Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


AFTER the English army had departed for Normandy, King Charles sent from Crépy to Senlis the Count of Vendôme, the Maréchal de Rais and the Maréchal de Boussac with their men-at-arms. The inhabitants gave them to wit that they inclined to favour the Flowers de Luce.[82] Henceforth the submission of Compiègne was sure. The King summoned the citizens to receive him; on Wednesday the 18th, the keys of the town were brought to him; on the next day he entered.[83] The Attorneys[84] (for by that name the aldermen of the town were called) presented to him Messire Guillaume de Flavy, whom they had elected governor of[Pg ii.35] their town, as being their most experienced and most faithful citizen. On his being presented they asked the King, according to their privilege, to confirm and ratify his appointment. But the sire de la Trémouille took for himself the governorship of Compiègne and appointed as his lieutenant Messire Guillaume de Flavy, whom, notwithstanding, the inhabitants regarded as their captain.[85]

One by one, the King was recovering his good towns. He charged the folk of Beauvais to acknowledge him as their lord. When they saw the flowers-de-luce borne by the heralds, the citizens cried: "Long live Charles of France!" The clergy chanted a Te Deum and there was great rejoicing. Those who refused fealty to King Charles were put out of the town with permission to take away their possessions.[86] The Bishop and Vidame of Beauvais, Messire Pierre Cauchon, who was Grand Almoner of France to King Henry, and a negotiator of important ecclesiastical business, grieved to see his city returning to the French;[87] it was to the city's hurt, but he could not help it. He failed not to realise that part of this disgrace he owed to the Maid of the Armagnacs, who was influential with her party and had the reputation[Pg ii.36] of being all powerful. As he was a good theologian he must have suspected that the devil was leading her and he wished her all possible harm.

At this time Artois, Picardy, all the Burgundian territory in the north, was slipping away from Burgundy. Had King Charles gone there the majority of the dwellers in the strong towers and castles of Picardy would have received him as their sovereign.[88] But meanwhile his enemies would have recaptured what he had just won in Valois and the Île de France.

Having entered Compiègne with the King, Jeanne lodged at the Hôtel du Bœuf, the house of the King's proctor. She slept with the proctor's wife, Marie Le Boucher, who was a kinswoman of Jacques Boucher, Treasurer of Orléans.[89]

She longed to march on Paris, which she was sure of taking since her Voices had promised it to her. It is related that at the end of two or three days she grew impatient, and, calling the Duke of Alençon, said to him: "My fair Duke, command your men and likewise those of the other captains to equip themselves," then she is said to have cried: "By my staff! I must to Paris."[90] But this could not have happened: the Maid never gave orders to the men-at-arms. The truth of the matter is that the Duke of Alençon, with a goodly company of fighting men, took his leave of the King and that Jeanne was to accompany him. She was ready to mount her horse when on Monday the 22nd of August, a messenger from the Count of Armagnac brought her a letter which she[Pg ii.37] caused to be read to her.[91] The following are the contents of the missive:

"My very dear Lady, I commend myself humbly to you, and I entreat you, for God's sake, that seeing the divisions which are at present in the holy Church Universal, concerning the question of the popes (for there are three contending for the papacy: one dwells at Rome and calls himself Martin V, whom all Christian kings obey: the other dwells at Peñiscola, in the kingdom of Valentia, and calls himself Clement VIII; the third dwells no man knows where, unless it be the Cardinal de Saint-Estienne and a few folk with him, and calls himself Pope Benedict XIV; the first, who is called Pope Martin, was elected at Constance by consent of all Christian nations; he who is called Clement was elected at Peñiscola, after the death of Pope Benedict XIII, by three of his cardinals; the third who is called Pope Benedict XIV was elected secretly at Peñiscola, by that same Cardinal Saint-Estienne himself): I pray you beseech Our Lord Jesus Christ that in his infinite mercy, he declare unto us through you, which of the three aforesaid is the true pope and whom it shall be his pleasure that henceforth we obey, him who is called Martin, or him who is called Clement or him who is called Benedict; and in whom we should believe, either in secret or under reservation or by public pronouncement: for we shall all be ready to work the will and the pleasure of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours in all things,

