Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


WITH an escort of soldiers of fortune the Maid reached Blois at the same time as my Lord Regnault de Chartres, Chancellor of France, and the Sire de Gaucourt, Governor of Orléans.[874] She was in the domain of the Prince, whom it was her great desire to deliver: the people of Blois owed allegiance to Duke Charles, a prisoner in the hands of the English. Merchants were bringing cows, rams, ewes, herds of swine, grain, powder and arms into the town.[875] The Admiral, De Culant, and the Lord Ambroise de Loré had come from Orléans to superintend the preparations. The Queen of Sicily herself had gone to Blois. Notwithstanding that at this time the King consulted her but seldom, he now sent to her the Duke of Alençon, commissioned to concert with her measures for the relief of the city of Orléans.[876] There came also the Sire de Rais, of the house of Laval and of the line of the Dukes of Brittany, a noble scarce twenty-four, generous and magnificent, bringing in his train, with a goodly company from Maine and Anjou, organs for his chapel, chor[Pg i.244]isters, and little singing-boys from the choir school.[877] The Marshal de Boussac, the Captains La Hire and Poton came from Orléans.[878] An army of seven thousand men assembled beneath the walls of the town.[879] All that was now waited for was the money necessary to pay the cost of the victuals and the hire of the soldiers. Captains and men-at-arms did not give their services on credit. As for the merchants, if they risked the loss of their victuals and their life, it was only for ready money.[880] No cash, no cattle—and the wagons stayed where they were.

In the month of March, Jeanne had dictated to one of the doctors at Poitiers a brief manifesto intended for the English.[881] She expanded it into a letter, which she showed to certain of her companions and afterwards sent by a Herald from Blois to the camp of Saint-Laurent-des-Orgerils. This letter was addressed to King Henry, to the Regent and to the three chiefs, who, since Salisbury's death, had been conducting the siege, Scales, Suffolk, and Talbot. The following is the text of it:[882]

[Pg i.245]

Jhesus Maria

King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who call yourself Regent of the realm of France,—you, Guillaume de la Poule, Earl of Sulford; Jehan, Sire de Talebot, and you Thomas, Sire d'Escales, who call yourselves Lieutenants of the said Duke of Bedfort, do right in the sight of the King of Heaven. Surrender to the Maid sent hither by God, the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good[883] towns in France that you have taken and ravaged.[884] She is come here in God's name to claim the Blood Royal.[885] She is ready to make peace if so be you will do her satisfaction by giving and paying back to France what you have taken from[Pg i.246] her.[886] And you, archers, comrades-in-arms, gentle and otherwise,[887] who are before the town of Orléans, go ye hence into your own land, in God's name. And if you will not, then hear the wondrous works[888] of the Maid who will shortly come upon you to your very great hurt. And you, King of England, if you do not thus, I am a Chieftain of war,—and in whatsoever place in France I meet with your men, I will force them to depart willy nilly; and if they will not, then I will have them all slain. I am sent hither by God, the King of Heaven, body for body, to drive them all out of the whole of France. And if they obey, then will I show them mercy. And think not in your heart that you will hold the kingdom of France [from] God,[Pg i.247] the King of Heaven, Son of the Blessed Mary, for it is King Charles, the true heir, who shall so hold it. God, the King of Heaven, so wills it, and he hath revealed it unto King Charles by the Maid. With a goodly company the King shall enter Paris. If ye will not believe these wondrous works wrought by God and the Maid, then, in whatsoever place ye shall be, there shall we fight. And if ye do me not right, there shall be so great a noise as hath not been in France for a thousand years. And know ye that the King of Heaven will send such great power to the Maid, to her and to her good soldiers, that ye will not be able to overcome her in any battle; and in the end the God of Heaven will reveal who has the better right. You, Duke of Bedfort, the Maid prays and beseeches you that you bring not destruction upon yourself. If you do her right, you may come in her company where the French will do the fairest deed ever done for Christendom. And if ye will have peace in the city of Orléans, then make ye answer; and, if not, then remember it will be to your great hurt and that shortly. Written this Tuesday of Holy Week.

Such is the letter. It was written in a new spirit; for it proclaimed the kingship of Jesus Christ and declared a holy war. It is hard to tell whether it proceeded from Jeanne's own inspiration or was dictated to her by the council of ecclesiastics. On first thoughts one might be inclined to attribute to the priests the idea of a summons, which is a literal application of the precepts of Deuteronomy:

"When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.

"And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people[Pg i.248] that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.

"And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:

"And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:

"But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself." (Deuteronomy xx, 10-14.)

But at least it is certain that on this occasion the Maid is expressing her own sentiments. Afterwards we shall find her saying: "I asked for peace, and when I was refused I was ready to fight."[889] But, as she dictated the letter and was unable to read it, we may ask whether the clerks who held the pen did not add to it.

