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This Week in History
July 6-12, 2014

The Verdict to Exonerate Joan of Arc,
July 7, 1456

In 1450, the resistance movement that had been led by Joan of Arc became once again a live issue for all France, when Rouen, the city of her bogus trial for heresy, was liberated by French forces. A re-examination of Joan's trial, which would ultimately lead to her complete exoneration, was undertaken. The process of Joan's retrial and exoneration—which was a public process that engaged the entire population of France—created the preconditions for the founding of the modern French nation under Louis XI.

On February 15, 1450, Charles VII requested that the Canon of Rouen Cathedral report what occurred during the trial. An initial inquiry was held in March, and witnesses were heard. The process of Papal examination of the legal travesty of Joan's trial was begun in 1451, when Pope Nicholas V sent the Papal legate Guillaume d'Estouville to seek peace in France after a renewed English invasion in March of 1450.

D'Estouville conferred with the King in February of 1452, and arrived in Rouen in April. On May 2 the first official Church inquiry was opened. Further inquiries quickly followed, and the decision for a complete review of the entire trial proceedings was reached by July, with the newly appointed French Inquisitor Jean Bréhal was ordered to review all the records and summon the appropriate expert panels. D'Estouville was made Archbishop of Rouen in April of 1453, but the process of retrial was slowed by the shock felt throughout Europe with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks on May 29.

On June 11, 1455, Pope Calixtus, in office a mere two months, accepted a petition from Joan's mother for a full Papal exoneration. Hearings were held all over France, at Notre Dame of Paris in November of 1455, in Rouen in December, in January and February of 1456 in Domremy, Joan's birthplace, and Vaucouleurs, where she initially presented her mission to the local military commmand. Inquiries were resumed in Rouen, Orléans, and Paris from February 16 through March 16, where nobles, churchmen, and common laborers were all called before the Church to testify about what they knew of Joan and of the accusations raised at the 1431 trial. Throughout May, churches throughout France were plastered with posters calling for any witnesses to come forward.

By June 2 of 1456, all evidence had been officially accepted by the Church court, and on June 24 notices were posted on churches in Rouen asking for objections. The official verdict was rendered on July 7. Joan was officially exonerated. The town of Orléans declared July 27 an official holiday to celebrate.

The exoneration of Joan of Arc is an extraordinary example of how, by organizing the entire population, the overturning of a judical travesty in the case of an individual can create the basis for establishing a nation committed to a higher, universal concept of justice, as Louis XI eloquently outlines in his Rosebush of War.


Excerpt from "The Significance of Martin Luther King, Today" by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.

So, we do not face a new problem today, in one sense. We face the same problem, in principle, that Martin faced. And faced successfully. And I would propose, that in the lesson of Martin Luther King, and his life, there is something we can learn today, which brings him back to life, as if he were standing here, alive, today. There's something special about his life, his development, which should be captured today, by us, not only in addressing the problems of our nation, which are becoming terrible; but the problems of our relationship with the world as a whole. How are we going to deal with these cultures that are different than our own? With an Asian culture; with the Muslim cultures around the world—over a billion Muslims around the world; with the culture of China, which is different than ours; the culture of Southeast Asia, which is different than ours; the culture of Myanmar? 

They're all human. They all have the same ultimate requirements, the same needs. But, they're different cultures. They think differently. They respond to different predicates than we respond to. But, we must have peaceful cooperation with these people, to solve world problems. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Then you start thinking about someone like Martin. And I want to indicate, in the context I just stated, what the significance of Martin is, today. We had no replacement for Martin, lesson number one. Martin was a unique personality. He was not a talented person who happened to stumble into leadership, and could be easily replaced by other leaders who would learn the job, and take over afterward. We had no replacement. No one in the position to replace him. Many wished to be—they didn't have it. 

What did Martin have? What was the essence of Martin, that made him something special? Let's compare three cases, to get at this. One, Martin himself. The other, the case of France's famous heroine, Jeanne d'Arc—and I'm rather familiar with the details of the actual history of the Jeanne d'Arc case, which is comparable, in a sense, a very special way, to the case of Martin. And then, also, with a fictitious case, but which points to the problem we face: the case of Shakespeare's Hamlet, especially the Hamlet of the Third Act soliloquy. 

Now, what was the issue? Martin was truly a man of God. Truly. In a way that very few people are actually able to realize in their lifetime. It wasn't just that he was a man of God: It's that he rose to the fuller appreciation of what that meant. Obviously, the image for him was Christ, and the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That was his source of strength. He lived that. He had gone to the mountaintop, at a point that he knew his life was threatened by powerful forces in the United States. And he said, "I will not shrink from this mission, even if they kill me." Just as Christ said, and I'm sure that was in Martin's mind, at that point. The Passion and Crucifixion of Christ is the image which is the essence of Christianity. It's an image, for example, in Germany, or elsewhere, where the Bach St. Matthew Passion is performed. It's a two-hour performance, approximately. In those two hours, the audience, the congregation, the singers, the musicians, re-live, in a powerful way, the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. And this has always been important: To re-live that. To capture the essence of what Christ means, for all Christians. And Martin showed that. 

