Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 5

CHINON
Painting of Carles VII of France

AT Chinon in Touraine Charles VII. kept his court. From Vaucouleurs to Chinon was nearly three hundred miles, and the first half of the road lay through a country which acknowledged Henry as king. Joan and her little escort had nothing to fear, indeed, from the country people, for the sympathy of these was with Charles rather than with Henry, and, besides, the frightened peasants were devoutly thankful when half a dozen armed men were willing to ride forward and mind their own business. But through the country were constantly marching detachments of English soldiers, and bands of Burgundian partisans roamed hither and thither; wretched outlaws who obeyed neither king infested the woods, and many castles were held by lords, themselves little better than robbers, who were in the pay of English or Burgandians, or were otherwise allied to the Anglo-Burgundian party. Even in the immediate neighborhood of Vaucouleurs the roads were far from safe.

Late in the afternoon, accordingly, Joan set out, and rode on far into the night, until she reached the Benedictine abbey of St. Urbain, on the river Marne. The abbot, a kinsman of Baudricourt, very likely forewarned of her journey, received her with her companions, and lodged them until morning. The next day, they rode forward across the country.

Metz and Poulengy were hardened soldiers, yet they both feared greatly that the journey never would be accomplished, and they were not ashamed to confess their doubts and fears to Joan. With perfect confidence she assured them that she was but obeying commands laid upon her, and that for years God, her Lord, and her brothers in Paradise had told her she must fight for the salvation of the kingdom. As the days passed, the soldiers came to look on her with reverence and awe. "I think she was sent from God, for she never swore," said John of Metz, who himself had been fined in court for hard and foul swearing. Poulengy told how her words burned in him, and said she was as good a girl as if she had been a saint. Often they avoided the inns and slept in the fields, where Metz and Poulengy, both young men, lay down beside her without thought of impurity. "Freely she gave alms," said Metz, "and many times she gave me money to give for God." The sums must have been small, for she had but a few francs, a present from the duke of Lorraine, perhaps, or from the people of Vaucouleurs; whatever money was her own she usually spent in this way. The expense of the journey was borne by Metz and Poulengy, who were afterwards repaid out of the royal treasury.

As they seldom stopped at an inn for fear of detection, so they dared not go to church. This distressed Joan, who was accustomed to hear mass every day, and who, being on God's errand, wished constantly to ask his help. "If we could hear mass, we should do well," she said; but when they told her it was too dangerous, she did not insist. After they had been out four or five days, they came to Auxerre, a considerable city, belonging to the duke of Burgundy. Like most cities, it had a wholesome dread of all bodies of troops, and cared little about the politics of travelers so long as these behaved themselves quietly. The little party mingled with the crowd, and Joan, at least, heard mass in the cathedral; then they stole quietly away and rode westward to Gien.

On Friday or thereabouts they reached Gien, a town on the Loire about forty miles above Orleans, holding for Charles; their danger was now almost over, and Joan spoke freely of her errand. The news spread fast that a maid was come from the borders of Lorraine to raise the siege of Orleans and crown the Dauphin. Every where people were excited; in spite of the blockade, men often slipped into Orleans, and messengers from Gien soon told the story in the besieged city. Its commander, the famous Bastard of Orleans, afterwards count of Dunois, at once sent two of his officers to Chinon, whither he knew that Joan was bound.

The news from Orleans which Joan learned at Gien was very discouraging. On the day of her departure from Vaucouleurs had been fought the battle of Rouvray, or of the Herrings, which Baudricourt believed that she had announced to him. It had been a disastrous defeat for the garrison, and had brought both citizens and soldiers to despair. Many captains had slipped out of the city; with them had gone its bishop; and the Bastard, himself wounded, was left there almost alone. No time was to be lost, and Joan impatiently rode forward across the sandy Sologne and the flat fertile country of Touraine.

The anxiety of Poulengy now took a different turn. Believe in Joan as he might, he could not help wondering what reception they would meet at court. Charles and his councilors might think it all a fool's errand, and he might be left with his money spent, the laughing-stock of his comrades. He told his fears to Joan, of course; she calmly assured him that he need not be afraid, for the Dauphin would receive them kindly when they reached Chinon.

On Monday night or on Tuesday morning they came to St. Catherine of Fierbois, a little village about fifteen miles from Chinon. There they halted, not daring to bring Joan to court until leave should be had of the king. A letter was sent forward, probably by Colet of Vienne, the royal messenger, which set forth that Joan had ridden a hundred and fifty leagues to bring help to Charles, and that she bore good news to him. Joan could not write herself, but the letter was read over to her, and part of it she dictated. A day or more must pass before an answer could come back from Chinon, and she was able to hear three masses in the village church, dedicated to St. Catherine, her daily visitor.

