Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France
VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 1

THE ROYAL ARMY FROM SOISSONS TO COMPIÈGNE—POEM AND PROPHECY

ON the 22nd of July, King Charles, marching with his army down the valley of the Aisne, in a place called Vailly, received the keys of the town of Soissons.[1]

This town constituted a part of the Duchy of Valois, held jointly by the Houses of Orléans and of Bar.[2] Of its dukes, one was a prisoner in the hands of the English; the other was connected with the French party through his brother-in-law, King Charles, and with the Burgundian party through his father-in-law, the Duke of Lorraine. No wonder the fealty of the townsfolk was somewhat vacillating; downtrodden by men-at-arms, forever taken and retaken, red caps and white caps alternately ran the danger of being cast into the river. The Burgundians set fire to the houses, pillaged the churches, chastised the most notable burgesses; then came the Armagnacs, who sacked everything, made great slaughter of men, women, and children,[Pg ii.2] ravished nuns, worthy wives, and honest maids. The Saracens could not have done worse.[3] City dames had been seen making sacks in which Burgundians were to be sewn up and thrown into the Aisne.[4]

King Charles made his entry into the city on Saturday the 23rd, in the morning.[5] The red caps went into hiding. The bells pealed, the folk cried "Noël," and the burgesses proffered the King two barbels, six sheep and six gallons of "bon suret,"[6] begging the King to forgive its being so little, but the war had ruined them.[7] They, like the people of Troyes, refused to open their gates to the men-at-arms, by virtue of their privileges, and because they had not food enough for their support. The army encamped in the plain of Amblény.[8]

It would seem that at that time the leaders of the royal army had the intention of marching on Compiègne. Indeed it was important to capture this town from Duke Philip, for it was the key to l'Île-de-France and ought to be taken before the Duke had time to bring up an army. But throughout this campaign the King of France was resolved to recapture[Pg ii.3] his towns rather by diplomacy and persuasion than by force. Between the 22nd and the 25th of July he three times summoned the inhabitants of Compiègne to surrender. Being desirous to gain time and to have the air of being constrained, they entered into negotiations.[9]

Having quitted Soissons, the royal army reached Château-Thierry on the 29th. All day it waited for the town to open its gates. In the evening the King entered.[10] Coulommiers, Crécy-en-Brie, and Provins submitted.[11]

On Monday, the 1st of August, the King crossed the Marne, over the Château-Thierry Bridge, and that same day took up his quarters at Montmirail. On the morrow he gained Provins and came within a short distance of the passage of the Seine and the high-roads of central France.[12] The army was sore anhungered, finding nought to eat in these ravaged fields and pillaged cities. Through lack of victuals preparations were being made for retreat into Poitou. But this design was thwarted by the English. While ungarrisoned towns were being reduced, the English Regent had been gathering an army. It was now advancing on Corbeil and Melun. On its approach the French gained La Motte-Nangis, some twelve miles from Provins, where they took up their position[Pg ii.4] on ground flat and level, such as was convenient for the fighting of a battle, as battles were fought in those days. For one whole day they remained in battle array. There was no sign of the English coming to attack them.[13]

Meanwhile the people of Reims received tidings that King Charles was leaving Château-Thierry and was about to cross the Seine. Believing that they had been abandoned, they were afraid lest the English and Burgundians should make them pay dearly for the coronation of the King of the Armagnacs; and in truth they stood in great danger. On the 3rd of August, they resolved to send a message to King Charles to entreat him not to forsake those cities which had submitted to him. The city's herald set out forthwith. On the morrow they sent word to their good friends of Châlons and of Laon, how they had heard that King Charles was wending towards Orléans and Bourges, and how they had sent him a message.[14]

On the 5th of August, while the King is still at Provins[15] or in the neighbourhood, Jeanne addresses to the townsfolk of Reims a letter dated from the camp, on the road to Paris. Herein she promises not to desert her friends faithful and beloved. She appears to have no suspicion of the projected retreat on the Loire. Wherefore it is clear that the magis[Pg ii.5]trates of Reims have not written to her and that she is not admitted to the royal counsels. She has been instructed, however, that the King has concluded a fifteen days' truce with the Duke of Burgundy, and thereof she informs the citizens of Reims. This truce is displeasing to her; and she doubts whether she will observe it. If she does observe it, it will be solely on account of the King's honour; and even then she must be persuaded that there is no trickery in it. She will therefore keep the royal army together and in readiness to march at the end of the fifteen days. She closes her letter with a recommendation to the townsfolk to keep good guard and to send her word if they have need of her.

