Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


IT is always difficult to ascertain what happens in war. In those days it was quite impossible to form any clear idea of how things came about. At Orléans, doubtless, there were certain who were keen enough to perceive that the numerous and ingenious engines of war, gathered together by the magistrates, had been of great service; but folk generally prefer to ascribe results to miraculous causes, and the merit of their deliverance the people of Orléans attributed first to their Blessed Patrons, Saint Aignan and Saint Euverte, and after them to Jeanne, the Divine Maid, believing that there was no easier, simpler, or more natural explanation of the deeds they had witnessed.[1550]

Guillaume Girault, former magistrate of the town and notary at the Châtelet, wrote and signed, with his own hand, a brief account of the deliverance of the city. Herein he states that on Wednesday, Ascension Eve, the bastion of Saint-Loup was stormed and taken as if by miracle, "there being present, and aiding in the fight, Jeanne the Maid, sent of God;" and that, on the following Saturday, the siege laid by the English to Les Tourelles at the end of the bridge was[Pg i.462] raised by the most obvious miracle since the Passion. And Guillaume Girault testifies that the Maid led the enterprise.[1551] When eye-witnesses, participators in the deeds themselves, had no clear idea of events, what could those more remote from the scene of action think of them?

The tidings of the French victories flew with astonishing rapidity.[1552] The brevity of authentic accounts was amply supplemented by the eloquence of loquacious clerks and the popular imagination. The Loire campaign and the coronation expedition were scarcely known at first save by fabulous reports, and the people only thought of them as supernatural events.

In the letters sent by royal secretaries to the towns of the realm and the princes of Christendom, the name of Jeanne the Maid was associated with all the deeds of prowess. Jeanne herself, by her monastic scribe, made known to all the great deeds which, it was her firm belief, she had accomplished.[1553]

It was believed that everything had been done through her, that the King had consulted her in all things, when in truth the King's counsellors and the Captains rarely asked her advice, listened to it but seldom, and brought her forth only at convenient seasons. Everything was attributed to her alone. Her personality, associated with deeds attested and seemingly marvellous, became buried in a vast cycle of astonishing fables and disappeared in a forest of heroic stories.[1554]

[Pg i.463]

Contrite souls there were in those days, who, ascribing all the woes of the kingdom to the sins of the people, looked for salvation to humility, repentance, and penance.[1555] They expected the end of iniquity and the kingdom of God on earth. Jeanne, at least in the beginning, was one of those pious folk. Sometimes, speaking as a mystic reformer, she would say that Jesus is King of the holy realm of France, that King Charles is his lieutenant, and does but hold the kingdom "in fief."[1556] She uttered words which would create the impression that her mission was all charity, peace, and love,—these, for example, "I am sent to comfort the poor and needy."[1557] Such gentle penitents as dreamed of a world pure, faithful, and good, made of Jeanne their saint and their prophetess. They ascribed to her edifying words she had never uttered.

"When the Maid came to the King," they said, "she caused him to make three promises: the first was to resign his kingdom, to renounce it and give it back to God, from whom he held it; the second, to pardon all such as had turned against him and afflicted him; the third, to humiliate himself so far as to receive into favour all such as should come to him, poor and rich, friend and foe."[1558]

Or again, in apologues, simple and charming, like the following, they represented her accomplishing her mission:

"One day, the Maid asked the King to bestow a present upon her; and when he consented, she claimed as a gift the realm of France. Though astonished, the King did not withdraw his promise.[Pg i.464] Having received her present, the Maid required a deed of gift to be solemnly drawn up by four of the King's notaries and read aloud. While the King listened to the reading, she pointed him out to those that stood by, saying: 'Behold the poorest knight in the kingdom.' Then, after a short time, disposing of the realm of France, she gave it back to God. Thereafter, acting in God's name, she invested King Charles with it and commanded that this solemn act of transmission should be recorded in writing."[1559]

It was believed that Jeanne had prophesied that on Saint John the Baptist's Day, 1429, not an Englishman should be left in France.[1560] These simple folk expected their saint's promises to be fulfilled on the day she had fixed. They maintained that on the 23rd of June she had entered the city of Rouen, and that on the morrow, Saint John the Baptist's day, the inhabitants of Paris had of their own accord, opened their gates to the King of France. In the month of July these stories were being told in Avignon.[1561] Reformers, numerous it would seem in France and throughout Christendom, believed that the Maid would organise the English and French on monastic lines and make of them one nation of pious beggars, one brotherhood of penitents. According to them, the following were the intentions of the two parties and the clauses of the treaty:

"King Charles of Valois bestows universal pardon and is willing to forget all wrongs. The English and[Pg i.465] French, having turned to contrition and repentance, are endeavouring to conclude a good and binding peace. The Maid herself has imposed conditions upon them. Conforming to her will, the English and French for one year or for two will wear a grey habit, with a little cross sewn upon it; on every Friday they will live on bread and water; they will dwell in unity with their wives and will seek no other women. They promise God not to make war except for the defense of their country."[1562]

