Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 15


THE failure before La Charité ended Joan's fighting in the year 1429, and she went to join the king at the castle of Mehun on the Yêvre, where he kept his court. His negotiations with Burgundy still dragged on without result, except an extension of the truce to Easter, 1430. The English ignored the invitation to become a party to it, and vigorously carried on their war in Normandy, regaining after long sieges some of the places which they had lost at the time of the French advance. In the neighborhood of Paris, the truce did not altogether restrain the soldiery on either side. The French were in double difficulty, for they were forbidden to fight the Burgundians, while they were constantly exposed to the attacks of Philip's allies, the English. Finding himself without sufficient force and controlling authority, the count of Clermont resigned his office as lieutenant- general in the country north of the Seine, and retired to his estates. His authority, such as it was, devolved upon another prince of the house of Bourbon, the count of Vendôme, who was under the control of the archbishop and of La Trémoille. It should be added that at this time the favorite himself sought an interview with the constable, in order to assassinate him. Joan's exploits had recovered for Charles a considerable amount of territory which was never again to be lost, but other-wise his prospects were not much better than they had been a year before.

Joan passed at Mehun some weeks in idleness, and there is hardly any record of her doings during the whole winter. She was not as important a person as she had been six months before: the chroniclers no longer described her every action, the courtiers and the soldiers remembered that her march on Paris had ended in failure, and that her siege of La Charité had been a failure altogether; even the common people began to talk about her rivals, like Catherine of La Rochelle. It would seem that these things must have tried sorely even a being like Joan. The constant comfort of her voices, however, and her undoubting faith in her mission kept her from understanding how hostile were many of the royal councilors, how indifferent the people were growing, and how much of her power was lost.

Since the expedition to Orleans one or more of her brothers had accompanied her. They were commonplace young men, like their neighbors at Domremy, but they had their ambitions, and they wished to use their sister's renown to better their own position. A patent of nobility was desirable, not only for the honor of the thing, but also because it conferred certain very substantial privileges in matters of taxation. Joan cared nothing for nobility, -- it seems that she tried to refuse it; but La Trémoille and his party were quite willing to grant her brothers' request. That which she really desired, an opportunity to fight against the enemies of France, they would not give her; they were the readier to profess their gratitude by loading her with empty honors. The patent was made out accordingly: Joan's services were touched upon, and it was declared fitting, not only on account of her merits, but also in recognition of the Divine grace, that she and all her family should be exalted and distinguished by rewards worthy the honor of the king's majesty. Therefore, considering the praiseworthy, grateful, and useful services many times rendered by her in the past, and the services which in future it was hoped she might render (this last phrase must have been pleasant to Joan), she, her father, mother, and brothers, and all their descendants to the farthest generation, were ennobled, with all the privileges belonging to nobility.

The patent of nobility describes no coat-of-arms, but shortly before the patent was issued, or very soon afterwards, the brothers got leave to blazon a coat-of-arms, which has been treated as that of Joan herself, though she never used it. On an azure field, between two golden lilies of France, an upright sword supported a crown, plainly signifying that the sword of Joan had delivered the kingdom. The youngest brother was not content with this proud device, but preferred to invent or to borrow what he was pleased to call the old arms of his family. Joan would not substitute either one or the other for the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, and the throned Creator, the devices under which her victories had been won.

Before relieving Orleans, while she was living at Tours, she had become acquainted with the daughter of Hamish Power, the Scotch painter who made and decorated her banner. The young girl, Héliote, was to be married in February, and Joan wrote to the council of the city, asking that a hundred crowns might be given to buy the trousseau of her friend. If the request had been made six months before, no doubt it would have been granted, but the enthusiasm of the councilors had cooled. The money of the city, they wisely said, should be spent in maintaining the city, and not otherwise. The good men did not wish to seem ungrateful, however; churchmen and burghers voted to attend the wedding in a body, and to provide a good supply of bread and wine for the wedding feast, all in honor of Joan the Maid.

