Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France
VOLUME 1 CHAPTER 10

THE SIEGE OF ORLÉANS FROM THE 7TH OF MARCH TO THE 28TH OF APRIL, 1429

SINCE the terrible and ridiculous discomfiture of the King's men in the Battle of the Herrings, the citizens of Orléans had lost all faith in their defenders.[835] Their minds agitated, suspicious and credulous were possessed by phantoms of fear and wrath. Suddenly and without reason they believe themselves betrayed. One day it is announced that a hole big enough for a man to pass through has been made in the town wall just where it skirts the outbuildings of the Aumône.[836] A crowd of people hasten to the spot; they see the hole and a piece of the wall which had been restored, with two loop-holes; they fail to understand, and think themselves sold and betrayed into the enemy's hands; they rave and break forth into howls, and seek the priest in charge of the hospital to tear him to pieces.[837] A few days after, on Holy Thursday, a similar rumour is spread abroad: traitors are about to deliver up the town into the hands of the English. The folk seize their weapons; soldiers, burgesses, villeins mount[Pg i.231] guard on the outworks, on the walls and in the streets. On the morrow, the day after that on which the panic had originated, fear still possesses them.[838]

In the beginning of March the besiegers saw approaching the Norman vassals, summoned by the Regent. But they were only six hundred and twenty-nine lances all told, and they were only bound to serve for twenty-six days. Under the leadership of Scales, Pole, and Talbot, the English continued the investment works as best they could.[839] On the 10th of March, two and a half miles east of the city, they occupied without opposition the steep slope of Saint-Loup and began to erect a bastion there, which should command the upper river and the two roads from Gien and Pithiviers, at the point where they meet near the Burgundian gate.[840] On the 20th of March they completed the bastion named London, on the road to Mans. Between the 9th and 15th of April two new bastions were erected towards the west, Rouen nine hundred feet east of London, Paris nine hundred feet from Rouen. About the 20th they fortified Saint-Jean-le-Blanc across the Loire and established a watch to guard the crossing of the river.[841] This was but little in comparison with what remained to be done, and they were short of men; for they had less than three thousand round the town. Wherefore they fell upon the peasants. Now that the season for tending the vines was drawing near, the country folk[Pg i.232] went forth into the fields thinking only of the land; but the English lay in wait for them, and when they had taken them prisoners, set them to work.[842]

In the opinion of those most skilled in the arts of war, these bastions were worthless. They were furnished with no stabling for horses. They could not be built near enough to render assistance to each other; the besieger was in danger of being himself besieged in them. In short, from these vexatious methods of warfare the English reaped nothing but disappointment and disgrace. The Sire de Bueil, one of the defenders, perceived this when he was reconnoitring.[843] In fact it was so easy to pass through the enemy's lines that merchants were willing to run the risk of taking cattle to the besieged. There entered into the town, on the 7th of March, six horses loaded with herrings; on the 15th, six horses with powder; on the 29th, cattle and victuals; on the 2nd of April, nine fat oxen and horses; on the 5th, one hundred and one pigs and six fat oxen; on the 9th, seventeen pigs, horses, sucking-pigs, and corn; on the 13th, coins with which to pay the garrison; on the 16th, cattle and victuals; on the 23rd, powder and victuals. And more than once the besieged had carried off, in the very faces of the English, victuals and ammunition destined for the besiegers and including casks of wine, game, horses, bows, forage, and even twenty-six head of large cattle.[844]

The siege was costing the English dear,—forty thousand livres tournois a month.[845] They were short of money; they were obliged to resort to the most irritat[Pg i.233]ing expedients. By a decree of the 3rd of March King Henry had recently ordered all his officers in Normandy to lend him one quarter of their pay.[846] In their huts of wood and earth, the men-at-arms, who had endured much from the cold, now began to suffer hunger.