Two or three passages suggest the ecclesiastical touch. Afterwards the Maid did not remember having dictated "body for body," which is quite unimportant. But she declared that she had not said: "I am chief in war" and that she had dictated: "Surrender to the King" and not "Surrender to the Maid."[890] Possibly her memory failed her; it was not always faithful. Nevertheless she appeared very certain of what she said, and twice she repeated that "chief in war" and "surrender to the Maid" were not in the letter. It may have been that the monks who were with her used these expressions. To these wandering priests a dispute over fiefs mattered little, and it was not their first concern to bring King Charles into the possession of his inheritance. Doubtless they[Pg i.249] desired the good of the kingdom of France; but certainly they desired much more the good of Christendom; and we shall see that, if those mendicant monks, Brother Pasquerel and later Friar Richard, follow the Maid, it will be in the hope of employing her to the Church's advantage. Thus it would be but natural that they should declare her at the outset commander in war, and even invest her with a spiritual power superior to the temporal power of the King, and implied in the phrase: "Surrender to the Maid ... the keys of the good towns."

This very letter indicates one of those hopes which among others she inspired. They expected that after she had fulfilled her mission in France, she would take the cross and go forth to conquer Jerusalem, bringing all the armies of Christian Europe in her train.[891] At this very time a disciple of Bernardino of Siena, Friar Richard, a Franciscan lately come from Syria,[892] and who was shortly to meet the Maid, was preaching at Paris, announcing the approach of the end of the world, and exhorting the faithful to fight against Antichrist.[893] It must be remembered that the Turks, who had conquered the Christian knights at Nicopolis and at Semendria, were threatening Constantinople and spreading terror throughout Europe.[Pg i.250] Popes, emperors, kings felt the necessity of making one great effort against them.

In England it was said that between Saint-Denys and Saint-George there had been born to King Henry V and Madame Catherine of France a boy, half English and half French, who would go to Egypt and pluck the Grand Turk's beard.[894] On his death-bed the conqueror Henry V was listening to the priests repeating the penitential psalms. When he heard the verse: Benigne fac Domine in bona voluntate tua ut ædificentur muri Jerusalem, he murmured with his dying breath: "I have always intended to go to Syria and deliver the holy city out of the hand of the infidel."[895] These were his last words. Wise men counselled Christian princes to unite against the Crescent. In France, the Archbishop of Embrun, who had sat in the Dauphin's Council, cursed the insatiable cruelty of the English nation and those wars among Christians which were an occasion of rejoicing to the enemies of the Cross of Christ.[896]

To summon the English and French to take the cross together, was to proclaim that after ninety-one years of violence and crime the cycle of secular warfare had come to an end. It was to bid Christendom return to the days when Philippe de Valois and Edward Plantagenet promised the Pope to join together against the infidel.

But when the Maid invited the English to unite with the French in a holy and warlike enterprise, it[Pg i.251] is not difficult to imagine with what kind of a reception the Godons would greet such an angelic summons. And at the time of the siege of Orléans, the French on their side had good reasons for not taking the cross with the Coués.[897]

The learned did not greatly appreciate the style of this letter. The Bastard of Orléans thought the words very simple; and a few years later a good French jurist pronounced it coarse, heavy, and badly arranged.[898] We cannot aspire to judge better than the jurist and the Bastard, both men of erudition. Nevertheless, we wonder whether it were not that her manner of expression seemed bad to them, merely because it differed from the style of legal documents. True it is that the letter from Blois indicates the poverty of the French prose of that time when not enriched by an Alain Chartier; but it contains neither term nor expression which is not to be met with in the good authors of the day. The words may not be correctly ordered, but the style is none the less vivacious. There is nothing to suggest that the writer came from the banks of the Meuse; no trace is there of the speech of Lorraine or Champagne.[899] It is clerkly French.

[Pg i.252]

While Isabelle de Vouthon had gone on a pilgrimage to Puy, her two youngest children, Jean and Pierre, had set out for France to join their sister, with the intention of making their fortunes through her or the King. Likewise, Brother Nicolas of Vouthon, Jeanne's cousin german, a monk in priest's orders in the Abbey of Cheminon, joined the young saint.[900] To have thus attracted her kinsfolk before giving any sign of her power, Jeanne must have had witnesses on the banks of the Meuse; and certain venerable ecclesiastical personages, as well as noble lords of Lorraine, must have answered for her reputation in France. Such guarantors of the truth of her mission were doubtless those who had instructed her in and accredited her by prophecy. Perhaps Brother Nicolas of Vouthon was himself of the number.

In the army she was regarded as a holy maiden. Her company consisted of a chaplain, Brother Jean Pasquerel;[901] two pages, Louis de Coutes and Raymond;[902] her two brethren, Pierre and Jean; two heralds, Ambleville and Guyenne;[903] two squires, Jean de Metz and Bertrand de Poulengy.