Count d'Armagnac."[92]

He who wrote thus, calling Jeanne his very dear lady, recommending himself humbly to her, not in self-abasement, but merely, as we should say to-day, out of courtesy, was one of the greater vassals of the crown.[Pg ii.38]

She had never seen this baron, and doubtless she had never heard of him. Jean IV, son of that Constable of France who had been killed in 1418, was the cruellest man in the kingdom. At that time he was between thirty-three and thirty-four years of age. He held both Armagnacs, the Black and the White, the country of the Four Valleys, the counties of Pardiac, of Fesenzac, Astarac, La Lomagne, and l'Île-Jourdain. After the Count of Foix he was the most powerful noble of Gascony.[93]

While his name was among those of the adherents of the King and while it was used to designate those who were hostile to the English and Burgundians, Jean IV himself was neither French nor English, but simply Gascon. He called himself count by the grace of God, but he was ever ready to acknowledge himself the King's vassal when it was a question of receiving gifts from that suzerain, who might not always be able to afford himself new gaiters, but who must perforce spend large sums on his great vassals. Meanwhile Jean IV showed consideration to the English, protected an adventurer in the Regent's pay, and gave appointments in his household to men wearing the red cross. He was as violent and treacherous as any of his retainers. Having unlawfully seized the Marshal de Séverac, he exacted from him the cession of all his goods and then had him strangled.[94]

[Pg ii.39]

This murder was quite recent. And now we have the docile son of Holy Church appearing eager to discover who is his true spiritual father. It would seem, however, that his mind was already made up on the subject and that he already knew the answer to his question. In verity the long schism, which had rent Christendom asunder, had terminated twelve years earlier. It had ended when the Conclave, which had assembled at Constance in the House of the Merchants on the 8th of November, 1417, on the 11th of that month, Saint Martin's Day, proclaimed Pope, the Cardinal Deacon Otto Colonna, who assumed the title of Martin V. In the Eternal City Martin V wore that tiara which Lorenzo Ghiberti had adorned with eight figures in gold;[95] and the wily Roman had contrived to obtain his recognition by England and even by France, who thenceforward renounced all hope of a French pontiff. While Charles VII's advisers may not have agreed with Martin V on the question of a General Council, all the rights of the Pope of Rome in the Kingdom of France had been restored to him by an edict, in 1425. Martin V was the one and only pope. Nevertheless, Alphonso of Aragon, highly incensed because Martin V supported against him the rights of Louis d'Anjou to the Kingdom of Naples, determined to oppose to the Pope of Rome a pontiff of his own making. And just ready to hand he had a canon who called himself[Pg ii.40] pope, and on the following grounds: the Anti-pope, Benedict XIII, having fled to Peñiscola, had on his death-bed nominated four cardinals, three of whom appointed to succeed him a canon of Barcelona, one Gil Muñoz, who assumed the title of Clement VIII. Imprisoned in the château of Peñiscola on a barren neck of land on three sides washed by the sea, this was the Clement whom the King of Aragon had chosen to be the rival of Martin V.[96]

The Pope excommunicated the King of Aragon and then opened negotiations with him. The Count of Armagnac joined the King's party. For the baptism of his children the Count had holy water blessed by Benedict XIII brought from Peñiscola. He likewise was excommunicated. The blow had fallen upon him in this very year, 1429. Thus for some months he had been deprived of the sacraments and excluded from public worship. Hence arose all manner of secular difficulties, in addition to which he was probably afraid of the devil.

