Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France
VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 8

THE MAID AT BEAULIEU—THE SHEPHERD OF GÉVAUDAN

THE tidings that Jeanne was in the hands of the Burgundians reached Paris on the morning of May the 25th.[429] On the morrow, the 26th, the University sent a summons to Duke Philip requiring him to give up his prisoner to the Vicar-General of the Grand Inquisitor of France. At the same time, the Vicar-General himself by letter required the redoubtable Duke to bring prisoner before him the young woman suspected of divers crimes savouring of heresy.[430]

"... We beseech you in all good affection, O powerful Prince," he said, "and we entreat your noble vassals that by them and by you Jeanne be sent unto us surely and shortly, and we hope that thus ye will do as being the true protector of the faith and the defender of God's honour...."[431]

The Vicar-General of the Grand Inquisitor of[Pg ii.157] France, Brother Martin Billoray,[432] Master of theology, belonged to the order of friars preachers, the members of which exercised the principal functions of the Holy office. In the days of Innocent III, when the Inquisition was exterminating Cathari and Albigenses, the sons of Dominic figured in paintings in monasteries and chapels as great white hounds spotted with black, biting at the throats of the wolves of heresy.[433] In France in the fifteenth century the Dominicans were always the dogs of the Lord; they, jointly with the bishops, drove out the heretic. The Grand Inquisitor or his Vicar was unable of his own initiative to set on foot and prosecute any judicial action; the bishops maintained their right to judge crimes committed against the Church. In matters of faith trials were conducted by two judges, the Ordinary, who might be the bishop himself or the Official, and the Inquisitor or his Vicar. Inquisitorial forms were observed.[434]

In the Maid's case it was not the Bishop only who was prompting the Holy Inquisition, but the Daughter of Kings, the Mother of Learning, the Bright and Shining Sun of France and of Christendom, the University of Paris. She arrogated to herself a peculiar jurisdiction in cases of heresy or other matters of doctrine occurring in the city or its neighbourhood; her advice was asked on every hand and regarded as authoritative over the face of the whole world, wheresoever the Cross had been set up. For a year her masters and doctors, many in number and filled with[Pg ii.158] sound learning, had been clamouring for the Maid to be delivered up to the Inquisition, as being good for the welfare of the Church and conducive to the interests of the faith; for they had a deep-rooted suspicion that the damsel came not from God, but was deceived and seduced by the machinations of the Devil; that she acted not by divine power but by the aid of demons; that she was addicted to witchcraft and practised idolatry.[435]

Such knowledge as they possessed of things divine and methods of reasoning corroborated this grave suspicion. They were Burgundians and English by necessity and by inclination; they observed faithfully the Treaty of Troyes to which they had sworn; they were devoted to the Regent who showed them great consideration; they abhorred the Armagnacs, who desolated and laid waste their city, the most beautiful in the world;[436] they held that the Dauphin Charles had forfeited his rights to the Kingdom of the Lilies. Wherefore they inclined to believe that the Maid of the Armagnacs, the woman knight of the Dauphin Charles, was inspired by a company of loathsome demons. These scholars of the University were human; they believed what it was to their interest to believe; they were priests and they beheld the Devil everywhere, but especially in a woman. Without having devoted themselves to any profound examination of the deeds and sayings of this damsel, they knew enough to cause them to demand an immediate inquiry. She called herself the emissary of God, the[Pg ii.159] daughter of God; and she appeared loquacious, vain, crafty, gorgeous in her attire. She had threatened the English that if they did not quit France she would have them all slain. She commanded armies, wherefore she was a slayer of her fellow-creatures and foolhardy. She was seditious, for are not all those seditious who support the opposite party? But recently having appeared before Paris in company with Friar Richard, a heretic, and a rebel,[437] she had threatened to put the Parisians to death without mercy and committed the mortal sin of storming the city on the Anniversary of the Nativity of Our Lady. It was important to examine whether in all this she had been inspired by a good spirit or a bad.[438]

Despite his strong attachment to the interests of the Church, the Duke of Burgundy did not respond to the urgent demand of the University; and Messire Jean de Luxembourg, after having kept the Maid three or four days in his quarters before Compiègne, had her taken to the Castle of Beaulieu in Vermandois, a few leagues from the camp.[439] Like his master, he ever appeared the obedient son of Mother Church; but prudence counselled him to await the approach[Pg ii.160] of English and French and to see what each of them would offer.

