Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


ON the morrow, Friday the 6th of May, the Maid rose at daybreak. She confessed to her chaplain and heard mass sung before the priests and fighting men of her company.[1037] The zealous townsfolk were already up and armed. Whether or no she had told them, the citizens, who were strongly determined to cross the Loire and attack Les Tourelles themselves, were pressing in crowds to the Burgundian Gate. They found it shut. The Sire de Gaucourt was guarding it with men-at-arms. The nobles had taken this precaution in case the citizens should discover their enterprise and wish to take part in it. The gate was closed and well defended. Bent on fighting and themselves recovering their precious jewel, Les Tourelles, the citizens had recourse to her before whom gates opened and walls fell; they sent for the Saint. She came, frank and terrible. She went straight to the old Sire de Gaucourt, and, refusing to listen to him, said: "You are a wicked man to try to prevent these people from going out. But whether you will or no, they will go and will do as well as they did the other day."[1038]

[Pg i.297]

Excited by Jeanne's voice and encouraged by her presence, the citizens, crying slaughter, threw themselves on Gaucourt and his men-at-arms. When the old baron perceived that he could do nothing with them, and that it was impossible to bring them to his way of thinking, he himself joined them. He had the gates opened wide and cried out to the townsfolk: "Come, I will be your captain."

And with the Lord of Villars and Sire d'Aulon he went out at the head of the soldiers, who had been keeping the gate, and all the train-bands of the town. At the foot of La Tour-Neuve, at the eastern corner of the ramparts, there were boats at anchor. In them l'Île-aux-Toiles was reached, and thence on a bridge formed by two boats they crossed over the narrow arm of the river which separates l'Île-aux-Toiles from the Sologne bank.[1039] Those who arrived first entered the abandoned fort of Saint-Jean-le-Blanc, and, while waiting for the others, amused themselves by demolishing it.[1040] Then, when all had passed over, the townsfolk gayly marched against Les Augustins. The bastion was situated in front of Les Tourelles, on the ruins of the monastery; and the bastion would have to be taken before the fortifications at the end of the bridge could be attacked. But the enemy came out of their entrenchments and advanced within two bow-shots of the French, upon whom from their bows and cross-bows they let fly so thick a shower of arrows that the men of Orléans could not stand against them. They gave way and fled to the bridge of boats: then, afraid of being cast into the[Pg i.298] river, they crossed over to l'Île-aux-Toiles.[1041] The fighting men of the Sire de Gaucourt were more accustomed to war. With the Lord of Villars, Sire d'Aulon, and a valiant Spaniard, Don Alonzo de Partada, they took their stand on the slope of Saint-Jean-le-Blanc and resisted the enemy. Although very few in number, they were still holding out when, about three o'clock in the afternoon, Captain La Hire and the Maid crossed the river with the free-lances. Seeing the French hard put to it, and the English in battle array, they mounted their horses, which they had brought over with them, and holding their lances in rest spurred on against the enemy. The townsfolk, taking heart, followed them and drove back the English. But at the foot of the bastion they were again repulsed.[1042] In great agitation the Maid galloped from the bastion to the bank, and from the bank to the bastion, calling for the knights; but the knights did not come. Their plans had been upset, their order of battle reversed, and they needed time to collect themselves. At last she saw floating over the island the banners of my Lord the Bastard, the Marshal de Boussac, and the Lord de Rais. The artillery came too, and Master Jean de Montesclère with his culverin and his gunners, bringing all the engines needed for the assault. Four thousand men assembled round Les Augustins. But much time had been lost; they were only just beginning, and the sun was going down.[1043]

The Sire de Gaucourt's men were ranged behind, to[Pg i.299] cover the besiegers in case the English from the bridge end should come to the aid of their countrymen in Les Augustins. But a quarrel arose in de Gaucourt's company. Some, like Sire d'Aulon and Don Alonzo, judged it well to stay at their post. Others were ashamed to stand idle. Hence haughty words and bravado. Finally Don Alonzo and a man-at-arms, having challenged each other to see who would do the best, ran towards the bastion hand in hand. At one single volley Maître Jean's culverin overthrew the palisade. Straightway the two champions forced their way in.[1044]

"Enter boldly!" cried the Maid.[1045] And she planted her standard on the rampart. The Sire de Rais followed her closely.

