Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Jeanne d'Arc: Her Life and Death Chapter 4

THE RELIEF OF ORLEANS.
MAY 1-8, 1429.

Next morning there was a council of war among the many leaders now collected within the town. It was the eager desire of Jeanne that an assault should be made at once, in all the enthusiasm of the moment, upon the English towers, without waiting even for the arrival of the little army which she had preceded. But the captains of the defence who had borne the heat and burden of the day, and who might naturally enough be irritated by the enthusiasm with which this stranger had been received, were of a different opinion. I quote here a story, for which I am told there is no foundation whatever, touching a personage who probably never existed, so that the reader may take it as he pleases, with indulgence for the writer’s weakness, or indignation at her credulity. It seems to me, however, to express very naturally a sentiment which must have existed among the many captains who had been fighting unsuccessfully for months in defence of the beleaguered city. A certain Guillaume de Gamache felt himself insulted above all by the suggestion. “What,” he cried, “is the advice of this hussy from the fields (/une péronnelle de bas lieu) to be taken against that of a knight and captain! I will fold up my banner and become again a simple soldier. I would rather have a nobleman for my master than a woman whom nobody knows.”

Dunois, who was too wise to weaken the forces at his command by such a quarrel, is said to have done his best to reconcile and soothe the angry captain. This, however, if it was true, was only a mild instance of the perpetual opposition which the Maid encountered from the very beginning of her career and wherever she went. Notwithstanding her victories, she remained through all her career a péronnelle to these men of war (with the noble exception, of course, of Alençon, Dunois, Xaintrailles, La Hire, and others). They were sore and wounded by her appearance and her claims. If they could cheat her, balk her designs, steal a march in any way, they did so, from first to last, always excepting the few who were faithful to her. Dunois could afford to be magnanimous, but the lesser men were jealous, envious, embittered. A péronnelle, a woman nobody knew! And they themselves were belted knights, experienced soldiers, of the best blood of France. It was not unnatural; but this atmosphere of hate, malice, and mortification forms the background of the picture wherever the Maid moves in her whiteness, illuminating to us the whole scene. The English hated her lustily as their enemy and a witch, casting spells and enchantments so that the strength was sucked out of a man’s arm and the courage from his heart: but the Frenchmen, all but those who were devoted to her, regarded her with an ungenerous opposition, the hate of men shamed and mortified by every triumph she achieved.

Jeanne was angry, too, and disappointed, more than she had been by all discouragements before. She had believed, perhaps, that once in the field these oppositions would be over, and that her mission would be rapidly accomplished. But she neither rebelled nor complained. What she did was to occupy herself about what she felt to be her business, without reference to any commander. She sent out two heralds,[1] who were attached to her staff, and therefore at her personal disposal, to summon once more Talbot and Glasdale (Classidas, as the French called him) de la part de Dieu to evacuate their towers and return home. It would seem that in her miraculous soul she had a visionary hope that this appeal might be successful. What so noble, what so Christian, as that the one nation should give up, of free-will, its attempt upon the freedom and rights of another, if once the duty were put simply before it–and both together joining hands, march off, as she had already suggested, to do the noblest deed that had ever yet been done for Christianity? That same evening she rode forth with her little train; and placing herself on the town end of the bridge (which had been broken in the middle), as near as the breach would permit to the bastille, or fort of the Tourelles, which was built across the further end of the bridge, on the left side of the Loire–called out to the enemy, summoning them once more to withdraw while there was time. She was overwhelmed, as might have been expected, with a storm of abusive shouts and evil words, Classidas and his captains hurrying to the walls to carry on the fierce exchange of abuse. To be called dairy- maid and péronnelle was a light matter, but some of the terms used were so cruel that, according to some accounts, she betrayed her womanhood by tears, not prepared apparently for the use of such foul weapons against her. The Journal du Siège declares, however, that she was “aucunement yrée” (angry), but answered that they lied, and rode back to the city.

The next Sunday, the 1st of May, Dunois, alarmed by the delay of his main body, set out for Blois to meet them, and we are told that Jeanne accompanied him to the special point of danger, where the English from their fortifications might have stopped his progress, and took up a position there, along with La Hire, between the expedition and the enemy. But in the towers not a man budged, not a shot was fired. It was again a miracle, and she had predicted it. The party of Dunois marched on in safety, and Jeanne returned to Orleans, once more receiving on the breeze some words of abuse from the defenders of those battlements, which sent forth no more dangerous missile, and replying again with her summons, “Retournez de la par Dieu à Angleterre.” The townsfolk watched her coming and going with an excitement impossible to describe; they walked by the side of her charger to the cathedral, which was the end of every progress; they talked to her, all speaking together, pressing upon her–and she to them, bidding them to have no fear. “Messire has sent me,” she said again and again. She went out again, Wednesday, 4th May, on the return of Dunois, to meet the army, with the same result, that they entered quietly, the English not firing a shot.

