Religion Wiki

Retrial of Joan of Arc

34,279pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Add New Page Talk0

The Retrial of Joan of Arc, also known as the "nullification trial", was a posthumous retrial of Joan of Arc authorized by Pope Callixtus III, at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan's mother Isabelle Romée. The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law. Investigations started in 1452, and a formal appeal followed in November, 1455. The final summary in June, 1456 described Joan as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The court declared her innocence on 7 July 1456.


With Joan of Arc’s death in 1431, a period of nineteen years elapsed where King Charles VII of France maintained an unbroken silence on the affair. She had been a useful tool in helping him reclaim his crown, and perhaps he felt that she had served her purpose; certainly, he did not lift a finger to save her from the English.[1]. Yet even with his crowning as king, his position was perilous, and had he even wanted to, a number of factors stood in his way were he to seek any sort of review of Joan’s condemnation, especially prior to 1449.

Firstly, Charles needed to be in possession of Paris, since the University of Paris had provided assessors for the trial of condemnation at Rouen.[2] In May 1430, Paris was held by the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, and the doctors and masters of the university had written to Philip the Good of Burgundy asking that Joan be transferred to the Church’s care so that she could be placed on trial.[3] Since the university had played an active part in the proceedings, Charles could only begin to bring them to account once Paris was captured in April 1436.

Secondly, Rouen also needed to be in Charles’ hands before any inquiry could commence. The documents relating to the original trial were kept there, and the town did not fall into Charles’ hands until November 1449.[4] Finally, Charles needed the consent of the Papacy to undertake any inquiry into Joan’s trial, especially as the tribunal which had tried Joan had been established by the Inquisitor of France. The relationship between the Papacy and the Court of Charles VII had become strained during various times, and it wasn’t until 1450 that the situation had become settled enough for Charles to begin exploring the rehabilitation of Joan.[5]

Initial attempts

Bouille’s Review of 1450

It was not until February 1450 that Charles ordered the theologian Guillaume Bouille, doctor of the University of Paris, to inquire into the ‘faults and abuses’ committed by Joan’s judges and assessors at Rouen almost twenty years before.[6] This could potentially cause some difficulties, as a member of the University of Paris was being asked to investigate the verdict based on advice given by other members of the same university, some of whom were still alive and holding prominent positions within Church and State. Charles therefore was very cautious, limiting Bouille’s brief to a preliminary investigation in order to ascertain ‘the truth about the said process and in what manner it was conducted.’ [7] Though there was a suspicion of an unjust condemnation, there was no suggestion at this stage of an inquiry leading to the Inquisition revoking its own sentence.[8]

Yet there were too many prominent people who had been willing collaborators in 1430 that had changed their allegiance once Charles had regained Paris and Rouen that had too much to lose were the proceedings against Joan to be reopened.[9] Men such as Jean de Mailly, now the Bishop of Noyon, who had converted to Charles’ cause in 1443, but in 1431 had signed letters in the name of King Henry VI of England, guaranteeing protection to all those who had participated in the case against Joan.[10] An even greater obstacle was Raoul Roussel, archbishop of Rouen, who had been a fervent supporter of the English cause in Normandy until he too took an oath to Charles in 1450, and had participated in Joan’s trial.[11]

Bouille only managed to summon seven witnesses when his inquiry was suddenly broken off in March 1450. He had not even managed to review the dossiers and minutes of the trial of condemnation.[12] Of the seven witnesses, most denounced the English for their desire for revenge against Joan, and their attempt to dishonor Charles VII title by associating him with a finding of heresy against his unique military commander.[13] Only one was hostile against Joan – Jean Beaupere, the Canon of Rouen. Interviewed by Bouille, he refused to answer questions about the procedure at the trial of condemnation. He stated that Joan was a fraud, believing that if Joan ‘had wise and frank teachers, she would have said many things serving to justify her, and withheld many which led to her condemnation.’[14] His testimony was not included in the report which Bouille wrote up for Charles written later that year after Charles had closed down the inquiry. Circumstances had changed – the war against the retreating English was still occupying much of his attention, and there was trouble brewing with the Papacy over the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges. Charles could afford to wait, but Bouille made it clear that it was in the king’s interest to clear up the matter once and for all.[15]

