THE TRUE TRIAL OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC
II. The false rehabilitation
THE COMPASSION OF THE PEOPLE OF FRANCE
THE people of France suffered during the year when Joan was in prison, but even more so when they learned of her execution on May 30, 1431. It was they who kept intact the holy memory of their liberator.
The papal decree introducing the “ cause of the venerable servant of God Joan of Arc ”, dated January 27, 1894, confirms this :
« She won the glorious death of the just, which so greatly excited the admiration of the spectators that her enemies were terrified. There were some who returned from this horrible spectacle beating their breasts. Men entered into themselves, and they immediately began to venerate Joan as a saint on the very site of her execution ; so much so that her enemies, in an attempt to put relics of the Maid beyond the people’s reach, cast out her heart, which had remained intact in the midst of the flames and from which blood had flowed, along with her ashes. »
But then, if every subject of the “ most Christian Frankish kingdom of France ” has been persuaded, since 1431, of the iniquity of the trial that condemned the Maid to the stake, one question must be asked : why wait so long before canonising her ? Yet, history says that Joan was rehabilitated by the King’s order and with the Pope’s blessing in a revision trial, twenty-five years after her death ?
It’s because the condemnation trial of 1431 and the trial of Joan’s so-called “ rehabilitation ” of 1456 were equally iniquitous. « They were, Charles Boulanger explains, two political trials welded together by a deception : her alleged abjuration. It governed the first trial and dominated the second. »
Let us follow his demonstration closely, setting each element in its historic context.
THE CAMP OF WICKED FRENCHMEN
The enormous publicity which the English gave their “ victory ” throughout Christendom soon backfired against them. The letters who they sent to the court of Rome and to Christian princes clearly betrayed the true political motives of this fraudulent Church trial.
However, opinions were divided. “ The Journal of a Bourgeois from Paris ”, written by a member of the University hostile to Joan, testified that « there were some here and there who said she was a martyr for her good Lord ; others denied this ».
Among the latter were not only the Anglo-Burgundians : Regnault de Chartres did not hesitate, as Archbishop of Reims, to “ give it as his opinion that Joan the Maid did everything for her own pleasure ”. It was well-known that, right from the beginning, he had belonged to a party opposed to that of the Maid within the Royal Council ; moreover, along with his stepbrother Flavy, he had been the instigator of her capture in Compiègne ; finally, as Cauchon’s metropolitan archbishop in 1431, he had done nothing to inform Rome of his suffragan bishop’s misappropriation of funds. He must have known that the trial of faith brought against Joan by his suffragan, Bishop Cauchon, was an abuse of power, since he himself had presided over the tribunal of Poitiers which, in 1429, had already judged Joan “ in matters of faith ”. Joan had herself reproached Cauchon for this. Regnault de Chartres’ silence on all the illegalities and abuses of power committed by Cauchon during the trial of Rouen made him an accomplice in the unjust sentence brought against Joan.
His successors to the archiepiscopal see of Reims were Jacques and Jean Jouvenel des Ursins. The latter had a good knowledge of Joan’s “ sayings and doings ”, as he had been one of Regnault de Chartres’ assessors at the Poitiers examination in 1429 and had begun to write the “ the Chronicle of the Maid ” there. In the same year as Joan’s death, he had been appointed Bishop of Beauvais, to replace Lord Cauchon… Now, curiously enough, two years later, even though the States General of Blois had given him the task of exalting the great military leaders who had liberated France, he passed over the name and miraculous deeds of Joan of Arc in silence. What did this “ lapse of memory ” signify ?
A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE
As his study progressed, Charles Boulanger became increasingly indignant as he came to realise that within the government of Charles VII, and apparently with his consent, there existed a powerful cabal opposed to Joan. Thus, in 1449, Jean Jouvenel des Ursins replaced his brother Jacques in the archdiocese of Reims, the latter being assigned to the bishopric of Poitiers, while their third brother, Guillaume, occupied the position of Chancellor of France, that is to say of Guardian of the Seals… and of the archives.
