“The Book of Poitiers”! It has long been regarded lost, or even deliberately destroyed – and still holds that status – it was (and continues to be!) one of the three most important manuscripts regarding Joan of Arc – next to the minutes of her condemnation trial in 1431 and the records of her rehabilitation trial in 1456. And because it brings together a number of statements by Joan, “The Book of Poitiers” ranks as one of two such sets, in addition to the process of Rouen in 1430/1431. In one respect, however, “The Book” ranks strongly in the first place in terms of the reliability of the record of Joan’s words, because the minuting process of the Rouen trial was and continues to be sometimes held as being responsible for the deliberate distortion of Joan’s responses.
“The Book of Poitiers” came into existence as a result of more than two weeks of interrogation of Joan of Arc by Catholic clerics and theologians (from March 11, 1428/29), as ordered by King Charles VII. This is the famous episode from the beginning of her public career when Charles VII, before having entrusted his army to her, supposedly desired to see if Joan indeed acted under the influence of a supernatural character. The examination was held in March 1429 (according to the old calendar it was still the year 1428, as the new year was not counted from January 1, but from Easter).
The examination took place in Poitiers because it was the only major French center of theology which still remained loyal to Charles VII. Other centers of ecclesiastical power recognized the sovereignty of the King of England, or more exactly, of the English regent, the Duke of Bedford.
What exactly Joan had been saying inPoitiersis not known. Quoted are only single sentences from other sources (mainly the rehabilitation process 1455-1456) given by different witnesses.
It was in Poitiers that she was to utter the sentences quoted by us here:
“I came from the King of Heaven, to raise the siege of Orleans and to bring the Dauphin to Reims, that he be crowned and anointed.”
When examiners have stated (according to the testimony of Brother Seguin de Seguin): “But God wants it that you not be believed unless a sign is given that you should be believed, and we shall not advise the King to trust you and risk his army for your simple statement. “
To which Joan replied:
“In the name of God! (“En nom Dieu!”), I came not to Poitiers to give signs! But take me to Orleans, and I’ll show you a sign, for which I was sent!” She also added: “Send me men in such numbers as it seems to be appropriate, and I’ll go to Orleans.”
“The voice told me that it is the will of God to liberate the people of France from the scourge which befell them. “
At that point one of the clerics, Guillaume Aimery, said:
“If it is the will of God to set them free, there is no need for the army.”
To which she replied :
“En nom Dieu! The soldiers will fight, and God will give them victory!”
It was also there in Poitiers, that she gave her pungent pugnacious replies to the said Brother Seguin de Seguin. When he asked her in what dialect her “voice” spoke to her, she retorted: “Better than yours.” When, in turn, he asked her if she believed in God, Joan replied: “Verily, more than you!”
Even with these few examples you can see that conversations between her and her examiners were not always smooth and Joan in her annoyance could also exhibit a sharp tongue.
During the trial in Rouen(1430-1431) the records of Poitiershad often been mentioned. The “Book” was referred to at least 14 times there, of which at least 12 times were by Joan and at least twice by her judges. We say “at least” because it is possible that the number of references could have been much higher. Joan, repeatedly answering the judges’ questions, stated that she “depends on what is said elsewhere” – and this statement could refer to the “Book of Poitiers” as well as to other occasions during her trial in Rouen. The records of Poitiers were referred to twice when Joan replied to Article 6 of the final Articles of Accusation (2 May 1431):
“I refer to my judge, that is, to God and to what I said earlier and what is (written) in the book”
And further on:
“When asked if she referred and submitted to the Church in Poitiers, where she was examined, she replied:
– Do you think you will take in that way and draw me to yourselves by it? ” (p. 251)
Never, however, was the manuscript of the “Book” consulted inRouen, which puzzled some modern writers.
As mentioned, “The Book of Poitiers” still has the status of having been “lost”. But in the twentieth century, at least one author claimed to have read the original manuscript, and in a very prominent place in Europe. The author was a French historian with the German name Edouard Schneider . He was a personal friend of Pope Pius XI, and when in the 1920s theVaticanState was established, he became its honorary citizen. And the prominent place in which he became familiar with the “Book of Poitiers,” was the Vatican Library in 1933.
Another author, Gerard Pesme, wrote on June 4 1972 a very long letter to the Pope Paul VI in which he described (among several other things) his conversation with Schneider. This letter is reproduced in full in the book quoted several times by us, “L’Affaire Jeanne d’Arc” by M. Gay and R. Senzig. Here we quote only the part relating directly to this conversation:
“After having read a book by my fellow scientist, a study published in 1952 and entitled ‘Jeanne d’Arc et ses Lys, La Légende et l’histoire’ (‘Joan of Arc and her Lily, The legend and history’), I went to a meeting with him on the urging of Jean Grimod, another historian who warned me: ‘He’ll tell you everything, but will give you nothing on paper.’
