I stumbled upon this transcript of Joan of Arc’s trial a few days ago, and I’ve been reading it ever since. I’ve always been kind of fond of Jeanne (gonna spell it the French way because this transcript does throughout, and now it feels more correct to me). One Halloween when I was about sixteen I dressed up as a rather transgressive punk-rock Jeanne d’Arc – it was an excuse to buy the $80 chainmail hood I’d been eyeing on the shelf at the vintage thrift shop for six months. I added to that a white-and-gold long-sleeved dress with a wide but shockingly short skirt; turns out what I bought was in fact an ice-skating costume very much like this one here:
I had that, the chainmail hood over my bright red hair, and bright red Converse sneakers. My final addition to the ensemble was a pair of white boyshorts on whose ass I wrote “JOAN” in huge red marker. I mean, the skirt was going to fly up, I couldn’t do anything about that, so might as well lean into it, right?
It was a fun Halloween, if I recall – the last time I ever went trick-or-treating. I and my friend Tina were just slightly on the too-old-for-this-shit side at the time, and there were a couple of houses that told us to get lost and leave the candy for the little kids. At these people, I flashed my bright red ass. JOAN, motherfucker.
So I was fond of her in concept. I saw the Wishbone episode, y’know? I had that level of information on the topic. Reading through the transcript now, and then through some surrounding history just to understand what the fuck was going on there, I feel a species of awe and joy. She’s exactly the person I thought she was. So often that’s not true, so often we’re taught a whitewashed version of history and then we read up and find that each and every shiny name has a bloody asterisk next to it. But Jeanne believed what she was saying. It was obvious to everyone around her, and it’s obvious to me just reading her words.
There are so many moments in this transcript and in her life where she expressly rails against what she has to do, says that she wishes she could go home. She doesn’t want to fight – Jeanne says that she’s never killed a man, that she carried her standard into battle with her men, never a sword. She’s afraid, and that’s clear… but she stands her ground with complete, serene conviction anyway. They spent months calling her a liar to her face, but they didn’t execute her because they thought she was lying. They executed her because a fair number of them were sure she DID have divine power – they thought she was the Devil, because of course God couldn’t possibly be on the French side in this war!
I’ve always admired – and envied – her certainty. That conviction that there is meaning and that you are acting in resonance with it… what must it be like to be sure, so sure you’re willing to die for it, that you are worthy and loved? She signed the confession they gave her, but I’m not sure she understood it well – she says she didn’t, and the historical record would indicate that she couldn’t read, so it must have been read to her and the text may not even represent what they said. Anyway, they made her sign a confession, saying that she had been lying and recounting the lot of it.
But two days later she put on the man’s clothing she’d been made to take off, and said that she did not recant. She said she had signed the thing out of fear of her death, but that her “voices” – Saints Catherine and Margaret, usually, sometimes angels – had come to her and told her she must adhere to God’s will, not lie about what she saw. She could have walked away from death right then, and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference – she was being tried by the English, the enemy nation, what did it matter what they said about her? If she was the power-hungry harridan they tried to paint her as, she could have gone back to France and her army would still have hailed her as a saint, the hell with some English bishops’ kangaroo court.
But she wouldn’t lie. I find that so beautiful. So senseless and beautiful. Like everything.
The morning air is clear and cold today.
I take a breath and hold it on my tongue
until the last bell of prayers has been rung.
Full streets in silence.
I begin to pray.
St. Catherine, St. Margaret, hear me –
at last I shall honor you face to face
at last I shall truly feel your embrace.
Even in my cell you have been near me.
After all, the pyre’s just a pyre,
the wood under my feet is merely wood.
The men in vestments who call me a liar
will look away when they dare spill my blood.
Already my eyes are aiming higher –
the sun’s rising.
Light the flame.
I am good.