Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Jeanne d'Arc: Her Life and Death Chapter 6

THE CORONATION.
JULY 17, 1429.

The road was now clear, and even the most timid of counsellors could not longer hold back the most indolent of kings. Jeanne had kept her word once more and fulfilled her own prophecy, and a force of enthusiasm and certainty, not to be put down, pressed forward the unwilling Court towards the great ceremonial of the coronation, to which all except those most chiefly concerned attached so great an importance. Charles would have hesitated still, and questioned the possibility of resistance on the part of Rheims, if that city had not sent a deputation of citizens with the keys of the town, to meet him. After this it was but a triumphal march into the sacred place, where the great cathedral dominated a swarming, busy, mediæval city. King and Archbishop had a double triumph, for the priest like the monarch had been shut out from his lawful throne, and it was only in the train of the Maid that this great ecclesiastic was able to take possession of his dignities. The King alighted with the Archbishop at the Archevêché which is close to the cathedral, an immense, old palace in which the heads of the expedition were lodged. There is a magnificent old hall still remaining in which no doubt they all assembled, scarcely able to believe that their object was accomplished and that the King of France was actually in Rheims, and all the prophecies fulfilled. The Archbishop marched into the city in the morning; Charles and his Court, and all his great seigneurs, and the body of his army, in which there were many fighting men half armed, and some in their rustic clothes as they had left their fields to join the King in his march–poured in in the evening, after the ecclesiastical procession, filling the town with commotion. Jeanne rode beside the King, her banner in her hand. It was July, the vigil of the Madeleine, and every church poured forth its crowd to witness the entry, and the populace, half troubled, half glad, gazed its eyes out upon the white warrior at the side of the King. Her father and uncle were there to meet her at the old inn in the Place, which still proudly preserves the record of the peasant guests: two astonished rustics, no doubt, were thrust forth from some window to watch that incredible sight– Jacques who would rather have drowned his daughter with his own hands, than have seen her thus launched among men, gazing still aghast at the resplendent figure of the chevalière at the head of the procession. This was very different from what he had thought of when his village respectability was tortured by the idea of his girl among the troopers, yet probably the rigid peasant had never changed his mind.

We are told by M. Blaze de Bury of an ancient custom which we do not find stated elsewhere. A platform was erected, he tells us, outside the choir of the cathedral to which the King was led the evening before the coronation, surrounded by his peers, who showed him to the assembled people with a traditional proclamation: “Here is your King whom we, peers of France, crown as King and sovereign lord. And if there is a soul here which has any objection to make, let him speak and we will answer him. And to-morrow he shall be consecrated by the grace of the Holy Spirit if you have nothing to say against it.” The people replied by cries of “Noël, Noël!” It is not to be supposed that the veto of the people of Rheims would have been effectual had they opposed: but the scene is wonderfully picturesque. No doubt Jeanne too was there, watching over her King, as she seems to have done, like a mother over her child, at this crisis of his affairs.

That night there was little sleep in Rheims, for everything had to be prepared in haste, the decorations of the cathedral, the provisions for the ceremonial. Many of the necessary articles were at Saint Denis in the hands of the English, and the treasury of the cathedral had to be ransacked to find the fitting vessels. Fortunately it was rich, more rich probably than it is now, when the commonplace silver of the beginning of this century has replaced the ancient vials. Through the short summer night everyone was at work in these preparations; and by the dawn of day visitors began to flow into the city, great personages and small, to attend the great ceremonial and to pay their homage. The greatest of all was the Duke of Lorraine, he who had consulted Jeanne about his health, husband of the heiress of that rich principality, and son of Queen Yolande who was no doubt with the Court. All France seemed to pour into the famous town, where so important an act was about to be accomplished, with money and wine flowing on all hands, and the enthusiasm growing along with the popular excitement and profit. Even great London is stirred to its limits, many miles off from the centre of proceedings, by such a great event; how much more the little mediæval city, in which every one might hope to see something of the pageant, as one shining group after another, with armour blazing in the sun, and sleek horses caracoling, arrived at the great gates of the Archevêché: and lesser parties scarcely less interesting poured in in need of lodging, of equipment and provisions; while every housewife searched her stores for a piece of brilliant stuff, of old silk or embroidery, to make her house shine like the rest.

