Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France
VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 7

SOISSONS AND COMPIÈGNE—CAPTURE OF THE MAID

LEAVING Lagny, the Maid presented herself before Senlis, with her own company and with the fighting men of the French nobles whom she had joined, in all some thousand horse. And for this force she demanded entrance into the town. No misfortune was more feared by burgesses than that of receiving men-at-arms, and no privilege more jealously guarded than that of keeping them outside the walls. King Charles had experienced it during the peaceful coronation campaign. The folk of Senlis made answer to the Maid that, seeing the poverty of the town in forage, corn, oats, victuals and wine, they offered her an entrance with thirty or forty of the most notable of her company and no more.[378]

It is said that from Senlis Jeanne went to the Castle of Borenglise in the parish of Elincourt, between Compiègne and Ressons; and, in ignorance as to what can have taken her there, it is supposed that she made a pilgrimage to the Church of Elin[Pg ii.139]court, which was dedicated to Saint Margaret; and it is possible that she wished to worship Saint Margaret there as she had worshipped Saint Catherine at Fierbois, in order to do honour to one of those heavenly ladies who visited her every day and every hour.[379]

In those days, in the town of Angers, was a licentiate of laws, canon of the churches of Tours and Angers and Dean of Saint-Jean d'Angers. Less than ten days before Jeanne's coming to Sainte-Marguerite d'Elincourt, on April 18, about nine o'clock in the evening, he felt a pain in the head, which lasted until four o'clock in the morning, and was so severe that he thought he must die. He prayed to Saint Catherine, for whom he professed a special devotion, and straightway was cured. In thankfulness for so great a grace, he wended on foot to the sanctuary of Saint Catherine of Fierbois; and there, on Friday, the 5th of May, in a loud voice, said a mass for the King, for "the Maid divinely worthy," and for the peace and prosperity of the realm.[380]

The Council of King Charles had made over Pont-Sainte-Maxence to the Duke of Burgundy, in lieu of Compiègne, which they were unable to deliver to him since that town absolutely refused to be delivered, and remained the King's despite the King. The Duke of Burgundy kept Pont-Sainte-[Pg ii.140]Maxence which had been granted him and resolved to take Compiègne.[381]

On the 17th of April, when the truce had expired, he took the field with a goodly knighthood and a powerful army, four thousand Burgundians, Picards and Flemings, and fifteen hundred English, commanded by Jean de Luxembourg, Count of Ligny.[382]

Noble pieces of artillery did the Duke bring to that siege; notably, Remeswelle, Rouge Bombarde and Houppembière, from all three of which were fired stone balls of enormous size. Mortars, which the Duke had brought and paid ready money for to Messire Jean de Luxembourg, were brought likewise; Beaurevoir and Bourgogne, also a great "coullard" and a movable engine of war. The vast states of Burgundy sent their archers and cross-bowmen to Compiègne. The Duke provided himself with bows from Prussia and from Caffa in Georgia,[383] and with arrows barbed and unbarbed. He engaged sappers and miners to lay powder mines round the town and to throw Greek fire into it. In short my Lord Philip, richer than a king, the most magnificent lord in Christendom and skilled in all the arts of knighthood, was resolved to make a gallant siege.[384]

[Pg ii.141]

The town, then one of the largest and strongest in France, was defended by a garrison of between four and five hundred men,[385] commanded by Guillaume de Flavy. Scion of a noble house of that province, forever in dispute with the nobles his neighbours, and perpetually picking quarrels with the poor folk, he was as wicked and cruel as any Armagnac baron.[386] The citizens would have no other captain, and in that office they maintained him in defiance of King Charles and his chamberlains. They did wisely, for none was better able to defend the town than my Lord Guillaume, none was more set on doing his duty. When the King of France had commanded him to deliver the place he had refused point-blank; and when later the Duke promised him a good round sum and a rich inheritance in exchange for Compiègne, he made answer that the town was not his, but the King's.[387]

The Duke of Burgundy easily took Gournay-sur-[Pg ii.142]Aronde, and then laid siege to Choisy-sur-Aisne, also called Choisy-au-Bac, at the junction of the Aisne and the Oise.[388]

The Gascon squire, Poton de Saintrailles and the men of his company crossed the Aisne between Soissons and Choisy, surprised the besiegers, and retired immediately, taking with them sundry prisoners.[389]

On the 13th of May, the Maid entered Compiègne, where she lodged in the Rue de l'Etoile.[390] On the morrow, the Attorneys[391] offered her four pots of wine.[392] They thereby intended to do her great honour, for they did no more for the Lord Archbishop of Reims, Chancellor of the realm, who was then in the town with the Count of Vendôme, the King's lieutenant and divers other leaders of war. These noble lords resolved to send artillery and other munitions to the Castle of Choisy, which could not hold out much longer;[393] and now, as before, the Maid was made use of.

The army marched towards Soissons in order to[Pg ii.143] cross the Aisne.[394] The captain of the town was a squire of Picardy, called by the French Guichard Bournel, by the Burgundians Guichard de Thiembronne; he had served on both sides. Jeanne knew him well; he reminded her of a painful incident. He had been one of those, who finding her wounded in the trenches before Paris, had insisted on putting her on her horse against her will. On the approach of King Charles's barons and men-at-arms, Captain Guichard made the folk of Soissons believe that the whole army was coming to encamp in their town. Wherefore they resolved not to receive them. Then happened what had already befallen at Senlis: Captain Bournel received the Lord Archbishop of Reims, the Count of Vendôme and the Maid, with a small company, and the rest of the army abode that night outside the walls.[395] On the morrow, failing to obtain command of the bridge, they endeavoured to ford the river, but without success; for it was spring and the waters were high. The army had to turn back. When it was gone, Captain Bournel sold to the Duke of Burgundy the city he was charged to hold for the King of France; and he delivered it into the hand of Messire Jean de Luxembourg for four thousand golden saluts.[396]

At the tidings of this treacherous and dishonourable action on the part of the Captain of Soissons, Jeanne cried out that if she had him, she would cut[Pg ii.144] his body into four pieces, which was no empty imagining of her wrath. As the penalty of certain crimes it was the custom for the executioner, after he had beheaded the condemned, to cut his body in four pieces, which was called quartering. So that it was as if Jeanne had said that the traitor deserved quartering. The words sounded hard to Burgundian ears; certain even believed that they heard Jeanne in her wrath taking God's name in vain. They did not hear correctly. Never had Jeanne taken the name of God or of any of his saints in vain. Far from swearing when she was angered, she used to exclaim: "God's good will!" or "Saint John!" or "By Our Lady!"[397]

Before Soissons, Jeanne and the generals separated. The latter with their men-at-arms went to Senlis and the banks of the Marne. The country between the Aisne and the Oise was no longer capable of supporting so large a number of men or such important personages. Jeanne and her company wended their way back to Compiègne.[398] Scarcely had she entered the town when she sallied forth to ravage the neighbourhood.

For example, she took part in an expedition against Pont-l'Evêque, a stronghold, some distance from Noyon, occupied by a small English garrison, commanded by Lord Montgomery.

The Burgundians, who were besieging Compiègne, made Pont-l'Evêque their base. In the middle of[Pg ii.145] May, the French numbering about a thousand, commanded by Captain Poton, by Messire Jacques de Chabannes and divers others, and accompanied by the Maid, attacked the English under Lord Montgomery, and the battle was passing fierce. But the enemy, being relieved by the Burgundians of Noyon, the French must needs beat a retreat. They had slain thirty of their adversaries and had lost as many, wherefore the combat was held to have been right sanguinary.[399] There was no longer any question of crossing the Aisne and saving Choisy.

After returning to Compiègne, Jeanne, who never rested for a moment, hastened to Crépy-en-Valois, where were gathering the troops intended for the defence of Compiègne. Then, with these troops, she marched through the Forest of Guise, to the besieged town and entered it on the 23rd, at daybreak, without having encountered any Burgundians. There were none in the neighbourhood of the Forest, on the left bank of the Oise.[400]

They were all on the other side of the river. There meadowland extends for some three-quarters of a mile, while beyond rises the slope of Picardy. Because this meadow was low, damp and frequently flooded, a causeway had been built leading from the bridge to the village of Margny, which rose on the steep slope of the hill. Some two miles up the river there towered the belfry of Clairoix, at the junction of the Aronde and the Oise. On the opposite bank rose the belfry of Venette, about a mile[Pg ii.146] and a quarter lower down, towards Pont-Sainte-Maxence.[401]

A little band of Burgundians commanded by a knight, Messire Baudot de Noyelles, occupied the high ground of the village of Margny. Most renowned among the men of war of the Burgundian party was Messire Jean de Luxembourg. He with his Picards was posted at Clairoix, on the banks of the Aronde, at the foot of Mount Ganelon. The five hundred English of Lord Montgomery watched the Oise at Venette. Duke Philip occupied Coudun, a good two and a half miles from the town, towards Picardy.[402] Such dispositions were in accordance with the precepts of the most experienced captains. It was their rule that when besieging a fortified town a large number of men-at-arms should never be concentrated in one spot, in one camp, as they said. In case of a sudden attack, it was thought that a large company, if it has but one base, will be surprised and routed just as easily as a lesser number, and the disaster will be grievous. Wherefore it is better to divide the besiegers into small companies and to place them not far apart, in order that they may aid one another. In this wise, when those of one body are discomfited those of another have time to put themselves in battle array for their succour. While the assailants are sore aghast at seeing fresh troops come down[Pg ii.147] upon them, those who are being attacked take heart of grace. At any rate such was the opinion of Messire Jean de Bueil.[403]

That same day, the 23rd of May, towards five o'clock in the evening[404] riding a fine dapple-grey horse, Jeanne sallied forth, across the bridge, on to the causeway over the meadow. With her were her standard-bearer and her company of Lombards, Captain Baretta and his three or four hundred men, both horse and foot, who had entered Compiègne by night. She was girt with the Burgundian sword, found at Lagny, and over her armour she wore a surcoat of cloth of gold.[405] Such attire would have better beseemed a parade than a sortie; but in the simplicity of her rustic and religious soul she loved all the pompous show of chivalry.

The enterprise had been concerted between Captain Baretta, the other leaders of the party and Messire Guillaume de Flavy. The last-named, in order to protect the line of retreat for the French, had posted archers, cross-bowmen, and cannoneers at the head of the bridge, while on the river he launched a number of small covered boats, intended if need were to bring back as many men as possible.[406] Jeanne[Pg ii.148] was not consulted in the matter; her advice was never asked. Without being told anything she was taken with the army as a bringer of good luck; she was exhibited to the enemy as a powerful enchantress, and they, especially if they were in mortal sin, feared lest she should cast a spell over them. Certain there were doubtless on both sides, who perceived that she did not greatly differ from other women;[407] but they were folk who believed in nothing, and that manner of person is always outside public opinion.

This time she had not the remotest idea of what was to be done. With her head full of dreams, she imagined she was setting forth for some great and noble emprise. It is said that she had promised to discomfit the Burgundians and bring back Duke Philip prisoner. But there was no question of that; Captain Baretta and those who commanded the soldiers of fortune proposed to surprise and plunder the little Burgundian outpost, which was nearest the town and most accessible. That was Margny, and there on a steep hill, which might be reached in twenty or twenty-five minutes along the causeway, was stationed Messire Baudot de Noyelles. The attempt was worth making. The taking of outposts constituted the perquisites of men-at-arms. And, albeit the enemy's positions were very wisely chosen, the assailants if they proceeded with extreme swiftness had a chance of success. The Burgundians at Margny were very few. Having but lately arrived, they had erected neither bastion nor bulwark, and their only defences were the outbuildings of the village.