At Beaulieu, Jeanne was treated courteously and ceremoniously. Her steward, Messire Jean d'Aulon, waited on her in her prison; one day he said to her pitifully:

"That poor town of Compiègne, which you so dearly loved, will now be delivered into the hands of the enemies of France, whom it must needs obey."

She made answer: "No, that shall not come to pass. For not one of those places, which the King of Heaven hath conquered through me and restored to their allegiance to the fair King Charles, shall be recaptured by the enemy, so diligently will he guard them."[440]

One day she tried to escape by slipping between two planks. She had intended to shut up her guards in the tower and take to the fields, but the porter saw and stopped her. She concluded that it was not God's will that she should escape this time.[441] Notwithstanding she had far too much self-reliance to despair. Her Voices, like her enamoured of marvellous encounters and knightly adventures, told her that she must see the King of England.[442] Thus did her dreams encourage and console her in her misfortune.

Great was the mourning on the Loire when the inhabitants of the towns loyal to King Charles learnt the disaster which had befallen the Maid. The people, who venerated her as a saint, who went so far as to say that she was the greatest of all God's saints after the Blessed Virgin Mary, who erected images of[Pg ii.161] her in the chapels of saints, who ordered masses to be said for her, and collects in the churches, who wore leaden medals on which she was represented as if the Church had already canonized her,[443] did not withdraw their trust, but continued to believe in her.[444] Such faithfulness scandalized the doctors and masters of the University, who reproached the hapless Maid herself with it. "Jeanne," they said, "hath so seduced the Catholic people, that many have adored her as a saint in her presence, and now in her absence they adore her still."[445]

This was indeed true of many folk and many places. The councillors of the town of Tours ordered public prayers to be offered for the deliverance of the Maid. There was a public procession in which took part the canons of the cathedral church, the clergy of the town, secular and regular, all walking barefoot.[446]

In the towns of Dauphiné prayers for the Maid were said at mass.

"Collect. O God, all powerful and eternal, who, in thy holy and ineffable mercy, hast commanded the Maid to restore and deliver the realm of France, and to repulse, confound and annihilate her enemies, and who hast permitted her, in the accomplishment of this holy work, ordained by thee, to fall into the[Pg ii.162] hands and into the bonds of her enemies, we beseech thee, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints to deliver her out of their hands, without her having suffered any hurt, in order that she may finish the work whereto thou hast sent her."

"For the sake of Jesus Christ, etc."

"Secret. O God all powerful, Father of virtues, let thy holy benediction descend upon this sacrifice; let thy wondrous power be made manifest, that by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, it may deliver the Maid from the prisons of the enemy so that she may finish the work whereto thou hast sent her. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc."

"Post Communion. O God all powerful, incline thine ear and listen unto the prayers of thy people: by the virtue of the Sacrament we have just received, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of all the saints, burst the bonds of the Maid, who, in the fulfilment of thy commands, hath been and is still confined in the prisons of our enemy; through thy divine compassion and thy mercy, permit her, freed from peril, to accomplish the work whereto thou hast sent her. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, etc."[447]

Learning that the Maid, whom he had once suspected of evil intentions and then recognised to be wholly good, had just fallen into the hands of the enemy of the realm, Messire Jacques Gélu, my Lord Archbishop of Embrun, despatched to King Charles[Pg ii.163] a messenger bearing a letter touching the line of conduct to be adopted in such an unhappy conjuncture.[448]

Addressing the Prince, whom in childhood he had directed, Messire Jacques begins by recalling what the Maid had wrought for him by God's help and her own great courage. He beseeches him to examine his conscience and see whether he has in any wise sinned against the grace of God. For it may be that in wrath against the King the Lord hath permitted this virgin to be taken. For his own honour he urges him to strain every effort for her deliverance.