Here is the letter:

"Good friends and beloved, ye good and loyal French of the city of Rains, Jehanne the Maid lets you wit of her tidings and prays and requires you not to doubt the good cause she maintains for the Blood Royal; and I promise and assure you that I will never forsake you as long as I shall live. It is true that the King has made truce with the Duke of Burgundy for the space of fifteen days, by which he is to surrender peaceably the city of Paris at the end of fifteen days. Notwithstanding, marvel ye not if I do not straightway enter into it, for truces thus made are not pleasing unto me, and I know not whether I shall keep them; but if I keep them it will be solely to maintain the King's honour; and further they shall not ensnare the Royal Blood, for I will keep and maintain together the King's army that it be ready at the end of fifteen days, if they make not peace. Wherefore my beloved and perfect friends, I pray ye to be in no disquietude as long as I shall live; but I require you to keep good watch and to defend well the good city of the King; and to make known unto me if there be any traitors who would do you hurt, and, as speedily as I may, I will take them out from among you;[Pg ii.6] and send me of your tidings. To God I commend you. May he have you in his keeping."

Written this Friday, 5th day of August, near Provins,[16] a camp in the country or on the Paris road. Addressed to: the loyal French of the town of Rains.[17]

It cannot be doubted that the monk who acted as scribe wrote down faithfully what was dictated to him, and reproduced the Maid's very words, even her Lorraine dialect. She had then attained to the very highest degree of heroic saintliness. Here, in this letter, she takes to herself a supernatural power, to which the King, his Councillors and his Captains must submit. She ascribes to herself alone the right of recognising or denouncing treaties; she disposes entirely of the army. And, because she commands in the name of the King of Heaven, her commands are absolute. There is happening to her what necessarily happens to all those who believe themselves entrusted with a divine mission; they constitute themselves a spiritual and temporal power superior to the established powers and inevitably hostile to them. A dangerous illusion and productive of shocks in which the illuminated are generally the worst sufferers! Every day of her life living and holding converse with saints and angels, moving in the splendour of the Church Triumphant, this young peasant girl came to believe that in her resided all strength, all prudence, all wisdom and all counsel. This does not mean that she was lacking in intelli[Pg ii.7]gence; on the contrary she rightly perceived that the Duke of Burgundy, with his embassies, was but playing with the King and that Charles was being tricked by a Prince, who knew how to disguise his craft in magnificence. Not that Duke Philip was an enemy of peace; on the contrary he desired it, but he was desirous not to come to an open quarrel with the English. Jeanne knew little of the affairs of Burgundy and of France, but her judgment was none the less sound. Concerning the relative positions of the Kings of France and England, between whom there could be no agreement, since the matter in dispute was the possession of the kingdom, her ideas were very simple but very correct. Equally accurate were her views of the position of the King of France with regard to his great vassal, the Duke of Burgundy, with whom an understanding was not only possible and desirable, but necessary. She pronounced thereupon in a perfectly straightforward fashion: On the one hand there is peace with the Burgundians and on the other peace with the English; concerning the peace with the Duke of Burgundy, by letters and by ambassadors have I required him to come to terms with the King; as for the English, the only way of making peace with them is for them to go back to their country, to England.[18]

This truce that so highly displeased her we know not when it was concluded, whether at Soissons or Château-Thierry, on the 30th or 31st of July, or at Provins between the 2nd and 5th of August.[19] It would appear that it was to last fifteen days, at the end of which time the Duke was to undertake to[Pg ii.8] surrender Paris to the King of France. The Maid had good reason for her mistrust.

When the Regent withdrew before him, King Charles eagerly returned to his plan of retreating into Poitou. From La Motte-Nangis he sent his quartermasters to Bray-sur-Seine, which had just submitted. Situated above Montereau and ten miles south of Provins, this town had a bridge over the river, across which the royal army was to pass on the 5th of August or in the morning of the 6th; but the English came by night, overcame the quartermasters and took possession of the bridge; with its retreat cut off, the royal army had to retrace its march.[20]

Within this army, which had not fought and which was being devoured by hunger, there existed a party of zealots, led by those whom Jeanne fondly called the Royal Blood.[21] They were the Duke of Alençon, the Duke of Bourbon, the Count of Vendôme, and likewise the Duke of Bar, who had just come from the War of the Apple Baskets.[22] Before he took to painting pictures and writing moralities in rhyme, this young son of the Lady Yolande had been a warrior. Duke of Bar and heir of Lorraine, he had been forced to join the English and Burgundians. Brother-in-law of King Charles, he must needs rejoice when the latter was victorious, because, but for that victory, he would never have been able to range himself on the side of the Queen, his sister, for which he would have been very sorry.[23][Pg ii.9] Jeanne knew him; not long before, she had asked the Duke of Lorraine to send him with her into France.[24] He was said to have been one of those who of their own free will followed her to Paris. Among the others were the two sons of the Lady of Laval, Gui, the eldest to whom she had offered wine at Selles-en-Berry, promising soon to give him to drink at Paris, and André, who afterwards became Marshal of Lohéac.[25] This was the army of the Maid: a band of youths, scarcely more than children, who ranged their banners side by side with the banner of a girl younger than they, but more innocent and better.

