Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


THE folk of Orléans were grateful to the Maid for what she had done for them. Far from reproaching her with the unfortunate conclusion of the siege of La Charité, they welcomed her into their city with the same rejoicing and with as good cheer as before. On the 19th of January, 1430, they honoured her and likewise Maître Jean de Velly and Maître Jean Rabateau with a banquet, at which there was abundance of capons, partridges, hares, and even a pheasant.[293] Who that Jean de Velly was, who was feasted with her, we do not know. As for Jean Rabateau, he was none other than the King's Councillor, who had been Attorney-General at the Parlement of Poitiers since 1427.[294] He had been the Maid's host at Orléans. His wife had often seen Jeanne kneeling in her private oratory.[295] The citizens of Orléans offered wine to the Attorney-General, to Jean de Velly, and to the Maid. In good sooth, 'twas a fine feast and a ceremonious. The burgesses loved and hon[Pg ii.104]oured Jeanne, but they cannot have observed her very closely during the repast or they would not eight years later, when an adventuress gave herself out to be the Maid, have mistaken her for Jeanne, and offered her wine in the same manner and at the hands of the same city servant, Jacques Leprestre, as now presented it.[296]

The standard that Jeanne loved even more than her Saint Catherine's sword had been painted at Tours by one Hamish Power. He was now marrying his daughter Héliote; and when Jeanne heard of it, she sent a letter to the magistrates of Tours, asking them to give a sum of one hundred crowns for the bride's trousseau. The nuptials were fixed for the 9th of February, 1430. The magistrates assembled twice to deliberate on Jeanne's request. They described her honourably and yet not without a certain caution as "the Maid who hath come into this realm to the King, concerning the matter of the war, announcing that she is sent by the King of Heaven against the English." In the end they refused to pay anything, because, they said, it behoved them to expend municipal funds on municipal matters and not otherwise; but they decided that for the affection and honour they bore the Maid, the churchmen, burgesses, and other townsfolk should be present in the church at the wedding, and should offer prayers for the bride and present her with bread and wine. This cost them four livres, ten sous.[297]

At a time which it is impossible to fix exactly the[Pg ii.105] Maid bought a house at Orléans. To be more precise she took it on lease.[298] A lease (bail à vente) was an agreement by which the proprietor of a house or other property transferred the ownership to the lessee in return for an annual payment in kind or in money. The duration of such leases was usually fifty-nine years. The house that Jeanne acquired in this manner belonged to the Chapter of the Cathedral. It was in the centre of the town, in the parish of Saint-Malo, close to the Saint-Maclou Chapel, next door to the shop of an oil-seller, one Jean Feu, in the Rue des Petits-Souliers. It was in this street that, during the siege, there had fallen into the midst of five guests seated at table a stone cannon-ball weighing one hundred and sixty-four pounds, which had done no one any harm.[299] What price did the Maid give for this house? Apparently six crowns of fine gold (at sixty crowns to the mark), due half-yearly at Midsummer and Christmas, for fifty-nine years. In addition, she must according to custom have undertaken to keep the house in good condition and to pay out of her own purse the ecclesiastical dues as well as rates for wells and paving and all other taxes. Being obliged to have some one as surety, she chose as her guarantor a certain Guillot de Guyenne, of whom we know nothing further.[300]

There is no reason to believe that the Maid did not herself negotiate this agreement. Saint as she was, she knew well what it was to possess property. Such knowledge ran in her family; her father was the best[Pg ii.106] business man in his village.[301] She herself was domesticated and thrifty; for she kept her old clothes, and even in the field she knew where to find them when she wanted to make presents of them to her friends. She counted up her possessions in arms and horses, valued them at twelve thousand crowns, and, apparently made a pretty accurate reckoning.[302] But what was her idea in taking this house? Did she think of living in it? Did she intend when the war was over to return to Orléans and pass a peaceful old age in a house of her own? Or was she planning for her parents to dwell there, or some Vouthon uncle, or her brothers, one of whom was in great poverty and had got a doublet out of the citizens of Orléans?[303]

On the third of March she followed King Charles to Sully.[304] The château, in which she lodged near the King, belonged to the Sire de la Trémouille, who had inherited it from his mother, Marie de Sully, the daughter of Louis I of Bourbon. It had been recaptured from the English after the deliverance of Orléans.[305] A stronghold on the Loire, on the highroad from Paris to Autun, and commanding the plain between Orléans and Briare and the ancient bridge with twenty arches, the château of Sully linked together central France and those northern provinces which Jeanne had so regretfully quitted, and whither with all her heart she longed to return to engage in fresh expeditions and fresh sieges.

