Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France
VOLUME 1 CHAPTER 6

THE MAID AT CHINON—PROPHECIE

FROM the village of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois, Jeanne dictated a letter to the King, for she did not know how to write. In this letter she asked permission to come to him, and told him that to bring him aid she had travelled over one hundred and fifty leagues, and that she knew of many things for his good. She was said to have added that were he hidden amidst many others she would recognise him;[572] but later, when she was questioned on this matter, she replied that she had no recollection of it.

Towards noon, when the letter had been sealed, Jeanne and her escort set out for Chinon.[573] She went to the King, just as in those days there went to him the sons of poor widows of Azincourt and Verneuil riding lame horses found in some meadow,—fifteen-year-old lads coming forth from their ruined towers to mend their own fortunes and those of France; just as Loyalty, Desire, and Famine went to him.[574] Charles VII was France, the image and symbol of France. Yet he was but a poor creature withal, the eleventh of the miserable children born to the mad[Pg i.146] Charles VI and his prolific Bavarian Queen.[575] He had grown up among disasters, and had survived his four elder brethren. But he himself was badly bred, knock-kneed, and bandy-legged;[576] a veritable king's son, if his looks only were considered, and yet it was impossible to swear to his descent.[577] Through his presence on the bridge at Montereau on that day, when, according to a wise man, it were better to have died than to have been there,[578] he had grown pale and trembling, looking dully at everything going to wrack and ruin around him. After their victory of Verneuil and their partial conquest of Maine, the English had left him four years' respite. But his friends, his defenders, his deliverers had alike been terrible. Pious and humble, well content with his plain wife, he led a sad, anxious life in his châteaux on the Loire. He was timid. And well might he be so, for no sooner did he show friendship towards or confidence in one of the nobility than that noble was killed. The Constable de Richemont and the Sire de la Trémouille had drowned the Lord de Giac after a mock trial.[579] The[Pg i.147] Marshal de Boussac, by order of the Constable, had slain Lecamus de Beaulieu with even less ceremony. Lecamus was riding his mule in a meadow on the bank of the Clain, when he was set upon, thrown down, his head split open, and his hand cut off. The favourite's mule was taken back to the King.[580] The Constable de Richemont had given Charles in his stead La Trémouille, a very barrel of a man, a toper, a kind of Gargantua who devoured the country. La Trémouille having driven away Richemont, the King kept La Trémouille until the Constable, of whom he was greatly in dread, should return. And indeed so meek and fearful a prince had reason to dread this Breton, always defeated, always furious, bitter, ferocious, whose awkwardness and violence created an impression of rude frankness.[581]

In 1428 Richemont wanted to resume his influence over the King. The Counts of Clermont and of Pardiac united to aid him. The King's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon, the kingdomless Queen of Sicily and Jerusalem, and the Duchess of Anjou, took the part of the discontented barons.[582] The Count of Clermont took prisoner the Chancellor of France, the first minister of the crown, and held him[Pg i.148] to ransom. The King had to pay for the restoration of his Chancellor.[583] In Poitou the Constable was warring against the King's men, while the provinces which remained loyal were being wasted by free lances in the King's pay, while the English were advancing towards the Loire.

In the midst of such miseries, King Charles, thin, dwarfed in mind and body, cowering, timorous, suspicious, cut a sorry figure. Yet he was as good as another; and perhaps at that time he was just the king that was needed. A Philippe of Valois or a Jean le Bon would have amused himself by losing his provinces at the point of the sword. Poor King Charles had neither their means nor their desire to perform deeds of prowess, or to press to the front of the battle by riding down the common herd. He had one good point: he did not love feats of prowess and it was impossible for him to be one of those chivalrous knights who make war for the love of it. His grandfather before him, who had been equally lacking in chivalrous graces, had greatly damaged the English. The grandson had not Charles V's wisdom, but he also was not free from guile and was inclined to believe that more may be gained by the signing of a treaty than at the point of the lance.[584]

Concerning his poverty ridiculous stories were in circulation. It was said that a shoemaker, to whom he could not pay ready money, had torn from his leg the new gaiter he had just put on, and gone off, leav[Pg i.149]ing the King with his old ones.[585] It was related how one day La Hire and Saintrailles, coming to see him, had found him dining with the Queen, with two chickens and a sheep's tail as their only entertainment.[586] But these were merely good stories. The King still possessed domains wide and rich; Auvergne, Lyonnais, Dauphiné, Touraine, Anjou, all the provinces south of the Loire, except Guyenne and Gascony.[587]

His great resource was to convoke the States General. The nobility gave nothing, alleging that it was beneath their dignity to pay money. When, notwithstanding their poverty, the clergy did contribute something, it was still, always the third estate that bore more than its share of the financial burden. That extraordinary tax, the taille,[588] became annual. The King summoned the Estates every year, sometimes twice a year. They met not without difficulty.[589] The[Pg i.150] roads were dangerous. At every corner travellers might be robbed or murdered. The officers, who journeyed from town to town collecting the taxes, had an armed escort for fear of the Scots and other men-at-arms in the King's service.[590]

In 1427 a free lance, Sabbat by name, in garrison at Langeais, was the terror of Touraine and Anjou. Thus the representatives of the towns were in no hurry to present themselves at the meeting of the Estates. It might have been different had they believed that their money would be employed for the good of the realm. But they knew that the King would first use it to make gifts to his barons. The deputies were invited to come and devise means for the repression of the pillage and plunder from which they were suffering;[591] and, when at the risk of their lives they did come to the royal presence, they were forced to consent to the taille in silence. The King's officers threatened to have them drowned if they opened their mouths. At the meeting of the Estates held at Mehun-sur-Yèvre in 1425 the men from the good towns said they would be glad to help the King, but first they desired that an end be put to pillage, and my Lord Bishop of Poitiers, Hugues de Comberel, said likewise. On hearing his words the Sire de Giac said to the King: "If my advice were taken, Comberel would be thrown into the river with the others of his opinion." Whereupon the men from the good towns[Pg i.151] voted two hundred and sixty thousand livres.[592] In September, 1427, assembled at Chinon, they granted five hundred thousand livres for the war.[593] By writs issued on the 8th of January, 1428, the King summoned the States General to meet six months hence, on the following 18th of July, at Tours.[594] On the 18th of July no one attended. On the 22nd of July came a new summons from the King, commanding the Estates to meet at Tours on the 10th of September.[595] But the meeting did not take place until October, at Chinon, just when the Earl of Salisbury was marching on the Loire. The States granted five hundred thousand livres.[596]