Early in the morning, a wonderful procession came out of the Archbishop’s house. Four splendid peers of France, in full armour with their banners, rode through the streets to the old Abbey of Saint Remy –the old church which Leo IX. consecrated, in the eleventh century, on an equally splendid occasion, and which may still be seen to-day– to fetch from its shrine, where it was strictly guarded by the monks, the Sainte Ampoule, the holy and sacred vial in which the oil of consecration had been sent to Clovis out of Heaven. These noble messengers were the “hostages” of this sacred charge, engaging themselves by an oath never to lose sight of it by night or day, till it was restored to its appointed guardians. This vow having been made, the Abbot of St. Remy, in his richest robes, appeared surrounded by his monks, carrying the treasure in his hands; and under a splendid canopy, blazing in the sunshine with cloth of gold, marched towards the cathedral under the escort of the Knights Hostages, blazing also in the flashes of their armour. This procession was met half-way, before the Church of St. Denis, by another, that of the Archbishop and his train, to whom the holy oil was solemnly confided, and carried by them to the cathedral, already filled by a dazzled and dazzling crowd.

The Maid had her occupations this July morning like the rest. We hear nothing of any interview with her father, or with Durand the good uncle who had helped her in the beginning of her career; though it was Durand who was sent for to the King and questioned as to Jeanne’s life in her childhood and early youth; which we may take as proof that Jacques d’Arc still stood aloof, dour, as a Scotch peasant father might have been, suspicious of his daughter’s intimacy with all these fine people, and in no way cured of his objections to the publicity which is little less than shame to such rugged folk. And there were his two sons who would take him about, and with whom probably in their easier commonplace he was more at home than with Jeanne. What the Maid had to do on the morning of the coronation day was something very different from any home talk with her relations. She who felt herself commissioned not only to lead the armies of France, but to deal with her princes and take part in her councils, occupied the morning in dictating a letter to the Duke of Burgundy. She had summoned the English by letter three times repeated, to withdraw peaceably from the possessions which by God’s will were French. It was with still better reason that she summoned Philip of Burgundy to renounce his feud with his cousin, and thus to heal the breach which had torn France in two:

JHESUS, MARIA.

High and redoubtable Prince, Duke of Burgundy. Jeanne the Maid requires on the part of the King of Heaven, my most just sovereign and Lord (/mon droicturier souverain seigneur), that the King of France and you make peace between yourselves, firm, strong and that will endure. Pardon each other of good heart, entirely, as loyal Christians ought to do, and if you desire to fight let it be against the Saracens. Prince of Burgundy, I pray, supplicate, and require, as humbly as may be, fight no longer against the holy kingdom of France: withdraw, at once and speedily, your people who are in any strongholds or fortresses of the said holy kingdom; and on the part of the gentle King of France, he is ready to make peace with you, having respect to his honour, and upon your life that you never will gain a battle against loyal Frenchmen and that all those who war against the said holy kingdom of France, war against the King Jesus, King of Heaven and of all the world and my just and sovereign Lord. And I pray and require with clasped hands that you fight not, nor make any battle against us, neither your friends nor your subjects; but believe always however great in number may be the men you lead against us, that you will never win, and it would be great pity for the great battle and the blood that would be shed of those who came against us. Three weeks ago I sent you a letter by a herald that you should be present at the consecration of the King, which to-day, Sunday, the seventeenth of the present month of July, is done in the city of Rheims: to which I have had no answer, nor even any news by the said herald. To God I commend you, and may He be your guard if it pleases Him, and I pray God to make good peace.

Written at the aforesaid Rheims, the seventeenth day of July, 1429.

When the letter was finished Jeanne put on her armour and prepared for the great ceremony. We are not told what part she took in it, nor is any more prominent position assigned to her than among the noble crowd of peers and generals who surrounded the altar, where her place would naturally be, upon the broad raised platform of the choir, so excellently adapted for such ceremonies. Her banner we are told was borne into the cathedral, in order, as she proudly explained afterwards, that having been foremost in the danger it should share the honour.