[Pg ii.107]

During the first fortnight of March, from the townsfolk of Reims she received a message in which they confided to her fears only too well grounded.[306] On the 8th of March the Regent had granted to the Duke of Burgundy the counties of Champagne and of Brie on condition of his reconquering them.[307] Armagnacs and English vied with each other in offering the biggest and most tempting morsels to this Gargantuan Duke. Not being able to keep their promise and deliver to him Compiègne which refused to be delivered, the French offered him in its place Pont-Sainte-Maxence.[308] But it was Compiègne that he wanted. The truces, which had been very imperfectly kept, were to have expired at Christmas, but first they had been prolonged till the 15th of March and then till Easter. In the year 1430 Easter fell on the 16th of April; and Duke Philip was only waiting for that date to put an army in the field.[309]

In a manner concise and vivacious the Maid replied to the townsfolk of Reims:

"Dear friends and beloved and mightily desired. Jehenne the Maid hath received your letters making mention that ye fear a siege. Know ye that it shall not so betide, and I may but encounter them shortly. And if I do not encounter them and they do not come to you, if you shut your gates firmly, I shall shortly be with you: and if they be there, I shall make them put on their spurs so hastily that they will not know where to take them and so quickly that it shall be very soon. Other things I will not write[Pg ii.108] unto you now, save that ye be always good and loyal. I pray God to have you in his keeping. Written at Sully, the 16th day of March.

I would announce unto you other tidings at which ye would mightily rejoice; but I fear lest the letters be taken on the road, and the said tidings be seen.

Signed. Jehanne.

Addressed to my dear friends and beloved, churchmen, burgesses and other citizens of the town of Rains."[310]

There can be no doubt that the scribe wrote this letter faithfully as it was dictated by the Maid, and that he wrote her words as they fell from her lips. In her haste she now and again forgot words and sometimes whole phrases; but the sense is clear all the same. And what confidence! "You will have no siege if I encounter the enemy." How completely is[Pg ii.109] this the language of chivalry! On the eve of Patay she had asked: "Have you good spurs?"[311] Here she cries: "I will make them put on their spurs." She says that soon she will be in Champagne, that she is about to start. Surely we can no longer think of her shut up in the Castle of La Trémouille as in a kind of gilded cage.[312] In conclusion, she tells her friends at Reims that she does not write unto them all that she would like for fear lest her letter should be captured on the road. She knew what it was to be cautious. Sometimes she affixed a cross to her letters to warn her followers to pay no heed to what she wrote, in the hope that the missive would be intercepted and the enemy deceived.[313]

It was from Sully that on the 23rd of March Brother Pasquerel sent the Emperor Sigismund a letter intended for the Hussites of Bohemia.[314]

The Hussites of those days were abhorred and execrated throughout Christendom. They demanded the free preaching of God's word, communion in both kinds, and the return of the Church to that evangelical life which allowed neither the wealth of priests nor the temporal power of popes. They desired the punishment of sin by the civil magistrates, a custom which could prevail only in very holy society. They were saints indeed and heretics too on every possible point. Pope Martin held the destruction of these wicked persons to be salutary, and such was the opinion of every good Catholic. But how could this armed heresy be dealt with when it routed all the forces of the Empire and the Holy See? The Hussites were too much[Pg ii.110] for that worn-out ancient chivalry of Christendom, for the knighthood of France and of Germany, which was good for nothing but to be thrown on to the refuse heaps like so much old iron. And this was precisely what the towns of the realm of France did when over these knights of chivalry they placed a peasant girl.[315]

At Tachov, in 1427, the Crusaders, blessed by the Holy Father, had fled at the mere sound of the chariot wheels of the Procops.[316] Pope Martin knew not where to turn for defenders of Holy Church, one and indivisible. He had paid for the armament of five thousand English crusaders, which the Cardinal of Winchester was to lead against these accursed Bohemians; but in this force the Holy Father was cruelly disappointed; hardly had his five thousand crusaders landed in France, than the Regent of England diverted them from their route and sent them to Brie to occupy the attention of the Maid of the Armagnacs.[317]