d’Estouteville’s Intervention of 1452

This argument, that the condemnation of Joan had stained the king’s honor, was enthusiastically taken up two years later with a man keen to make a good impression of Charles VII – the cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville. d’Estouteville was the Papal legate in France appointed by Pope Nicholas V in 1451 to negotiate an Anglo-French peace. His commission was hampered by two things: the ongoing success of the French army in throwing the English out of Normandy, and the ongoing debates about the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges.[16]

d’Estouteville had a number of reasons to take up the cause of Joan’s rehabilitation. Firstly, his family had been devoted partisans in the cause of Charles VII in Normandy, losing land during the English occupation. Secondly, he desired to clear the king’s name through any association with a convicted heretic. Finally, he was very anxious to demonstrate his loyalty to his homeland, and to support his sovereign in any matter that did not impact upon the pope’s traditional rights.[17]

Even still, it wasn’t until July 1452 that Charles finally consented to see d’Estouteville.[18] In his capacity as papal legate, he handed over the inquiry to the Inquisitor of France, Jean Brehal, but he still was responsible in pressing for the case to be reopened. Though Charles was keen to know the facts behind the case, he was not enamored of the thought of the Inquisition running a high profile case in France outside of royal control.[19] However, through d’Estouteville’s intervention, by December 1452 the case had taken a life of its own, independent of Charles.

However, the problems of the collaborators would not go away. At d’Estouteville’s inquiry of May 1452, two vital but highly placed witnesses were not called – Raoul Roussel, archbishop of Rouen and Jean la Maitre, vicar of the Inquisition in 1431. Though new testimonies were taken from two canons of Rouen cathedral, neither of them remembered very much about the events of 1431.[20] By January 1453, d’Estouteville had returned to Rome, his principal mission to negotiate a peace having been unsuccessful.[21] However, the Inquisitor Brehal had been busy collecting information and learned opinions from canonists and theologians on the case. Even more importantly, the month before saw the death of the Archbishop Roussel, removing a substantial obstacle to the reopening of the trial and the rehabilitation of Joan.[22]

Retrial and Rehabilitation - 1455/56

Nevertheless, almost two years were to elapse before a new push emerged to clear Joan’s name. This time it came from an unexpected source – the mother and brothers of Joan. Addressing a petition to the new pope, Callixtus III, with help from d’Estouteville who was the family’s representative in Rome[23], they demanded the reparation of Joan’s honor, a redress of the injustice she suffered and the citation of her judges to appear before a tribunal. In response to this plea, Callixtus appointed three members of the French higher clergy to act in concert with Inquisitor Brehal to review the case and pass judgment as required. The three men were Jean Juvenal des Ursins, archbishop of Rheims, Richard Olivier de Longueil, bishop of Coutances, and Guillaume Chartier, bishop of Paris.[24]

Of the three, the archbishop of Rheims was the most prestigious, occupying the highest ecclesiastical seat in France. He also demonstrated a great deal of reticence towards the case and Joan’s memory, going so far as to advise Joan’s mother in 1455 not to proceed with her claim.[25] There were reasons for this. He had held the see of the Diocese of Beauvais from 1432, which had been the diocese where Joan had been condemned just the year before. He was also a supporter of Gallicanism, and was very concerned with Pope Callixtus’ and d’Estouteville’s interference in the affairs of the French Church. He was however, concerned about the claims that Charles had recovered his kingdom by using a heretic and a sorceress, and thus by default he too was a heretic.

