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Medieval Sourcebook:
Johan Nider:
on Joan of Arc


[Coulton introduction] Johann Nider studied at the Universities of Vienna and Cologne, became professor at Vienna, and prior of the Dominican convents at Nuremberg and at Bâle. He distinguished himself as preacher and as inquisitor. In 1431 he was called as a representative to the General Council of Bâle, and entrusted later with an important embassy on behalf of that Council. His Formicatius and Preceptorium show him as a learned, pious, and naturally kind-hearted man; but he was also a zealous witch-finder. I subjoin here his account of St. Joan and of other unnamed visionaries of his time; they are of great interest as showing the ideas of a German inquisitor, who had far better sources of information than most of his contemporaries, as to the action of his fellow-inquisitors in France. The Extracts is taken from the edition of Formicatius published at Douai in 1602. Nider wrote the book between 1431, when he joined the Council of Bâle, and his death in 1438; St. Joan was burned in May 1431

JOAN OF ARC

PUPIL. In your opinion, have some good men been deceived by sorceresses or witches in our own day?

MASTER:. In what here follows, I suspend my judgment; but I will tell you what is repeated by public rumor and report. We have in our days the distinguished professor of divinity, brother Heinrich Kaltyseren, Inquisitor of Heretical Depravity. Last year, while he was exercising his inquisitorial office in the city of Cologne, as he himself told me, he found in the neighborhood a certain maiden who always went about in a man's dress, bore arms and dissolute garments like one of nobles' retainers; she danced in dances with men, and was so given to feasting and drink that she seemed altogether to pass the bounds of her sex, which she did not conceal. And because at that time, (as, alas! even to-day) the see of Trèves was sorely troubled by two rivals contending for the bishopric. she boasted that she could and would set one party upon throne, even as Maid Joan, of whom I shall presently speak, had done shortly before with Charles king of France, confirming him in his kingdom. Indeed, this woman claimed to be that same Joan, raised up by God. One day therefore, when she had come into Cologne with the young count of Württemberg, who protected and favored her, and there in the sight of the nobles, had performed wonders which seemed due to magic art, she was at last diligently scrutinized and publicly cited by the aforesaid inquisitor, in order that she might be examined. For she was said to have cut a napkin in pieces, and suddenly to have restored it whole in the sight of the people; to have thrown a glass against the wall and broken it and to have repaired it in a moment, and to have shown many such idle devices. But the wretched woman would not obey the commands of the Church; the count protected her from arrest and brought her secretly out of Cologne; thus she did indeed escape from the inquisitor's hands but not from the sentence of excommunication. Thus bound under curse, she quitted. Germany for France, where she married a certain knight, to protect herself against ecclesiastical interdict and the sword. Then a certain priest, or rather pimp, seduced this witch with talk of love; so that she stole away with him at length and went to Metz, where she lived as his concubine and showed all men openly by what spirit she was led.

Moreover, there was lately in France, within the last ten years, a maid of whom I have already spoken, named Joan, for her prophetic spirit and for the power of her miracles. For she always wore man's dress, nor could all the persuasions of any doctors [of divinity] bend her to put these aside and content herself with woman's garments, especially considering that she openly professed herself a woman and a maid. "In these masculine garment she said, "in token of future victory, I have been sent by God to preach both by word and by dress, to help Charles, the true king of France, and to set him firm upon his throne from whence the king of England and the duke of Burgundy are striving to chase him"; for, at that time, those two were allied together, and oppressed France most grievously with battle and slaughter. Joan, therefore, rode constantly like a knight with her lord, predicted many successes to come, was present at some victories in the field, and did other like wonders, whereat not only France marveled, but every realm in Christendom. At last this Joan came to such a pitch of presumption that, before France had been yet recovered, she already sent threatening letters to the Bohemians, among whom there were then a multitude of heretics. Thenceforward layfolk and ecclesiastics, Regulars and Cloisterers began to doubt of the spirit whereby she was ruled, whether it were devilish or divine. Then certain men of great learning wrote treatises concerning her, wherein they expressed not only diverse but also adverse opinions as to the Maid. But, after that she had given great help to king Charles, and had confirmed him for some years upon his throne, then at last, by God's will, as it is believed, she was taken in arms by the English and cast into prison. A great multitude were then summoned, of masters both in Canon and in Civil Law, and she was examined for many days. And, as I have heard from Master Nicolas Amfici [Coulton not: this seems to be a scribal error for Nicolas Midi] Llicentiate of Theology, who was ambassador for the University of Paris, she at length confessed that she bad a familiar angel of God, which, by many conjectures, and proofs, and by the opinion of the most learned men, was judged to be an evil spirit; so that this spirit rendered her a sorceress; wherefore they permitted her to be burned at the stake by the common hangman; and the king of England gave a like account of this story, at great length, in a letter to our emperor Sigimund. At this same time two women arose near Paris, preaching publicly that they had been sent by God to help Maid Joan; and, as I heard from the very lips of the aforesaid Master Nicolas, they were forthwith arrested as witches or sorceresses by the Inquisitor for France, and examined by many Doctors of Theology, and found at length to have been deceived by the ravings of the evil spirit. When therefore one of these women saw that she had been misled by an angel of Satan, she relinquished that which she had begun, by the advice of her masters, and, as was her duty, abjured her error forthwith. But the other abode in her obstinacy and was burned.

PUPIL: I cannot sufficiently marvel how the frail sex can to rush into such presumptuous things. MASTER: These things are marvelous to simple folk like you!, but they are not rare in the eyes of wise men. For there three things in nature, which, if they transgress the limits of their own condition, whether by diminution or by excess attain to the highest pinnacle whether of goodness or of evil. These are, the tongue, the ecclesiastic, and the woman; all of theee are commonly best of all, so long as they are guided by a good spirit, but worst of all if guided by an evil spirit.

From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol I, 210-213 [text slightly modernized]


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall August 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu