The Trial of Joan of Arc

The Trial of Joan of Arc

The Trial of Joan of Arc

The Trial of Joan of Arc


No account is more critical to our understanding of Joan of Arc than the contemporary record of her trial in 1431. Convened at Rouen and directed by bishop Pierre Cauchon, the trial culminated in Joan's public execution for heresy. The trial record, which sometimes preserves Joan's very words, unveils her life, character, visions, and motives in fascinating detail. Here is one of our richest sources for the life of a medieval woman.

This new translation, the first in fifty years, is based on the full record of the trial proceedings in Latin. Recent scholarship dates this text to the year of the trial itself, thereby lending it a greater claim to authority than had traditionally been assumed. Contemporary documents copied into the trial furnish a guide to political developments in Joan's career-from her capture to the attempts to control public opinion following her execution.

Daniel Hobbins sets the trial in its legal and historical context. In exploring Joan's place in fifteenth-century society, he suggests that her claims to divine revelation conformed to a recognizable profile of holy women in her culture, yet Joan broke this mold by embracing a military lifestyle. By combining the roles of visionary and of military leader, Joan astonished contemporaries and still fascinates us today.

Obscured by the passing of centuries and distorted by the lens of modern cinema, the story of the historical Joan of Arc comes vividly to life once again.


The trial of Joan of Arc began on January 9,1431, and ended with her execution on May 30. Perhaps no event of the Middle Ages created such an international sensation. “Such wonders she performed,” wrote the German theologian Johannes Nider, “that not just France but every Christian kingdom stands amazed.”' News of the trial traveled swiftly, no less than had the news of Joan's first victory at Orléans in 1429. On June 8, the ministers of the English king sent a newsletter describing the trial to all the royalty of Europe. A second letter, on June 28 to prelates and nobility in France, ordered sermons against Joan. The preaching had begun by July 4. At the same time, the trial was being reported in Venice, thanks to letters sent from Bruges. At least nine of the trial's judges and assessors took the news to the Council of Basel (1431–1449), which served as a network for the learned from all over Europe. The outcome was probably common knowledge in Western Europe by late summer, and it immediately became a favorite topic in contemporary chronicles.

Joan had been an international celebrity for almost two years by the time the trial began. Realizing the scrutiny that such a case would attract, her judges produced the most detailed trial record of the Middle Ages. Nine years later, Joan's companion in battle Gilles de Rais was put on trial for sodomy, human sacrifice, invocation of the devil, and the murder of perhaps hundreds of children. He was then Marshal of France, the most powerful military official and one of the wealthiest men in the country, owner of many castles and keeper of a large retinue. His trial is about half the length of Joan's and, like nearly all medieval trial records, survives in a single archival copy, intended only for . . .

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