The numbers of the French were increasing. They made a strong attack on the bastion and soon took it by storm. Then one by one they had to assault the buildings of the monastery in which the Godons were entrenched. In the end all the English were slain or taken, except a few, who took refuge in Les Tourelles. In the huts the French found many of their own men imprisoned. After bringing them out, they set fire to the fort, and thus made known to the English their new disaster.[1046] It is said to have been the Maid who ordered the fire in order to put a stop to the pillage in which her men were mercilessly engaging.[1047]

A great advantage had been won. But the French[Pg i.300] were slow to regain confidence. When, in the darkness by the light of the fire, they beheld for the first time close to them the bulwarks of Les Tourelles, the men-at-arms were afraid. Certain said: "It would take us more than a month to capture it."[1048]

The lords, captains, and men-at-arms went back to the town to pass a quiet night. The archers and most of the townsfolk stayed at Le Portereau. The Maid would have liked to stay too, so as to be sure of beginning again on the morrow.[1049] But, seeing that the captains were leaving their horses and their pages in the fields, she followed them to Orléans.[1050] Wounded in the foot by a caltrop,[1051] overcome with fatigue, she felt weak, and contrary to her custom she broke her fast, although the day was Friday.[1052] According to Brother Pasquerel, who in this matter is not very trustworthy, while she was finishing her supper in her lodging, there came to her a noble whose name is not mentioned and who addressed her thus: "The captains have met in council.[1053] They recognise how few we were in comparison with the English, and that it was by God's great favour that we won the victory. Now that the town is plentifully supplied we may well wait for help from the King. Wherefore, the council deems it inexpedient for the men-at-arms to make a sally to-morrow."

Jeanne replied: "You have been at your council;[Pg i.301] I have been at mine. Now believe me the counsel of Messire shall be followed and shall hold good, whereas your counsel shall come to nought." And turning to Brother Pasquerel who was with her, she said: "To-morrow rise even earlier than to-day, and do the best you can. Stay always at my side, for to-morrow I shall have much ado—more than I have ever had, and to-morrow blood shall flow from my body."[1054]

It was not true that the English outnumbered the French. On the contrary they were far less numerous. There were scarce more than three thousand men round Orléans. The succour from the King having arrived, the captains could not have said that they were waiting for it. True it is that they were hesitating to proceed forthwith to attack Les Tourelles on the morrow; but that was because they feared lest the English under Talbot should enter the deserted town during the assault, since the townsfolk, refusing to march against Saint-Laurent, had all gone to Le Portereau. The Maid's Council troubled about none of these difficulties. No fears beset Saint[Pg i.302] Catherine and Saint Margaret. To doubt is to fear; they never doubted. Whatever may be said to the contrary, of military tactics and strategy they knew nothing. They had not read the treatise of Vegetius, De re militari. Had they read it the town would have been lost. Jeanne's Vegetius was Saint Catherine.

During the night it was cried in the streets of the city that bread, wine, ammunition and all things necessary must be taken to those who had stayed behind at Le Portereau. There was a constant passing to and fro of boats across the river. Men, women and children were carrying supplies to the outposts.[1055]

On the morrow, Saturday the 7th of May, Jeanne heard Brother Pasquerel say mass and piously received the holy sacrament.[1056] Jacques Boucher's house was beset with magistrates and notable citizens. After a night of fatigue and anxiety, they had just heard tidings which exasperated them. They had heard tell that the captains wanted to defer the storming of Les Tourelles. With loud cries they appealed to the Maid to help the townsfolk, sold, abandoned, and betrayed.[1057] The truth was that my Lord the Bastard and the captains, having observed during the night a great movement among the English on the upper Loire, were confirmed in their fears that Talbot would attack the walls near the Renard Gate while the French were occupied on the left bank. At sunrise they had perceived that during the night the English had demolished their outwork Saint Privé, south of l'Île-Charlemagne.[1058] That also caused[Pg i.303] them to believe firmly that in the evening the English had concentrated in the Saint-Laurent camp and the bastion, London. The townsfolk had long been irritated by the delay of the King's men in raising the siege. And there is no doubt that the captains were not so eager to bring it to an end as they were.[1059] The captains lived by war, while the citizens died of it,—that made all the difference. The magistrates besought the Maid to complete without delay the deliverance she had already begun. They said to her: "We have taken counsel and we entreat you to accomplish the mission you have received from God and likewise from the King."