On learning that the retreat had been cut off, it is said that these youthful princes were well content and glad.[26] This was valour and zeal; but it was a curious position and a false when the knighthood wished for war while the royal council was desiring to treat, and when the knighthood actually rejoiced at the campaign being prolonged by the enemy and at the royal army being cornered by the Godons. Unhappily this war party could boast of no very able adherents; and the favourable opportunity had been lost, the Regent had been allowed time to collect his forces and to cope with the most pressing dangers.[27]

Its retreat cut off, the royal army fell back on Brie. On the morning of Sunday, the 7th, it was at Coulommiers; it recrossed the Marne at Château-[Pg ii.10]Thierry.[28] King Charles received a message from the inhabitants of Reims, entreating him to draw nearer to them.[29] He was at La Ferté on the 10th, on the 11th at Crépy in Valois.[30]

At one stage of the march on La Ferté and Crépy, the Maid was riding in company with the King, between the Archbishop of Reims and my Lord the Bastard. Beholding the people hastening to come before the King and crying "Noël!" she exclaimed: "Good people! Never have I seen folk so glad at the coming of the fair King...."[31]

These peasants of Valois and of l'Île de France, who cried "Noël!" on the coming of King Charles, in like manner hailed the Regent and the Duke of Burgundy when they passed. Doubtless they were not so glad as they seemed to Jeanne, and if the little Saint had listened at the doors of their poor homes, this is about what she would have heard: "What shall we do? Let us surrender our all to the devil. It matters not what shall become of us, for, through treason and bad government, we must needs forsake our wives and children and flee into the woods, like wild beasts. And it is not one year or two but fourteen or fifteen since we have been led this unhappy dance. And most of the great nobles of France have died by the sword, or unconfessed have fallen victims to poison or to treachery, or in short have perished by some manner of violent death. Better for us would it have been to serve Saracens than Christians. Whether one lives badly or well it[Pg ii.11] comes to the same thing. Let us do all the evil that lieth in our power. No worse can happen to us than to be slain or taken."[32]

It was only in the neighbourhood of towns or close to fortresses and castles, within sight of the watchman's eye as he looked from the top of tower or belfry, that land was cultivated. On the approach of men-at-arms, the watchman rang his bell or sounded his horn to warn the vine-dressers or the ploughmen to flee to a place of safety. In many districts the alarm bell was so frequent that oxen, sheep, and pigs, of their own accord went into hiding, as soon as they heard it.[33]

In the plains especially, which were easy of access, the Armagnacs and the English had destroyed everything. For some distance from Beauvais, from Senlis, from Soissons, from Laon, they had caused the fields to lie fallow, and here and there shrubs and underwood were springing up over land once cultivated.—"Noël! Noël!"

Throughout the duchy of Valois, the peasants were abandoning the open country and hiding in woods, rocks, and quarries.[34]

[Pg ii.12]

Many, in order to gain a livelihood, did like Jean de Bonval, the tailor of Noyant near Soissons, who, despite wife and children, joined a Burgundian band, which went up and down the country thieving, pillaging, and, when occasion offered, smoking out the folk who had taken refuge in churches. On one day Jean and his comrades took two hogsheads of corn, on another six or seven cows; on another a goat and a cow, on another a silver belt, a pair of gloves and a pair of shoes; on another a bale of eighteen ells of cloth to make cloaks withal. And Jean de Bonval said that within his knowledge many a man of worship did as much.[35]—"Noël! Noël!"

The Armagnacs and Burgundians had torn the coats off the peasants' backs and seized even their pots and pans. It was not far from Crépy to Meaux. Every one in that country had heard of the Tree of Vauru.

At one of the gates of the town of Meaux was a great elm, whereon the Bastard of Vauru, a Gascon noble of the Dauphin's party, used to hang the peasants he had taken, when they could not pay their ransom. When he had no executioner at hand he used to hang them himself. With him there lived a kinsman, my Lord Denis de Vauru, who was called his cousin, not that he was so in fact, but just to show that one was no better than the other.[36] In the month of March, in the year 1420, my Lord Denis, on one of his expeditions, came across a peasant tilling the ground. He took him prisoner, held him to ransom, and, tying him to his horse's tail, dragged him back[Pg ii.13] to Meaux, where, by threats and torture, he exacted from him a promise to pay three times as much as he possessed. Dragged half dead from his dungeon, the villein sent to the wife he had married that year to ask her to bring the sum demanded by the lord. She was with child, and near the time of her delivery; notwithstanding, she came because she loved her husband and hoped to soften the heart of the Lord of Vauru. She failed; and Messire Denis told her that if by a certain day he did not receive the ransom, he would hang the man from the elm-tree. The poor woman went away in tears, fondly commending her husband to God's keeping. And her husband wept for pity of her. By a great effort, she succeeded in obtaining the sum demanded, but not by the day appointed. When she returned, her husband had been hanged from the Vauru Tree without respite or mercy. With bitter sobs she asked for him, and then fell exhausted by the side of that road, which, on the point of her delivery, she had traversed on foot. Having regained consciousness, a second time she asked for her husband. She was told that she would not see him till the ransom had been paid.

