On this date in 1431 Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc), nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (French: La Pucelle d’Orléans), was burnt at the stake in Rouen in Normandy by an English dominated tribunal during the Hundred Years’ War. She is still celebrated as a heroine of France and is a Roman Catholic saint. She was born to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle, a peasant family, at Domrémy in north-east France. Joan said she received visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. Upon Joan’s personal petition, the uncrowned King Charles VII sent Joan to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained immediate prominence throughout the army after the siege was lifted in only nine days. Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII’s coronation at Reims. This long-awaited event boosted French morale and paved the way for the final French victory.
On 23 May 1430, she was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction which was allied with the English. She was later handed over to the English, and then put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon on a variety of charges. After Cauchon declared her guilty, following a ludicrously unfair trial, she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, dying at about nineteen years of age.
Twenty-five years after her execution, an inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, debunked the charges against her, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France, along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis, St. Michael, St. Remi, St. Petronilla, St. Radegund and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Joan has been a popular figure in literature, painting, sculpture, and other cultural works since the time of her death, and many famous writers, filmmakers, and composers have created works about her. I imagine that most people know the general outline of her short life, so I’d like to focus on her last days which involve some things that are not necessarily common knowledge.
Joan’s presence during sieges had miraculously encouraged the troops, and, despite her complete lack of military training, her advice to the military leaders led to dramatic successes. In a short time she went from being ridiculed and ignored to a national heroine. There was certainly a general sense among the French leadership, up to and including the king, that the French army couldn’t do any worse, so why not follow Joan’s advice? She quickly showed that nothing succeeds like success. Joan traveled to Compiègne in May 1430 to help defend the city against an English and Burgundian siege. A skirmish on 23 May, when her force attempted to attack the Burgundians’ camp at Margny, led to her capture. When the troops began to withdraw toward the nearby fortifications of Compiègne after the advance of an additional force of 6,000 Burgundians, Joan stayed with the rear guard. Burgundian troops surrounded the rear guard, and she was pulled off her horse by an archer. She agreed to surrender to a pro-Burgundian nobleman named Lionel of Wandomme, a member of Jean de Luxembourg’s unit.
Joan was imprisoned by the Burgundians at Beaurevoir Castle. She attempted several escapes, on one occasion jumping from her 70-foot (21 m) tower, landing on the soft earth of a dry moat, after which she was moved to the Burgundian town of Arras. The English negotiated with their Burgundian allies to transfer her to their custody, with Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, an English partisan, assuming a prominent role in these negotiations and her later trial. The final agreement called for the English to pay the sum of 10,000 livres tournois to obtain her from Jean de Luxembourg.
The English then moved Joan to the city of Rouen, which served as their main headquarters in France. Historian Pierre Champion notes that the Armagnacs attempted to rescue her several times by launching military campaigns toward Rouen while she was held there. One campaign occurred during the winter of 1430-1431, another in March 1431, and one in late May shortly before her execution. These attempts were beaten back. Champion also quotes 15th century sources which say that Charles VII threatened to “exact vengeance” upon Burgundian troops whom his forces had captured and upon “the English and women of England” in retaliation for their treatment of Joan.
Joan’s trial for heresy was politically motivated. The tribunal was composed entirely of pro-English and Burgundian clerics, and overseen by English commanders including the Duke of Bedford and Earl of Warwick. Legal proceedings commenced on 9 January 1431 at Rouen. The procedure was illegal on a number of points, which would later provoke scathing criticism of the tribunal by the chief inquisitor who investigated the trial after the war. To summarize some major problems: Under ecclesiastical law, Bishop Cauchon lacked jurisdiction over the case. Cauchon owed his appointment to his partisan support of the English government which financed the trial. The low standard of evidence used in the trial also violated inquisitorial rules. Clerical notary Nicolas Bailly, who was commissioned to collect testimony against Joan, could find no adverse evidence. Without such evidence the court lacked grounds to initiate a trial. Opening a trial anyway, the court also violated ecclesiastical law by denying her the right to a legal adviser. Worse, stacking the tribunal entirely with pro-English clergy violated the medieval Church’s requirement that heresy trials needed to be judged by an impartial or balanced group of clerics. Upon the opening of the first public examination Joan complained that those present were all partisans against her and asked for “ecclesiastics of the French side” to be invited in order to provide balance. This request was denied.
