Joan of Arc persuaded Charles to march on Reims, where he was crowned in 1429 with the Maid beside him. It was Joan’s finest hour. She was eager to move on to Paris, but the King, influenced by her enemies at Court, lingered to treat with the Burgundian allies of the English. Thus it was that Joan attacked Paris without the King’s support, was wounded, and failed. When she tried to take Compiegne the following year, again without the King, she fell into Burgundian hands, and was sold into English captivity.But her trial and execution were only the beginnig; the Maid has continued to provoke scepticism and awe. It began with the Rehabilitation trial in 1456, twenty-five years after her death…
The Rehabilitation record is, of course, the source of the touching and beautiful stories of Joan’s edifying end, on a pyre so elevated that death must come slowly.We learn of the tears of her judges, of those, at least, who could bear to witness the spectacle. We hear of John Tressart, secretary to the king of England, who exclaimed, “We are lost; we have burnt a saint!”
We are informed of the word “Jesus” in letters of flame at the burning, and of the white dove which flew away from the flames toward France; it was seen by the English soldier who came to add a fagot to the pile but whofell on his knees when he heard the cry “Jesus” from the midst of the flames. We hear of the executioner who feared that the fact that Joan’s heart was not consumed meant that his victim was a saint. We are told of Joan’s final affirmation that her “Voices” had not deceived her. We learn that she died embracing a cross, her eyes fixed upon another cross held before her by a sympathetic priest.
We are spared here the horrid realism of the Burgundian chronicler, the “Bourgeois of Paris,” who tells us that after the burning the ashes were pushed aside to expose the body so that all might see that it was indeed that of a woman; and no doubt, also, so that all might see that the witch of the Armagnacs had not escaped by aid of the Devil, or of wicked and abandoned men.
In sum, what is the value of Rehabilitation as historical evidence? That its value is considerable can be doubted by no one. If it is used with care, every part of Joan’s career is illuminated by it. The real problems arise as to the trial record and the Rehabilitation. Which are we to follow, where the two differ? Here we find a wide spectrum-band of opinion among scholars, to whom both records have been freely accessible. In general, the more a writer approaches the clerical school of opinion, the more they accept the Rehabilitation completely and gives it priority as evidence, using it as a touchstone to test other sources.
The more closely on the other hand, a writer approaches to agnostic or rationalist position, the more they treat the Rehabilitation with reserve and scepticism, tending rather to use the trial record as a touchstone. In short, their attitude to the Rehabilitation and to the trial is likely to furnish us with a master key to any writer’s general philosophy, as well as to their attitude toward Joan of Arc in particular. From this view of the Rehabilitation flows their interpretation of the Maid.