Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Chapter 9

THE CAMPAIGN OF THE LOIRE. - JARGEAU
Joan of Arc The Warrior Maid

JOAN'S victory before Orleans had a great effect. The French regained the natural courage which their many defeats and misfortunes had shaken, and the English, both leaders and soldiers, lost much of the boastful confidence which their repeated successes had almost justified. The effect was not confined to the armies on the Loire. Once a day, or oftener, hard-riding messengers brought the news from Orleans to Chinon, and the king, sent it on to all parts of France, calling the attention of his subjects to his own "continual diligence in giving all possible aid to the City." Talbot at once informed Bedford of his retreat, and the regent, who knew well the uncertain loyalty of his French subjects, recognized the danger caused by such a loss of prestige.

Talbot and Bedford and the English captains and soldiers, however, were neither disheartened nor demoralized, and they had no intention of giving up the strong places about Orleans which they had taken in the summer and autumn of 1428. The main body of the English army had not yet met Joan in battle, and its retreat on Sunday morning had been made in good order, with small loss, except of siege artillery. Talbot and the larger part of his troops took up their position at Meung and Beaugency, below Orleans, while Suffolk with five or six hundred soldiers was sent up the river to Jargeau. Smaller detachments garrisoned the towns between Orleans and Paris.

This, then, was the state of affairs. At Orleans, the northernmost point of the semicircular sweep of the Loire, the French had a strong fortress on the north bank of the river, with a fortified tête du pont on the south bank. Between Gien, thirty miles up-stream, and Blois, almost as far below, this was the only place at which they could cross the river. Some ten miles above Orleans, Suffolk held Jargeau for the English with the only bridge between Orleans and Gien. Ten miles below Orleans, Talbot's troops held Meung with its fortified bridge; at Beaugency, five miles below Meung, was still another, covered by the strong citadel of the place. The next bridge was at Blois. Orleans was thus a French outpost on the only road by which the French could march north into a country full of English fortresses, or could retreat from that country south across the Loire. The English, on the other hand, in marching south, could cross the Loire above or below Orleans, ravage at will the country held by the French, cut off any force approaching or leaving the city, and then recross the river at any one of three places they might choose. Repulsed for the time, they had no notion of giving up these advantages, and Bedford hastened to bring to Paris from all quarters another army which should reinforce Talbot and enable that general to resume the offensive.

Notwithstanding the success of the French arms, and the high spirit of the troops and of the citizens of Orleans, the inferior discipline and organization of the French army kept it from following Talbot in his retreat. There was lack of provisions and money, the troops were dispersing, and Joan had to go back to the king for help, as well as in order to urge his setting out for consecration at Rheims. On Monday or Tuesday, accordingly, she left Orleans, with Rais and other captains, and rode to Blois, where she passed a day or two. The Bastard seems to have remained at Orleans with a small force.

Since his return from Poitiers with Joan, Charles VII. had kept himself safe at Chinon, but immediately after the relief of Orleans he came to Tours, and there met Joan on Wednesday or Thursday. She had shown the sign which she had promised, and had accomplished the first part of her mission. To her there seemed no reason for further hesitation in going forward with the second part of the same mission, the march to Rheims and the consecration of the Dauphin. If it was desirable to retake the towns which the English still held in the valley of the Loire, she was willing to go against them provided they were attacked at once, and provided that their capture was meant only as the first step in the expedition to Rheims.

The plans of the royal council, for the poor king had none of his own, were not so simple. From this time forward the division of parties at court grew more marked, week by week, and almost day by day. La Trémoille, the master of the wretched Charles, had allowed the expedition to Orleans. He was not unwilling that the city should be relieved, if this could be done without danger to his own power; but the completeness of Joan's victory had aroused his opponents, and the awakening of French patriotism threatened his overthrow. He represented no considerable class in the community, and had no support from any of the great forces of mediæval France. The cities suffered from the excesses allowed by his misrule; the clerical officers, the bureaucracy, dreaded his violence and were aghast at his rapacity and at the financial distress which it caused; the great nobles hated him because he kept them out of power. Himself a nobleman of some importance, he was the head of a small party of political and military adventurers, which was likely to be overthrown at the appearance of any strong man, or by any great outburst of popular feeling. Only so long as things went on as before, in aimless negotiation with the duke of Burgundy, in petty military expeditions, in universal jealousy, and in private war between the nominal supporters of Charles, could La Trémoille govern France. A real victory, a successful campaign, brought him into great danger.