"In God's name, I will," she said. And straightway she mounted her horse, and uttering a very ancient phrase, she cried: "Let who loves me follow me!"[1060]

As she was leaving the treasurer's house a shad was brought her. She said to her host, smiling, "In God's name! we will have it for supper. I will bring you back a Godon who shall eat his share." She added: "This evening we shall return by the bridge."[1061] For the last ninety-nine days it had been impossible. But happily her words proved true.

The townsfolk had been too quick to take alarm. Notwithstanding their fear of Talbot and the English of the Saint-Laurent camp, the nobles crossed the Loire in the early morning, and at Le Portereau rejoined their horses and pages who had passed the[Pg i.304] night there with the archers and train-bands. They were all there, the Bastard, the Sire de Gaucourt, and the lords of Rais, Graville, Guitry, Coarraze, Villars, Illiers, Chailly, the Admiral de Culant, the captains La Hire, and Poton.[1062] The Maid was with them. The magistrates sent them great store of engines of war: hurdles, all kinds of arrows, hammers, axes, lead, powder, culverins, cannon, and ladders.[1063] The attack began early. What rendered it difficult was not the number of English entrenched in the bulwark and lodged in the towers: there were barely more than five hundred of them;[1064] true, they were commanded by Lord Moleyns, and under him by Lord Poynings and Captain Glasdale, who in France was called Glassidas, a man of humble birth, but the first among the English for courage.[1065] The assailants, citizens, men-at-arms and archers were ten times more numerous. That so many combatants had been assembled was greatly to the credit of the French nation; but so great an army of men could not be employed at once. Knights were not much use against earthworks; and the townsfolk although very zealous, were not very tenacious.[1066] Finally, the Bastard, who was prudent and thoughtful, was afraid of Talbot.[1067] Indeed if Talbot had known and if he[Pg i.305] had wanted he might have taken the town while the French were trying to take Les Tourelles. War is always a series of accidents, but on that day no attempt whatever was made to carry out any concerted movement. This vast army was not an irresistible force, since no one, not even the Bastard, knew how to bring it into action. In those days the issue of a battle was in the hands of a very few combatants. On the previous day everything had been decided by two or three men.

The French assembled before the entrenchments had the air of an immense crowd of idlers looking on while a few men-at-arms attempted an escalade. Notwithstanding the size of the army, for a long while the assault resolved itself into a series of single combats. Twenty times did the most zealous approach the rampart and twenty times they were forced to retreat.[1068] There were some wounded and some slain, but not many. The nobles, who had been making war all their lives, were cautious, while the soldiers of fortune were careful of their men. The townsfolk were novices in war.[1069] The Maid alone threw herself into it with heart and soul. She was continually saying: "Be of good cheer. Do not retreat. The fort will soon be yours."[1070]

At noon everyone went away to dinner. Then about one o'clock they set to work again.[1071] The Maid[Pg i.306] carried the first ladder. As she was putting it up against the rampart, she was struck on the shoulder over the right breast, by an arrow shot so straight that half a foot of the shaft pierced her flesh.[1072] She knew that she was to be wounded; she had foretold it to her King, adding that he must employ her all the same. She had announced it to the people of Orléans and spoken of it to her chaplain[1073] on the previous day; and certainly for the last five days she had been doing her best to make the prophecy come true.[1074] When the English saw that the arrow had pierced her flesh they were greatly encouraged: they believed that if blood were drawn from a witch all her power would vanish. It made the French very sad. They carried her apart. Brother Pasquerel and Mugot, the page, were with her. Being in pain, she was afraid and wept.[1075] As was usual when combatants were wounded in battle, a group of soldiers surrounded her; some wanted to charm her. It was a custom with men-at-arms to attempt to close wounds by muttering paternosters over them. Spells were cast by means of incantations and conjurations. Certain paternosters had the power of stopping hemorrhage. Papers covered with magic characters were also used. But it meant having recourse to the power of devils and committing mortal sin. Jeanne did not wish to be charmed.