But we have no right to suppose that the Maid took the position of the chief actor in the pageant and stood alone by the side of Charles, as the exigencies of the pictorial art have required her to do. When, however, the ceremony was completed, and he had received on his knees the anointing which separated him as king from every other class of men, and while the lofty vaults echoed with the cries of Noël! Noël! by which the people hailed the completed ceremony, Jeanne could contain herself no longer. The object was attained for which she had laboured and struggled, and overcome every opponent. She stepped forward out of the brilliant crowd, and threw herself at the feet of the now crowned monarch, embracing his knees. “Gentle King,” she cried with tears, “now is the pleasure of God fulfilled–whose will it was that I should raise the siege of Orleans and lead you to this city of Rheims to receive your consecration. Now has He shown that you are true King, and that the kingdom of France truly belongs to you alone.”

Those broken words, her tears, the cry of that profound satisfaction which is almost anguish, the “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” which is so suitable to the lips of the old, so poignant from those of the young, pierced all hearts. It is added that she asked leave to withdraw, her work being done, and that all who saw her were filled with sympathy. It was no doubt the irresistible outburst of a heart too full; and though that fulness was all joy and triumph, yet there was in it a sense of completed work, a rending asunder and tearing away from life, the end of a wonderful and triumphant tale.

There is a considerable controversy as to the precise meaning of that outburst of emotion. Did the Maid mean that her work was over, and her divine mission fulfilled? Was this all that she believed herself to be appointed to do? or did she expect, as she sometimes said, to bouter the English out of France altogether? In the one case she ought to have relinquished her work, and in not doing so she acted without the protection of God which had hitherto made her invulnerable. In the other, her “voices,” her inspiration, must have failed her, for her course of triumph went no farther. It is impossible to decide between these contending theories. She did speak in both senses, sometimes declaring that she was to take Paris, sometimes, her intention to bouter the English out of the kingdom. At the same time she betrayed a constant conviction that her office had limitations and must come to an end. “I will last but a year,” she said to the King and to Alençon. The testimony of Dunois seems to be the best we can have on this point. He says in his deposition, made many years after her death: “Although Jeanne sometimes talked playfully to amuse people, of things concerning the war which were not afterwards accomplished, yet when she spoke seriously of the war, and of her own career and her vocation, she never affirmed anything but that she was sent to raise the siege of Orleans and to lead the King to Rheims to be crowned.”

If this were so was she wrong in continuing her warfare, and did she place herself in the position of one who goes on her own charges, finding the mission from on high unnecessary? Or in the other case did her inspiration fail her, or were the intrigues of Charles and his Court sufficient to balk the designs of Heaven? We prefer to think that Jeanne’s commission concerned only those two things which she accomplished so completely; but that in continuing the war, she acted only as a well inspired and honourable young soldier might, though no longer as the direct messenger of God. She had as much right to do so as to return to her distaff or her needle in her native village; but she became subject to all the ordinary laws of war by so doing, exposed herself to be taken or overthrown like any man-at-arms, and accepted that risk. What is certain is, that every intrigue sprang up again afresh on the evening of that brilliant and triumphant ceremonial, and that from the moment of the accomplishment of her great work the failure of the Maid began.

These intrigues had been in her way since her very first beginning, as has been seen. At Orleans, in the very field as well as in the council chamber and the presence, everything was done to balk her, and to cross her plans, but in vain; she triumphed over every contrivance against her, and broke through the plots, and overcame the plotters. But after Rheims the combination of dangers became ever greater and greater, and we may say that no merely human general would have had a chance in face of the many and bewildering influences of evil. Charles who was himself, at least at this period of his career, sufficiently indolent and unenterprising to have damped the energies of any commander, was, in addition, surrounded by advisers who had always been impatient and jealous of the interference of Jeanne, and would have cast her off as a witch, or passed her by as an impostor, had that been possible, without permitting her to strike a blow. They had now grudgingly made use of her, or rather, for this is too much to say, had permitted her action where they had no power to restrain it: but they were as little friendly, as malignant in their treatment of the Maid as ever, and more hopeful, now that so much had been done by her means, of being able to shake her off and pursue their fate in their own way.

