In the fall of 1430, I was summoned to King Charles VII's residence in Chinon, France. I was in my mid-twenties, but during this time period that made me a mature adult. I was a lawyer of the law knowing English and French statutes as well as the canonical law of the Catholic Church. To be summoned by the King was a great honor for any Frenchman.
I was escorted by the King's guards into the fortified castle. The guards and soldiers that patrolled the castle reminded me that we were in a state of war against England. I walked down the halls of the castle, and upon seeing the King knelt before him.
The King was slender and his face appeared fatigued from the struggles of ruling the kingdom. He was a man fearful of how others saw him, and was constantly anxious that he would be overthrown. At the time of our meeting he was only twenty-seven, and had reigned as King for just a year. Despite our similar age the class difference between us was immense.
"I am in need of your service," the King began.
"I am here to serve," I answered respectfully.
"There is a delicate matter concerning the maiden of Orleans. You have heard of her?" the King asked.
"I have my King," I said.
"She has performed a great service for France, but she was captured by the Burgundians in May. She is now in the hands of the English. The English do not wish to make this a political matter. If they execute her then she will become a martyr for France. So, they are trying her for witchcraft within the Church's jurisdiction. They hope to successfully try her as a witch, and thus taint her reputation," the King said.
"I am proficient in both English and Canonical law my King," I said as humbly as I could.
"Good. If she is found to be a witch the legitimacy of the crown is at stake. People will say that I have retaken the kingdom with the power of witches and demons," he said. "Do you believe in witchcraft?"
I knew then that I was being tested by the King. If I denied the existence of witchcraft I could be charged with heresy, but if I stated I did believe in witchcraft I would be exposed as either a liar or as an ignorant superstitious villager. "I do not my King," I said honestly.
There was a long pause between us. "Neither do I, but the charge has been useful to prosecute individuals when proof of their guilt is absent. I want you to defend the maiden from this charge at the trial. Then, if she is executed by the English her blood will be on their hands," the King said.
"Where will trial be held my King?" I asked.
"You will go to Rouen," the King answered.
I had never been to Rouen, but I knew that it was the military headquarters of the English. "As you wish my King," I said respectfully.
"The trial will be conducted by Bishop Pierre Cauchon. He is claiming jurisdiction, because the maiden was captured at Compiègne, which is in the Diocese of Beauvais," the King said.
"I know of him. He is an English partisan. He will do whatever he can to convict her," I said.
"I know, which is why I am sending you. I have faith that you will be able to use your talents to acquit her at the trial. You will be escorted by my guards into English held lands, and you will report to the bishop," he said.
"What of the ransom my king?" I asked.
"That matter is still being negotiated," the King said vaguely.
I knew then that I was doomed. I could not refuse the King's request, but I also knew that I had no way of succeeding. Bishop Pierre Cauchon would look for any excuse to convict the maiden as a way to shield the English from blame when they kill her. Even the trial scribes could not be trusted to give an accurate account of the testimony. There was no way I could win unless I could stall the trial long enough for the King to provide the ransom. That was my only chance for success.
"I am honored to accept this duty," I said to the King.
"Go and my God be with you," the King said to me.
Although I would never say so in public I had a poor opinion of King Charles VII. He was either the son of a lunatic or the bastard child of his mother Isabeau's extra-marital affairs. While he was a teenager he was tied to the assassination of the Duke of Burgundy. I also had suspicions that the King was not doing all that he could to release the maiden, since the English managed to buy her off from Burgundians. Still, if I were successful I would be highly honored and elevated in the French court. If I failed, I always considered defecting to the English to be a possible option.
Soon after my meeting with the King, I packed my books and belongings for the journey to Rouen. I rode a horse with an armed escort to the English border, and was allowed passage into the city. I then reported to Bishop Pierre Cauchon at his church office. He had been forced to flee his diocese as the French forces advanced onto his territory. He was therefore a Bishop in exile, but he didn't act like it.
"I have been sent by King Charles of France to defend Jeanne at the trial," I said.
"There is no need for her to have a defender. You can trust the Church to be fair," he said.
"The girl is ignorant of canonical law. She must be given advice during the trial," I insisted.
"She does not need to know canonical law. All she must do is tell the truth when she is questioned," he said simply.
"Your Grace, this is a delicate matter. I am here to ensure that all procedures are followed under the law. This trial is seen by some as illegitimate, because it is taking place in English territory," I said.
