15 April 2013

Traitors & Turncoats: The Betrayal of Joan of Arc

By Ginger Myrick

In my previous post on Women in Warfare: Joan of Arc, I gave a cursory account of Joan’s capture on the field at Compiègne during which she impressed even a Burgundian historian with her courage: "She remained in the rear of her men as their captain, and the bravest of all ..." Her troops retreated from the battle to safety, and Joan rode behind them to ensure it. As the bulk of the force crossed into the fortification, the bridge was drawn up and the portcullis dropped, knowing that the Maid was on the wrong side.

 It may seem shocking to some that Joan’s own countrymen—especially inhabitants of the very town she had come to liberate—would leave her outside the gates when she was certain to be captured by the enemy. But by this time her standing had been much diminished by her military failures. If she were truly from God, would He have allowed her to fail? By her own admission ‘her voices’ had deserted her. The last time Stes. Catherine and Margaret had spoken, they had told her she would be taken before Midsummer, "and thus it needs must be."

Joan found herself in the custody of a vassal of the Duke of Burgundy. Because of the longstanding bloodfeud raging between the ruling house and this particular duke of France—it was said that the Dauphin had entrapped the Duke’s father, John the Fearless, and had him killed if not perpetrated the crime himself—Philip had sided with England many years before. Being in the custody of a Burgundian was nearly as bad as being in the hands of the English themselves, but there was still a chance that a compassionate soul would intervene and pay the ransom. 

Many French eyes looked to their newly anointed king, as Joan had been the one responsible for setting the crown upon his head, but by all accounts Charles was not a man who was quick to action nor was he possessed of the funds. Of course he was the king and could have found a way to release her by royal decree, but he left her to her fate. When Charles refused to pay the ransom, Joan was offered to the English who jumped at the chance. Now what would they do with her? 

They would have liked to have her declared a witch, burned, and be done with the matter, but that was not so easy. She had always maintained that her mission was from God and that the voices she heard were those of saints. She had already passed a moral inquiry and been declared a good and virtuous Christian. Her prosecutors tried to trap her into talking about ‘her voices’—in an attempt to call them demons then say she was possessed—but she simply refused, saying that the voices would not allow her.

The only means left to accomplish their end was to convict her of heresy. She had already passed the test for witchcraft, so how could they accuse her of heresy? Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, another Burgundian and English partisan, cunningly pointed out a Biblical law, Deuteronomy 22:5, which states that a woman shall not wear the clothing of a man, and Joan had certainly done that. But heresy only carried a death sentence for a repeat offense. How would they get her to betray herself? 

After a period of fasting or prolonged fever (I have read differing accounts, but one thing on which they concur is that she was not in a lucid state of mind.) Joan was taken out to the execution platform and shown the fate her accusers had in mind for her. They prepared two documents for her consideration. One was an abjuration stating that Joan acknowledged her error and vowed to cease dressing as a man. The other was a confession saying that ‘her voices’ were evil and that she had committed all manner of sin, making the first option seem far less offensive by comparison. In addition, her prosecutors said that if she signed the first and donned woman's clothing, she would be housed in gentle prison with nuns for guards instead of rough English soldiers. She was illiterate and could only trust in their honor. Confronted with the horrifying vehicle of her undoing, she made her mark. 

After signing the document, Joan repented of her sin and complied with the conditions, but a few days later, they found her in her cell garbed in her old clothing. How it occurred seemed a mystery, but afterward she told a member of her tribunal that "a great English lord had entered her prison and tried to take her by force." She had resumed male attire either to defend herself against sexual assault or because her dress had been ruined or stolen and she was left no other recourse. Regardless of how it happened, her relapse was the evidence needed for her conviction, and she was immediately sentenced to burn.

On the day of her martyrdom, Joan was so valiant in her conduct that she even won admiration from English soldiers who were present in force to witness the execution and ensure that no rescue attempts would succeed. One of the Englishmen fashioned a small cross that she placed in the front of her dress, and when the deed had been done, a secretary of Henry VI of England said, "We are all lost. We have burned a Saint!" 

Twenty-five years later, a nullification trial found that Joan’s case had been criminally mismanaged. Several witnesses testified that the transcript had been doctored, and many of the church officials had been compelled to serve against their will, some even threatened by the English. Bishop Cauchon had illegally detained Joan in a secular prison and denied her appeals to a higher church office, which should have ended proceedings on that level. And in the Church’s eyes, the technical reason for her conviction—dressing like a man—was justifiable if done to preserve chastity. The investigation posthumously declared Joan innocent and convicted Cauchon of heresy.

Ginger Myrick was born and raised in Southern California. She is a self-described wife, mother, animal lover, and avid reader and knitter. Along with the promotion for THE WELSH HEALER, and EL REY, she is currently crafting her third novel, which takes place during the U.S. Civil War. She is a Christian who writes meticulously researched historical fiction with a ‘clean’ love story at the core. She hopes to persevere with her newfound talent and show the reading community that a romance need not include graphic details to convey deep love and passion.


Marie Laval said...

How very interesting! Thank you very much Ginger for this great post.

Marcia Quinn Noren said...

Well said, well stated, and thank you so much for honoring La Pucelle.