Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Jeanne d'Arc: Her Life and Death Chapter 10

Statue of Joan of Arc in Domremy by Princess Marie d'Orleans

THE CAPTIVE.
MAY, 1430-JAN., 1431.

We have here to remark a complete suspension of all the ordinary laws at once of chivalry and of honest warfare. Jeanne had been captured as a general at the head of her forces. She was a prisoner of war. Such a prisoner ordinarily, even in the most cruel ages, is in no bodily danger. He is worth more alive than dead–a great ransom perhaps– perhaps the very end of the warfare, and the accomplishment of everything it was intended to gain: at least he is most valuable to exchange for other important prisoners on the opposite side. It was like taking away so much personal property to kill a prisoner, an outrage deeply resented by his captor and unjustified by any law. It was true that Jeanne herself had transgressed this universal custom but a little while before, by giving up Franquet d’Arras to his prosecutors. But Franquet was beyond the courtesies of war, a noted criminal, robber, and destroyer: yet she ought not perhaps to have departed from the military laws of right and wrong while everything in the country was under the hasty arbitration of war. No one, however, so far as we know, produces this matter of Franquet as a precedent in her own case. From the first moment of her seizure there was no question of the custom and privilege of warfare. She was taken as a wild animal might have been taken, the only doubt being how to make the most signal example of her. Vengeance in the gloomy form of the Inquisition claimed her the first day. No such word as ransom was breathed from her own side, none was demanded, none was offered. Her case is at once separated from every other.

Yet the reign of chivalry was at its height, and women were supposed to be the objects of a kind of worship, every knight being sworn to succour and help them in need and trouble. There was perhaps something of the subtle jealousy of sex so constantly denied on the stronger side, but yet always existing, in the abrogation of every law of chivalry as well as of warfare, in respect to the Maid. That man is indeed of the highest strain of generosity who can bear to be beaten by a woman. And all the seething, agitated world of France had been beaten by this girl. The English and Burgundians, in the ordinary sense of the word, had been overcome in fair field, forced to fly before her; the French, her own side, had experienced an even more penetrating downfall by having the honours of victory taken from them, she alone winning the day where they had all failed. This is bitterer, perhaps, than merely to be compelled to raise a siege or to fail in a fight. The Frenchmen fought like lions, but the praise was to Jeanne who never struck a blow. Such great hearts as Dunois, such a courteous prince as Alençon, were too magnanimous to feel, or at least to resent, the grievance; they seconded her and fought under her with a nobility of mind and disinterestedness beyond praise; but it was not to be supposed that the common mass of the French captains were like these; she had wronged and shamed them by taking the glory from them, as much as she had shamed the English by making those universal victors fly before her. The burghers whom she had rescued, the poor people who were her brethren and whom she sought everywhere, might weep and cry out to Heaven, but they were powerless at such a moment. And every law that might have helped her was pushed aside.

On the 25th the news was known in Paris, and immediately there appears in the record a new adversary to Jeanne, the most bitter and implacable of all; the next day, May 26, 1430, without the loss of an hour, a letter was addressed to the Burgundian camp from the capital. Quicherat speaks of it as a letter from the Inquisitor or vicar- general of the Inquisition, written by the officials of the University; others tell us that an independent letter was sent from the University to second that of the Inquisitor. The University we may add was not a university like one of ours, or like any existing at the present day. It was an ecclesiastical corporation of the highest authority in every cause connected with the Church, while gathering law, philosophy, and literature under its wing. The first theologians, the most eminent jurists were collected there, not by any means always in alliance with the narrower tendencies and methods of the Inquisition. It is notable, however, that this great institution lost no time in claiming the prisoner, whose chief offence in its eyes was less her career as a warrior than her position as a sorceress. The actual facts of her life were of secondary importance to them. Orleans, Rheims, even her attack upon Paris were nothing in comparison with the black art which they believed to be her inspiration. The guidance of Heaven which was not the guidance of the Church was to them a claim which meant only rebellion of the direst kind. They had longed to seize her and strip her of her presumptuous pretensions from the first moment of her appearance. They could not allow a day of her overthrow to pass by without snatching at this much-desired victim.