"I make the trial legitimate," he said displeased with my tone.
"With all due respect Your Grace, you have a reputation whether it be earned or not for having favoritism with the English," I said.
"Are you saying I am not impartial?" he asked.
"I am saying that there is a perception by some that you are not. This trial will not be accepted by the people of France unless there is indisputable proof of her guilt, and that she was given every defense," I said.
The Bishop sighed irritably. "You may advise the maiden on canon law during visitations, but you may not assist her at trial. Your actions will be watched while you are here. If you attempt to spy or engaged in any hostile action against the English I will not be able to protect you."
"That is acceptable," I said disappointed.
"I will let you know the time in which you will be allowed to see her. If you attempt to contact her without my authorization you will be sent back to France or worse," he said.
"I am allowing you this only because it has been requested by your king," he said derisively.
"I am most appreciable Your Grace," I said hiding my disgust.
The preliminary hearing was scheduled for January 9th, 1431, and I was allowed to talk to Jeanne only a few days prior. When I first saw her I was initially surprised by her condition and dress. She appeared to have been treated poorly, and was dressed in masculine clothes. As you are well aware gender roles were strictly enforced during these times.
"Are you Jeanne of Domrémy?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied guardedly.
"I have been sent by your king to advise you at your trial. I cannot be there for you during the questioning, but I can be of assistance to you here," I told her.
"What of the ransom?" she asked.
"I do not believe one will be forthcoming. We are on our own," I told her.
She looked sad as if betrayed, which she was. "Why are you dressed this way?" I asked her.
"My voices have told me so," she said.
"Who are these voices?" I asked.
"They are the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret," she replied.
"How do you know the voices correspond to these people?" I asked.
"They have told me so," she said.
"What is their reasoning for you dressing in these clothes?" I asked.
"They did not give me their reasoning. I simply obeyed," she said.
"Can you at least speculate?" I asked impatiently.
"I believe they wish to protect my virginity," she said finally.
"So, you are a virgin," I said surprised. Preserving virginity before marriage was important during this time, but Jeanne had surrounded herself with male soldiers, and had been guarded by English guards. In such circumstances rape was not uncommon.
She nodded in the affirmative. "You will be examined by the Church on this issue. If you are not telling the truth it will be discovered," I told her.
"I am telling you the truth."
"I understand your desire to protect your virginity. Your clothing would certainly make it a little more difficult and less appealing for a rapist; however it does not prevent it entirely. After your examination I recommend that you dress in feminine clothes, so as to not give credence to the charge that you are defying God's natural law. If you are raped it is not a sin, but it is a sin to dress in this way. You cannot commit a sin to prevent sin," I said.
"I shall do as the voices tell me," she said simply.
I gave her a frustrated look. "I am trying to save your life."
"You are trying to make sure the king is not embarrassed by me. If I am not killed by the Church I will be killed by the English. I have given the king his kingdom, and he has abandoned me," she said.
"If you are acquitted by the Church the English will not execute you. They will ransom you back to France," I told her.
She didn't seem to believe me, so I decided to move on. "The Church will go to Domrémy looking for any indiscretions. If you have committed any grievous sins there they will find out," I said.
"They will find nothing," she said.
"And what of your family. They have received titles of nobility due to your service to France. Your father had much to gain by advancing your claim," I said.
"My father is an honest man," she said.
"Good. There is the issue of you jumping from your tower in Vermandois. They will claim that you lost faith, and that you tried to commit suicide," I brought up.
"I was trying to escape. It is natural for a prisoner of war to try to escape. I would never try to kill myself; it is a grievous sin," she said.
I nodded at her response. "They will question you thoroughly, and will try to find contradictions in your testimony. They will ask you the same question repeatedly to see if you will answer differently," I warned her.
"I will give them true answers," she said.
"Our legal strategy will be to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the trial. Give me some time, and I will work to release you," I said.
"You are a man of little faith, but may God work through you. I will pray for you," she said to me.
"Do you have any requests of me?" I asked.
"I want a confessor," she answered.
"I don't think that will happen. If you were to confess in secret what you have been accused of they would be executing an innocent woman. I'll see what I can do," I promised.
