Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais
[This is taken from Margaret Alice Murray’s Witch Cult in Europe.]
THESE two personages-so closely connected in life and dying similar deaths, yet as the poles asunder in character-have been minutely studied from the historical and medical. points of view, and in the case of Joan from the religious standpoint also. But hitherto the anthropological aspect has been disregarded. This is largely due to the fact that these intensive studies have been made of each person separately, whereas to obtain the true perspective the two should be taken together. This individual treatment is probably owing to the wide divergence of the two characters; the simplicity and purity of the one is in marked contrast with the repulsive attributes of the other. Yet anthropologically speaking the tie between the two is as strongly marked as the contrast of character.
The case of Joan is easily studied, as the documents are accessible. Anatole France has realized that behind Joan there lay some unseen power, which Charles VII feared and from which he unwillingly accepted help. M. France sees in this power a party in the Church, and in his eyes the Church was a house divided against itself. Though agreeing with the view that Joan was the rallying-point of a great and powerful organization, I see in that organization the underlying religion which permeated the lower orders of the people in France as in England; that religion which I have set forth in the foregoing chapters. The men-at-arms, drawn from the lower orders, followed without hesitation one whom they believed to have been sent by their God, while the whole army was commanded by Marshal Gilles de Rais, who apparently tried to belong to both religions at once.
1. Joan of Arc
The questions asked by the judges at Joan’s trial show that they were well aware of an underlying organization of which they stood in some dread. The judges were ecclesiastics, and the accusation against the prisoner was on points of Christian faith and doctrine and ecclesiastical observance. It was the first great trial of strength between the old and the new religions, and the political conditions gave the victory to the new, which was triumphant accordingly. ‘We have caught her now’, said the Bishop of Beauvais, and she was burned without even the formality of handing her over to the secular authorities. After the execution, the judges and counsellors who had sat in judgement on Joan received letters of indemnity from the Great Council; the Chancellor of England sent letters to the Emperor, to the kings and princes of Christendom, to all the nobles and towns of France, explaining that King Henry and his Counsellors had put Joan to death through zeal for the Christian Faith and the University of Paris sent similar letters to the Pope, the Emperor, and
[1. It is advisable to read the trial in the original Latin and French, as the translations have often a Christian bias, e.g. ‘the King of Heaven’ being rendered as ‘our Lord’ ‘ and ‘my Lord’ as ‘our Saviour’. This is not merely inaccurate but actually misleading.]
the College of Cardinals. Such action can hardly be explained had Joan been an ordinary heretic or an ordinary political prisoner. But if she were in the eyes of the great mass of the population not merely a religious leader but actually the incarnate God, then it was only natural for the authorities who had compassed her death, to shelter themselves behind the bulwark of their zeal for the Christian religion, and to explain to the heads of that religion their reasons for the execution. On the other hand, the belief that Joan was God Incarnate will account, as nothing else can, for the extraordinary supineness of the French, who never lifted a finger to ransom or rescue Joan from the hands of either the Burgundians or the English. As God himself or his voluntary substitute she was doomed to suffer as the sacrifice for the people, and no one of those people could attempt to save her.
In comparing the facts elicited at the trial with the Dianic Cult as set out in the previous chapters, the coincidences are too numerous to be merely accidental. I do not propose to enter into a detailed discussion of the trial, I only wish to draw attention to a few points in this connexion.
The questions put to Joan on the subject of fairies appear to the modern reader to be entirely irrelevant, though much importance was evidently attached to her answers by the Court. She could not disprove, though she denied, the popular rumour that ‘Joan received her mission at the tree of the Fairy-ladies’ (Iohanna ceperat factum suum apud arborem Dominarum Fatalium), and she was finally forced to admit that she had first met the ‘Voices’ near that spot. Connexion with the fairies was as damning in the eyes of the Bishop of Beauvais and his colleagues as it was later in the eyes of the judges who tried John Walsh and Aleson Peirson.