During the coronation campaign, nothing being known of the agreement between the King's men and the people of Auxerre, towards the end of July, it was related that the town having been taken by storm, four thousand five hundred citizens had been killed and likewise fifteen hundred men-at-arms, knights as well as squires belonging to the parties of Burgundy and Savoy. Among the nobles slain were mentioned Humbert Maréchal, Lord of Varambon, and a very famous warrior, le Viau de Bar. Stories were told of treasons and massacres, horrible adventures in which the Maid was associated with that knave of hearts who was already famous. She was said to have had twelve traitors beheaded.[1563] Such tales were real romances of chivalry. Here is one of them:

About two thousand English surrounded the King's camp, watching to see if they could do him some hurt. Then the Maid called Captain La Hire and said to him: "Thou hast in thy time done great prowess, but to-day God prepares for thee a deed greater than any thou hast yet performed. Take thy men and go to such and such a wood two[Pg i.466] leagues herefrom, and there shalt thou find two thousand English, all lance in hand; them shalt thou take and slay."

La Hire went forth to the English and all were taken and slain as the Maid had said.[1564]

Such were the fairy-stories told of Jeanne to the joy of simple primitive folk, who delighted in the idea of a maid slayer of giants and remover of mountains.

There was a rumour that after the sack of Auxerre, the Duke of Burgundy had been defeated and taken in a great battle, that the Regent was dead and that the Armagnacs had entered Paris.[1565] Prodigies were said to have attended the capitulation of Troyes. On the coming of the French, it was told how the townsfolk beheld from their ramparts a vast multitude of men-at-arms, some five or six thousand, each man holding a white pennon in his hand. On the departure of the French, they beheld them again, ranged but a bow-shot behind King Charles. These knights with white pennons vanished when the King had gone; for they were as miraculous as those white-scarfed knights, whom the Bretons had seen riding in the sky but shortly before.[1566]

All that the people of Orléans beheld when their siege was suddenly raised, all that Armagnac mendicants and the Dauphin's clerks related was greedily received, accredited, and amplified. Three months after her coming to Chinon, Jeanne had her legend, which grew and increased and extended into Italy, Flanders, and Germany.[1567] In the summer of 1429,[Pg i.467] this legend was already formed. All the scattered parts of what may be described as the gospel of her childhood existed.

At the age of seven Jeanne kept sheep; the wolves did not molest her flock; the birds of the field, when she called them, came and ate bread from her lap. The wicked had no power over her. No one beneath her roof need fear man's fraud or ill-will.[1568]

When it is a Latin poet who is writing, the miracles attending Jeanne's birth assume a Roman majesty and are clothed with the august dignity of ancient myths. Thus it is curious to find a humanist of 1429 summoning the Italian muse to the cradle of Zabillet Romée's daughter.

"The thunder rolled, the ocean shuddered, the earth shook, the heavens were on fire, the universe rejoiced visibly; a strange transport mingled with fear moved the enraptured nations. They sing sweet verses and dance in harmonious motion at the sign of the salvation prepared for the French people by this celestial birth."[1569]

Moreover an attempt was made to represent the wonders that had heralded the nativity of Jesus as having been repeated on the birth of Jeanne. It was imagined that she was born on the night of the Epiphany. The shepherds of her village, moved by an indescribable joy, the cause of which was unknown to them, hastened through the darkness towards the[Pg i.468] marvellous mystery. The cocks, heralds of this new joy, sing at an unusual season and, flapping their wings, seem to prophesy for two hours. Thus the child in her cradle had her adoration of the shepherds.[1570]

Of her coming into France there was much to tell. It was related that in the Château of Chinon she had recognised the King, whom she had never seen before, and had gone straight to him, although he was but poorly clad and surrounded by his baronage.[1571] It was said that she had given the King a sign, that she had revealed a secret to him; and that on the revelation of the secret, known to him alone, he had been illuminated with a heavenly joy. Concerning this interview at Chinon, while those present had little to say, the stories of many who were not there were interminable.[1572]

On the 7th of May, at four o'clock in the afternoon, a white dove alighted on the Maid's standard; and on the same day, during the assault, two white birds were seen to be flying over her head.[1573] Saints were commonly visited by doves. One day when Saint[Pg i.469] Catherine of Sienna was kneeling in the fuller's house, a dove as white as snow perched on the child's head.[1574]

A tale then in circulation is interesting as showing the idea which prevailed concerning the relations of the King and the Maid; it serves, likewise, as an example of the perversions to which the story of an actual fact is subject as it passes from mouth to mouth. Here is the tale as it was gathered by a German merchant.