The trial officially started on January 9th, and an inquiry went out to investigate Jeanne's character in her hometown of Domrémy. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly was in charge of the investigation, but found nothing against Jeanne. An examination of Jeanne's virginity by the Duchess of Burgundy on January 13th proved her to be innocent. I then confronted Bishop Cauchon on the legitimacy of the trial.
"I believe your presence in this trial is not legitimate. You are not the Bishop of Rouen," I said.
"The diocese of Rouen has given me special permission for me to oversee the trial. She was captured in my diocese," he said.
"That diocese is now in French hands," I reminded him. "Jurisdiction is not where she was captured, but where the crime occurred."
"That would give several dioceses in France jurisdiction," he said.
"Exactly. She should be tried in France," I argued.
He gave me a dismissive look. "We have the advantage of calling upon the best ecclesiastic scholars from the University of Paris. What does France have?"
"What does Rome have? I petition that this case be referred to His Holiness Pope Martin V and the Council of Basel," I said.
"His Holiness is sick and the Council has better things to discuss than this girl. Rome trusts the dioceses to conduct their own trials. If and when she is convicted you may appeal to Rome. The petition is denied," he said.
"It is a matter of perception. Rome would be an unbiased third party between England and France," I pressed.
"The answer is no," he said stubbornly.
"Then I petition that the trial itself be dismissed. Mr. Bailly found nothing against my client, which means you have no grounds to even start this trial," I said.
"Petition to dismiss is denied. There is overwhelming evidence of her heresy outside her hometown," he said.
"I then petition that a French ecclesial delegation be allowed to observe the trial," I said.
"That would be unadvisable during this time of war. I cannot guarantee their safety or comfort. Your petition is denied," Cauchon said.
"I petition that Jeanne be allowed to go to mass and confession," I said finally.
"She will be allowed to do so granted she is dressed appropriately. But if she continues to dress in masculine clothing, I will not allow it. If she has anything to confess she may do so at the trial," he said.
"My King will be aware of my petitions, and the fact that they were all denied," I threatened.
"All of your petitions follow the singular premise that you do not believe I can give the maiden a fair trial," he said.
"That is correct," I said boldly.
"Do you have any more petitions?" he asked annoyed.
"Not at this time," I answered.
"Then get out of my office," he said angrily.
The interrogation would begin on February 21st, so I was given time with Jeanne to talk with her on what she should say. "They will require you to take an oath to tell the truth. If you lie at any point in the interrogation they will convict you of falsehood," I told her.
"I will tell them everything except what the voices told me not to reveal," she said.
"That will not satisfy them," I told her.
"I cannot disobey them," she said simply.
"Indeed, it may be better if you refuse to tell them what they have told you. The more you say about these saints the more likely they will find a flaw," I said.
Jeanne gave me an annoyed look. "They will ask you about your family, your hometown, your first priest, and your godparents," I said. "Do you remember?"
"If at any point they ask you a theological question or prayer you do not know demand that they confess you before you will answer. They will never agree, and will eventually drop the question," I told her.
"If they ask you anything about the king refuse the question. You cannot reveal confidential conversations between yourself and the king," I said.
"Do you represent me or the king?" she asked.
"My first duty is to serve France," I told her. "Have you taken the Body of Christ on Easter?" I asked.
"And the other feast days?" I asked.
She said nothing. "They will be looking for any imperfections in your character," I told her.
"They are hypocrites. Who are they to judge me?" she said.
"It is better to refuse the question than to admit guilt," I advised her. "Do you go to confession every year?" I asked.
"They will ask if the voices have guaranteed the salvation of your soul. Have they?" I asked.
"No, I have never asked that," she said.
"Good, because no one can guarantee salvation until you have died," I told her. "They will ask you if you are in a state of grace. It will be a trap. If you answer yes then you will have committed a heresy, but if you say no you will have convicted yourself of your guilt," I said.
"How do you suppose I should answer?" she asked.
"The key word is hope. You hope that you be in a state of grace, and you hope that if you are not in a state of grace that God may place you in it," I said. "But you can never know for certain whether you are saved."
"They will ask whether you can order your voices to do anything," I said.
"I have never done so," she said.
""They will ask why God allowed you to be captured," I continued.
"I shall say it is God's will," she said.
"The important thing is control. If you can control your voices, if you can tell them what to do, if you can control your own fate then they cannot be real. We can never control God, the angels, or the saints. They give us orders and we follow them. We can never hope to understand the reasons for why we are given these orders; we simply follow them. If God wants the English out of France then it is not our place to question it or understand it," I told her.
