- The Trial of Joan of Arc
Daniel Hobbins's English translation of the three Latin and French legal records of proceedings against Joan of Arc contains both a readable translation and a valuable commentary on the trials' context and importance. The records correct many misconceptions about what actually happened during the trials. As Hobbins notes, Joan's international fame put tremendous pressure on her prosecutors to carefully observe procedure and give her every benefit of the doubt, since the entire Christian world would be watching. In their quest for fairness, the prosecutors produced the most detailed trial records of anyone in the medieval period (p. 1). Because of her notoriety, then, Hobbins believes Joan received the fairest judicial examination possible in a church court observing inquisitorial procedure. The Bishop of Beauvais, who had jurisdiction, ensured that everything [End Page 557] was properly witnessed, that Joan's responses were carefully recorded, and that experts reviewed the evidence and verdict. After her second trial the court even submitted its findings to the theological faculty at the University of Paris to ensure that its verdict accorded with canon law (pp. 182-183).
Joan of Arc actually underwent three legal proceedings of record. The first consisted of a fact finding deposition and the second the formal trial. One of the crimes for which Joan was indicted was wearing male apparel, and the record constantly refers to the court's disapproval of this practice. Beyond this the prosecutors accused Joan of a multitude of crimes, including hearing voices. Of seventy articles or specifications drawn up in the second proceeding, several concerned Joan the soldier. Article 8 claimed she had learned riding and the use of weapons; article 12 accused her of receiving and wearing clothing suitable for a man-at-arms; article 22 charged her with acting as a captain of war; and article 53 said she acted against god by serving as commander in chief for an army as large as 16,000 men, including nobles and princes.
The verdict in the trial was not the forgone conclusion of a kangaroo court and the court did not sentence Joan to death. Neither was she tortured, at least officially, although that was a common option under canon law. When some inquisitors suggested torture, they were soundly rebuffed. In the end Joan abjured her conduct and behavior, including wearing men's clothing. Ecclesiastical courts had a reputation for leniency, and, given the detailed charges for which she had been found guilty, the court offered her a semblance of clemency. Joan received perpetual imprisonment with the option of eventual release but soon she recanted her confession and resumed wearing men's clothing. It seems on this point the court could have prevented this sin simply by having the offensive clothing removed from her cell. After her relapse the court quickly condemned her in a third proceeding, and released her to the secular authorities, who executed her.
Those wishing to understand how fifteenth century politics, inquisitorial procedure and gender constraints condemned a nineteen year old girl for wearing male garb and acting as a soldier (among many other charges) would profit from reading Hobbins's translation.
Mount Berry, Georgia