Execution of Joan of Arc

Execution of Joan of Arc, 30th May 1431

Joan of Arc had been captured by the Burgundians at the Siege of Compiegne. Then she was transferred into the custody of the English. She was tried as a heretic, in a case that was controversial at the time and in years that followed.

“As we were instructed by the said lord judges, this woman, calling herself Jeanne the Maid, of her own accord, in her trial, confessed many points which, weighed by the diligent examination of many prelates, maturely considered by the doctors and other men learned in canon and civil law, submitted to the decision and judgment of our University, proved she should be held superstitious, a prophetess, a caller up of demons, idolatrous, blasphemous towards God and the Saints, schismatic and in every way erring in the faith of Jesus Christ. Full of affliction and sorrow for the soul of this miserable sinner caught in the pernicious snares of so many crimes, her judges, by frequent warnings and charitable exhortations, set all their efforts to draw her back from the path of her error and to effect her subjugation to the judgment of our Holy Mother Church. But the spirit of wickedness had so completely filled her heart that for a long time she rejected our salutary monitions with a hardened heart, refused to submit to any living man, of whatever dignity, or to the holy Council General, and recognized no other judge than God. At last it came to pass that the persevering labor of the said judges slightly diminished her great presumption: listening to their sound counsels, she denied and verbally abjured her errors, in the presence of a great multitude of people; she subscribed to and signed with her own hand a formula of abjuration and recantation. But hardly had a few days passed, when this wretched woman fell back into her former foolishness, and adhered once more to the errors which she had denied.” [https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/joanofarc-trial.asp]

The verdict and sentence were read out to a crowd by Bishop Cauchon. It finds that she had been guilty, confessed and then went back on her confession. This made her a relapsed heretic, for which there was only one possible sentence: burning at the stake.

“Joan, commonly called the Maid fallen into diverse errors and crimes of schism, idolatry, invocation or demons… renounced them… subsequently after this abjuration of your errors the author of schism and heresy has arisen in your heart, which he has seduced. Since you are fallen again… into these errors and crimes as the dog returns to his vomit… we declare that you are fallen again into your former errors and under the sentence of excommunication… we denounce you as a rotten member, which, so that you shall not infect other members of Christ, must be cast out of the unity of the Church, cut off from her body, and given over to the secular power.”

Joan was then led to a large, raised platform. She asked for a cross, which was given to her, lamented, and forgave her executioner. With the platform being raised it was impossible for the executioner to strike her unconscious, as was customary for this type of execution. The size of the platform also made it hard for people to see that she was indeed dead. The English ordered that the flames be dampened down so that her body could be seen. This was described by the Bourgeois of Paris:

“The fire was raked back. Everyone saw her completely naked with all that can and does characterize a woman, in order to remove any uncertainty they might have had.”

The same source goes on to say that the fire was then stoked, raising the flames so that Joan’s body was reduced to ashes. After the execution was over, the ashes were collected and taken to Paris, where they were thrown into the Seine.

Dan Moorhouse

Dan Moorhouse graduated in History and Politics and has since undertaken postgraduate studies in Medieval History and Education. Dan is a member of the Royal Historical Society and has previously been a member of the Historical Association’s Secondary Education Committee. Dan’s early publishing was in the Secondary School History Education field. This included co-authoring the Becta Award shortlisted Dynamic Learning: Medicine Through Time series for Hodder Murray and contributing to the Bafta Award winning Smallpox Through Time documentary series by Tmelines.tv. A former teacher, Dan now concentrates on research and writing, predominantly in Medieval English history. Books by Dan Moorhouse On this day in the Wars of the Roses On this day in the Hundred Years War

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