Moreover his position was becoming impossible. His powerful ally, King Alfonso, gave in, and himself called upon Clement VIII to resign. When he addressed his inquiry to the Maid of France, the Armagnac was evidently meditating the withdrawal of his allegiance from an unfortunate anti-pope, who was himself renouncing or about to renounce the tiara; for Clement VIII abdicated at Peñiscola on the 26th of July. The dictation of the Count's letter cannot have occurred long before that date and may have been after. At any rate whenever he dictated it he must have been aware of the position of the Sovereign Pontiff Clement VIII.[Pg ii.41]

As for the third Pope mentioned in his missive, Benedict XIV, he had no tidings of him, and indeed he was keeping very quiet. His election to the Holy See had been singular in that it had been made by one cardinal alone. Benedict XIV's right to the papacy had been communicated to him by a cardinal created by the Anti-pope, Benedict XIII, at the time of his promotion in 1409. That Cardinal was Jean Barrère, a Frenchman, Bachelor of laws, priest and Cardinal of Saint-Étienne in Cœlio monte. It was not to Benedict XIV that the Armagnac was thinking of giving his allegiance; obviously he was eager to submit to Martin V.

It is not easy therefore to discover why he should have asked Jeanne to indicate the true pope. Doubtless it was customary in those days to consult on all manner of questions those holy maids to whom God vouchsafed illumination. Such an one the Maid appeared, and her fame as a prophetess had been spread abroad in a very short time. She revealed hidden things, she drew the curtain from the future. We are reminded of that capitoul[97] of Toulouse, who about three weeks after the deliverance of Orléans, advised her being consulted as to a remedy for the corruption of the coinage. Bona of Milan, married to a poor gentleman in the train of her cousin, Queen Ysabeau, besought the Maid's help in her endeavour to regain the duchy which she claimed through her descent from the Visconti.[98] It was just as appropriate[Pg ii.42] to question the Maid concerning the Pope and the Anti-pope. But the most difficult point in this question is to discover what were the Count of Armagnac's reasons for consulting the Holy Maid on a matter concerning which he appears to have been sufficiently informed. The following seems the most probable.

Jean IV was prepared to recognise Martin V as Pope; but he desired his submission to appear honourable and reasonable. Wherefore he conceived the idea of ascribing his conduct to the command of Jesus Christ, speaking through the Holy Maid. But it was necessary for the command to be in accordance with his wishes. The letter provides for that. He is careful to indicate to Jeanne, and consequently to God, what reply would be suitable. He lays stress on the fact that Martin V, who had recently excommunicated him, was elected at Constance by the consent of all Christian nations, that he dwells at Rome and that he is obeyed by all Christian kings. He points out on the other hand the circumstances which invalidate the election of Clement VIII by only three cardinals, and the still more ridiculous election of that Benedict, who was chosen by a conclave consisting of only one cardinal.[99]

After such a setting forth could there possibly remain a single doubt as to whether Pope Martin was the true pope? But such guile was lost on Jeanne; it escaped her entirely. The Count of Armagnac's letter, which she had read to her as she was mounting her horse, must have struck her as very obscure.[100] The names of Benedict, of Clement and of Martin she had never heard. The Saints, Catherine and[Pg ii.43] Margaret, with whom she was constantly holding converse, revealed to her nothing concerning the Pope. They spoke to her of nought save of the realm of France; and Jeanne's prudence generally led her to confine her prophecies to the subject of the war. This circumstance was pointed out by a German clerk as a matter extraordinary and worthy of note.[101] But for this once she consented to reply to Jean IV, in order to maintain her reputation as a prophet and because the title of Armagnac strongly appealed to her. She told him that at that moment she was unable to instruct him concerning the true pope, but that later she would inform him in which of the three he must believe, according as God should reveal it unto her. In short, she in a measure followed the example of such soothsayers as postpone the announcement of the oracle to a future day.

Jhesus † Maria

Count of Armagnac, my good friend and beloved, Jehanne the Maid lets you to wit that your message hath come before me, the which hath told me that you have sent from where you are to know from me in which of the three popes, whom you mention in your memorial, you ought to believe. This thing in sooth I cannot tell you truly for the present, until I be in Paris or at rest elsewhere, because for the present I am too much hindered by affairs of war; but when you hear that I am in Paris send a message to me, and I will give you to understand what you shall rightfully believe, and what I shall know by the counsel of my Righteous and Sovereign Lord, the King of all the world, and what you should do, as far as I may. To God I commend you; God keep you. Written at Compiengne, the 22nd day of August.[102]

[Pg ii.44]

Jeanne before she made this reply can have consulted neither the good Brother Pasquerel nor the good Friar Richard nor indeed any of the churchmen of her company. They would have told her that the true pope was the Pope of Rome, Martin V. They might also have represented to her that she was belittling the authority of the Church by appealing to a revelation from God concerning popes and anti-popes. Sometimes, they would have told her, God confides the secrets of his Church to holy persons. But it would be rash to count upon so rare a privilege.