The Vice-Inquisitor of Northern France (Jean Lemaitre) objected to the trial at its outset, and several eyewitnesses later said he was forced to cooperate after the English threatened his life. Some of the other clergy at the trial were also threatened when they refused to cooperate, including a Dominican friar named Isambart de la Pierre. These threats, and the domination of the trial by a secular government, were obvious violations of the Church’s rules and undermined the right of the Church to conduct heresy trials without secular interference.
The trial record contains statements from Joan which the eyewitnesses later said astonished the court, since she was an illiterate peasant and yet was able to evade the theological pitfalls which the tribunal set up to entrap her. The transcript’s most famous exchange is an exercise in subtlety. “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.'” The question is a scholarly trap. Church doctrine held that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered yes, then she would have been charged with heresy. If she had answered no, then she would have confessed her own guilt. Notary Boisguillaume later testified that at the moment the court heard this reply, “Those who were interrogating her were stupefied.”
Several court functionaries later testified that important portions of the transcript were altered in her disfavor. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined in an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan’s appeals to the Council of Basel and the Pope, which should have stopped his proceeding.
The twelve articles of accusation which summarize the court’s finding contradict the already doctored court record. Joan was illiterate but signed an abjuration (acceptance of the court’s findings) she did not understand under threat of immediate execution. The court substituted a different abjuration in the official record. The critical problem for the court was that they had no hard evidence of heresy on Joan’s part and, besides, heresy was a capital crime only for a repeat offense. So a repeat offense of “cross-dressing” was now charged against her. Even this charge was problematic because Joan agreed to wear feminine clothing when she abjured.
According to the later descriptions of some of the tribunal members, she had previously been wearing male (i.e. military) clothing in prison because it gave her the ability to fasten her hosen, boots and tunic together into one piece, which deterred rape by making it difficult to pull her hosen off. A woman’s dress offered no such protection. A few days after adopting a dress, she told a tribunal member that “a great English lord had entered her prison and tried to take her by force. [i.e. rape her]” She resumed male clothes either as a defense against molestation or, in the testimony of Jean Massieu, because her dress had been taken by the guards and she was left with nothing else to wear.
Her resumption of male military clothing was labeled a relapse into heresy for cross-dressing, although this would later be disputed by the inquisitor who presided over the appeals court which examined the case after the war. Medieval Catholic doctrine held that cross-dressing should be evaluated based on context, as stated in the “Summa Theologica” by St. Thomas Aquinas, which says that necessity would be a permissible reason for cross-dressing. This would include the use of clothing as protection against rape if the clothing would offer protection. In terms of doctrine, she had been justified in disguising herself as a pageboy during her journey through enemy territory and she was justified in wearing armor during battle and protective clothing in camp and then in prison. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. When her soldier’s clothing wasn’t needed while on campaign, she was said to have gone back to wearing a dress. Clergy who later testified at the posthumous appellate trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape.
She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics had approved her practice. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle for practical reasons, as did Inquisitor Brehal later during the appellate trial. Nonetheless, at the trial in 1431 she was condemned and sentenced to die. I wonder how many people in the LGBT community know that the accusation that stuck and led to her execution was cross dressing?
Eyewitnesses described the scene of the execution by burning on 30 May 1431. Tied to a tall pillar at the Vieux-Marché in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her. An English soldier also constructed a small cross which she put in the front of her dress. After she died, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics. They cast her remains into the Seine River. The executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, later stated that he “…greatly feared to be damned.”
The Hundred Years’ War continued for twenty-two years after her death. Charles VII succeeded in retaining legitimacy as the king of France in spite of a rival coronation held for Henry VI at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, on 16 December 1431, the boy’s tenth birthday. Before England could rebuild its military leadership and force of longbowmen, lost in 1429, the country lost its alliance with Burgundy at the Treaty of Arras in 1435. The Duke of Bedford died the same year and Henry VI became the youngest king of England to rule without a regent: his weak leadership was probably the most important factor in ending the conflict. Kelly DeVries argues that Joan of Arc’s aggressive use of artillery and frontal assaults influenced French tactics for the rest of the war.