The wasted fields of La Beauce, of l'Île-de-France, and of Normandy could furnish them with no great store of sheep or oxen. Their food was bad, their drink worse. The vintage of 1427 had been bad, that of the following year was poor and weak—more like sour grapes than wine.[847] Now an old English author has written of the soldiers of his country:

"They want their porridge and their fat bull-beeves:
Either they must be dieted like mules
And have their provender tied to their mouths
Or piteous they will look, like drowned mice."[848]

A sudden humiliation still further weakened the English. Captain Poton de Saintrailles and the two magistrates, Guyon du Fossé and Jean de Saint-Avy, who had gone on an embassy to the Duke of Burgundy, returned to Orléans on the 17th of April. The Duke had granted their request and consented to take the town under his protection. But the Regent, to whom the offer had been made, would not have it thus.

He replied that he would be very sorry if after he had beaten the bush another should go off with the nestlings.[849] Therefore the offer was rejected. Never[Pg i.234]theless the embassy had been by no means useless, and it was something to have raised a new cause of quarrel between the Duke and the Regent. The ambassadors returned accompanied by a Burgundian herald who blew his trumpet in the English camp, and, in the name of his master, commanded all combatants who owed allegiance to the Duke to raise the siege. Some hundreds of archers and men-at-arms, Burgundians, men of Picardy and of Champagne, departed forthwith.[850]

On the next day, at four o'clock in the morning, the citizens emboldened and deeming the opportunity a good one, attacked the camp of Saint-Laurent-des-Orgerils. They slew the watch and entered the camp, where they found piles of money, robes of martin, and a goodly store of weapons. Absorbed in pillage, they paid no heed to defending themselves and were surprised by the enemy, who in great force had hastened to the place. They fled pursued by the English who slew many. On that day the town resounded with the lamentations of women weeping for a father, a husband, a brother, kinsmen.[851]

Within those walls, in a space where there was room for not more than fifteen thousand inhabitants, forty thousand[852] were huddled together, one vast multitude agonised by all manner of suffering; de[Pg i.235]pressed by domestic sorrow; racked with anxiety; maddened by constant danger and perpetual panic. Although the wars of those days were not so sanguinary as they became later, the sallies of the inhabitants of Orléans were the occasion of constant and considerable loss of life. Since the middle of March the English bullets had fallen more into the centre of the town; and they were not always harmless. On the eve of Palm Sunday one stone, fired from a mortar, killed or wounded five persons; another, seven.[853] Many of the inhabitants, like the provost, Alain Du Bey, died of fatigue or of the infected air.[854]

In the Christendom of those days all men were taught to believe that earthquakes, wars, famine, pestilence are punishments for wrong-doing. Charles, the Fair Duke of Orléans, good Christian that he was, held that great sorrows had come upon France as chastisement for her sins, to wit: swelling pride, gluttony, sloth, covetousness, lust, and neglect of justice, which were rife in the realm; and in a ballad he discoursed of the evil and its remedy.[855] The people of Orléans firmly believed that this war was sent to them of God to punish sinners, who had worn out his patience. They were aware both of the cause of their sorrows and of the means of remedying them. Such was the teaching of the good friars preachers; and, as Duke Charles put it in his ballad, the remedy was to live well, to amend one's life, to have masses said and sung for the souls of those who had suffered death in the service of the realm, to renounce the sinful life, and to ask forgiveness of Our Lady and[Pg i.236] the saints.[856] This remedy had been adopted by the people of Orléans. They had had masses said in the Church of Sainte-Croix for the souls of nobles, captains, and men-at-arms killed in their service, and especially for those who had died a piteous death in the Battle of the Herrings. They had offered candles to Our Lady and to the patron saints of the town, and had carried the shrine of Saint-Aignan round the walls.[857]

Every time they felt themselves in great danger, they brought it forth from the Church of Sainte-Croix, carried it in grand procession round the town and over the ramparts,[858] then, having brought it back to the cathedral, they listened to a sermon preached in the porch by a good monk chosen by the magistrates.[859] They said prayers in public and resolved to amend their lives. Wherefore they believed that in Paradise Saint Euverte and Saint-Aignan, touched by their piety, must be interceding for them with Our Lord; and they thought they could hear the voices of the two pontiffs. Saint Euverte was saying, "All-powerful Father, I pray and entreat thee to save the city of Orléans. It is mine. I was its bishop. I am its patron saint. Deliver it not up to its enemies."