The three brothers found themselves at the same time in possession of the three copies of the “ minute ” of Joan’s Trial at Poitiers, in March 1429 ! Now, quite surprisingly, all three of these crucially important documents disappeared at around the same time.
The simultaneous disappearance of the three documents served only too well the interests of the party which, to avoid suspicion, had determined to speak no longer of Joan and her glowing epic. At Poitiers, all the members of the theological commission summoned by the King had expressed a favourable opinion of the Maid, referring to her as an authentic messenger of Heaven. So it was preferable to efface all trace of such documents… The suspicion is thus confirmed of a veritable plot hatched at the highest clerical, academic and political levels to prevent any revision of the 1431 trial… even to this day !
THE IMPOSSIBLE REVISION : 1431-1450
The very powerful University of Paris had rallied to Charles VII “ the Victorious ” in 1436, when he retook Paris. In return, it had obtained a general amnesty and the retention of its privileges, material ones included. And the new bishop whom it immediately chose to be the protector and “ guardian of its privileges ” was… Jean Jouvenel des Ursins.
The choice was well made, and our doctors of the Sorbonne might well have felt confident. At the time of the English occupation, the University of Paris had been so closely implicated in Joan’s condemnation that its interest in reopening the trial of 1431 was rather less than anyone else’s ! Caught between two stools, King Charles, highly embarrassed, preferred not to hear about the demands of the common people, who vehemently clamoured for the rehabilitation of the one who had delivered France and restored its King “ in God’s Name ”.
THE SORBONNE’S COUNTER-ATTACK
When Charles VII solemnly entered Rouen in 1450, the inhabitants of the Norman city, who had several times tried to shake off the English yoke, provoking bloody reprisals from the occupier, « reminded the King what he owed to the Maid’s memory ». To please them, the King decided to open a revision trial that would undo the injustice of the one of 1431. The people were greatly delighted by this, whereas the University gnashed its teeth.
It was a matter of simple justice to annul the sentence of the first trial, not on a point of detail, but due to its total nullity regarding the very manner in which it had been carried out, so apparent was it that Joan had been condemned out of political passion, in a spirit of hate and rebellion. It was necessary to open a new trial, in which the original judges and their accomplices would be accused of having shown themselves to be more in the pocket of foreigners than to have acted as faithful Christians.
The Sorbonne, now at bay, went on the counter-attack against this threat of a revision trial. The defensive manoeuvre was facilitated by the fact that the King had entrusted the dossier to influential members of the “ Sorbonne syndicate ”, devoted servants or interested clients of the Parisian University. Thus, observes Charles Boulanger, just as the professors of the pro-English Sorbonne had planned to eliminate the Maid for foreign policy reasons in 1431, so, in the same way, in 1450, these same academics, or their successors, planned to justify their colleagues for reasons of domestic policy, and of personal security…
Our learned doctors were cunning and more than capable of staging a fabricated trial whose objective would be satisfy the King and the people by declaring Joan’s condemnation sentence null, while at the same time “ demonstrating ” that the judges had been deceived by false reports and by… Joan herself, yes of course ! In short, all were responsible, but not guilty ! This stratagem has barely varied down the centuries…
In this scenario, the entirely fictitious abjuration which Cauchon had attributed to Joan was not only useful but essential for excusing her judges of 1431. The cunning of the new judges was to make it even more credible still, twenty years after the events. Until then, it was only Joan’s enemies who had affirmed her “ abjuration ”, but it was now to become an official truth, sealed by the authority of a tribunal appointed by the King and approved by the Pope. It was the final straw !
For such a deception to succeed, the University had to surround itself with a thousand precautions, like a legal network of barbed wire, in order to transform this revision trial into an inextricable judicial labyrinth. Its aim was to discourage anyone who might care to uncover the truth ! In this sense, the principal investigator Bouillé, the grand inquisitor Bréhal, the judge Jean Jouvenel des Ursins, and their associates, played a far cleverer hand than Cauchon and his notaries.
THE TRIAL HIJACKED : 1450-1456
FIRST STAGE : THE BOUILLÉ INQUIRY.
