Gentle Dauphin, I am called Jeanne la Pucelle; the King of Heaven sends you word by me that you shall be consecrated and crowned in the city of Rheims, and that you shall be his lieutenant in France. Give me, therefore, soldiers, that I may raise the siege of Orléans and take you to Rheims to be consecrated. It is God’s will that your enemies, the English, shall go back to their own land; and woe be unto them if they do not go; for the kingdom shall be and remain your own. One can imagine the effect which these words of courage coming from a young girl had on the king. But it was only natural that he was suspicious, in a era when women in general counted for so little and when witches, in particular, were a common fear. The king turned Joan over to his clerical advisors, for only they could determine the validity of her claims.
The clergy found her unsophisticated, but frank and of good common sense. Her answers to their questions tended to preclude a further question. For example, one cleric observed that if God really wished to deliver the people of France, he would have no need for an army. Joan answered, “No, the army will fight, but it is God who will supply the victory!” Another cleric, Brother Seguin, who spoke with the strong accent of his native Limoges, asked, “In what language did the Archangel Michael speak to you?” “In better French than yours,” answered Joan. Finally, the clerics, recognizing that God works in mysterious ways, decided that it would be permissible to have the young girl lead troops, provided she were in fact a virgin. A committee of ladies satisfied the court on this point.
The French commander at Orléans, having in desperation told his troops that God would provide a miracle to save them, pleaded to have the girl sent. And so, clothed in white armor, riding a black horse and carrying a white banner embroidered with the fleur-de-lis of France, Joan set out. Along the way she began to issue unprecedented orders for the soldiers who accompanied her: No more profanity and no more prostitutes around the camp!
Joan and her troops began attacking one English fort after another, gaining additional troops and courage as they continued. Joan herself actually participated in these battles and was wounded in one of them when an arrow pierced her shoulder. Finally the English commander, Talbot, concluded his forces were inadequate and on May 8, 1429, withdrew from Orléans. It had taken Joan only 9 days to defeat the English. All France believed that Joan, the Maid of Orléans, as she was now known, had been sent by God. The English denounced her as a witch and promised to take her dead or alive.
On the day following this great victory, Joan went to meet the king to make arrangements to go with him to Rheims for the promised coronation. This occurred on July 15, following which Joan considered returning home, “If it please God, I should go and tend sheep with my sister and brother.”
But she had become an indispensable symbol and she was now pressured to continue in her role by leading French troops to recapture Paris. Now followed a number of smaller battles, some of which were won and some of which were lost. In an engagement at Compiègne, Joan was captured by the Burgundians who had now joined the English. Following an extraordinarily large bribe, Philip the Good turned his precious prize over to the English. She was shackled and chained and turned over to the Earl of Warwick, serving as governor of Rouen.
Officially a prisoner of the Inquisition, arrangements were made for her to be tried for heresy under Pierre Cauchon, the former Bishop of Beauvais who had been driven from office for supporting the English. At this time the King of England released a letter to the public which read, in part,
For some time past it has been known to all and it is notorious that a woman who insisted on being called Joan the Maid, discarding the garb and vesture of the female sex, an act repugnant and forbidden by all law, a deed contrary to Divine Law and abhorrent to God, put on and wore men’s garments and likewise armed herself as a man.
She has perpetrated and been the occasion of ruthless homicides. And as it is established, she let it be noised about among simple folk, to lead them astray and deceive them, that she was sent by God and knew His divine secrets. That is not all. She made many other dogmatic assertions, all very perilous, all the occasion of prejudice and scandal to our Catholic Faith....
In consequence We have been petitioned earnestly and insistently by the Reverend Father in God, Our loved and loyal counselor, the Bishop of Beauvis, who is, for this Joan, the Ordinary and the Ecclesiastical Judge of the Church. She was apprehended and captured within the borders and boundaries of his diocese. In exactly the same way we have been exhorted by Our very dear and well-beloved daughter, the University of Paris, to be willing to allow this Joan to be given over, yielded up, and delivered to the said Reverend Father in God to interrogate and examine the said Joan on these crimes mentioned above and further to take legal action against her in accordance with the statues and canons of the laws of God and the Church. The trial lasted from late February until late May, 1431, held in the chapel courtroom of the castle. Gathered here were 6 bishops, a number of doctors from the University of Paris, doctors of theology, clerks and a formidable array of legal talent to try the 19 year-old girl. During this entire period, Joan maintained the same steadfast openness in which she had always discussed her visions. Again, the directness of her answers to the carefully designed questions of the clergy often left them speechless. On one day she was asked, “If you come from God, do you think yourself in a state of grace, incapable of committing a mortal sin?” She responded, simply, “If I am not in a state of grace, may God be pleased to receive me into it; if I am, may God be pleased to keep me in it.” It was an answer so Christian in spirit, so orthodox, that the stunned clerics adjourned court for the day. Similarly, on another day a doctor of the Church asked, “Do St. Catherine and St. Margaret hate the English? Joan’s answer was, “They love what our Lord loves, and hate what He hates.”