"I would rather die," she said, "than do anything I knew to be sin or contrary to God's will."

Again she said: "I know that I am to die. But I[Pg i.307] do not know when or how, neither do I know the hour. If my wound may be healed without sin then am I willing to be made whole."[1076]

Her armour was taken off. The wound was anointed with olive oil and fat, and, when it was dressed, she confessed to Brother Pasquerel, weeping and groaning. Soon she beheld coming to her her heavenly counsellors, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. They wore crowns and emitted a sweet fragrance. She was comforted.[1077] She resumed her armour and returned to the attack.[1078]

The sun was going down; and since morning the French had been wearing themselves out in a vain attack upon the palisades of the bulwark. My Lord the Bastard, seeing his men tired and night coming on, and afraid doubtless of the English of the Saint-Laurent-des-Orgerils Camp, resolved to lead the army back to Orléans. He had the retreat sounded. The trumpet was already summoning the combatants to Le Portereau.[1079] The Maid came to him and asked him to wait a little.

"In God's name!" she said, "you will enter very soon. Be not afraid and the English shall have no more power over you."

According to some, she added: "Wherefore, rest a little; drink and eat."[1080]

While they were refreshing themselves, she asked for her horse and mounted it. Then, leaving her standard with a man of her company, she went alone[Pg i.308] up the hill into the vineyards, which it had been impossible to till this April, but where the tiny spring leaves were beginning to open. There, in the calm of evening, among the vine props tied together in sheaves and the lines of low vines drinking in the early warmth of the earth, she began to pray and listened for her heavenly voices.[1081] Too often tumult and noise prevented her from hearing what her angel and her saints had to say to her. She could only understand them well in solitude or when the bells were tinkling in the distance, and evening sounds soft and rhythmic were ascending from field and meadow.[1082]

During her absence Sire d'Aulon, who could not give up the idea of winning the day, devised one last expedient. He was the least of the nobles in the army; but in the battles of those days every man was a law unto himself. The Maid's standard was still waving in front of the bulwark. The man who bore it was dropping with fatigue and had passed it on to a soldier, surnamed the Basque, of the company of my Lord of Villars.[1083] It occurred to Sire d'Aulon, as he looked upon this standard blessed by priests and held to bring good luck, that if it were borne in front, the fighting men, who loved it dearly, would follow it and in order not to lose it would scale the bulwark. With this idea he went to the Basque and[Pg i.309] said: "If I were to enter there and go on foot up to the bulwark would you follow me?"

The Basque promised that he would. Straightway Sire d'Aulon went down into the ditch and protecting himself with his shield, which sheltered him from the stones fired from the cannon, advanced towards the rampart.[1084]

After a quarter of an hour, the Maid, having offered a short prayer, returned to the men-at-arms and said to them: "The English are exhausted. Bring up the ladders."[1085]

It was true. They had so little powder that their last volley fired in an insufficient charge carried no further than a stone thrown by hand.[1086] Nothing but fragments of weapons remained to them. She went towards the fort. But when she reached the ditch she suddenly beheld the standard so dear to her, a thousand times dearer than her sword, in the hands of a stranger. Thinking it was in danger, she hastened to rescue it and came up with the Basque just as he was going down into the ditch. There she seized her standard by the part known as its tail, that is the end of the flag, and pulled at it with all her might, crying:

"Ha! my standard, my standard!"

The Basque stood firm, not knowing who was pulling thus from above. And the Maid would not let it go. The nobles and captains saw the standard shake, took it for a sign and rallied. Meanwhile Sire d'Aulon had reached the rampart. He imagined that the Basque was following close behind. But, when he turned round he perceived that he had stopped on the other side of the ditch, and he cried[Pg i.310] out to him: "Eh! Basque, what did you promise me?"

