Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Biography Part 10

By Jules Michelet
The Maid of Orleans

But the greatest peril for the saint was from her own sanctity,- from the respect and adoration of the people. At Lagny, she was besought to restore a child to life. The count d'Armagnac wrote, begging her to decide which of the two popes was to be fol lowed. According to the reply she is said to have given (falsified, perhaps), she promised to deliver her decision at the close of the war, confiding in her internal voices to enable her to pass judgment on the very head of authority.

And yet there was no pride in her. She never gave herself out for a saint : often, she confessed that she knew not . the future. The evening before a battle she was asked whether the king would conquer, and replied that she knew not. At Bourges, when the women prayed her to touch crosses and chaplets, she began laughing, and said to dame Marguerite, at whose house she was staying, " Touch them yourself, they will be just as good."

The singular originality of this girl was, as wo have said, good sense in the midst of exaltation ; and this, as we shall see, was what rendered her judges implacable. The pedants, the reasoners who hated her as an inspired being, were so much the more cruel to her from the impossibility of despising her as a mad woman, and from the fre quency with which her loftier reason silenced their arguments.

It was not difficult to foresee her fate. She mistrusted it herself. From the outset she had said - " Employ me, I shall last but the year, or little longer." Often, addressing her chap lain, brother Pasquerel, she repeated, '' If I must die soon, tell the king, our lord, from me, to found chapels for the ofiFering up of prayers for the salva tion of such as have died in defence of the kingdom."

Her parents asking her, when they saw her again at Bheims, whether she had no fear of any thing, her answer was, " Nothing, except treason."

Often, on the approach of evening, if there happened to be any church near the place where the army en camped, and particularly, if it be longed to the Mendicant orders, she gladly repaired to it, and would join the children who were being prepared to receive the sacrament. According to an ancient chronicle, the very day on which she was fated to be made prisoner, she communicated in the church of St. Jacques, CompiSgne, where, leaning, sadly against a pillar, she said to the good people and chil dren who crowded the church - "My good friends and my dear children, I tell you of a surety, there is a man who has sold me ; I am betrayed, and shall soon be given up to death. Pray to God for me, I beseech you ; for I shall no longer be able to serve my king or the noble realm of France."

The probability is, that the Pucelle was bargained for and bought, even as Soissons had just been bought. At so critical a moment, and when their young king was landing on French ground, the English would be ready to give any sum for her. But the Burgundians longed to have her in their grasp, and they succeeded: it was to the interest not of the duke only and of the Burgnndian party in general, but it was, besides, the direct interest of John of Ligny, who eagerly bought the prisoner.

For the Pucelle to fall into the hands of a noble lord of the house of Lux embourg, of a vassal of the chivalrous Duke of Burgundy, of the good duke, as he was called, was a hard trial for the chivalry of the day. A prisoner of war, a girl, so young a girl, and, above all, a maid, what had she to fear amidst loyal knights? Chivalry was in every one's mouth as the protec tion of afflicted dames and damsels. Marshal Boucicaut had just founded an order which had no other object. Besides, the worship of the Virgin, constantly extending in the middle age, having become the dominant religion, it seemed as if virginity must be an inviolable safeguard.

To explain what is to follow, we must point out the singular want qf harmony which then existed between ideas and morals, and, however shock ing the contrast, bring face to face with the too sublime ideal, with the Imitation, with the Pucelle, the low realities of the time; we must (be seeching pardon of the chaste girl who forms the subject of this narra tive) fathom the depths of this world of covetousness and of concupiscence. Without seeing it as it existed, it would be impossible to understand how knights could give up her who seemed the living embodiment of chiv alry, how, while the Virgin reigned, the Virgin should show herself, and be so cruelly mistaken.

The religion of this epoch was less the adoration of the Virgin than of woman; its chivalry was that por trayed in the Petit Jehan de Saintrd - but with the advantage of chastity, in favor of the romance, over the truth.

Princes set the example. Charles VII. receives Agnes Sorel as a present from his wife's mother the old queen of Sicily ; and mother, wife, and mis tress, he takes them all with him, as he marches along the Loire, the hap piest understanding subsisting between the three.

The English, more serious, seek love in marriage only. Gloucester marries Jacqueline ; among Jacqueline's ladies his regards fall on one, equally lovely and witty, and he marries her too.

But, in this respect, as in all others, France and England are far outstripped by Flanders, by the Count of Flanders, by the great Duke of Burgundy. The legend expressive of the Low Coun tries, is that of the famous couotess who brought into the world three hundred and sixtyfive children. The princes of the land, without going quite so far, seem, at the least, to en deavor to approach her. A count of Cloves has sixtythree bastards. John of Burgundy, bishop of Cambrai, offi ciates pontifically, with his thirtysix bastards and sons of bastards minis tering with him at the altar.

Philippe had only sixteen bastards, but he had no fewer than twentyseven wives, three lawful ones and twentyfour mistresses. In these sad years of 1429 and 1430, and dur ing the enactment of this tragedy of the Pucelle's, he was wholly absorbed in the joyous affair of his third mar* riage. This time, his wife was an Infanta of Portugal, English by her mother's side, her mother having been Philippa of Lancaster; so that the English missed their point in giving him the command of Paris, as detain him they could jiot ; he was in a hurry to quit this land of famine, and to return to Flanders to welcome his young bride. Ordinances, ceremo nies, festivals, concluded, or inter rupted and resumed, consumed whole months. At Bruges, in particular, unheardof galas took place, rejoicings fabulous to tell of, insensate prodigali ties which ruined the nobility - and the burgesses eclipsed them. The seventeen nations which had their warehouses at Bruges, displayed the riches of the universe. The streets were hung with the rich and soft car pets of Flanders. For eight days and eight nights the choicest wines ran in torrents; a stone lion poured forth Bhenish, a stag, Beanne wine ; and at mealtimes, a unicorn spouted out rose water and malvoise.

But the splendor of the Flemish feast lay in the Flemish women, in the triumphant beauties of Bruges, such as Rubens has painted them in his Magdalen, in his Descent from the Cross. The Portuguese could not have delighted in seeing her new sub jects : already had the Spaniard, Joan of Navarre, been filled with spite at the sight, exclaiming, against her will, " I see only queens here."

On his wedding day (January 10th, 1430), Philippe instituted the order of the Golden Fleece, " won by Jason," taking for device the conjugal and reassuring words, "Autre n^avr rayj' (No other will I have.)

Did the young bride believe in this?


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