No one perhaps will ever be able to say what it is that makes a trial for heresy and sorcery, especially in the days when fire and flame, the rack and the stake, stood at the end, so exciting and horribly attractive to the mind. Whether it is the revelations that are hoped for, of these strange commerces between earth and the unknown, into which we would all fain pry if we could, in pursuit of some better understanding than has ever yet fallen to the lot of man; whether it is the strange and dreadful pleasure of seeing a soul driven to extremity and fighting for its life through all the subtleties of thought and fierce attacks of interrogation–or the mere love of inflicting torture, misery, and death, which the Church was prevented from doing in the common way, it is impossible to tell; but there is no doubt that a thrill like the wings of vultures crowding to the prey, a sense of horrible claws and beaks and greedy eyes is in the air, whenever such a tribunal is thought of. The thrill, the stir, the eagerness among those black birds of doom is more evident than usual in the headlong haste of that demand. Sous l’influence de l’Angleterre, say the historians; the more shame for them if it was so; but they were clearly under influence wider and more infallible, the influence of that instinct, whatever it may be, which makes a trial for heresy ten thousand times more cruel, less restrained by any humanities of nature, than any other kind of trial which history records.

That is what the Inquisitor demanded after a long description of Jeanne, “called the Maid,” as having “dogmatised, sown, published, and caused to be published, many and diverse errors from which have ensued great scandals against the divine honour and our holy faith.” “Using the rights of our office and the authority committed to us by the Holy See of Rome we instantly command, and enjoin you in the name of the Catholic faith, and under penalty of the law: and all other Catholic persons of whatsoever condition, pre-eminence, authority, or estate, to send or to bring as prisoner before us with all speed and surety the said Jeanne, vehemently suspected of various crimes springing from heresy, that proceedings may be taken against her before us in the name of the Holy Inquisition, and with the favour and aid of the doctors and masters of the University of Paris, and other notable counsellors present there.”

It was the English who put it into the heads of the Inquisitor and the University to do this, all the anxious Frenchmen cry. We can only reply again, the more shame for the French doctors and priests! But there was very little time to bring that influence to bear; and there is an eagerness and precipitation in the demand which is far more like the headlong natural rush for a much desired prize than any course of action suggested by a third party. Nor is there anything to lead us to believe that the movement was not spontaneous. It is little likely, indeed, that the Sorbonne nowadays would concern itself about any inspired maid, any more than the enlightened Oxford would do so. But the ideas of the fifteenth century were widely different, and witchcraft and heresy were the most enthralling and exciting of subjects, as they are still to whosoever believes in them, learned or unlearned, great or small.

It must be added that the entire mind of France, even of those who loved Jeanne and believed in her, must have been shaken to its depths by this catastrophe. We have no sympathy with those who compare the career of any mortal martyr with the far more mysterious agony and passion of our Lord. Yet we cannot but remember what a tremendous element the disappointment of their hopes must have been in the misery of the first disciples, the Apostles, the mother, all the spectators who had watched with wonder and faith the mission of the Messiah. Had it failed? had all the signs come to nothing, all those divine words and ways, to our minds so much more wonderful than any miracles? Was there no meaning in them? Were they mere unaccountable delusions, deceptions of the senses, inspirations perhaps of mere genius–not from God at all except in a secondary way? In the three terrible days that followed the Crucifixion the burden of a world must have lain on the minds of those who had seen every hope fail: no legions of angels appearing, no overwhelming revelation from heaven, no change in a moment out of misery into the universal kingship, the triumphant march. That was but the self-delusion of the earth which continually travesties the schemes of Heaven; yet the most terrible of all despairs is such a pause and horror of doubt lest nothing should be true.