Joan's strongest support had come from Yolande of Anjou and from the duke of Alençon, both of whom were friendly to La Trémoille's enemies. Though they had not quarreled openly with the favorite, they both recognized that the hearty support of all loyal Frenchmen was needed to defeat the English, and, besides, they were themselves closely allied by blood or marriage with the great nobles whom La Trémoille tried to keep away from court. There were still stronger reasons for the favorite's anxiety. His greatest rival was his former patron, the constable, Arthur of Brittany, count of Richemont. For many months he had spent the royal treasure in private war with Richemont, and by every means had sought to keep him from Charles's presence. Both Richemont and the duke of Brittany were uncles of Alençon, brothers of the dowager duchess who had received Joan so kindly at St. Florent. The constable began to gather an army, and Duke John, a pious prince, sent his confessor to see Joan and to make inquiries about her. La Trémoille became very uneasy.

A fortnight or so was spent in debate at Tours; then the court moved to Loches, some thirty miles away, a grim fortress, better suited to Charles's humor than a large city. As Joan rode into the place the people crowded about her horse and tried to kiss her hands and feet. A churchman, the abbot who had examined her at Poitiers, blamed her for allowing these manifestations, and told her to keep herself from like things because she was making the people idolaters. "In truth," she answered, "I should not know how to guard myself from these things, unless God guarded me."

By this time she must have discovered that churchmen were not her only enemies. As yet she did not realize the state of parties in the royal council, but she knew that time was being wasted, and that even the sign she had just given at Orleans had not removed all doubts. Things were not going well in the field. The Bastard had led a considerable force against Jargeau without waiting for Joan, and, after some skirmishing, had found it wise to retreat, as the waters of the Loire were high and filled the ditches about the town. Still the council hesitated, and discussed many plans. After about a week's stay in Loches the king was closeted one day with his confessor and two other members of his council, Robert le Maçon and Christopher of Harcourt. Accompanied by the Bastard, who was come to Loches, Joan knocked at the door of the king's apartments. As soon as she came into the room, she knelt before Charles, and said to him, clasping his knees: "Noble Dauphin, do not hold so many and so lengthy councils, but come at once to Rheims and take the crown which is yours." Harcourt asked her if she spoke by the advice of her council. Joan told him that she did, and that she had been much urged to speak. "Will you not tell us here, in the king's presence," said Harcourt, "the manner of your council, when it speaks to you?" Joan blushed, for she never liked to gratify idle curiosity about things sacred to her, but she saw that she must speak. "I understand well enough what you want to know," she answered, "and I will tell you freely." She then said that when she was grieved in any way, because men would not believe the things she told them in God's behalf, she went into some place apart and there prayed to God, bewailing because those to whom she spoke would not readily believe her. When her prayer was said, she used to hear a voice saying to her, "Child of God, go, go. I will be with thee, go;" and as she heard this voice she was very glad, wishing always to be in such condition as that. "What is more remarkable," adds the Bastard, who tells the story, "while she was repeating the words spoken by her voices, she rejoiced marvelously, raising her eyes to heaven."

Whether the decision was influenced by Joan's appeal cannot be known certainly. By some means or other the party of action triumphed, and early in June the duke of Alençon was given command of the army, with orders to lead it against Jargeau and the other fortresses on the Loire which were in English hands. It was supposed that Charles himself might take some part in the campaign, but he did nothing of the sort.

The rendezvous was at Selles, about fifteen miles from Loches and about fifty miles south of Orleans. Thither Joan went soon after June 1, and there were rapidly gathered men from almost all parts of France, aroused by the news of her exploits before Orleans, and beginning again to hope for their country. Among them were two brothers, one still a boy, whose father had been killed at Agincourt. They had been brought up by their mother, who had defended their castles against the English, and by their grandmother, in her youth the wife of the great constable, Bertrand Duguesclin. The incoherent, boyish letter, written to the women at home by these two young soldiers, Guy and Andrew of Laval, is the most picturesque account we have of the state of affairs in France.

