Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 2


THE village of Domremy lies in the valley of the Meuse, where the Vair enters the larger stream. Through rich, green meadows, about a mile wide, the sluggish waters of the river flow in many small channels, which change their course at flood-time from year to year. Behind the meadows, east and west, rise low, gentle hills, two or three hundred feet high, so flat at the top that they seem to mark the original level of the land, through which the river and its tributaries have forced their way. Just at the foot of this low, sloping wall of hills, on the very edge of the meadows, lies the little village, made up to-day of forty or fifty houses, as it was four hundred and fifty years ago. Never important enough to be walled, it straggles along the great highroad from Langres to Verdun, and along a narrow, crooked, irregular lane behind it.

In 1412 the slopes of the hills and the flat land at their top were well covered with woods. Above each little village on the banks of the Meuse, above Domremy, Maxey, Greux, Burey, and the rest, stretched the forest which still keeps the name of the village whose inhabitants it supplied with firing four or five centuries ago.

The peasants of Domremy raised crops of corn, and there was a vineyard near by; each family kept fowls and bees, but their principal wealth was in their cattle. These fed together on the rich pastures of the river-bottom, and were tended in turn by the children of the village. Such is the custom to-day. The houses were of stone with thatched or tiled roofs; they were small, of one or two or three rooms, and sometimes there was a low garret overhead. The furniture was simple: a few stools and benches, a table or a pair of trestles with a board to cover them, a few pots and pans of copper, and some pewter dishes. The housewife had in her chest two or three sheets for her feather-bed, two or three kerchiefs, a cloak, a piece of cloth ready to be made into whatever garment was most needed, and a few buttons and pins. Often there was a sword in the corner, or a spear or an arblast, but the peasants were peaceful, seldom waged war, and often were unable even to resist attack.

Under the feudal system, every foot of land had many owners, each holding it of a superior lord, until the sovereign himself was reached. The peasants of Domremy were vassals of the noble family of Bourlemont, whose castle, some four miles to the south, still stands on a wooded headland which juts out into the flat meadows of the Meuse. To the same family belonged the larger village of Greux, half a mile north of Domremy, forming with it but one parish.

The lords of Bourlemont held their lands of more than one overlord. Their castle they held directly of the king of France; not so Domremy. It is probable that nearly the whole of this village lay south of an insignificant rivulet which separated Greux, a possession of the bishop of Toul, from the duchy of Bar. The duke of Bar was thus the overlord of Domremy, but for this part of his duchy he, in turn, owed allegiance to the king of France.The position of this rivulet and the precise feudal relation of Domremy have been the subject of endless controversy. Its lord lived in France, its bishop was a prince of the Empire, the provost was an officer of the duke of Bar, while the bailiwick, in which it was included, included also territory more directly dependent upon the French crown. From year to year, moreover, king and duke, bishop and bailiff, tried to extend their several jurisdictions, and so time increased the natural confusion of the feudal system. It is quite clear, however, that the peasants did not care whether they were separated from the king of France by one or more intermediate vassals. Their speech was French; their sympathies looked west rather than east; even in Lorraine, on the other side of the Meuse, the feeling for France was warm, though the duchy of Lorraine was no part of the kingdom, but belonged to the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1301 the duke of Bar was compelled to do homage to the king of France for all that part of his duchy which lay on the left bank of the Meuse, including Domremy. Thereafter Domremy south of the brook belonged to that part of the duchy which, in the technical language of feudalism, "moved" from the kingdom of France. Thedistrict north of the brook still belonged to the bishop of Toul. Both Domremy and Greux continued to belong to the family of Bourlemont, which held lands of many overlords. Chapellier, ubi supra.