On a day, in a certain town, the Maid, hearing that the English were near, went into the field; and straightway all the men-at-arms, who were in the town, leapt to their steeds and followed her. Meanwhile, the King, who was at dinner, learning that all were going forth in company with the Maid, had the gates of the town closed.

The Maid was told, and she replied without concern: "Before the hour of nones, the King will have so great need of me, that he will follow me immediately, spurless, and barely staying to throw on his cloak."

And thus it came to pass. For the men-at-arms shut up in the town besought the King to open the gates forthwith or they would break them down. The gates were opened and all the fighting men hastened to the Maid, heedless of the King, who threw on his cloak and followed them.

On that day a great number of the English were slain.[1575]

Such is the story which gives a very inaccurate representation of what happened at Orléans on the 6th of May. The citizens hastened in crowds to the Bur[Pg i.470]gundian Gate, resolved to cross the Loire and attack Les Tourelles. Finding the gate closed, they threw themselves furiously on the Sire de Gaucourt who was keeping it. The aged baron had the gate opened wide and said to them, "Come, I will be your captain."[1576] In the story the citizens have become men-at-arms, and it is not the Sire de Gaucourt but the King who maliciously closes the gates. But the King gained nothing by it; and it is astonishing to find that so early there had grown up in the minds of the people the idea that, far from aiding the Maid to drive out the English, the King had put obstacles in her way and was always the last to follow her.

Seen through this chaos of stories more indistinct than the clouds in a stormy sky, Jeanne appeared a wondrous marvel. She prophesied and many of her prophecies had already been fulfilled. She had foretold the deliverance of Orléans and Orléans had been delivered. She had prophesied that she would be wounded, and an arrow had pierced her above the right breast. She had prophesied that she would take the King to Reims, and the King had been crowned in that city. Other prophecies had she uttered touching the realm of France, to wit, the deliverance of the Duke of Orléans, the entering into Paris, the driving of the English from the holy kingdom, and their fulfilment was expected.[1577]

[Pg i.471]

Every day she prophesied and notably concerning divers persons who had failed in respect towards her and had come to a bad end.[1578]

At Chinon, when she was being taken to the King, a man-at-arms who was riding near the château, thinking he recognised her, asked, "Is not that the Maid? By God, an I had my way she should not be a maid long."

Then Jeanne prophesied and said "Ha, thou takest God's name in vain, and thou art so near thy death!"

Less than an hour later the man fell into the water and was drowned.[1579]

Straightway this miracle was related in Latin verse. In the poem which records this miraculous history of Jeanne up to the deliverance of Orléans, the lewd blasphemer, who like all blasphemers, came to a bad end, is noble and by name Furtivolus.[1580]

... generoso sanguine natus,
Nomine Furtivolus, veneris moderator iniquus.

Captain Glasdale called Jeanne strumpet and blasphemed his Maker. Jeanne prophesied that he would die without shedding blood; and Glasdale was drowned in the Loire.[1581]

Many of these tales were obvious imitations of incidents in the lives of the saints, which were widely read in those days. A woman, who was a heretic, pulled the cassock of Saint Ambrose, whereupon the[Pg i.472] blessed bishop said to her, "Take heed lest one day thou be chastised of God." On the morrow the woman died, and the Blessed Ambrose conducted her to the grave.[1582]

A nun, who was then alive and who was to die in an odour of sanctity, Sister Colette of Corbie, had met her Furtivolus and had punished him, but less severely. On a day when she was praying in a church of Corbie, a stranger drew near and spoke to her libidinous words: "May it please God," she said, "to bring home to you the hideousness of the words you have just uttered." The stranger in shame went to the door. But an invisible hand arrested him on the threshold. Then he realised the gravity of his sin; he asked pardon of the saint and was free to leave the church.[1583]

After the royal army had departed from Gien, the Maid was said to have prophesied that a great battle would be fought between Auxerre and Reims.[1584] When such predictions were not fulfilled they were forgotten. Besides, it was admitted that true prophets might sometimes utter false prophecies. A subtle theologian distinguished between prophecies of predestination which are always fulfilled and those of condemnation, which being conditioned, may not be fulfilled and that without reflecting untruthfulness on the lips that uttered them.[1585] Folk wondered that a[Pg i.473] peasant child should be able to forecast the future, and with the Apostle they cried, "I praise thee, O Father, because thou hast hidden those things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes."

The Maid's prophecies were speedily spread abroad throughout the whole of Christendom.[1586] A clerk of Spiers wrote a treatise on her, entitled Sibylla Francica, divided into two parts. The first part was drawn up not later than July, 1429. The second is dated the 17th of September, the same year. This clerk believes that the Maid practised the art of divination by means of astrology. He had heard a French monk of the order of the Premonstratensians[1587] say that Jeanne delighted to study the heavens by night. He observes that all her prophecies concerned the kingdom of France; and he gives the following as having been uttered by the Maid: "After having ruled for twenty years, the Dauphin will sleep with his fathers. After him, his eldest son, now a child of six, will reign more gloriously, more honourably, more powerfully than any King of France since Charlemagne."[1588]

The Maid possessed the gift of beholding events which were taking place far away.