On this same day, in the afternoon, after the early dinner, there happened a wonderful scene. Jeanne, it appeared, had fallen asleep after her meal, no doubt tired with the expedition of the morning, and her chief attendant, D’Aulon, who had accompanied Dunois to fetch the troops from Blois, being weary after his journey, had also stretched himself on a couch to rest. They were all tired, the entry of the troops having been early in the morning, a fact of which the angry captains of Orleans, who had not shared in that expedition, took advantage to make a secret sortie unknown to the new chiefs. All at once the Maid awoke in agitation and alarm. Her “voices” had awakened her from her sleep. “My council tell me to go against the English," she cried; “but if to assail their towers or to meet Fastolfe I cannot tell.” As she came to the full command of her faculties her trouble grew. “The blood of our soldiers is flowing,” she said; “why did they not tell me? My arms, my arms!” Then she rushed down stairs to find her page amusing himself in the tranquil afternoon, and called to him for her horse. All was quiet, and no doubt her attendants thought her mad: but D’Aulon, who knew better than to contradict his mistress, armed her rapidly, and Luis, the page, brought her horse to the door. By this time there began to rise a distant rumour and outcry, at which they all pricked their ears. As Jeanne put her foot in the stirrup she perceived that her standard was wanting, and called to the page, Louis de Contes, above, to hand it to her out of the window. Then with the heavy flag-staff in her hand she set spurs to her horse, her attendants one by one clattering after her, and dashed onward “so that the fire flashed from the pavement under the horse’s feet.”

Jeanne’s presentiment was well-founded. There had been a private expedition against the English fort of St. Loup carried out quietly to steal a march upon her–Gamache, possibly, or other malcontents of his temper, in the hope perhaps of making use of her prestige to gain a victory without her presence. But it had happened with this sally as with many others which had been made from Orleans; and when Jeanne appeared outside the gate which she and the rest of the followers after her had almost forced–coming down upon them at full gallop, her standard streaming, her white armour in a blaze of reflection, she met the fugitives flying back towards the shelter of the town. She does not seem to have paused or to have deigned to address a word to them, though the troop of soldiers and citizens who had snatched arms and flung themselves after her, arrested and turned them back. Straight to the foot of the tower she went, Dunois startled in his turn, thundering after her. It is not for a woman to describe, any more than it was for a woman to execute such a feat of war. It is said that she put herself at the head of the citizens, Dunois at the head of the soldiers. One moment of pity and horror and heart-sickness Jeanne had felt when she met several wounded men who were being carried towards the town. She had never seen French blood shed before, and the dreadful thought that they might die unconfessed, overwhelmed her soul; but this was but an incident of her breathless gallop to the encounter. To isolate the tower which was attacked was the first necessity, and then the conflict was furious–the English discouraged, but fighting desperately against a mysterious force which overwhelmed them, at the same time that it redoubled the ardour of every Frenchman. Lord Talbot sent forth parties from the other forts to help their companions, but these were met in the midst by the rest of the army arriving from Orleans, which stopped their course. It was not till evening, “the hour of Vespers,” that the bastille was finally taken, with great slaughter, the Orleanists giving little quarter. During these dreadful hours the Maid was everywhere visible with her standard, the most marked figure, shouting to her men, weeping for the others, not fighting herself so far as we hear, but always in the front of the battle. When she went back to Orleans triumphant, she led a band of prisoners with her, keeping a wary eye upon them that they might not come to harm.

