Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Biography Part 1

By Jules Michelet
The Maid of Orleans

The originality of the Pucelle, the secret of her success, was not her courage or her visions, but her good sense. Amidst all her enthusiasm, the girl of the people clearly saw the question, and knew how to resolve it. The knot which politician and doubter could not unloose, she cut. She pronounced, in God's name, Charles VII. to be the heir: she reassured him as to his legitimacy, of which he had doubts himself; and she sanctified this legitimacy by taking him straight to Reims, and, by her quickness, gaining over the English the decisive advantage of the coronation.

It was by no means rare to see women take up arms. They often fought in sieges: witness the eighty women wounded at Amiens: witness Jeanne Hachette. In the Pucelle's day, and in the selfsame years as she, the Bohemian women fought like men in the wars of the Hussites.

No more, I repeat, did the originality of the Pucelle consist in her visions. Who but had visions in the middle age ? Even in this prosaic fifteenth century, excess of suffering had singularly exalted men's imaginations. We find at Paris, one brother Richard, so exciting the populace by his sermons, that at last the English banished him from the city. Assemblies of from fifteen to twenty thousand souls were collected by the preaching of the Breton Carmelite friar, Conecta, at Courtrai and at Arras. In the space of a few years, before and after the Pucelle, every province had its saint - either a Pierrette, a Breton peasant girl who holds converse with Jesus Christ; or a Marie of Avignon, a Catherine of Rochelle; or a poor shepherd, such as Saintrailles brings up from his own country, who has the stigmata on his feet and hands, and who sweats blood on holy days, like the present holy woman of the Tyrol.

Lorraine, apparently, was one of the last provinces to expect such a phenomenon from. The Lorrainers are brave, and apt to blows, but most delight in stratagem and craft. If the great Guise saved France, before disturbing her, it was not by visions. Two Lorrainers make themselves conspicuous at the siege of Orleans, and both display the natural humor of their witty countryman, Callot; one of these is the cannonier, master Jean, who used to counterfeit death so well ; the other is a knight who, being taken by the English and loaded with chains, when they withdrew, returned riding on the back of an English monk.

The character of the Lorraine of the Vosges, it is true, is of graver kind. This lofty district, from whose mountain sides rivers run seaward through France in every direction, was covered with forests of such vast size as to be esteemed by the Carlovingians the most worthy of their im perial hunting parties. In glades of these forests rose the venerable abbeys of Luxeuil and Bemiremont; the latter, as is well known, under the rule of an abbess who was ever a princess of the Holy Empire, who had her great officers, in fine, a whole feudal court, and used to be preceded by her seneschal, bearing the naked sword. The dakes of Lorraine had been vassals, and for a long period, of this female sovereignty.

It was precisely between the Lorraine of the Vosges and that of the plains, between Lorraine and Champagne, at Domremy, that the brave and beantiful girl, destined to bear so well the sword of France, first saw the light,

Along the Mouse, and within a circuit of ten leagues, there are four Domremys; three in the diocese of Toul, one in that of Langres. It is probable that these four villages were, in ancient times, dependencies of the abbey of SaintRemy, at Reims. In the Carlovingian period, our great abbeys are known to have held much more distant possessions ; as far, indeed, as in Provence, in Germany, and even in England.

This line of the Meuse is the march of Lorraine and of Champagne, so long an object of contention betwixt monarch and duke. Jeanne's father, Jacques Darc, was a worthy Champenois. Jeanne, no doubt, inherited her disposition from this parent ; she had none of the Lorraine ruggedness, but much rather the Champenois mildness ; that simplicity, blended with sense and shrewdness, which is observable in Joinville.

A few centuries earlier, Jeanne would have been born the serf of the abbey of SaintRemy ; a century ear lier, the serf of the sire de Joinville, who was lord of Vaucouleurs, on which city the village of DomRemy de pended. But, in 1335, the king obliged the Joinvilles to cede Vaucouleurs to him. It formed at that time the grand channel of communication between Champagne and Lorraine, and was the high road to Germany, as well as that of the bank of the Meuse - the cross or intersecting point of the two routes. It was, too, we may say, the frontier between the two great parties: near DomRemy was one of the last villages that held to the Burgundians; all the rest was for Charles.

In all ages this march of Lorraine and of Champagne had suffered cruelly from war; first, a long war between the east and , the west, between the king and the duke, for the possession of Neufchateau and the adjoining places; then war between the north and south, between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. The remembrance of these pitiless wars has never been effaced. Not long since was seen, near Neufchateau, an antique tree with sinister name, whose branches had no doubt often borne human fruit - Chene des Partisans (the Partisans' Oak.)

The poor people of the march had the honor of being directly subject to the king ; that is, in reality, they be longed to no one, were neither supported nor managed by any one, and had no lord or protector but God. People so situated are of a serious cast. They know that they can count upon nothing ; neither on their goods nor on their lives. They sow, the soldier reaps. Nowhere does the husbandman feel greater anxiety about the affairs of his country, none have a direct interest in them; the least reverse shakes him so roughly ! He inquires, he strives to know and to forsee ; above all, he is resigned ; whatever happens, he is prepared for it ; he is patient and brave. Women even

become so; they must become so, among all these soldiers, if not for the sake of life, for that of honor, like Goethe's beautiful and hardy Dorothea. Jeanne was the third daughter of a laborer,* Jacques Darc, and of Isabella Romee.2 Her two godmothers were called, the one, Jeanne, the other, Sybil.

Their eldest son had been named Jacques, and another, Pierre. The pious parents gave one of their goddaughters the loftier name of Saint John,*

* There may be seen at this day, above the door of the house where Jeanne Darc lived, three scutcheons carved on stone - that of Louis XI., who beautified the hat; that which was nodoubtedly given to one of her brothers, along with the name of Du Lys ; and a third, charged with a star and three plough shares, to image the mission of the Pucelle and the humble condition of her parents. Vallet, Memoire adresse a Tlnstitut Historique, sur le nom de famille de la Pucelle.

2 The name of Romee was often assumed in the middle age by those who had made the pilgrimage to Rome.

While the other children were taken by their father to work in the fields, or set to watch cattle, the mother kept Jeanne at home, sewing or spinning. She was taught neither reading nor writing; but she learned all her mother knew of sacred things. She imbibed her religion, not as a lesson or a ceremony, but in the popular and simple form of an evening fireside story, as a truth of a mother's telling. . . . What we imbibe thus with our blood and milk, is a living thing, is life itself. . . .

* This Christian name is that of a great number of celebrated men of the middle age.


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