Joan of Arc Chapter 1
THE CONDITION OF FRANCE
THE personality of Joan of Arc was so strong that her life takes its chief interest therefrom rather than from her surroundings. But no man can exist apart from his circumstances; these must, in any case, be the field of his effort, and, in great measure, must determine the means which he uses, and the end which he proposes to reach. To study the life of Joan of Arc apart from the life of her people and her generation is no less absurd than to regard her as their type.
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Before the middle of the fifteenth century France was hardly a nation. Without a common language, and with a boundary shifting and ill-defined, almost its only bond of union was its king, and in much of France the king was little more than a name. In one province he was a great feudal lord with strong castles and great possessions. In the next province the real power was that of some duke or count, who kept royal state, assembled the provincial representatives and treated with them, carried on war against the king, or neglected him altogether.
Still another province was under English rule. In the same province, indeed, the conditions changed from time to time. Sometimes the royal domain was granted away, sometimes great feudal appanages reverted to the crown. Normandy was won from the English, Poitou was lost to them.
The cities, then large and numerous throughout France, were usually almost independent of the great lords, and even the royal power was often inferior to that of their local government. The town councils, chosen by the guilds, or by the more prosperous citizens at large, shut the gates against the rude soldiers of both king and lord, maintained agents at their courts, and considered what contribution should be made to the needs of one or the
other. Originally the municipal charters had been granted to offset the power of the nobles, and still the cities served this purpose, but if they kept the nobles in check, they checked also the growth of national feeling by substituting for it a strong local pride.
Thus France, a country many times as populous and as rich as England, was overrun by English armies. Then, as in later times, the insular position of England counted for much in the wars it carried on, but it had an advantage quite as great in its fuller national development.
To speak of England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a centralized state seems absurd to us to-day, but, compared to France, it was centralized indeed. Its nobles were powerful, but not, like the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, princes really independent. Its towns, except London, were of small importance compared to the great cities of France, and had less local independence. Its language had many dialects spoken by the common people, but the students at its universities, unlike those of Paris and Toulouse, could understand each other without recourse to Latin.Most of the country won by Edward III. and by the Black Prince was recovered for France in the reign of Charles V. (1364-1380) by the skill and valor of Duguesclin and Clisson; Calais in the north and Bordeaux in the south, with the country about them, alone remained to England. Charles V. did much more than win back
lost territory. With some success, he attempted to organize the administration of France, to regulate its finances, and to secure justice for all. In the century and a half which separated Philip the Fair from Louis XI., he was the only man of ability to sit on the throne, and his early death was a calamity to the kingdom.
Charles VI. was twelve years old when his father died. During his minority the country was shamelessly plundered by his uncles, who overthrew the system which their brother had tried to establish. On coming of age, the young king recalled some of his father's old servants, but their rule was short. Weak in body and mind, four years of wild debauchery made Charles VI. a madman, sometimes raving, sometimes idiotic, sometimes with just enough intelligence to move the pity of those who saw him. His uncles and the other great nobles at once regained power, and preyed again upon the distracted country.
After some years their promiscuous quarrels were resolved into a struggle between the two strongest. Louis, duke of Orleans, the king's younger brother, willful and licentious, but handsome and brilliant, with manners so winning that those who had served him never forgot their master, was opposed to Philip, duke of Burgundy, the king's youngest uncle, and to Philip's son and successor, John, surnamed the Fearless. The country owned by the dukes of Burgundy was rich and populous; they ruled the trading cities of Flanders to the north of France, and both the duchy and county of Burgundy to the east. Though they were quite as greedy as the duke of Orleans or as any other great noble, both Philip and John were clever enough to protest in the name of the people against some oppressive taxes, the proceeds of which they were not able to share. In this way, they came to represent the general discontent of the people, and grew especially popular with the ferocious mob of Paris.
From time to time a sham peace was made between the rivals. One Sunday in November, 1407, Louis and John together partook of the Eucharist, having first sworn love and good fellowship. On the following Wednesday, the bravos of Duke John waylaid and murdered Duke Louis in the streets of Paris. Such was the temper of France, that the principal men of the kingdom assembled soon afterwards with the duke of Burgundy to hear a panegyric on the murder delivered by a priest whom John had hired for the occasion.
Louis of Orleans left faithful servants who, in the name of his young sons, prepared to avenge his death. For several years the tide of civil war ebbed and flowed through northern France and about the walls of Paris. Now and then peace was made, to be broken as one party or the other made fresh combinations with great nobles and princes of the blood. When hardest pressed, both sides in turn called the English to their help, a dangerous proceeding, as the English king had never abandoned his claim to be king of France. At first the Orleanists suffered for want of a leader, but, in 1410,
Charles, the young duke of Orleans, was married to Bonne, daughter of Bernard, count of Armagnac; and thereafter the count led the opposition to John the Fearless, giving the name of Armagnacs to the Orleanist partisans. He was a rude nobleman of Gascony, with hot southern blood in his veins, quite as selfish as the duke of Burgundy and, if possible, even more violent. Availing himself of a reaction against the excesses of the Parisian mob, he seized the capital and the person of the king, and drove John back to his estates.
The troubles in England during the reigns of Richard II.
II. and Henry IV. (1377-1413) prevented an invasion of France. Henry V., able and popular, in the struggle between Armagnacs and Burgundians found his chance to assert what he believed to be his right to the throne, and in 1415 entered Normandy. The government of France was in the hands of Armagnac.
John the Fearless had no wish that his rival should win a victory; therefore he intrigued with Henry, and dissuaded his followers from joining the French army. After needless delay and with much blundering, an enormous body of the French nobility stumbled helplessly against the well-disciplined English troops at Agincourt, and was cut to pieces on the spot. The greatest and the bravest of the French nobles were killed or carried to England as prisoners. Terrible as was the disaster, some Frenchmen rejoiced at it.
The English did not push their success until more than a year had passed; not until 1417 did Henry undertake the conquest of France in earnest. Armagnac had kept his control of the king, and the furious rivalry between himself and Burgundy paralyzed the nation; only the local pride of some city here and there enabled it to make a brave resistance. As Henry marched in triumph through the land, the people naturally blamed Armagnac rather than Duke John, and at last they would bear the count's rule no longer. The gates of Paris were opened by treachery, the Burgundian partisans burst into the city, seized the person of the king, and massacred every Armagnac they could find, including the count himself; only the Dauphin Charles, the king's last surviving son, a boy of fifteen, was snatched from his bed by one of the Armagnac captains, and carried off into central France.
These two acts, the capture of the king by John the Fearless, and the abduction of the dauphin by the Armagnacs, made more definite the line of separation between the two parties. Both the crazy man and the weak boy were mere tools in the hands of their masters, but each represented certain great classes in the nation, both social and geographical. With the duke of Burgundy was the semblance of royalty, not only the king, but the vain and licentious queen, whose petty mind was now filled with hatred of her son. On the duke's side, also, was the mob of Paris, and the turbulent democracy of the cities of northern France; with him were the nobles of Burgundy, of Picardy, and of Flanders, and some enemies of Armagnac in the south. With the Armagnacs was that feeling of hopeful and future loyalty which clings to the heir of the throne; with them, also, were the men of central France, both nobles and common people, some of the southern nobles, most of the southern cities not in the power of the English, and not a few of the most respectable burghers in the north. More important than all, the larger and better part of the civil servants of the crown, judges, clerks, secretaries, and the like, sided with the Dauphin for fear of the arrogance of Duke John and the violence of the mob of Paris. At the moment, these men were overborne by the fierce Armagnac captains, the vindictive servants of Louis of Orleans, and the treacherous courtiers who made a plaything of the wretched Dauphin, but their power slowly increased, and at last they founded modern France.
