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10 Intriguing Facts about the Trial of Joan of Arc

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Today, Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, is one of the symbols of the liberation of France. She is also revered as a Catholic saint and martyr. But, her beginnings were quite humble. Born in a peasant family living in medieval France, the girl first claimed she was anointed by God at the age of 12. She believed that her mission was above all to lead France to victory. Life was not easy for her, as dressed in men’s clothing as a teenager she became a counselor to prince Charles of Valois, later King Charles VII. Her trial also today awakens controversy and divides many historians. Here are some ambiguous facts about the famous event. So, was Joan a Lunatic, or God’s emissary? Let’s investigate.

1. The trial took place at a court at Rouen, Normandy in the first half of 1431.

During the spring of 1429, Joan was the right hand of Charles VII, the heir apparent to the French throne – a Dauphin, using French court nomenclature. She simply told Charles to fight the British and the Burgundians – British allies, during the Siege of Orleans and the Battle of Patay. The Dauphin obeyed and as a result the tides of the Hundred Years’ War have effectively turned in favor of the French people. A few months later, Charles was crowned as the new King of France, but Joan got captured by the Burgundians, led by Philip III and was imprisoned and tried.

2. The Burgundians sold Joan to the English for 10 000 livres.

The Burgundians were quite selfish allies, and they certainly did not support the British because they liked them. It simply was a good political move to do so. And when they captured a rare commodity like Joan d’Arc, they thought it was a perfect opportunity for a ransom. They asked for 10 000 livres. When the English paid the sum, Joan was transported to Rouen, the military capital of King Henry VI of England and tried for heresy by a Church court in presence of the Bishop Pierre Cauchon, who despite being French, unfortunately also supported the English.

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3. Thanks to the trial, the life of Joan of Arc is one of the best documented among her contemporaries.

In the 15th century people who were honored by documentation and biographies were mainly kings, nobles and saints. The average person had no records made of their existence whatsoever. But, because of the trial, today’s historians can gather a vast amount of information about the life of Joan of Arc. During the 1431 trial, there were three notaries present, who consulted each other every day while the trial was held. They wrote down statements made by Joan herself as well as by the 115 witnesses called forward to testify. The compilation of these was then published first by Jules Quicherat in 1840s and then by W.P. Barrett in 1932, in English translation.

4. One of the parts of the Trial was an examination of Joan’s virginity.

The Middle Ages were a cruel era, if you were a woman. The Church could go freely about even the most private feminine matters. In the case of Joan d’Arc, it was her virginity. This was the very first point of the trial. Some time before January 13 1431, a thorough examination took place, presided over by the Duchess of Bedford (the wife of John, Duke of Bedford, the French regent for the boy-king Henry VI of England). The Duchess announced that Joan indeed was a virgin and that the trial could be continued.

5. Joan was forbade to attend the Mass due to her inappropriate clothing.

In the course of her trial, Joan of Arc asked the Church officials to attend the Mass prior to her questioning. But she was denied the possibility. As it was later explained by her prosecutor, Jean d’Estivet, her soldier’s apparel was not something a woman of her age and status should wear while „attending the divine offices”. According to the witnesses of the trial, „she had been wearing… a tunic, hosen, and long boots that went up to the waist, all of which were tied together with cords, which she said she needed to protect herself from being raped by her guards” (Barrett). As we can see, Joan was not only brave but also terribly honest.

P1080407 France, Paris, la statue de Jeanne d'Arc à la Place des Pyramides

6. Joan was burnt for many reasons, not just heresy.

All in all, there were exactly 70 charges against her. Suffice it to say, the British court was not very fond of her, after all the military setbacks she caused them. Joan was sentenced for a number of „criminal offenses”, ranging from sorcery to horse theft, some of which were of course purely irrational. By May 1431, only 12 of the charges upheld, the most important ones being: donning inappropriate clothing and claims of visions from God. Joan was offered a choice. If she admitted to her crimes, she would spent the rest of her life in prison. If she didn’t, she would be executed. Joan first signed the plea. But more turbulence followed.

7. It was not only the voice of God that Joan claimed to hear

During her numerous court sessions, Joan d’Arc was questioned very thoroughly on the nature of her visions and the voices that she heard. She claimed to be receiving council from God himself, which always came along with a light. But God was not the only holy persona included. Also St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret allegedly gave Joan advice on what her actions should be, concerning the liberty of her nation and fortunes of the Kingdom of France. The saints also appeared on her battle banner, as she claimed that was expected of her, by God’s command.

saints vision joan d'arc

8. One of the towers of the Rouen Castle has been renamed in Joan d’Arc’s honor

The Rouen Castle was built by Philip II of France from 1204 to 1210, after he captured the Duchy of Normandy from John, Duke of Normandy and King of England. The castle played an important role as a military base during the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of Religion. Joan of Arc was imprisoned in the castle, starting December 1430 and tried within its ground from 21 February to 23 May 1431. She was held hostage in the keep, which subsequently became recognized as the Tour Jeanne d’Arc. The keep was taken apart by Henry IV of France in 1591, but has since been successfully rebuilt.

9. Joan was burnt at the stake on May 30, 1431

Although Joan d’Arc wanted to confess to all the charges against her and choose life imprisonment, she was somewhat tricked by the guards, probably instructed by the officials of the Church court. On the last day of her trial, when dressing up, Joan was handed only man’s soldier clothes, even though she was ready to don some ladylike apparel. When she asked the guards if they had a dress for her to wear, they did not respond and threw the masculine clothing items at her. By showing up dressed as a man, Joan was announced to have a „relapse into heresy” and upon claiming that she was hearing the holy voices once again, her fate was already determined.

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10. Joan d’Arc continues to inspire popular culture

The Maid of Orleans has inspired artists for nearly seven centuries now. Schiller made a play about the life of Joan, and Verdi and Tchaikovsky both made opera genre adaptations telling her story of courage and martyrdom. In 1894 a scholar by the name of Émile Huet made a list of over 400 plays and musical works inspired by the story of Joan d’Arc. There is even an entire museum devoted to her. The Bibliothèque Municipale in Rouen hosts a gallery gathering over 500 images and other visual items commemorating The Maid of Orleans. Also numerous Hollywood films have been made on the subject, the most prominent ones being the Ingrid Bergman picture „Joan of Arc” and the 1948 „The Miracle of the Bells” starring Frank Sinatra.

bergman poster

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