But the time could not be far off when the good people would be unable to pay any longer. In those days of war and pillage many a field was lying fallow, many a shop was closed, and few were the merchants ambling on their nags from town to town.[597]

The tax came in badly, and the King was actually suffering from want of money. To extricate himself[Pg i.152] from this embarrassment he employed three devices, of which the best was useless. First, as he owed every one money,—the Queen of Sicily,[598] La Trémouille,[599] his Chancellor,[600] his butcher,[601] the chapter of Bourges, which provided him with fresh fish,[602] his cooks,[603] his footmen,[604]—he made over the proceeds of the tax to his creditors.[605] Secondly, he alienated the royal domain: his towns and his lands belonged to every one save himself.[606] Thirdly, he coined false money. It was not with evil intent, but through necessity, and the practice was quite usual.[607]

The only title borne by La Trémouille was that of Conseiller-Chambellan, but he was also the Grand Usurer of the kingdom. His debtors were the King and a multitude of nobles high and low.[608] He was therefore a powerful personage. In those difficult[Pg i.153] days he rendered the crown services self-interested, but none the less valuable. From January to August, 1428, he advanced sums amounting to about twenty-seven thousand livres for which he received lands and castles as security.[609] Fortunately the Royal Council included a number of Jurists and Churchmen who were good business men. One of them, an Angevin, Robert Le Maçon, Lord of Trèves, of plebeian birth, had entered the Council during the Regency. He was the first among those of lowly origin who served Charles VII so ably that he came to be called The Well Served (Le Bien Servi).[610] Another, the Sire de Gaucourt, had aided his King in war.[611]

There is yet a third whom we must learn to know as well as possible. For he will play an important part in this story; and his part would appear greater still if it were laid bare in its entirety. This is Regnault de Chartres, whom we have already seen promoted to be minister of finance.[612] Son of Hector de Chartres, master of Woods and Waters in Normandy, he took orders, became archdeacon of Beauvais, then chamberlain of Pope John XXIII, and in[Pg i.154] 1414, at about thirty-four, was raised to the archiepiscopal see of Reims.[613] The following year three of his brothers fell on the gory field of Azincourt. In 1418 Hector de Chartres perished at Paris, assassinated by the Butchers.[614] Regnault himself, cast into prison by the Cabochiens, expected to be put to death. He vowed that if he escaped he would fast every Wednesday, and drink water for breakfast every Friday and Saturday, for the rest of his life.[615] One must not judge a man by an act prompted by fear. Nevertheless we may well hesitate to rank the author of this vow with those Epicureans who did not believe in God, of whom there were said to be many among the clerks. We may conclude rather that his intelligence submitted to the common beliefs.

A tragic fidelity, an inherited loyalty to the Armagnacs recommended my Lord Regnault to the Dauphin, who entrusted him with important missions to various parts of Christendom, Languedoc, Scotland, Brittany, and Burgundy.[616] The Archbishop of Reims acquitted himself with rare skill and indefatigable zeal. In December he prayed the Holy Father to dispense him from the fulfilment of the vow taken[Pg i.155] in the Butchers' prison,[617] on the grounds of his feeble health and his services rendered to the Dauphin, who required him to undertake frequent journeys and arduous embassies.

In 1425, when the King and the kingdom were governed by President Louvet,[618] a learned lawyer, who may well have been a rogue, my Lord Regnault was appointed Chancellor of France in the place of my Lord Martin Gouges of Charpaigne, Bishop of Clermont.[619] But shortly afterwards, when the Constable of France, Arthur of Brittany, had dismissed Louvet, Regnault sold his appointment to Martin Gouges for a pension of two thousand five hundred livres tournois.[620]

The Reverend Father in God, my Lord the Archbishop of Reims, was not as rich, far from it, as my Lord de la Trémouille; but he made the best of what he had. Like the Sire de la Trémouille he lent money to the King.[621] But in those days who did not lend the King money? Charles VII gave him the town and castle of Vierzon in payment of a debt of sixteen thousand livres tournois.[622] When La Trémouille had treated the Constable as the Constable[Pg i.156] had treated Louvet, Regnault de Chartres became Chancellor again. He entered into his office on the 8th of November, 1428. By this time the Council had sent men-at-arms and cannon to Orléans. No sooner was my Lord of Reims appointed than he threw himself into the city and spared no trouble.[623] He was keenly attached to the goods of this world and might pass for a miser.[624] But there can be no doubt of his devotion to the royal cause, nor of his hatred of those who fought under the Leopard and the Red Cross.[625]

After eleven days' journey, Jeanne reached Chinon on the 6th of March.[626] It was the fourth Sunday in Lent, that very Sunday on which the lads and lasses of Domremy went forth in bands, into the country still grey and leafless, to eat their nuts and hard-boiled eggs, with the rolls their mothers had kneaded. That was what they called their well-dressing. But Jeanne was not to recollect past well-dressings nor the home she had left without a word of farewell.[627] Ignoring those rustic, well-nigh pagan festivals which poor Christians introduced into the penance of the holy forty days, the Church had named this Sunday Lætare Sunday, from the first word in the introit for the day: Lætare, Jerusalem. On that Sunday the priest, ascending the altar steps, says low mass; and at high mass the choir sings the following words from Scripture: "Lætare, Jerusalem; et conventum facite,[Pg i.157] omnes qui diligitis eam ...: Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; ..."[628] That day priests, monks, and clerks versed in holy Scripture, as in the churches with the people assembled they sang Lætare, Jerusalem, had present before their minds the virgin announced by prophecy, raised up for the deliverance of the kingdom, marked with a sign, who was then making her humble entrance into the town. Perhaps more than one applied what that passage of Scripture says of the Holy Nation to the realm of France, and in the coincidence of that liturgical text and the happy coming of the Maid found occasion for hope. Lætare, Jerusalem! Rejoice ye, O people, in your true King and your rightful sovereign. Et conventum facite: and come together. Unite all your strength against the enemy. Gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: after your long mourning, rejoice. The Lord sends you succour and consolation.