While she was before the Gascon, there in sight of her were brought forth several craftsmen, held to ransom, who, unable to pay, were straightway despatched to be hanged or drowned. At this spectacle a great fear for her husband came over her; nevertheless, her love for him gave her heart of courage and she paid the ransom. As soon as the Duke's men had counted the coins, they dismissed her saying that her husband had died like the other villeins.

At those cruel words, wild with sorrow and despair, she broke forth into curses and railing. When she[Pg ii.14] refused to be silent, the Bastard of Vauru had her beaten and taken to the Elm-tree.

There she was stripped to the waist and tied to the Tree, whence hung forty to fifty men, some from the higher, some from the lower branches, so that, when the wind blew, their bodies touched her head. At nightfall she uttered shrieks so piercing that they were heard in the town. But whosoever had dared to go and unloose her would have been a dead man. Fright, fatigue, and exertion brought on her delivery. The wolves, attracted by her cries, came and consumed the fruit of her womb, and then devoured alive the body of the wretched creature.

In 1422, the town of Meaux was taken by the Burgundians. Then were the Bastard of Vauru and his cousin hanged from that Tree on which they had caused so many innocent folk to die so shameful a death.[37]

For the poor peasants of these unhappy lands, whether Armagnac or Burgundian, it was all of a piece; they had nothing to gain by changing masters. Nevertheless, it is possible that, on beholding the King, the descendant of Saint Louis and Charles the Wise, they may have taken heart of courage and of hope, so great was the fame for justice and for mercy of the illustrious house of France.

Thus, riding by the side of the Archbishop of Reims, the Maid looked with a friendly eye on the peasants crying "Noël!" After saying that she had nowhere seen folk so joyful at the coming of the fair King, she sighed: "Would to God I were so fortunate as, when I die, to find burial in this land."[38]

[Pg ii.15]

Peradventure the Lord Archbishop was curious to know whether from her Voices she had received any revelation concerning her approaching death. She often said that she would not last long. Doubtless he was acquainted with a prophecy widely known at that time, that the maid would die in the Holy Land, after having reconquered with King Charles the sepulchre of our Lord. There were those who attributed this prophecy to the Maid herself; for she had told her Confessor that she would die in battle with the Infidel, and that after her God would send a Maid of Rome who would take her place.[39] And it is obvious that Messire Regnault knew what store to set on such things. At any rate, for that reason or for another, he asked: "Jeanne, in what place look you for to die?"

To which she made answer: "Where it shall please God. For I am sure neither of the time nor of the place, and I know no more thereof than you."

No answer could have been more devout. My Lord the Bastard, who was present at this conversation, many years later thought he remembered that Jeanne had added: "But I would it were now God's pleasure for me to retire, leaving my arms, and to go and serve my father and mother, keeping sheep with my brethren and sister."[40]

If she really spoke thus, it was doubtless because[Pg ii.16] she was haunted by dark forebodings. For some time she had believed herself betrayed.[41] Possibly she suspected the Lord Archbishop of Reims of wishing her ill. But it is hard to believe that he can have thought of getting rid of her now when he had employed her with such signal success; rather his intention was to make further use of her. Nevertheless he did not like her, and she felt it. He never consulted her and never told her what had been decided in council. And she suffered cruelly from the small account made of the revelations she was always receiving so abundantly. May we not interpret as a subtle and delicate reproach the utterance in his presence of this wish, this complaint? Doubtless she longed for her absent mother. And yet she was mistaken when she thought that henceforth she could endure the tranquil life of a village maiden. In her childhood at Domremy she seldom went to tend the flocks in the field; she preferred to occupy herself in household affairs;[42] but if, after having waged war beside the King and the nobles, she had had to return to her country and keep sheep, she would not have stayed there six months. Henceforth it was impossible for her to live save with that knighthood, to whose company she believed God had called her. All her heart was there, and she had finished with the distaff.

During the march on La Ferté and Crépy, King Charles received a challenge from the Regent, then at Montereau with his baronage, calling upon him to fix a meeting at whatsoever place he should appoint.[43] "We, who with all our hearts," said the[Pg ii.17] Duke of Bedford, "desire the end of the war, summon and require you, if you have pity and compassion on the poor folk, who in your cause have so long time been cruelly treated, downtrodden, and oppressed, to appoint a place suitable either in this land of Brie, where we both are, or in l'Île-de-France. There will we meet. And if you have any proposal of peace to make unto us, we will listen to it and as beseemeth a good Catholic prince we will take counsel thereon."[44]

This arrogant and insulting letter had not been penned by the Regent in any desire or hope of peace, but rather, against all reason, to throw on King Charles's shoulders the responsibility for the miseries and suffering the war was causing the commonalty.

