Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 13

THE ATTACK ON PARIS

THE truce should have ended the campaign, for by it Charles had effectually prevented himself from carrying on a successful war. An attacking army can do little when it allows its enemies to choose its point of attack and to limit its field of operations. Before deciding, however, that the truce was certainly disadvantageous to the French, we must consider what would have been their chance of success if they had pushed the war with vigor, and what chance of a lasting peace with Philip they gained by granting him an armistice.

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the moral effect of Joan's campaigns about Orleans and of her march to Rheims. All Europe was filled with wonder. Foreign princes were eager to have particular news of her. Collects praying for her were used in remote parts of France. All the way from Spain came letters asking her to decide which of the three claimants to the papacy had the right- ful title. After the fall of Troyes, all places except Paris had been eager to recognize Charles. Even after his erratic march had been checked at Montépilloy, while the king was at Compiègne, town after town had acknowledged him and some great nobles had joined him; Beauvais had driven out Cauchon, its bishop count, a violent AngloBurgundian, and Philip was quite justified in seeking a truce and in trying at all hazards to prevent such desertions for the future. "In truth," says a Burgundian chronicler, "if he [Charles] had come with all his force to St. Quentin, Corbie, Amiens, Abbeville, and many other strong towns and strong castles, the larger part of the people were ready to receive him as their lord, and desired nothing in the world but to obey him and to open their gates." The entreaties made to him by the men of Rheims, when they heard that he thought of returning to the Loire, were piteous. Let him be steadfast with diligence, said they, for his sake and his kingdom's; let him defend them from Burgundy and his followers, who are very strong and already boast what they will do.

It must be borne in mind, also, that Bedford's hold on Normandy was much disturbed. Several French cap. tains carried on there a guerrilla warfare, having the sympathy of some of the people. Two or three places had been actually taken, and plots were made to deliver Rouen. Had Charles availed himself of the influence of Joan, the splendid confidence of his own soldiers, and the loyalty of the country people, at the same time offering to Philip reasonable terms of immediate peace, it is likely that the English power in northern France would have disappeared in 1429 as quickly as it did twenty years later.

If the truce and the abandonment of his campaign had assured to Charles a reasonable peace with the duke of Burgundy, then, in spite of all drawbacks, much good would have been accomplished; but peace was highly improbable. Several of Philip's councilors wished a peace of some sort sincerely enough, though the terms they asked would have dismembered the French monarchy, but Bedford's supporters opposed any peace whatsoever, and on the whole their influence prevailed. At about this time there was laid before Philip's council a memorandum urging that the English alliance should be maintained in order to escape from the wickedness and malice of the French. The memorandum suggested that the duke of Brittany should be bought by the county of Poitou, the constable by La Trémoille's property and other estates, so that the Dauphin (as he was styled) might be driven into Languedoc. It is not known if this memorandum was approved by the council, but the councilor who prepared it was Philip's trusted agent, and was soon sent to represent his master at the coronation of Henry VI. in England. There is a satisfaction in knowing that it was proposed to betray the favorite to the constable. As has been observed, La Trémoille's position was very precarious, and he kept his power only so long as everybody else was at odds.

When the same councilor, Lannoy, was in England, he caused another memorandum to be prepared and presented to the council of Henry VI. By it the English king was urged to take part in the proposed negotiations for peace, securing meanwhile a friendly cardinal from Rome to act as umpire in the dispute between himself and Charles. The French were very proud, so the memorandum set forth, and the negotiations would certainly fail; while they were going on, the English were advised to gather a large army, to give the duke of Burgundy an increase of territory, and to buy at a suitable price some of the duke's councilors, probably including Lannoy himself. It was further suggested that the duke of Brittany and the constable should be induced to enter the English service, and that the foreign powers should be won over by marriage or otherwise. These papers show plainly that, at this time, there was not the slightest chance of securing by negotiation and truce a lasting peace with Burgundy.

Very soon after the truce was signed, Charles went to Senlis, a movement which brought him nearer Paris, but also nearer the Loire. Alençon and Joan had been for a week at St. Denis, skirmishing about the walls of Paris, seeking the best place for an attack, and smuggling manifestoes into the city to arouse the Armagnac partisans and to discourage the friends of the English. To take the city by assault would call for the efforts of the whole army, and they earnestly wished for reinforcements, and for the presence the king to encourage the troops.

As Charles did not come, Alençon went to Senlis on September, and not improbably at that time first learned of the truce. Its terms, however, permitted an attack upon Paris, and if the capital once were taken, truce or no truce, the English power would fall. Charles promised to come to St. Denis, and Alençon returned to make ready for him, but the wretched king broke his word and stayed at Senlis. On September 5 the duke went there a second time, succeeded in overbearing the party of peace, and on Wednesday, September 7, dragged Charles to St. Denis. Joan and all her companions were much encouraged, and every one said, "She will put the king into Paris, if he will let her." It is probable, however, that Charles had already decided to retreat.

On the very evening of the king's arrival at St. Denis, the duke of Alençon, with Joan, young Guy of Laval, and other captains, made a vigorous reconnoissance, riding up to the gates of the city; they then encamped in a village called La Chapelle, close to Paris. Thursday, September 8, was the birthday of our Lady, then and now a great festival in the Catholic Church. It seems that Joan had some scruple about attacking Paris on a holy day, though this is not clear; but the captains were eager to advance, perhaps fearing lest the wretched king should be persuaded to desert them before anything was accomplished. Joan's voices did not forbid, and so she went forward with the army; having made up her mind to storm the city, though the captains would have been content with a vigorous skirmish.

