Story of Joan of Arc - Andrew Lang

The Trial of the Maid

As Joan was a woman, and a prisoner of the Church, when the English had handed her over to the priests, she ought to have been kept in gentle prison, and with only women about her. But the English were very cruel. They had a kind of cage made, called a huche, and put in a strong room in the Castle of Rouen. In this cage they kept Joan, with chains on her legs, which were fastened to a strong post or beam of the bed. Five common soldiers kept watch in the room, day and night; the eyes of men were always on the most modest of girls. We see how much they feared her. They wished to have her proved a witch, and one who dealt with devils, to take away the shame of having been defeated by a girl, and also to disgrace the French King by making the world believe that he had been helped by a sorceress and her evil spirits. In truth, if you read Henry VI., Part I., by Shakespeare, you will see just what the English thought about the Maid. Shakespeare, of course, did not know the true story of Joan, and he makes her say abominable things, which not even her enemies brought up against her at her Trial. If Shakespeare wrote the play, he did not care a penny for the truth of the story. He sends Joan to Bordeaux, where she never was in her life, and makes "Fiends" (that is, her Saints) appear to her, and show that they will help her no longer. So she offers her very soul as a sacrifice for the sake of France:

"Then take my soul, my body, soul and all,

Before that England give the French the foil."

Later she turns on the English, and says what she might have said with truth:

"I never had to do with wicked spirits:

But you, that are polluted with your lusts,

Stained with the guiltless blood of innocents,

Corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices,

Because you want the grace that others have,

You judge it straight a thing impossible

To compass wonders but by help of devils."

The English had devils on their own side, the cruel priests and Bishop Cauchon, whom they had promised to make Archbishop of Rouen. But he never got it.

For three months these people examined Joan every day, sometimes all shouting at her at once, so that she said,

"Gentlemen, if you please, one at a time."

She had no advocate, who knew the law, to help her to defend herself. But once, when she appealed to the Council of Basle, a Council of the Church which was then sitting, they bade her be silent, and told the clerk who took down everything in writing, in French, not to write down her appeal. There is nothing about this in the Latin book of the Trial, translated from the French, but in the French copy, made in court, you see the place where the clerk's pen has stopped at the words, "and she appeals" (Et requiert, in French). He was going to write the rest. Now she had a right to appeal, and as the clergy at the Council of Basle were of many countries, they would not have taken the English side, but pronounced Joan innocent. The Bishops and clergy of the loyal French party at Poitiers, before she went to the war, had declared her innocent and a thing of God, after a long examination of her life up till April 1429. Joan often asked her judges to send for "the Poitiers book," where they would find answers to their questions about her early days; but they vexed her about everything, even about the fairy tree, on which the children used to hang their garlands. Their notion seems to have been that the fairies were her helpers, not the Saints, and that the fairies were evil spirits.

Joan had shown that, in war and politics, she was wiser than the soldiers and statesmen. She went straight at the work to be done—to beat the English, and to keep attacking them before they got back their confidence. At her Trial she showed that she was far wiser than the learned priests. They tried to prove that she was helped by fairies. She said that she did not believe there were any fairies; and though I would not say that there are none, there certainly are not so many, or so busy and powerful, as the priests supposed. They kept asking her about the prophecies of Merlin the Wizard: she thought nothing of Merlin the Wizard.

She vowed to speak truth in answer to questions, but she would not answer questions about her Saints and Voices, except when they gave her permission. The judges troubled her most about the secret of the King, and what she told him about that, before she went to the wars. You remember that the King had secretly prayed to know whether he really was the son of the late King or not, and that Joan told him of his prayer, and told him that he was the son of the late King, and had the right to be King himself. But she would tell the Judges nothing about all this matter. If she had, the English would have cried everywhere, "You see he is not certain himself that he is what he pretends to be. Our  King of England is the only King of France."

Joan of Arc


Joan would not betray her King's doubts. She never would tell what happened. At last she told a simple parable: an Angel came with a rich crown for the King. But, later, she explained that by the Angel she meant herself, and that by the Crown, she meant her having him crowned at Rheims. They never could get the King's secret out of her. At last they said they would put her to the torture. They took her to a horrible vault, full of abominable instruments for pinching, and tearing, and roasting, and screwing the bodies of men. There stood the executioner, with his arms bare, and his fire lit, and all his pincers, and ropes, and pulleys ready.

"Now will you tell us?" they said. Brave men had turned faint with terror in that vault, and had said anything that they were asked to say, rather than face the pain. There was a Marshal of France, Gilles de Rais, a nobleman who fought beside Joan at Orleans, at Les Tourelles, at Jargeau, at Pathay, and at Paris, and who carried the sacred vessel which the Angel brought, long ago, with holy oil, at the King's coronation. Later this man was accused by the Inquisition of the most horrible crimes. Among other things, he was said to have sacrificed children to the devil, and to have killed hundreds of little boys for his own amusement. But hundreds of little boys were not proved to be missing, and none of their remains were ever found. Gilles de Rais denied these horrible charges; he said he was innocent, and, for all that we know, he was. But they took him to the torture vault, and showed him the engines of torment, and he confessed everything, so that he might be put to death without torture, which was done.

Joan did not fear and turn faint. She said, "Torture me if you please. Tear my body to pieces. Whatever I say in my pains will not be true, and as soon as I am released I will deny that it was true. Now, go on!" Many priests wished to go on, but more, even of these cruel enemies, said, "No!" they would not torture the girl.

"What a brave lass. Pity she is not English!" one of the English lords said, when he saw Joan standing up against the crowd of priests and lawyers.

Remember that, for six weeks, during Lent, Joan took no food all day. There she stood, starving, and answering everybody, always bravely, always courteously, always wisely, and sometimes even merrily. They kept asking her the same questions on different days, to try to make her vary in her answers. All the answers were written down. Once they said she had answered differently before, and, when the book was examined, it proved that there was some mistake in the thing, and that Joan was in the right. She was much pleased, and said to the clerk, "If you make mistakes again, I will pull your ears."

They troubled her very much about wearing boy's dress. She said that, when among men in war, it was better and more proper. She was still among men, with soldiers in her room, day and night, which was quite unlawful; she should have had only women about her. She would not put on women's dress while she was among men, and was quite in the right.

She could hear her Voices in Court, but not clearly on account of the noise. Once, I suppose, she heard them, for she suddenly said, in the middle of an answer to a question about the letters which were written for her when she was in the wars:

"Before seven years are passed the English will lose a greater stake than they have lost at Orleans; they will lose everything in France."

Before the seven years were out they lost Paris, a much greater stake than Orleans, as Paris was the chief town and the largest. They went on losing till they lost everything in France, even all that they had held for hundreds of years.

The Judges insisted that she should submit to the Church. Joan asked nothing better. "Take me to the Pope, and I will answer him, for I know and believe that we should obey our Holy Father, the Pope, who is in Rome." Or she would answer the Council of the whole Church at Basle, but, as I said, the Bishop Cauchon stopped the clerk when he was writing down the words. The Judges said "We  are the Church; answer us and obey us." But, of course, they were not the Church; they were only a set of disloyal French priests who sided against their own country, and helped the English.