Then afterwards spoke Saint-Aignan: "Give peace to the people of Orléans. Father, thou who by the mouth of a child didst appoint me their shepherd, grant that they fall not into the hands of the enemy."

The inhabitants of Orléans expected that the Lord[Pg i.237] would not at once answer the prayers of the two confessors. Knowing the sternness of his judgments they feared lest he would reply: "For their sins are the French people justly chastised. They suffer because of their disobedience to Holy Church. From the least to the greatest in the realm each vies with the other in evil-doing. The husbandmen, citizens, lawyers and priests are hard and avaricious; the princes, dukes and noble lords are proud, vain, cursers, swearers, and traitors. The corruptness of their lives infects the air. It is just that they suffer chastisement."

That the Lord should speak thus must be expected, because he was angry and because the people of Orléans had greatly sinned. But now, behold, Our Lady, she who loves the King of the Lilies, prays for him and for the Duke of Orléans to the Son, whose pleasure it is to do her will in all things: "My Son, with all my heart I entreat thee to drive the English from the land of France; they have no right to it. If they take Orléans, then they will take the rest at their pleasure. Suffer it not, O my Son, I beseech thee." And Our Lord, at the prayer of his holy Mother, forgives the French and consents to save them.[860]

Thus in those days, according to their ideas of the spiritual world, did men represent even the councils of Paradise. There were folk not a few, and those not unlearned, who believed that as the result of these councils Our Lord had sent his Archangel to the shepherdess. And it might even be possible that he would save the kingdom by the hand of a woman. Is it not in the weak things of the world that he maketh his power manifest?

Did he not allow the child David to overthrow the[Pg i.238] giant Goliath, and did he not deliver into the hands of Judith the head of Holophernes? In Orléans itself was it not by the mouth of a babe that he had caused to be named that shepherd who was to deliver the besieged town from Attila?[861]

The Lord of Villars and Messire Jamet du Tillay, having returned from Chinon, reported that they had with their own eyes seen the Maid; and they told of the marvels of her coming. They related how she had travelled far, fording rivers, passing by many towns and villages held by the English, as well as through those French lands wherein were rife pillage and all manner of evils. Then they went on to tell how, when she was taken to the King, she had spoken fair words to him as she curtsied, saying: "Gentle Dauphin, God sends me to help and succour you. Give me soldiers, for by grace divine and by force of arms, I will raise the siege of Orléans and then lead you to your anointing at Reims, according as God hath commanded me, for it is his will that the English return to their country and leave in peace your kingdom which shall remain unto you. Or, if they do not quit the land, then will God cause them to perish." Further, they told how, interrogated by certain prelates, knights, squires, and doctors in law, her bearing had been found honest and her words wise. They extolled her piety, her candour, that simplicity which testified that God dwelt with her, and that skill in managing a horse and wielding weapons which caused all men to marvel.[862]

[Pg i.239]

At the end of March, tidings came, that, taken to Poitiers, she had there been examined by doctors and famous masters, and had replied to them with an assurance equal to that of Saint Catherine before the doctors at Alexandria. Because her words were good and her promises sure, it was said that the King, trusting in her, had caused her to be armed in order that she might go to Orléans, where she would soon appear, riding on a white horse, wearing at her side the sword of Saint Catherine and holding in her hand the standard she had received from the King of Heaven.[863]

To the ecclesiastics what was told of Jeanne seemed marvellous but not incredible, since parallel instances were to be found in sacred history, which was all the history they knew. To those who were lettered among them their erudition furnished fewer reasons for denial than for doubt or belief. Those who were simple frankly wondered at these things.