"I assure you that I have always been obedient to God's will."
Jeanne was then questioned thoroughly by inquisition on February 21st, 22nd, and the 24th. After the hearing I read over the transcript, and was mostly pleased by the result. I wrote to the King of France that the trial was a fraud, and gave evidence as to why it was illegitimate. I then stated my resolve to acquit Jeanne of the charges. After writing the letter I felt some confidence that even if Jeanne were found guilty and executed the French Court would understand the futility of my situation.
"They will ask about the physical description of these saints. Can you give it?" I asked her.
"In the vision I don't see them with my eyes, but my soul can feel them. I can distinguish them by their voice, and how they greet me," she said.
"It is best not to go into the physical description of these saints. If you say they look a certain way they may say the vision is false. These men are experts on the tradition of these saints, and describing what they look like or what they say is dangerous," I said.
"I will reveal only what they wish me to reveal," she said.
"Also, it is best if you claim you do not remember certain things. If they do not know what happened, and you do not tell them what happened then they have nothing to accuse you with," I said.
"If they ask you certain questions you don't understand or could get you into trouble ask for time. The longer we stall this out the better," I added.
"What kinds of questions?" she asked.
"Which of the three was the rightful claimant to the Papacy?" I asked.
"The Pope in Rome," she answered.
"That's a good answer," I said. "They will ask about your sword. Where did you find it? Did you kill with it? Did you bless it? Did you favor it over your banner?" I said.
"What difference does it make to the trial?" she asked.
"They will attempt to make you appear like a woman obsessed with war and death, which is a foreign concept to your sex. They will hope to prove that you have used God to further your political desire to defeat the English," I said.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"It doesn't matter what I think. Popes have declared holy crusades, and priests have given out indulgences so they can build great cathedrals. The clergy are hypocrites using the faith for money and power. This Bishop Cauchon is no exception, he has sold his soul to the English," I said.
"Do you think me one of these hypocrites?" she pressed.
"I don't know what you are," I admitted. "All I know is that France has been restored, because of you. As a patriot I am grateful for your service."
"I found the sword at St. Catherine's church. It was buried behind the altar. I found it and the clergy cleaned the rust off," she said after a pause.
"It is common for soldiers to place their weapons or belongings at the base of the altar as thanks giving for their success," I said. "Do not assume that the sword came down from Heaven for your use."
"Of course, I never thought it did. The sword has French designs on it, and if I thought it came from Heaven I would never have lost it. The voices told me where to find it," she said.
"They will ask whether you prefer your sword over your banner. You should say you prefer your banner," I said.
"I do prefer my banner," she said plainly.
"Then make sure you emphasize that point," I advised.
Jeanne was questioned on February 27th, and did fairly well against the inquisition. Another interrogation was to be held on March 1st. After that interrogation I was quite pleased with the peasant girl's performance. She had declined to detail the saint's description, and had refused to answer questions pertaining to the King of France. However, her masculine clothing was a constant issue throughout the trial, which would never go away. In the March 3rd session the interrogators grilled her on her choice of dress, descriptions of the saints, how she was honored by the public, and her escape attempt. Jeanne skillfully dodged their traps.
"They want to make the impression that your motivation is impure. They want to make the point that you began this entire campaign so that you would be honored and loved by the people," I told her.
"That is not the reason," she said.
"You must avoid references to gifts and honors you have received due to your accomplishments," I said. "They will imply that every little superstitious thing your men did was by your order."
"I will tell them the truth and nothing more," she said.
Between the third and the tenth of March I visited Bishop Cauchon for another appeal. "His Holiness is dead, and Pope Eugene the Fourth has taken his Holy office. I petition to Rome that this trial be stopped immediately," I said.
"Your petition…like the one before it is denied," he said annoyed. "You may appeal to Rome if and when there is a conviction," he said.
"There will not be enough time. If she is convicted she will be executed before any appeal can be heard in Rome," I argued.
"If she be innocent her soul shall go to Heaven," he said dismissively.
"And Your Grace will be damned for condemning an innocent woman," I said angrily.
"You shall watch your tongue. You're fortunate to even be allowed residence here," he said. "Many of the members of this trial have other occupations. Henceforth the questionings shall be in her cell," he said.
"I believe that will be used to intimidate her," I said.
"If she is telling the truth she has nothing to fear."