In 1450, Charles VII entrusted one of his counsellors, the inquisitor Guillaume Bouillé, a Dominican and academic, with letters patent ordering the opening of a private informative inquiry.
Bouillé began by examining the documents of 1431 and heard seven principal witnesses. Put at their ease, Cauchon’s former accomplices confessed so many staggering things that these interrogations convinced Bouillé of the scale of the crimes and procedural abuses committed in the course of the condemnation trial.
It is quite sickening to see all these “ witnesses ” presenting themselves in a good light whilst all the time accusing others and feigning pity for their victim.
At the end of his inquiry, Bouillé understood that he could not add these interrogations to the revision dossier without gravely compromising the judges of 1431 and, through them, the University of Paris. Bouillé worked them into a more “ presentable ” memoir, like that written by the notary Manchon in 1431. That was the first substitution in this revision trial which had an uncanny resemblance to the first !
The “ Bouillé memoir ” had the additional advantage of establishing the main lines of the Sorbonne syndicate’s defence, but at the price of three gross lies :
1. « The qualifying lords [that is to say the judges and assessors] were deceived – as is perfectly evident [sic !] – by 12 articles falsifying Joan’s answers. » Note that none of the seven witnesses had spoken of these 12 articles, but Bouillé had found mention of them in the writings of the notaries, and this allowed him – ah, clever man ! – to erase any trace of the first 70 articles composed by d’Estivet, which Joan had refuted point by point before the court. As the objective was to excuse the judges of 1431, to show that they had been deceived, it was especially important to conceal the fact that Joan had proved to them the falsity of the accusations levelled against her ! The second substitution, analogous to that of 1431.
2. That the court should have been misled by a false report was too feeble an excuse. So the Dominican Bouillé reinforced it by taking up the thesis of an alleged abjuration by Joan in the cemetery of Saint-Ouen . « An abjuration for which Joan is said to have justified herself by declaring that she had not understood the cedula that had been presented to her », he added. If Joan had not known how to answer her accusers, and if furthermore she had abjured in their presence, then she was truly guilty of having misled her judges ! She had only herself to blame for being burned ! A frightening conclusion.
3. Bouillé realised, however, that he should not push this reconstruction of the facts too far : he needed to be careful about Charles VII, whose reputation might be tarnished by a Maid who had supposedly repudiated him and signed a text that was grossly insulting towards him. What was needed, therefore, was to effect a third substitution : the long “ 500 word ” cedula was no longer “ politically correct ”, as we would say today, so Bouillé decided to create another one, which would be called the “ short cedula ” and which Joan supposedly failed to understand.
What a convoluted muddle ! It took Boulanger ten years to unravel this tangled web. Let us continue our investigation with him as our guide, holding firm until we reach the end of the truth.
SECOND STAGE : THE D’ESTOUTEVILLE INQUIRY.
In 1452, Charles VII ordered a second informative inquiry, this time of an official nature, which he thought to entrust to Cardinal d’Estouteville, the Pope’s legate. Seventeen witnesses were heard this time, including the assessor Migiet, the only one who dared to mention « the men’s clothes removed from her ». That was his only testimony ; he would not be caught out a second time…
D’Estouteville had no difficulty in understanding the whole matter. But this great lord, sensualist, ambitious and calculating, decided quickly to get rid of the dossier by sending it back to Charles VII. Let Bouillé and Bréhal, the grand inquisitor of France, sort it out as best they could ! He was not keen to compromise himself one way or the other, either by whitewashing the Sorbonne or by denouncing it. He contented himself with advising that it would be preferable to take up the revision as a civil matter and not as an ecclesiastical one. His enquiry was not added to the dossier, as it would have been too compromising for the conspirators of 1431…
THIRD STAGE : BRÉHAL IS PUT IN CHARGE OF “ THE AFFAIR ”.
Let us see now how the revision trial was hijacked by the very people who were most compromised or whose friends were themselves implicated in the judgement condemning Joan. From May 22, 1452, the grand inquisitor Bréhal, a doctor at the Sorbonne, was officially responsible for “ the Affair ”. On the advice of Montigny, one of his colleagues from the University, he made some important modifications to the “ Bouillé plan ”.