In midwinter Joan went for a few days to Orleans, accompanied by Rabateau, her host at Poitiers, and by one of her brothers; but most of her time was spent at Mehun until the latter part of February, 1430, when La Trémoille carried both king and court to his castle of Sully on the Loire. Here Joan lived for several weeks, and here she received a curious request. As has been after May 15, and the statement in the note carries, therefore, very little authority. Joan herself testified that she never had a coat-of-arms, but that the king gave one to her brothers like that mentioned in the text. This she had described to a painter, apparently in Rouen, who had asked what were her arms. Very possibly the arms were given to all Joan's family at one time, and her answer at the trial meant simply that she did not use them; or the arms may have been given to her brothers only, while later tradition attributed them to Joan also said, the fame of her exploits, embellished by legend, was spread over all Europe. In the accounts of the city of Ratisbon has been found a payment for the exhibition of a picture of Joan fighting the English. All Germany, and eastern Germany in particular, was greatly excited over the struggle between the Hussites and the Catholics in Bohemia. The latter, knowing that Joan was commissioned by God for holy warfare, in their distress appealed to her piety. In her name, accordingly, a manifesto against the Hussites was issued. With fervid clerkly rhetoric their sins were described, and they were threatened with speedy destruction at the hands of Joan. Carried away in the flow of his periods, the scribe made Joan say that perhaps she would leave the English, in order "to root out your hideous superstition with the edge of the sword, and snatch you either from heresy or from life." The style of the letter shows pretty plainly that Joan had no part in its composition, but she probably shared the horror of the heretical Hussites which was felt by all religious Frenchmen about her.

During these weeks at Sully, Joan had little time to think about the crimes of the Hussites. The end of the truce was approaching. In a few weeks the Burgundians would be free to take the field; already their forces were summoned, and it behooved the French to be ready for them. There was a chance to retrieve the mistakes of the year just ended, and vigorously to set about driving the English from France. The royalists in Paris were plotting to open the gates to Charles's soldiers, the inhabitants of the places occupied by the French were in constant fear of an attack by the Anglo-Burgundians.

Six months earlier, after abandoning his campaign in northern France and before retreating to the Loire, Charles had assured his frightened subjects, and especially the men of Rheims, that, as soon as the truce was ended, he would return at the head of a greater army than ever, and with that army would recover his realm. The time was come; it was vain to hope that he would take the field in person, but he made no attempt even to raise an army, and the men of Rheims were in great distress. Their captain, a nephew of the archbishop, had abandoned them, and was gone no one knew where, having first got a safe-conduct from the duke of Burgundy. A conspiracy to betray them to the English had been made between a canon of the cathedral and Peter Cauchon, count bishop of Beauvais, himself once a canon of Rheims, now a fierce partisan of the English. The plot was discovered, the canon was forced to confess, and was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment in chains; but the men of Rheims wrote their fears to Joan. On March 16 she answered them from Sully, bidding them man their walls, if attacked, and promising to succor them speedily. "I would send you other good news, whereat you would be right glad," she added, "but I fear lest this letter should be taken by the way, and lest they should learn the said news." Probably she had in mind the march into the north which Charles had promised to lead in person.

A few days later the men of Rheims wrote again to her, begging her to contradict certain stories of their disloyalty which had been carried to the king. She promised to do so. "I know well," she went on, "that you have much to suffer from the cruelty of our enemies, those treacherous Burgundians, but by God's will you shall be delivered shortly, that is to say, as soon as possible. I beg and pray you, my very dear friends, to guard well your good city for the king, and to keep good watch. You shall soon hear good news of me more plainly. At present I write you no more, save that all Brittany is French, and the duke will send the king three thousand soldiers paid for two months."