On both sides the leaders had lost all patriotism. Both the duke and the Armagnacs tried to buy the help of Henry by the offer of the best provinces of France; though willing to negotiate with both, Henry would make no agreement with either, but marched steadily onward. As city after city fell into his hands, signs of real patriotism appeared among the people at large, and forced both John and the Armagnacs to pretend to wish for reconciliation.
After some negotiation, the duke met the Dauphin on the bridge over the Yonne at Montereau, some fifty miles southeast of Paris. Every precaution had been taken against treachery, stout palisades had been put up, and but ten men on each side were admitted to the conference. All was in vain. An old servant of Louis of Orleans, taking advantage of the duke's arrogant words and bearing, split open his head with an axe. This was no chance outburst of fury: the plot had been laid for months, and included some of the duke's retinue.
The murder of John the Fearless had its natural consequences. Philip, surnamed the Good, his son and successor, a capable and ambitious young man of twentythree, at once offered to Henry terms so favorable that the English king accepted them. In 1420 a treaty was signed at Troyes, whereby Henry, married to the daughter of Charles VI., was declared the heir of the crazy king and regent of France. By this act, forced upon Charles VI., Duke Philip hoped to glut his vengeance for the murder of Montereau. Paris was delivered to the English, and the allied English and Burgundian armies together proceeded to the conquest of the rest of France.
At first the Armagnac leaders showed some energy. They took the Dauphin into Languedoc, and by exhibiting him to the people won many to his support. They were, however, utterly incapable of governing the country; not satisfied with their exploit at Montereau, they tried in like manner to rid themselves of the duke of Brittany, a powerful prince, almost independent, whose alliance they might have won by fair dealing. The duke escaped, and, after a time, naturally followed Philip of Burgundy into the English camp. In spite of one or two checks, Henry seemed on the point of conquering
France, when he died suddenly, in the flower of his manhood. Charles VI. outlived him but a few weeks.
Henry VI. of England, by the treaty of Troyes king of France, a baby nine months old, was now the head of the Anglo-Burgundian alliance. His uncle, John, duke of Bedford, was his regent in France, a man shrewd, determined, patient, and temperate. The task of Bedford was harder than his brother's had been, for, after the treaty of Troyes, Henry V. had ruled in the name of Charles VI., whose right to the throne was undoubted, while Bedford must act for a foreigner, and against the natural head of the royal family.
In spite of this advantage, the affairs of Charles VII., as he was now called, went from bad to worse.He was about twenty years old, and his disposition began to manifest itself. Son of a vain and licentious mother, born when his father had been ten years a madman, the boy grew up among the dissolute brawlers at court. Throughout life he was what his parentage and his education naturally made him, weak in body and mind, now luxurious and fond of display, now melancholy and sullen, "drenching his passions with drunkenness and debauchery, stupid with selfindulgence and slothfulness," as said a contemporary historian by no means unfriendly. He was a coward; in his boyhood he had been dragged into the field by the fierce men about him, whose bravery was their only virtue, but, as soon as he could make his wishes respected, he withdrew into safe castles, where he spent most of his life. Plainly, France could expect nothing from him. From the leaders of the Armagnacs she could expect little more. Most of them were adventurers, whose only object was to get land and money. They caused the king to grant to them the royal domain, they pillaged the treasury, and stole the money intended for the army. The boldest of them carried on a guerrilla warfare against the English, and in so doing mercilessly plundered, tortured, and killed the wretched peasantry. In the two years which followed his accession, Charles lost several provinces.The English success aroused the patriotism of the common people and the jealousy of the great nobles, even of those who up to this time had sided with Burgundy and the English. An opportune quarrel between one of Bedford's brothers and Philip greatly irritated the duke with his allies. While he did not break with them for more than ten years to come, he looked with increasing dread upon English success, grew to believe that it was possible to be reconciled to Charles, and intrigued to gain power at his court. From this time forward he kept faith with neither party.