"I commend unto you," he said, "that for the recovery of this damsel and for her ransom, ye spare neither measures nor money, nor any cost, unless ye be ready to incur the ineffaceable disgrace of an ingratitude right unworthy."

Further he advises that prayers be ordered to be said everywhere for the deliverance of the Maid, so that if this disaster should have befallen through any misdoing of the King or of his people, it might please God to pardon it.[449]

Such were the words, lacking neither in strength nor in charity, of this aged prelate, who was more of a hermit than of a bishop. He remembered having been the Dauphin's Councillor in evil days and he dearly loved the King and the kingdom.

The Sire de la Trémouille and the Lord Archbishop of Reims have been suspected of desiring to get rid of[Pg ii.164] the Maid and of having promoted her discomfiture. There are those who think they have discovered the treacherous methods employed to compass her defeat at Paris, at La Charité and at Compiègne.[450] But in good sooth such methods were unnecessary. At Paris there was but little chance of her being able to cross the moat, since neither she nor her companions in arms had ascertained its depth; besides, it was not the fault of the King and his Council that the Carmelites, on whom they relied, failed to open the gates. The siege of La Charité was conducted not by the Maid, but by the Sire d'Albret and divers valiant captains. In the sortie from Compiègne, it was certain that any dallying at Margny would cause the French to be cut off by the English from Venette and by the Burgundians from Clairoix and to be promptly overcome by the Burgundians from Coudun. They forgot themselves in the delights of pillage; and the inevitable result followed.

And why should the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Archbishop have wanted to get rid of the Maid? She did not trouble them; on the contrary they found her useful and employed her. By her prophecy that she would cause the King to be anointed at Reims, she rendered an immense service to my Lord Regnault, who more than any other profited from the Champagne expedition, more even than the King, who, while he succeeded in being crowned, failed to[Pg ii.165] recover Paris and Normandy. Notwithstanding this great advantage, the Lord Archbishop felt no gratitude towards the Maid; he was a hard man and an egoist. But did he wish her harm? Had he not need of her? At Senlis he was maintaining the King's cause; and he was maintaining it well, we may be sure, since, with the towns that had returned to their liege lord, he was defending his own episcopal and ducal city, his benefices and his canonries. Did he not intend to use her against the Burgundians? We have already noted reasons for believing that towards the end of March, he had asked the Sire de la Trémouille to send her from Sully with a goodly company to wage war in l'Île-de-France. And our hypothesis is confirmed when, after they had been unhappily deprived of Jeanne's services, we find the bishop and the Chamberlain driven to replace her by someone likewise favoured with visions and claiming to be sent of God. Unable to discover a maid they had to make shift with a youth. This resolution they took a few days after Jeanne's capture and this is how it came about.

Some time before, a shepherd lad of Gévaudan, by name Guillaume, while tending his flocks at the foot of the Lozère Mountains and guarding them from wolf and lynx, had a revelation concerning the realm of France. This shepherd, like John, Our Lord's favourite disciple, was virgin. In one of the caves of the Mende Mountain, where the holy apostle Privat had prayed and fasted, his ear was struck by a heavenly voice, and thus he knew that God was sending him to the King of France. He went to Mende, just as Jeanne had gone to Vaucouleurs in order that he might be taken to the King. There he found pious folk, who, touched by his holi[Pg ii.166]ness and persuaded that there was power in him, provided for his equipment and for his journey, which provisions, in sooth, amounted to very little. The words he addressed to the King were much the same as those uttered by the Maid.