It was five o'clock in the afternoon when the French set out on the march. The days being at[Pg ii.149] their longest, they did not depend on the darkness for success. In those times indeed, men-at-arms were chary of venturing much in the darkness. They deemed the night treacherous, capable of serving the fool's turn as well as the wise man's, and thus ran the saw: "Night never blushes at her deed."[408]

Having climbed up to Margny, the assailants found the Burgundians scattered and unarmed. They took them by surprise; and the French set to work to strike here and there haphazard. The Maid, for her part, overthrew everything before her.

Now just at this time Sire Jean de Luxembourg and the Sire de Créquy had ridden over from their camp at Clairoix.[409] Wearing no armour, and accompanied by eight or ten gentlemen-at-arms, they were climbing the Margny hill. They were on their way to visit Messire Baudot de Noyelles, and all unsuspecting, they were thinking to reconnoitre the defences of the town from this elevated spot, as the Earl of Salisbury had formerly done from Les Tourelles at Orléans. Having fallen into a regular skirmish, they sent to Clairoix in all haste for their arms and to summon their company, which would take a good half hour to reach the scene of battle. Meanwhile, all unarmed as they were, they joined Messire Baudot's little band, to help it to hold out against the enemy.[410] Thus to surprise my Lord of Luxembourg might be a stroke of good luck and certainly could not be bad; for in any event the Margny men[Pg ii.150] would have straightway summoned their comrades of Clairoix to their aid, as they did in very deed summon the English from Venette and the Burgundians from Coudun.

Having stormed the camp and pillaged it, the assailants should in all haste have fallen back on the town with their booty; but they dallied at Margny, for what reason is not difficult to guess: that reason which so often transformed the robber into the robbed. The wearers of the white cross as well as those of the red, no matter what danger threatened them, never quitted a place as long as anything remained to be carried away.

If the mercenaries of Compiègne incurred peril by their greed, the Maid on her side by her valour and prowess ran much greater risk; never would she consent to leave a battle; she must be wounded, pierced with bolts and arrows, before she would give in.

Meanwhile, having recovered from so sudden an alarm, Messire Baudot's men armed as best they might and endeavoured to win back the village. Now they drove out the French, now they themselves were forced to retreat with great loss. The Seigneur de Créquy, among others, was sorely wounded in the face. But the hope of being reinforced gave them courage. The men of Clairoix appeared. Duke Philip himself came up with the band from Coudun. The French, outnumbered, abandoned Margny, and retreated slowly. It may be that their booty impeded their march. But suddenly espying the Godons from Venette advancing over the meadowland, they were seized with panic; to the cry of "Sauve qui peut!" they broke into one mad rush and in utter rout reached the bank of the Oise. Some threw themselves into boats, others[Pg ii.151] crowded round the bulwark of the Bridge. Thus they attracted the very misfortune they feared. For the English followed so hard on the fugitives that the defenders on the ramparts dared not fire their cannon for fear of striking the French.[411]

The latter having forced the barrier of the bulwark, the English were about to enter on their heels, cross the bridge and pass into the town. The captain of Compiègne saw the danger and gave the command to close the town gate. The bridge was raised and the portcullis lowered.[412]

In the meadow, Jeanne still laboured under the heroic delusion of victory. Surrounded by a little band of kinsmen and personal retainers, she was withstanding the Burgundians, and imagining that she would overthrow everything before her.

Her comrades shouted to her: "Strive to regain the town or we are lost."

But her eyes were dazzled by the splendour of angels and archangels, and she made answer: "Hold your peace; it will be your fault if we are discomfited. Think of nought but of attacking them."