Of the three persons concerned, the king of France, the duke of Bar, and the bishop of Toul, the king was the strongest and the bishop the weakest. At some time which cannot be fixed precisely, probably early in the fifteenth century, Greux passed out of the temporal power of the bishop of Toul, and became a subject of dispute between the king and the duke. The king's officers were always seeking to extend their jurisdiction, while the duke, now become duke of Lorraine, and therefore a powerful and independent prince, sought to consolidate his possessions and to free himself from French control. The duke claimed both Greux and Domremy, while the king claimed both as integral parts of his dominions, and not simply as estates "moving" from them. There were vicissitudes in the controversy, but at length the Three Fountains Brook seems to have been agreed upon as the boundary, north of which the king could do as he pleased, while south of it he had only the shadowy rights of a suzerain. Chapellier, Lepage hist., 19 et seq.; Lepage, J. est-elle Lorraine? 2de dissert.; Luce, xxx. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, even these were renounced, and the territory south of the brook became incorporated in the independent duchy of Lorraine. (In 1571 and 1575.) About two hundred years later (in 1766) the whole of this duchy, Domremy included, was finally joined to France.

Joan was born, therefore, a subject of the duke of Bar, and, only remotely, of the king of France. As has been said, however, this made no difference in her feelings and in those of her neighbors. true. Twice a year a tax must be paid on each animal drawing a cart; the lord's harvest must be gathered, his hay cut and stored, firewood drawn to his house, fowls and beef and bacon furnished to his table. Those who had no carts must carry his letters. Services like these were the common duty of all peasants. Their lord owed them some sort of safeguard, and he lived among them. The walls of his castle were in sight; even in Domremy he had a little fortress or "strong house," called the Castle of the Island, over which they were compelled to mount guard, and to which they could flee in time of danger. The lord of Bourlemont with his wife and her maids often danced under a gigantic beech-tree near the village, where, as the legend went, his ancestor used to hold converse with a fairy. On Mid-Lent Sunday, or standing by her father's house, one of her brothers could probably have thrown a stone across the Three Fountains Brook, and into the debatable land of Greux. Thither Joan went to church for months, and, while watching the cattle in the meadows, she may well have crossed the almost imaginary boundary line twenty times a day. In spite of the evidence of local quarrels, it is hard to believe that the men of Maxey across the meadows really differed in national politics from the men of Domremy; it is certain that the men of Domremy and Greux altogether agreed. Had Joan happened to be born north of the brook, the political influence which surrounded her would have been precisely the same.

Fountain Sunday, as they called it, the boys and girls went thither also, hung garlands on the branches of the fairy tree, ate their cakes in its deep shade, and drank the waters of a neighboring fountain which healed the sick. The life of noble and peasant in the Middle Ages was monotonous and miserable enough, but by moments it was light-hearted and picturesque.

Each little village had its officers, chosen from the most substantial and responsible of its people. Thus Domremy had its mayor, its sheriff, and its dean, though probably there were not sixty men of full age in the place. Early in the fifteenth century the dean of Domremy was one James, or Jacob, called of Arc, very likely from the town of Arc en Barrois. He was born at Ceffonds in Champagne, and no one knows how he came to live in Domremy, fifty miles from his birthplace. Near the beginning of the century being then about five and twenty, he married Isabel of Vouthon, a village four or five miles northwest of Domremy. Of his family there is no authentic trace; the relatives of Isabel were humble people, carpenters and tilers; one reached the dignity of a curacy, and another became a monk.

The couple prospered. They had a good house of three or four rooms, close by the church, some meadow land, and cattle, of course. James of Arc gained the respect of his new neighbors. When they had a lawsuit to carry on, when the community wished to make a contract, James of Arc, was one of the committee to manage the affair. As dean he commanded the watch, collected the taxes, and inspected the weights and measures. That influence in a rural community which belongs to a man a little richer and a little more successful than most of his neighbors, James of Arc earned and kept.

. He had several children. The oldest son, named after his father, and called Jacquemin, for sake of distinction, was born very early in the century. John was the second son; Peter, the youngest child, was born about 1413. Apparently, there was a daughter Catherine, not much younger than her brother Jacquemin, who became the wife of a neighbor, and died soon after her marriage. About the feast of the Epiphany, 1412, Isabel gave birth to another daughter. In the church of the village the child was baptized Joan or Janet by John Minet, probably the curate. She had four godfathers and as many, a number befitting the importance of her father in the neighborhood. They were not all from Domremy; two were of Greux, the next village, where one served as mayor. John Barré was of Neufchbteau, a small town seven miles to the southward; another godparent was the wife of a squire.