This desire to limit the damage inflicted on the French Church by the original trial, and thus prevent Papal interference, together with the need to remove the final remaining objection to Charles’ claim of sovereignty of France determined the outcome of the nullification trial.[26] If the verdict were to be limited to the fact that she was unjustly condemned, then the inquiry had no need to go further than simply denounce the original procedure at the trial of 1431, without making a formal declaration on the question of Joan’s orthodoxy. This would then lead to the annulment of the sentence on the grounds that her judges and assessors had proceeded improperly, through either fear of the English, or just through plain and simple error.[27]

The appellate process included clergy from throughout Europe and observed standard court procedure. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from some 150 witnesses, most of whom had more or less unanimously testified to her purity, integrity and courage.[28] Examination of the remaining principal players was less forthcoming, with repeated claims of being unable to remember anything about the events of 1431, especially about whether Joan had been forced to undergo torture. There were also a number of key individuals who were not examined by the tribunal, including the bishop of Beauvais.[29] Nevertheless, Brehal drew up his final summary in June, 1456, which described Joan as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta.

The court declared her innocence on 7 July 1456 by annulling her sentence.[30] They declared that Joan had been tried as a result of ‘false articles of accusation’. Those articles and Cauchon’s sentence were to be torn out of a copy of the proceedings and burnt by the public executioner at Rouen.[31] However, apart from that and the implicit condemnation of the now deceased Cauchon (who was not mentioned by name in the definitive sentence), the tribunal did not go any further. The sentence did not make any mention of her orthodoxy or sanctity.[32] No penalty was extracted from her judges or assessors from 1431, many of whom were still alive. Finally, it was expressly forbidden that any images to Joan be set up at Rouen or elsewhere.[33]

Although there were unsatisfactory aspects to the process of rehabilitation, it clearly satisfied Charles VII in that it cleared Joan of Arc of the specific accusations of heresy she was convicted of in 1431 through a technicality, thereby leaving untouched the more thorny subject of the guilt of many of the higher members of the French clergy who were still active and prominent in the 1450s.


  1. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 59
  2. Beaucourt, ‘Histoire de Charles VII’, Vol 2, pgs 256-58
  3. Quicherat, ‘Proces’ Vol 1, pg 9
  4. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 59
  5. Beaucourt, ‘Histoire de Charles VII’, Vol 2, pgs 256-58
  6. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 60
  7. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Bouille’, pgs 33-35
  8. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 60
  9. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 60
  10. Doncoeur and Lanhers, pgs 7-8
  11. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 61
  12. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Bouille’, pg 10
  13. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Bouille’, pg 43
  14. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Bouille’, pg 15
  15. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pgs 61-62
  16. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 62
  17. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 63
  18. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Estouteville’, pg 30
  19. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 63
  20. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Estouteville’, pg 19-20
  21. Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘Estouteville’, pg 32
  22. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 61
  23. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 65
  24. Quicherat, ‘Proces’ Vol 2, pgs 95-98
  25. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pgs 65-66
  26. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 66
  27. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 67
  28. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 67
  29. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 68
  30. Nullification trial sentence rehabilitation.[1] (Accessed 12 February 2006)
  31. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 67
  32. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pgs 67-68
  33. Vale, ‘Charles VII’, pg 67


  • Vale, M. G. A. (1974). Charles VII. London: Eyre Methuen. ISBN 0413280802. 
  • Beaucourt, G. Du Fresne De, ‘Histoire de Charles VII’, volume 2, Paris, 1883
  • Quicherat, J., ‘Proces de condamnation et de rehabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc’, volume 1, Paris, 1841
  • Quicherat, J., ‘Proces de condamnation et de rehabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc’, volume 2, Paris, 1842
  • Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘La Rehabilitation de Jeanne la Pucelle: l’Enquete ordonnee par Charles VII en 1450 et le Codicile de Guillaume Bouille’, Paris, 1956
  • Doncoeur and Lanhers, ‘L’Enquete du Cardinal d’Estouteville’, Paris, 1958
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Retrial of Joan of Arc. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki