Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Letter by Perceval de Boulainvilliers
describing Joan of Arc


The letter below was written by Perceval de Boulainvilliers to the Duke of Milan on June 21, 1429 and describes Joan of Arc in great detail. Perceval de Boulainvilliers was a counselor and chamberlain to Charles VII and observed Joan firsthand and knew details about her that he probably acquired in and around the court of Charles VII. While his descriptions at times are fanciful, to say the least, his basic facts for the most part are surprisingly accurate considering when and why the letter was written and he clearly articulates the high regard that the French people had for Joan after her victories in the spring of 1429.

Most illustrious and magnificent Prince, Lord John (Philip) Angelus Marie, Duke of Milan.
My honored Lord:
  Mankind generally, and, most of all, studious and prominent minds are eager to learn of new things of rare occurrence, and turn wearily from affairs long pondered and familiar. Hence it is, magnificent Prince, that in view of the praises bestowed on your serene Highness, of your proclamations, and considering your high wishes and aspirations, I have made bold to lay before you the great happenings that have recently occurred to our King of France and his Kingdom.
  Already, I am sure, news has reached your ears of a certain Maid, sent to us, as we devoutly believe, by God, and in order that I may briefly set forth her life, deeds, station and character, and shall first tell of her origin. She was born in the small village of Domremy, in the country of Bar, within the confines of the Kingdom of France, on the river Meuse, near Lorraine, of upright and simple parents. It was during the night of the Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6, Twelfth Night), when men are wont most joyfully to recall the acts of Christ that she first saw the light in this mortal life. And, wonderful to relate, the poor inhabitants of the place were seized with an inconceivable joy. And though ignorant of the birth of the Maid, they rushed hither and thither in search of what might be the new event. Their hearts as one were conscious of a new gladness. What can one add? The cocks like heralds of a new joy, against their wont, burst forth in songs not heard before, and with flapping wings for more than two hours appeared to foretell this new event.
  The child is raised, and when she had reached the age of seven years, after the custom of peasants she was placed by her parents in charge of the lambs, during whichtime no lamb is known to have died, nor was any one killed by wild beasts, and while she was under her father's roof so great was the security she afforded the whole household that they suffered not the least injury from any enemy, deceit of barbarians or other ill. Finally when she had reached the age of twelve years, the first revelation was made to her in the following manner.
  While she and other maidens were guarding the sheep of their parents, they were wandering about the field. Those round about approached, and they asked her whether she would like to enter a race for handful of flowers, or the like. She consented, and the conditions being agreed upon, she moved during the second and third circuit with such speed that they did not think that she touched the ground at all, so that one of the children cried out: "Joan," for that was her name, "I see you flying close to the ground."
  When she had completed the course, and at the side of the meadow; as in a trance, and lost to all feeling, was regaining her breath and resting her tired body, there appeared near her a youth who thus addressed her:
  "Joan, return home, for your mother said that she had need of your help," and thinking that it was her brother, or one of the neighbors' children, she hastened home. Her mother met her, asked her the reason for coming, and for leaving the sheep, and reproached her. And as the maid innocently answered:
  "Did you send for me?" Her mother answered, "No."
  Then thinking that she had been deceived by the youth, she wishes to return to her companions, when suddenly a shining cloud is spread before her eyes, and from the cloud was heard a voice, saying to her:
  "Johanna, you must lead a different life, and perform wondrous deeds, for you are she whom the King of Heaven has chosen to restore the kingdom of the French, and to aid and protect the King Charles, who has been driven from his kingdom. You must don men's clothing, and taking up arms you will be the leder of the war; all things will be done by your counsel."
  The voice having so declared, the cloud disappeared, and the Maid amazed by such a prophecy, and not at first believing what she had heard, but much perplexed whether she ought to believe it or not, in her innocence paid no heed to it. By day and by night similar apparitions came to the maid and occurred again and again; she held her peace; she revealed her thoughts only to the priest of the presbytery, and remained in that perplexity for the space of nearly five years.
  Finally on the arrival of the Earl of Salisbury in France, from England, the aforesaid apparitions and revelations to the maid were renewed and multiplied beyond their custom. The spirit of the child was stirred, her mind tormented with anxiety, and on a certin day while she was meditating in the fields, she saw an extraordinary apparition greater and clearer than any she had seen before, and a voice was heard saying:
  "How long are you going to delay? Why do you not hasten? Why do you not go with hurried steps whither the King of Heaven has called you? For in your absence France is being destroyed, cities are being ruined, the just are dying, chief men are being killed, illustrious blood is being shed."