On March 28 this letter was written from Sully; within the next ten days the king went from Sully to Jargeau. Before his departure Joan came to a decision unlike any she had yet taken. Her hope of help from Brittany was quite vain; perhaps the hope was held out simply to deceive her, and she may have learned the truth. Not improbably the proposed departure of Charles for Jargeau showed her that there was no chance of his taking the field. In some way or other the poor girl learned that the king whom she had crowned cared little for the kingdom she was trying to win for him, and that the cities she had freed were to be left almost defenseless to his enemies. Her loyalty to her anointed king was part of her religion, and never failed, even after the plainest proof of his cowardice and imbecility; but she held this loyalty, as many an article of faith is held, without pushing it to its logical consequences, and she recognized that nothing could be hoped from him in the struggle which was before her. To La Trémoille and his party she was bound by no loyalty whatever, and she was coming to understand pretty plainly their treason to France.

At the very end of March, or on one of the first days of April, she left Sully quietly without leave of the king and his council. Believe in God as she might, she could not be quite as sanguine as she had been on leaving Vaucouleurs a year before. Then she had taken for granted the honest patriotism and innocent life of all Frenchmen whom she met; now she knew that much wickedness and treason were to be found even among Frenchmen. Then she had been bidden by her voices to raise the siege of Orleans and to lead Charles to Rheims; now she received no such definite commands, and by the exercise of her own judgment must find out how to save France. She felt her loss of importance in the eyes of the people and of the soldiers, and her very voices, still promising the final deliverance of the kingdom, said less of present success, and even hinted at some disaster.

She rode northward with her little military household, joining herself, perhaps, to some band of soldiers going that way. She had no definite plan, except to get into the field, and she was ready to help any good work as she went. Instead of going through Champagne by the road which she had opened the year before, she kept farther to the westward, intending to pass near Paris. Her way was obstructed by Anglo-Burgundian fortresses, and she seems to have traveled rather slowly, waiting for the truce to end. The chroniclers give almost no account of her journey.

Directly in her path, at the crossing of the Seine, was the city of Melun. It had been taken by Henry V. ten years before, and had been held by the English until September, 1429, when, with Paris and many other places, it had been handed over to Duke Philip as the price of his support. Its Burgundian captain was busy elsewhere, and his brothers, who acted as his lieutenants, kept poor guard. The people of Melun were tired of the English and Burgundians, and more than ready to acknowledge Charles. Hearing, it may be, of Joan's approach, they rose suddenly upon the garrison, which found itself thrust out of the place before it had time to comprehend what was going on. This happened about Easter, April 16, and Joan was thus able to cross the Seine without trouble.

She spent several days in Melun waiting, it is likely, to see if the English or Burgundians would try to retake the place. What was the size of her party we do not know. Probably it was small, made up of a few soldiers who were ready for adventure and desirous of reaching the seat of war; but small as it was, it would be useful if Melun were attacked. One day in Easter week, while Joan was on duty in the fortifications of the city, her voices spoke to her, and told her that she should be made prisoner. Startled, but not terrified, she asked when this was to happen. St. Catherine and St. Margaret answered that she would be taken before midsummer, or St. John's Day, June 24. This must certainly come to pass, they told her; but she need not be frightened, and ought to bear all with patience, since God would help her.

Over and over again, nearly every day, the voices foretold her capture. What they said may not always have been a definite prediction, but the certainty of capture was kept constantly before her. In the face of this cer- tainty her behavior was characteristic. She begged the saints who spoke to her that she might die when she was taken, without long suffering in prison. With a healthy disregard of logic, she tried to learn the time of her capture, hoping to avoid it; and when she failed in this, she kept right on in her work, as if she had received no warning whatever. If she could have escaped by keeping herself close for a day, she would have done so; to save herself by going back to court and staying there, never entered her mind. She cheered herself, as best she might, by the promise of God's help which her voices brought her, and she prepared to obey their commands, whatever these might be.