By the intercession of Saint Julien, and probably with the aid of Collet de Vienne, the King's messenger, Jeanne found a lodging in the town, near the castle, in an inn kept by a woman of good repute.[629] The spits were idle. And the guests, deep in the chimney-corner, were watching the grilling of Saint Herring, who was suffering worse torments than Saint Lawrence.[630] In those times no one in Christendom neglected the Church's injunctions concerning the fasts and abstinences of Holy Lent. Following the exam[Pg i.158]ple of Our Lord Jesus Christ who fasted forty days in the desert, the faithful observed the fast from Quadragesima Sunday until Easter Sunday, making forty days after abstracting the Sundays when the fast was broken but not the abstinence. Thus fasting and with her soul comforted, Jeanne listened to the soft whisper of her Voices.[631] The two days she spent in the inn were passed in retirement, on her knees.[632] The banks of the Vienne and the broad meadows, still in their black wintry garb, the hill-slopes over which light mists floated, did not tempt her. But when, on her way to church, climbing up a steep street, or merely grooming her horse in the inn yard, she raised her eyes to the north, there on a mountain close at hand, just about the distance that would be traversed by one of those stone cannon-balls which had been in use for the last fifty or sixty years, she saw the towers of the finest castle of the realm. Behind its proud walls there breathed that King to whom she had journeyed, impelled by a miraculous love.

There were three castles merging before her into one long mass of embattled walls, of keeps, towers, turrets, curtains, barbicans, ramparts, and watch-towers; three castles separated one from the other by dykes, barriers, posterns, and portcullis. On her left, towards sunset, crowded, one behind the other, the eight towers of Coudray, one of which had been built for a king of England, while the newest were more than two hundred years old. On the right could be[Pg i.159] plainly seen the middle castle, with its ancient walls and its towers crowned with machicolated battlements. There was the chamber of Saint Louis, the King's chamber, the apartment of him whom Jeanne called the Gentle Dauphin. And there also, close to the rush-strewn room, was the great hall in which she was to be received. Towards the town the site of the hall was indicated by an adjoining tower, square and very old. On the right extended a vast bailey or stronghold, intended as a lodging for the garrison, and a defence of the middle part of the castle. Near by a large chapel raised its roof, in the form of an inverted keel, above the ramparts. This chapel, built by Henry II of England, was under the patronage of Saint George, and from it the bailey received its name of Fort Saint George.[633] In those days every one knew the story of Saint George the valiant knight, who with his lance transfixed a dragon and delivered a King's daughter, and then suffered martyrdom confessing his faith. Like Saint Catherine he had been bound to a wheel with sharp spikes, and the wheel had been miraculously broken like that on which the executioners had bound the Virgin of Alexandria. And like her Saint George had suffered death by means of an axe, thus proving that he was a great saint.[634] In one thing, however, he was wrong; he was of the party of the Godons, who for more than three hundred years had kept his feast as that of all the English. They held him to be their patron saint and invoked him before all other saints. Thus his name was pronounced as constantly by the vilest Welsh archer as[Pg i.160] by a knight of the Garter. In truth no one knew what he thought and whether he did not condemn all these marauders who were fighting for a bad cause; but there was reason to fear that such great honours would affect him. The saints of Paradise are generally ready to take the side of those who invoke them most devoutly. And Saint George, after all, was just as English as Saint Michael was French. That glorious archangel had appeared as the most vigilant protector of the Lilies ever since my Lord Saint Denys, the patron saint of the kingdom, had permitted his abbey to be taken. And Jeanne knew it.

Meanwhile the despatches brought from the Commander of Vaucouleurs by Colet de Vienne were presented to the King.[635] These despatches instructed him concerning the deeds and sayings of the damsel. This was one of those countless matters to be examined by the Council, one which, it appears, the King must himself investigate, as pertaining to his royal office and as interesting him especially, since it might be a question of a damsel of remarkable piety, and he was himself the highest ecclesiastical personage in France.[636] His grandfather, wise prince that he was, would have been far from scorning the counsel of devout women in whom was the voice of God. About the year 1380 he had summoned to Paris Guillemette de la Rochelle, who led a solitary and contemplative life, and acquired such great power therefrom, so it was said, that during her transports she raised herself more than two feet from the ground. In many a church King Charles V had beautiful oratories built,[Pg i.161] where she might pray for him.[637] The grandson should do no less, for his need was still greater. There were still more recent examples in his family of dealings between kings and saints. His father, the poor King Charles VI, when he was passing through Tours, had caused Louis, Duke of Orléans, to present to him Dame Marie de Maillé. She had taken a vow of virginity and had transformed the spouse, who approached her like a devouring lion, into a timorous lamb. She revealed secrets to the King, and he was pleased with her, for three years later he wanted to see her again at Paris. This time they talked long together in private, and she revealed more secrets to the King, so that he sent her away with gifts.[638] This same Prince had granted an audience to a poor knight of Caux, one Robert le Mennot, to whom, when he was in danger of shipwreck near the coast of Syria, had been vouchsafed a vision. He proclaimed that God had sent him to restore peace.[639] Still more favourably had the King received a woman, Marie Robine, who was commonly called la Gasque of Avignon.[640] In 1429, there were those at court who remembered the prophetess sent to Charles VI to confirm him in his subjection to Pope Benedict XIII. This pope was held to be an antipope; nevertheless, La Gasque was regarded as a prophetess. Like Jeanne she had had many visions concerning the desolation of the realm of France; and she had seen weapons in the[Pg i.162] sky.[641] The kings of England were no less ready than the kings of France to heed the words of those saintly men and women, multitudes of whom were at that time uttering prophecies. Henry V consulted the hermit of Sainte-Claude, Jean de Gand, who foretold the King's approaching death; and on his death-bed he again had the stern prophet summoned.[642] It was the custom of saints to speak to kings and of kings to listen to them. How could a pious prince disdain so miraculous a source of counsel? Had he done so he would have incurred the censure of the wisest.