The position of Charles crowned King of France with all the traditional pomp, master of the Orleannais, with fresh bands of supporters coming in to swell his army day by day, and Paris itself almost within his reach, was very different from that of the discredited Dauphin at Chinon, whom half the world believed to have no right to the crown which his own mother had signed away from him, and who wasted his idle days in folly to the profit of the greedy councillors who schemed and trafficked with his enemies, and to the destruction of all his hopes. The strange apparition of virginal purity, energy, and faith which had taken up and saved him against his will and all his efforts had not ceased for a moment to be hateful to La Tremouille and his party; and Charles–though he seems to have had a certain appreciation of the Maid, and even a liking for her frank and fearless character, apart from any faith in her mission–was far too ready to accept the facts of the moment, and probably to believe that, after all, his own worth and favour with Heaven had a great deal to do with this dazzling triumph and success: certainly he was not the man to make any stand for his deliverer. But that she was an auxiliary too important to be sent away was reluctantly apparent to them all. To keep her as a sort of tame angel about the Court in order to be produced when she was wanted, to put heart into the soldiers and frighten the English as she certainly had the gift of doing, no doubt appeared to all as a thing desirable enough. And they dared not let her go “because of the people,” nor, may we believe, would Alençon, Dunois, La Hire, and the rest have tolerated thus the abandonment of their comrade. To dismiss her even at her own word would have been impossible, and it is hard to believe that Jeanne, after that extraordinary brief career as a triumphant general and leader, could have gone back to her father’s cottage of the village, though she thought she would fain have done so. If we are to believe that she felt her mission to be fulfilled, she was yet mistress of her fate to serve France and the King as seemed best.

And we have no evidence that her “voices” forsook her, or discouraged her. They seem to have changed a little in their burden, they began to mingle a sadder tone in their intimations. It began to be breathed into her mind though not immediately, that something was to happen to her, some disaster not explained, yet that God was to be with her. It seems to me that all the circumstances are compatible with a change in Jeanne’s consciousness, from the moment of the coronation. It might have been a grander thing had she retired there and then, her work being accomplished as she declared it to be; but it would not have been human. She was still a power, if no longer the direct messenger from Heaven; a general, with much skill and natural aptitude if not the Sent of God; and the ardour of a military career had got into her veins. No doubt she was much more good for that, now, than for sitting by the side of Isabeau d’Arc at Domremy, and working even into a piece of embroidery for the altar, her remembrances and visions of camp and siege and the intoxication of victory. She remained, conscious that she was no longer exactly as of old, to fight not only against the English, but with intimate enemies, far more bitter, whom now she knew, against the ordinary fortune of war, and against that which is a thousand times worse, the hatred and envy, the cruel carelessness, and the malignant schemes of her own countrymen for whom she had fought.

This, so far as we can judge, appears to be the position of Jeanne in the second portion of her career; perhaps only dimly apprehended and at moments, by herself; not much thought of probably by those around her, the wisest of whom had always been sceptical of her divine commission; while the populace never saw any change in her, and believed that at one time as well as at another the Maid was the Maid, and had victory at her command. And no doubt that influence would have endured for some time at least, and her dauntless rush against every obstacle would have carried success with it, had she been able to carry out her plans, and fly forth upon Paris as she had done upon Orleans, carrying on the campaign swiftly, promptly, without pause or uncertainty. Bedford himself said that Paris “would fall at a blow," if she came on. It had been hard enough, however, to do that, as we have seen, when she was the only hope of France and had the fire of the divine enthusiasm in her veins; but it was still more hard now to mould a young King elated with triumph, beginning to feel the crown safe upon his head, and to feel that if there was still much to gain, there was now a great deal to be lost. The position was complicated and made more difficult for Jeanne by every advantage she had gained.