All these causes weakened the power which the old leaders of the Armagnacs had hitherto kept. Even at court they were not unopposed. Yolande of Aragon, duchess dowager of Anjou, the king's mother-in-law, and a woman of real ability, knew well that it was vain to fight with the English, unless aided by the great feudal lords, and that these would never submit to be governed by political adventurers and captains of banditti. With Yolande were the civil servants, as we should call them, the permanent officials; with her, also, were the representative assemblies, both of the kingdom and of the
provinces, who knew how terrible was the corruption and disorder everywhere. By vigorous diplomacy the old favorites were frightened and outwitted, and the feeble king was handed over to the control of Arthur, count of Richemont, brother of the duke of Brittany and brother-in-law of Philip of Burgundy.
The character of Richemont, thus made constable of France, was not immaculate. Already he had changed sides more than once. Ambitious and overbearing, he would tolerate no rival at court, while his greed was only less than that of his predecessors. 3 He had, however, a real sense of responsibility, and he addressed himself seriously to the task of beating back the English. His influence secured the support of Brittany, while Philip was induced to grant a truce covering a large part of the eastern frontier of France.
Some of the old favorites still lingered at court and easily gained the ear of the weak king, who never liked the manners of the constable. They hindered the negotiations with Philip, and were supposed to hamper the constable's operations in the field. Richemont did not stick at trifles. One favorite he dragged from court and drowned in the river, another he slaughtered almost before the eyes of Charles. But the third favorite, George of La Trémoille, a nobleman of some importance, proved too strong for the fierce Breton, and gained firm control of the wretched king and of the miserable remnant of France still left to Charles. The duke of Brittany went back to the English alliance in high dudgeon, while La Trémoille spent the royal treasure in carrying on a private war with the constable, who remained nominally loyal.
In 1428 France was come to this condition. Normandy, Paris and the country about it, Perche, Alençon, most of Maine and Champagne, were in the hands of the English. Brittany was ruled by an independent prince, their somewhat reluctant ally. Picardy and Flanders on the north, the duchy and county of Burgundy on the east, belonged to Philip the Good, a man jealous of English success, but still anxious to avenge his father's murder, and irritated by the disgrace of Richemont, his brother-in-law, though willing to intrigue with La Trémoille. The duke of Lorraine had been cajoled and bullied into acknowledging Henry VI.; even his heir, René of Anjou, Charles's brother-in-law, yielded at last. Speaking generally, nearly all France north of the Loire, and all the country east of that river, as far south as Lyons, denied the right of Charles.
This was not all. Bordeaux had been in English hands two centuries and a half, and no city in England was more loyal to Henry. Much of the surrounding country was English, while the rest of southwestern France was ruled by nobles whom neither party could trust. In the southeast, Provence was practically an independent state.
The remainder of France, the country south of the Loire between the Garonne and the Rhone, together with Dauphiny, acknowledged Charles VII. At a safe distance from the enemy, in some strong castle, the king passed his time in idleness, in debauchery, and in melancholy brooding over his troubles. His master, La Trémoille, plundered France, betrayed it to Burgundy, and dealt privately with the English to save his own possessions from attack. Leagued with him were other courtiers, who in humbler degree imitated his greed and his treachery. The great nobles stood aloof. Here and there some general in the field tried to do his duty against the English without money and without men. Most of the captains, however, even when faithful to Charles, were by habit unspeakable ruffians, far more terrible to the wretched people than to their own enemies, and as ready to hire out for private warfare as to take the field against the English. More than once the king was compelled to ransom his servants from the hands of his own soldiers.
In the cities was constant terror. Seldom would the burghers open their gates to admit even friendly soldiers. Nearly every city in northern France had been besieged, some of them many times, and many of them had been sacked by Armagnacs, Burgundians, or English. Yet in the cities alone was there a hope of safety. The open country became a desert, briars choked up what once were fertile fields, and the peasants starved or were tortured to death by the French banditti, or rose in blind revolt and were slaughtered by English troops. Out of this stress came at last French patriotism and the centralized power of the French king; but, at the moment when both patriotism and king seemed weakest, the English sent a strong army under their best captains to force the barrier of the Loire and end the struggle. With this intent they laid siege to Orleans.
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