King Charles read the Commander of Vaucouleur's letters, and had the damsel's escort examined before him. Of her mission and her miracles they could say nothing. But they spoke of the good they had seen in her during the journey, and affirmed that there was no evil in her.[643]

Of a truth, God speaketh through the mouths of virgins. But in such matters it is necessary to act with extreme caution, to distinguish carefully between the true prophetesses and the false, not to take for messengers from heaven the heralds of the devil. The latter sometimes create illusions. Following the example of Simon the Magician, who worked wonders vying with the miracles of St. Peter, these creatures have recourse to diabolical arts for the seduction of men. Twelve years before, there had prophesied a[Pg i.163] woman, likewise from the Lorraine Marches, Catherine Suave, a native of Thons near Neufchâteau, who lived as a recluse at Port de Lates, yet most certainly did the Bishop of Maguelonne know her to be a liar and a sorceress, wherefore she was burned alive at Montpellier in 1417.[644] Multitudes of women, or rather of females, mulierculæ,[645] lived like this Catherine and ended like her.

Certain ecclesiastics briefly interrogated Jeanne and asked her wherefore she had come. At first she replied that she would say nothing save to the King. But when the clerks represented to her that they were questioning her in the King's name, she told them that the King of Heaven had bidden her do two things: one was to raise the siege of Orléans, the other to lead the King to Reims for his anointing and his coronation.[646] Just as at Vaucouleurs before Sire Robert, so before these Churchmen she repeated very much what the vavasour of Champagne had said formerly, when he had been sent to Jean le Bon, as she was now sent to the Dauphin Charles.

Having journeyed as far as the Plain of Beauce, where King John, impatient for battle, was encamped with his army, the vavasour of Champagne entered the camp and asked to see the wisest and best of the King's liegemen at court. The nobles, to whom this[Pg i.164] request was carried, began to laugh. But one among them, who had with his own eyes seen the vavasour, recognised at once that he was a good, simple man and without guile. He said to him: "If thou hast any advice to give, go to the King's chaplain." The vavasour therefore went to King John's chaplain and said to him: "Obtain for me an audience of the King; I have something to tell that I will say to no one but to him." "What is it?" asked the chaplain. "Tell me what is in your heart." But the good man would not reveal his secret. The chaplain went to King John and said to him: "Sire, there is a worthy man here who seems to me wise in his way. He desires to say to you something that he will tell to you alone." King John refused to see the good man. He summoned his confessor, and, accompanied by the chaplain, sent him to learn the vavasour's secret. The two priests went to the man and told him that the King had appointed them to hear him. At this announcement, despairing of ever seeing King John, and trusting to the Confessor and the chaplain not to reveal his secret to any but the King, he uttered these words: "While I was alone in the fields, a voice spake unto me three times, saying: 'Go unto King John of France and warn him that he fight not with any of his enemies.' Obedient to that voice am I come to bring the tidings to King John." Having heard the vavasour's secret the confessor and the chaplain took him to the King, who laughed at him. With his comrades-in-arms he advanced to Poitiers, where he met the Black Prince. He lost his whole army in battle, and, twice wounded in the face, was taken prisoner by the English.[647]

[Pg i.165]

The ecclesiastics, who had examined Jeanne, held various opinions concerning her. Some declared that her mission was a hoax, and that the King ought to beware of her.[648] Others on the contrary held that, since she said she was sent of God, and that she had something to tell the King, the King should at least hear her.

Two priests who were then with the King, Jean Girard, President of the Parlement of Grenoble, and Pierre l'Hermite, later subdean of Saint-Martin-de-Tours, judged the case difficult and interesting enough to be submitted to Messire Jacques Gélu, that Armagnac prelate who had long served the house of Orléans and the Dauphin of France both in council and in diplomacy. When he was nearly sixty, Gélu had withdrawn from the Council, and exchanged the archiepiscopal see of Tours for the bishopric of Embrun, which was less exalted and more retired. He was illustrious and venerable.[649] Jean Girard and Pierre l'Hermite informed him of the coming of the damsel in a letter, wherein they told him also that, having been questioned in turn by three professors of theology, she had been found devout, sober, temperate, and in the habit of participating once a week in the sacraments of confession and communion. Jean Girard thought she might have been sent by the God who raised up Judith and Deborah, and who spoke through the mouths of the Sibyls.[650]

[Pg i.166]

Charles was pious, and on his knees devoutly heard three masses a day. Regularly at the canonical hours he repeated the customary prayers in addition to prayers for the dead and other orisons. Daily he confessed, and communicated on every feast day.[651] But he believed in foretelling events by means of the stars, in which he did not differ from other princes of his time. Each one of them had an astrologer in his service.[652]

The late Duke of Burgundy had been constantly accompanied by a Jewish soothsayer, Maître Mousque. On that day, the end of which he was never to see, as he was going to the Bridge of Montereau, Maître Mousque counselled him not to advance any further, prophesying that he would not return. The Duke continued on his way and was killed.[653] The Dauphin Charles confided in Jean des Builhons, in Germain de Thibonville and in all others of the peaked cap.[654]