Jean de Metz kept the purse which was filled by the crown.[904] She had also certain valets in her service. A squire, one Jean d'Aulon, whom the King gave her[Pg i.253] for a steward, joined her at Blois.[905] He was the poorest squire of the realm. He was entirely dependent on the Sire de La Trémouille, who lent him money; but he was well known for his honour and his wisdom.[906] Jeanne attributed the defeats of the French to their riding forth accompanied by bad women and to their taking God's holy name in vain. And this opinion, far from being held by her alone, prevailed among persons of learning and religion; according to whom the disaster of Nicopolis was occasioned by the presence of prostitutes in the army, and by the cruelty and dissoluteness of the knights.[907]

On several occasions, between 1420 and 1425, the Dauphin had forbidden cursing and denying and blaspheming the name of God, of the Virgin Mary and of the saints under penalty of a fine and of corporal punishment in certain cases. The decrees embodying this prohibition asserted that wars, pestilence, and famine were caused by blasphemy and that the blasphemers were in part responsible for the sufferings of the realm.[908] Wherefore the Maid went among the men-at-arms, exhorting them to turn[Pg i.254] away the women who followed the army, and to cease taking the Lord's name in vain. She besought them to confess their sins and receive divine grace into their souls, maintaining that their God would aid them and give them the victory if their souls were right.[909]

Jeanne took her standard to the Church of Saint-Sauveur and gave it to the priests to bless.[910] The little company formed at Tours was joined at Blois by ecclesiastics and monks, who, on the approach of the English, had fled in crowds from the neighbouring abbeys, and were now suffering from cold and hunger. It was generally thus. Monks were for ever flocking to the armies. Many churches and most abbeys had been reduced to ruin. Those of the mendicants, built outside the towns, had all perished,—plundered and burnt by the English or pulled down by the townsfolk; for, when threatened with siege, the inhabitants always dealt thus with the outlying portions of their town. The homeless monks found no welcome in the cities, which were sparing of their goods; they must needs take the field with the soldiers and follow the army. From such a course their rule suffered and piety gained nothing. Among mercenaries, sumpters and camp followers, these hungry nomad monks lived an edifying life. Those who accompanied the Maid were doubtless neither worse nor better than[Pg i.255] the rest, and as they were very hungry their first care was to eat.[911]

The men-at-arms were much too accustomed to seeing monks and nuns mingling side by side in the army to feel any surprise at the sight of the holy damsel in the midst of a band so disreputable. It is true that the damsel was said to work wonders. Many believed in them; others mocked and said aloud: "Behold the brave champion and captain who comes to deliver the realm of France."[912]

The Maid had a banner made for the monks to assemble beneath and summon the men-at-arms to prayer. This banner was white, and on it were represented Jesus on the Cross between Our Lady and Saint John.[913] The Duke of Alençon went back to the King to make known to him the needs of the company at Blois. The King sent the necessary funds; and at length they were ready to set out.[914] At the start there were two roads open, one leading to Orléans along the right bank of the Loire, the other along the left bank. At the end of twelve or fourteen miles the road along the right bank came out on the edge of the Plain of La Beauce, occupied by the English who had garrisons at Marchenoir, Beaugency, Meung, Mont[Pg i.256]pipeau, Saint-Sigismond, and Janville. In that direction lay the risk of meeting the army, which was coming to the aid of the English round Orléans. After the experience of the Battle of the Herrings such a meeting was to be feared. If the road along the left bank were taken, the march would lie through the district of La Sologne, which still belonged to King Charles; and if the river were left well on one side, the army would be out of sight of the English garrisons of Beaugency and of Meung. True, it would involve crossing the Loire, but by going up the river five miles east of the besieged city a crossing could conveniently be effected between Orléans and Jargeau. On due deliberation it was decided that they should go by the left bank through La Sologne. It was decided to take in the victuals in two separate lots for fear the unloading near the enemy's bastions should take too long.[915] On Wednesday, the 27th of April, they started.[916] The priests in procession, with a banner at their head, led the march, singing the Veni creator Spiritus.[917] The Maid rode with them in white armour, bearing her standard. The men-at-arms and the archers followed, escorting six hundred wagons of victuals and ammunition and four hundred head of cattle.[918] The long line of lances, wagons, and herds defiled over the Blois bridge into the vast plain beyond. The first day the army covered twenty miles of rutty road. Then[Pg i.257] at curfew, when the setting sun, reflected in the Loire, made the river look like a sheet of copper between lines of dark reeds, it halted,[919] and the priests sang Gabriel angelus.

That night they encamped in the fields. Jeanne, who had not been willing to take off her armour, awoke aching in every limb.[920] She heard mass and received communion from her chaplain, and exhorted the men-at-arms always to confess their sins.[921] Then the army resumed its march towards Orléans.


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