  To which she, somewhat exalted, warned by her priest, replied:
  "What shall I do, and how shall I do it? Shall I go? I do not know the way; I do not know the people; I do not know the King. They will not believe me; I shall be marked by all, and justly. What more foolish than to say to the chief men that a maid will restore France, will command the army, will triumph over the enemy? What more absurd than for a maid to array herself in man's clothing?"
  Upon her holding the like and further discourse, the answer came to her:
  "The King of Heaven so orders, and it is His will. Do not ask further how these things shall be done. Since such is the will of God in Heaven, so shall it be on earth. Proceed to the neighboring town called Vaucouleurs, which alone remains faithful to the King in the country of Champagne, and the governor of the city will without opposition lead you whither you wish to go."
  She acted accordingly, and many wonderful things have come to pass. He ordered her to be conducted, escorted by a company of noblemen, to the King; and they on their way passed without opposition through the stronghold of Chinon, in the country of Touraine, where the King was entrenching himself, the royal council, upon consideration, decided that she should not see the King, nor be presented to him until the third day. But the minds of men are subject to sudden change. The maid is summoned; she alights from her horse, and archbishops, bishops, abbots and doctors of both faculties diligently examine into her faith and character. Finally the King leads her to his parliament, that she might be questioned more closely and carefully. And in all things she was found to be a true Catholic, well grounded in the faith, the sacraments and the institutions of the Church. She was further closely questioned by learned women, skilled maidens, by widows and married women, who discovered in her nothing not becoming to the honor and nature of a woman. After this she was detained for a period of six weeks, and closely observed as to whether she displayed any weakness or change of purpose. But she remained steadfast, performing her religious duties, hearing mass, partaking of the Eucharist. She daily besought the King with signs and tears to allow her either to attack the enemy or to return to her father's home, and finally leave was with difficulty obtained, when she entered Orleans with a supply of food. Soon afterwards she assailed the camp of besiegers and though it had been considered impregnable, she nevertheless took it in three days. A number of the enemy were killed, more were captured, the rest put to flight. The city was now freed from the siege; and this being accomplished she returned to the King. The King hastens to meet her, joyfully receives her, and after spending some time with the King, she becomes impatient and begs him to call out levies and gather them in array, to win a victory over his remaining adversaries. And the army having been again collected, she lays siege to the town called Jargeau.
  The next day she gives battle and overcomes the enemy. Six hundred noble knights were overwhelmed; amongst the Earl of Suffolk, and Englishman, and his brother are taken prisoner, and a third brother is killed. And after an interval of three days, she attacks, takes and conquers Meung-sur-Loire and Beaugency, strongly fortified towns. She delayed not, and on that Sabbath day, which fell on the twentieth of June, she meets the English army which are hastening to their aid. The enemy attacks, victory is won by our army, fifteen hundred fighting men being killed, a thousand taken prisoner, amongst whom were some leading men captured, to wit, the Lords of Talbot and of Fastolf, and the son of the lord of Hendesfort and many others. On our side, however, not even three were killed, all of which we attribute to a miracle divinely wrought.
  These things and many others the Maid accomplished, and by the grace of God still greater shall accomplish.
  The Maid is of satisfying grace of a virile bearing, and in her conversation displays wondrous good sense. Her voice has a womanly charm; she eats little, partakes even more sparingly of wine. She delights in beautiful horses and armor, and greatly admires armed and noble men; avoids contact and converse with the many, sheds tears freely, her expression is cheerful and she has great capacity for work. Of such endurance is she in handling and bearing of arms that she remained for six days and nights in full armor.
  She declared that the English have not rights in France, and that she herself was sent by God to overcome them, and that God had so declared to her. For the King she has the greatest reverence. She declares that he was chosen by god, and was and will continue to be under her special protection. She further declares that the Duke of Orleans, your grandson, will be set free by a miracle, a warning having first been given to the English who are holding him in custody, to set him free.
  And to sum up, most illustrious prince, things more wonderful have been and are being done than I could convey to you by written or spoken word.
  Since my last writing, the Maid has set out for the city of Reims, in Champagne, whither, by the grace of God, the King is hastening for his anointing and coronation. I commend myself most humbly to you. Written this twenty-first day of June in the year of Our Lord 1429.
  Your most humble servant,
  Perceval, Lord of Boulainvilliers, counselor and chamberlain of the King of the French and seneschal of the Duke of Berry.