The next day, May 5th, was the Feast of the Ascension, and it was spent by Jeanne in rest and in prayer. But the other leaders were not so devout. They held a crowded and anxious council of war, taking care that no news of it should reach the ears of the Maid. When, however, they had decided upon the course to pursue they sent for her, and intimated to her their decision to attack only the smaller forts, which she heard with great impatience, not sitting down, but walking about the room in disappointment and anger. It is difficult[2] for the present writer to follow the plans of this council or to understand in what way Jeanne felt herself contradicted and set aside. However it was, the fact seems certain that their plan failed at first, the English having themselves abandoned one of the smaller forts on the right side of the river and concentrated their forces in the greater ones of Les Augustins and Les Tourelles on the left bank. For all this, reference to the map is necessary, which will make it quite clear. It was Classidas, as he is called, Glasdale, the most furious enemy of France, and one of the bravest of the English captains who held the former, and for a moment succeeded in repulsing the attack. The fortune of war seemed about to turn back to its former current, and the French fell back on the boats which had brought them to the scene of action, carrying the Maid with them in their retreat. But she perceived how critical the moment was, and reining up her horse from the bank, down which she was being forced by the crowd, turned back again, closely followed by La Hire, and at once, no doubt, by the stouter hearts who only wanted a leader–and charging the English, who had regained their courage as the white armour of the witch disappeared, and were in full career after the fugitives–drove them back to their fortifications, which they gained with a rush, leaving the ground strewn with the wounded and dying. Jeanne herself did not draw bridle till she had planted her standard on the edge of the moat which surrounded the tower.

Michelet is very brief concerning this first victory, and claims only that “the success was due in part to the Maid," although the crowd of captains and men-at-arms where by themselves quite sufficient for the work, had there been any heart in them. But this was true to fact in almost every case: and it is clear that she was simply the heart, which was the only thing wanted to those often beaten Frenchmen; where she was, where they could hear her robust young voice echoing over all the din, they were as men inspired; when the impetus of their flight carried her also away, they became once more the defeated of so many battles. The effect upon the English was equally strong; when the back of Jeanne was turned, they were again the men of Agincourt; when she turned upon them, her white breastplate blazing out like a star, the sunshine striking dazzling rays from her helmet, they trembled before the sorceress; an angel to her own side, she was the very spirit of magic and witchcraft to her opponents. Classidas, or which captain soever of the English side it might happen to be, blaspheming from the battlements, hurled all the evil names of which a trooper was capable, upon her, while she from below summoned them, in different tones of appeal and menace, calling upon them to yield, to go home, to give up the struggle. Her form, her voice are always evident in the midst of the great stone bullets, the cloth-yard shafts that were flying–they were so near, the one above, the other below, that they could hear each other speak.

On the 7th of May the fort of Les Augustins on the left bank was taken. It will be seen by reference to the map, that this bastille, an ancient convent, stood at some distance from the river, in peaceful times a little way beyond the bridge, and no doubt a favourite Sunday walk from the city. The bridge was now closed up by the frowning bulk of the Tourelles built upon it, with a smaller tower or “boulevard” on the left bank communicating with it by a drawbridge. When Les Augustins was taken, the victorious French turned their arms against this boulevard, but as night had fallen by this time, they suspended the fighting, having driven back the English, who had made a sally in help of Les Augustins. Here in the dark, which suited their purpose, another council was held. The captains decided that they would now pursue their victory no further, the town being fully supplied with provisions and joyful with success, but that they would await the arrival of reinforcements before they proceeded further; probably their object was solely to get rid of Jeanne, to conclude the struggle without her, and secure the credit of it. The council was held in the camp within sight of the fort, by the light of torches; after she had been persuaded to withdraw, on account of a slight wound in her foot from a calthrop, it is said. This message was sent after her into Orleans. She heard it with quiet disdain. “You have held your council, and I have had mine,” she said calmly to the messengers; then turning to her chaplain, “Come to me to-morrow at dawn,” she said, “and do not leave me; I shall have much to do. My blood will be shed. I shall be wounded[3] to-morrow,” pointing above her right breast. Up to this time no weapon had touched her; she had stood fast among all the flying arrows, the fierce play of spear and sword, and had taken no harm.

