Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


AT Tours the Maid lodged in the house of a dame commonly called Lapau.[799] She was Eléonore de Paul, a woman of Anjou, who had been lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie of Anjou. Married to Jean du Puy, Lord of La Roche-Saint-Quentin, Councillor of the Queen of Sicily, she had remained in the service of the Queen of France.[800]

The town of Tours belonged to the Queen of Sicily, who grew richer and richer as her son-in-law grew poorer and poorer. She aided him with money and with lands. In 1424, the duchy of Touraine with all its dependencies, except the castellany of Chinon, had come into her possession.[801] The burgesses and commonalty of Tours earnestly desired peace. Meanwhile they made every effort to escape from pillage at the hands of men-at-arms. Neither King Charles nor Queen Yolande was able to defend them, so they must needs defend themselves.[802] When the town watchmen announced the approach of one of those marauding chiefs who were ravaging[Pg i.218] Touraine and Anjou, the citizens shut their gates and saw to it that the culverins were in their places. Then there was a parley: the captain from the brink of the moat maintained that he was in the King's service and on his way to fight the English; he asked for a night's rest in the town for himself and his men. From the heights of the ramparts he was politely requested to pass on; and, in case he should be tempted to force an entry, a sum of money was offered him.[803] Thus the citizens fleeced themselves for fear of being robbed. In like manner, only a few days before Jeanne's coming, they had given the Scot, Kennedy, who was ravaging the district, two hundred livres to go on. When they had got rid of their defenders, their next care was to fortify themselves against the English. On the 29th of February of this same year, 1429, these citizens lent one hundred crowns to Captain La Hire, who was then doing his best for Orléans. And even on the approach of the English they consented to receive forty archers belonging to the company of the Sire de Bueil, only on condition that Bueil should lodge in the castle with twenty men, and that the others should be quartered in the inns, where they were to have nothing without paying for it. Thus it was or was not; and the Sire de Bueil went off to defend Orléans.[804]

In Jean du Puy's house, Jeanne was visited by an Augustinian monk, one Jean Pasquerel. He was returning from the town of Puy-en-Velay where he had met Isabelle Romée and certain of those who had conducted Jeanne to the King.[805]

[Pg i.219]

In this town, in the sanctuary of Anis, was preserved an image of the Mother of God, brought from Egypt by Saint Louis. It was of great antiquity and highly venerated, for the prophet Jeremiah had with his own hands carved it out of sycamore wood in the semblance of the virgin yet to be born, whom he had seen in a vision.[806] In holy week, pilgrims flocked from all parts of France and of Europe,—nobles, clerks, men-at-arms, citizens and peasants; and many, for penance or through poverty, came on foot, staff in hand, begging their bread from door to door. Merchants of all kinds betook themselves thither; and it was at once the most popular of pilgrimages and one of the richest fairs in the world. All round the town the stream of travellers overflowed from the road on to vineyards, meadows, and gardens. On the day of the Festival, in the year 1407, two hundred persons perished, crushed to death in the throng.[807]

In certain years the feast of the conception of Our Lord fell on the same day as that of his death; and thus there coincided the promise and the fulfilment of the promise of the greatest of mysteries. Then Holy Friday became still holier. It was called Great Friday, and on that day such as entered the sanctuary of Anis received plenary indulgence. On that day the crowd of pilgrims was greater than usual. Now, in the year 1429, Good Friday fell on the 25th of March, the day of the Annunciation.[808]

[Pg i.220]

There is, therefore, nothing extraordinary in Brother Pasquerel's meeting Jeanne's relatives at Puy during Holy Week. That a peasant woman should travel two hundred and fifty miles on foot, through a country infested with soldiers and other robbers, in a season of snows and mist, to obtain an indulgence, was an every-day matter if we remember the surname which had for long been hers.[809] This was not La Romée's first pilgrimage. As we do not know which members of the Maid's escort the good Brother met, we are at liberty to conjecture that Bertrand de Poulengy was among them. We know little about him, but his speech would suggest that he was a devout person.[810]

Jeanne's comrades, having made friends with Pasquerel, said to him: "You must go with us to Jeanne. We will not leave you until you have taken us to her." They travelled together. Brother Pasquerel went with them to Chinon, which Jeanne had left; then he went on to Tours, where his convent was.

The Augustinians, who claimed to have received their rule from St. Francis himself, wore the grey habit of the Franciscans. It was from their order[Pg i.221] that in the previous year the King had chosen a chaplain for his young son, the Dauphin Louis. Brother Pasquerel held the office of reader (lector) in his monastery.[811] He was in priest's orders. Quite young doubtless and of a wandering disposition, like many mendicant monks of those days, he had a taste for the miraculous, and was excessively credulous.

Jeanne's comrades said to her: "Jeanne, we have brought you this good father. You will like him well when you know him."