The names of Christian saints, given to the persons whom Joan called her ‘Voices’, have misled modern writers; but the questions showered upon her show that the judges had shrewd suspicions as to the identity of these persons. That the ‘Voices’ were human beings is very clear from Joan’s own testimony: ‘Those of my party know well that the Voice had been sent to me from God, they have seen and known this Voice. My king and many others have also heard and seen the Voices which came to me. . . . I saw him [St. Michael] with my bodily eyes as well as I see you.’ She refused to describe I St. Michael’; and bearing in mind some of the descriptions of the Devil in later trials, it is interesting to find that when the judges put the direct question to her as to whether I St. Michael’ came to her naked, she did not give a direct answer. Later the following dialogue took place If the devil were to put himself in the form or likeness an angel, how would you know if it were a good or an evil angel?’ asked the judges. Again Joan’s reply was not direct: ‘I should know quite well if it were St. Michael or a counterfeit.’ She then stated that she had seen him many times before she knew him to be St. Michael; when a child she had seen him and had been afraid at first. Pressed for a description, she said he came ‘ in the form of a true honest man’ [tres vray preudomme, forma unius verissimi probi hominis]. The accounts of the trial prove that Joan continually received advice from the ‘saints’. The person whom she called ‘St. Katherine’ was obviously in the castle and able to communicate with the prisoner; this was not difficult, for the evidence shows that there was a concealed opening between Joan’s room and the next. It was in the adjoining room, close to the opening, that the notaries sat to take down Joan’s words when the spy Loyseleur engaged her in conversation; and it was evidently through this opening that ‘St. Katherine’ spoke when she awoke Joan ‘without touching her’, and again when Joan could not hear distinctly what she said ‘on account of the noise in the castle’. A remark of Joan’s that ‘she often saw them [the Voices] among the Christians, they themselves unseen’, is noteworthy for the use of the word Christian, suggesting that the ‘Voices’ were of a different religion. The remark should also be compared with the account given by Bessie Dunlop as to her recognizing Thom Reid when those about him did not know him; and with the statement by Danaeus that I among a great company of men, the Sorcerer only knoweth Satan, that is present, when other doo not know him, although they see another man, but who or what he is they know not’.
The points of mortal sin, of which Joan finally stood accused, were the following: 1, The attack on Paris on a feast day; 2, taking the Horse of the Bishop of Senlis; 3, leaping from the tower of Beaurevoir; 4, wearing male costume; 5, consenting to the death of Franquet d’Arras at Lagny.
Of these the most surprising to modern ideas is the one referring to costume, yet it was on this that the judges laid most stress. Even the severest of sumptuary laws has never made the wearing of male dress by a woman a capital crime; yet, though Joan had recanted and had been received into the Church, the moment that she put on male attire she was doomed on that account only. Whether she
[1. Compare Bessie Dunlop’s more homely description of Thom Reid. An honest wele elderlie man.’]
donned it by accident, by treachery, by force, or out of bravado, tile extraordinary fact remains that the mere resuming of male garments was the signal for her death without further trial. On the Sunday she wore the dress, on the Monday she was condemned, on the Tuesday the sentence was communicated to her, on the Wednesday she was burned, as an ‘idolator, apostate, heretic, relapsed’. If, as I suppose, she were a member of the Dianic Cult, the wearing of male attire must have been, for her, an outward sign of that faith, and the resuming of it indicated the relapse; the inscription on the high cap, which she wore at her execution, shows that the judges at least held this opinion. Throughout the trial questions were poured upon her as to her reasons for wearing the dress, and she acknowledged that she wore it, not by the advice of a human man [per consilium hominis mundi] . . . ‘Totum quod feci est per praeceptum Domimi, et si aliam praeciperet assumere ego assumerem, postquam hoc esset per praeceptum Dei.’ Asked if she thought she would have been committing mortal sin by wearing women’s clothes, she answered that she did better in obeying and serving her supreme Lord, who is God. She refused to wear women’s dress except by command of God: ‘I would rather die than revoke what God has made me do.’
On her letters were placed sometimes the words Jhesus Maria or a cross. ‘Sometimes I put a cross as a sign for those of my party to whom I wrote so that they should not do as the letters said.’ Though the mark was merely a code-signal to the recipient of the letter, it seems hardly probable that a Christian of that date would have used the symbol of the Faith for such a purpose. She also consistently refused to take an oath on the Gospels, and was with difficulty persuaded to do so on the Missal. When she was asked whether she had ever blasphemed [blasphemaverit] God, she replied that she had never cursed the Saints [maledixit Sanctum vel Sanctam]. When pressed whether she had not denied [denegaverit] God, she again refused a direct answer, saying that she had not denied the Saints [denegaverit Sanctum nec Sanctam].