MY REVERED LADIES AND MOTHERS, -- After I wrote you on Friday last from St. Catherine of Fierbois, I reached Loches on Saturday, and went to see my lord dauphin in the castle, after vespers in the collegiate church. He is a very fair and gracious lord, very well made and active, and ought to be about seven years old. Sunday I came to St. Aignan, where the king was, and I sent for my lord of Trèves to come to my quarters; and my uncle went up with him to the castle to tell the king I was come, and to find out when he would be pleased to have me wait on him. I got the answer that I should go as soon as I wished, and he greeted me kindly and said many pleasant things to me.

On Monday I left the king to go to Selles, four leagues from St. Aignan, and the king sent for the Maid, who was then at Selles. Some people said that this was done for my sake, so that I could see her; at any rate she was very pleasant to my brother and me, being fully armed, except for her head, and holding her lance in her hand. Afterwards, when we had dismounted at Selles, I went to her quarters to see her, and she had wine brought, and told me she would soon serve it to me in Paris; and what she did seemed at times quite divine, both to look at her and to hear her. Monday at vespers she left Selles to go to Romorantin, three leagues in advance, the marshal of Boussac and a great many soldiers and common people being with her. I saw her get on horseback, armed all in white, except her head, with a little battle-axe in her hand, riding a great black courser, which was very restive at the door of her lodgings, and would not let her mount. So she said, "Lead him to the cross," which was in front of the church near by, in the road. There she mounted without his budging, just as if he had been tied, and then she turned toward the church door which was close by, and said, "You priests and churchmen, make a procession and pray to God." She then set out on the road, calling "Forward, forward," with her little battle-axe in her hand, and her waving banner carried by a pretty page.

On Monday my lord duke of Alençon came to Selles with a great company, and to-day I won a match from him at tennis. I found here a gentleman sent from my brother Chauvigny, because he had heard that I had reached St. Catherine. The man said that he had summoned his vassals and expected soon to be here, and that he still loved my sister dearly, and that she was stouter than she used to be. It is said here that my lord constable is coming with six hundred men at arms and four hundred archers, and that the king never had so great a force as they hope to gather. But there is no money at court, or so little that for the present I can expect no help nor maintenance; so since you have my seal, my lady mother, do not hesitate to sell or mortgage my lands, or else make some other provision by which we may be saved; otherwise through our own fault we shall be dishonored, and perhaps come near perishing, since, if we do not do something of the kind, as there is no pay, we shall be left quite alone. So far we have been, and we still are, much honored, and our coming has greatly pleased the king and all his people, and they make us better cheer than you could imagine.

The Maid told me in her lodgings, when I went there to see her, that three days before my coming she had sent to you, my grandmother, a little gold ring, but she said that it was a very little thing and that she would willingly have sent you something better considering your rank.

To-day my lord of Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, and Gaucourt should leave this place of Selles, and go after the Maid, and you have sent I don't know what letters to my cousin La Trémoille and to my lord of Trèves, so that the king wants to keep me with him until the Maid has been before the English places around Orleans to which they are going to lay siege, and the artillery is already prepared, and the Maid makes no doubt that she will soon be with the king, saying that when he starts to advance toward Rheims I shall go with him; but God forbid that I should do this, and not go with her at once; and my brother says so, too, and so does my lord of Alençon, -- such a good-for-nothing will a fellow be who stays behind. They think that the king will leave here to-day, to draw nearer to the army, and men are coming in from all directions every day. They hope that before ten days are out affairs will be nearly settled one way or the other, but all have so good hope in God that I believe He will help us.

My very respected ladies and mothers, we send our remembrances, my brother and I, to you, as humbly as we can; and please also write us at once news of yourselves, and do you, my lady mother, tell me how you find yourself after the medicines you have taken, for I am much troubled about you.

My very respected ladies and mothers, I pray the blessed son of God to give you a good life and a long one, and we both of us also send our remembrances to our brother Louis. Written at Selles this Wednesday the 8th of June. And this vespers there came here my lord of Vendôme, my lord of Boussac, and others, and La Hire is close to the army, and soon they will set to work. God grant that we get our wish.

Your humble sons,

GUY and ANDREW OF LAVAL.

On Wednesday afternoon Alençon and Joan left Romorantin with about two thousand troops and marched toward Orleans. They were soon joined by the Bastard and other captains, with all equal force, and together they entered the city on Thursday, June 9. Again there was debate among the leaders. Some of them were for attacking Jargeau at once, while others dreaded the coming of Fastolf, who was advancing from Paris with a considerable body of men, got together by Bedford in order to reinforce Talbot and the garrisons on the Loire. The duke of Alençon, who had not been with Joan at the raising of the siege, describes her

influence at this time in terms like those used by the Bastard and others in speaking of the encouragement she gave them five or six weeks before. They should not fear the force of the enemy, she said, nor hesitate to attack the English, since God was directing their work; and she added that, unless she were sure of God's leadership, she would rather tend sheep than expose herself to danger. Thereupon the captains decided to push the war.