He always had two or three astrologers at court. These almanac makers drew up schemes of nativity, cast horoscopes and read in the sky the approach of wars and revolutions. One of them, Maître Rolland the Scrivener, a fellow of the University of Paris, was one night, at a certain hour, observing the heavens from his roof, when he saw the apex of Virgo in the ascendant, Venus, Mercury, and the[Pg i.167] sun half way up the sky.[655] This his colleague, Guillaume Barbin of Geneva, interpreted to mean that the English would be driven from France and the King restored by the hand of a mere maid.[656] If we may believe the Inquisitor Bréhal, some time before Jeanne's coming into France, a clever astronomer of Seville, Jean de Montalcin by name, had written to the King among other things the following words: "By a virgin's counsel thou shalt be victorious. Continue in triumph to the gates of Paris."[657]

At that very time the Dauphin Charles had with him at Chinon an old Norman astrologer, one Pierre, who may have been Pierre de Saint-Valerien, canon of Paris. The latter had recently returned from Scotland, whither, accompanied by certain nobles, he had gone to fetch the Lady Margaret, betrothed to the Dauphin Louis. Not long afterwards this Maître Pierre was, rightly or wrongly, believed to have read in the sky that the shepherdess from the Meuse valley was appointed to drive out the English.[658]

Jeanne had not long to wait in her inn. Two days after her arrival, what she had so ardently desired came to pass: she was taken to the King.[659] In the last century near the Grand-Carroy, opposite a wooden-fronted house, there was shown a well on the edge of which, according to tradition, Jeanne set foot when she alighted from her horse, before climbing the steep ascent leading to the Castle. Through[Pg i.168] La Vieille Porte,[660] she was already crossing the moat when the King was still hesitating as to whether he would receive her. Many of his familiar advisers, and those not the least important, counselled him to beware of a strange woman whose designs might be evil. There were others who put it before him that this shepherdess was introduced by letters from Robert de Baudricourt carried through hostile provinces; that in journeying to the King she had forded many rivers in a manner almost miraculous. On these considerations the King consented to receive her.[661]

The great hall was crowded. As at every audience given by the King the room was close with the breath of the assembled multitude. The vast chamber presented that aspect of a market-house or of a rout which was so familiar to courtiers. It was evening; fifty torches flamed beneath the painted beams of the roof.[662] Men of middle age in robes and furs, young, smooth-faced nobles, thin and narrow shouldered, of slender build, their lean legs in tight hose, their feet in long, pointed shoes; barons fully armed to the number of three hundred, according to Aulic custom, pushed, crowded and elbowed each other while the usher was here and there striking the courtiers on the head with his rod.[663]

[Pg i.169]

Besides the two ambassadors from Orléans, Messire Jamet du Tillay and the old baron Archambaud de Villars, governor of Montargis, there were present Simon Charles, Master of Requests, as well as certain great nobles, the Count of Clermont, the Sire de Gaucourt, and probably the Sire de La Trémouille and my Lord the Archbishop of Reims, Chancellor of the kingdom.[664] On hearing of Jeanne's approach, King Charles buried himself among his retainers, either because he was still mistrustful and hesitating, or because he had other persons to speak to, or for some other reason.[665] Jeanne was presented by the Count of Vendôme.[666] Robust, with a firm, short neck, her figure appeared full, although confined by her man's jerkin. She wore breeches like a man,[667] but still more surprising than her hose was her head-gear and the cut of her hair. Beneath a woollen hood, her dark hair hung cut round in soup-plate fashion like a page's.[668] Women of all ranks and all ages were careful to hide their hair so that not one lock of it should escape from beneath the coif, the veil, or the high head-dress which was then the mode. Jeanne's flowing locks looked strange to the folk of those days.[669] She went straight[Pg i.170] to the King, took off her cap, curtsied, and said: "God send you long life, gentle Dauphin."[670]

Afterwards there were those who marvelled that she should have recognised him in the midst of nobles more magnificently dressed than he. It is possible that on that day he may have been poorly attired. We know that it was his custom to have new sleeves put to his old doublets.[671] And in any case he did not show off his clothes. Very ugly, knock-kneed, with emaciated thighs, small, odd, blinking eyes, and a large bulbous nose, on his bony, bandy legs tottered and trembled this prince of twenty-six.[672]

That Jeanne should have seen his picture already and recognised him by it is hardly likely. Portraits of princes were rare in those days. Jeanne had never handled one of those precious books in which King Charles may have been painted in miniature as one of the Magi offering gifts to the Child Jesus.[673] It was not likely that she had ever seen one of those figures painted on wood in the semblance of her King, with hands clasped, beneath the curtains of his oratory.[674][Pg i.171] And if by chance some one had shown her one of these portraits her untrained eyes could have discerned but little therein. Neither need we inquire whether the people of Chinon had described to her the costume the King usually wore and the shape of his hat: for like every one else he kept his hat on indoors even at dinner. What is most probable is that those who were kindly disposed towards her pointed out the King. At any rate he was not difficult to distinguish, since those who saw her go up to him were in no wise astonished.

When she had made her rustic curtsey, the King asked her name and what she wanted. She replied: "Fair Dauphin, my name is Jeanne the Maid; and the King of Heaven speaks unto you by me and says that you shall be anointed and crowned at Reims, and be lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is King of France." She asked to be set about her work, promising to raise the siege of Orléans.[675]

The King took her apart and questioned her for some time. By nature he was gentle, kind to the poor and lowly, but not devoid of mistrust and suspicion.