In the morning early, at sunrise, she dashed forth from the town again, though the generals, her hosts, and all the authorities who were in the plot endeavoured to detain her. “Stay with us, Jeanne," said the people with whom she lodged–official people, much above the rank of the Maid–"stay and help us to eat this fish fresh out of the river.” “Keep it for this evening,” she said, “and I shall return by the bridge and bring you some Goddens to have their share.” She had already brought in a party of the Goddens on the night before to protect them from the fury of the crowd. The peculiarity of this promise lay in the fact that the bridge was broken, and could not be passed, even without that difficulty, without passing through the Tourelles and the boulevard which blocked it at the other end. At the closed gates another great official stood by, to prevent her passing, but he was soon swept away by the flood of enthusiasts who followed the white horse and its white rider. The crowd flung themselves into the boats to cross the river with her, horse and man. Les Tourelles stood alone, black and frowning across the shining river in its early touch of golden sunshine, on the south side of the Loire, the lower tower of the boulevard on the bank blackened with the fire of last night’s attack, and the smoking ruins of Les Augustins beyond. The French army, whom Orleans had been busy all night feeding and encouraging, lay below, not yet apparently moving either for action or retreat. Jeanne plunged among them like a ray of light, D’Aulon carrying her banner; and passing through the ranks, she took up her place on the border of the moat of the boulevard. Her followers rushed after with that élan of desperate and uncalculating valour which was the great power of the French arms. In the midst of the fray the girl’s clear voice, assez voix de femme, kept shouting encouragements, de la part de Dieu always her war-cry. “Bon cœur, bonne espérance,” she cried–"the hour is at hand.” But after hours of desperate fighting the spirit of the assailants began to flag. Jeanne, who apparently did not at any time take any active part in the struggle, though she exposed herself to all its dangers, seized a ladder, placed it against the wall, and was about to mount, when an arrow struck her full in the breast. The Maid fell, the crowd closed round; for a moment it seemed as if all were lost.

Here we have over again in the fable our friend Gamache. It is a pretty story, and though we ask no one to take it for absolute fact, there is no reason why some such incident might not have occurred. Gamache, the angry captain who rather than follow a péronnelle to the field was prepared to fold his banner round its staff, and give up his rank, is supposed to have been the nearest to her when she fell. It was he who cleared the crowd from about her and raised her up. “Take my horse,” he said, “brave creature. Bear no malice. I confess that I was in the wrong.” “It is I that should be wrong if I bore malice,” cried Jeanne, “for never was a knight so courteous" (/chevalier si bien apprins). She was surrounded immediately by her people, the chaplain whom she had bidden to keep near her, her page, all her special attendants, who would have conveyed her out of the fight had she consented. Jeanne had the courage to pull the arrow out of the wound with her own hand,–"it stood a hand breadth out” behind her shoulder–but then, being but a girl and this her first experience of the sort, notwithstanding her armour and her rank as General-in- Chief, she cried with the pain, this commander of seventeen. Somebody then proposed to charm the wound with an incantation, but the Maid indignant, cried out, “I would rather die.” Finally a compress soaked in oil was placed upon it, and Jeanne withdrew a little with her chaplain, and made her confession to him, as one who might be about to die.

But soon her mood changed. She saw the assailants waver and fall back; the attack grew languid, and Dunois talked of sounding the retreat. Upon this she got to her feet, and scrambled somehow on her horse. “Rest a little,” she implored the generals about her, “eat something, refresh yourselves: and when you see my standard floating against the wall, forward, the place is yours.” They seem to have done as she suggested, making a pause, while Jeanne withdrew a little into a vineyard close by, where there must have been a tuft of trees, to afford her a little shelter. There she said her prayers, and tasted that meat to eat that men wot not of, which restores the devout soul. Turning back she took her standard from her squire’s hand, and planted it again on the edge of the moat. “Let me know,” she said, “when the pennon touches the wall.” The folds of white and gold with the benign countenance of the Saviour, now visible, now lost in the changes of movement, floated over their heads on the breeze of the May day. “Jeanne,” said the squire, “it touches!” “On!” cried the Maid, her voice ringing through the momentary quiet. “On! All is yours!” The troops rose as one man; they flung themselves against the wall, at the foot of which that white figure stood, the staff of her banner in her hand, shouting, “All is yours.” Never had the French élan been so wildly inspired, so irresistible; they swarmed up the wall “as if it had been a stair.” “Do they think themselves immortal?” the panic- stricken English cried among themselves–panic-stricken not by their old enemies, but by the white figure at the foot of the wall. Was she a witch, as had been thought? was not she indeed the messenger of God? The dazzling rays that shot from her armour seemed like butterflies, like doves, like angels floating about her head. They had thought her dead, yet here she stood again without a sign of injury; or was it Michael himself, the great archangel whom she resembled do much? Arrows flew round her on every side but never touched her. She struck no blow, but the folds of her standard blew against the wall, and her voice rose through all the tumult. “On! Enter! de la part de Dieu! for all is yours.”

The Maid had other words to say, “Renty, renty, Classidas!” she cried, “you called me vile names, but I have a great pity for your soul.” He on his side showered down blasphemies. He was at the last gasp; one desperate last effort he made with a handful of men to escape from the boulevard by the drawbridge to Les Tourelles, which crossed a narrow strip of the river. But the bridge had been fired by a fire-ship from Orleans and gave way under the rush of the heavily- armed men; and the fierce Classidas and his companions were plunged into the river, where a knight in armour, like a tower falling, went to the bottom in a moment. Nearly thirty of them, it is said, plunged thus into the great Loire and were seen no more.