Jeanne exchanged a few words with the messenger who had brought her the missive; but the interview was brief. The messenger was not safe in the town, not that the soldiers would have made him pay for his master's crimes and treasons; but the Sire de la Trémouille was at Compiègne; and he knew that Count Jean, who for the nonce was in alliance with the Constable De Richemont, was meditating something against him. La Trémouille was not so malevolent as the Count of Armagnac: and yet the poor messenger only narrowly escaped being thrown into the Oise.[103]

On the morrow, Tuesday the 23rd of August, the Maid and the Duke of Alençon took leave of the King and set out from Compiègne with a goodly company of fighting men. Before marching on Saint-Denys in France, they went to Senlis to collect a company of men-at-arms whom the King had sent there.[104] As was her custom, the Maid rode surrounded by monks. Friar Richard, who predicted[Pg ii.45] the approaching end of the world, had joined the procession. It would seem that he had superseded the others, even Brother Pasquerel, the chaplain. It was to him that the Maid confessed beneath the walls of Senlis. In that same spot, with the Dukes of Clermont and Alençon,[105] she took the communion on two consecutive days. She must have been in the hands of monks who were in the habit of making a very frequent use of the Eucharist.

The Lord Bishop of Senlis was Jean Fouquerel. Hitherto, he had been on the side of the English and entirely devoted to the Lord Bishop of Beauvais. On the approach of the royal army, Jean Fouquerel, who was a cautious person, had gone off to Paris to hide a large sum of money. He was careful of his possessions. Some one in the army took his nag and gave it to the Maid. By means of a draft on the receiver of taxes and the gabelle officer of the town, two hundred golden saluts[106] were paid for it. The Lord Bishop did not approve of this transaction and demanded his hackney. Hearing of his displeasure, the Maid caused a letter to be written to him, saying that he might have back his nag if he liked; she did not want it for she found it not sufficiently hardy for men-at-arms. The horse was sent to the Sire de La Trémouille with a request that he would deliver it to the Lord Bishop, who never received it.[107]

As for the bill on the tax receiver and gabelle[Pg ii.46] officer, it may have been worthless; and probably the Reverend Father in God, Jean Fouquerel, never had either horse or money. Jeanne was not at fault, and yet the Lord Bishop of Beauvais and the clerks of the university were shortly to bring home to her the gravity of the sacrilege of laying hands on an ecclesiastical hackney.[108]

To the north of Paris, about five miles distant from the great city, there rose the towers of Saint-Denys. On the 26th of August, the army of the Duke of Alençon arrived there, and entered without resistance, albeit the town was strongly fortified.[109] The place was famous for its illustrious abbey very rich and very ancient. The following is the story of its foundation.

Dagobert, King of the French, had from childhood been a devout worshipper of Saint Denys. And whenever he trembled before the ire of King Clotaire his father, he would take refuge in the church of the holy martyr. When he died, a pious man dreamed that he saw Dagobert summoned before the tribunal of God; a great number of saints accused him of having despoiled their churches; and the demons were about to drag him into hell when Saint Denys appeared; and by his intercession, the soul of the King was delivered and escaped punishment. The story was held to be true, and it was thought that the King's soul returned to animate his body and that he did penance.[110]

[Pg ii.47]

When the Maid with the army occupied Saint-Denys, the three porches, the embattled parapets, the tower of the Abbey Church, erected by the Abbot Suger, were already three centuries old. There were buried the kings of France; and thither they came to take the oriflamme. Fourteen years earlier the late King Charles had fetched it forth, but since then none had borne it.[111]

Many were the wonders told touching this royal standard. And with some of those marvels the Maid must needs have been acquainted, since on her coming into France, she was said to have given the Dauphin Charles the surname of oriflamme,[112] as a pledge and promise of victory.[113] At Saint-Denys was preserved the heart of the Constable Du Guesclin.[114] Jeanne had heard of his high renown; she had proffered wine to Madame de Laval's eldest son; and to his grandmother, who had been Sire Bertrand's second wife, she had sent a little ring of gold, out of respect for the widow of so valiant a man,[115] asking her to forgive the poverty of the gift.