It is said that during this private conversation, addressing him with the familiarity of an angel, she made him this strange announcement: "My Lord bids me say unto thee that thou art indeed the heir of France and the son of a King; he has sent me to thee to lead thee to Reims to be crowned there and anointed if thou wilt."[676] Afterwards the Maid's[Pg i.172] chaplain reported these words, saying he had received them from the Maid herself. All that is certain is that the Armagnacs were not slow to turn them into a miracle in favour of the Line of the Lilies. It was asserted that these words spoken by God himself, by the mouth of an innocent girl, were a reply to the carking, secret anxiety of the King. Madame Ysabeau's son, it was said, distracted and saddened by the thought that perhaps the royal blood did not flow in his veins, was ready to renounce his kingdom and declare himself a usurper, unless by some heavenly light his doubts concerning his birth should be dispelled.[677] Men told how his face shone with joy[678] when it was revealed to him that he was the true heir of France.

Doubtless the Armagnac preachers were in the habit of speaking of Queen Ysabeau as "une grande gorre" and a Herodias of licentiousness; but one would like to know whence her son derived his curious misgiving. He had not manifested it on entering into his inheritance; and, had occasion required, the jurists of his party would have proved to him by reasons derived from laws and customs that he was by birth the true heir and the lawful successor of the late King; for filiation must be proved not by what is hidden, but by what is manifest, otherwise it would be impossible to assign the legal heir to a kingdom or to an acre of land. Nevertheless it must be borne in mind that the King was very unfortunate at this time. Now misfortune agitates the conscience and raises[Pg i.173] scruples; and he might well doubt the justice of his cause since God was forsaking him. But if he were indeed assailed by painful doubts, how can he have been relieved from them by the words of a damsel who, as far as he then knew, might be mad or sent to him by his enemies? It is hard to reconcile such credulity with what we know of his suspicious nature. The first thought that occurred to him must have been that ecclesiastics had instructed the damsel.

A few moments after he had dismissed her, he assembled the Sire de Gaucourt and certain other members of his Council and repeated to them what he had just heard: "She told me that God had sent her to aid me to recover my kingdom."[679] He did not add that she had revealed to him a secret known to himself alone.[680]

The King's Counsellors, knowing little of the damsel, decided that they must have her before them to examine her concerning her life and her belief.[681]

The Sire de Gaucourt took her from the inn and lodged her in a tower of that Castle of Coudray, which for the last three days she had seen dominating the town.[682] One of the three castles, Le Coudray was only separated from the middle château in which the King dwelt by a moat and fortifications.[683] The Sire de[Pg i.174] Gaucourt confided her to the care of the lieutenant of the Town of Chinon, Guillaume Bellier, the King's Major Domo.[684] He gave her for her servant one of his own pages, a child of fifteen, Immerguet, sometimes called Minguet, and sometimes Mugot. His real name was Louis de Coutes, and he came of an old warrior family which had been in the service of the house of Orléans for a century. His father, Jean, called Minguet, Lord of Fresnay-le-Gelmert, of la Gadelière and of Mitry, Chamberlain to the Duke of Orléans, had died in great poverty the year before. He had left a widow and five children, three boys and two girls, one of whom, Jeanne by name, had since 1421 been the wife of Messire Florentin d'Illiers, Governor of Châteaudun. Thus the little page, Louis de Coutes, and his mother, Catherine le Mercier, Dame de Noviant, who came of a noble Scottish family, were both in a state of penury, albeit the Duke of Orléans in acknowledgment of his Chamberlain's faithful services had from his purse granted aid to the Lady of Noviant.[685] Jeanne kept Minguet with her all day, but at night she slept with the women.

The wife of Guillaume Bellier, who was good and pious, at least so it was said, watched over her.[686] At Coudray the page saw her many a time on her knees. She prayed and often wept many tears.[687] For several days persons of high estate came to speak with her. They found her dressed as a boy.[688]

[Pg i.175]

Since she had been with the King, divers persons asked her whether there were not in her country a wood called "Le Bois-Chenu."[689] This question was put to her because a prophecy of Merlin concerning a maid who should come from "Le Bois-Chenu" was then in circulation. And folk were impressed by it; for in those days every one gave heed to prophecies and especially to those of Merlin the Magician.[690]

Begotten of a woman by the Devil, it was from him that Merlin derived his profound wisdom. To the science of numbers, which is the key to the future, he added a knowledge of physics, by means of which he worked his enchantments. Thus it was easy for him to transform rocks into giants. And yet he was conquered by a woman; the fairy Vivien enchanted the enchanter and kept him in a hawthorn bush under a spell. This is only one of many examples of the power of women.

Famous doctors and illustrious masters held that Merlin had laid bare many future events and prophesied many things which had not yet happened. To such as were amazed that the son of the Devil should have received the gift of prophecy they replied that the Holy Ghost is able to reveal his secrets to whomsoever he pleases, for had he not caused the Sibyls to speak, and opened the mouth of Balaam's ass?

Merlin had seen in a vision Sire Bertrand du Guesclin in the guise of a warrior bearing an eagle[Pg i.176] on his shield. This was remembered after the Constable had wrought his great deeds.[691]

In the prophecies of this Wise Man the English believed no less firmly than the French. When Arthur of Brittany, Count of Richemont, was taken prisoner, held to ransom, and brought before King Henry, the latter, when he perceived a boar on the arms of the Duke, broke forth into rejoicing; for he called to mind the words of Merlin who had said, "A Prince of Armorica, called Arthur, with a boar for his crest, shall conquer England, and when he shall have made an end of the English folk he shall re-people the land with a Breton race."[692]

Now during the Lent of 1429 there was circulated among the Armagnacs this prophecy, taken from a book of the prophecies of Merlin: "From the town of the Bois-Chenu there shall come forth a maid for the healing of the nation. When she hath stormed every citadel, with her breath she shall dry up all the[Pg i.177] springs. Bitter tears shall she shed and fill the Island with a terrible noise. Then shall she be slain by the stag with ten antlers, of which six branches shall bear crowns of gold, and the other six shall be changed into the horns of oxen; and with a horrible sound they shall shake the Isles of Britain. The forest of Denmark shall rise up and with a human voice say: 'Come, Cambria, and take Cornwall unto thyself.'"[693]

In these mysterious words Merlin dimly foretells that a virgin shall perform great and wonderful deeds before perishing by the hand of the enemy. On one point only is he clear, or so it seems; that is, when he says that this virgin shall come from the town of the Bois-Chenu.