Since her coming into France Jeanne had spoken of the crusade as a work good and meritorious. In the letter dictated before the expedition to Orléans, she summoned the English to join the French and go together to fight against the Church's foe. And later, writing to the Duke of Burgundy, she invited the son of the Duke vanquished at Nicopolis to make war against the Turks.[318] Who but the mendicants direct[Pg ii.111]ing her can have put these crusading ideas into Jeanne's head? Immediately after the deliverance of Orléans it was said that she would lead King Charles to the conquest of the Holy Sepulchre and that she would die in the Holy Land.[319] At the same time it was rumoured that she would make war on the Hussites. In the month of July, 1429, when the coronation campaign had barely begun, it was proclaimed in Germany, on the faith of a prophetess of Rome, that by a prophetess of France the Bohemian kingdom should be recovered.[320]

Already zealous for the Crusade against the Turks, the Maid was now equally eager for the Crusade against the Hussites. Turks or Bohemians, it was all alike to her. Of one and the other her only knowledge lay in the stories full of witchcraft related to her by the mendicants of her company. Touching the Hussites, stories were told, not all true, but which Jeanne must have believed; and they cannot have pleased her. It was said that they worshipped the devil, and that they called him "the wronged one." It was told that as works of piety they committed all manner of fornication. Every Bohemian was said to be possessed by a hundred demons. They were accused of killing thousands of churchmen. Again, and this time with truth, they were charged with burning churches and monasteries. The Maid believed in the God who commanded Israel to wipe out the Philistines from the face of the earth. But recently there had arisen Cathari who held the God of the Old Testament to be none other than Lucifer or Luciabelus, author of evil, liar and murderer. The[Pg ii.112] Cathari abhorred war; they refused to shed blood; they were heretics; they had been massacred, and none remained. The Maid believed in good faith that the extirpation of the Hussites was a work pleasing to God. Men more learned than she, not like her addicted to chivalry, but of gentle life, clerks like the Chancellor Jean Gerson, believed it likewise.[321] Of these Bohemian heretics she thought what every one thought: her opinions were those of the multitude; her views were modelled on public opinion. Wherefore in all the simplicity of her heart she hated the Hussites, but she feared them not, because she feared nothing and because she believed, God helping her, that she was able to overcome all the English, all the Turks, and all the Bohemians in the world. At the first trumpet call she was ready to sally forth against them. On the 23rd of March, 1430, Brother Pasquerel sent the Emperor Sigismund a letter written in the name of the Maid and intended for the Hussites of Bohemia. This letter was indited in Latin. The following is the purport of it:


Long ago there reached me the tidings that ye from the true Christians that ye once were have become heretics, like unto the Saracens, that ye have abolished true religion and worship and have turned to a superstition corrupt and fatal, the which in your zeal to maintain and to spread abroad there be no shame nor cruelty ye do not dare to perpetrate. You defile the sacraments of the Church, tear to pieces the articles of her faith, overthrow her temples. The images which were made for similitudes you break and throw into the fire. Finally such Christians as embrace not your[Pg ii.113] faith you massacre. What fury, what folly, what rage possesses you? That religion which God the All Powerful, which the Son, which the Holy Ghost raised up, instituted, exalted and revealed in a thousand manners, by a thousand miracles, ye persecute, ye employ all arts to overturn and to exterminate.

It is you, you who are blind and not those who have not eyes nor sight. Think ye that ye will go unpunished? Do ye not know that if God prevent not your impious violence, if he suffer you to grope on in darkness and in error, it is that he is preparing for you a greater sorrow and a greater punishment? As for me, in good sooth, were I not occupied with the English wars, I would have already come against you. But in very deed if I learn not that ye have turned from your wicked ways, I will peradventure leave the English and hasten against you, in order that I may destroy by the sword your vain and violent superstition, if I can do so in no other manner, and that I may rid you either of heresy or of life. Notwithstanding, if you prefer to return to the Catholic faith and to the light of primitive days, send unto me your ambassadors and I will tell them what ye must do. If on the other hand ye will be stiff-necked and kick against the pricks, then remember all the crimes and offences ye have perpetrated and look for to see me coming unto you with all strength divine and human to render unto you again all the evil ye have done unto others.

Given at Sully, on the 23rd of March, to the Bohemian heretics.