The general feeling towards her among the Christian priesthood is shown by the action of Brother Richard. When he first entered her presence ‘he made the sign of the cross and sprinkled holy water, and I said to him, Approach boldly, I shall not fly away.’
Another point to be noted is her answer that she learned the Paternoster, Ave Maria, and Credo from her mother, thus proving that she was not of a witch-family. According to Reginald Scot it was sufficient evidence to condemn a woman to death as a witch if her mother had been a witch before her. At the same time, however, Joan refused to say the Paternoster except in confession, when the priest’s lips would have been sealed if she had proved herself not to be a Christian. She was very urgent to confess to the Bishop of, Beauvais, but he was too wary to be caught.
She first heard the ‘Voices’ at the age of thirteen, the usual time for the Devil and the witch to make ‘paction’. One of her followers, Pierronne, was burnt as a witch, avowing to the last that she had spoken with God as friend with friend, and describing the costume of her Deity with a detail which shows the reality of the occurrence. If also there is any weight to be attached to certain names–as seems likely after studying the lists given above–then we have in this history four of the chief witch-names; Joan, the daughter of Isabel, and the two saints Katherine and Margaret. These coincidences may be small, but there are too many of them to be ignored.
There is evidence from Joan’s own words that she felt herself divine and also that she knew her time was limited, but she never realized till the last that th end meant death; this, however, the ‘Voices’ knew and it was for this that they were preparing her. At the beginning of the trial, ‘she said she had come from God, and had nothing to do here, asking to be sent back to God from whom she came [dixit quod venit ex parte Dei, et non habet quid negotiari quidquam, petens ut remitteretur ad Deum a quo venerat]. ‘Many times she said to him [the King], I shall live a year, barely longer. During that year let as much as possible be done.’ The ‘Voices’ told her she would be taken before the feast of St. John, and that thus it must be, and that she must not be troubled but accept willingly and God would help her. They also said it was necessary for her to be captured: ‘Receive all willingly, care not for thy martyrdom, thou shalt come at last to the kingdom of paradise.’ On the fatal Tuesday when she learned her doom, flesh and spirit quailed at the prospect of the agony to come, and she cried out that her ‘Voices’ had deceived her, for she had thought that in her imprisonment she had already suffered the promised martyrdom. Yet within twenty-four hours she went to the stake with courage unquenched, acknowledging that her ‘Voices’ were from God. Like John Fian nearly two centuries later, her spirit had sunk at first, and again like Fian she endured to the end, dying a martyr to the God who had exploited her confidence and simplicity and whom she had served so well. To her de Lancre’s words might well apply, ‘The witches are so devoted to his service that neither torture nor death can affright them, and they go to martyrdom and to death for love of him as gaily as to a festival of pleasure and public rejoicing.’
The ashes were collected and thrown into running water; a common rite, in religions of the Lower Culture, after the sacrifice of the Incarnate God. It is also worth noting that Rouen was one of the French cities in which there was still a living tradition of human sacrifice.
2. Gilles de Rais
Like Joan of Arc, Gilles de Rais was tried and executed as a witch and in the same way, much that is mysterious in this trial can also be explained by the Dianic Cult.
On the mother’s side he descended from Tiphaine de Champtocé, and on the father’s from Tiphaine de Husson; this latter was the niece of Bertrand du Guesclin, and called after du Guesclin’s wife, who was a fairy woman. The name Tiphaine appears to come from the same root as Fein, Finn, and Fian, all of which meant ‘fairy’ in Great Britain, and probably in Brittany as well. There is therefore a strong suggestion of a strain of fairy blood, and with that blood there may also have descended to Gilles many of the beliefs and customs of the dwarf race.
The bond between Gilles and Joan was a very close one. She obtained permission from the King to choose whom she would for her escort; her choice at once fell on Gilles, for she would naturally prefer those of her own faith. He held already a high command in the relieving, force, and added the protection of Joan as a special part of his duties. Later on, even after he had reached the high position of Marshal of France, he still continued those duties, remaining with her all day when she was wounded at the assault on Paris. It is an interesting point also that Charles VII granted permission to both these great leaders to bear the royal arms on their escutcheons. It seems incredible that a soldier of Gilles’s character and standing should have made no move to rescue Joan by ransom or by force, when she was captured. She was not only a comrade, she was especially under his protection, and it is natural for us to think that his honour was involved. But if he regarded her as the destined victim, chosen and set apart for death, as required by the religion to which both he and she belonged, he could do nothing but remain inactive and let her fate be consummated. If this is so, then the ‘Mystery of Orleans ‘, of which he was the author, would be a religious play of the same class as the mystery-plays of the Christians.
