The topic undertaken here are the legal trials of Joan of Arc. The question it asks to me is about legality of the situation. I believe the definition here that is important is the legal part of the question



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The topic undertaken here are the legal trials of Joan of Arc. The question it asks to me is about legality of the situation. I believe the definition here that is important is the legal part of the question. The most pertinent definition stated that legal is “having a formal status derived from law often without a basis in actual fact.” First I will review the history of Joan directly prior to the trial and some of the reasons behind it. I will describe several of the legal problems and conflicts about the first and second trials. Finally I will talk about the historical impact following them, the retrial and documentation issues, and how the different views and opinions of the church changed over time.

Prior to the trial, Joan was a young military leader for the French contingent. Most of modern day France was separated into two main parties. There were the Burundians who supported the English, and the Armagnac’s, who supported Charles and the French nationalists. Charles the Seventh had been newly crowned in Reims, and with Joan at his side, was rallying the Armagnac nation to expel the English after many years of losing battles in the Hundred Year War. Her first campaign was the liberation of Orleans, a city that was under siege for months previously, in only a matter of days of her arrival. Her famous campaign changed the fate of the English in the Hundred Year war in the historical context of stopping the English from further gain on the continent. The last campaign for her was fighting in a battle around the Compiègne area in the northeast part of modern France. When she was pulled off the back of her horse in retreat, she was physically captured by an enemy archer. A nobleman named Lionel of Wandomme, who was loyal to Burgundy, was the official captor of Joan of Arc on Tuesday May 23 1430. (Wikipedia) Her supporters and the pro-French Armagnacs made several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve her, as she attempted failed jailbreaks on her side.

The currently pro-English allies, the Burundians, eventually ransomed her into formal English control for a sum of 10000 livres, the monetary units they used at the time, after four months being held ransom. (Wikipedia) The Duke of Burgundy received payments from the English from that trade as well as throughout the following trials. The English lords and their king had the support of their pro English bishop, Pierre Cauchon, to help arrange a church trail and death. Historians have found the receipts of the monies being transferred, first for the capture, then throughout the trial to Burgundy and Pierre Cauchon from the English (Bie). The view of advancing the war against Charles by using this woman’s discrediting in a church trial was a direct blow to the French armies’ morale.

The trial was set up in a church court to avoid the appearance of a political influence, but the whole process was riddled with the secular power of the English. The judges were Pierre Cauchon, Jean Graverent, several pro English Burundian priests with the English nobility controlling the process as overseers. This included the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Warwick, both men being military commanders of the English army. (Wikipedia) During the trials, Joan was kept imprisoned by the Earl of Warwick. The assigning of male guards was also violating the ecclesiastic rules, which dictate a nun, a female guard. Joan lived in fear of abuse daily, and protested the numerous attempted rapes while imprisoned there. (Williamson)There is a great amount of documentation about this trial, mostly provided by the three notaries that were there and later testified in the review trial.

The first part of the trial was started on Tuesday the 9 of January 1431 in Rouen, the current English seat of power on the continent. In the beginning of the process, there were seventy charges placed against Joan. Some of the problems with legalities started at the very beginning, with the Vice—Inquisitor of northern France Jean Le Maistre objecting to the trail and being forced to cooperate with the English or die. While he was named in the trial as a judge, his interactions were very limited and under protest, with several witnesses coming forward later to support that. Other clerics who also objected were threatened as well. (Wikipedia)

Another major point was that bishop Cauchon lacked the jurisdiction over the case, and was clearly not impartial as the church inquisitorial rules states is necessary for heresy trails. Joan had asked for French priests to be present and for an appeal directly to the pope or the Council of Basel, but these legal entitlements were denied. The legal dispute between Joan and the trail was a valid one according to medieval ecclesiastic law. (Wikipedia) From the start, Joan was present with brilliant responses and had irreproachable answers without a proper legal advisor, in yet another volition of her rights. With this scene set, the questions began. There were both public and private interrogations. Public sessions were started on Feb 21.

The best example of her responses was in the third public session on February 24. "Asked if she knew she was in God's grace, she answered: 'If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest creature in the world if I knew I were not in His grace.'”(Barrett) That was a brilliant and savvy response to a trick question, especially for a young illiterate woman in that time. She was about nineteen at the time of her trials and her death. The trap was if she had said yes she was guilty of heresy if she said no by default she would be guilty as well. That response rightly stunned and amazed the judges. The questions and the cross interrogating went on and on. There were questions about her banner and her sword, if she was blessing children with wax hoping to trick her into admitting witchcraft. Joan was adamant about her innocence, and protested the violation of her ecclesiastic rights throughout the trial. The judges offered a 12 item confession with life imprisonment as the sentence four times during May. Finally on the 24 of May, the sentence of the court was that she would be turned over to the secular power and executed immediately. (Bie) As anyone would, Joan was frightened by this imminent death threat, “confessed” in a public setting and signed an abjuration document stating her faults, especially the sin of wearing men’s clothing and resisting the church’s authority.

The second trial was started within a week after the first sentencing. When she was returned to prison from the abjuration, she was still being held in a secular prison by the earl of Warwick and his English male guards. She was convicted of the charge of a relapse into heresy for wearing men’s clothing in defilement of a biblical code on the 29 May 1431. The second trial was a something of a farce, by having put her in the situation of choosing to wear men’s clothes to avoid rape in prison by guards and a English lord, or according to one man’s testimony, she had no option but men’s clothes because her other clothing was taken from her by force in prison. (Wikipedia) She was burned at the stake on May 30 1431 in the old marketplace of Rouen, not as a witch as the common belief, but as a relapsed heretic to the church.

The nullification trial of Joan happened posthumously. Joan of Arc is the only person in history that was first condemned, killed, and then canonized later in the 1900s by the Catholic Church. Her mother formally asked for a review of the trial at Notre Dame Cathedral in November 1455. The request was supported by Jean Bréhal, the Inquisitor-General of the Catholic Church. This appeal was then granted by Pope Callixtus the Third. Proper canon law was followed, and involved a panel of theologians from throughout Europe. In this rehabilitation trial or retrial, the documentation and testimonies from 115 different witnesses from the original trial came into play. The lead scribe at the trials had copies of the minutes made. In the retrial hearings, he admitted that the trial minutes and the confession signed by Joan had been altered at the request of Pierre Cauchon and others. (Williamson)

Bréhal gave a summary in June, which implicated Pierre Cauchon with heresy and false conviction of the innocent Joan of Arc and being motivated by a secular power to do so. The official reason for her death was a clothing law restriction and that conviction was partly reversed because the conditions of the law, especially around the exceptions made in doctrine about clothing, around it were not met or proven. She was announced as officially and publicly cleared of all the charges against her by the appellate court on July 7, 1456. (Wikipedia)

In conclusion to this paper, I have shown the historical context about Joan prior to the trial and what happened to Joan just before the trials. I described some of the information detailing the several legal conflicts and Joan’s protest against them within the first two trials and given the most famous of Joan’s response to the questions of the court. I have shown how his first and second trials and her death were viewed in the following rehabilitation trail, and how she was cleared of all charges eventually by the same church that had convicted her. I have presented how the views of the church during retrial had been changed by a correct verdict. In the flowing centuries, Joan of Arc became a saint and an example for millions.




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