And once again she uttered those words which were forever in her mouth: "Go forward! They are ours!"[413]

Her men took her horse by the bridle and forced[Pg ii.152] her to turn towards the town. It was too late; the bulwarks commanding the bridge could not be entered: the English held the head of the causeway. The Maid with her little band was penned into the corner between the side of the bulwark and the embankment of the road. Her assailants were men of Picardy, who, striking hard and driving away her protectors, succeeded in reaching her.[414] A bowman pulled her by her cloak of cloth of gold and threw her to the ground. They all surrounded her and together cried:

"Surrender!"

Urged to give her parole, she replied: "I have plighted my word to another, and I shall keep my oath."[415]

One of those who pressed her said that he was of gentle birth. She surrendered to him.

He was an archer, by name Lyonnel, in the company of the Bastard of Wandomme. Deeming that his fortune was made, he appeared more joyful than if he had taken a king.[416]

With the Maid was taken her brother, Pierre d'Arc, Jean d'Aulon, her steward, and Jean d'Aulon's brother, Poton, surnamed the Burgundian.[417] Ac[Pg ii.153]cording to the Burgundians, the French in this engagement lost four hundred fighting men, killed or drowned;[418] but according to the French most of the foot soldiers were taken up by the boats which were moored near the bank of the Oise.[419]

Had it not been for the archers, cross-bowmen and cannoneers posted at the bridge end by the Sire de Flavy, the bulwark would have been captured. The Burgundians had but twenty wounded and not one slain.[420] The Maid had not been very vigorously defended.

She was disarmed and taken to Margny.[421] At the tidings that the witch of the Armagnacs had been taken, cries and rejoicings resounded throughout the Burgundian camp. Duke Philip wished to see her. When he drew near to her, there were certain of his clergy and his knighthood who praised his piety, extolled his courage, and wondered that this mighty Duke was not afraid of the spawn of Hell.[422]

In this respect, his knighthood were as valiant as he, for many knights and squires flocked to satisfy this same curiosity. Among them was Messire Enguerrand de Monstrelet, a native of the County of Boulogne, a retainer of the House of Luxembourg,[Pg ii.154] the author of the Chronicles. He heard the words the Duke addressed to the prisoner, and, albeit his calling required a good memory, he forgot them. Possibly he did not consider them chivalrous enough to be written in his book.[423]

Jeanne remained in the custody of Messire Jean de Luxembourg, to whom she belonged henceforward. The bowman, her captor, had given her up to his captain, the Bastard of Wandomme, who, in his turn, had yielded her to his Master, Messire Jean.[424]

Branches of the Luxembourg tree extended from the west to the east of Christendom, as far as Bohemia and Hungary; and it had produced six queens, an empress, four kings, and four emperors. A scion of a younger branch of this illustrious house and himself a but poorly landed cadet, Jean de Luxembourg, had with great labour won his spurs in the service of the Duke of Burgundy. When he held the Maid to ransom, he was thirty-nine years of age, covered with wounds and one-eyed.[425]

That very evening from his quarters at Coudun the Duke of Burgundy caused letters to be written to the towns of his dominions telling of the capture of the Maid. "Of this capture shall the fame spread far and wide," is written in the letter to the people of Saint-Quentin; "and there shall be bruited abroad the error and misbelief of all such as have approved and favoured the deeds of this woman."[426]

In like manner did the Duke send the tidings to[Pg ii.155] the Duke of Brittany by his herald Lorraine; to the Duke of Savoy and to his good town of Ghent.[427]

The survivors of the company the Maid had taken to Compiègne abandoned the siege, and on the morrow returned to their garrisons. The Lombard Captain, Bartolomeo Baretta, Jeanne's lieutenant, remained in the town with thirty-two men-at-arms, two trumpeters, two pages, forty-eight cross bowmen, and twenty archers or targeteers.[428]

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 8

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