The skeptical court examined her jealously, but Charles VII, in private conversation with Joan of Arc, was convinced of her probity and place her at the head of an army. Joan believed herself sent from God to drive the English from France. Her later trial and execution were only the beginning of many fluctuations in the Joan story that have fluctuated from anger to adoration, skepticism and awe…
The trial…In the last analysis, however, the mainspring of the whole procedure was that redoubtable personage, Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. No one, in his time or later,could challenge Cauchon’s claim to great ability, or to thorough legal and theological training; he was one of the brightest lights of the University of Paris. His letters, inserted at the beginning of the record of the trial proceedings, reveal him to be an able man of business and of large affairs- precise, direct, authoritative. He was no brute; he showed both humanity and good judgement in opposing the use of legally permissible torture upon Joan, upon the ground that it was neither ” necessary or expedient.”
It is one of the ironies of history that this man should have gone down, alike in popularity and in literary tradition, as one of the blackest villains of all recorded time, worthy of comparison only with Pontius Pilate, because of his leading part in the trial of a peasant maid from Lorraine whom, we must believe, he regarded sincerely as a heretic and a witch. Nothing could illustrate better than the fate of Cauchon’s reputation, the fickleness of fortune and popular favor, the vanity of human ambition. But, in any case, we must recall Cauchon’s weight and repute in the eyes of his contemporaries in order to understand clearly the prestige of the trial he conducted, its legal rigor, and its great impact upon his time.
And yet, is spite of her disgrace, there exists a good deal of evidence that Joan was not completely forgotten. The upper classes, many of whom in her lifetime had viewed her claims with jealousy, scepticism, suspicion, or fear, were glad to forget her; but the common people, who had acclaimed her in life, did not forget her so readily. They felt instinctively that she was one of them, sent for their succor and consolation. Marvelous stories of her exploits continued to circulate.