In 1452, during the posthumous investigation into her execution, the Church declared that a religious play in her honor at Orléans would allow attendees to gain an indulgence (remission of temporal punishment for sin) by making a pilgrimage to the event. A posthumous retrial opened after the war ended. Pope Callixtus III authorized this proceeding, also known as the “nullification trial”, at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Bréhal and Joan’s mother Isabelle Romée. The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law. Investigations started with an inquest by Guillaume Bouillé, a theologian and former rector of the University of Paris (Sorbonne). Bréhal conducted an investigation in 1452. A formal appeal followed in November 1455. The appellate process involved clergy from throughout Europe and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from 115 witnesses. Bréhal drew up his final summary in June 1456, which describes Joan as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The technical reason for her execution had been a Biblical clothing law. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture. The appellate court declared her innocent on 7 July 1456.
These days Rouen, one of my favorite spots in the world, is famous for its duck dishes. It is said that if you visit Normandy you should have duck in Rouen, tripe in Caen, and omelet in Mont St Michel. I’ve done the first two, but the third must wait. The specialty of Rouen duck derives from the 19th century and not Joan’s era, so it is not strictly appropriate to honor her. As a compromise I suggest roasting a duck and serving it with a 15th-century “black” sauce used in France (and England) for capons. A 14th century English recipe is as follows:
Sawse noyre for capouns yrosted. Take the lyuer of capons and roost it wel. Take anyse and greynes de parys, gynger, canel, & a lytull crust of brede, and grinde it smale, and grynde it vp with verious and with grece of capouns. Boyle it and serue it forth.
This reminds me very much of a sauce I make for roast turkey by poaching the giblets in stock with seasonal spices, adding the roast liver, and then processing, followed by thickening and reduction with a light roux. In this recipe the spices are anise, ginger, cinnamon, and grains of paradise, with verjuice acting as salt (and a sour note), and breadcrumbs being the thickening agent. Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) are a 15th century black pepper substitute – warm and peppery with citrus notes. It’s available online or you can substitute black pepper. With a kitchen I could recreate this recipe in a heartbeat.
The 15th century French recipe:
Ung pignagoscé sur chapons: bien cuis en bon boullon, decopez par lopins, puis suffris en beau sain de lard; prenez les foyez de vos chapons et les broyez tresbien, puis prenez pain harlé, tempré en bon vergus, tout passé parmy l’estamine, gingembre, clou, graine, deffait de vin rouge et de vin aigre; faictez tout boullir ensamble; et du persin effueillié; jettez par dessus vostre grain chaudement.
My Medieval French is not particularly competent, but here is my free translation following what I take to be the spirit rather than the literal meaning of the text (and without sufficient research). Corrections welcomed. I’m not sure what a pignagoscé is but it’s not too important – a poached and sauced dish.
A Pignagoscé of Capons.
Poach the capons in a rich stock until well cooked. Hack them in pieces and sauté in fine rendered lard. Grind up the livers of the capons. Soak toast in verjuice and strain through a sieve. Add ginger, cloves, grains of paradise, red wine, and vinegar and boil it all together with parsley. Pour the sauce over the meat.
Now you have all the info I have. Go to it !! I ALWAYS roast poultry at very high heat emulating historical cooking methods. This renders the fat quickly, crisps the skin, and keeps the meat juicy and tender.
©Roast Duck with Black Sauce
1 duck with giblets
2 or 3 duck livers
¼ tsp. anise seed
¼ tsp. grains of paradise, ground (or black pepper)
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
1 tbsp toasted bread crumbs
¼ cup red wine and white vinegar mixed
1 cup rich chicken stock
2 tbsp duck fat
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Dry the duck skin thoroughly with paper towels and leave it out to air dry for an hour or so. Prick the skin very well with a fork. Place it on a baking tray with a rack in it so that the duck does not rest on the bottom.
Roast the duck for about 40 minutes, pricking the skin every 10 minutes or so with the livers in the cavity. Pricking helps release the fat and provides a self basting. The skin will become a beautiful mottled golden-brown.
Meanwhile poach the giblets (and neck) in the stock with the wine/vinegar mix, parsley, and spices.
When the duck is about ready to serve, melt the duck fat over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet and then add the breadcrumbs. Sauté briefly until a paste forms. Strain the stock into a food processor and add the roasted livers. Pulse until the livers are ground. Add to the breadcrumb paste slowly over low heat, whisking constantly. Heat until the sauce thickens.
Remove the duck from the oven and take off the skin. Cut into bite sized pieces. Serve separately on a heated plate. Cut the duck into 8 pieces: 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 4 breasts. Arrange on a platter and pour over the sauce. Serve with boiled new potatoes and crusty bread.