[Pg ii.48]

The monks of Saint-Denys preserved precious relics, notably a piece of the wood of the true cross, the linen in which the Child Jesus had been wrapped, a fragment of the pitcher wherein the water had been changed to wine at the Cana marriage feast, a bar of Saint Lawrence's gridiron, the chin of Saint Mary Magdalen, a cup of tamarisk wood used by Saint Louis as a charm against the spleen. There likewise was to be seen the head of Saint Denys. True, at the same time one was being shown in the Cathedral church of Paris. The Chancellor, Jean Gerson, treating of Jeanne the Maid, a few days before his death, wrote that of her it might be said as of the head of Saint Denys, that belief in her was a matter of edification and not of faith, albeit in both places alike the head ought to be worshipped in order that edification should not be turned into scandal.[116]

In this abbey everything proclaimed the dignity, the prerogatives and the high worship of the house of France. Jeanne must joyously have wondered at the insignia, the symbols and signs of the royalty of the Lilies gathered together in this spot,[117] if indeed those eyes, occupied with celestial visions, had leisure to perceive the things of earth, and if her Voices, endlessly whispering in her ear, left her one moment's respite.

Saint Denys was a great saint, since there was no doubt of his being in very deed the Areopagite himself.[118] But since he had permitted his abbey to be[Pg ii.49] taken he was no longer invoked as the patron saint of the Kings of France. The Dauphin's followers had replaced him by the Blessed Archangel Michael, whose abbey, near the city of Avranches, had victoriously held out against the English. It was Saint Michael not Saint Denys who had appeared to Jeanne in the garden at Domremy; but she knew that Saint Denys was the war cry of France.[119]

The monks of that rich abbey wasted by war lived there in poverty and in disorder.[120] Armagnacs and Burgundians in turn descended upon the neighbouring fields and villages, plundering and ravaging, leaving nought that it was possible to carry off. At Saint-Denys was held the Fair of Le Lendit, one of the greatest in Christendom. But now Merchants had ceased to attend it. At the Lendit of 1418, there were but three booths, and those for the selling of shoes from Brabant, in the high street of Saint-Denys, near the Convent of Les Filles-Dieu. Since 1426, there had been no fair at all.[121]

At the tidings that the Armagnacs were approaching Troyes, the peasants had cut their corn before it was ripe and brought it into Paris. On entering Saint-Denys, the Duke of Alençon's men-at-arms found the town deserted. The chief burgesses had taken refuge in Paris.[122] Only a few of the poorer[Pg ii.50] families were left. The Maid held two newly born infants over the baptismal font.[123]

Hearing of these Saint-Denys baptisms, her enemies accused her of having lit candles and held them inclined over the infant's heads, in order that she might read their destinies in the melted wax. It was not the first time, it appeared, that she indulged in such practices. When she entered a town, little children were said to offer her candles kneeling, and she received them as an agreeable sacrifice. Then upon the heads of these innocents she would let fall three drops of burning wax, proclaiming that by virtue of this ceremony they could not fail to be good. In such acts Burgundian ecclesiastics discerned idolatry and witchcraft, in which was likewise involved heresy.[124]

Here again, at Saint-Denys, she distributed banners to the men-at-arms. Churchmen on the English side strongly suspected her of charming those banners. And as everyone in those days believed in magic, such a suspicion was not without its danger.[125]

The Maid and the Duke of Alençon lost no time. Immediately after their arrival at Saint-Denys they went forth to skirmish before the gates of Paris. Two or three times a day they engaged in this desultory warfare, notably by the wind-mill at the Saint-Denys Gate and in the village of La Chapelle. "Every day there was booty taken," says Messire Jean de Bueil.[126] It seems hardly credible that in a country which had been plundered and ravaged over and over again,[Pg ii.51] there should have been anything left to be taken; and yet the statement is made and attested by one of the nobles in the army.