But in the case of this little Maiden, this handmaid of the Lord, the deception might have been all natural and perhaps shared by herself. Were her first triumphs accidents merely, were her “voices” delusions, had she been given up by Heaven, of which she had called herself the servant? It was a stupor which quenched every voice–a great silence through the country, only broken by the penitential psalms at Tours. The Compiègne people, writing to Charles two days after May 23d, do not mention Jeanne at all. We need not immediately take into account the baser souls always plentiful, the envious captains and the rest who might be secretly rejoicing. The entire country, both friends and foes, had come to a dreadful pause and did not know what to think. The last circumstance of which we must remind the reader, and which was of the greatest importance, is, that it was only a small part of France that knew anything personally of Jeanne. From Tours it is a far cry to Picardy. All her triumphs had taken place in the south. The captive of Beaulieu and Beaurevoir spent the sad months of her captivity among a population which could have heard of her only by flying rumours coming from hostile quarters. From the midland of France to the sea, near to which her prison was situated, is a long way, and those northern districts were as unlike the Orleannais as if they had been in two different countries. Rouen in Normandy no more resembled Rheims, than Edinburgh resembled London: and in the fifteenth century that was saying a great deal. Nothing can be more deceptive than to think of these separate and often hostile duchies as if they bore any resemblance to the France of to-day.

The captor of Jeanne was a vassal of Jean de Luxembourg and took her as we have seen to the quarters of his master at Margny, into whose hands she thenceforward passed. She was kept in the camp three or four days and then transferred to the castle of Beaulieu, which belonged to him; and afterwards to the more important stronghold of Beaurevoir, which seems to have been his principal residence. We know very few details of her captivity. According to one chronicler, d’Aulon, her faithful friend and intendant, was with her at least in the former of those prisons, where at first she would appear to have been hopeful and in good spirits, if we may trust to the brief conversation between her and d’Aulon, which is one of the few details which reach us of that period. While he lamented over the probable fate of Compiègne she was confident. “That poor town of Compiègne that you loved so much," he said, “by this time it will be in the hands of the enemies of France.” “No,” said the Maid, “the places which the king of Heaven brought back to the allegiance of the gentle King Charles by me, will not be retaken by his enemies.” In this case at least the prophecy came true.

And perhaps there might have been at first a certain relief in Jeanne’s mind, such as often follows after a long threatened blow has fallen. She had no longer the vague tortures of suspense, and probably believed that she would be ransomed as was usual: and in this silence and seclusion her “voices” which she had not obeyed as at first, but yet which had not abandoned her, nor shown estrangement, were more near and audible than amid the noise and tumult of war. They spoke to her often, sometimes three times a day, as she afterwards said, in the unbroken quiet of her prison. And though they no longer spoke of new enterprises and victories, their words were full of consolation. But it was not long that Jeanne’s young and vigorous spirit could content itself with inaction. She was no mystic; willingly giving herself over to dreams and visions is more possible to the old than to the young. Her confidence and hope for her good friends of Compiègne gave way before the continued tale of their sufferings, and the inveterate siege which was driving them to desperation. No doubt the worst news was told to Jeanne, and twice over she made a desperate attempt to escape, in hope of being able to succour them, but without any sanction, as she confesses, from her spiritual instructors. At Beaulieu the attempt was simple enough: the narrative seems to imply that the doorway, or some part of the wall of her room, had been closed with laths or planks nailed across an opening: and between these she succeeded in slipping, “as she was very slight,” with the hope of locking the door to an adjoining guard-room upon the men who had charge of her, and thus getting free. But alas! The porter of the château, who had no business there, suddenly appeared in the corridor, and she was discovered and taken back to her chamber. At Beaurevoir, which was farther off, her attempt was a much more desperate one, and indicates a despair and irritation of mind which had become unbearable. At this place her own condition was much alleviated; the castle was the residence of Jean de Luxembourg’s wife and aunt, ladies who visited Jeanne continually, and soon became interested and attached to her; but as the master of the house was himself in the camp before Compiègne, they had the advantage or disadvantage, as far as the prisoner was concerned, of constant news, and Jeanne’s trouble for her friends grew daily.