In the latter part of April, soon after Easter, Joan rode on from Melun to cross the Marne at Lagny, a small fortified town on the south bank of the river, which in the preceding August had acknowledged Charles. The freebooting soldiers on both sides had paid little respect to the truce while it lasted; now that it was over, the whole country was in arms. The plot to give up Paris to the Armagnacs had failed; some of the conspirators were tortured into confession, and many had been executed. Philip of Burgundy had gathered a large army at Arras, and had sent a strong detachment to reinforce the garrison of Paris; altogether the prospects of the royalists were not very bright. At just this time a party of Anglo-Burgundians, led by one Franquet of Arras, a soldier of fortune, set out from Paris to take a castle which the French were fortifying, and to harry the country about Lagny.

While on the road, the leaders were tempted to turn aside and fall upon a defenseless village and abbey. There was no resistance, and the party was soon loaded with the spoils of the church and of the poor peasants; thus incumbered, it pushed on to the castle. But the sack of a church and a village, in itself a proceeding almost altogether safe, could not be carried on without arousing attention. The castle was not surprised, and it resisted stoutly; the French from Lagny and the neighboring garrisons, hearing the alarm, came quickly to their comrades' relief, and shut in Franquet and his troops between themselves and the castle. His English archers formed in good order, -- the freebooters, to do them justice, were brave enough, -- and the first attack of the French was repulsed. But the French had the ad- vantage both of position and of numbers. The artillery of the castle played upon Franquet's rear; Joan herself, with certain captains from Lagny, attacked the English in front, and retreat was impossible. Nearly all Franquet's men were killed or taken, he himself being made prisoner. The booty was large, for it is hinted by a Burgundian chronicler that the French did not return to their former possessors all the goods taken by the English from the monks and the peasants.

In the fifteenth century a notable prisoner like Franquet of Arras was generally held to ransom, being treated with reasonable humanity until his ransom was paid. For some reason Franquet was very obnoxious to his captors. He was a robber, a traitor, and a murderer, they said, -- words of doubtful import, since nearly every soldier robbed all those weaker than himself, and there were few Frenchmen who had not at some time in the course of the long civil war betrayed one party or the other. As for murder, the laws of war were too loose for its clear definition. For murder, treason, and robbery, however, Franquet was immediately tried before the bailiff of Senlis, and was by him found guilty and condemned to death. The trial lasted about a fortnight, and Joan was not particularly concerned with it, though she suggested that Franquet's life should be spared, and that he should be held as hostage for a certain Parisian inn- keeper, perhaps one of the men who had just conspired to surrender Paris to the French. The innkeeper, however, was already dead, and the bailiff told Joan that she would be doing a great injustice if she saved the prisoner's life. She was no lawyer; she had no commission to administer justice, and she could have had little sympathy with a freebooter like Franquet. "Since my man whom I wished to get is dead," she said, "deal with this man as justice requires." Franquet was beheaded, accordingly, "greatly bewailed by those of his way of thinking, for as much as in arms he was a man of valiant conduct."

While Joan was staying at Lagny, she heard that an unbaptized baby, three days old, had been brought lifeless to the church of Our Lady, in faint hope that it might revive, at least for a moment. The maidens of the town were on their knees before the shrine of the Virgin, and Joan was asked to join them in the prayer that God and the Virgin would give back life to the child. She went there and prayed with the others. The child was black in the face, -- black as her coat, Joan said, -- but after a while it cried two or three times, and its color began to come back. It was baptized at once, and though it died almost immediately afterwards, its parents had the satisfaction of burying their child in consecrated ground. Of course the story went about Lagny that Joan's prayers had brought a dead baby back to life, but Joan herself did not feel sure that the baby had ever been dead. To the notion that she had wrought a miracle, she paid no heed whatever.

The capture of Melun and the defeat of Franquet were an auspicious opening to Joan's campaign; we know too little of the details of these exploits to determine how much credit for them fairly belongs to her. That she carried herself gallantly in them is evident, and it should be borne in mind that after leaving Melun she fought with the certainty of approaching imprisonment before her.


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