Writing to the King crowned in Reims Cathedral, from the beginning he addresses him in this disdainful manner: "You who were accustomed to call yourself Dauphin of Viennois and who now without reason take unto yourself the title of King." He declares that he wants peace and then adds forthwith: "Not a peace hollow, corrupt, feigned, violated, perjured, like that of Montereau, on which, by your fault and your consent, there followed that terrible and detestable murder, committed contrary to all law and honour of knighthood, on the person of our late dear and greatly loved Father, Jean, Duke of Burgundy."[45]

My Lord of Bedford had married one of the daughters of that Duke Jean, who had been treacherously murdered in revenge for the assassination of the Duke of Orléans. But indeed it was not wisely to prepare the way of peace to cast the crime of Montereau in[Pg ii.18] the face of Charles of Valois, who had been dragged there as a child and with whom there had remained ever after a physical trembling and a haunting fear of crossing bridges.[46]

For the moment the Duke of Bedford's most serious grievance against Charles was that he was accompanied by the Maid and Friar Richard. "You cause the ignorant folk to be seduced and deceived," he said, "for you are supported by superstitious and reprobate persons, such as this woman of ill fame and disorderly life, wearing man's attire and dissolute in manners, and likewise by that apostate and seditious mendicant friar, they both alike being, according to Holy Scripture, abominable in the sight of God."

To strike still greater shame into the heart of the enemy, the Duke of Bedford proceeds to a second attack on the maiden and the monk. And in the most eloquent passage of the letter, when he is citing Charles of Valois to appear before him, he says ironically that he expects to see him come led by this woman of ill fame and this apostate monk.[47]

Thus wrote the Regent of England; albeit he had a mind, subtle, moderate, and graceful, he was moreover a good Catholic and a believer in all manner of devilry and witchcraft.

His horror at the army of Charles of Valois being commanded by a witch and a heretic monk was certainly sincere, and he deemed it wise to publish the scandal. There were doubtless only too many, who, like him, were ready to believe that the Maid of the Armagnacs was a heretic, a worshipper of idols[Pg ii.19] and given to the practice of magic. In the opinion of many worthy and wise Burgundians a prince must forfeit his honour by keeping such company. And if Jeanne were in very deed a witch, what a disgrace! What an abomination! The Flowers de Luce reinstated by the devil! The Dauphin's whole camp was tainted by it. And yet when my Lord of Bedford spread abroad those ideas he was not so adroit as he thought.

Jeanne, as we know, was good-hearted and in energy untiring. By inspiring the men of her party with the idea that she brought them good luck, she gave them courage.[48] Nevertheless King Charles's counsellors knew what she could do for them and avoided consulting her. She herself felt that she would not last long.[49] Then who represented her as a great war leader? Who exalted her as a supernatural power? The enemy.

This letter shows how the English had transformed an innocent child into a being unnatural, terrible, redoubtable, into a spectre of hell causing the bravest to grow pale. In a voice of lamentation the Regent cries: The devil! the witch! And then he marvels that his fighting men tremble before the Maid, and desert rather than face her.[50]

From Montereau, the English army had fallen back on Paris. Now it once again came forth to meet the French. On Saturday, the 13th of August, King Charles held the country between Crépy and Paris. Now the Maid from the heights of Dammartin could[Pg ii.20] espy the summit of Montmartre with its windmills, and the light mists from the Seine veiling that great city of Paris, promised to her by those Voices which alas! she had heeded too well.[51] On the morrow, Sunday, the King and his army encamped in a village, by name Barron, on the River Nonnette on which, five miles lower down, stands Senlis.[52]

Senlis was subject to the English.[53] It was said that the Regent was approaching with a great company of men-at-arms, commanded by the Earl of Suffolk, the Lord Talbot and the Bastard Saint Pol. With him were the crusaders of the Cardinal of Winchester, the late King's uncle, between three thousand five hundred and four thousand men, paid with the Pope's money to go and fight against the Hussites in Bohemia. The Cardinal judged it well to use them against the King of France, a very Christian King forsooth, but one whose hosts were commanded by a witch and an apostate.[54] It was reported that, in the English camp, was a captain with fifteen hundred men-at-arms, clothed in white, bearing a white standard, on which was embroidered a distaff whence was suspended a spindle; and on the streamer of the[Pg ii.21] banner was worked in fine letters of gold: "Ores, vienne la Belle!"[55] By these words the men-at-arms wished to proclaim that if they were to meet the Maid of the Armagnacs she would find her work cut out.

Captain Jean de Saintrailles, the Brother of Poton, observed the English first when, marching towards Senlis, they were crossing La Nonnette by a ford so narrow that two horses could barely pass abreast. But King Charles's army, which was coming down the Nonnette valley, did not arrive in time to surprise them.[56] It passed the night opposite them, near Montepilloy.