She seems, indeed, after the assurance she had expressed at first, to have fallen into great doubt and even carried on within herself a despairing argument with her spiritual guides on this point, battling with these saintly influences as in the depths of the troubled heart many have done with the Creator Himself in similar circumstances. “How,” she cried, “could God let them perish who had been so good and loyal to their King?” St. Catherine replied gently that He would Himself care for these bons amis, and even promised that “before the St. Martin" relief would come. But Jeanne had probably by this time– in her great disappointment and loneliness, and with the sense in her of so much power to help were she only free–got beyond her own control. They bade her to be patient. One of them, amid their exhortations to accept her fate cheerfully, and not to be astonished at it, seems to have conveyed to her mind the impression that she should not be delivered till she had seen the King of England. “Truly I will not see him! I would rather die than fall into the hands of the English,” cried Jeanne in her petulance. The King of England is spoken of always, it is curious to note, as if he had been a great, severe ruler like his father, never as the child he really was. But Jeanne in her helplessness and impotence was impatient even with her saints. Day by day the news came in from Compiègne, all that was favourable to the Burgundians received with joy and thanksgiving by the ladies of Luxembourg, while the captive consumed her heart with vain indignation. At last Jeanne would seem to have wrought herself up to the most desperate of expedients. Whether her room was in the donjon, or whether she was allowed sufficient freedom in the house to mount to the battlements there, we are not informed–probably the latter was the case: for it was from the top of the tower that the rash girl at last flung herself down, carried away by what sudden frenzy of alarm or sting of evil tidings can never be known. Probably she had hoped that a miracle would be wrought on her behalf, and that faith was all that was wanted, as on so many other occasions. Perhaps she had heard of the negotiations to sell her to the English, which would give a keener urgency to her determination to get free; all that appears in the story, however, is her wild anxiety about Compiègne and her bons amis. How she escaped destruction no one knows. She was rescued for a more tremendous and harder fate.

The Maid was taken up as dead from the foot of the tower (the height is estimated at sixty feet); but she was not dead, nor even seriously hurt. Her frame, so slight that she had been able to slip between the bars put up to secure her, had so little solidity that the shock would seem to have been all that ailed her. She was stunned and unconscious and remained so far some time; and for three days neither ate nor drank. But though she was so humbled by the effects of the fall, “she was comforted by St. Catherine, who bade her confess and implore the mercy of God” for her rash disobedience–and repeated the promise that before Martinmas Compiègne should be relieved. Jeanne did not perhaps in her rebellion deserve this encouragement; but the heavenly ladies were kind and pitiful and did not stand upon their dignity. The wonderful thing was that Jeanne recovered perfectly from this tremendous leap.

The earthly ladies, though so completely on the other side, were scarcely less kind to the Maid. They visited her daily, carried their news to her, were very friendly and sweet: and no doubt other visitors came to make the acquaintance of a prisoner so wonderful. There was one point on which they were very urgent, and this was about her dress. It shamed and troubled them to see her in the costume of a man. Jeanne had her good reasons for that, which perhaps she did not care to tell them, fearing to shock the ears of a demoiselle of Luxembourg with the suggestion of dangers of which she knew nothing. No doubt it was true that while doing the serious work of war, as she said afterwards, it was best that she should be dressed as a man; but Jeanne had reason to know besides, that it was safer, among the rough comrades and gaolers who now surrounded her, to wear the tight-fitting and firmly fastened dress of a soldier. She answered the ladies and their remonstrances with all the grace of a courtier. Could she have done it she would rather have yielded the point to them, she said, than to any one else in France, except the Queen. The women wherever she went were always faithful to this young creature, so pure-womanly in her young angel-hood and man-hood. The poor followed to kiss her hands or her armour, the rich wooed her with tender flatteries and persuasions. There is not record in all her career of any woman who was not her friend.