Signed. Pasquerel.[322]

This was the letter sent to the Emperor. How had Jeanne really expressed herself in her dialect savouring alike of the speech of Champagne and of that of[Pg ii.114] l'Île de France? There can be no doubt but that her letter had been sadly embellished by the good Brother. Such Ciceronian language cannot have proceeded from the Maid. It is all very well to say that a saint of those days could do everything, could prophesy on any subject and in any tongue, so fine an epistle remains far too rhetorical to have been composed by a damsel whom even the Armagnac captains considered simple. Nevertheless, a careful examination will reveal in this missive, at any rate in the second half of it, certain of those bluntly naive passages and some of that childish assurance which are noticeable in Jeanne's genuine letters, especially in her reply to the Count of Armagnac;[323] and more than once there occurs an expression characteristic of a village sibyl. The following, for example, is quite in Jeanne's own manner: "If you will return to the bosom of the Catholic Church, send me your ambassadors; I will tell you what you have to do." And her usual threat: "Expect me with all strength human and divine."[324] As for the phrase: "If I hear not shortly of your conversion, of your return to the bosom of the Church, I will peradventure leave the English and come against you," here we may suspect the mendicant friar, less interested in the affairs of Charles VII than in those of the Church, of having ascribed to the Maid greater eagerness to set forth on the Crusade than she really felt. Good and salutary as she deemed the taking of the Cross, as far as we know her, she would never have consented to take it until she had driven the English out of the realm of France. She believed this to be her mission, and the persistence, the consistency, the strength[Pg ii.115] of will she evinced in its fulfilment, are truly admirable. It is quite probable that she dictated to the good Brother some phrase like: "When I have put the English out of the kingdom, I will turn against you." This would explain and excuse Brother Pasquerel's error. It is very likely that Jeanne believed she would dispose of the English in a trice and that she already saw herself distributing good buffets and sound clouts to the renegade and infidel Bohemians. The Maid's simplicity makes itself felt through the clerk's Latin. This epistle to the Bohemians recalls, alas! that fagot placed upon the stake whereon John Huss was burning, by the pious zeal of the good wife whose saintly simplicity John Huss himself teaches us to admire.

One cannot help reflecting that Jeanne and those very men against whom she hurled menace and invective had much in common; alike they were impelled by faith, chastity, simple ignorance, pious duty, resignation to God's will, and a tendency to magnify the minor matters of devotion. Zizka[325] had established in his camp that purity of morals which the Maid was endeavouring to introduce among the Armagnacs. The peasant soldiers of Bohemia and the peasant Maid of France bearing her sword amidst mendicant monks had much in common. On the one hand and on the other, we have the religious spirit in the place of the political spirit, the fear of sin in the place of obedience to the civil law, the spiritual introduced into the temporal. Here is indeed a woeful sight and a piteous; the devout set one against the other, the innocent against the innocent, the simple against the simple, the heretic against heretics; and it is painful to think that when she[Pg ii.116] is threatening with extermination the disciples of that John Huss, who had been treacherously taken and burned as a heretic, she herself is on the point of being sold to her enemies and condemned to suffer as a witch. It would have been different if this letter, at which the accomplished wits and humorists of the day looked askance, had won the approval of theologians. But they also found fault with it, an illustrious canonist, a zealous inquisitor deemed highly presumptuous this threatening of a multitude of men by a Maid.[326]

We were right in saying that she was not prepared to leave the English immediately and hasten against the Bohemians. Five days after her appeal to the Hussites she wrote to her friends at Reims and in mysterious words gave them to understand that she would come to them shortly.[327]

The partisans of Duke Philip were at that time hatching plots in the towns of Champagne, notably at Troyes and at Reims. On the 22nd of February, 1430, a canon and a chaplain were arrested and brought before the chapter for having conspired to deliver the city to the English. It was well for them that they belonged to the Church, for having been condemned to perpetual imprisonment, they obtained from the King a mitigation of their sentence, and the canon a complete remittance.[328] The aldermen and ecclesiastics of the city, fearing they would be thought badly of on the other side of the Loire, wrote to the Maid entreating her to speak well of[Pg ii.117] them to the King. The following is her reply to their request:[329]

"Very good friends and beloved, may it please you to wit that I have received your letters, the which make mention how it hath been reported to the King that within the city of Reims there be many wicked persons. Therefore I give you to wit that it is indeed true that even such things have been reported to him and that he grieves much that there be folk in alliance with the Burgundians; that they would betray the town and bring the Burgundians into it. But since then the King has known the contrary by means of the assurance ye have sent him, and he is well pleased with you. And ye may believe that ye stand well in his favour; and if ye have need, he would help you with regard to the siege; and he knows well that ye have much to suffer from the hardness of those treacherous Burgundians, your adversaries: thus may God in his pleasure deliver you shortly, that is as soon as may be. So I pray and entreat you my friends dearly beloved that ye hold well the said city for the King and that ye keep good watch. Ye will soon have good tidings of me at greater length. Other things for the present I write not unto you save that the whole of Brittany is French and that the Duke is to send to the King three thousand combatants paid for two months. To God I commend you, may he keep you.