It was the end of the struggle. The French flag swung forth on the parapet, the French shout rose to heaven. Meanwhile a strange sight was to be seen–the St. Michael in shining armour, who had led that assault, shedding tears for the ferocious Classidas, who had cursed her with his last breath. “J’ai grande pitié de ton âme.” Had he but had time to clear his soul and reconcile himself with God!

This was virtually the end of the siege of Orleans. The broken bridge on the Loire had been rudely mended, with a great gouttière and planks, and the people of Orleans had poured out over it to take the Tourelles in flank–the English being thus taken between Jeanne’s army on the one side and the citizens on the other. The whole south bank of the river was cleared, not an Englishman left to threaten the richest part of France, the land flowing with milk and honey. And though there still remained several great generals on the other side with strong fortifications to fall back upon, they seem to have been paralysed, and did not strike a blow. Jeanne was not afraid of them, but her ardour to continue the fight dropped all at once; enough had been done. She awaited the conclusion with confidence. Needless to say that Orleans was half mad with joy, every church sounding its bells, singing its song of triumph and praise, the streets so crowded that it was with difficulty that the Maid could make her progress through them, with throngs of people pressing round to kiss her hand, if might be, her greaves, her mailed shoes, her charger, the floating folds of her banner. She had said she would be wounded and so she was, as might be seen, the envious rent of the arrow showing through the white plates of metal on her shoulder. She had said all should be theirs de par Dieu: and all was theirs, thanks to our Lord and also to St. Aignan and St. Euvert, patrons of Orleans, and to St. Louis and St. Charlemagne in heaven who had so great pity of the kingdom of France: and to the Maid on earth, the Heaven-sent deliverer, the spotless virgin, the celestial warrior–happy he who could reach to kiss it, the point of her mailed shoe.

Someone says that she rode through all this half-delirious joy like a creature in a dream,–fatigue, pain, the happy languor of the end attained, and also the profound pity that was the very inspiration of her spirit, for all those souls of men gone to their account without help of Church or comfort of priest–overwhelming her. But next day, which was Sunday, she was up again and eagerly watching all that went on. A strange sight was Orleans on that Sunday of May. On the south side of the Loire, all those half-ruined bastilles smoking and silenced, which once had threatened not the city only but all the south of France; on the north the remaining bands of English drawn up in order of battle. The excitement of the town and of the generals in it, was intense; worn as they were with three days of continuous fighting, should they sally forth again and meet that compact, silent, doubly defiant army, which was more or less fresh and unexhausted? Jeanne’s opinion was, No; there had been enough of fighting, and it was Sunday, the holy day; but apparently the French did go out though keeping at a distance, watching the enemy. By orders of the Maid an altar was raised between the two armies in full sight of both sides, and there mass was celebrated, under the sunshine, by the side of the river which had swallowed Classidas and all his men. French and English together devoutly turned towards and responded to that Mass in the pause of bewildering uncertainty. “Which way are their heads turned?” Jeanne asked when it was over. “They are turned away from us, they are turned to Meung,” was the reply. “Then let them go, de par Dieu,” the Maid replied.

The siege had lasted for seven months, but eight days of the Maid were enough to bring it to an end. The people of Orleans still, every year, on the 8th of May, make a procession round the town and give thanks to God for its deliverance. Henceforth, the Maid was known no longer as Jeanne d’Arc, the peasant of Domremy, but as La Pucelle d’Orléans, in the same manner in which one might speak of the Prince of Waterloo, or the Duc de Malakoff.

[1] Their special mission seems to have been a demand for the return of a herald previously sent who had never come back. As Dunois accompanied the demand by a threat to kill the English prisoners in Orleans if the herald was not sent back, the request was at once accorded, with fierce defiances to the Maid, the dairy-maid as she is called, bidding her go back to her cows, and threatening to burn her if they caught her.

[2] I avail myself here as elsewhere of Mr. Lang’s lucid description. “It is really perfectly intelligible. The Council wanted a feint on the left bank, Jeanne an attack on the right. She knew their scheme, untold, but entered into it. There was, however, no feint. She deliberately forced the fighting. There was grand fighting, well worth telling,” adds my martial critic, who understands it so much better than I do, and who I am happy to think is himself telling the tale in another way.

[3] She had made this prophecy a month before, and it was recorded three weeks before the event in the Town Book of Brabant.–A. L.

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