There are legends enough concerning the childhood of Joan of Arc, but we know little of it until she was twelve or thirteen years old. She learned Our Father, and Ave Maria, and the Creed from her mother; she played with the other children on holidays, and with them she tended the cattle at pasture. For the rest, we know only what other people living in the valley of the Meuse, men and women and children, thought and felt in the years between 1412 and 1425.

Joan was three years old when Henry V. invaded France and won the battle of Agincourt. For two or three years afterwards, the war was carried on in the northwest of the kingdom, and the valley of the Meuse was little disturbed. Even in time of peace, not infrequently some lord would ravage the lands of his enemy's vassals, but every one must take his chance of a mishap like that. Thus in the village of Maxey, just across the river, and less than a mile from Domremy, a battle was fought in 1419 between the followers of two quarrelsome noblemen. One of these, Robert of Saarbruck, lord of Commercy, took some thirty prisoners, whom he held to ransom, among them the squire, husband of Joan's godmother. At this time Domremy escaped.

The alliance between Philip of Burgundy and Henry V., and the treaty of Troyes, made in 1420, opened eastern France to the ravages of war, at the same time civil and foreign. Louis, duke of Bar and cardinal bishop of Verdun, the feudal lord of Domremy, tried to keep peace with both parties, but the times were too troubled for neutrality. An embassy sent him by Philip of Burgundy was waylaid on its return by the lord of Commercy and by Robert of Baudricourt. The latter was a partisan of the Armagnacs, and a soldier of fortune, who held the little city of Vaucouleurs for the dauphin. In vain the cardinal disavowed the outrage; in vain he paid the ambassadors' ransom: Philip of Burgundy would hear no excuse, and the cardinal was forced to take sides with the Armagnacs. The Burgundians invaded his duchy, and he summoned to his aid "the most cruel and least pitiful of all the Armagnac captains," the Gascon Stephen of Vignolles, called La Hire. This man, of whom we shall hear much more, was famous throughout France for his bravery, his brutal rapacity, and his savage humor.

Neither La Hire nor his Burgundian rivals discriminated between friend and foe. Terrified by the outrages of his new allies, the weary cardinal resigned his duchy to René of Anjou, a boy of twelve, and constituted the duke of Lorraine the boy's guardian. Charles of Lorraine was soon persuaded to swear allegiance to Henry V., but his action had little effect on the freebooters, or "skinners," who were ravaging the duchy of Bar. Up and down the valley of the Meuse the rode, pretending revenge for hostile attack, but in reality gratifying their greed of booty and their lust of cruelty. Their deeds make our ears tingle even now, whether the story is read in the rhetorical narrative of a chronicler, in the prosaic minutes of a judicial inquest, or in the preamble of the pardons which they always got for the asking. They drove off all the cattle, they burnt the crops, either to light their road or in mere wantonness, and we know the contents of each peasant's house by the list of his poor belongings which they destroyed. This was the most humane part of their work. "These men," wrote a statesman of the day, "under pretense of blackmail and so forth, seized men, women, and little children, regardless of age and sex; violated women and girls; killed husbands and fathers before their wives and daughters; carried off nurses, and left their children to die of hunger; took pregnant women, put them in the stocks, let their offspring die without baptism, and then threw mother and child into the river; seized priests and monks, put them to the torture, and beat them until they were maimed or driven mad. Some they roasted, dashed out the teeth of others, and others they beat with great clubs. God knows what cruelty they wrought."

The wretched men of Domremy were almost defenseless. James of Arc and another well-to-do peasant hired of the lady of Bourlemont the "Castle of the Island," the fortified house and court-yard already mentioned, standing between the village and the river, wherein they could take refuge with their cattle, and try to keep themselves against sudden attack. Joan's oldest brother, Jacquemin, and four other villagers went surety for the rent, which was considerable. In 1423 the men of Domremy and Greux gave a bond to the lord of Commercy, a ruffian whose whole life was spent in robbery and cruelty. By it these villages were bound to pay a hearth tax for the immunity granted them, and upon it the principal men of the two places, James of Arc among them, offered themselves as sureties. Such bonds were openly given and received. This was executed before a notary of the ecclesiastical court of Toul, and, with fine legal irony, is expressed to be given "with good will, and without any force, constraint, or guile whatsoever." Very likely similar bonds were given by the men of Domremy to other noble robbers. We are told that these "put to ransom a poor village in eight or ten different places, and fired the village and church if the blackmail was not paid." The Castle of the Island and the promise of Robert of Commercy were scant protection to the men of Domremy, though they could find no better. By good fortune, rather than through any precaution, the village escaped for several years, but its time was sure to come. Every traveler that passed along the great highroad through Domremy brought news of fresh horrors. One day Joan beard of the death of her cousin's husband, killed within two years of his marriage. At times the sky to the northward smoked from the burning villages, and the lieutenant of the duke of Bar forbade the peasants to light a fire, lest the freebooters should use it to destroy the neighborhood.