At this cry the Basque pulled so hard that the Maid let go, and he bore the standard to the rampart.[1087]

Jeanne understood and was satisfied. To those near her she said: "Look and see when the flag of my standard touches the bulwark."

A knight replied: "Jeanne, the flag touches."

Then she cried: "All is yours. Enter."[1088]

Straightway nobles and citizens, men-at-arms, archers, townsfolk threw themselves wildly into the ditch and climbed up the palisades so quickly and in such numbers that they looked like a flock of birds descending on a hedge.[1089] And the French, who had now entered within the fortifications, saw retreating before them, but with their faces turned proudly towards the enemy, the Lords Moleyns and Poynings, Sir Thomas Giffart, Baillie of Mantes, and Captain Glasdale, who were covering the flight of their men to Les Tourelles.[1090] In his hand Glasdale was holding the standard of Chandos, which, after having waved over eighty years of victories, was now retreating before the standard of a child.[1091] For the Maid was there, standing upon the rampart. And the English, panic-stricken, wondered what kind of a witch this could be whose powers did not depart with the flowing of her blood, and who with charms healed her deep wounds. Meanwhile she was looking at them kindly and sadly and crying out, her voice broken with sobs:[Pg i.311]

"Glassidas! Glassidas! surrender, surrender to the King of Heaven. Thou hast called me strumpet; but I have great pity on thy soul and on the souls of thy men."[1092]

At the same time, from the walls of the town and the bulwark of La Belle Croix cannon balls rained down upon Les Tourelles.[1093] Montargis and Rifflart cast forth stones. Maître Guillaume Duisy's new cannon, from the Chesneau postern, hurled forth balls weighing one hundred and twenty pounds.[1094] Les Tourelles were attacked from the bridge side. Across the arch broken by the English a narrow footway was thrown, and Messire Nicole de Giresme, a knight in holy orders, was the first to pass over.[1095] Those who followed him set fire to the palisade which blocked the approach to the fort on that side. Thus the six hundred English, their strength and their weapons alike exhausted, found themselves assailed both in front and in the rear. In a crafty and terrible manner they were also attacked from beneath. The people of Orléans had loaded a great barge with pitch, tow, faggots, horse-bones, old shoes, resin, sulphur, ninety-eight pounds of olive oil and such other materials as might easily take fire and smoke. They had steered it under the wooden bridge, thrown by the enemy from Les Tourelles to the bulwark: they had anchored the barge there and set fire to its cargo. The fire from the barge had caught the bridge just when the English were retreating.[Pg i.312] Through smoke and flames the six hundred passed over the burning platform. At length it came to the turn of William Glasdale, Lord Poynings and Lord Moleyns, who with thirty or forty captains, were the last to leave the lost bulwark; but when they set foot on the bridge, its beams, reduced to charcoal, crumbled beneath them, and they all with the Chandos standard were engulfed in the Loire.[1096]

Jeanne moved to pity wept over the soul of Glassidas and over the souls of those drowned with him.[1097] The captains, who were with her, likewise grieved over the death of these valiant men, reflecting that they had done the French a great wrong by being drowned, for their ransom would have brought great riches.[1098]

Having escaped from the French on the bulwark, across the burning planks the six hundred were set upon by the French on the bridge. Four hundred were slain, the others taken. The day had cost the people of Orléans a hundred men.[1099]

When in the black darkness, along the fire-[Pg i.313]reddened banks of the Loire, the last cries of the vanquished had died away, the French captains, amazed at their victory, looked anxiously towards Saint-Laurent-des Orgerils, for they were still afraid lest Sir John Talbot should sally forth from his camp to avenge those whom he had failed to succour. Throughout that long attack, which had lasted from sunrise to sunset, Talbot, the Earl of Suffolk and the English of Saint-Laurent had not left their entrenchments. Even when Les Tourelles were taken the conquerors remained on the watch, still expecting Talbot.[1100] But this Talbot, with whose name French mothers frightened their children, did not budge. He had been greatly feared that day, and he himself had feared lest,[1101] if he withdrew any of his troops to succour Les Tourelles, the French would capture his camp and his forts on the west.