If this prophecy had been traced back to its original source and read in the fourth book of the Historia Britonum, where it is to be found under the title of Guyntonia Vaticinium, it would have been seen to refer to the English city of Winchester, and it would have appeared that in the version then in circulation in France, the original meaning had been garbled, distorted, and completely metamorphosed. But no one thought of verifying the text. Books were rare and minds uncritical. This deliberately falsified prophecy was accepted as the pure word of Merlin and numerous copies of it were spread abroad.

Whence came these copies? Their origin doubtless will remain a mystery for ever; but one point is certain: they referred to La Romée's daughter, to the damsel who, from her father's house, could see the edge of "Le Bois-Chenu." Thus they came from close at hand and were of recent circulation.[694] If this amended[Pg i.178] prophecy of Merlin be not the one that reached Jeanne in her village, forecasting that a Maid should come from the Lorraine Marches for the saving of the kingdom, then it was closely related to it. The two prognostications have a family likeness.[695] They were uttered in the same spirit and with the same intention; and they indicate that the ecclesiastics of the Meuse valley and those of the Loire had agreed to draw attention to the inspired damsel of Domremy.

As Merlin had foretold the works of Jeanne, so Bede must also have predicted them, for Bede and Merlin were always together in matters of prophecy.

The Monk of Wearmouth, the Venerable Bede, who had been dead six centuries, had been a veritable mine of knowledge in his lifetime. He had written on theology and chronology; he had discoursed of night and day, of weeks and months, of the signs of the zodiac, of epacts, of the lunar cycle, and of the movable feasts of the Church. In his book De temporum ratione he had treated of the seventh and eighth ages of the world, which were to follow the age in which he lived. He had prophesied. During the siege of Orléans, churchmen were circulating these obscure lines attributed to him, and foretelling the coming of the Maid:

Bis sex cuculli, bis septem se sociabunt,[696]
Gallorum pulli Tauro nova bella parabunt
Ecce beant bella, tunc fert vexilla Puella.

The first of these lines is a chronogram, that is, it contains a date. To decipher it you take the numeral[Pg i.179] letters of the line and add them together; the total gives the date.

bIs seX CVCVLLI, bIs septeM se soCIabVnt.

1 + 10 + 100 + 5 + 100 + 5 + 50 + 50 + 1 + 1 + 1000 + 100 + 1 + 5 = 1429.

Had any one sought these lines in the works of the Venerable Bede they would not have found them, because they are not there; but no one thought of looking for them any more than they thought of looking for the Forêt Chenue in Merlin.[697] And it was understood that both Bede and Merlin had foretold the coming of the Maid. In those days prophecies, chronograms, and charms flew like pigeons from the banks of the Loire and spread abroad throughout the realm. Not later than the May or June of this year the pseudo Bede will reach Burgundy. Earlier still he will be heard of in Paris. The aged Christine de Pisan, living in retirement in a French abbey, before the last day of July, 1429, will write that Bede and Merlin had beheld the Maid in a vision.[698]

The clerks, who were busy forging prophecies for the Maid's benefit, did not stop at a pseudo Bede and a garbled Merlin. They were truly indefatigable, and by a stroke of good luck we possess a piece of their workmanship which has escaped the ravages of time. It is a short Latin poem written in the obscure prophetic style, of which the following is a translation through the old French.[Pg i.180]

"A virgin clothed in man's attire, with the body of a maid, at God's behest goes forth to raise the downcast King, who bears the lilies, and to drive out his accursed enemies, even those who now beleaguer the city of Orléans and strike terror into the hearts of its inhabitants. And if the people will take heart and go out to battle, the treacherous English shall be struck down by death, at the hand of the God of battles who fights for the Maid, and the French shall cause them to fall, and then shall there be an end of the war; and the old covenants and the old friendship shall return. Pity and righteousness shall be restored. There shall be a treaty of peace, and all men shall of their own accord return to the King, which King shall weigh justice and administer it unto all men and preserve his subjects in beautiful peace. Henceforth no English foe with the sign of the leopard shall dare to call himself King of France [added by the translator] and adopt the arms of France, which arms are borne by the holy Maid."[699]

These false prophecies give some idea of the means employed for the setting to work of the inspired damsel. Such methods may be somewhat too crafty for our liking. These clerks had but one object,—the peace of the realm and of the church. The miraculous deliverance of the people had to be prepared. We must not be too hasty to condemn those pious frauds without which the Maid could not have worked her miracles. Much art and some guile are necessary to contrive for innocence a hearing.

Meanwhile, on a steep rock, on the bank of the Durance, in the remote see of Saint-Marcellin, Jacques Gélu remained faithful to the King he had served and[Pg i.181] careful for the interests of the house of Orléans and of France. To the two churchmen, Jean Girard and Pierre l'Hermite, he replied that, for the sake of the orphan and the oppressed, God would doubtless manifest himself, and would frustrate the evil designs of the English; yet one should not easily and lightly believe the words of a peasant girl bred in solitude, for the female sex was frail and easily deceived, and France must not be made ridiculous in the eyes of the foreigner. "The French," he added, "are already famous for the ease with which they are duped." He ended by advising Pierre l'Hermite that it would be well for the King to fast and do penance so that Heaven might enlighten him and preserve him from error.[700]

But the mind of the oracle and ex-councillor could not rest. He wrote direct to King Charles and Queen Marie to warn them of the danger. To him it seemed that there could be no good in the damsel. He mistrusted her for three reasons: first, because she came from a country in the possession of the King's enemies, Burgundians and Lorrainers; secondly, she was a shepherdess and easily deceived; thirdly, she was a maid. He cited as an example Alexander of Macedon, whom a Queen endeavoured to poison. She had been fed on venom by the King's enemies and then sent to him in the hope that he would fall a victim to the wench's[701] wiles. But Aristotle dismissed the seductress and thus delivered his prince from death. The Archbishop of Embrun, as wise as Aristotle, warned the King against conversing with the damsel[Pg i.182] in private. He advised that she should be kept at a distance and examined, but not repulsed.