"Sire," he said, "I am commanded to go with your people; and without fail the English and Burgundians shall be discomfited."[451]

The King received him kindly. The clerks who had examined the Maid must have feared lest if they repulsed this shepherd lad they might be rejecting the aid of the Holy Ghost. Amos was a shepherd, and to him God granted the gift of prophecy: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." Matt. xi, 25.

But before this shepherd could be believed he must give a sign. The clerks of Poitiers, who in those evil days languished in dire penury, did not appear exacting in their demand for proofs; they had counselled the King to employ the Maid merely on the promise that as a token of her mission she would deliver Orléans. The Gévaudan shepherd had more than promises to allege; he showed wondrous marks on his body. Like Saint Francis he had received the stigmata; and on his hands, his feet and in his side were bleeding wounds.[452]

The mendicant monks rejoiced that their spiritual father had thus participated in the Passion of Our Lord. A like grace had been granted to the Blessed[Pg ii.167] Catherine of Sienna, of the order of Saint Dominic. But if there were miraculous stigmata imprinted by Jesus Christ himself, there were also the stigmata of enchantment, which were the work of the Devil, and very important was it to distinguish between the two.[453] It could only be done by great knowledge and great piety. It would appear that Guillaume's stigmata were not the work of the devil; for it was resolved to employ him in the same manner as Jeanne, as Catherine de la Rochelle, and as the two Breton women, the spiritual daughters of Friar Richard.

When the Maid fell into the hands of the Burgundians, the Sire de la Trémouille was with the King, on the Loire, where fighting had ceased since the disastrous siege of La Charité. He sent the shepherd youth to the banks of the Oise, to the Lord Archbishop of Reims, who was there opposing the Burgundians, commanded by Duke Philip, himself. Messire Regnault had probably asked for the boy. In any case he welcomed him willingly and kept him at Beauvais, supervising and interrogating him, ready to use him at an auspicious moment. One day, either to try him or because the rumour was really in circulation, young Guillaume was told that the English had put Jeanne to death.

"Then," said he, "it will be the worse for them."[454]

By this time, after all the rivalries and jealousies which had torn asunder this company of the King's béguines, there remained to Friar Richard one only of his penitents, Dame Catherine of La Rochelle,[Pg ii.168] who had the gift of discovering hidden treasure.[455] The young shepherd approved of the Maid as little as Dame Catherine had done.

"God suffered Jeanne to be taken," he said, "because she was puffed up with pride and because of the rich clothes she wore and because she had not done as God commanded her but according to her own will."[456]

Were these words suggested to him by the enemies of the Maid? That may be: but it is also possible that he derived them from inspiration. Saints are not always kind to one another.

Meanwhile Messire Regnault de Chartres believed himself possessed of a marvel far surpassing the marvel he had lost. He wrote a letter to the inhabitants of his town of Reims telling them that the Maid had been taken at Compiègne.

This misfortune had befallen her through her own fault, he added. "She would not take advice, but would follow her own will." In her stead God had sent a shepherd, "who says neither more nor less than Jeanne." God has strictly commanded him to discomfit the English and the Burgundians. And the Lord Archbishop neglects not to repeat the words by which the prophet of Gévaudan had represented Jeanne as proud, gorgeous in attire, rebellious of heart.[457] The Reverend Father in God, my Lord Regnault, would never have consented to employ a heretic and a sorcerer; he believed in Guillaume as he had believed in Jeanne; he held both one and the other to have been divinely sent, in the sense that all which is not of the devil is of God. It was sufficient for him[Pg ii.169] that no evil had been found in the child, and he intended to essay him, hoping that Guillaume would do what Jeanne had done. Whether the Archbishop thus acted rightly or wrongly the issue was to decide, but he might have exalted the shepherd without denying the Saint who was so near her martyrdom. Doubtless he deemed it necessary to distinguish between the fortune of the kingdom and the fortune of Jeanne. And he had the courage to do it.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE TO VOLUME 2 CHAPTER 9

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