The army prepared to return to the town. In three hours, the bridge, three arches of which had been broken, was rendered passable. Some hours after darkness, the Maid entered the city by the bridge as she had foretold.[1102] In like manner all her prophecies were fulfilled when their fulfilment depended on her own courage and determination. The captains ac[Pg i.314]companied her, followed by all the men-at-arms, the archers, the citizens and the prisoners who were brought in two by two. The bells of the city were ringing; the clergy and people sang the Te Deum.[1103] After God and his Blessed Mother, they gave thanks in all humility to Saint Aignan and Saint Euverte, who had been bishops in their mortal lives and were now the heavenly patrons of the city. The townsfolk believed that both before and during the siege they had given the saints so much wax and had paraded their relics in so many processions that they had deserved their powerful intercession, and that thereby they had won the victory and been delivered out of the enemy's hand. There was no doubt about the intervention of the saints because at the time of assault on Les Tourelles two bishops bright and shining had been seen in the sky, hovering over the fort.[1104]

Jeanne was brought back to Jacques Boucher's house, where a surgeon again dressed the wound she had received above the breast. She took four or five slices of bread soaked in wine and water, but neither ate nor drank anything else.[1105]

On the morrow, Sunday, the 8th of May, being the Feast of the Appearance of St. Michael, it was announced in Orléans, in the morning, that the English issuing forth from those western bastions which were all that remained to them, were ranging themselves before the town moat in battle array and with standards flying. The folk of Orléans, both the men-at-arms and the train-bands, greatly desired to[Pg i.315] fall upon them. At daybreak Marshal de Boussac and a number of captains went out and took up their positions over against the enemy.[1106]

The Maid went out into the country with the priests. Being unable to put on her cuirass because of the wound on her shoulder, she merely wore one of those light coats-of-mail called jaserans.[1107]

The men-at-arms inquired of her: "To-day being the Sabbath, is it wrong to fight?"

She replied: "You must hear mass."[1108]

She did not think the enemy should be attacked.

"For the sake of the holy Sabbath do not give battle. Do not attack the English, but if the English attack you, defend yourselves stoutly and bravely, and be not afraid, for you will overcome them."[1109]

In the country, at the foot of a cross, where four roads met, one of those consecrated stones, square and flat, which priests carried with them on their journeys, was placed upon a table. Very solemnly did the officiating ecclesiastics sing hymns, responses and prayers; and at this altar the Maid with all the priests and all the men-at-arms heard mass.[1110]

After the Deo gratias she recommended them to observe the movements of the English. "Now look whether their faces or their backs be towards you."

She was told that they had turned their backs and were going away.[Pg i.316]

Three times she had told them: "Depart from Orléans and your lives shall be saved." Now she asked that they should be allowed to go without more being required of them.

"It is not well pleasing to my Lord that they should be engaged to-day," she said. "You will have them another time. Come, let us give thanks to God."[1111]

The Godons were going. During the night they had held a council of war and resolved to depart.[1112] In order to put a bold front on their retreat and to prevent its being cut off, they had faced the folk of Orléans for an hour, now they marched off in good order.[1113] Captain La Hire and Sire de Loré, curious as to which way they would take and desiring to see whether they would leave anything behind them, rode three or four miles in pursuit with a hundred or a hundred and twenty horse. The English were retreating towards Meung.[1114]

A crowd of citizens, villeins and villagers rushed into the abandoned forts. The Godons had left their sick and their prisoners there. The townsfolk discovered also ammunition and even victuals, which were doubtless not very abundant and not very excellent. "But," says a Burgundian, "they made good cheer out of them, for they cost them little."[1115] Weap[Pg i.317]ons, cannons and mortars were carried into the town. The forts were demolished so that they might henceforth be useless to the enemy.[1116]

On that day there were grand and solemn processions and a good friar[1117] preached. Clerks, nobles, captains, magistrates, men-at-arms and citizens devoutly went to church and the people cried: "Noël!"[1118]

Thus, on the 8th of May, in the morning, was the town of Orléans delivered, two hundred and nine days after the siege had been laid and nine days after the coming of the Maid.


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