The Trial of Joan of Arc

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  • Topic: Joan of Arc, Question, Pierre Cauchon
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  • Published : May 7, 2012
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The Trial of Joan of Arc
The trial of Joan of Arc lasted from January 9 until the end of May 1431. During this famous trial, the accusers tried to confuse and entrap this peasant girl, against who they had not formulated a formal charge. The proceedings of the trial can be divided into three phases. The first stage was the judge’s investigations before the authorized trial in court, which took place from January 9 to March 26. Next, from March 26 through May 24, was the “ordinary” trial that culminated in Joan’s recantation or “abjuration”. Finally on May 28 and May 29, the brief relapse trial took place.

After Joan’s two failed attempts at escaping, Joan was spared no humiliation. Joan was held in the Crowned Tower, one of the seven that enclosed a “vast lower court” in the fortress of Bouvreuil, a castle of Rouen. Joan was chained with leg irons that were attached to her bed in a dark, quiet room. The bed was anchored by a large piece of wood which was five to six feet long. Joan was guarded by “five Englishmen”, three of whom slept inside her cell and the other two outside.

One of the first things the accusers wanted an answer on was Joan’s virginity. According to sources, Joan feared “that at night her guardians would do her some violence.” At Rouen, Joan was examined by Anne Bavon. Anne confirmed that Joan was a duly virgin. Anne may as well as forbidden her guards to molest her. This virginity test, had she failed could have convicted her Maid of falsehood, however since she passed, this worked towards her advantage.

Pierre Cauchon, the presiding judge of the trial, and the University of Paris intended to try Joan for heresy, therefore this had to be a church trial. If this had been a true church trial, Joan would have been confined in an ecclesiastical prison, guarded by women. Therefore, she would have received somewhat humane treatment. Yet throughout the trial, Joan was treated much more poorly, as she was a prisoner of war. Prisoners of war tended to be chained and guarded by soldiers, as Joan was. To get around the canon-law procedures, they decided to have her cell locked by three keys and the keepers of these keys were all clerics. Therefore, they maintained that Joan was entirely subject to ecclesiastical custody.

On Joan’s first appearance before the tribunal, Cauchon states, “We forbid you to leave without our permission the prison cell that has been assigned you in the castle of Rouen, under the penalty of being convicted of the crime of heresy.” Joan was not fooled by Cauchon and replies, “I do not accept that prohibition; if I were to escape, no one would blame me for having either offended or violated my faith.” This raises the ambiguity: Was she a prisoner of war o an alleged heretic?

The first public session of the trial was held on Ash Wednesday, February 21, 1431. Joan stood alone, without a lawyer to represent her. This was contrary to the traditional procedures of the Inquisition. This fact did not seem to have weakened her spirit of resistance, as Cauchon became aware of when Joan refused the swearing of an oath:

“Swear to tell the truth concerning whatever will be asked you that has to do with the Catholic faith and with anything else that you know.” “About my father and mother, and everything else that I have done since I took the road to come to France, I shall willingly swear; but never have I said or revealed anything about the revelations made to me by God except to Charles, my king. And even if you wish to cut my head off, I will not reveal them, because I know from my visions that I must keep them secret.” Eventually, Joan swore to tell the truth about anything that would be asked about religious beliefs.

Then the proper interrogation began and another obstacle arose. The bishop instructed Joan to say the Pater Noster, to which Joan responded, “Hear me in confusion and I will say it to you willingly.” Joan’s wish for the...
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