For the last dreary month of that winter she was sent to the fortress of Crotoy on the Somme, for what reason we are not told, probably to be more near the English into whose hands she was about to be given up: again another shameful bargain in which the guilt lies with the Burgundians and not with the English. If Charles I. was sold as we Scots all indignantly deny, the shame of the sale was on our nation, not on England, whom nobody has ever blamed for the transaction. The sale of Jeanne was brutally frank. It was indeed a ransom which was paid to Jean of Luxembourg with a share to the first captor, the archer who had secured her; but it was simple blood-money as everybody knew. At Crotoy she had once more the solace of female society, again with much pressing upon her of their own heavy skirts and hanging sleeves. A fellow-prisoner in the dungeon of Crotoy, a priest, said mass every day and gave her the holy communion. And her mind seems to have been soothed and calmed. Compiègne was relieved; the saints had kept their word: she had that burden the less upon her soul: and over the country there were against stirrings of French valour and success. The day of the Maid was over, but it began to bear the fruit of a national quickening of vigour and life.

It was at Crotoy, in December, that she was transferred to English hands. The eager offer of the University of Paris to see her speedy condemnation had not been accepted, and perhaps the Burgundians had been willing to wait, to see if any ransom was forthcoming from France. Perhaps too, Paris, which sang the Te Deum when she was taken prisoner, began to be a little startled by its own enthusiasm and to ask itself the question what there was to be so thankful about? –a result which has happened before in the history of that impulsive city:–and Paris was too near the centre of France, where the balance seemed to be turning again in favour of the national party, to have its thoughts distracted by such a trial as was impending. It seemed better to the English leaders to conduct their prisoner to a safer place, to the depths of Normandy where they were most strong. They seem to have carried her away in the end of the year, travelling slowly along the coast, and reaching Rouen by way of Eu and Dieppe, as far away as possible from any risk of rescue. She arrived in Rouen in the beginning of the year 1431, having thus been already for nearly eight months in close custody. But there were no further ministrations of kind women for Jeanne. She was now distinctly in the hands of her enemies, those who had no sympathy or natural softening of feeling towards her.

The severities inflicted upon her in her new prison at Rouen were terrible, almost incredible. We are told that she was kept in an iron cage (like the Countess of Buchan in earlier days by Edward I.), bound hands, and feet, and throat, to a pillar, and watched incessantly by English soldiers–the latter being an abominable and hideous method of torture which was never departed from during the rest of her life. Afterwards, at the beginning of her trial she was relieved from the cage, but never from the presence and scrutiny of this fierce and hateful bodyguard. Such detestable cruelties were in the manner of the time, which does not make us the less sicken at them with burning indignation and the rage of shame. For this aggravation of her sufferings England alone was responsible. The Burgundians at their worst had not used her so. It is true that she was to them a piece of valuable property worth so much good money; which is a powerful argument everywhere. But to the English she meant no money: no one offered to ransom Jeanne on the side of her own party, for whom she had done so much. Even at Tours and Orleans, so far as appears, there was no subscription–to speak in modern terms,–no cry among the burghers to gather their crowns for her redemption–not a word, not an effort, only a barefooted procession, a mass, a Miserere, which had no issue. France stood silent to see what would come of it; and her scholars and divines swarmed towards Rouen to make sure that nothing but harm should come of it to the ignorant country lass, who had set up such pretences of knowing better than others. The King congratulated himself that he had another prophetess as good as she, and a Heaven-sent boy from the mountains who would do as well and better than Jeanne. Where was Dunois? Where was La Hire,[1] a soldier bound by no conventions, a captain whose troop went like the wind where it listed, and whose valour was known? Where was young Guy de Laval, so ready to sell his lands that his men might be fit for service? All silent; no man drawing a sword or saying a word. It is evident that in this frightful pause of fate, Jeanne had become to France as to England, the Witch whom it was perhaps a danger to have had anything to do with, whose spells had turned the world upside down for a moment: but these spells had become ineffectual or worn out as is the nature of sorcery. No explanation, not even the well-worn and so often valid one of human baseness, could explain the terrible situation, if not this.

[1] La Hire was at Louvain, which we hear a little later the new English levies would not march to besiege till the Maid was dead, and where Dunois joined him in March of this fatal year. These two at Louvain within a few leagues of Rouen and not a sword drawn for Jeanne!–the wonder grows.

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