Certain of the captains, and certain even of the people, treated them with derision. But by so doing they ran the risk of ill usage. The inhabitants of the city believed in the Maid as firmly as in Our Lord. From her they expected help and deliverance. They summoned her in a kind of mystic ecstasy and religious frenzy. The fever of the siege had become the fever of the Maid.[864]

Nevertheless, the use made of her by the King's men proved that, following the counsel of the theologians, they were determined to adopt only such methods as were prompted by human prudence. She was to enter the town with a convoy of victuals, then being prepared at Blois by order of the King assisted[Pg i.240] by the Queen of Sicily.[865] In all the loyal provinces a new effort was being made for the relief and deliverance of the brave city. Gien, Bourges, Blois, Châteaudun, Tours sent men and victuals; Angers, Poitiers, La Rochelle, Albi, Moulins, Montpellier, Clermont sulphur, saltpetre, steel, and arms.[866] And if the citizens of Toulouse gave nothing it was because their city, as the notables consulted by the capitouls[867] ingenuously declared, had nothing to give—non habebat de quibus.[868]

The King's councillors, notably my Lord Regnault de Chartres, Chancellor of the Realm, were forming a new army. What they had failed to accomplish, by means of the men of Auvergne, they would now attempt with troops from Anjou and Le Mans. The Queen of Sicily, Duchess of Touraine and Anjou, willingly lent her aid. Were Orléans taken she would be in danger of losing lands by which she set great store. Therefore she spared neither men, money, nor victuals. After the middle of April, a citizen of Angers, one Jean Langlois, brought letters informing[Pg i.241] the magistrates of the imminent arrival of the corn she had contributed. The town gave Jean Langlois a present, and the magistrates entertained him at dinner at the Écu Saint-Georges. This corn was a part of that large convoy which the Maid was to accompany.[869]

Towards the end of the month, by order of my Lord the Bastard, the captains of the French garrisons of La Beauce and Gâtinais, betook themselves to the town to reinforce the army of Blois, the arrival of which was announced. On the 28th, there entered my Lord Florent d'Illiers,[870] Governor of Châteaudun, with four hundred fighting men.[871]

What was to become of Orléans? The siege, badly conducted, was causing the English the most grievous disappointments. Further, their captains perceived they would never succeed in taking the town by means of those bastions, between which anything, either men, victuals, or ammunition, could pass, and with an army miserably quartered in mud hovels, ravaged by disease, and reduced by desertions to three thousand, or at the most to three thousand two hundred men. They had lost nearly all their horses. Far from being able to continue the attack it was hard for them to maintain the defensive and to hold out in those miserable wooden towers, which, as Le Jouvencel said, were more profitable to the besieged than to the besiegers.[872]

[Pg i.242]

Their only hope, and that an uncertain and distant one, lay in the reinforcements, which the Regent was gathering with great difficulty.[873] Meanwhile, time seemed to drag in the besieged town. The warriors who defended it were brave, but they had come to the end of their resources and knew not what more to do. The citizens were good at keeping guard, but they would not face fire. They did not suspect the miserable condition to which the besiegers had been reduced. Hardship, anxiety, and an infected atmosphere depressed their spirits. Already they seemed to see Les Coués taking the town by storm, killing, pillaging, and ravaging. At every moment they believed themselves betrayed. They were not calm and self-possessed enough to recognise the enormous advantages of their situation. The town's means of communication, whereby it could be indefinitely reinforced and revictualled, were still open. Besides, a relieving army, well in advance of that of the English, was on the point of arriving. It was bringing a goodly drove of cattle, as well as men and ammunition enough to capture the English fortresses in a few days.

With this army the King was sending the Maid who had been promised.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 11

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