A prudent answer to those letters reassured Gélu. In a new epistle he testified to the King his satisfaction at hearing that the damsel was regarded with suspicion and left in uncertainty as to whether she would or would not be believed. Then, with a return to his former misgivings, he added: "It behoves not that she should have frequent access to the King until such time as certainty be established concerning her manner of life and her morals."[702]

King Charles did indeed keep Jeanne in uncertainty as to what was believed of her. But he did not suspect her of craftiness and he received her willingly. She talked to him with the simplest familiarity. She called him gentle Dauphin, and by that term she implied nobility and royal magnificence.[703] She also called him her oriflamme, because he was her oriflamme, or, as in modern language she would have expressed it, her standard.[704] The oriflamme was the royal banner. No one at Chinon had seen it, but marvellous things were told of it. The oriflamme was in the form of a gonfanon with two wings, made of a costly silk, fine and light, called sandal,[705] and it was edged with tassels of green silk. It had come down from heaven; it was the banner of Clovis and of Saint Charlemagne. When the King went to war it was carried before him. So great was its virtue that the enemy at its approach became pow[Pg i.183]erless and fled in terror. It was remembered how, when in 1304 Philippe le Bel defeated the Flemings, the knight who bore it was slain. The next day he was found dead, but still clasping the standard in his arms.[706] It had floated in front of King Charles VI before his misfortunes, and since then it had never been unfurled.

One day when the Maid and the King were talking together, the Duke of Alençon entered the hall. When he was a child, the English had taken him prisoner at Verneuil and kept him five years in the Crotoy Tower.[707] Only recently set at liberty, he had been shooting quails near Saint-Florent-lès-Saumur, when a messenger had brought the tidings that God had sent a damsel to the King to turn the English out of France.[708] This news interested him as much as any one because he had married the Duke of Orléans' daughter; and straightway he had come to Chinon to see for himself. In the days of his graceful youth the Duke of Alençon appeared to advantage, but he was never renowned for his wisdom. He was weak-minded, violent, vain, jealous, and extremely credulous. He believed that ladies find favour by means of a certain herb, the mountain-heath; and later he thought himself bewitched. He had a disagreeable, harsh voice; he knew it, and the knowledge annoyed him.[709] As soon as she saw him approaching, Jeanne asked who this noble was. When the King[Pg i.184] replied that it was his cousin Alençon, she curtsied to the Duke and said: "Be welcome. The more representatives of the blood royal are here the better."[710] In this she was completely mistaken. The Dauphin smiled bitterly at her words. Not much of the royal blood of France ran in the Duke's veins.

On the next day Jeanne went to the King's mass. When she approached her Dauphin she bowed before him. The King took her into a room and sent every one away except the Sire de la Trémouille and the Duke of Alençon.

Then Jeanne addressed to him several requests. More especially did she ask him to give his kingdom to the King of Heaven. "And afterwards," she added, "the King of Heaven will do for you what he has done for your predecessors and will restore you to the condition of your fathers."[711]

In discoursing thus of things spiritual, in giving utterance to those precepts of reformation and of a new life, she was repeating what the clerks had taught her. Nevertheless she was by no means imbued with this doctrine. It was too subtle for her, and it was shortly to fade from her mind and give place to an ardour less monastic but more chivalrous.

That same day she rode out with the King and threw a lance in the meadow with so fine a grace that the Duke of Alençon, marvelling, made her a present of a horse.[712]

A few days later this young noble took her to the Abbey of Saint-Florent-lès-Saumur,[713] the church of which was so greatly admired that it was called La Belle d'Anjou. Here in this abbey there dwelt at that[Pg i.185] time his mother and his wife. It is said that they were glad to see Jeanne. But they had no great faith in the issue of the war. The young Dame of Alençon said to her: "Jeannette, I am full of fear for my husband. He has just come out of prison, and we have had to give so much money for his ransom that gladly would I entreat him to stay at home." To which Jeanne replied: "Madame, have no fear. I will bring him back to you in safety, and either such as he is now or better."[714]

She called the Duke of Alençon her fair Duke,[715] and loved him for the sake of the Duke of Orléans, whose daughter he had married. She loved him also because he believed in her when all others doubted or denied, and because the English had done him wrong. She loved him too because she saw he had a good will to fight. It was told how when he was a captive in the hands of the English at Verneuil, and they proposed to give him back his liberty and his goods if he would join their party, he had rejected their offer.[716] He was young like her; she thought that he like her must be sincere and noble. And perhaps in those days he was, for doubtless he was not then seeking to discover powders with which to dry up the King.[717]

It was decided that Jeanne should be taken to Poitiers to be examined by the doctors there.[718] In this[Pg i.186] town the Parlement met. Here also were gathered together many famous clerks learned in theology, secular as well as regular,[719] and grave doctors and masters were summoned to join them. Jeanne set out under escort. At first she thought she was being taken to Orléans. Her faith was like that of the ignorant but believing folk, who, having taken the cross, went forth and thought every town they approached was Jerusalem. Half way she inquired of her guides where they were taking her. When she heard that it was to Poitiers: "In God's name!" she said, "much ado will be there, I know. But my Lord will help me. Now let us go on in God's strength!"[720]

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 7

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