To expunge the political character of the trial at Rouen, it was necessary to find canonical material for the revision, in order to lend it an ecclesiastical character ; and for this reason the Holy See, the supreme judge in Church cases, had to be involved, but only from a distance ! in order that the University of Paris might remain free to conduct the Affair as it intended… On the other hand, in order to manipulate the “ petitioners ” of the revision more easily, it was vital to persuade King Charles VII to take a back seat and to allow others, like the d’Arc family for example, to take a more prominent role, since they would not be so presumptuous as to contest the judgement of the University doctors.
The plan worked perfectly. During the year 1455, Charles VII agreed to step back ( !) and Joan’s mother, Isabelle Romée, as well as her brothers, Pierre and Jean d’Arc, became the “ petitioners ” for a revision. A petition, largely inspired by Bréhal, was drawn up in their name and addressed to Pope Calixtus III.
THE PONTIFICAL RESCRIPT
In response, a papal rescript dated June 11, 1455 ordered the revision of the 1431 trial. Rightly concerned to exonerate the Church of Rome, Charles Boulanger insists that the pontifical rescript is inadequate to invest the trial’s conclusions with the Pope’s authority. Canon n° 40 of the Code of Canon Law stipulates that, if a petition addressed to Rome contains erroneous or fraudulent reasons, the corresponding rescript is null and void.
Now, such was the case here. The “ plaintiffs’ petition ” of 1455 effectively contains two lies :
PRIMO. The Bishop of Beauvais, « of happy memory » (sic !), was deceived about Joan by the “ d’Estivet report ” of March 26. False ! Cauchon was perfectly well acquainted with the facts concerning Joan thanks to the two informative inquiries that took place in her native land in January.
SECUNDO. It was on the basis of this “ d’Estivet report ” that Cauchon began proceedings in matters of faith against Joan on February 19. Also false. D’Estivet’s report was dated March 26, that is one month after the opening of the trial. Therefore he was not the one who opened it ; by that date, Cauchon had himself already interrogated his prisoner around fifteen times.
TERTIO. Furthermore, as the “ petition ” was to be signed by Isabelle Romée and her sons, Bréhal dared not mention Joan’s abjuration in it, contenting himself with dignifying her judge, the Lord Pierre Cauchon, with the epithet “ of happy memory ”. Moreover, the saint’s abjuration was for the first time officially insinuated in the text of the proclamation posted on the doors of the Cathedral of Paris and other churches of the Kingdom, announcing the opening of a revision trial on November 7, 1455. There the people of Paris could read the words « confessions extorted from Joan by violence and fear ». So Joan apparently confessed then…
Confessed what ? Subsequent events would tell.
THE SESSION OF NOVEMBER 7, 1455
On the appointed day, a huge, enthusiastic crowd thronged into the Cathedral of Paris, convinced that they were going to witness the glorification of the holy Maid of Orleans. The hearing promised to be moving, for her mother was present, escorted by an imposing group of the inhabitants of Orleans, who united their complaints to hers.
What was not the surprise and general disappointment when they saw Isabelle Romée and her sons led aside to the cathedral sacristy. There they found themselves alone before three judges and a tribunal, just like Joan twenty-five years earlier…
The three judges who were listening to this petition were Jean Jouvenel des Ursins, Archbishop and Duke of Reims, Guillaume Chartier, Bishop of Paris by the grace of the University, and Richard de Longueuil, Bishop of Coutances. The latter would frequently be absent but was just as generously remunerated as the first two. Now these gentlemen claimed that the crowd’s devotion and enthusiasm would disturb the calm of their deliberations. It would be more correct to say : of their plot.
The trial therefore took place behind closed doors.