On Wednesday morning a message came from Charles, and they rode on to Chinon. The town is built upon a meadow beside the river Vienne; behind it rises a high perpendicular ledge on which the castle stood. At once a fortress and a palace, it had thick walls, huge towers, and deep moats, which protected great buildings but just constructed, containing lofty rooms lighted by large mullioned windows. Joan reached the town about noon, and dined at an inn; after dinner she rode around the western end of the cliff, through a gloomy ravine, made darker by the high walls of the castle, up to its eastern entrance, where the drawbridge crossed a moat hewn in the solid rock. She was led past the modern buildings, across another drawbridge, into the strongest part of the hold, and there lodged in a great tower called of Coudray.

At court in Chinon were many of the royal councilors; among them La Trémoille, the greedy and treacherous favorite already mentioned, eager to get estates from Charles, which he protected from attack by private treaty with the English. He had his followers, such as Regnault of Chartres, archbishop of Rheims and chancellor of France, a selfish and worldly prelate, incapable of finding anything unselfish or unworldly in others. There were courtiers of the less ambitious sort, men who cared little whether Henry or Charles was king, so long as a court was maintained. There were the captains of banditti, who professed to be in Charles's service, Gascons, and Spaniards, and other adventurers,--brave men, who seldom sold themselves to an enemy, but were always ready to put the king's servants to ransom, to plunder and torture the country people, and to hire out for the private wars which La Trémoille, the constable, and other nominal subjects of Charles were incessantly carrying on. The most respectable men at court were clerks and the like officials, men who remembered better times, or at least had better traditions. In the confusion and utter dissolution of authority, these men could do little. In war they were naturally timid, and at this time they were discussing whether Charles had better take refuge in Dauphiny or in Languedoc, when Orleans should fall, and the barrier of the Loire should be forced by the English. The Bastard, Charles's best general, was at Orleans; his mother-in-law, Yolande, his wisest counselor, seems to have been at Angers, living on her estates.

Five hundred years ago, however contemptible personally a king might be, his personality was important to his kingdom. Seldom has a king lived who deserved greater contempt than did Charles VII. Weak in body and mind, idle, lazy, luxurious, and cowardly, he was naturally the puppet of his worst courtiers, and the despair of those who hoped for reform. "How many times have poor human creatures come to you to bewail the grievous extortion practiced upon them! Alas, well might they cry, 'Why sleepest thou, O Lord!' But they could arouse neither you nor those about you." So wrote an excellent official who helped to make illustrious the later years of the reign.

The child of a crazy father and a licentious mother, Charles, as has been said already, was at times frivolous and splendor-loving, at times gloomy and solitary. "Never a king lost his kingdom so gayly," was a saying fathered upon La Hire, a fierce Gascon soldier, and the acknowledged wit of France. acknowledged Most of the money that the king could raise was spent in luxurious living or given to favorites. He had pledged Chinon itself to La Trémoille, until the favorite became dissatisfied with the security, as being of too little value and too likely to be taken by the English. 1 Charles's extravagance often left him wretchedly poor, and so the story went about that a cobbler, who had mended one of his boots and could not get payment, tore out the work and left the king to walk about in holes.

"La Hire and Pothon went one day
To see him, when for banquet gay
The courtiers did themselves regale
With chickens two and a sheep's tail,"

sang a rhyming chronicler of the palace. 2 At times, again, the king brooded apart, in hopeless prayer, almost ready to abandon the contest and to believe himself a bastard, no true heir to the throne.

On reaching Chinon, Joan at once asked to see the Dauphin, but this his advisers would not allow. Some of them went to her and inquired her errand. At first she refused to speak to any one except Charles; but when she was told that he would not see her unless she first told her errand, she said to them plainly that she had two commands laid upon her by the King of Heaven, one, to raise the siege of Orleans, the other, to lead Charles to Rheims that he might be crowned and consecrated there. Meantime, Metz and Poulengy were talking everywhere about her goodness, and the wonderful safety they had enjoyed during the long journey which they had taken together.

Joan's visitors were not disinclined to believe her inspired, but it seemed possible that her inspiration might come from hell rather than from heaven. For Charles to receive a witch into his presence would endanger his person, and, besides, would greatly discredit his majesty.

Certain clerks and priests, accordingly, men expert in discerning good spirits from bad, were appointed to examine Joan. They could find no harm in her, but yielded to her simple faith, and told Charles that, as she professed to bring him a message from God, at least he ought to hear her. He yielded reluctantly, and fixed a time for the audience, some two or three days after her arrival.

Feb. 23- March 10, 1429

It was evening, and the great hall of the palace, lighted by dozens of torches, was filled with curious courtiers and with the royal guard. Louis of Bourbon, count of Vendôme, led Joan into the room, dressed in black and gray,--the man's dress she had worn upon her journey. She had been praying, and beside the glare of the torches, she saw the light which usually came with her voices. As she entered, Charles drew aside, thinking to puzzle her and try her miraculous powers, but by the counsel of her voices, as she afterwards said, she knew him, and made to him a dutiful obeisance. "Gentle Dauphin," she began,"I have come to you on a message from God, to bring help to you and to your kingdom." She went on to declare more particularly that she was bidden to raise the siege of Orleans and to conduct him to Rheims.

Charles talked with her a little while, and then sent her away, back to the tower. There she was cared for by one William Bellier, an officer of the castle, and by his wife, a matron of character and piety. Again Joan was impatient of delay, and expected to be sent to Orleans at once with an army of relief. This was impossible for more reasons than one. The king's counselors could not yet make up their minds to trust her entirely, and, besides, soldiers and money were wholly wanting. A month before, by what had seemed at court a superhuman effort, an army had been raised and sent to Orleans. It had been defeated at Rouvray, and had since disbanded; no intention remained of relieving the city, though there was still some idle talk of it.

Day after day all sorts of people visited Joan to test her in different ways. A little boy, who afterwards became her page, and who then lived in the tower, watched her taken back and forth to talk with the king, and often saw great men going to her room. Churchmen tested her orthodoxy; captains asked her about her knowledge of war; and, as the belief of the day made her supposed miraculous power rest upon her virginity, certain noble dames examined her to discover if she was a virgin. Impatient as she was, she answered them all so aptly, and was so gentle and simple, that all who met her grew to believe in her.

Within a week of Joan's coming to Chinon, a royal messenger summoned to court a young prince of the blood, John, duke of Alençon. Though the duke was a brave and warlike young man, who had been taken prisoner in battle when only fifteen years old, yet so complete was the demoralization of the French that he was found on his estates hunting quails, and quite indifferent to the peril of the kingdom. When the messenger told him that a young girl had come to the king declaring herself sent by God to drive out the English and raise the siege of Orleans, both his curiosity and chivalry were aroused, and he went at once to Chinon, reaching the court on the next day. He found Joan speaking with the king, who was still uncertain whether to trust her or not. She noticed the duke, and asked who he was. "It is the duke of Alençon," said Charles. "You are very welcome," said Joan to the duke. "The more princes of the blood are here together the better." The young man was charmed by her bearing, and she was pleased by his open face and his courtesy; they were soon fast friends, and the "gentle duke," the "fair duke," as Joan used to call him, became her closest comrade in arms.

The council had come to no decision, the churchmen still visited Joan, and Charles still talked with her in the vain attempt to make up his mind. With her exalted ideas of his divine right, and with the notions of kingly power that belong to simple people, Joan naturally believed that she had but to win him over in order to make all go well. To others she said as little as possible about her mission, but to him she spoke freely, regarding him with a loyalty which never wavered, and which contrasted strangely with her shrewd judgment of other men. The day after Alençon's arrival she went to mass with the king, who was regular in his devotions. Afterwards, he led her into a chamber of the castle, having with him only the duke and La Trémoille. As has been said, Joan believed in his divine right to the throne, but she believed that his right was that of God's vicegerent. She therefore begged him to offer his kingdom to the King of Heaven, and she assured him that thereafter the King of Heaven would do for him as He had done for his ancestors, and would restore him to his former estate.

They talked until dinner-time, and after dinner went together to ride in the meadows by the river. Until her journey to Lorraine it is likely that Joan had never mounted a horse, and she was as unfamiliar with soldierly exercise as any farmer's daughter to-day. So complete, however, was her trust in herself as God's messenger, or rather, so completely did she forget herself in her faith in the message, that she guided her horse and wielded her lance to the wonder of all who saw her. The young duke was so much pleased that he gave her a horse on the spot.

In spite of Joan's increasing influence over both churchmen and captains, the king still wavered, and La Trémoille was indifferent. The favorite had not yet come to dread her power and to intrigue against her as he did a few months later, but on the whole he was disinclined to action. Joan was still examined and crossexamined by the king's confessor and by others. She answered discreetly concerning her voices and the message from the King of Heaven; but she told Alençon, as they dined together one day, that she knew more than she had told her questioners. She thought it strange that men could doubt that which was so plain to her. The little boy who lived with her in the tower often saw her on her knees with her lips moving, as if in prayer; what she said he could not hear, but he saw that she was crying. She herself testified that she prayed to God and to her voices to turn the king's heart, and to deliver her from the churchmen.

