Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Biography Part 20

By Jules Michelet
The Maid of Orleans

This great English people, with so many good and solid qualities, is in fected by one vice, which corrupts these very qualities themselves* This rooted, all-poisoning vice, is pride : a cruel disease, but which is neverthe less the principle of English life, the explanation of its contradictions, the secret of its acts. With them, virtue or crime is almost ever the result of pride ; even their follies have no other source. This pride is sensitive, and easily pained in the extreme ; they are great sufferers from it, and again, make it a point of pride to conceal these sufferings. Nevertheless, they will have vent. The two expressive words, disappointment and mortificor tion, are peculiar to the English lan guage.

This self-adoration, this internal worship of the creature for its own sake, is the sin by which Satan fell ; the height of impiety. This is the reason that with so many of the vir tues of. humanity, with their serious ness and sobriety of demeanor, and with their biblical turn of mind, no nation is further off from grace. They are the only people who have been unable to claim the authorship of the Imitation of Jesus : a French man might write it, a German, an Italian, never an Englishman. From Shakspeare to Milton, from Milton to Byron, their beautiful and sombre lite rature is skeptical, Judaical, satanic, in a word, antichristian. " As regards law," as a legist well says, " the Eng lish are Jews, the French Christians." A theologian might express himself in the same manner, as regards faith. The American Indians, with that pene tration and originality they so often exhibit, expressed this distinction in their fashion. "Christ," said one of them, " was a Frenchman whom the English crucified in London ; Pontius Pilate was an officer in the service of Great Britain."

The Jews never exhibited the rage against Jesus which the English did against the Pucelle. It must be owned that she had wounded them cruelly in the most sensible part - in the simple but deep esteem they have for themselves. At Orleans, the invincible men-at-arms, the famous archers, Talbot at their head, had shown their backs ; at Jargeau, shel tered by the good walls of a fortified town, they had suffered themselves to be taken ; at Patay, they had fled as fast as their legs would carry them, fled before a girl. . . . This was hard to be borne, and these taciturn Eng lish were forever pondering over the disgrace. . . . They had been afraid of a girl, and it was not very certain but that, chained as she was, they felt fear of her still. . . . though, seem ingly, not of her, but of the Devil, whose agent she was. At least, they endeavored both to believe, and to have it believed so.

But there was an obstacle in the way of this, for she was said to be a virgin; and it was a notorious and well-ascertained fact, that the devil could not make a compact with a virgin. The coolest head among the English, Bedford, the regent, resolved to have the point cleared up ; and his wife, the duchess, intrusted the matter to some matrons, who declared Je hanne to be a maid :* a favorable dec laration which turned against her, by giving rise to another superstitious notion; to wit, that her virginity con stituted her strength, her power, and that to deprive her of it was to disarm her, was to break the charm, and lower her to the level of other women.

*Must it be said that the Duke of Bedford, so generally esteemed as an honorable and well-regn lated man, " saw what took place on this occasion, concealed," (erat in qaodam loco secreto ubi vide bat Joannam yisitari). Notices des MSS. iii. 372. + The poor girs only defence against such a danger had been wearing male attire ; though, strange to say, no one had ever seemed able to understand her motive for wearing it. All, both friends and enemies, were scandalized by it. At the outset, she had been obliged to explain her reasons to the woman of Poitiers ; and when made prisoner, and under the care of the ladies of Luxembourg, those excellent persons prayed her to clothe herself as honest girls were wont to do. Above all, the English ladies, who have always made a parade of chas tity and modesty, must have consid ered her so disguising herself mon strous, and insufferably indecent. The duchess of Bedford sent her female attire ; but by whom ? by a man, a tailor. The fellow, with impudent familiarity, was about to pass it over her head, and, when she pushed him away, laid his unmannerly hand upon her; his tailor's hand on that hand which had borne the flag of France - she boxed his ear.

If women could not understand this feroinine question, how much less could priests 1 . . . They quoted the text of a council held in the fourth centi^ry, which anathematized such changes of dress ; not seeing that the prohibition specially applied to a pe riod when manners had been barely retrieved from pagan impurities. The doctors belonging to the party of Charles VII., the apologists of the Pucelle, find exceeding difficulty in justifying her on this head. One of them (thought to be Gerson) makes the gratuitous supposition that the moment she dismounted from her horse, she was in the habit of resum ing woman's apparel; confessing that Esther and Judith had had recourse to more natural and feminine means for their triumphs over the enemies of God's people. Entirely pre-occu pied with the soul; these theologians seem to have held the body cheap; provided the letter, the written law, be followed, the soul will be saved ; the flesh may take its chance. . , . A poor and simple girl may be pardoned her inability to distinguish so clearly. It is our hard condition here below, that soul and body are so closely bound one with the other, that the soul takes the flesh along with it, undergoes the same hazards, and is answerable for it, . . . This has ever been a heavy fatality ; but how much more so does it become under a relig ious law, which ordains the endurance of insult, and which does not allow imperilled honor to escape by flinging away the body, and taking refuge in the world of spirits !

On the Friday and the Saturday, the unfortunate prisoner, despoiled of her man's dress, had much to fear. Brutality, furious hatred, vengeance, might severally incite the cowards to degrade her before she perished, to sully what they were about to burn. . . . Besides, they might be tempted to varnish their infamy by a reason of state, according to the notions of the day - by depriving her of her virgin ity, they would undoubtedly destroy that secret power of which the Eng lish entertained such great dread, who, perhaps, might recover their courage when they knew that, after all, she was but a woman. According to her confessor, to whom she divulged the fact, an Englishman, not a common soldier, but a gentleman, a lord - pat riotically devoted himself to this exe cution, bravely undertook to violate a girl laden with fetters, and, being unable to effect his wishes, rained blows upon her.

" On the Sunday morning, Trinity Sunday, when it was time for her to rise (as she told him who speaks), she said to her English guards, 'Leave me, that I may get up.' One of them took off her woman's dress, emptied the bag in which was the man's appa rel, and said to her, ' Get up.' - ' Gen tlemen,' she said, 'you know that dress is forbidden me; excuse me, I will not put it on.' The point was con tested till noon ; when, being com pelled to go out for some bodily want, she put it on. When she came back, they would give her no other despite her entreaties."*

*Is it not surprising to find Lingard and Turner suppressing these essential circumstances, and con cealing the true cause of the Pucelle's resuming


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