arch Ritter

The ecclesiastical kangaroo court that condemned Jeanne, under pressure from the English, stands as a disgraceful monument to ecclesiastical and institutional corruption. Bishop Cauchon’s name lives in infamy for his vile twisting and distorting of the facts in fabricating the case against Jeanne. Likewise, the Professors of the University of Paris disgraced themselves deeply for their willingness to kowtow to the English military authorities and for their role in the trial.

The “Trial of Rehabilition”

Jeanne d’Arc, at Compiegne

In 1455-1456, a new trial was held in view of the irregularities of the 1430 trial. Presumably it was awkward for King Charles VII to have been crowned King through the efforts of one who had been convicted and executed for sorcery, heresy and apostasy. The trial was brought about through the efforts of Jeanne’s Mother and Brothers who, with the help of the Papal legate in France , persuaded Pope Callixtus III to reopen the case. The French church agreed with some hesitation but also undoubtedly with damage-limitation in mind.

In the trial, some 150 witnesses were summoned from the various stages of Jeanne’s life from Domremy to Compeign. Their testimony upheld Jeanne’s courage, honesty and virtue. The Court declared Jeanne’s innocence and found that the trial of condemnation had been based on false accusations. Jeanne was declared a martyr and Cauchon was implicated in heresy.

Vieux Marche, Rouen,  where Jeanne d”Arc was Burned at the Stake, October 29, 2012

Some Further Sources:

Trial of Condemnation

Biographical sketch of Charles VII,

Trial of Joan of Arc, Wikipedia,

Bishop Pierre Cauchon

Edward Lucie-Smith, Joan of Arc, London: Penguin Books, 1976 (not available on line.)

Regine Pernoud, Joan of Arc By Herself and her Witnesses, Lantham Maryland,: Scarborough House, 1994. (The definitive history of Joan of Arc in her own words and those of the witnesses transcribed in her Trial of Condemnation and Trial of Rehabilitation. Not available on the Web.)

Rouen Cathedral, 1944; War Damage

Rouen, 1944

Unrepaired Souvenirs of World War II, Central Rouen

Approximate Location where Jeanne’s Ashes were Thrown in the Seine

The Seine River at Rouen, with a Midway in the background

The French Naval Vessel Jeanne d’Arc in avana Harbour, April 2012

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