Out of respect for the seventh commandment, the Maid forbade the men of her company to commit any theft whatsoever. And she always refused victuals offered her when she knew they had been stolen. In reality she, like the others, lived on pillage, but she did not know it. One day when a Scotsman gave her to wit that she had just partaken of some stolen veal, she flew into a fury and would have beaten him: saintly women are subject to such fits of passion.[127]

Jeanne is said to have observed the walls of Paris carefully, seeking the spot most favourable for attack.[128] The truth is that in this matter as in all others she depended on her Voices. For the rest she was far superior to all the men-at-arms in courage and in good will. From Saint-Denys she sent the King message after message, urging him to come and take Paris.[129] But at Compiègne the King and his Council were negotiating with the ambassadors of the Duke of Burgundy, to wit: Jean de Luxembourg, Lord of Beaurevoir, Hugues de Cayeux, Bishop of Arras, David de Brimeu and my Lord of Charny.[130]

The fifteen days' truce had expired. Our only information concerning it is contained in Jeanne's letter to the citizens of Reims. According to Jeanne, the Duke of Burgundy had undertaken to surrender the[Pg ii.52] city to the King of France on the fifteenth day.[131] If he had so agreed it was on conditions of which we know nothing; we are not therefore in a position to say whether or no those conditions had been carried out. The Maid placed no trust in this promise, and she was quite right; but she did not know everything; and on the very day when she was complaining of the truce to the citizens of Reims, Duke Philip was receiving the command of Paris at the hands of the Regent, and was henceforth in a position to dispose of the city as he liked.[132] Duke Philip could not bear the sight of Charles of Valois, who had been present at the murder on the Bridge of Montereau, but he detested the English and wished they would go to the devil or return to their island. The vineyards and the cloth looms of his dominions were too numerous and too important for him not to wish for peace. He had no desire to be King of France; therefore he could be treated with, despite his avarice and dissimulation. Nevertheless the fifteenth day had gone by and the city of Paris remained in the hands of the English and the Burgundians, who were not friends but allies.

On the 28th of August a truce was concluded. It was to last till Christmas and was to extend over the whole country north of the Seine, from Nogent to Harfleur, with the exception of such towns as were situated where there was a passage over the river. Concerning the city of Paris it was expressly stated that "Our Cousin of Burgundy, he and his men, may engage in the defence of the town and in resisting such as shall make war upon it or do it hurt."[133] The[Pg ii.53] Chancellor Regnault de Chartres, the Sire de la Trémouille, Christophe d'Harcourt, the Bastard of Orléans, the Bishop of Séez, and likewise certain young nobles very eager for war, such as the Counts of Clermont and of Vendôme and the Duke of Bar, in short all the Counsellors of the King and the Princes of the Blood who signed this article, were apparently giving the enemy a weapon against them and renouncing any attempt upon Paris. But they were not all fools; the Bastard of Orléans was keen witted and the Lord Archbishop of Reims was anything but an Olibrius.[134] They doubtless knew what they were about when they recognised the Duke of Burgundy's rights over Paris. Duke Philip, as we know, had been governor of the great town since the 13th of August. The Regent had ceded it with the idea that Burgundy would keep the Parisians in order better than England, for the English were few in number and were disliked as foreigners. What did it profit King Charles to recognise his cousin's rights over Paris? We fail to see precisely; but after all this truce was no better and no worse than others. In sooth it did not give Paris to the King, but neither did it prevent the King from taking it. Did truces ever hinder Armagnacs and Burgundians from fighting when they had a mind to fight? Was one of those frequent truces ever kept?[135] After having signed this one, the King advanced to Senlis. The Duke of Alençon came to him there twice. Charles reached Saint-Denys on Wednesday the 7th of September.[136]


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