The extraordinary prodigality and extravagance of Gilles may have been due, as is usually suggested, to profligacy or to madness, but it may equally well have been that he took seriously the belief that as the Incarnate God–or at any rate as a candidate for that honour–he must give to all who asked. He rode a black horse, as also did Joan and the ‘Devils’ of later centuries; and on two separate occasions he attempted to enter into a compact with the ‘Devil’. He could not decide to which religion he would belong, the old or the new, and his life was one long struggle. The old religion demanded human sacrifices and he gave them, the new religion regarded murder as mortal sin and he tried to offer expiation; openly he had Christian masses and prayers celebrated with the utmost pomp, secretly he followed the ancient cult; when he was about to remove the bodies of the human victims from the castle of Champtocé, he swore his accomplices to secrecy by the binding oaths of both religions; on the other hand members of the old faith, whom he consulted when in trouble, warned him that as long as he professed Christianity and practised its rites they could do nothing for him.
An infringement of the rights of the Church brought him under the ecclesiastical law, and the Church was not slow to take advantage of the position. Had he chosen to resist, his exalted position would have protected him, but he preferred to yield, and like Joan he stood his trial on the charge of heresy. The trial did not take long; he was arrested on September 14, and executed on October 26. With him were arrested eight others, of whom two were executed with him. Seeing that thirteen was always the number of witches in a Coven, it is surely more than an accidental coincidence that nine men and women, including Gilles, were arrested, two saved themselves by flight, and two more who had played a large part in the celebration of the rites of the old religion were already dead. Thus even as early as the middle of the fifteenth century the Coven of thirteen was in existence.
Gilles was charged with heresy before a Court composed of ecclesiastics only, and like Joan he was willing to be tried for his faith. He announced that he had always been a Christian, which may be taken to mean that there was some doubt as to whether he was not a heathen. He suddenly gave way to a curious outburst against the authority of the Court, saying that he would rather be hanged by the neck with a lace than submit to them as judges. This can only be understood by comparing his reference to ‘hanging with a lace’ with the method by which Playfair in 1597 (p. 204) John Stewart in 1618 (p. 202), and John Reid in 1697 (p. 203), met their deaths.
The sudden change of front in this haughty noble may be accounted for by the excommunication which was decreed against him, but this explains neither his passionate haste to confess all, and more than all, of which he was accused, nor his earnest and eager desire to die. How much of his confession was true cannot be determined now, but it is very evident that he was resolved to make his own death certain. His action in this may be compared with that of Major Weir in 1670, who also was executed on his own voluntary confession of witchcraft and crime. Gilles’s last words, though couched in Christian phraseology, show that he had not realized the enormity of the crimes which he confessed: ‘We have sinned, all three of us’, he said to his two companions, ‘but as soon as our souls have left our bodies we shall all see God in His glory in Paradise.’ He was hanged on a gibbet above a pyre, but when the fire burned through the rope the body was snatched from the flames by several ladies of his family, who prepared it for burial with their own hands, and it was then interred in the Carmelite church close by. His two associates were also hanged, their bodies being burned and the ashes scattered.
On the spot where Gilles was executed his daughter erected a monument, to which came all nursing mothers to pray for an abundance of milk. Here again is a strong suggestion that he was regarded as the Incarnate God of fertility. Another suggestive fact is the length of time-nine years-which elapsed between the death of Joan and the death of Gilles. This is a usual interval when the Incarnate God is given a time-limit.
It required twenty-five years before an action of rehabilitation could be taken for Joan. In the case of Gilles, two years after the execution the King granted letters of rehabilitation for that ‘the said Gilles, unduly and without cause, was condemned and put to death’.
An intensive study of this period might reveal the witch organization at the royal Court and possibly even the Grand-master to whom Joan owed allegiance, the ‘God’ who sent her. Giac, the King’s favourite, was executed as a witch, and Joan’s beau duc, the Duke d’Alençon, was also of the fraternity.
Note: See John Lord’s biography for a different view of Joan of Arc.