“I was particularly kindly received by Edouard Schneider, who talked at length with me for two hours with intensity and intelligence and who proved to have had a great memory. As mentioned above, what came to light is as follows:
I read your excellent book about Joan of Arc. In it you confirm her royal birth, but do not cite any proof. To be sure of this, you must have the proof. Could you tell me where I can find this evidence?
But … in the Vatican! – he exclaimed, throwing up his arms, as did Churchill, when he was turning to the crowd – In the “Livre de Poitiers” … One day, when I was in the Vatican Library, accompanied by Monsignor Tisserant , who was Librarian of the Vatican City, I noticed a locked armoire and smiling I asked if it was there, Monsignor, where one can find the secret collections of the Vatican?
There is no secret collection the Vatican, he said.
Would it be possible that I gain access to documents stored in the armoire?
After some hesitation Mgr Tisserant agreed and went to look for the key on his desk. The cabinet was opened and I found the famous Book of Poitiers, the disappearance of which was bitterly deplored by all the historians of France. In fact, it is not a book, but a manuscript of recorded interviews Joan The Maid submitted herself in Poitiers in 1428, and her responses to the ecclesiastical commission created by the King. I noticed that the priests did not believe in the “voices” that Joan had heard, and that they refused to recognize her status as a “messenger of God”. Therefore, in the face of their persistence, which alarmed the King, it became necessary to send two monks to Domremy to carry out an investigation on site. It was the report by those two monks which mentioned that in that small village of thirty hearths (“de trente feux” – which simply means “thirty households”) all residents confirmed that Joan was the daughter of the Queen of France, born as Isabeau de Baviere , and her lover, Duke Louis I of Orleans, brother of King Charles VI.
I copied this report, as well as part of the hearings, when a few days later, Mgr Tisserant saw me working on these documents and asked me what I found so interesting in the documents. I hesitated to tell him, fearing that he would not be happy. It was a major scandal! No need to dwell on what happened next: he told me to swear that I never reveal my incredible discovery in writing, because it would mean the destruction of the mystical legend created by the royal family in order to disguise that illegitimate birth, the disclosure of which could bastardize the Dauphin …”
Let us remember: the “Dauphin” or Charles VII, the same, who had subjected Joan to hearings in Poitiers, had already been “bastardized” after the Treaty of Troyes (1420), by which treaty his predecessor, Charles VI would remain on the French throne till his death, and then it would have gone to the English King Henry V, the famous victor in the battle of Agincourt. It was for this purpose that Charles VII was “bastardized” by her own mother, Queen Isabella ofBavaria(the same one who – according to Schneider – was to be the mother of Joan). The idea was that he could not stand in the way of Henry V… It was expected that King Charles VI soon would die because he had been ill for a long time. Surprisingly, however, it was Henry V who died quicker (1422). The war for supremacy inFrancesuffered another extension.
We can imagine what would have happened if it suddenly turned out that Joan of Arc, to whose military action Charles VII owed his crown, was a daughter of the Queen and the Duke of Orleans, and thus the sister or half-sister of Charles VII and namely an illegitimate sister! Old suspicions that Charles VII might have been a bastard too, could only come alive again and inflame the political situation even more…
Of course, the fact that Schneider (and Pesme) claimed that Joan was the daughter of the Queen of France, is not itself a proof that she indeed was. Even if the said report by those two monks indeed contains information that it was claimed by the Domremy residents (even by all of them!), it does not prove anything. After all there were also such things as “gossip” and “rumour” in the fifteenth century and rural residents were not to any degree less likely to gossip than urban dwellers. But this information may, however, also provide an important clue as to the true origin of Joan of Arc. This possibility must also, out of necessity, be taken into account.
The fact that most historians do not consider the matter of content of the Book of Poitiers to be finally settled is not surprising. If they do not see the document, or if it is not known to them in copies or printed copies, the integrity of their profession would have been compromised if in such conditions they decided to draw the final conclusions. On the other hand they violate the same fundamental principles of their profession when they try to keep the matter “silenced to death” as if it did not exist.
Is it at all possible to comprehend the fact that they remain silent after their colleague said that he had seen with his own eyes manuscripts that have long been considered missing?