On the morrow, Monday, the 15th of August, at daybreak, the men-at-arms heard mass in camp and, as far as might be, cleared their consciences; for great plunderers and whoremongers as they were, they had not given up hope of winning Paradise when this life should be over. That day was a solemn feast, when the Church, on the authority of St. Grégoire de Tours, commemorates the physical and spiritual exaltation to heaven of the Virgin Mary. Churchmen taught that it behoves men to keep the feasts of Our Lord and the Holy Virgin, and that to wage battle on days consecrated to them is to sin grievously against the glorious Mother of God. No one in King Charles's camp could maintain a contrary opinion, since all were Christians as they were in the camp of the Regent. And yet, immediately after the Deo[Pg ii.22] Gratias, every man took up his post ready for battle.[57]

According to the established rule, the army was in several divisions: the van-guard, the archers, the main body, the rear-guard and the three wings.[58] Further, and according to the same rule, there had been formed a skirmishing company, destined if need were to succour and reinforce the other divisions. It was commanded by Captain La Hire, my Lord the Bastard, and the Sire d'Albret, La Trémouille's half-brother. With this company was the Maid. At the Battle of Patay, despite her entreaties, she had been forced to keep with the rear-guard; now she rode with the bravest and ablest, with those skirmishers or scouts, whose duty it was, says Jean de Bueil,[59] to repulse the scouts of the opposite party and to observe the number and the ordering of the enemy.[60] At length justice was done her; at length she was assigned the place which her skill in horsemanship and her courage in battle merited; and yet she hesitated to follow her comrades. According to the report of a Burgundian knight chronicler, there she was, "swayed to and fro, at one moment wishing to fight, at another not."[61]

Her perplexity is easily comprehensible. The little Saint could not bring herself to decide whether to ride forth to battle on the day of our Lady's Feast or to fold her arms while fighting was going on around her. Her Voices intensified her indecision. They never instructed her what to do save when she knew herself. In the end she went with the men-at-arms,[Pg ii.23] not one of whom appears to have shared her scruples. The two armies were but the space of a culverin shot apart.[62] She, with certain of her company, went right up to the dykes and to the carts, behind which the English were entrenched. Sundry Godons and men of Picardy came forth from their camp and fought, some on foot, others on horseback against an equal number of French. On both sides there were wounded, and prisoners were taken. This hand to hand fighting continued the whole day; at sunset the most serious skirmish happened, and so much dust was raised that it was impossible to see anything.[63] On that day there befell what had happened on the 17th of June, between Beaugency and Meung. With the armaments and the customs of warfare of those days, it was very difficult to force an army to come out of its entrenched camp. Generally, if a battle was to be fought, it was necessary for the two sides to be in accord, and, after the pledge of battle had been sent and accepted, for each to level his own half of the field where the engagement was to take place.

At nightfall the skirmishing ceased, and the two armies slept at a crossbow-shot from each other. Then King Charles went off to Crépy, leaving the English free to go and relieve the town of Évreux, which had agreed to surrender on the 27th of August. With this town the Regent made sure of Normandy.[64]

[Pg ii.24]

Their loss of the opportunity of conquering Normandy was the price the French had to pay for the royal coronation procession, for that march to Reims, which was at once military, civil and religious. If, after the victory of Patay, they had hastened at once to Rouen, Normandy would have been reconquered and the English cast into the sea; if, from Patay they had pushed on to Paris they would have entered the city without resistance. Yet we must not too hastily condemn that ceremonious promenading of the Lilies through Champagne. By the march to Reims the French party, those Armagnacs reviled for their cruelty and felony, that little King of Bourges compromised in an infamous ambuscade, may have won advantages greater and more solid than the conquest of the county of Maine and the duchy of Normandy and than a victorious assault on the first city of the realm. By retaking his towns of Champagne and of France without bloodshed, King Charles appeared to advantage as a good and pacific lord, as a prince wise and debonair, as the friend of the townsfolk, as the true king of cities. In short, by concluding that campaign of honest and successful negotiations and by the august ceremonial of the coronation, he came forth at once as the lawful and very holy King of France.

An illustrious lady, a descendant of Bolognese nobles and the widow of a knight of Picardy, well versed in the liberal arts, was the author of a number of lays, virelays,[65] and ballads. Christine de Pisan,[Pg ii.25] noble and high-minded, wrote with distinction in prose and verse. Loyal to France and a champion of her sex, there was nothing she more fervently desired than to see the French prosperous and their ladies honoured. In her old age she was cloistered in the Abbey of Poissy, where her daughter was a nun. There, on the 31st of July, 1429, she completed a poem of sixty-one stanzas, each containing eight lines of eight syllables, in praise of the Maid. In halting measures and affected language, these verses expressed the thoughts of the finest, the most cultured and the most pious souls touching the angel of war sent of God to the Dauphin Charles.[66]

In this work she begins by saying that for eleven years she has spent her cloistered life in weeping. And in very truth, this noble-hearted woman wept over the misfortunes of the realm, into which she had been born, wherein she had grown up, where kings and princes had received her and learned poets had done her honour, and the language of which she spoke with the precision of a purist. After eleven years of mourning, the victories of the Dauphin were her first joy.