She replied: "The good father pleases me. I have already heard tell of him, and even to-morrow will I confess to him." The next day the good father heard her in confession, and chanted mass before her. He became her chaplain, and never left her.[812]

In the fifteenth century Tours was one of the chief manufacturing towns of the kingdom. The inhabitants excelled in all kinds of trades. They wove tissues of silk, of gold, and of silver. They manufactured coats of mail; and, while not competing with the armourers of Milan, of Nuremberg, and of Augsburg, they were skilled in the forging and hammering of steel.[813] Here it was that, by the King's command, the master armourer made Jeanne a suit of mail.[814] The suit he furnished was of wrought iron; and, according to the custom of that time, consisted of a helmet, a cuirass in four parts, with epaulets, armlets, elbow-pieces, fore-armlets, gaunt[Pg i.222]lets, cuisses, knee-pieces, greaves and shoes.[815] The maker had doubtless no thought of accentuating the feminine figure. But the armour of that period, full in the bust, slight in the waist, with broad skirts beneath the corselet, in its slender grace and curious slimness, always has the air of a woman's armour, and seems made for Queen Penthesilea or for the Roman Camilla. The Maid's armour was white and unadorned, if one may judge from its modest price of one hundred livres tournois. The two suits of mail, made at the same time by the same armourer for Jean de Metz and his comrade, were together worth one hundred and twenty-five livres tournois.[816] Possibly one of the skilful and renowned drapers of Tours took the Maid's measure for a houppelande or loose coat in silk or cloth of gold or silver, such as captains wore over the cuirass. To look well, the coat, which was open in front, must be cut in scallops that would float round the horseman as he rode. Jeanne loved fine clothes but still more fine horses.[817]

The King invited her to choose a horse from his stables. If we may believe a certain Latin poet, she[Pg i.223] selected an animal of illustrious origin, but very old. It was a war horse, which Pierre de Beauvau, Governor of Maine and Anjou, had given to one of the King's two brothers; who had both been dead, the one thirteen years, the other twelve.[818] This steed, or another, was brought to Lapau's house and the Duke of Alençon went to see it. The horse must likewise be accoutred, it must be furnished with a chanfrin to protect its head and one of those wooden saddles with broad pommels which seemed to encase the rider.[819] A shield was out of the question. Since chain-armour, which was not proof against blows, had been succeeded by that plate-armour, on which nothing could make an impression, they had ceased to be used save in pageants. As for the sword,—the noblest part of her accoutrement and the bright symbol of strength joined to loyalty,—Jeanne refused to take that from the royal armourer; she was resolved to receive it from the hand of Saint Catherine herself.

We know that on her coming into France she had stopped at Fierbois and heard three masses in Saint Catherine's chapel.[820] Therein the Virgin of Alexandria had many swords, without counting the one Charles Martel was said to have given her, and which it would not have been easy to find again. A good Touranian in Touraine, Saint Catherine was an Armagnac ever on the side of those who fought for the Dauphin Charles. When captains and soldiers of fortune stood in danger of death, or were prisoners in the hands of their enemies, she was the saint they most willingly invoked; for they knew she[Pg i.224] wished them well. She did not save them all, but she aided many. They came to render her thanks; and as a sign of gratitude they offered her their armour, so that her chapel looked like an armoury.[821] The walls bristled with swords; and, as gifts had been flowing in for half a century, ever since the days of King Charles V, the sacristans were probably in the habit of taking down the old weapons to make room for the new, hoarding the old steel in some store-house until an opportunity arrived for selling it.[822] Saint Catherine could not refuse a sword to the damsel, whom she loved so dearly that every day and every hour she came down from Paradise to see and talk with her on earth,—a maiden who in return had shown her devotion by travelling to Fierbois to do the Saint reverence. For we must not omit to state that Saint Catherine in company with Saint Margaret had never ceased to appear to Jeanne both at Chinon and at Tours. She was present at all those secret assemblies, which the Maid called sometimes her Council but oftener her Voices, doubtless because they appealed more to her ears and her mind than to her eyes, despite the burst of light which sometimes dazzled her, and notwithstanding the crowns she was able to discern on the heads of the saints. The Voices indicated one sword among the multitude of those in the Chapel at Fierbois. Messire Richard Kyrthrizian and Brother Gille Lecourt, both of them priests, were then custodians of the chapel. Such is the title they assumed when they signed the accounts of miracles worked by their saint. Jeanne[Pg i.225] in a letter caused them to be asked for the sword, which had been revealed to her. In the letter she said that it would be found underground, not very deep down, and behind the altar. At least these were all the directions she was able to give afterwards, and then she could not quite remember whether it was behind the altar or in front. Was she able to give the custodians of the chapel any signs by which to recognise the sword? She never explained this point, and her letter is lost.[823]