French Flag with Lorraine Cross

Because this letter by Boulainvilliers is so "fanciful" in places a few people have questioned the accuracy of the facts about Joan of Arc contained in the letter such as the dating of her birth on the Ephiphany (January 6) however famous nineteenth century historian and man-of-letters Andrew Lang discusses this thoroughly in his biography The Maid of France and concludes: "We may take it, without undue credulity, that Jeanne d'Arc was born on January 6, 1412." Below is excerpted from Chapter II of The Maid of France

"As to the birthday of Jeanne, we have only one indication. After her triumphs at Orleans, Perceval de Boulainvilliers, in a letter to a foreign prince, told the following tale. On the night of the Epiphany (January 6, Twelfth Night), when men are wont to commemorate with jollity the acts of Christ, the Maid was born. "All the peasants of her village were moved with a great joy, and, knowing nothing about the birth of the Maid, they ran up and down, trying to find out what novelty had occurred. The cocks, like heralds of the new mirth, broke out beyond their wont, crowing and flapping their wings, and, for some two hours seemed to prognosticate the occurrence."

There is no reason why all this should not have occurred. The facts are not miraculous, but highly probable; the interpretation of the facts as miraculous was made apres coup; after Jeanne became renowned as the girl who promised to save France. We know that Twelfth Night was a merry, noisy night, with its feast of the King and Queen of the Bean. Mary Stuart always kept the festival in great splendour at Holyrood, decking one of her Maries with all the Royal jewels as Queen of the Bean. Villagers, in their own way, were as merry and more noisy, and would run about in high spirits, and awaken the poultry. As for the crowing of the cocks, thus rudely aroused,

"Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long."
{Hamlet, Act I. Scene I.)

Thus the story recorded by Boulainvilliers comes to no more than this: Jeanne dArc was born on Twelfth Night, January 6. The festivity and the cock-crowings were the usual accompaniments of the festival.

A new myth, however, has been evolved about the birth of the Maid. Her latest historian says, "From the first, people wanted to make out that the marvels which had signalised the nativity of Jesus were repeated on the advent of Jeanne d'Arc. It was imagined that she was born on the night of Christmas (Noel). The shepherds of the village, moved by an unspeakable joy of which they knew not the cause, ran about in the dark to seek for the unknown marvel. The cocks" (behaved as they do in the letter of Boulainvilliers). "Thus the child had in her cradle her Adoration of the Shepherds."

Christmas is not Twelfth Night, though the critic identifies the two festivals. There were no shepherds in the case,--swine-herds there may have been,--but the villagers "knew nothing of the birth of the Maid," says Boulainvilliers, and therefore did not adore and disturb the cradle of the newborn child of Jacques d'Arc. Learning hath its bubbles as legend has, "and these are of them." {Macbeth, Act I. Scene 3.) We may take it, without undue credulity, that Jeanne d'Arc was born on January 6, 1412. Of her earliest years, till she was twelve or thirteen, nothing is recorded except her participation in the pastimes of the village children."

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