The difference is this—and I'll come back to Jeanne d'Arc (or call it, Joan of Arc, in English). The difference is, most people tend to believe, "Yes, I wish to go to Heaven," or something like that. Or, don't. Don't care. But, they are looking for answers within the bounds of their mortal life. They're thinking of the satisfactions of the flesh. The security they will enjoy, between the bounds of birth and death. Whereas, the great leader, like Martin, rises to a higher level. They think of their life, as the Gospel presents it, as a "talent." That is, life is a talent, given to you: You're born, and you die. That is your talent, what you have in that period. The question is, you're going to spend it anyway. How are you going to spend it? What are you going to spend it for, to secure for all eternity? What are you going to do, as a mission, that will earn you the place you want to occupy in eternity? 

Martin had a clear sense of that. That mountaintop address, for me, struck me years ago—clear: It was just a clear understanding of exactly what he was saying; what he was saying to others. Life is a talent: It is not what you get out of life; it's what you put into it, that counts. 

Martin had that. That's why he was a leader. And I've known many of the other leaders with him, in that period. They didn't quite have the same spark. They may have accepted the idea. They may have believed in it. But, it didn't grip them the same way it did Martin. And it came to grip him, I'm sure, more and more, as he took on more and more responsibilities. As a leader, you feel this. You see your people. You see the things you have to cope with, the suffering; you see the danger. And you have to find within yourself the strength, not to flinch. Not to compromise. 

The Martyrdom of Joan of Arc 

Take the case of Jeanne d'Arc, to the comparison—Joan of Arc, as she's called. This is the real history: She was such a significant figure, in the 15th Century, that her history was thoroughly documented at the time, and cross-checked and so forth. She was a figure in all Christianity. She was a key figure in the history of France. 

Here she is, a woman, a young woman, coming from a farming background, who is inspired to believe that France must be freed from the terrible occupation of the Norman chivalry; that France must become a true nation. And that it must be risen out of its condition, to become a nation, to take care of these problems; that God wished this to happen. So, she went, through a series of events, to a Prince, who was the heir, nominally, to the throne of France. And she said to this Prince—having gotten in there with various credentials—"God wants you to become King." And he looked at her, and he said, "What do you want from me?" She said, "I don't want anything from you. God wants you to become a King." 

And so, because of her power, of her personality and her mission, the King gave her the command of some troops, in a very serious battle at that time, under the assumption that she would be killed, as the leader of these troops, and that would settle the whole problem. She wasn't killed. She won the battle! Personally leading the battle! 

And, France was mobilized for the idea of its independence, to a large degree, as a result. 

Then the time came that the Prince was crowned King. But then the King betrayed her to the enemies of France, to the British, the Normans. And she was put on trial by the Inquisition, which is a horrible thing. This is the worst kind of injustice you can imagine. And in the course of the trial, she was offered bait: "If you will back off a little bit, girl, we won't burn you at the stake, alive." And she said, "No." She flinched—"Maybe I should compromise." She had priests in there, trying to get her to compromise. She said, "I won't compromise. I can not betray my mission." 

She had gone to the mountaintop. "I will not betray my mission. I will stay my course." 

So, they took her. They tied her to a stake. They piled the wood on the stake. They set fire to the stake, while she was alive. They cooked her to death. Then, they opened the pile of wood, to see if she was alive or not; they found she was dead. And they continued the process, restarted the fire, and burned her, into ashes. 

But, out of that, two things happened. Out of that, France revived and got its independence. And later, got the first modern nation-state of Louis XI, that is, Louis the Eleventh of France. And the significance of that is this, for us today: Because of that victory, because of what happened with Louis XI of France, we had the first European state, in which the government was responsible for the general welfare of all of the people. The general welfare, means exactly what it means in I Corinthians 13, when Paul writes of agape; or we sometimes call "love," or "charity." It's that quality. It is not the law, it is not the rule-book, that counts. It's your love of humanity that counts. That you must always live for your love of humanity. And therefore, government is not legitimate, except as government is efficiently committed to the general welfare, of not only all of the people, but also the improvement of the condition of life of their posterity. 

And, for the first time, in France, with that state, the principle of constitutional law, that government can not treat some of the people as human cattle—it is not legitimate; it is not a nation, if it treats some of its people as human cattle—it must think of the general welfare of all of the people. It must be captured by a sense of responsibility to all of the people and to their posterity. 

Because we're all mortal. And to arouse in us the passions, while we're alive, which will impel us to do good, we have to have a sense that our life, and the consuming of our life—the spending of our talent, is going to mean something for coming generations. The best people look for things—like Moses—that are going to happen, when he will no longer be around to enjoy them. It's this sense of immortality. It's why parents, in the best degree, sacrifice for their children. It's why communities sacrifice for education, for their children, for opportunities for their children. You go through the pangs of suffering and shortage, but you have the sense that you're going someplace, that your life is going to mean something. That you can die with a smile on your face: You've conquered death. You've spent your talent wisely, why life will mean something better for generations to come. 

That was the principle! That principle inspired the man who became King Henry VII of England, to do the same thing against the evil Richard III, and establish England, at that time, as the second modern nation-state. 

In a sense, that's what Martin was doing, the same kind of process.