Nor were our judges any more confident of the good dispositions of the mother and the brothers of the “ deceased ”. So, as soon as the curtain went up, Jean Jouvenel des Ursins and Bréhal attempted to terrorise them and make them understand that Joan, supposed to be an innocent victim, was perhaps just as guilty…
The presumption of innocence, therefore, was exercised solely on behalf of Joan’s judges ! « At no time, writes Boulanger, were the true culprits to be troubled by the revision trial judges. » Such an imposture would be scarcely credible, did we not know today, thanks to Boulanger, the ulterior intentions of these judges, as wily as those of the condemnation trial. They were well-matched these judges, indeed as thick as thieves !
Joan’s mother, Isabelle, had to suffer one final dagger thrust from Bréhal : « It is therefore probable that Joan is not entirely excusable on this point. » The “ point ” in question was the famous “ abjuration ” which, although it had been extorted and had not been understood, was still inexcusable, as the judges explained to the elderly peasant woman, for « one must not deviate from justice under pretext of avoiding the bodily harm of which natural instinct has a horror. It is better to undergo all kinds of punishment than to consent to evil », pronounced these Pharisees, whose hypocrisy now took on monstrous proportions.
The session ended with the customary oath that witnesses are made to take, to which a special oath was added for the occasion, accompanied by terrifying threats against those who would make so bold as to question the tribunal’s authority. The poor mother left thoroughly shaken.
AN INVERTED TRIAL
What a strange trial now got underway : the victim had become the guilty party and the criminals the victims. Who were, in practice, the defendants in this trial ?
It was not at any rate to be the “ judges and deliberants ” of 1431. Cauchon and Le Maître ? They had been misled by d’Estivet. And it was on him, the promoter of the faith at the trial in Rouen, that the revision trial judges brought to bear the entire weight of the accusation, – as he was already dead, this would of little consequence ! – as well as on the “ twelve articles ”, which had the merit of being anonymous. As for the notaries, the assessors and the bailiff, they were summoned to appear as witnesses, but in no way as defendants.
ZEALOUS « PROSECUTORS »
Joan had not had a lawyer in 1431. But in 1455, at the second sitting on November 17, the revision trial judges commissioned sixteen lawyers for Isabelle Romée and her sons ! Arrangements were then made to have Isabelle and her sons removed from the court. But before dismissing them, the judges made them sign a procuration : Everything had to be accepted in advance, because, of course, everything would be judged in accordance with truth and justice !
The elimination of the d’Arc family in favour of their sixteen lawyers leaves one somewhat bemused when one learns just who these fine « prosecutors » were… former members of the Rouen trial or friends of the University.
Two other substitutions were perpetrated during the second sitting of the revision trial : as intended by the “ Bouillé plan ”, d’Estivet’s 70 articles were replaced by the 12 articles of accusation , and the “ 500 word ” cedula read out by Érard at the cemetery of Saint-Ouen was replaced by the “ short cedula ” . This short cedula had simply been made up by Maugier, acting on Bouillé’s instructions.
The trap was closing in on poor Joan again, this time accused of a fourth “ abjuration ”. On December 20, 1455, the lawyers drew up a text of 101 articles which were supposed to summarise the conclusions of the “ plaintiffs ”. Note that the latter were no longer present to check their veracity, and that they were forced to accept everything in advance. Ah well, in these 101 articles, it was stated three times that Joan had abjured by signing a « short cedula containing a few things », which she had not understood.
On February 17, the articles in question were accepted by the tribunal, along with a formal prohibition laid on both future witnesses and family of contesting them and « opposing anything in them ».
In April 1456, the witnesses started to be called. For the judges, the stakes could not be higher : whatever it cost, it was a matter of obtaining depositions concerning the “ short cedula ” which, while accusing Joan, would excuse her judges of 1431.
Let us look at the principal testimony, that of the ex-bailiff Massieu. In 1450, at the time of the Bouillé inquiry, he had testified under oath to having seen Joan sign the cedula of “ 500 hundred words ” read out by the Dominican Érard : « she abjured them, and made a cross with a quill given to her by the deponent ». According to the other witnesses, she drew a circle or else wrote her name, or both. It would be good to know which.