At eight o'clock the army marched, leaving the king safe at St. Denis. Joan, together with old Gaucourt and the marshal Rais, advanced against the gate of St. Honoré, while Alençon with the reserves covered the rear of the attacking party against a possible sally of the garrison from one of the other gates of the city. So heavy was the fire of the artillery placed on the walls that the duke was obliged to shelter himself behind a hill, near the site of the present church of St. Roch. About midday the assault began. The boulevard, or earthwork, which covered the gate of St. Honoré, was taken without much trouble, and Joan came to the deep fosse, filled with water, which surrounded the city's walls. Besiegers and defenders were now within hailing dis- tance; Joan summoned the Parisians to surrender, and they answered her with shouts of defiance, calling her by all the foul names in the language. On both sides the firing was incessant, and many of both parties were killed and wounded. The peaceable citizens of Paris, meanwhile, were in wild terror. Men ran through the streets, crying that all was lost, and that the enemy was already inside the gates. The churches, filled for the festival, were abandoned, and every man hid himself in his own house. Within a few years Paris had seen horrible massacres both of Armagnacs and Burgundians, and the soldiers of Charles had long been in the worst repute.

For all the bravery of the French, the water in the fosse was so deep that they could not get at the walls. Joan and Rais, accordingly, ordered it to be filled by throwing fagots and great blocks of wood into the water; wagon-loads of these had been brought, but the fosse was so deep that it could not be crossed. This failure of the French encouraged the garrison and it fired the harder, shooting Joan's standard-bearer through the head, and wounding Joan herself in the leg with the bolt of an arblast. As at the Tourelles, she would not allow a retreat, but still urged that the fosse should be filled, and that the troops should advance to the assault. It was growing dark, the soldiers were tired, and Gaucourt, who inclined to the party of peace, was easily discouraged. He tried to induce Joan to withdraw, but, wounded though she was, she refused. Night came on. Alençon saw that nothing could be done until the next day, and sent a message to Joan; still she did not budge. At last he rode up himself, and with Gaucourt's help dragged her from a dry ditch where she kept her post. She was mounted, and brought back to La Chapelle, but as she rode away from the field she persisted in saying, "By my staff, the place would have been taken."

That Paris could have been taken by an army which had wasted its courage in delays, whose movements were cramped by a partial truce, whose leaders were quarreling, and whose king had issued orders to retreat before permitting an attack, may well be doubted. On Thurs day night a retreat was probably necessary. But that Paris could have been taken, even as late as Thursday morning, if the king and his councilors had really wished its capture, is almost certain. "If any one in the king's command had been as manly as Joan," said a Burgundian chronicler, " Paris would have been in danger of capture, but all the rest disagreed about the capture."

Early on Friday morning, in spite of her wounds, Joan sent for Alençon, and begged him to sound the trumpets for an advance, saying that she would never leave until she had taken the city. Alençon was ready to move, and some of the captains agreed with him, but others differed. While they were talking, René of Bar and the count of Clermont came from Charles, and ordered Joan and Alençon to return at once to St. Denis. La Trémoille and the party of peace had again got control of the king.

Distressed as they were, they had to obey, and the wounded girl rode back with the duke. Even at this time she would not give up all hope. That part of Paris which lay south of the Seine might have walls less strong than those near the gate of St. Honoré. Alençon had built a bridge across the river near St. Denis, and the two made ready to pass it, hoping, perhaps, to enter Paris by surprise. This movement was to be made on Saturday, the day after their return to St. Denis, but on Friday night some of the council caused the bridge to be broken without the duke's knowledge, though he was lieutenant-general of the army. In this state of discipline there was danger in staying within reach of the enemy. Bedford had again drawn near, and the duke of Burgundy was making ready to march on Paris. There was a little more wrangling in the council, and then, on Tuesday, September 13, Charles broke camp at St. Denis, passed to the northward of Paris, and began his retreat to the Loire. On that day he sent a manifesto to the men of Rheims, who had received him gladly less than two months before, and who had repeatedly begged him not to abandon them. He announced that he was going to make a real treaty of peace with Burgundy, with whom he had already made a truce. In the mean time, so he said, he would not eat up the country with his army, but would return to the Loire and there gather a large force, to be used in case the treaty of peace was not made. There is no reason to suppose that the men of Rheims believed these statements; they knew perfectly that Charles was deliberately abandoning them to the English and to Philip, and they doubtless were thankful that he had not offered their city to the duke, as he had offered Compiègne, probably even while he was living in the place.

Joan did not wish to leave St. Denis, where her voices bade her stay, though they did not forbid her to follow the army, after it had made ready to retreat. Before she left, she offered to the saint her arms--a full suit of white armor and a sword. She made this votive offering, she said, as men at arms were wont to do when they recovered from their wounds; she made it to St. Denis, because that was the war-cry of France. Though her faith was still strong, and her spirit unbroken, yet her final disappointment began with the retreat from Paris. Before that time she had met with many obstacles, but had overcome them; thereafter her efforts generally failed.

The retreat of the army from St. Denis to the Loire was safe and speedy. On Wednesday, September 21, Charles dined at Gien, having marched more than one hundred and fifty miles in eight days. "Thus," says a chronicler, "was broken the will of the Maid and of the king's army."

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