Written at Sully, the 28th of March.

Jehanne.[330][Pg ii.118]

Addressed to: My good friends and dearly beloved, the churchmen, aldermen, burgesses and inhabitants and masters of the good town of Reyms."[331]

Touching the succour to be expected from the Duke of Brittany, the Maid was labouring under a delusion. Like all other prophetesses she was ignorant of what was passing around her. Despite her failures, she believed in her good fortune; she doubted herself no more than she doubted God; and she was eager to pursue the fulfilment of her mission. "Ye shall soon have tidings of me," she said to the townsfolk of Reims. A few days after, and she left Sully to go into France and fight, on the expiration of the truces.

It has been said that she feigned an expedition of pleasure and set out without taking leave of the King, that it was a kind of innocent stratagem, an honourable flight.[332] But it was nothing of the sort.[333] The Maid gathered a company of some hundred horse, sixty-eight archers and cross-bowmen, and two trumpeters, commanded by a Lombard captain, Bartolomeo Baretta.[334] In this company were Italian[Pg ii.119] men-at-arms, bearing broad shields, like some who had come to Orléans at the time of the siege; possibly they were the same.[335] She set out at the head of this company, with her brothers and her steward, the Sire Jean d'Aulon. She was in the hands of Jean d'Aulon, and Jean d'Aulon was in the hands of the Sire de la Trémouille, to whom he owed money.[336] The good squire would not have followed the Maid against the King's will.

The flying squadron of béguines had recently been divided by a schism. Friar Richard, who was then in high favour with Queen Marie, and who had preached the Lenten sermons of 1430[337] at Orléans, stayed behind, on the Loire, with Catherine de la Rochelle. Jeanne took with her Pierronne and the younger Breton prophetess.[338] If she went into France, it was not without the knowledge or against the will of the King and his Council. Very probably the Chancellor of the kingdom had asked La Trémouille to send her in order that he might employ her in the approaching campaign against the Burgundians, who were threatening his government of Beauvais and his city of Reims.[339] He was not very kindly disposed towards her, but already he had made use of her and he intended to do so again. Possibly his intention was to employ her in a fresh attack on Paris.

The King had not abandoned the idea of taking[Pg ii.120] his great city by the peaceful methods he always preferred. Throughout Lent, between Sully and Paris, there had been a constant passing to and fro of certain Carmelite monks of Melun, disguised as artisans. These were the churchmen who, during the attack on the Porte Saint Honoré, on the Day of the Festival of Our Lady, had stirred up the popular rising which had spread from one bank of the Seine to the other. Now they were negotiating with certain influential citizens the entrance of the King's men into the rebel city. The Prior of the Melun Carmelites was directing the conspiracy.[340] There is reason to believe that Jeanne had herself seen him or one of his monks. True it is that since the 22nd or the 23rd of March it was known at Sully that the conspiracy had been discovered;[341] but perhaps the hope of success still lingered. It was to Melun that Jeanne went with her company; and it is difficult to believe that there was no connection between the conspiracy of the Carmelites and the expedition of the Maid.

Why should Charles VII's Councillors have ceased to employ her? It cannot be said that she appeared less divine to the French or less evil to the English. Her failures, either unknown, or partially known, rendered unimportant by the fame of her victories, had not dispelled the idea that within her resided invincible power. At the time when the hapless damsel with the flower of French knighthood was receiving sore treatment under the walls of La Charité at the hands of an ex-mason's apprentice, in Burgun[Pg ii.121]dian lands it was rumoured that she was carrying by storm a castle twelve miles from Paris.[342] She was still considered miraculous; the burgesses, the men-at-arms of her party still believed in her. And as for the Godons, from the Regent to the humblest swordsman of the army, they all regarded her with a terror as great as that which had possessed them at Orléans and Patay. At this time so many English soldiers and captains refused to go to France, that a special edict was issued obliging them to do so.[343] But they doubtless discovered reasons enough for not going into a country where henceforth they could hope only for hard knocks and nothing tempting; so that many declined, terrified by the enchantments of the Maid.[344]


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