As has been said, the plundering was indiscriminate. The wretched countryman neither knew nor cared if it was Englishman, Burgundian, or Armagnac who burnt his house before his eyes and his children in it. Indeed, the ruffians changed sides so often that at times they hardly remembered which master they were pretending to serve. Speaking generally, however, there were degrees in the brutality which possessed the soldiers of all parties. The English at this time usually kept the appearance of a regular army under some sort of discipline. The Burgundian irregulars served a master who commonly paid his troops, and who tried to control them by himself or his lieutenants. The Armagnacs, those who acknowledged Charles VII. for king, knew well that he was too poor to pay them, too cowardly to lead them in the field, and was ready to pardon any outrage they might think it worth while to confess. Naturally, therefore, the true soldiers of fortune, men hating authority and reckless as they were cruel, more and more inclined to the side of Charles, and committed the worst outrages in his name.

For all this, the common people of France year by year attached themselves more earnestly to the cause of Charles VII. Before the English invasion, while Armagnacs and Burgundians fought for the rule of the kingdom, and for the guardianship of the crazy king, both parties were willing to betray France to the English if they might get some temporary advantage. Even after the battle of Agincourt their intrigues continued, and all patriotism seemed dead; only the civic pride of some city like Rouen defended it against Henry V. By the murder of John of Burgundy at the bridge of Montereau, the attitude of the two parties was completely changed. Philip the Good allied himself at once to the English, and thus made of the Armagnacs the patriotic party, almost against their will. Slowly but steadily this fact entered into the minds of the common people. La Hire and his ruffians were very cruel, more cruel than the Englishmen of the regent Bedford, but only through La Hire and the like of him was there any hope of final escape. Peace could come only by the overthrow of the English; when they were gone, La Hire and his companions could be dealt with as they deserved.

Of course the peasants felt this almost unconsciously; they did not reason much about it. The old partisan hatred did not disappear at once, and patriotic enthusiasm was kindled slowly. The Burgundians of Paris at first welcomed the English, and the people of Normandy were reasonably quiet under English rule, so long as the Armagnac partisans were kept out of the province. Few noblemen could be trusted by either side; but the common people came slowly to recognize that the question was no longer between Burgundian and Armagnac, but between foreigners and Frenchmen. Before that awful struggle French patriotism hardly existed. At the end of the Hundred Years' War it was well grown.

What was true of the rest of the kingdom was true of a village like Domremy. Much learning has been wasted in proving that the part of Domremy in which Joan was born belonged to the royal domain. Ingenuity has been exhausted in guessing why its people were faithful to Charles. In fact, they shared the feelings of other Frenchmen, of nearly all men not nobles or soldiers who spoke the French language, whatever might be their precise feudal relation to the crown. Personal and local feuds still lasted, of course. There was a peasant even in Domremy who passed for a Burgundian. The boys of Joan's age at Domremy used to fight in the meadows with the boys of Maxey, the former as Armagnacs, the latter as Burgundians; but these childish quarrels, which lasted into the present century, were probably the remains of an old local feud between the two villages, rather than the result of recent political strife.

In these surroundings Joan passed her childhood. Her father came from a village whose people may have had a traditional affection for the king of France, but his feelings differed little from those of his neighbors. Everywhere the child learned that the English, aided by the duke of Burgundy, were the cause of all the horrors about her, and that the only hope lay in Charles VII., her rightful king. The time came when she saw those horrors with her own eyes.


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