There is the strange and mysterious episode of the “false Joan of Arc” – or “false Joans of Arc,” for we cannot be quite sure now whether there were one or several pretenders….
Men, we may conjecture, did not quite believe in the “false Joan”; they merely wanted to believe in her. This must be the explanation of the fact that in Orleans, where Joan was so well known, men feted Jeanne des Armoises, the pretender, and at the same time continued to say masses for the repose of the soul of Joan of Arc. Joan’s mother never acknowledged any would-be impersonator of her daughter; it is curious that Joan’s brothers did so, but no doubt they found the “false Joan” a useful connection, a useful ally in their military and official careers. After all, were they to challenge someone who must have had powerful and authoritative support?
Charles VII, however, did not abandon forever the goal of “rehabilitating” Joan of Arc formally and officially; on the contrary, he pursued that goal with characteristic tenacity. Charles pushed through the Rehabilitation on the ground that the judgement of Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, dishonored him, despite the fact that the original trial is, regarding him, a “masterpiece of reserve.” What shame in the future if enemies could declare that a king of France had retained a heretical woman, and one in communication with demons, in the ranks of the army!
Charles VII wished to crown his victory by removing the slur which his enemies had cast upon his triumphant coronation in the cathedral at Reims. It is not without reason that George Bernard Shaw, in his play Saint Joan, has the King say: Provided they can no longer say that I was crowned by a witch and a heretic I shall not fuss about how the trick has been done.
The Rehabilitation is marked by an earnest search for formal legal defects in the trial. To break a sentence “pour vice de forme” was a favorite medieval device. It is, of course, a moot point whether the defects of form detected in Joan’s trial are real or largely imaginary, as thought the great scholar Jules Quicherat, who wrote a masterly analysis of the trial and Rehabilitation.
It would be remarkable indeed if a man of Cauchon’s intelligence and legal training had allowed his “beau proces” to be marred by the kind of obvious legal flaw which the Rehabilitation attempted to find. No medieval heresy trial, one may be sure, could have stood up under such a raking as was given this one….