Let us imagine for example that a historian (either Polish or foreign) reveals in an interview with somebody that while collecting material for his latest book, he came across, in the archives of the British special services, a document confirming that in the spring of 1943, these services were ordered to prepare the assassination of General Sikorski. You can imagine that this news would cause a stir among historians (and not only historians), especially Polish ones, despite the fact that none of them saw this document for himself. The fact that such an uproar would surely take place we know from the fact that not so long ago, as a result of rumors that General Sikorski was poisoned, his remains were exhumed for testing although no traces of poison were found in his bones. But the discussion is not closed, because some poisons are known to decompose very quickly and their traces therefore can not be found.
Sometimes an opinion appears that “The Book of Poitiers” was probably destroyed by the opponents of Joan of Arc. But it is not certain why they would do so, or whether they would be the only ones having a reason for this act of destruction.
We know that the clergy who examined Joan atPoitiers did not give King Charles VII any clearly glorifying opinion of her. They simply decided that they did not find anything heretical about her, anything that would definitely disqualify her.
This review to some extent overlaps with what Edouard Schneider said on the attitudes of those theologians. So if indeed “The Book” had been destroyed, the ardent “supporters” of Joan could also have their own reason to do it.
But if so, then why have the minutes of the condemnation trial not been destroyed, too? After all, also in this case both the “supporters” and enemies of Joan would have motive for such destruction — the “supporters” because Joan sometimes expressed herself in a way that, even today in much more “liberal” circumstances, would cause her to have been considered a heretic. And because these records suggest that Joan repeatedly perjured herself. And the opponents because these records prove at the same time the collusion of the tribunal, which even endeavored to use just about anything in their hypocrisy against the defendant.
In 1457, in the year of the official rehabilitation of Joan, as if symbolically, indeed only one copy of the minutes ofRouenwas destroyed. To date, there are three other known copies inFrancealone, and one in England which had been specially made for the King of England. None of these copies was destroyed, and to this day they are preserved in excellent condition.Romeno doubt also had at least one copy, because in the end it was a formal trial conducted by the ecclesiastical inquisition.
Since such documents were not written in only one copy but at least in several copies, the “Book of Poitiers” must have been written in at least a few copies. One was given to King Charles VII who initiated the formality of the examination of Joan by theological authorities. A few copies would be in the hands of the church because – as in the case of the trials in the years 1430/1431 inRouenand in the years 1456 to 1457 inParis- it was an ecclesiastical process. And in this case, you can safely bet, and this without any risk of error, thatRomehad at least one copy. The only question is whether it still has it … We personally do not doubt it at all…
When Joan was tried inRouen, each time her interrogations were written down by several scribes at a time (four, five, etc.). Then, in the evening of each such day, these scribes met at the home occupied by Bishop Cauchon and there all their records were compared , which resulted in one more official copy, which was then translated into Latin as well. And inPoitiersa diverse range of people wrote down her answers, especially since the theologians also visited the place where Joan was staying (in the home of Jean Rabateau), and there also examined her.
However, all possible incriminations of theVaticanmade here may also well be directed at a number of other authorities. Finally, if “The Book” exists in several copies, then copies exist also outside theVatican, for example, in the diocesan archives ofFranceor in the French national archives. And more generally very “boorish” approach to archives is noted almost on a daily basis also elsewhere. In 1945, the Americans stole tons of archives of the Third Reich and transferred them to theU.S.where they are guarded as if they were a “gold reserve”. And only a few, selected historians have access to them, and even to them not all is available.
Imagine our own reaction inPoland, if our archives from the years of theSecondRepublic(1918 – 1939) were taken in a similar way toRussia, guarded there and with only a few authors having access to them, and even those few not being allowed to use the entire material…
We are not able to give here the final answer to the question, “Does The Book of Poitiers exists?”. We can however tell you something else: that we are personally convinced that not only do they exist, but several copies exist, one in theVatican, and the remaining few inFrance, whether in the hands of the church or the state. And that the condition in which the copies exist is as perfect as the one of the records of both trials of Joan of Arc.
It is true that the church sometimes destroyed “undesirable” books – nay, even destroyed, and namely even physically , the people for the mere fact of possession or dissemination of such “undesirable” books.
However, if the Church itself collected anything – even with no intent to promote – it did not destroy, but carefully preserved. In such cases the Church, and therefore “Rome”, was not a destroyer but a “hoarder” which accumulate as it could and what it could. It is for this reason theVatican collections are now by far the largest collections of manuscripts of the Western world. They would not be so if there had been a similar folly of destruction in “Rome” itself as within the ranks of the Inquisition…
And above all we are unable to agree with the suggestion that anyone could destroy a document such as “The Book of Poitiers.” It is in fact a Church official record of an official Church investigation. And while the Church was not willing to destroy its collections of foreign documents, the more so no desire of their own is known to destroy their own documents, documents which they themselves made.