In the meantime the secret negotiations, which were always being carried on under the surface, had come to this point, that Charles had made a private treaty with Philip of Burgundy by which that prince pledged himself to give up Paris into the King’s hands within fifteen days. This agreement furnished a sufficient pretext for the delay in marching against Paris, delay which was Charles’s invariable method, and which but for Jeanne’s hardihood and determination, had all but crushed the expedition to Rheims itself. It was never with any will of his or of his adviser, La Tremouille, that any stronghold was assailed. He would fain have passed by Troyes, as the reader will remember, he would fain have delayed going to Rheims; in each case he had been forced to move by the impetuosity of the Maid. But a treaty which touched the honour of the King was a different matter. Philip of Burgundy, with whom it was made, seems to have held the key of the position. He was called to Paris by Bedford on one side to defend the city against its lawful King; he had pledged himself on the other to Charles to give it up. He had in his hands, though it is uncertain whether he ever read it, that missive of the sorceress, the letter of Jeanne which I have quoted, calling upon him on the part of God to make peace. What was he to do? There were reasons drawing him to both sides. He was the enemy of Charles on account of the murder of his father, and therefore had every interest in keeping Paris from him; he was angry with the English on account of the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester with Jacqueline of Brabant, which interfered with his own rights and safety in Flanders, and therefore might have served himself by giving up the capital to the King. As for the appeal of Jeanne, what was the letter of that mad creature to a prince and statesman? The progress of affairs was arrested by this double problem. Jeanne had been the prominent, the only important figure in the history of France for some months past. Now that shining figure was jostled aside, and the ordinary laws of life, with all the counter changes of negotiation, the ineffectual comings and goings, the meaner half-seen persons, the fierce contending personal interests–in which there was no love of either God or man, or any elevated notion of patriotism– came again into play.

Jeanne would seem to have already foreseen and felt this change even before she left Rheims; there is a new tone of sadness in some of her recorded words; or if not of sadness, at least of consciousness that an end was approaching to all these triumphs and splendours. The following tale is told in various different versions, as occurring with different people; but the account I give is taken from the lips of Dunois himself, a very competent witness. As the King, after his coronation, wended his way through the country, receiving submission and joyous welcome from every village and little town, it happened that while passing through the town of La Ferté, Jeanne rode between the Archbishop of Rheims and Dunois. The Archbishop had never been friendly to the Maid, and now it was clear, watched her with that half satirical, half amused look of the wise man, curious and cynical in presence of the incomprehensible, observing her ways and very ready to catch her tripping and to entangle her if possible in her own words. The people thronged the way, full of enthusiasm, acclaiming the King and shouting their joyful exclamations of “Noël!” though it does not appear that any part of their devotion was addressed to Jeanne herself. “Oh, the good people,” she cried with tears in her eyes, “how joyful they are to see their noble King! And how happy should I be to end my days and be buried here among them!” The priest unmoved by such an exclamation from so young a mouth attempted instantly, like the Jewish doctors with our Lord, to catch her in her words and draw from her some expression that might be used against her. “Jeanne,” he said, “in what place do you expect to die?” It was a direct challenge to the messenger of Heaven to take upon herself the gift of prophecy. But Jeanne in her simplicity shattered the snare which probably she did not even perceive: “When it pleases God,” she said. “I know neither the place nor the time.”

It was enough, however, that she should think of death and of the sweetness of it, after her work accomplished, in the very moment of her height of triumph–to show something of a new leaven working in her virgin soul.

One characteristic reward, however, Jeanne did receive. Her father and uncle were lodged at the public cost as benefactors of the kingdom, as may still be seen by the inscription on the old inn in the great Place at Rheims; and when Jacques d’Arc left the city he carried with him a patent–better than one of nobility which, however, came to the family later–of exemption for the villages of Domremy and Greux of all taxes and tributes; “an exemption maintained and confirmed up to the Revolution, in favour of the said Maid, native of that parish, in which are her relations.” “In the register of the Exchequer,” says M. Blaze de Bury, “at the name of the parish of Greux and Domremy, the place for the receipt is blank, with these words as explanation: à cause de la Pucelle, on account of the Maid.” There could not have been a more delightful reward or one more after her own heart. It would be a graceful act of the France of to-day, which has so warmly revived the name and image of her maiden deliverer, to renew so touching a distinction to her native place.

We are told that Jeanne parted with her father and uncle with tears, longing that she might return with them and go back to her mother who would rejoice to see her again. This was no doubt quite true, though it might be equally true that she could not have gone back. Did not the father return, a little sullen, grasping the present he had himself received, not sure still that it was not disreputable to have a daughter who wore coat armour and rode by the side of the King, a position certainly not proper for maidens of humble birth? The dazzled peasants turned their backs upon her while she was thus at the height of glory, and never, so far as appears, saw her face again.

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