"At length," she says, "the sun begins to shine once more and the fine days to bloom again. That royal child so long despised and offended, behold him coming, wearing on his head a crown and accoutred with spurs of gold. Let us cry: 'Noël! Charles, the seventh of that great name, King of the French, thou hast recovered thy kingdom, with the help of a Maid.'"

Christine recalls a prophecy concerning a King,[Pg ii.26] Charles, son of Charles, surnamed The Flying Hart,[67] who was to be emperor. Of this prophecy we know nothing save that the escutcheon of King Charles VII was borne by two winged stags and that a letter to an Italian merchant, written in 1429, contains an obscure announcement of the coronation of the Dauphin at Rome.[68]

"I pray God," continued Christine, "that thou mayest be that one, that God will grant thee life to see thy children grow up, that through thee and through them, France may have joy, that serving God, thou wage not war to the utterance. My hope is that thou shalt be good, upright, a friend of justice, greater than any other, that pride sully not thy prowess, that thou be gentle, favourable to thy people and fearing God who hath chosen thee to serve him.

"And thou, Maid most happy, most honoured of God, thou hast loosened the cord with which France was bound. Canst thou be praised enough, thou who hast brought peace to this land laid low by war?

"Jeanne, born in a propitious hour, blessed be thy creator! Maid, sent of God, in whom the Holy Ghost shed abroad a ray of his grace, who hast from[Pg ii.27] him received and dost keep gifts in abundance; never did he refuse thy request. Who can ever be thankful enough unto thee?"

The Maid, saviour of the realm, Dame Christine compares to Moses who delivered Israel out of the Land of Egypt.

"That a Maid should proffer her breast, whence France may suck the sweet milk of peace, behold a matter which is above nature!

"Joshua was a mighty conqueror. What is there strange in that, since he was a strong man? But now behold, a woman, a shepherdess doth appear, of greater worship than any man. But with God all things are easy.

"By Esther, Judith and Deborah, women of high esteem, he delivered his oppressed people. And well I know there have been women of great worship. But Jeanne is above all. Through her God hath worked many miracles.

"By a miracle was she sent; the angel of the Lord led her to the King."

"Before she could be believed, to clerks and to scholars was she taken and thoroughly examined. She said she was come from God, and history proved her saying to be true, for Merlin, the Sibyl and Bede had seen her in the spirit. In their books they point to her as the saviour of France, and in their prophecies they let wit of her, saying: 'In the French wars she shall bear the banner.' And indeed they relate all the manner of her history."

We are not astonished that Dame Christine should have been acquainted with the Sibylline poems; for it is known that she was well versed in the writings of the ancients. But we perceive that the obviously mutilated prophecy of Merlin the Magician and the[Pg ii.28] apocryphal chronogram of the Venerable Bede had come under her notice. The predictions and verses of the Armagnac ecclesiastics were spread abroad everywhere with amazing rapidity.[69]

Dame Christine's views concerning the Maid accord with those of the doctors of the French party; and the poem she wrote in her convent in many passages bears resemblance to the treatise of the Archbishop of Embrun.

There it is said:

"The goodness of her life proves that Jeanne possesses the grace of God.

"It was made manifest, when at the siege of Orléans her might revealed itself. Never was miracle plainer. God did so succour his own people, that the strength of the enemy was but as that of a dead dog. They were taken or slain.

"Honour to the feminine sex, God loves it. A damsel of sixteen, who is not weighed down by armour and weapons, even though she be bred to endure hardness, is not that a matter beyond nature? The enemy flees before her. Many eyes behold it.

"She goeth forth capturing towns and castles. She is the first captain of our host. Such power had not Hector or Achilles. But God, who leads her, does all.

"And you, ye men-at-arms, who suffer durance vile and risk your lives for the right, be ye faithful: in heaven shall ye have reward and glory, for whosoever fighteth for the just cause, winneth Paradise.

"Know ye that by her the English shall be cast down, for it is the will of God, who inclineth his ear to the voice of the good folk, whom they desired to overthrow. The blood of the slain crieth against them."[Pg ii.29]

In the shadow of her convent Dame Christine shares the hope common to every noble soul; from the Maid she expects all the good things she longs for. She believes that Jeanne will restore concord to the Christian Church. The gentlest spirits of those days looked to fire and sword for the bringing in of unity and obedience; they never dreamed that Christian charity could mean charity towards the whole human race. Wherefore, on the strength of prophecy, the poetess expects the Maid to destroy the infidel and the heretic, or in other words the Turk and the Hussite.