In 1452, at the time of his second deposition, Bréhal had the idea of suggesting to Massieu that it was in fact he, Massieu, who had read out the abjuration cedula to Joan, and not Érard. The ex-bailiff is executed. As for the actual length of the cedula and its contents, the bailiff, like all the other witnesses, had remained silent in 1452. But in 1455, Maugier and Prévosteau had devised the “ happy formula ” transcribed in their 101 articles. Massieu’s memory suddenly came back and he recalled that the cedula, which he was meant to have read out to Joan, contained « approximately eight lines and no more ».
As for the depositions of the other four witnesses, they were even more vague, and so manifestly contradicted that it is easy to denouncing such perjuries. How surprised we were to learn that the existence of the « short cedula » of abjuration which Joan is supposed to have signed at the Saint-Ouen cemetery is founded on nothing but the credibility of these depositions ! The fact that there was no trace of it beforehand proves quite simply that it never existed…
July 7, 1456 :
The Cover-up in the Joan of Arc Affair,
A “ Triumph ” of the University of Paris.
We now have a better understanding of the title of Charles Boulanger’s book. Let us briefly summarise the steps that led to this trial’s conclusion.
On May 30, 1456, the court president, Archbishop Jean Jouvenel des Ursins, resigned his office six months into the proceedings. Unless he was being modest about his triumph, this resignation is strange. Having conducted the Affair to its conclusion, doubtless he did not wish to take responsibility for it, and left his successor with the task of pronouncing the sentence. Two delegate judges were appointed to replace him : Msgr. Lefèvre, Bishop of Démétriade, and a certain Coquerel.
The revision trial’s verdict was solemnly pronounced in Rouen on July 7, 1456.
The text of the sentence read out before the people brought no sanction to bear against the judges of 1431, reserving all its severity for… the 12 articles of accusation, which were condemned to be torn up, and not burned, as certain people had somewhat distractedly proposed. The condemnation trial’s verdict was quashed, but those who had pronounced it were neither condemned nor excommunicated ; on the contrary, their memory was strangely spared. Herein lay the heart of the revision trial’s trickery.
On the other hand, the holy Maid’ alleged abjuration was reaffirmed, and public prayers were ordered for the salvation of her soul.
It goes without saying that this judgement filled the good people of Rouen assembled on the occasion with amazement and consternation. The proof of this is that there was neither popular jubilation nor royal celebrations.
In September 1456, not being in a position to verify any of the facts and suspecting nothing, Rome ratified the judgement. The documents only arrived in Rome nineteen years later ; as for the documents of the trial of 1431, they only arrived at the end of the century, amidst indifference and general oblivion. As Boulanger says, the Joan of Arc Affair was « covered up » for a long time.
When people began to get to know the Maid’s history better, and when the Church decided to raise her to the altars in 1874, the objection to the abjuration arose more strongly than ever.
Anticipating the discovery of Charles Boulanger by fifty years, Saint Pius X, who loved France and her heavenly heroine, decided, from the beginning of his pontificate, to overcome the obstacle. On January 6, 1904, on the anniversary of Joan of Arc’s birth, he promulgated the decree of the heroicity of her virtues and, five years later, on April 18, 1909, proclaimed her blessed.
To the Bishop of Orleans, who had told him of his « dream » of France’s resurrection, the Pontiff, who considered France to be « the tribe of Judah of the New Covenant », answered in these prophetic words :
« When you return home, tell your compatriots that if they love France, they must love God, love the Faith, love the Church, who is a very tender mother for them, as she was for their fathers.
« On this account alone, France is great among the nations ; by this clause, God will protect her and make her free and glorious ; according to these terms, what is written of Israel in the holy books may be applied to her : “ That none has been found to insult this people, except when it turned away from God ”. What you said, therefore, is not a dream, venerable brother, but a reality : I have not only hope, I have the certainty of a full triumph. »
May Saint Joan of Arc, holy Dove of French peace and reconciliation, heroic martyr of the Roman Catholic faith, return to us with her heart of fire, and France will rise again inspired by her voice and example, « in the name of the King of Heaven », Jhesus-Maria !
Taken from Resurrection, n° 17, May 2002, p. 31-38