At Vaucouleurs, on the very day of the Battle of the Herrings, she knew the Dauphin's army had suffered grievous hurt.[1589]

[Pg i.474]

On a day when she was dining, seated near the King, she began to laugh quietly. The King, perceiving, asked her: "My beloved, wherefore laugh ye so merrily?"

She made answer that she would tell him when the repast was over. And, when the ewer was brought her, "Sire," she said, "this day have been drowned in the sea five hundred English, who were crossing to your land to do you hurt. Therefore did I laugh. In three days you will know that it is true."

And so it was.[1590]

Another time, when she was in a town some miles distant from the château where the King was, as she prayed before going to sleep, it was revealed to her that certain of the King's enemies wished to poison him at dinner. Straightway she called her brothers and sent them to the King to advise him to take no food until she came.

When she appeared before him, he was at table surrounded by eleven persons.

"Sire," she said, "have the dishes brought."

She gave them to the dogs, who ate from them and died forthwith.

Then, pointing to a knight, who was near the King and to two other guests: "Those persons," she said, "wished to poison you."

The knight straightway confessed that it was true; and he was dealt with according to his deserts.[1591]

It was borne in upon her that a certain priest kept a concubine;[1592] and one day, meeting in the camp a woman dressed as a man, it was revealed to her that the woman was pregnant and that having already had one child she had made away with it.[1593]

[Pg i.475]

She was likewise said to possess the power of discovering things hidden. She herself had claimed this power when she was at Tours. It had been revealed to her that a sword was buried in the ground in the chapel of Saint Catherine of Fierbois, and that was the sword she wore. Some deemed it to be the sword with which Charles Martel had defeated the Saracens. Others suspected it of being the sword of Alexander the Great.[1594]

In like manner it was said that before the coronation Jeanne had known of a precious crown, hidden from all eyes. And here is the story told concerning it:

A bishop kept the crown of Saint Louis. No one knew which bishop it was, but it was known that the Maid had sent him a messenger, bearing a letter in which she asked him to give up the crown. The bishop replied that the Maid was dreaming. A second time she demanded the sacred treasure, and the bishop made the same reply. Then she wrote to the citizens of the episcopal city, saying that if the crown were not given up to the King, the Lord would punish the town, and straightway there fell so heavy a storm of hail that all men marvelled. Wizards commonly caused hail storms. But this time the hail was a plague sent by the God who afflicted Egypt with ten plagues. After which the Maid despatched to the citizens a third letter in which she described the form and fashion of the crown the bishop was hiding, and warned them that if it were not given up even[Pg i.476] worse things would happen to them. The bishop, who believed that the wondrous circlet of gold was known to him alone, marvelled that the form and fashion thereof should be described in this letter. He repented of his wickedness, wept many tears, and commanded the crown to be sent to the King and the Maid.[1595]

It is not difficult to discern the origin of this story. The crown of Charlemagne, which the kings of France wore at the coronation ceremony, was at Saint-Denys in France, in the hands of the English. Jeanne boasted of having given the Dauphin at Chinon a precious crown, brought by angels. She said that this crown had been sent to Reims for the coronation, but that it did not arrive in time.[1596] As for the hiding of the crown by the bishop, that idea arose probably from the well-known cupidity of my Lord Regnault de Chartres, Archbishop of Reims, who had appropriated the silver vase intended for the chapter and placed by the King upon the high altar after the ceremony.[1597]

There was likewise talk of gloves lost at Reims and of a cup that Jeanne had found.[1598]

Maiden, at once a warrior and a lover of peace, béguine, prophetess, sorceress, angel of the Lord, ogress, every man beholds her according to his own fashion, creates her according to his own image. Pious souls clothe her with an invincible charm and the divine gift of charity; simple souls make her[Pg i.477] simple too; men gross and violent figure her a giantess, burlesque and terrible. Shall we ever discern the true features of her countenance? Behold her, from the first and perhaps for ever enclosed in a flowering thicket of legends!



Add Joan of Arc as Your Friend on Facebook at
Joan of Arc MaidOfHeaven
Sitemap for
Contact By Email
Maid of Heaven Foundation

Please Consider Shopping With One of Our Supporters!

Copyright ©2007- Maid of Heaven Foundation All rights reserved. Disclaimer

Fundamental Christian Topsites Top Sites In Education JCSM's Top 1000 Christian Sites - Free Traffic Sharing Service!

CLICK HERE to GO TO the Maid of Heaven Foundation