"In her conquest of the Holy Land, she will tear up the Saracens like weeds. Thither will she lead King Charles, whom God defend! Before he dies he shall make that journey. He it is who shall conquer the land. There shall she end her life. There shall the thing come to pass."

The good Christine would appear to have brought her poem to this conclusion when she received tidings of the King's coronation. She then added thirteen stanzas to celebrate the mystery of Reims and to foretell the taking of Paris.[70]

Thus in the gloom and silence of one of those convents where even the hushed noises of the world penetrated but seldom, this virtuous lady collected and expressed in rhyme all those dreams of church and state which centred round a child.

In a fairly good ballad written at the time of the coronation, in love and honour "of the beautiful garden of the noble flowers de luce,"[71] and for the[Pg ii.30] elevation of the white cross, King Charles VII is described by that mysterious name "the noble stag," which we have first discovered in Christine's poem. The unknown author of the ballad says that the Sibyl, daughter of King Priam, prophesied the misfortunes of this royal stag; but such a prediction need not surprise us, when we remember that Charles of Valois was of Priam's royal line, wherefore Cassandra, when she revealed the destiny of the Flying Hart, did but prolong down the centuries the vicissitudes of her own family.[72]

Rhymers on the French side celebrated the unexpected victories of Charles and the Maid as best they knew how, in a commonplace fashion, by some stiff poem but scantily clothing a thin and meagre muse.

Nevertheless there is a ballad,[73] by a Dauphinois poet, beginning with this line; "Back, English coués, back!"[74] which is powerful through the genuine religious spirit which prevails throughout. The author, some poor ecclesiastic, points piously to the English banner cast down, "by the will of King Jesus and of Jeanne the sweet Maid."[75]

The Maid had derived her influence over the common folk from the prophecies of Merlin the Magician and the Venerable Bede.[76] As Jeanne's deeds became[Pg ii.31] known, predictions foretelling them came to be discovered. For example it was found that Engélide, daughter of an old King of Hungary,[77] had known long before of the coronation at Reims. Indeed to this royal virgin was attributed a prophecy recorded in Latin, of which the following is a literal translation:

"O Lily illustrious, watered by princes, by the sower planted in the open, in an orchard delectable, by flowers and sweet-smelling roses surrounded. But, alas! dismay of the Lily, terror of the orchard! Sundry beasts, some coming from without, others nourished within the orchard, hurtling horns against horns, have well nigh crushed the Lily, which fades for lack of water. Long do they trample upon it, destroying nearly all its roots and assaying to wither it with their poisoned breath.

"But the beasts shall be driven forth in shame from the orchard, by a virgin coming from the land whence flows the cruel venom. Behind her right ear the Virgin bears a little scarlet sign; she speaks softly, and her neck is short. To the Lily shall she give fountains of living water, and shall drive out the serpent, to all men revealing its venom. With a laurel wreath woven by no mortal hand shall she at Reims engarland happily the gardener of the Lily, named Charles, son of Charles. All around the[Pg ii.32] turbulent neighbours shall submit, the waters shall surge, the folk shall cry: 'Long live the Lily! Away with the beast! Let the orchard flower!' He shall approach the fields of the Island, adding fleet to fleet, and there a multitude of beasts shall perish in the rout. Peace for many shall be established. The keys of a great number shall recognise the hand that had forged them. The citizens of a noble city shall be punished for perjury by defeat, groaning with many groans, and at the entrance [of Charles?] high walls shall fall low. Then the orchard of the Lily shall be ... (?) and long shall it flower."[78]

This prophecy attributed to the unknown daughter of a distant king would seem to us to proceed from a French ecclesiastic and an Armagnac. French royalty is portrayed in the figure of the delectable orchard, around which contend beasts nourished in the orchard as well as foreign beasts, that is Burgundians and English. King Charles of Valois is mentioned by his own name and that of his father, and the name of the coronation town occurs in full.

The reduction of certain towns by their liege lord is stated most clearly. Doubtless the prediction was made at the very time of the coronation. It explicitly mentions deeds already accomplished and dimly hints at events looked for, fulfilment of which was delayed, or happened in a manner other than what was expected, or never happened at all, such as the taking of Paris after a terrible assault, the invasion of England by the French, the conclusion of peace.

It is highly probable that when announcing that the deliverer of the orchard might be recognised by her short neck, her sweet voice and a little scarlet mark, the pseudo Engélide was carefully depicting[Pg ii.33] characteristics noticeable in Jeanne herself. Moreover we know that Isabelle Romée's daughter had a sweet woman's voice.[79] That her neck was broad and firmly set on her shoulders accords with what is known concerning her robust appearance.[80] And doubtless the so-called daughter of the King of Hungary did not imagine the birth-mark behind her right ear.[81]

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 2

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