It is certain, however, that she believed the sword had been shown to her in a vision and in no other manner. An armourer of Touraine, whom she did not know (afterwards she maintained that she had never seen him), was appointed to carry the letter to Fierbois. The custodians of the chapel gave him a sword marked with five crosses, or with five little swords on the blade, not far from the hilt. In what part of the chapel had they found it? No one knows. A contemporary says it was in a coffer with some old iron. If it had been buried and hidden it was not very long before, because the rust could easily be removed by rubbing. The priests were careful to offer it to the Maid with great ceremony[824] before giving it to the armourer who had come for it. They enclosed it in a sheath of red velvet, embroidered with the royal flowers de luce. When Jeanne received it[Pg i.226] she recognised it to be the one revealed to her in a celestial vision and promised her by her Voices, and she failed not to let the little company of monks and soldiers who surrounded her know that it was so. This they took to be a good omen and a sign of victory.[825] To protect Saint Catherine's sword the priests of the town gave her a second sheath; this one was of black cloth. Jeanne had a third made of very tough leather.[826]

The story of the sword spread far and wide and was elaborated by many a curious fable. It was said to be the sword of the great Charles Martel, long buried and forgotten. Many believed it had belonged to Alexander and the knights of those ancient days. Every one thought well of it and esteemed it likely to bring good fortune. When the English and the Burgundians heard tell of the matter, there soon occurred to them the idea that the Maid had discovered what was hidden beneath the earth by taking counsel of demons; or they suspected her of having herself craftily hidden the sword in the place she had indicated in order to deceive princes, clergy, and people. They wondered anxiously whether those five crosses were not signs of the devil.[827] Thus there began to arise conflicting illusions, according to which Jeanne appeared either saint or sorceress.[828]

The King had given her no command. Acting according to the counsel of the doctors, he did not hinder her from going to Orléans with men-at-arms.[Pg i.227] He even had her taken there in state in order that she might give the promised sign. He granted her men to conduct her, not for her to conduct. How could she have conducted them since she did not know the way? Meanwhile she had a standard made according to the command of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, who had said: "Take the standard in the name of the King of Heaven!" It was of a coarse white cloth, or buckram, edged with silk fringe. At the bidding of her Voices, Jeanne caused a painter of the town to represent on it what she called "the World,"[829] that is, Our Lord seated upon his throne, blessing with his right hand, and in his left holding the globe of the world. On his right and on his left were angels, both painted as they were in churches, and presenting Our Lord with flowers de luce. Above or on one side were the names Jhesus—Maria, and the background was strewn with the royal lilies in gold.[830] She also had a coat-of-arms painted: on an azure shield a silver dove, holding in its beak a scroll on which was written: "De par le Roi du Ciel."[831] This coat-of-arms she had painted on the reverse of the standard bearing on the front the picture of Our Lord. A servant of the Duke of Alençon, Perceval de Cagny, says that she ordered to be made another and a smaller standard, a banner, on which was the picture of Our Lady receiving the angel's salutation. The Tours painter Jeanne employed came from Scotland and was called Hamish Power. He provided the material and executed the[Pg i.228] paintings of the two escutcheons, of the small one as well as of the large. For this he received from the keeper of the war treasury twenty-five livres tournois.[832] Hamish Power had a daughter, Héliote by name, who was about to be married and to whom Jeanne afterwards showed kindness.[833]

The standard was the signal for rallying. For long only kings, emperors, and leaders in war had had the right of raising it. The feudal suzerain had it carried before him; vassals ranged themselves beneath their lord's banners. But in 1429 banners had ceased to be used save in corporations, guilds, and parishes, borne only before the armies of peace. In war they were no longer needed. The meanest captain, the poorest knight had his own standard. When fifty French men-at-arms went forth from Orléans against a handful of English marauders, a crowd of banners like a swarm of butterflies waved over the fields. "To raise one's standard" came to be a figure of speech for "to be puffed up."[834] So indeed it was permissible for a freebooter to raise his standard when he commanded scarce a score of men-at-arms and half-naked bowmen. Even if Jeanne, as she may have done, held her standard to be a sign of sov[Pg i.229]ereign command, and if, having received it from the King of Heaven, she thought to raise it above all others, was there a soul in the realm to say her nay? What had become of all those feudal banners which for eighty years had been in the vanguard of defeat; sown over the fields of Crécy; collected beneath bushes and hedges by Welsh and Cornish swordsmen; lost in the vineyards of Maupertuis, trampled underfoot by English archers on the soft earth into which sank the corpses of Azincourt; gathered in handfuls under the walls of Verneuil by Bedford's marauders? It was because all these banners had miserably fallen, it was because at Rouvray a prince of the blood royal had shamefully trailed his nobles' banners in flight, that the peasant now raised her banner.


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