Charles VII. was a weak and contemptible man, as has been said, but after all he was human. Not only did Joan's simple faith impress him, as it impressed all others who saw her, but her entire trust in him gave him for the moment some courage and self-reliance. In times of despondency he had doubted if his blood were that of the kings of France, or that of some nameless favorite of his mother, a doubt not unreasonable when the licentiousness of Isabeau is considered and the madness of Charles VI. One day Joan found him in this mood. La Trémoille, Alençon, and one or two others were with him also, though it is quite possible they did not hear what passed between Joan and Charles. The precise words spoken are not certainly known, but Joan said to Charles something which removed the doubts of the wretched man, and seemed to him an oracle sent from heaven to answer his prayers. A courtier noticed that his face was cheerful as he came from the interview, and there was such a change in his manner that Joan gladly believed it to be the work of God, to whom she had prayed for the purpose.

Thus far, however, she had gained for herself only a serious hearing. The king's confessor found her orthodoxy unimpeachable. The king himself believed that she had wrought a miracle in reading his inmost thoughts. She had fired the zeal of the captains, and had shamed them into some hope of saving France; she had charmed the ladies of the court by her modesty; while the common people were telling wonderful stories of her exploits and adventures. To bring this about in a fortnight was no mean exploit for a girl of seventeen, though Joan, believing God to be the author of the whole work, wondered only that any one should hesitate for a moment to trust his messenger. To the royal councilors doubt was natural; the examination of Joan at Chinon, however tedious to her, was by them considered only as the introduction to a more formal investigation which was to be made at Poitiers. Thither Joan was sent, accordingly, about March 10, though it is not unlikely that some preparation was made at once for the relief of Orleans. According to an anonymous chronicler, Joan reached Chinon March 6. The entry in the Chronique de Mont St. Michel, ed. Luce, i.30, is merely a copy of the statement just cited. The Livre Noir of La Rochelle, Quicherat, Rel. inéd. sur J., 19, gives the date as February 23; and I agree with M. de Boismarmin (Mém. sur l'arrivée de J. à Chinon, in Bull. Hist. et Philol. du comité des trav. hist. et scient., 1892, p. 350), that the earlier date is the more probable.

The letter to the English was written from Poitiers on March 22. If Joan did not reach Chinon until March 6, it is difficult to find sufficient time for the events which undoubtedly took place between her arrival at that place and the writing of the letter. She could hardly have passed less than ten or twelve days at Chinon. It was two days before she saw the king, and a day or two more before she saw the duke of Alençon. On the day after his arrival occurred the ride through the meadows by the river. Thereafter a committee was appointed to examine her. The examination took place, a favorable report was made, and the king and Joan started for Poitiers. For the length of Joan's stay at Chinon.

If she arrived at Chinon on March 6, therefore, she could not well have arrived at Poitiers before March 19 or 20, and, while the testimony is not positive, yet its tendency indicates decidedly that more than two or three. days elapsed between her arrival and the dispatch of the letter to the English on March 22. Moreover, there is an entry in the MS. Gaignières, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, stating that Charles was at Poitiers March 11. The entry occurs in a list of places and dates confusedly thrown together to show the itinerary of the kings of France. The list is of considerable age, but no authorities are given, and some of the entries are manifestly incorrect. For example, on April 9, Charles is said to have been at Beaugency, which place remained in the hands of the English until June.18. Still, though the authority of the MS. Gaignières is not to be trusted implicitly, yet it is entitled to some weight, and it agrees perfectly with the natural order of things, supposing that Joan reached Chinon on February 23. This would give a fortnight or thereabouts for the events which took place at Chinon, and rather more than ten days for the examination at Poitiers and the other events which happened there before the letter was written.

Again, if Joan reached Chinon on February 23, she must have left Vaucouleurs February 12 or 13. On February 12 was fought the battle of the Herrings, and Baudricourt is said to have written a letter, mentioning Joan's announcement of the battle at the very hour when the battle took place. Now the letter which Baudricourt sent off with Joan was probably written very near the moment of her departure. If she left Vaucouleurs late in the afternoon of February 12, Baudricourt's letter would probably have been written at or about noon on that day, the very moment when the battle was taking place. If, on the other hand, she did not reach Chinon until March 6, she did not leave Vaucouleurs until February 23, in which case, news of the battle of the Herrings would have reached. Baudricourt before her departure, of which the contrary is implied in the Journal de Siège.

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