Jargeau was a compact little town, about four hundred yards square, perfectly flat, built close to the south bank of the Loire, and connected by a bridge within the village of St. Denis on the north bank. It was defended by strong walls, and the fosse outside them was filled with water from the river. William Pole, earl of Suffolk, held the place with about six hundred men, a force probably quite large enough to man the defenses. From the church tower he could survey the country for miles, and watch every movement of his enemy. Even the spires of Orleans could be plainly seen in the distance.

On Saturday morning the expedition, commanded by Alençon, started to travel along the twelve miles of flat road leading to Jargeau through the Sologne. There were three thousand soldiers or thereabouts, who had come to Orleans with Joan, and a large body of townspeople and men from the country round about. A considerable siege train was sent by water. Early in the afternoon the army approached Jargeau. The men of Orleans, encouraged by their marvelous success only a month before, without waiting for the advance of the soldiers rushed at once into the ditches and tried to storm the place. The garrison stood bravely to arms, beat them off without much trouble, and even took the offensive, charging upon them and driving them back upon the main body. It is likely that the French regulars were not very sorry to see misfortune befall this unprofessional warfare; but Joan, who remembered how gallantly these citizens had supported her attack on the Tourelles, seized her banner and led the men at arms to their rescue. The English in turn were driven back; the French occupied the environs of the town up to the very ditch, and there they passed the night. Confused, perhaps, by the zeal of the irregulars, the army was in some disorder, and few sentries were posted. Alençon attributed the safety of his men to that leadership of God of which Joan had spoken.

During the night and the early morning the artillery was posted, and soon after sunrise the bombardment began. Suffolk was not unwilling to treat, and offered to surrender the place in fifteen days unless sooner relieved; but the blood of the French was up, and La Hire, who parleyed with him, was angrily called away. Joan said that the English might leave in their tunics if they wished, without arms or armor, otherwise the place should be stormed. Suffolk would not consider these terms, and the cannons began again. One of the towers was destroyed, and the French sharpshooters picked off some of the garrison with their culverins.

The English had their artillery, too, and its firing was not without effect. As Joan and Alençon were standing together, watching the bombardment, she told him to step aside, lest he should be killed by a gun on the walls which she pointed out to him. He withdrew, and in a few minutes a gentleman was killed on the very spot. Soon she grew impatient; there were rumors of Fastolf's approach, and she urged an immediate attack. The trumpets sounded, and she cried to Alençon, "Forward, gentle duke, to the assault." He did not advance, as it seemed to him that her plan was rash. "Do not hesitate," she said; "when it pleases God, the hour is prepared. God helps those who help themselves." Then, seeing that he still halted, "Ah, gentle duke," she asked, "are you afraid? Do you not know that I promised your wife to bring you back safe and sound?" Thereat they both rushed to the attack.

It was still Sunday morning when the assault began, soldiers and men of Orleans fighting side by side. Again Suffolk tried to parley, but this time could get no hearing. For several hours the struggle went on, Joan in the thick of it. Banner in hand, she seized a ladder and, as at the Tourelles, tried to mount the wall. One of the garrison threw down a stone which knocked the banner out of her hand and, striking the light helmet she wore, beat her to the ground. At once she sprang up and called to the soldiers, "Friends, friends, forward, onward, our Lord has condemned the English. The day is ours. Keep a good heart."

The English could hold out no longer, the town was stormed, and Suffolk retreated toward the bridge; on that side Jargeau was protected from assault by the river, and he hoped to escape into the Beauce. The French were too close upon him, however; his brother and many of the garrison were slain in the narrow streets, while he surrendered with all that were left alive. The stubbornness of the defense had infuriated the besiegers, among whom were many country people wholly without discipline, and the town was sacked, even to the church, where the citizens had stored their goods. In the horrible confusion, Joan was powerless to stop the sacrilege, but she took the experience to heart and profited by it. Even some of the prisoners were butchered on the road to Orleans, owing to a quarrel among their captors, and the others had to be sent down to the city by boat during the night.

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